When a PR recently mentioned that she’d been reading my blog, I broke out into verbal spasms. ‘No!’, I cried. ‘No! Don’t do that! No, what I mean is yes, please read it but I haven’t updated it for ages and honestly it’s a bit embarrassing to have not posted in so long and… and…’
The PR was very polite and insisted she loved reading the story about my niece rescuing Christmas. Even in June.
If not blogging, what have I been doing for the last six months?
The first half of 2018 has been full of writing, just none of it for the blog. Magazine writing, and latterly copywriting for corporate clients, has taken precedence. I’m in no way complaining about that, and I love the variety that comes with the freelance life.
Here are some of my highlights:
‘Say no to plastics in your bathroom’ in Planet Mindful, Spring 2018– print only but if you’re quick then I think this is still available.
Most Wednesday mornings, I listen to the Happier podcast with Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft as I get ready. Today I almost choked on my toothpaste as I heard them talk about their eighteen for 2018 idea, inspired by a listener’s thirty-five for their thirty-fifth.
Thirty-five for their thirty-fifth! That’s what I’m doing too!
As I explained in my original post, when my friend Catherine at Midlands Minimalist told me about her husband’s fiftieth birthday resolution to do fifty things, I set myself a quest to complete thirty-five activities between my thirty-fifth and thirty-sixth birthdays (19th July 2017 to 2018).
Unlike the other Happier listener who created a thirty-five at thirty-five list, who cleverly planned a great mix of activities and new habits that would enhance her happiness, mine are a random and idiosyncratic selection. I’ll bear her thinking in mind for when it comes to #36at36quest!
Here’s an update on how my #35at35quest is going
As my thirty-fifth birthday approached, I felt haunted by the many things I thought I’d have done by now. I’m not talking about major life events but smaller activities that just seem to have slipped by, like finally getting round to finishing Middlemarch (I’ve read the first hundred pages two or three times). This feels particularly pressing as George Eliot and I are from the same home town and I’ve always felt some strange connection to her for that reason (and being born in hospital named after her).
I bought a copy with the book token that I received for my birthday. Good quick progress! Alas it’s been sitting next to my bed gathering dust since then.
2. Try colonic irrigation.
Because why not?
Maybe this is a good treatment to try post-Christmas indulgence. Add to January to do list.
3. Try craniosacral therapy.
Another ‘because why not?’. Another with no progress.
4. Visit Paris alone.
My partner gifted me the Eurostar for my birthday but I’ve yet to get round to booking it. There’s a theme developing…
5. Visit a Greek island
Spent a heavenly week in Santorini at the end of September.
6. Hear Elizabeth Gilbert speak
Ticket booked, going in May.
7. Watch The First Monday In May.
Hardly a film classic but hey, this is my list! And this one is now completed. When I was ill and bored last week, I snuggled up on the sofa and popped this on. A great insight into the powerful world of high end fashion, culture and publishing, but mildly disheartening watching all the beautiful people while feeling snotty, sweaty and generally gross.
8. Go to St. Ives in Cornwall.
People have recommended the Minack Theatre and St Michael’s Mount while I’m down there. A springtime trip, I think.
9. Travel to Stockholm.
A family friend has conveniently moved there! I’ve asked for Swedish krona for Christmas and will be heading over early in the new year.
10. Try African food.
Another with no progress. I’m going to take up the tip from the Happier podcast and print the list out and pop it somewhere I’ll see it so that I won’t forget what I want to do!
11. Revisit Warwick Castle for the first time since 1990.
It’s a major historic site just twenty miles from where I grew up and now live again but I haven’t been since a school trip when I was seven. I’m going to look out for special offers for entry in the new year.
12. Swing across monkey bars.
From the start, I predicted that this is the most likely not to be achieved. Still looking that way.
13. Drive a sports car.
Thanks to the FCA Group, I spent a happy week in the summer cruising round in a beautiful Fiat 124 Spider. Huge fun! I loved it and felt like Elizabeth Taylor the entire time. Little Niece and Nephew loved it too!
14. Get a Margaret Dabbs pedicure.
The *ultimate* treat for feet – and one to schedule for when the weather begins to warm up and sandals come out again.
