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The highs and lows of my (very vegan, totally London) birthday

I recently had the misfortune to creep a little further round life's clock, with the celebration of what a friend of mine calls 'solar orbit day' and the rest of humanity refers to as a birthday. Yes, happy birthday to me.

I started the day with a bit of champagne. Well, elderflower champagne tea from Bluebird Teas Co:


I've always been a bit of a birthday dodger. I much prefer something quiet and interesting to a massive party somewhere. This year, I persuaded Mr Flicking the Vs to come with me to the South Bank rooftop sauna.

The sauna was opened at the tail-end of last year as part of the South Bank's celebration of all things Scandi, called Nordic Matters. The sauna was a temporary structure due to shut in December, but proved so popular, its run was extended just long enough for me to celebrate getting one year older in by sweating my way through clouds of steam with a group of strangers.

During our sauna session, a 'sauna master' popped up to explain the rationale behind the ritual. Apparently, warming yourself up in the sauna can act as an adjunct to the immune system: in the early stages of a cold, it raises the core temperature in much the same way as a fever, as a way off killing off microscopic invaders.

I've forgotten much of the sauna lore, but for me, I like saunas for the same reason I like pubs: I generally feel better leaving one than I did when I went in.

I used to spend a lot of time in Finland for work, and so I spent a lot of time in saunas. Every hotel had a sauna, and it always felt like a very civilised way to start a working day by sweating out the sins of the night before. I even got to try a sauna in Lapland where after a few minutes in the steam, you could cool down by jumping in the snow or climbing into a hole cut in the ice and submerging yourself in freezing water.

The closest the South Bank sauna came to that was offering buckets of cold water for people to chuck over themselves - an offer I very much declined. There was a much more civilised way of cooling down available: you could just walk outside, stand on the balcony overlooking South Bank (and wave at some confused tourists), and let the nippy London air do the rest.


It was a lovely hour or so, wandering back and forth between the steamy sauna and the bracing outdoors. Our sauna master said the sauna had proved such a hit, it was hopefully going to be back next year. I hope she's right - I know just what I'd like for a birthday present next year if so...

After feeling sparkly and new after our sauna session, I'd booked us in for afternoon tea nearby.  I should have known that it wasn't going to be good when I got three separate emails about the booking asking to get in contact with any special dietary requirements including vegetarians. A kitchen that needs advance warning that a veggie might be coming? Hmmm. It didn't bode well.

When the afternoon tea turned up, it definitely looked the part. To be fair, I would have eaten a bit of plywood by that point, as we'd been waiting for food for an hour, but still, it was a feast for the eyes when it arrived:


Sadly, only half of it was a feast for the stomach too! The avocado bruschetta and the cucumber sarnies were pretty darn gorgeous, though grated carrot and mint as a sandwich filling seemed a bit like the kitchen had run out of hummus, or imagination.

The scones were just a bit odd - a weird dry texture and chemical taste that made me wonder if someone had got a bit overfriendly with the egg replacer. The carrot cake had the same problem, and the chocolate brownie didn't taste like there was any sugar in there what so ever. That might be good news for my blood glucose level, but my enjoyment level did suffer a bit in its place.

Happily, there were some good notes: the elderflower jelly was sharp and sweet and full of grown-up flavour, and the avocado cheesecake was one of those sweets that gives raw puddings a good name. And there was a pot of tea that was bigger than my bath, which was no bad thing.

We also got to celebrate with cocktails at Cafe Prague, a drinking hole in Shoreditch that I like to save for special occasions (because when the cocktails are both delicious and two for one, I tend to feel a bit grubby the next day.) It sort of looked like this, but better:


I may not be keen to throw a big party, but birthdays are always a good excuse to get together with my favourite people. I took the day off school (shhh, don't tell anyone) and Skyped some family, and phoned, emailed, and texted some friends too. I managed to pick up a couple of parcels from the Post Office, which turned out to be presents from friends. See if you can spot a theme:


Occupational hazard of being a medical student, I guess! I'm looking forward to reading them both, and passing them on when I've finished. You'd think I'd get a bit sick of medical books, given I spend a lot of time studying the minutiae of this stuff, but I always find it fascinating. However much I find out about the human body, I'm always well aware I've learned the tiniest fraction of one percent of what there is to know, and there's new things being discovered all the time. I'm not sure what speciality I'll end up working in, but I'm always fascinating by all things gastrointestinal.

Which bring me neatly onto my last birthday highlight: a box of Booja Booja, which was included in the vegan care package Mr FtVs gave me. I might not know everything about the gut, but I know what makes my tastebuds happy.


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9 comments

  1. Happy belated birthday; that's great that you were able to spend the day in a way that was enjoyable to you! The elderflower champagne tea sounds really nice, and it's always fun to get books as gifts!

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  2. Happy birthday - you do celebrate in style - and a much nicer style than a big party - though I have never got into saunas as I have only experienced them at grimy local pool and never had the traditional stuff - those scones look odd which is strange as the scones we traditionally bake in Australia don't have egg anyway so aren't hard to veganise. Glad some of it worked for you at the afternoon tea. And enjoy your books and booja booja!

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  3. Belated happy birthday! Glad the sauna was such a treat, but such a disappointment about the afternoon tea. Carrot and mint?! What's wrong with people?! At least you can always count on BoojaBooja!

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  4. Happy Birthday! It looks and sounds like you had a wonderful time (tea time aside, that is!) I've always wanted to put on a proper tea with delicious vegan treats - perhaps this will inspire me!

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  5. Happy bday! Sorry the tea was such a disappointment. I love Booja Booja ice cream and need to get my hands on the truffles. Not so easy to procure from the USA.

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  6. Reading your birthday books with your birthday truffles, and a side of your champagne tea, sounds like a pretty blissful way to see through the coming week of cold weather (or any weather!). Happy birthday to you Joey and I'm sorry the afternoon tea didn't deliver, but at least you had a good sauna to put you in a happy mood beforehand.

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  7. Happy belated birthday!! Grated mint and carrot? That is NOT a birthday sandwich filling.

    I read Gut a couple of years ago and have been (mostly) taking a very strong daily probiotic ever since. I get some gastro symptoms with my CFS and I also had a bad stomach infection about 8 years ago so I figure I'll throw all the help I can muster into the stomach/gut area!

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  8. Happy Birthday! For someone who doesn't like to celebrate, you just wrote a perfect plan for an excellent day. I hope I can be this creative when my (cough, cough) birthday comes round again.

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  9. A belated happy birthday to you! What a fun day you had with the sauna and tea and skipping school! :-)

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