Cricket At Lord’s

There is no better place to experience your first cricket match than at Lord’s. The grounds are simply exquisite. If you’re lucky, the weather will be brilliant and you’ll have great seats in the Grand Stand at a T20 match. T20s are short and sweet and give you a taste of cricket without running the risk of cricket overload and being turned off forever.

What I like best about [the idea of] cricket are the grounds that the matches are played on, the overall atmosphere and the tasty food. Everyone is excited to see their team and people are usually quite tipsy and friendly. Our match was Middlesex v. Sussex. I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on but Monks had a blast and even got his photo displayed on the scoreboard! Middlesex (the team we were supporting) were doing awful, but apparently I thought they had done well.

G bought me a pink wig before the match started and although I didn’t get to try any of Jamie Oliver’s special items, hubs had a meat pie the size of a UFO. I really tried hard to understand the game. Although I don’t think I increased my knowledge of cricket I certainly enjoyed the experience (although G may not believe I did) and would love to go back for another T20 match if G is willing to take us again.

Monkey London Calling 2015.jpg

NFL International Series at Wembley

American Football has gained quite a large UK following in recent years and the NFL sure haven’t missed an opportunity to cash in on fans across the pond. Wembley Stadium has been home to the NFL International Series since 2007. The NFL was in London for three games this year, with the Dallas Cowboys vs. Jacksonville Jaguars match on Sunday, 9 November, 2014 being the final game for the year.

The match began with national anthems and a poppy memorial. The game on remembrance Sunday marked the centennial of the First World War. G was lucky to get tickets, which cost a small fortune. But since he’s a huge Dallas fan, I guess it was money well spent, and he got a nice seat right next to the press box!

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Here’s a quick rundown of what you might expect to pay for a Sunday night NFL game in London:

  • £140 for the ticket
  • £75 #29 Murray jersey
  • £10 for programme
  • £4 for coke
  • £10 for coffee and burger

I was shocked by the cost of the ticket, but apparently it’s comparable to that of ticket prices for good seats in the US.

Although I have little to no interest in American Football (unless the San Francisco 49ers are playing the Baltimore Ravens in the Superbowl), I’m happy that G got a chance to see his favourite team in the flesh. Apparently, BoJo confirmed in 2013 that plans were underway to get a London NFL team. It might make for some interesting games in future if it actually goes through.

The Ups and Downs of the 2014 FIFA World Cup

Every four years I look forward to the FIFA World Cup and every time it finally comes around, I am reminded that the consolation of having multiple loyalties from living in several countries does not take away the pain of watching your favourite teams lose. This year’s results have been no different. Nevermind the losing, simply watching England play can be — and often is — a painful experience. Japan also gave some pretty embarrassing performances (no offense to Greece, but seriously?) and both countries were knocked out in the early stages.

I’m not one for wishing any team to do poorly but there’s a first time for everything and Uruguay have Luis Suárez to blame. The 4 month ban is a bit soft, but I suppose it’s better than nothing. I’m still completely unimpressed with Uruguay and am happy that they did not go through! Even a child knows that biting is not permitted on the playground, let alone an adult at work! If I bit someone at work even once I’d probably be sacked (not to mention my sanity would be questioned).

The US may have lost the match against Belgium but they put up a good fight, or rather Tim Howard did and was no doubt the man of the hour. In case you missed it, he’s the goalie for the US national team that finished with 16 saves. Simply amazing.

Photo: dpa

Photo: dpa

So that left me to find new teams to support and I wished so much more for the host country, Brazil, but last night’s match still feels like a dream (or nightmare). I remember checking the Google several times, thinking there must be a glitch with the score, but then I turned on the game and confirmed that the impossible was in fact true. To be fair, Germany were in fine form, or perhaps Brazil were just horrible. Oddly, we all seem to be more focused on their defeat and not Germany’s victory. Either way, it’s never easy to watch grown men cry, let alone sweet little children who looked just devastated as Germany scored goal after goal in the first 30 minutes of the match.