15. Get a photo at Land’s End.
See number eight. Will tick the two boxes off together.
16. Visit Bristol.
This British city seems to have everything going for it, including a vibrant arts and culture scene. I’m embarassed that I’ve never been , not least because I’ve good friends who live there.
17. Make a Christmas cake using my grandad’s recipe.
My grandad was a baker and the last proper cake he made was for my christening in 1983. I have a handwritten copy of his recipe for making a Christmas cake but it’s now 13th December. Is it too late to make a Christmas cake?!
18. Learn some German.
Haven’t done this but am learning Swedish thanks to the Memrise app! Useful for #9.
19. Go up the Shard.
20. Visit the British Museum for the first time since 1997. Shocking, I know.
I walk past both of these on at least a monthly basis yet have still failed to go in either building. However my partner and I are planning a day trip to London between Christmas and New Year so hoping to get two big ticks then!
21. See Stonehenge.
To do on the way to or from #16.
22. Learn to make Florentines.
A friend who is a great baker has offered to show me how. I wonder if she has time in the next week or so…
23. Read a book on Korean history.
I wrote this before the current nuclear crisis kicked off. It feels a bit too terrifying now.
24. Master a song on the guitar.
I was thinking possibly Take Me Home Country Roads as this was the first song I learnt on it when I was a teenager. I just need to pick up a guitar. The one in our living room would suffice.
25. Rebuild my emergency savings pot.
Hmm, no progress again. The perils of trying to build up a career as a freelancer!
26. Try a pickled egg.
This item provoked more reaction than any other on the list. Pickled eggs divide opinion! A friend kindly supplied the goods, a fancy Chinese spiced version. It was tasty.
I’m building up to try one of the eyeball looking ones from a chip shop as I don’t imagine that they’d be as refined.
27. Learn the proper names for clouds.
Another reason to print the list off and leave it somewhere prominent. I’d totally forgotten about this.
28. Come off all my mental health medication.
A big tick for this one. I am now off all my medication having gone cold turkey about a month ago. I definitely DO NOT recommend this course of action. Not a good idea.
29. Visit a Japanese garden in autumn.
My family friend who has moved to Sweden bought me a voucher for this. We had a lovely afternoon out in October visiting this oriental corner of Lincolnshire.
30. Go to a fun fair.
Why is it so difficult to do things that we want to do?!
31. Learn to use a sewing machine.
Despite two generous offers of help with this, I haven’t done anything about it. Retrieving the machine from under the bed might help.
32. Visit the Lake District for the first time in twenty years.
Another one to be scheduled. Looks like the next seven months are going to be busy with weekends away!
33. Have a day out in Leicester.
I live about fifteen miles from this city and haven’t been there for several years, and even then only to a work event at the university. Maybe another day out for between Christmas and New Year.
34. Clear out Google Photos.
2014, 2015 and 2016 are sorted. A strangely satisfying task!
Having spent last week sharing about the lovely folks I met on the #EcoTrail at the Home and Gift Buyers’ Festival, I thought I’d share a little about myself too. Some of you readers I know personally, but many I do not, so hopefully this will provide a light-hearted insight into the woman behind the words and pictures.
The list covers the personal, professional and peculiar. Which of these is new to you? What would you put if you created something similar? Let me know by commenting below or on social media. I’d love to learn more about you too!
I live in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, UK. I grew up here, vowed to move away as soon as I could – then found myself coming back some years later!
I’m left handed but have mastered being very discreet in swapping my cutlery over in restaurants.
I have a large mole on the bottom of my right foot. This is an unusual place to have a one due to the pigment of the sole.
I’ve represented Great Britain. At talking. Really! 1999 in the European Youth Parliament. The photograph at the top shows me with my sixth form teammates; I’m the second in from the right.
I have a PhD in History. You can even read it here if you’re interested.
I haven’t had an alcoholic drink since 28th December 2014. Sometimes I write about this, both on my blog and elsewhere. Going sober is up there with becoming a freelance writer as one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
I’m a geek. I get obsessed and excited about a wide range of bizarre topics. I once spent a holiday in Disney World memorising the fifty states of America in alphabetical order. I even got to make use of my nerdish propensities recently writing an article for teens about keep their brain going over the long summer holidays – I became so enthusiastic that I *almost* wished I was doing GCSEs again!
