In which that was the month that was: February issue

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February has gone past in a lightning flash, probably due to the ridiculous amount of work I was doing until the 18th. I am very proud of having got six magazines to print in six weeks, however: that is definitely an entry for the CV. I saw one of them in the airport WH Smith yesterday which still gives me a little thrill.

So this month I have been…

Having (part one) of a balcony installed

Yes, finally! Good things come to those who wait, and we’ve been waiting a long time. Still no balustrade or steps, but the platform is built, so we can at least sit out there. As can Olivia, who finally has the height to lord it over Billy, her nemesis next door.

Hanging out in Amsterdam

Beer, bicycles and batter (pancakes and waffles, a tenuous B!) — a fab three days away and lovely to travel to another country.

Seeing one of my best friends

B made a last minute decision to come over for the weekend from Berlin, so I took a (deserved!) day off work to enjoy three days of hanging out with her. Her being seven months pregnant meant the pace was a little slower than normal, but the coffee and chat was as good as always.

Enjoying lots of flowers

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Our old neighbours came round for dinner and bought us a beautiful orchid which is making me smile every time I see it. Daffodils have started to appear in the shops so I’ve been buying them for work and for home, and B bought us a tray of three pink hyacinths that will soon be perfuming the house with the scent that always heralds spring for me.

In which there is a surprise trip to Amsterdam

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For S’ birthday earlier this month, I figured he needed a really special present, after working so hard for the past year, and since it was somewhere we’d wanted to visit for ages, I booked us a three day trip to Amsterdam. I would have loved to make it a total surprise: mentioning on the Sunday evening that he didn’t have to go to work for the next three days, and as I know his boss (I used to work for the same company) then it might have been possible. But I had visions of his booking meetings without her knowledge, then panicking on said Sunday night, so I had to settle instead for telling him we were going away, but not to where.

It was fun to listen to S’ guesses for the preceding two months, which included the correct place, Brussels, Dublin, Belfast (too many episodes of The Fall) and the Bahamas (ha!). Even on the morning itself, his actual birthday, he still had no real idea, although driving the familiar route to Bristol airport kinda made it obvious we were flying, and when we arrived, the only two flights that fitted the time were Amsterdam and Faro (which I had actually considered but discarded on the basis that we’d talked about going to the Netherlands for the last three years so it seemed daft to go somewhere random).

It had been a somewhat stressful few days before leaving (work being busy, plus the cat deciding on Saturday evening to come in limping, necessitating an emergency trip to the vets on Sunday morning and a contingency plan formulated with my mom for her to come and stay in case Olivia needed 24 hour attention, then having to brief our cat sitter on giving painkillers when it was found that she was fine after all), but as soon as we landed at Schipol I was in full-on pancakes, coffee and beer tourist mode.

We spent the three days cycling round the city, getting our cheeks whipped red with the February wind, loving the freedom the bikes gave us. They had come as part of the lovely apartment in Westerpark I rented through Air BnB, and I can’t recommend cycling in Amsterdam enough. I love to ride, but the roads in Bristol fill me with fear, partly the steep gradient but mostly the cyclist-hating drivers and having to share bike lanes with motorcycles and First Buses. Cycling in Amsterdam was a total and utter pleasure, as there are clearly segregated lanes and drivers are always aware of you. Oh, and the total, total flatness!

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We loved being outside in the blue skies so much that while we popped our heads into the Rijksmuseum to check out the refurb, the lure of exploring more of the city on two wheels overcame the excellent Old Masters collection.

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On the Tuesday night, we met up with two of our Dutch friends from our Salkantay trek three years ago, who took us to the Food Hallen, a newly-opened collection of food stalls and bars in the old tram terminus, where we drank Dutch beer and ate an amazing meat platter with fresh bread and pickles. Since were tourists in the Netherlands, we also sampled pancakes and waffles (with Nutella, natch), saw tulips and canals, were mildly surprised by naked ladies beckoning to us from windows in the red light district, and had no need to speak Dutch whatsoever, thanks to the amazing language skills of every single person we met (as always, I was ashamed of the British inability/laziness/lack of teaching at school in other languages).

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So after three years of wanting to visit, Amsterdam didn’t disappoint, although I feel I may have set the bar very high for future birthday presents!

In which that was the month that was: January issue

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I know there’s still a week to go of January, but I’m unlikely to get any time to write a blog post next week. After going back to work after Christmas, I had five magazines to get to print before 18th February, so it’s been a bit of a manic few weeks to say the least. One has now gone, one is imminent, and luckily there’s not been too much stress, but it does mean that after writing copy all day the last thing I really want to do is write more. But I’m at home in my new study, enjoying people watching from my window, so it’s nice to have a break from weddings and cakes and knitting to write something random.

So this month I’ve…

Conquered a bunch of trapeze moves

After taking so much time off from trapeze last year, it’s been lovely to get my strength and skills back in the last few weeks, and I’m finding that things are coming quite easily at the moment. I’ve finally mastered a one legged monkey roll – something I first tried years ago, but failure meant I always avoided doing it. Now, however, I’m twirling round that bar like a demon. I’ve almost, almost done an unassisted back balance too.

