The 12 Great Shoulds: Escaping the Curse of Crap New Year Resolutions

The 12 Great Shoulds- Escaping the Curse of Crap New Year Resolutions

When this post is published, I shall be holed up with my partner is a cottage on the beach on the south coast.

Back in August, we decided to have a getaway from Christmas Day until New Year’s Eve.  We found the right accommodation on the same day and booked up immediately.

It’s only as Christmas has drawn closer that I’ve begun to question our decision.  I’ve never regretted our choice – on the contrary, I think it’s a brilliant idea, all the fun of the festive build up but none of the hassle and anti-climax – but it has raised big questions about my sense of obligation.

Should a good daughter not see her parents on at least one of these days?

Should a good auntie miss Christmas with the fast growing children?

Should a good daughter-in-law whisk her partner away from his family at this time of year?

Should I be allowed to do what I want rather than what others expect of me?

The cunning among you may have spotted that all these questions are united by that most dreaded of compulsions, ‘should’.

As any pop-psychology book will tell you, use of the word should (and its close cousin, ought) is a sure sign that you don’t actually want to do something but feel somehow compelled to by pressure, be it societal, familial or even internal.

Christmas is a classic time when should based decisions come to the fore.  

You may want to stop at home with your young children but feel obliged to drag them round all the grandparents instead.

You may want to cut down on your spending but feel it would cause uproar if you stopped buying gifts for all the extended family.

You may want to opt out of Secret Santa at work but fear you’ll look like killjoy if you do.

I could list fifty more examples off the top of my head.

Alas the Christmas shoulds are compounded by the New Year ones.  

It is a rare person who hasn’t at some point in their lives made a resolution at the end of December based on something they feel they should do.

The perennial favourite is weight; many of us know that feeling that we should lose a stone – or three.  

My personal bete noir has been growing my nails.  I’ve felt obliged to quit picking my nails since at least age six.  Every year I’d vow that was it with my disgusting habit.  For the start of 1999, I even vowed that I would ‘Grow my nails like Jenni’s’, Jenni being a friend at college whose hands I greatly admired.

It took me sixteen years, yes sixteen years, to fully acknowledge how ridiculous that particular variant of the resolution was.  My own sheer willpower is not enough to overcome genetics.

My own vision of ‘how things should be’ will not override the reality of how my nails look.

I finally realised this and accepted the truth of my hands when using the bathroom on a research trip to UC Davis in July 2015.

It was a very precise moment, like a thunderbolt.  This is how my hands are, I thought, and how much more mental energy do I want to expend fighting that?  Not a lot, it turns out, and I’ve had a more harmonious relationship with the bits on the ends of my arms since.

If only it were so easy with every other ‘should’ that crosses my mind!

That said, there is one useful lesson I have learnt from overcoming my belief that I should grow my nails like Jenni’s:

Naming the sense of obligation can help to dispel it.  

Externalising it, rather than keeping it in our heads and our hearts like a dirty secret that we are betraying, can seriously undermine its power.

I don’t just believe that this applies to me; I feel that anyone could benefit from talking about their most controlling sense of should with another person or even journalling about it.

Therefore ahead of this New Year’s Eve, I encourage you to make a list of the 12 Great Shoulds in your life – one for each month of the year.

What dozen shoulds or oughts make you feel obliged and trapped?  

As my example of ‘growing my nails like Jenni’s’ suggests, the more ludicrous the better!

Here are the 12 Great Shoulds that continue to taunt me:

  1. I should be 7.5 stone because that’s the weight I was at some point in 1997 (aged 15)
  2. I should always have a tidy basket of spare towels, perfectly folded and stacked
  3. My car footwells should always look like they’ve just been vacuumed
  4. I should never ever miss the birthday of a friend or family member because this makes me an evil and uncaring person (this has been an especially tough one in 2016 as my mental health struggles have made remembering birthdays and getting to send cards difficult)
  5. I should maintain every aspect of my house to an exacting standard of cleanliness and taste.  Every. Single. Thing.
  6. I should be better at yoga than I am.  In fact, I should be considering yogi training.
  7. I should always have a completely full tank of petrol.  Even when I’ve just returned from a long journey, I ought to have filled to the very top again en route.
  8. I should never ever need to use an ATM but ought to have a reasonable quantity of cash upon my at all times.
  9. I should always have six months of savings put to one side
  10. I should not display any pictures of myself or of me and my partner together anywhere in our home
  11. I should pack away all the garden furniture and plant tubs at the onset of autumn and not leave them out over winter (can you tell that’s a current nagging guilt?)
  12. I should not experience or display any sign of human nature but rather maintain an aura of complete perfection at all times and on every occasion.  To reveal even the slightest weakness or flaw amounts to total failure.