Who’d have guessed that on the day I told the world that I wanted to try a pickled egg, I’d also visit the Sarson’s factory & be given a vat of pickling vinegar?
I may only be 35 years and one day, but I’m already blown away by the response to the #35at35quest that I posted about yesterday.
The concept of setting a number of goals related to the year of your age has gone global, having been taken up in Australia as well as being considered by some readers nearer to my home in UK.
I’ve also received offers of help in completing the tasks, and doors have opened with others too – so here is my first update on progress:
Read Middlemarch. I’ll use the book token received for my birthday to buy my own copy.
Try colonic irrigation. Because why not?
Try craniosacral therapy. Ditto.
Visit Paris alone. The Eurostar is a birthday gift from my partner.
Visit a Greek island. Holiday already booked 🙂
Hear Elizabeth Gilbert speak. Ticket already booked 🙂
Watch The First Monday In May. Hardly a film classic but hey, this is my list!
Go to St. Ives in Cornwall. People have recommended the Minack Theatre and St Michael’s Mount while I’m down there.
Travel to Stockholm. Family friend is moving there in August. How useful of her!
Try African food.
Revisit Warwick Castle for the first time since 1990.
Swing across monkey bars. This is the most likely not to be achieved.
Drive a sports car. Next week I’m testing an Abarth 595, although I’m not restricting my goal to this one car!
Get a Margaret Dabbs pedicure.
Get a photo at Land’s End. Ties in nicely with number eight!
Make a Christmas cake using my grandad’s recipe.
Learn some German.
Go up the Shard.
Visit the British Museum for the first time since 1997. Shocking, I know.
Learn to make Florentines. A friend who is a great baker has offered to show me how.
Read a book on Korean history.
Master a song on the guitar. Possibly Take Me Home Country Roads as this was the first song I learnt on it when I was a teenager.
Rebuild my emergency savings pot.
Try a pickled egg. A friend’s husband may be able to supply the goods, &/or I could make my own using the pickling vinegar that Sarson’s kindly gave me during my birthday press trip!
Learn the proper names for clouds.
Come off all my mental health medication.
Visit a Japanese garden in autumn. The family friend conveniently moving to Stockholm has bought me two tickets for this very thing!
Go to a fun fair. There’s one in my home town this weekend!
Learn to use a sewing machine. An IG friend has offered to teach me – and I can combine a visit to her with my trip to Bristol.
Visit the Lake District for the first time in twenty years.
Have a day out in Leicester.
Clear out Google Photos. I’ve already started on this!
Get a ninety minute massage.
No doubt I’ll explain more about my reasoning as I chart my success (or otherwise) across the year – but feel free to ask if you’re particularly intrigued by any of them! And I’d love to hear if you have any burning ambitions of a similar scale. Where have you always wanted to visit? What have you always wanted to learn? Is there any food that you fancy trying?
Here’s to the rest of the year progressing so well!
Photographs of me in the first half of my thirties that made me laugh
It’s my birthday this week. I’ll be 35. It’s a scary thought, not because I particularly dread getting older but simply because I cannot believe that’s my age. Surely I’m really still only seventeen… 25… 32?
Over the years, I’ve blogged about signs of ageing that I’ve observed along the way. Having spotted another only last weekend, I thought I’d collate all of them here. If nothing else, it’s helped me to realise how much my tech skills have improved; back in 2011 I still pasted entire web addresses in brackets after the text; had I not heard of hyperlinks?!
Hope you enjoy – and let me know which resonate with you! Are there any that I’ve missed? When did you first become aware of the passing years in your life?
Observed at 34 years and eleven months:
1 Folding picnic chairs seem like a perfectly reasonable item to own.
Went to a music festival and commented to my partner that we should have bought folding picnic chairs.
Observed aged 28 years and eight days:
2) You & a friend discuss whether to get the bottle of wine or just two glasses.