Photo: Twitter

Photo: Twitter

And then of course there is Oranje, who I am quietly supporting as it seems every time I openly support a team, they lose, with the exception of the match against Costa Rica. Although they give me a heart attack every time, I love penalty shootouts! Hup Hollande en Oranje Boven!

Photo: OnsOranje

Photo: OnsOranje

Update: I don’t understand why Holland didn’t put Tim Krul in again. Penalty shootouts are exciting but now that I think about it, they’re not the most fair way to end a match. I’m torn about who to support for the final. Can’t really be bothered with all the heartache anymore and I’m not particularly attached to Germany or Argentina. Hmm… who are you supporting?

Tokyo Marathon 2014

Last year, I entered my father in the lottery for the Tokyo Marathon. There was only a 10% chance of him getting picked. To our surprise, he was chosen and from there began five months of difficult training. On Sunday, 23 February, 2014, at the ripe age of 63, my father ran the Tokyo Marathon. We’re immensely proud of him and feel blessed for having been able to accompany him on his first World Marathon Major.

PreRaceTokyoMarathon2014

No standing allowed–I was lucky to get this pre-race shot of the runners before a policeman shooed me away from an overpass.

If you’re considering entering the lottery for the 2015 Tokyo Marathon, bear in mind that Tokyo is not an easy city to navigate, with its hidden back alley streets and massive (yet highly efficient) underground rail system–it is quite complex and can be difficult even if you speak Japanese. Directions have never been my forte, regardless of what language they are in and we were lucky to have my cousin with us to guide us through the course to the finish. Massive thanks again to you, M!

TokyoMarathon2014_Monkey

Monkey cheering at the staring line of the Tokyo Marathon 2014.

You will also want to take into consideration the timing of this race. Held in February when flights are likely to be delayed due to unexpected weather conditions, we were lucky not to run into any major trouble. Here are some tips on how to best navigate the Tokyo Marathon as a spectator.

  1. The race begins in Shinjuku and ends at Tokyo Big Site.  As we wanted to be closer to all the food and shopping, we chose to stay close to the starting line and make the hour-long journey back from the finish line. There isn’t much to do around Tokyo Big Site so you’ll want to decide what is more important.  Either way, you’ll have to make the trek to the start or back from the finish.
  2. Be prepared to say goodbye to your runner well before the start of the race as they will need time to find their spot–there aren’t many signs and it can be a bit confusing as you need to go underground first to get up to the starting area.
  3. If you are visiting Japan and don’t want to incur massive roaming charges, rent a smartphone so you can track you runner online. As an alternative to renting a phone, most hotels have free wifi access. But that’s where your wifi access will end. Be wary of signing up for wifi hotspot access schemes, such as Wi2, as you will find that access is limited, if not non-existent.
  4. Base your meeting points on your runner’s pace. We decided on 4 meeting points — the starting line, Ginza, Asakusa and the finish. Bear in mind that there will be many people using the trains and you will want to account for travel and waiting time.
  5. We decided to purchase our tickets per journey, which ended up working out fine but for those who are on a tight schedule get a Suica or Passmo card (think Oyster Card) to avoid queuing for tickets.
  6. Use the restrooms within department stores and the stations–there is no public access to the portable loos lining the race course, which are for runners only.
  7. Bring snacks and water as you may not have time to eat or queue for lunch.
  8. Dress in layers as you’ll be hot when on the train and cold when you’re above ground. Bring gloves, hat and scarf as it does get cold if you’re standing for long periods of time.
IMG_1947.TM3Loos.CR2

Room for improvement: portable loos for runners only–some runners had to queue for an hour before the start.

