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The Challenge – Week 2

21 Oct

So the second week meant a stay at Brunel university with the whole wave. By this point we’d made pretty decent relationships with everyone in the groups, and so knew that this week would be absolutely hilarious. It did, however, have a very different layout to the first week, and our teams were separated into the different houses (fair enough separating boys and girls, but come ON!)

In advance, we had to choose meal plans that we would be cooking for our whole flat. Now, I’m not trying to brag or anything but I would say I’m not too bad at cooking, whereas some of the people I was sharing the kitchen with seemed like they could burn a salad. Needless to say, I did most of the cooking and cleaning for the week, adopting the role as the mother: making the dirty dishes and saucepans magically disappear whilst nobody’s looking. One thing that we did like was the fact that the girls’ house was directly opposite the boys – meaning we could see each others kitchens through the windows – although most nights the boys seemed to just live off of pot noodle. (Then again, on a student budget that does seem more likely than homemade meals).

So this week was dedicated to skill and team building, and whilst some people were doing things like sports or photography, we were doing drama. And I mean I’m not going to slag off drama – I chose it as an A level – but there’s only so much you can do to develop this and benefit from it. Moving on, we did a number of activities which were mostly public speaking and a talent show in front of the rest of the wave (my group won, obviously, with our rendition of “The Bitch Song” by BFS – aided by a sweet melody on a purple ukulele.)  Then we went to a residential home for the elderly, where we spent the afternoon talking to them and listening to their stories. One man was definitely still young at heart and started dancing when we broke out the ukulele once again, a really heartwarming thing to see.

So that was week 2 – really different to the first week, but a truly fun and amazing experience nonetheless.

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The Challenge – Week 1

19 Oct

Some time last year, a speaker from a scheme called “The Challenge” turned up at my school to talk about a three week course for 16-17 year olds. At first, I wasn’t that interested – neither were my friends. But then I had a look on their website, www.the-challenge.org and changed my mind.

It’s basically a course – the equivalent of gold Duke of Edinburgh – with other teenagers from your area that you most likely haven’t met before. On the first week, you go away somewhere in the UK – we went to Gilwern, Wales – for a high-octane course to challenge yourself and abilities. The whole point is to begin to trust your team, developing the strength to continue through difficult tasks. So in summer this year, I took part in the Challenge: and I would recommend it to absolutely anyone!

Day One: Hiking and Camping

We went on a 7 hour long hike across the mountain terrain in Abergavenny, through pouring rain and numerous sheep jokes. I ended up meeting my new ‘bestie’, who happened to be my twin in both personality and looks; and we were known as the smiley ones with unbroken smiles throughout the entire experience.

That night, our other teammates slept in their own poorly constructed tents, whilst we (my “twin” and I) used our limited knowledge of camping to put up a tent that actually LOOKED like a tent. Pretty impressive, right? Anyway, we slept in the freezing cold on hard ground, but somehow managed to have a pretty fun evening.

Day Two: Canoeing

We got up at the crack of dawn the next day, fuelled with adrenaline and hot chocolate, before starting an 8 hour canoe up a river back to the residential house. We were split into pairs and had to teach ourselves how to get up the river and to the sides whenever a boat was coming; trying hard not to be hit in the face by thorns and ivy trails. It was absolutely hilarious, particularly when two of our teammates capsized and ended up waist deep in murky water – falling about laughing and trying to tip the rest of us in with them (to no prevail, thank God). By the time we got back, we were greeted with the most well-earned and amazing showers that we had ever had – as well as warm cups of tea and hot chocolate to warm us up.

Day Three: Caving

With numerous Batman related jokes, this was by far one of the best days of the week. We went in with our hard hats with attached torches and batteries; extremely unattractive and bulky wetsuits and bright red wellies. Led by our guide – who we fondly nicknamed “C-Biscuit” – we travelled through many different cracks and crevices, many times having to army crawl through mud and freshwater to get around the cave. Then, to top it all off, we jumped into the very deep, very cold water at the mouth of the cave. This meant that when you dragged your body out of the water, you could take off your wellies and pour out a good two to three pints of water!

Day Four: Climbing and Special Guests

On the last full day of the week, we were informed that we would be visited by two very prestigious people: David Cameron and Bear Grylls. I was chosen, due to my “excellent signs of empathy and warming disposition in handling each task” to be an ambassador for our ‘wave’ (all of the groups from our area, around 60 teenagers in total) and greet the guests. It was a terrific day, filmed by ITV news for Wales as well as the BBC. I also took on the responsibility of looking after Bear Grylls’ children for about am hour whilst he was being interviewed for the news – no doubt the most impressive customer for babysitting I’ve ever had. He also took part in some of our trust exercises, whereby we lifted him above our heads and walked around a couple of times. After they’d gone, we then did some rock-climbing up a cliff face, but that wasn’t anywhere near as exciting as meeting the Prime Minister and the man who drinks his own pee in order to survive the wild.

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So to finish off the first of the Challenge reviews, I’d say it was one of the best summers of my life, and every 16 year old should do it, and any parent with a 16 year old should push them to do it! It cost me only 35 pounds by registering on the internet, and it has impressed all the people I have told so go for it!

And one last comment, it’s a good thing to do if you want to lose weight – I lost 10lbs in 5 days because of it! It just goes to show that hard work really does pay off 😉

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Back With a Bang: Aqua Restaurant

28 Jun

At Oxford Circus’ best kept secret – on the fifth floor of a lavishly decorated building in possibly the best destination – I spent the early afternoon dining in style! 

Aqua itself is a five star restaurant that originated in Japan, where it was very popular. Now, the “double cuisine” restaurant is here in London, offering Japanese excellence in Aqua Kyoto, and Spanish perfection in Aqua Nueva – where I enjoyed an exquisite lunch (at the expense of my father, of course!) 

When you first enter the lobby, you may be thinking it’s a nightclub – but don’t be fooled! Just go up the lift, and be amazed by the beautiful decor, before walking down the corridor to aqua Nueva; facing a life-size raging bull. 

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Across from our table, there was the terrace that overlooked Oxford Circus – one of the best parts of the restaurant itself (besides the food).

The food. How could I possibly describe it? Exquisite, delicious, marvellous, fantastic, perfection…the list goes on! For starters, I had “Ensalada Catalana” which was sautéed spinach, pine nut and saltana salad. An interesting mix, which went together delightfully. For mains, I ordered the “Carrillera de ternera con puree de patatas y piquillos confitados” – the extraordinarily tender oxtail with a side of sweet piquillo peppers and potato puree. Again, the flavours complimented each other brilliantly, and although the marinade of the meat was rather rich, it was given in a small enough portion to benefit the tastebuds, but large enough to leave you satisfied. 

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Unfortunately, we did not have time to get a dessert (my dad had meetings to attend to) but the meal as a whole was impressive and left me absolutely astounded and left excited for our next booking! And, for a five star restaurant, the price was perfectly reasonable. For a two-course meal (without drinks) it cost 19.50 per person – affordable for most teenagers.

So when the sun comes out across England, get yourself down to Oxford Circus and look for aqua – then sit back on the terrace and enjoy an excellent meal whilst looking across at the undisturbed skyline!