While on holiday, I met up with an old uni friend & we went for dinner. We both wanted white wine. And we genuinely debated whether ordering two glasses warranted purchasing the whole bottle. In the end, we did buy the bottle, but only after consideration. Clearly the days of ‘buy two glasses get the rest of the bottle free’ are no longer such an allure.
3) Fruit & nut is considered a reasonable choice of chocolate bar.
As a child, fruit & nut seemed an outrage: why ruin chocolate with other stuff? Especially vaguely ‘healthy’ things? Then lo, twenty years on, I find myself thinking ‘Umm, fruit & nut – yummy’. When & why did this happen?!
4) Going to see the Dutch tulip fields sounds like a lovely mini-break option.
My grandparents once went on a trip to see the tulips in bloom in the Netherlands. At the time, this seemed liked the most ridiculous holiday I had ever heard. The Netherlands?! On holiday?! (to be said in a Peter Kay ‘Garlic bread?’ tone). By my mid-teens, the Netherlands seemed far more alluring – well, Amsterdam came calling – but still the tulip fields remained off my holiday radar. Then the other week I found myself in all seriousness uttering the phrase: ‘I’d really like to see the Dutch tulip fields in bloom’. The implications of this are profound: I am clearly now more interested in gardening & flowers than sex & drugs.
5) You know your own underwear limitations.
Some time ago, my friend & I vowed that we would give up trying to haul our breasts into strapless bras. We were in ‘French Connection’ in Birmingham’s Bull Ring at the time. The ‘hoik wriggle’ move every few minutes, we decided, was a) a pain & b) simply not alluring. So sufficient have I been in my resolve to ban strapless bras, my brain now simply edits out any items requiring anything other than a standard bra before I even enter the changing room. The saddest part of all this is that I don’t even miss such skimpy tops, halterneck & boob tube-esque numbers.
6) Social arrangements regularly involve breakfast & always require a diary.
I’m not exactly sure when exactly this moment occurred, but at some point in the last couple of years, breakfast has suddenly become a reasonable time of day to meet up with people. Hangovers &/or new boyfriends no longer rule any time before 12pm on a Saturday or Sunday out of the equation for when to get together.
Around the same time as ‘breakfast = feasible time for socialising’ occurred, the diary phenomena also emerged. Even with closest friends, diaries are required to figure out when the next meeting can be arranged. If you haven’t got your diary with you then you dare not make any definite plans. Want to meet up on a weekday evening? A slot about three weeks later can usually be found. Want to meet up on a weekend? This requires around three months of planning – & even then it’s likely to be for breakfast.
7) The only current hits you know are familiar thanks to secondary activities.
Despite vowing to never be like our parents & become totally unfamiliar with the music charts, it seems that after a certain point, we only know current songs because we have heard them through some secondary means. Ie, we stop saying ‘Oh yes, I heard it on MTV/Top of the Pops/the Chart Show’ & start saying ‘Oh, I think I’ve heard this in the gym/at my exercise class/in a shop/in the dentist’s chair’.
8) ‘Last time around’ includes clothing you can remember wearing.
This moment was truly frightening. Topshop, Saturday afternoon: I spy some oversize shirts. First thought: ‘Ooo, they’re lovely. I could wear them with leggings’. Second thought: ‘Oh ****, I wore them with leggings circa 1990’. Third thought: ‘Oh **** & double ****, no-one else within a five-metre radius of me was even born in 1990’.
On the bright side, I dug out my 1990 oversize shirt (complete with ruffle, just like some of the Topshop new season collection). I have changed the buttons & it’s ready to wear.
Advantage *1 of ageing: you no longer have to always buy vintage, you can just dig it out of the back of your own wardrobe.
Observed aged 29 years and two months, on the eve of attending the first thirtieth birthday party for someone in my school year:
9) You start to forget events in your own life.
This isn’t just about forgetting general stuff, or specific dates, but forgetting things that you have either done or experienced. See post below for an example of it. I don’t know whether it’s because as you get older, more stuff has happened in your life or whether it’s because there’s a greater time/distance between some of those events and the present. Or maybe it’s just increased forgetfulness.