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End of the year review: my posts of 2016

End of the year review: my posts of 2016 ||

I hope you won’t think it’s egotistical of me, but this week I’ve decided to recommend ten of my blog posts from 2016.  I guess it fits with all the other annual round ups that will start swirling around the media in the next few days: quick, Christmas is over so get on to New Year themed content!

I’ve named this posts of the year although really it is just a random selection of examples which either I like or that seemed to resonate with readers at the time of publication; there’s no specific criteria for their selection.

I hope you enjoy the ones I’ve listed.  If you like them, or if indeed you like this post, then please do share on social media via the buttons below each entry.  It makes a big difference, it really does!  And I’d love to hear if you had a favourite post which I haven’t selected – do tell me.

2nd February 2016 || You’re the adult now.  You get to make the rules [this post originally featured as part of the ‘This is my real life’ week of posts that appeared on my old site, A Life Of One’s Own.  However it also reads as a standalone piece].

11th February 2016 || Sobriety (on the) rocks

12th May 2016 || ‘The walls we build to protect ourselves become our prisons’ Sally Brampton

2nd August 2016 || The bottle or the blade

15th September 2016 || Having fun with fashion [this is where I mention the fashion philosophy that I’m developing]

22nd September 2016 || A letter to my eighteen year old self at the start of the university year

3rd November 2016 || Slip(pers) on a new identity: challenging myself with a different style

17th November 2016 || Nuneaton, or learning to love where you live

15th December 2016 || Those unforgettable moments: Communion with friends

20th December 2016 || New names for the new year [in this post I begin to develop the fashion philosophy that I first discuss in ‘Having fun with fashion’].

If you find yourself regularly coming back here, how about signing up to my mailing list?  You get a monthly letter from that comes complete with links to all my writing (blog posts, Sunday Suggestions and articles elsewhere) as well as a creativity prompt for you to try.  

Little Women at Christmas: A Christmas Gift From Me

Little Women at Christmas: A Christmas Gift ||

Dearest readers,

As a thank you for all your support and encouragement that you’ve given me over this last difficult year, I wanted to give you a Christmas gift.

What could I do, I wondered.

My thoughts drifted back to the days of primary school nativities, where I was inevitably a narrator as I could read aloud well.  Why not draw on that skill now too?

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t enjoy being read to, whatever age.

There’s also something particularly soothing about classic Christmas tales.  They feel so timeless and familiar, coming out like an annual tradition in themselves.  Listening to them also provides a calm moment of joy, time out of the hustle and bustle and rush of the season.

These stories are as much part of our Christmas celebrations as the tree or the presents, thus this is my Christmas gift to you: chapter one and chapter two of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.  I hope you enjoy listening.

Chapter One Playing Pilgrims

Chapter Two A Merry Christmas

Many thanks again for your encouragement and support over the last year, I truly do appreciate it.

I hope you have the merriest of merriest Christmases!

With love and warmest wishes, Rae xx

Jessica, the girl who saved Christmas: A new Christmas story

Jessica, the girl who saved Christmas: A new Christmas story ||

Once upon a time, there was a girl called Jessica.

She lived with her dad, mum, brother Joseph and Lola the dog.  Jessica liked dancing and playing the flute, but most of all she loved curry.  Her whole family knew that her favourite breakfast was leftover curry from the night before.

Jessica was a funny girl who made everyone laugh.

She was also very kind and loving – so much so that in 2016 she managed to save Christmas all by herself.

One day in the week before the 25th, Jessica and Joseph went to stay with Auntie Rae while their mum was at work.  They were only going round for an hour but Auntie Rae wanted to think of something fun to do.

Her first idea was to go to Crave, the best coffee and desserts shop for miles around, but it wasn’t open that day.