Here are a few tips to help your runner stay focused:

  1. Arrive a few days before the race to adjust to the timezone and climate.
  2. To eliminate the stress of traveling across town to Tokyo Big Site, try to register two days before the race begins.
  3. Keep your timing chip and race bib in a SAFE PLACE.  To our absolute horror, the cleaning staff at our hotel somehow accidentally threw away my father’s timing chip the day before the race. By the time he noticed it was already late, yet the hotel asked him to take a taxi to Tokyo Big Site to re-register. They did not take into consideration that the registration site would be closed by the time he arrived. And so they made my father stand outside while the staff searched his room for the chip. They came up empty handed and the entire staff ended up combing through the hotel’s rubbish and somehow found the timing chip. Lots of bowing and apologising ensued and they also refunded my father’s hotel accommodation. I suppose all’s well that ends well!
  4. I’m not sure about other races, but Tokyo seems to be stricter than other race organisers. They will not keep the entire course open for 7 hours (although that’s how long you have to finish the race) and will start opening up the course to traffic starting from the gun time. Be sure to keep an eye on your watch to make sure you stay ahead of the closing of each course gate.
  5. If you’re used to an excited crowd cheering for you, be prepared for polite (and sometimes quiet) cheering.  I cheered as loud as I could for the runners but felt a bit self conscious when people turned to stare. Ha!
  6. Wear a bright coloured arrow on your head pointing down toward you so that your cheering squad can find you easily.  We only saw a few runners do this but thought it was so clever! We watched 30,000 runners go past the starting line and failed to find my father in the crowd.
TokyoMarathon2014_Cross

According to my cousin, the cross man runs barefoot every year.

If you have never cheered for a race, perhaps Tokyo would be a good one to begin with. The atmosphere is infectious and lively (by Japanese standards) and I was impressed by how orderly everything was. Everyone queued when necessary and there were no ‘traffic jams’ below or above ground.  As Tokyo has only recently joined the World Marathon Majors, there is still some room for improvement. More bilingual staff and signs would be appreciated and it would be nice to see more marathon banners along the street–many locals did not even know there was a race. The organisers were so efficient that by the time we got back to Shinjuku, the signs were gone and the streets spotless, as if nothing had ever happened. Having said that, all in all, it was a fantastic race experience!

IMG_1994.TM6StuffedGuy.CR2

Spotted at Ginza–I was impressed that this guy was running at quite a decent pace, well ahead of many runners at the halfway mark.

Were you at this year’s Tokyo Marathon? Let us know if you have any runner or spectator tips!

Moomin Challenge Revisited

Maui was fabulous but reality isn’t so bad either when you have a Moomin obsession. At the start of the summer I embarked on a Moomin Challenge. Things were going so well. Even with some breaks to accommodate visitors, I made it to Phase Three (12 weeks) — at this rate, I might even consider training for a marathon! Or not…! My excitement was short-lived. It took a lot of will power to pick up after our guests returned and then we left for Maui. We did go on a hike and went for several swims on holiday, but it was too hot (for us) to run and I cannot say that our activities were physically challenging.  A lot of lying about doing nothing happened, but that is to be expected!

Moomin Stationery I had cleverly pre-ordered my prize before finishing the challenge (yes, I know it’s like requesting a gold medal before actually earning it).  But now that my Moomin Challenge prize has arrived, I’m at the point where I have to decide if I can commit to the last 2 months of the challenge and consider the prize a midway boost or just let it fizzle out.

Moomin Parasol/UmbrellaI feel a bit foolish for having jumped the gun on the prize, and I know I’d feel guilty “accepting” it if I did not give the challenge another go. For that reason and an even more exciting and important reason (more to come on that in another post), I started again at the weekend and will finish the challenge by the end of November!

Phase Two: Moomin Challenge

We’ve entered week 6 (aka Phase Two) of the 20 week Moomin Challenge and I’m happy to report that I’ve broken a new PR! Without having trained, my fastest race pace was 11:59 when I ran my first 8K.  Ever since then my pace has got slower. I doubted that I could ever break 12:00 again, that is until I ran 3 miles yesterday at 11:30. I’m well chuffed, to say the least and look forward  to seeing more improvements.  That said, I noticed while I was running that my legs had more to give but I was already gasping for air so I couldn’t go any faster. Not the best feeling when everything isn’t synced up, so I welcome any tips on how to increase lung capacity!

It seems my dear friends always know exactly when to give me a little Moomin boost. Continuing with the Moomin theme, look what else I received for me birthday! A lovely “super slim” Moomin bento box (not kidding, there was a 「超スリム」label on the box), complete with Moomin choppies! If I actually only ate what I could fit into this wee bento box, I could probably become “super slim” too…ha!