10) You no longer think about money in Tens and Units.
When you’re younger, spending projections are along the lines of ‘£5 for x, £20 for y’, with maybe the occasional large expense such as a car thrown in. Somewhere along the line, your budgetary parameters shift and everything becomes Hundreds and Thousands (at this point I suspect that describing sums in this way – units, tens, hundreds and thousands – does as much to mark my age as carbon dating does for archaeological remains, clearly linking me to a specific phase in the National Curriculum for maths).
11) You bump into people you know in supermarkets, not nightclubs.
[As had happened to me the previous Thursday]
12) More than one person offers to drive on a night out.
This happened today in relation to Saturday’s thirtieth party; I text friend saying ‘I’ll drive if you like’, she replies saying ‘I don’t mind driving’. Gone are the days when said friend used to smear kebab across my dad’s ‘taxi’ at 2pm on a Friday and Saturday night.
14) You’re no longer shocked when a friend says they’re having a baby.
When babies first start appearing among contemporaries, my initial reaction was shock (‘OMG, they’re pregnant/going to be a dad! How can this be? What do their parents think? How will they cope?) followed by a dose of reality (‘We are in our twenties/they are married/own a house with their partner/this is a perfectly acceptable age to be having a child’). I am now sufficiently old that the shock element has subsided. News of pregnancy is now met with an instant reaction of ‘Ah, how lovely – great news!’. Even babies that are a bit of a surprise to all involved are not the shock that they once were. But that is no bad thing. One of the most enjoyable nights I’ve had recently was with some old friends, playing with one of them’s new baby and discussing the imminent arrival of another’s. She joined the world yesterday afternoon and I am very excited about meeting her, maybe even at this Saturday’s thirtieth. [Which friend was this, I’m now wondering].
Observed aged 29 years and three months, while out celebrating a school friend’s engagement:
15. It becomes increasing likely that more than one person in the group won’t be drinking because they’re breast feeding.
16. You are all amazed at how busy pubs get.
17. Booty calls become “How are the kids?” calls.
18. You’re really glad you wore flat shoes.
19. You no longer even humour the strange blokes that magically appear among you when you’re dancing.
20. You think they’ve made a mistake and played the same song twice in quick succession until you realise that you’re so out of touch with current music that you just think all the songs sound same.
Life’s pretty tough going at the minute, isn’t it?
The only way I can describe Sunday is as emotionally intense, topped and tailed by news from London Bridge and the One Love Manchester concert. This was at the end of an already tough week. Trump, well, being Trump. If I gave an example it would probably be surpassed by another one between drafting and publishing. The awful bombing in Kabul; you know things must be really bad when the Afghans say it’s the worst attack they’ve seen. Plus in the UK we’re enduring the scaremongering, lies and bad mouthing that come with a parliamentary election campaign. I’d say roll on polling day but that will just mark the beginning of the next phase of anxiety-inducing awfulness.
Most of us find it tough to not let macro events influence the micro ones of our lives. Mental health issues aside, world news is definitely making me more edgy and irritable. I only have a certain amount of resilience and right now it’s stretched pretty thinly.
Scheduling a smear test for this afternoon was probably not the greatest idea I’ve ever had given these circumstances.
Yet there is relief to be found. As I write I’m burning a gorgeous Pink Grapefruit scented candle from Join and staring at the newly blossomed roses outside the window between sentences. I’ve also just eaten a lovely mini bar of Green & Black’s Sea Salt milk chocolate (#sorrynotsorry, Mark, for eating your birthday goodies while you’re at work).
Small actions though these may be, they help to encourage positive emotions. Anecdotally we may feel that tiny gestures can give us a boost but psychological research proves this too. This week in my Dialetical Behavioural Therapy group, we explored reducing vulnerability to overwhelming emotions by building a life worth living. A crucial step in this process is to ‘accumulate positive emotions’.* In the short term, this involves doing pleasant things right now.
I have a handout telling me to ‘BUILD POSITIVE EXPERIENCES NOW. INCREASE PLEASANT EVENTS that lead to positive emotions.’