Got obsessed with Bon Iver

Late to the party I know, but Holocene has been on constant repeat on both Spotify and in my head. So beautiful.

Debated doing the Tour de Bristol

Organised by local charity St Peter’s Hospice, this is a 30, 50 or 70k bike ride at the end of March. One of things I wanted to achieve in 2015 was to take part in an organised ride, and this sounds like it would be ideal. S is happy to accompany me (although the distance is a mere walk in the park for him) and is encouraging me to push myself and do the 50k rather than the 30k, which I know I could do without too much effort.

Continued crossing off items on the snagging list

The study now has shelves, I’ve bought very pretty Mexican tiles to tile our dining room fireplace and I’ve officially become middle aged by getting excited about buying a steam mop! We’re also the proud owners of a new kingsize bed that’s arriving today, meaning that our old bed is being moved to the spare room and we have the novelty of being able to provide guests with a proper bed, rather than reaching for the airbed and pump whenever anyone comes to stay. We really are grown ups!

In which there is a look back at 2014

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I’ve seen quite a few bloggers do this meme at New Year over the past few years, so I thought it would be a good way to get back into writing blog posts that are longer than two paragraphs. Caution: expect a lot of mentions of the house.

1. What did you do in 2014 that you’d never done before?

Demolish a wall and install a steel lintel. Do some bonding plastering. Put in a (successful) planning application. Put in two (successful) building regulation notices. Edit a cake magazine and several knitting magazines. Knit a pair of baby booties. Appear in The Sun (not on page 3!) and Perfect Wedding magazine. Dress up in an inflatable horse costume for a friend’s hen do. Commission a Peter Dinklage cross stitch.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I didn’t actually make any particular concrete resolutions for 2014, as I usually do. I did want to take exercising more seriously, which I kept – I now climb the eleven flights of stairs to my office daily, which does wonders for the thighs that you wouldn’t believe. I also wanted to continue de-cluttering, which I did when we moved. This year, I’d like to stay on the exercise path, and also cut down on the amount of free sugar I eat, i.e. the insane amounts of cakes and biscuits in my office.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

It wasn’t as busy a year for new babies as 2013 was (eight friends, nine babies) and 2015 is going to be (six friends all due before June so far, with no doubt more to come) but my Canadian friend Steph did give birth to her second child in December. She’ll probably be at school before I get to meet her, though, sadly.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

My grandma passed away in January. It was not a good start to the year.

5. What countries did you visit?

Germany, in January, and then Croatia in August. I also went to Scotland in June, but since the referendum voted no, I can’t really count that.

6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?

More time for a social life, both with S and with friends. This year has passed in an insanely quick blur of house renovations.

7. What dates from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

16th October, when we finally moved into the house. 5th November, when I was diagnosed with sleep apnoea and finally had a reason for being tired all.of.the.time.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Doing up the house, no question. S and I really pushed ourselves and at times we despaired that it would ever get finished in a timely fashion, but I’m sitting here writing this in my new study, so it turned out pretty well. Being headhunted for my new job and realising that actually, I am doing pretty well at this second career. I also got asked to write stuff for a magazine that’s completely different to anything I’ve done before, which was nice and ego boosting.

9. What was your biggest failure?

This sounds big headed, but I don’t really think I had any failures this year – nothing that I can remember, anyway. Maybe I’ve blocked them out?

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Apart from a cold or two, no. As mentioned above, I did get diagnosed with sleep apnoea, but as it’s due to a physiological reason (the shape of my jaw) it doesn’t really classify as illness or injury.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

My new kitchen. I love it. Ditto the woodburner. I also love a gold leaf-shaped necklace I bought (from Boots!), a mint green elbow sleeve jacket from New Look and a pair of fox-red suede wedge heeled ankle boots from Clarks.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

S, without a doubt. The man is amazing, and continues to get better and better. The amount of work he put in this year was insane. It’s no surprise he’s spent the last three weeks with a cold as I think the year’s effort is catching up with him. Also, my parents, especially my dad. We couldn’t have done half the stuff on the house without his advice and practical help.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

British politicians, especially members of UKIP. ISIS. Luis Suarez and other ridiculous footballers like him. American police. Boko Haram.

14. Where did most of your money go?

No surprise here – house renovations. B and Q, Screwfix, Wickes, plumbers, plasterers, electricians… the list goes on. Some nice stuff, too, though, such as our Croatian holiday and my trip to Germany to see B and Steph.

15. What did you get really excited about?

Moving into our new house. The three weddings we went to. My best friend Z’s trip to Bristol in March and having so many people I love all in one room.

16. What song will always remind you of 2014?

Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off. Winner of the insanely catchiest song of 2014.

17. Compared with this time last year, are you:

–happier or sadder?
About the same: I like to think of myself as a positive person, mostly. Happier in that we’re no longer living in a house with an apparently insurmountable damp corner. Happier in my job, too. Life is good. I am extremely lucky.

–thinner or fatter?