Moomin BentoThanks C for taking the time and effort to find this for me — I know it’s not easy for non-Moomin fans to find such gems!

Moomin Bento 2

And obviously, I’m not the only one with a July birthday — it just so happens to be Mr. W’s birthday today and even though we couldn’t fly to Japan to celebrate with him, we decided to do the next best thing and have a cute bunny matcha parfait in his honour! 亘さん、お誕生日おめでとうございます!

Matcha Parfait

Moomin Challenge

In the midst of my month of misery, I was happy to receive a boost from an article featured in BuzzFeed, “50 Lessons That Moomins Can Teach You About Life“.  Pay close attention to lesson #35 (anyone who loves pancakes or Moomins is probably a-ok) — do those Moomin pancakes look familiar? Ufufu! Thanks for the mention Summer Anne Burton — we’re well chuffed!

Now that May is behind me I can focus on what the hubs has dubbed, the ‘Moomin Challenge’, inspired by two Icelandic adventurers.  And no, we’re not talking about abstaining from new Moomin purchases like we did for Lent. The idea of the Moomin Challenge is to get me moving and to stay moving. We’ve only just started with Week 1, and so far I feel confident about staying on course (it’s amazing how Moomins can transform one’s attitude about exercise)!

Moomin Challenge

Moomin Challenge

The entire challenge involves 20 weeks of running and walking with the aim of increasing my mileage and endurance. Generally novice runners begin with 15 minutes per session but we decided to go for 20 minutes minimum. By the end of September, I’ll have run close to 3000 minutes and goodness knows how many miles. This is a huge challenge for a non-athlete such as myself so the hubs came up with the brilliant idea of rewarding me with a Moomin prize, in addition to a fine dining experience of my choice! Now how could I not be motivated?!

Moomin Fun Tape

Running and tumbling Moomin fun tape from Artbox.co.uk

Of course the true ‘prize’ is improved health but I think having an extra incentive is a great motivator for those who have trouble keeping their eye on the prize.

Calm Down, It’s Just A Joke!

James Delingpole always talks sense.  He’s clever, witty, thoughtful and I trust his opinons. I would be honoured to befriend Mr. Delingpole.  Frankie Boyle, on the other hand, I am not so sure.  He’s funny but brutal and although I’m used to people taking the piss out of me (hubby included), I’m not sure I would ever want to be caught in his line of fire. I’d probably cry instead of laugh after a certain point.

That said, I’m not sure he was as merciless with his Twitter jokes on the Paralympics as he is with his usual jokes. But now he’s had to defend himself and his job. Sure, his jokes can be tasteless and offensive but I didn’t find anything wrong with this one:

“Wow, Austrian Paralympians seem a lot more able-bodied than most regular Scottish people”.

When I saw it I didn’t just laugh, I retweeted it! It reminded me of how lazy and complacent human beings in general can get when everything comes too easily. I am totally one of them. And as much as Olympic athletes blew me away with their talents last month, it’s Paralympians that truly inspire me to push myself a little harder.

But I digress.  As James points out, it’s all the rage to be outraged and offended by people who aren’t politically correct. We can’t say anything without the fear of being called racist, sexist, and whatever -ist you can come up with. Comedians, of all people, should be able to throw all that out the door without being attacked. Isn’t it kind of their job to make fun of people? And in this case it seems we are better off feigning offense (or keeping quiet) by his jokes or we’ll become the victims of cruel name-calling.

If Frankie’s Paralympic jokes were mean spirited like his usual material can be, I might’ve taken offense. But if we calm down and think for a minute, he’s just having a bit of a laugh. There is some truth in every joke and regardless if we agree with him or not, the man has the right to creative expression. I wouldn’t go so far as to call him a national treasure, but I do respect him for choosing subject matters that others are afraid to touch. Frankie Boyle may not be everyone’s cuppa tea, but don’t try to censor him simply because you don’t like what he says.

