Category Archives: It’s all about me

In which there is a look back on 2016

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Slightly later than usual, here is my now annual, somewhat narcissistic look back on the previous year.

  1. What did you do in 2016 that you’d never done before?

Went trekking in the Atlas Mountains. Ate soup from a bread bowl. Took part in a childhood memory, The Crystal Maze. Had my home featured on a design blog. Pitched a feature to a magazine I had no prior connection with and had it accepted for actual cash payment! Visited Durdle Door in Dorset. Knitted my first two baby hats, which I’m really proud of. Knitted my first rabbits, which I also love. Cycled to work. Watched an opera all the way through.

Oh, and get pregnant. Yep, I’m having a baby! The ETA of Mini W, as I have dubbed them, is 18th May. So this has also led to a whole load of other firsts: having an ultrasound, wearing maternity clothes, feelinh a baby kicking me, sharing intimate bodily details with total strangers…

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

Last year I said “I just want to appreciate everything I have, continue to grow my freelance work and be the best wife, friend, daughter and sister I can be. I’ve also made a decision to do more of what I want to do and stop saying yes to things I don’t want to do (albeit in a polite manner).” I would say that’s been pretty successful. I read The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a **** earlier in the year and found myself nodding in agreement to everything the author said. Consequently I have really tried to only do things that I want to do, and while it’s not always worked, it’s definitely more in my consciousness. My freelance work has gone really well this year, and I’ve expanded my clients as well as launching a specific subsection of my business with its own website and branding. I’ve certainly been more appreciative of everything I have – global and personal events in 2016 have made this even more necessary – and I hope my friends and family would say that I’ve been a good person to have in their lives. Certainly everyone gave us an amazing and joyous reaction to the announcement of Mini W, so that bodes well! So this year, I want to continue on the same path, with the added addition of being the best parent I can be, and a bit less freelance work.

  1. Did anyone close to you give birth?

We welcomed a new niece in April, then friends’ babies in February (twice), April, May (twice) and November. Next year I have two friends (who handily live just around the corner) giving birth in January and February, and I’m sure (hope) that more will be announced. More hats and rabbits to come!

  1. Did anyone close to you die?

My wonderful friend N, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, died in August. I had the privilege of dancing at her wedding in June, which was the last time I saw her, and I’m glad I have such a happy final memory of her. Her death hit my friends and me really hard, and has really shaped how I view life and ensure that I am even more grateful for everything I have. She was an amazing person – funny, clever, engaged with the world, generous. I miss her a lot and still rail against the sheer unfairness of what happened to her.

  1. What countries did you visit?

Morocco in April for my mom’s 70 birthday, and then an epic Eastern European road trip encompassing Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Serbia, Hungary and Austria in July.

  1. What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?

Wine, caffeine, unpasteurised cheese. I’ve only lacked these since September but my, it’s been hard at times. Alcohol and caffeine really do make everything taste better.

  1. What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

10th September, when I found out I was pregnant.

  1. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Managing to give up all alcohol for three months straight and then reducing it to less than half a glass of wine beyond that! On a less superficial level, having the confidence to cycle to work. Luckily a lot of the route is off road, by the river, making it a lovely commute, but I’m still really pleased that I’ve had the courage to brave Bristol commuter traffic for the busy sections. Cycling to work is ace, and a great way to bookend the day.

  1. What was your biggest failure?

The fact I can’t think of one either says that I’m really arrogant, or that I had a lucky year. Hopefully it’s the latter!

  1. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Nope, I’ve been (touch wood) really well this year, even while pregnant. In fact I feel a little bit guilty sometimes when people ask how I am and my response is fine and dandy, especially when I know so many people who really suffered with morning sickness and fatigue.

  1. What was the best thing you bought?

As with last year, we have really tried to cut back on buying objects, as the older I get the more I despair at just how much stuff there is in the world. So again, the ‘experiences’ I bought, such as holidays and meals out, were the best. In terms of objects, I bought a pair of black boots that are the same as my beloved fox red ones, which I do love and wear a lot, plus a second hand cat jumper (it’s freaking awesome). Oh, and paying someone to landscape our garden was a brilliant decision.

  1. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

As always, S continues to be my absolute favourite human being. He has been a rock this year, and I genuinely don’t know what I would do without him. I was also so grateful to have an amazing group of supportive friends this year to cope with various issues that came up.