She racked her brains until she remembered the large box of Christmas decorations sitting in the garage.  Although it was already 19th December, Auntie Rae and Uncle Mark had not put up a single decoration.

They didn’t even have a tree.

This was very unusual.  Auntie Rae had always loved Christmas and often did lots of festive things, from baking to decorating to writing cards.

This year was different.

This year there was no Christmas cake, no Christmas decorations nor had she written Christmas cards.

Auntie Rae was sad that there was no Christmas in her house this year but she couldn’t feel any December magic.  She’d had a difficult year and was poorly with a naughty brain that made her feel sad a lot.

One day recently she’d been so sad that she even missed going to eat turkey and Christmas pudding with her friends.

This showed how bad things had become as Auntie Rae never said no to Christmas pudding.

On the day that Jessica and Joseph were coming round, Auntie Rae decided that although she didn’t want to get the decorations out of the garage, she would retrieve the box because they might like to do something with what was inside.

She went outside and dragged the large plastic container back into the house and left it by the piano.

In the afternoon, Jessica and Joseph arrived with their tablets to play on.  Auntie Rae was pleased that they wouldn’t be bored but also felt a little bit sorry as she had begun to quite like the idea that they might put up some decorations.  So after they’d taken off their coats and had a glass of fizzy pop, Auntie Rae nervously asked if they’d like to have a look inside the box.

Joseph said no thank you, instead he would watch what they were doing.  He did watching very well, sitting in the big winged armchair, curled up with his game, for the next hour.

Jessica, however, did want to see what was inside.

Auntie Rae felt even more sad when she saw all the lovely things that she had collected over the years but hadn’t the energy to get out before now.

She also felt a glimmer of hope, knowing that having Jessica there would make a big difference.

She was right.

Jessica got to work straightaway, finding five matching silver candle holders and putting them on the coffee table.

This first step encouraged Auntie Rae to put the sprig of plastic mistletoe near the front door.  It cheered her up no end, and she smiled as she suddenly had an idea!

Auntie Rae wobbled on a chair as she reached a large glass jar down from the top of the fridge.

She and Jessica sat together on the floor, working like Santa and his top most elf. 

Auntie Rae unravelled the fairy lights and twisted them round the inside of the jar while Jessica sorted out the silver and glass baubles.  Once she had them all, she began to add them into the jar too.  Then Jessica also found a big red ribbon that she wrapped around the outside of the glass.

When they were finished, Auntie Rae carefully placed the almost full jar on the end of piano. With a bit of wiggling and pushing, she managed to get the fairy lights plugged in down the back.

Like the shepherds on the hillside when the throng of angels came down to tell them of Jesus’ birth, they stood filled with both excitement and trepidation as Auntie Rae pushed the button to turn on the three hundred bulbs.

Ta dah!   They worked first time, filling the space with a gentle golden glow.

The two workers stood back, satisfied with what they had created.

They high-fived before eating mini mince pies in celebration.  After that they chilled for five minutes, scrolling through the WAH Nails Instagram feed and discussing which manicure they liked the best.

Rested and revived, they moved on to another project.

This time Jessica hole-punched some Christmassy postcards and Auntie Rae threaded them on to string to make a garland.

After Jessica had gone, Auntie Rae again balanced precariously on a chair so that she could festoon their second creation across the bookshelves.

As she was doing this, Uncle Mark came home from work.

‘What’s been going on?’

he asked, surprised to see there were decorations scattered around their home when Auntie Rae had been uttering ‘Can’t we just skip to January?’ for weeks.

Auntie Rae explained what she and Jessica had been up to.

She gave Uncle Mark a big hug and a kiss under the mistletoe by the door then, with a lump in her throat, whispered ‘I’m actually feeling happy and festive now’

– all thanks to Jessica, the girl who saved Christmas.

*Update: Jessica has an uncle on the other side of her family who has been in hospital for a few weeks.  He’s only just come out so she decided to go round decorate his house too today – so now she’s saved not one but two Christmases.  I love her so much.*

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Ethical fashion in London: New names for the new year

Ethical fashion in London: New names for the new year ||
L to R: Sarah & Rhoda of P.I.C. Style, Sophie of Gung-Ho Designs, Nina of War & Drobe, Kenny of Poli & Jo – all designers at the Shoreditch Pop Up Shop || Ethical fashion in London: New names for the new year ||

I’ve realised that my own fashion philosophy is quickly beginning to emerge now that I’m spending more time immersed in thinking and writing about the subject.  The phrase that keeps coming to mind is that we need to take fashion both more and less seriously.