Probably a wee bit thinner, due to climbing all the stairs. But not much.

–richer or poorer?

Poorer – our savings have been completely annihilated. But all in a good cause.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Socialising with friends and going out and doing fun things, especially in the summer. We had to sacrifice many activities because of the house, and S and I both feel that we missed out on a lot of stuff this year.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Can you sense a pattern here? DIY. Also, stressing about issues that then a week later I can barely remember. I need to try and not sweat the small stuff so much.

20. How did you spend Christmas?

Just the two of us, and Olivia, with some good food, good books and a roaring fire.

21. Did you fall in love in 2014?

More so with S than ever before. And Olivia continues to be a source of complete joy and delight. Today, for example, we went for a walk in the allotments that are at the back of the house, as S hadn’t explored them properly. While there, we found out that Olivia was also visiting (they are accessible from our garden, so we had been hoping she was using them for frisking). She was delighted to see us there too, we had an entire conversation, and then she went for a walk with us. Ace!

22. What was your favourite TV programme?

The latest series of Game of Thrones was excellent, as always. We saved it til winter and finished it off over Christmas. I really enjoyed The Returned, the French drama on Channel 4, and got hooked on The Fall, after not seeing the first series when it was originally aired.

23. What was the best book you read?

I read around 53 books this year (I totted them up earlier although I think I’ve missed off a few), and my favourite two were The Goldfinch and The Signature of All Things. The latter was an especial surprise as I saw part of the film version of Eat Pray Love and thought it was rubbish, which put me off Elizabeth Gilbert. S bought me two books for Christmas, Cat out of Hell by Lynne Truss which was silly but fun, and the Val McDermid version of Northanger Abbey, which was very clever. I’ve also enjoyed reading more non-fiction this year, such as a book on the Hinault-LeMond rivalry called Slaying the Badger and the memoir of neurosurgeon Henry Marsh, Do No Harm.

24. What was your greatest musical discovery?

I didn’t make any, although I did discover the delights of a month’s free subscription to Google Play.

25. What did you want and get?

A fully refurbished house that’s warm, stylish and fits our needs. A new job when my contract ran out in June. A proper summer of sunny weather.

26. What did you want and not get?

A balcony. But with luck and a following wind, it will be installed in a few weeks.

27. What did you not want and not get?

Redundancy. Hurrah!

28. What was your favourite film of this year?

I can’t actually think of anything that memorable that I saw this year. I enjoyed Mockingjay Part One, but I didn’t see anything amazingly stand-out. We did watch Labyrinth last night (our NYE pub plans with friends were cancelled as S was ill) which I hadn’t seen for years but which is still awesome.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 32 and had multiple celebrations, as is my wont. We went down to my parents to go to a wedding a few days before my birthday, and they took us out for dinner at a very delicious restaurant in Portsmouth. I had Friday night cocktails, plus my traditional outdoor drinks on the Saturday in Bristol with friends, by the Arnolfini and then at the Apple, a lush cider bar. Not even the World Cup could dampen the evening.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Not having to devote so much time to DIY. The end result, however, is immeasurably satisfying.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014?

A lot of the year was spent in a paint spattered t-shirt and trousers. In more normal looks, I continued to get rid of stuff that didn’t suit me and spent a lot of time in striped tops, skinny jeans, dresses and boots. I wore my mint green jacket to death, and loved the two pairs of sunnies S bought me for my birthday, a matching mint green pair and an oversized black pair. I also bought a playsuit for a first time, despite thinking I was a little bit too old. It’s navy blue with lacy cross straps, and although it’s a pain in the arse to unbutton, I absolutely love it.

32. What kept you sane?

S, without a doubt. Good books and a DVR. Red wine. Trapeze.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

No celebrity crushes for me this year. I still think Alan Rickman is the bee’s knees.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

So many got me angry this year. The bedroom tax, the trolling response to feminist/women’s issues, such as Jane Austen being on the banknotes, the threat of privatisation of the NHS. I’m going to stop there as I’ll become Charlie Brooker-esque if I dwell on this, as it’s easy to forget there’s a lot of good events and good people in the world.

35. Who did you miss?

Those friends of mine who are too far away to see as often as I’d like. Thank goodness for Skype, as it means you can imagine your favourite people are in the room with you. Although B is now leaving Nigeria and moving to Bosnia Herzegovina, which will make visits a lot easier.

36. Who was the best new person you met?

I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the people at work I now sit with, all of whom are absolutely lovely.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014.

Hang on in there – it will get finished. Also, be nice to building inspectors.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

Not a song lyric, but “nothing worth having comes easy” describes my year pretty well! Although on Googling it to try and find out who actually said it (jury’s out on that), turns out it’s also an album by Little Man Tate, so there you go.

In which a cat in a festive jumper is wishing you Merry Christmas

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Christmas card 2014

All I can say is, it’s a good job that Olivia doesn’t realise the indignities which I put her through each year! After last year’s brief foray into InDesign, we’re back in good ol’ Paint.

Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year, full of food, family, friends, books, films and sheer doing-nothingness.