Another Reason Why Britain Is So Great — Looking Beyond London 2012

After a fortnight of incredible athletic performances and great shows of sportsmanship, of glorious victory and head-down defeat that have had the rapt attention of not just Britain but the entire world, the London 2012 Olympics have now come to an end. So what’s next? Do we pretend that nothing ever happend and go back to our daily lives? I should hope not.

Let’s go back to Day One for a moment. Danny Boyle’s spectacular Opening Ceremony stood apart from its predecessors because it had something to say, perhaps particularly to its British audience. The reflection upon what was once Britain and what we’ve become began long before the start of the Games. But London 2012 invited us to embrace and celebrate more than ever what Britain is today.

Even Charlie Brooker admitted that the games somehow confounded his inner cynic and ate up the Games. Not to mention, many friends around me that had moaned about how the Olympics would interrupt their daily lives made it the focus once it all started. This is what I love about the Olympics. Quite simply, it brings people together. And it certainly did as we saw thousands of volunteers work tirelessly to help make these Games a tremendous success.

This is also where I wish the media would have shut up about all that was predicted to go wrong. Perhaps it’s their job to stir the pot, but didn’t anyone have faith in their own country? Perhaps not then but what about now?

And let’s not forget what we witnessed last night — an amazing close to a spectacular Olympics.  No nation in the world has a greater musical history than the UK, so I had no doubt the closing ceremony would be a sight to behold.  It was a true ‘symphony of British music’ — from Elgar to Jessie J, who could ask for anything more?

Now if you’re with Aidan Burley, the Conservative MP who tweeted his fury at the “multicultural crap” he saw in Boyle’s extravaganza, you may want to crawl back into your little hole and cry.  But if you’re like most Britons, who celebrated and took pride in being a part of how Britain was represented these past two weeks you will add it to another reason why Britain is so great today.

Recipe For Unhappiness

Have you ever noticed the expressions of the silver and bronze medal athletes on the podium? Or listened to the interviews that take place shortly after the medal ceremonies? Take for example these amazing athletes, Aussie swimmer Emily Seebohm, who was tipped to be the favourite to win the 100m backstroke and Team GB’s very own men’s gymnastics team — Louis Smith, Max Whitlock, Daniel Purvis, Sam Oldham and Kristian Thomas. When interviewed about the results, Seebohm expressed disappointment in her performance and felt like she had let her fans down. But Team GB’s gymnasts were excited and proud (as they should be) to win the first medal in a century for Great Britain.

As the Olympics continue, I think you’ll see a lot more of this. Whether gold, silver, bronze, or even no medal, I think every athlete should be proud of their accomplishments. Do I even have to spell out how phenomenal each and every single Olympian is? That said, people, especially those in competitive environments tend to compare themselves to others. They don’t quite know how to critique themselves without comparing their performance to others.  So from a silver medalist’s perspective, if they had only done better (than the gold medalist) they would have been, well, first. Whereas the bronze medalist is likely thinking that it’s just nice to be on the medal stand and grateful that they made it there. They generally seem happier than the silver medalist who placed higher than them. I reckon this is because the bronze medalist is infinitely happier when they compare themselves to all the others that simply didn’t medal.

We are our own worst critics. The last thing our athletes need is a bunch of knob-head ‘fans’ tweeting or facebooking insults about them letting their country down or whatever other nonsense fan-atics like to spew out from their keyboards. Are you the one that’s under ridiculous amounts of pressure from yourself, coaches, your parents and country? If not, give over!

It’s moments like these when I really hate social media and what the digital age has done to us (and yes oddly enough I’m sat here blogging about it).  The way we have been programmed to see ourselves, paired with added reinforcement from social media can be a total recipe for unhappiness.  That said, with all the pressures and distractions that these athletes have, I think it might be in their best interest to stay away from social media until each race is over. Because ultimately, no matter what people are buzzing about, they need to stay focused.  As Seebohm later stated in an interview, social media was to blame for her ‘loss’ to USA’s Missy Franklin. There might be some truth behind that statement but erm…was she tweeting from the pool?