We need to take fashion both more and less seriously.

At first glance this is a paradox but less contradictory than it sounds.

We can take fashion more seriously by looking closely at what we are wearing, where it has come from and what practices (working and environmental) have been involved in the creation process.

We can use our consumer power to support businesses who are trying to create new models of manufacture and retailing.  

Yet this consideration of the business side of fashion doesn’t preclude a bit of fun.

It is still possible to be playful and creative in what we wear.

Too often we take the appearance side seriously while neglecting to consider the actually serious side at all, but we can reverse this mindset.

Last Wednesday, I encountered an opportunity to do just this when I attended the press night for a pop-up shop in Shoreditch.  The garments and accessories on display were beautiful but had quirky elements as well, from fun prints to big bows to unusual materials.

At the same time, all the goods for sale had an ethical twist one way or another, including using up discarded fabrics to stylish but slow fashion to supporting key environmental causes with each purchase.

It felt like a really exciting and growing movement to be part of, and the evening really resonated with my ‘take fashion both more and less seriously’ ethos.

Alas the pop up shop will be closed by the time this post goes live but you can still buy from the brands featured via their websites.  Here are my recommendations based on the makers that I met that night, giving you some new names to check out in the new year…

© Gung Ho Designs || Tuesday Reviews Day 20-12-2016 ||
© Gung Ho Designs || Ethical fashion in London: New names for the new year ||

Gung Ho Designs

Created by Sophie Dunster, Gung Ho Designs is comprised of organic cotton handmade garments all of which tell an important environmental tale.

Each features a different print, from bees to leopards to elephants, and when you purchase an item you receive a booklet explaining the challenges facing that particular animal.  Not only does this raise awareness, but with each sale a donation is made to a relevant good cause.


© Margot and Mila || Moon phase ring || Tuesday Reviews Day 20-12-2016 ||
© Margot and Mila || Moon phase ring || Ethical fashion in London: New names for the new year ||

Margot and Mila

Named after important women who’ve influenced her, Lucinda Burke’s gorgeous jewellery collection is handmade in London and uses ethically sourced precious stones.  Lucinda also does bespoke commissions if you’re after a special piece!





© P.I.C collection || Tuesday Reviews Day 20-12-2016 ||
© P.I.C collection || Ethical fashion in London: New names for the new year ||

P.I.C. Style

Rhoda and Sarah of P.I.C. Style may produce a versatile and interchangeable capsule collection but I wanted to buy every single item in it!  From a base of eight pieces they claim you can create over fifty outfits combinations, allowing you to make a great slow fashion statement.

These are definitely garments that you’ll want to wash and wear for a long time.  Even the partner of another designer in the pop-up was sporting their peg trousers!


© Poli and Jo || Tuesday Reviews Day 20-12-2016 ||
© Poli and Jo || Ethical fashion in London: New names for the new year ||


Poli & Jo

Kenny of Poli & Jo usually creates limited edition handbags and bags that he sells from his long-established stall on Shoreditch Market but when he realised that car firm Land Rover had leftover roof material, a new concept was born.  Alongside his usual range, Kenny now crafts tote bags made from this recycled material.

The result is beautifully styled bags with a hefty dose of British heritage alongside modern design and durability.  If a Land Rover roof can survive the African desert, you are not going to wear the material out on the 283 bus.

© War & Drobe || Tuesday Reviews Day 20-12-2016 ||
© War & Drobe || Ethical fashion in London: New names for the new year ||


War and Drobe

Designer Nina Kovacevic and her family came to Britain as refugees from the Balkans War and they settled in London.  This is where Nina’s War and Drobe company is now based, with her making all the items by hand.

There’s a clear vintage influence on the brand’s vibe, with bolero jackets and close fitting dresses alongside high waisted trousers and jackets.  If it’s a feminine silhouette that you’re after, get some War and Drobe in your wardrobe.