In practice, this means keeping a Pleasant Events Diary ahead of next Monday’s session. I even have a Pleasant Events List with 225 suggestions to try should I struggle to come up with ideas.
Some of the suggestions are pretty funny. I’m not sure I’ll get chance during the next seven days to attend a school reunion (#60), go hunting (#71), go sledding in a snowfall (#186) or ride a dune buggy (#217). However I can eat (#29), go to a party (#43), go to the beauty parlour (#91), think about sex (#100 – just think. Sexual activity itself doesn’t make the list) and get a haircut (#187).
How about you?
Would you like to join me in keeping a pleasant event diary this week? Science says it’ll help you manage difficult emotions.
Simply pick a pleasant activity to do each day, however small, and observe how it makes you feel. I’ll be recording mine on social media.
I’d love to know how you get on with this. Does it support you in managing the crazy world we’re living in? You can comment below or on social media, tag me or respond to my posts. Plus if you enjoyed reading this, please do tell others about it – it really helps! Sharing buttons are also below.
Thank you for reading, and have a pleasant week in spite of it all.
* All quotations and images taken from handouts from DBT Skills Training and Worksheets, Second Edition, by Marsha M. Linehan (2015).
During my time away from my blog, I spent a great deal of time wrestling with the relationship between clothing and confidence. What we wear has so much potential to bring us joy but too often feels like a source of stress. One day we can select an outfit that makes us feel ten feet high; another we can lie prostrate in front of the same rail of clothes despairing that we can nothing to wear – or at least nothing that feels good.
As I worked to get my mental health back on track after a dramatic downturn, I became acutely aware of the toll that my medication induced weight gain has taken on my wellbeing. Five extra stone on a five-feet-****-all frame sure has an impact! Suffice to say, nothing fitted and in my newly raw state I was sensitised to just how distressing the experience of getting dressed every day was. Reduced to wearing an old pair of leggings and my boyfriend’s tops, I literally felt like I had lost myself. Who was this person in a band t-shirt staring back at me in the mirror? I didn’t recognise her.
Where had Rae with the cotton shirts and silk scarves gone?
Eventually I got myself together enough to go shopping for new stuff. The relief was instant, the ease spectacular, the sense of identity restored. With my new white shirt buttoned to the neck, I could work, I could go out, I could act in the world. With my new red coat, I was able to go out when it was raining!
I was myself again.
I am far from alone in recognising the transformative and restorative power of the right clothes. The latest #StyleHasNoRules campaign from Long Tall Sally, a retailer who caters for women over five feet eight tall, focuses on helping women to reclaim their fashion confidence while having fun doing so.
A study of 1,000 UK adult women found that 76 percent did not feel confident when it came to choosing outfits even though 78 percent of them had when they were children.
96 percent said they had worn what made them happy until they were ten years old.
The element of playfulness in this process was particularly emphasised by one of the Little Stylists who selected a polka dot dress for her model because ‘dots make me happy, and I want my lady to be happy’. What we wear may have an important influence on our self-confidence but we can have fun with it too.
My fashion philosophy is that we should take it both more seriously and also less seriously.
The role of clothing in confidence is also recognised by the Smart Works. Alongside interview training, this charity provides personal styling session for women who are job hunting, providing them with high quality clothing to wear to interviews and keep afterwards. As they explain,
The clothes we choose to wear have a huge impact on how we are perceived by others, particularly when meeting people for the first time. Selecting what to wear for a job interview is a critical element of our non-verbal communication, and can be a huge influence on the interviewer when they are making a decision on whom to employ.
Furthermore, they claim that ‘over 95% of our clients reported that a visit to Smart Works significantly increased their confidence in succeeding at their job interview’.
It’s possible to support Smart Works in their mission and boost your own confidence through clothes at their forthcoming designer sale. On Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st May they will be selling some of their high quality stock at the Tabernacle in Notting Hill, with proceeds going to support the charity. You can buy tickets here.
Tell me about your experiences of clothing and confidence. Does wearing polka dots make you happy? Do you think an outfit helped you to secure a job? Or do you feel a lack of clothing confidence has held you back in some way? And if you enjoyed reading this post, please do tell others about it on social media – it really helps! Sharing button are below.