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Sunday Suggestions: 18th December 2016

Sunday Suggestions: a weekly round up of things to read, watch & listen to on a specially curated Pinterest board
Sunday Suggestions 18th December 2016 ||

Welcome back to my regular series with suggestions of awesome people and things to check out, read, participate in and follow.

Following up on last week’s featured piece on Last Tango in Paris, there are links to a report on the scandals surrounding old Hollywood stars and an article on the way black women are perceived.

There are also two links about design and a podcast about creativity.

Finally, I leave you with a heart-warming (and tear-jerking!) piece ahead of Christmas and my favourite Christmas song – it’s not as comedic as the usual final videos but the song is still pretty funny.

‘The Last Tango in Paris Rape Scene Is Just One of Hollywood’s Many Scandals’

Danielle Dash ‘Gifty and the Faux Fear of Black Women’

BBC Artsnight ‘The Brits Who Designed the Modern World’

Catharine Rossi ‘The underappreciated art of nightclub design, and why clubs are worth fighting for’

Recapture Self with Beryl Ayn Young ‘Creative Magic: A Conversation with Susannah Conway’

Bournemouth Daily Echo ‘Community searching for a child who sent dead dad a Christmas letter by balloon’

And finally… I guess this is a bit of a tear-jerker too: Tim Minchin ‘White Wine in the Sun’

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Those unforgettable moments of communion with friends: why friendship is good for our soul

Those unforgettable moments of communion with friends: why friendship is good for our soul ||

On Friday I showed up at a friend’s house for lunch.

I knew I was seeing her between meetings she had and was told we’d be eating soup.  I expected to rock up to a tin of Heinz and a few slice of brown bread, but on arrival I was greeted by a table fully decked out for a Christmas celebration, even though there were only two place settings.

We had a festive themed table cloth and party crackers as well as a table laden with homemade soup, crusty bread, croutons, a cheese board, salad and three different desserts.

Reader, I felt thoroughly spoiled.

Topped with paper hats, we had a merry time together, sharing a meal and heartfelt thoughts.

As I left, further blessed with a glass tree decoration that she had forged herself, I knew we had taken communion together.

You don’t need bread and wine to share communion with someone. 

I don’t think you need to view the act of communion necessarily in a religious way, although obviously it comes heavily laden with Christian associations.  At its heart, the act centred on Jesus and his closest mates sharing a meal between them.

Isn’t that something we all know can be a special occasion, one that seems to take on emotional significance beyond the actual act of eating and drinking?

On Saturday afternoon I met another friend.

I travelled up to Manchester to see her and we spent several hours in heavy duty conversation, oblivious to the world around us as we talked and drank and then ate, sharing a bowl of olives before tucking into hefty burgers with like-your-mum-made fries (if you’re ever in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, I highly recommend Evelyn’s Café Bar).

We parted hoarse voice and almost missing my train, shouting our ‘I love yous’ across the station concourse as I skidded to get to through the barrier in time.

After these joyous moments of sharing deeply with friends I was gutted to miss another Christmas lunch planned for Sunday.

A mix up with my pills on Friday was playing havoc with my emotions, meaning nothing for it but sitting on the sofa all afternoon sleeping and crying.

I was especially sad to not have time with these girlfriends as they were the bunch who had supported me so stoically during the darkest days of my year, providing listening ears and practical help – the kind of friends who’d come round to see you but make you sit down while they got on with the coffee making.

These same friends first alerted to the possibility of communion many years ago, when we sat around post-meal sharing wine and sharing stories, telling our truths as we never had before.

Our relationships were transformed, never to be the same again.

Surely that is that purpose of communion, a transformative experience that changes us?

Friendships are important because they help to remind you of who you are, whether at your best, your worst or simply your core.

Unlike familial or romantic relationships, there aren’t rites of passage or dedicated days where we can honour and celebrate our platonic ties.  This seems a shame, an oversight somehow, as if they are not as important in our lives as relatives by blood or marriage.

Yet we are able to mark the significance of friendships over and over again if only we are mindful of what’s happening around us.

We can share communion, a treasured bond, a life-affirming moment with them whenever we sit down and talk, preferably with food and drink on the table between us too.

We can experience the most spectacular thread of connection even if we were only expecting to have half a tin of reheated soup.

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