  1. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

Oh, the list could go on for ever here. Trump, Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, journalists from The Daily Mail and other such tawdry publications… So much of national and international events in 2016 made me appalled and depressed. It’s important to remember the good stuff, though, which is why I really liked the list of positive news stories that Colonel Chris Hadfield posted on his Facebook page on 31st December. Go check it out and feel a bit better.

  1. Where did most of your money go?

We spent quite a bit to get the front and back garden landscaped, but as mentioned, this was definitely worth it as man, lugging railway sleepers around is hard! Most of our money went to savings, actually, which is good to build them up after the Great House Renovation of 2014 and in light of having an extra mouth to feed this year.

  1. What did you get really excited about?

Telling our family and friends about Mini W. Spending time with one of my best friends in Sarajevo. Winning both of my crystals in The Crystal Maze!

  1. What song will always remind you of 2016?

Lover of the Light by Mumford and Sons, and Made-Up Love Song #3 by The Guillemots, although sadly not for the happiest reasons. The latter was N’s first dance, and the former was played at her memorial service. But as well as being poignant, they also remind me of what a wonderful human being she was. On a happier level, Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the Feeling always makes me smile.

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

–happier or sadder?
As happy as I was last year, as for the majority, it’s been a good year. Events on both a domestic and global scale make me even more grateful for my life, and my wonderful friends and family.

–thinner or fatter?

I’m 22 weeks pregnant, so definitely fatter! How much is a baby and how much is Christmas excess though is debatable…

–richer or poorer?

Richer as, aside from the garden, we’ve not had to do anything on the house and we’ve been able to save quite a lot. When I stop work this is going to come in handy!

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

Dancing, not worrying, going to the allotment.

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

Wasting time on my phone. As with last year, working on evenings and weekends. The curse of the freelancer! But the payoff is that I get to have odd weekdays off from work and also plan nice things such as the now-annual trip away I take with my mom. And I never learn, but stressing about deadlines. It always works out! I really ought to know that now.

  1. How did you spend Christmas?

S and I spent it with just the two of us (and Olivia). It was a sadly alcohol-free celebration for me, but I ate lots of warm mince pies and clotted cream to make up for it. I got given a lot of socks and chocolate (we now have a drawer full), we spent mornings snuggled under the duvet watching TV and I did absolutely no work at all.

  1. Did you fall in love in 2016?

I really understood for the first time what it’s like to feel overwhelming parental love for someone, even someone who’s not yet here.

  1. What was your favourite TV programme?

S and I binge watched series 6 of Game of Thrones over Christmas and New Year, which was excellent. I feel that events are finally starting to level out and nasty people are starting to get their comeuppance.We also got through Stranger Things very quickly, and even went to a DJ Yoda gig inspired by the series. I really enjoyed The People v OJ Simpson, particularly the episode that focussed on Marcia Clarke. The ‘San Junipero’ episode of Black Mirror was superb, and so life-affirming — very different from the usual dark predictions that leave me feeling drained and depressed after watching. I also started watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix, and have reached series 5. S is not joining in with this, and in fact is not that impressed that it’s the only reason we’ve kept our Netflix subscription going.

  1. What was the best book you read?

Out of the 75 books I read, The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett was definitely my favourite. I loved it so much that I went out and bought it for my friend for her birthday and I keep telling people that they need to read it. I also really enjoyed The Muse by Jessie Burton, which S gave me for Christmas.

  1. What was your greatest musical discovery?

There was nothing noteworthy this year. We continue to listen to a lot of funk and soul, and saw Craig Charles live on Good Friday, who was excellent, and made up for the god-awful phone-in gig we last saw him give in Bristol.

  1. What did you want and get?

Exchange and completion on our old house. A landscaped garden.

  1. What did you want and not get?

To finish the online journalism course I started in April. The trouble with self-study is that lounging around reading paid work has to take priority, so I’m only halfway through. My aim is to complete it by April, however, so it’s done before I start my maternity leave.

  1. What did you not want and not get?

Long periods of unemployment. Hurrah! I had a quiet April but I just used it to spring clean the house and get ahead with regular commissions, so while I could have done with some more income that month, it wasn’t the end of the world.

  1. What was your favourite film of this year?

It doesn’t make me sound highbrow but I really loved Bad Neighbours 2!

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

I turned 34 and we had a rum and reggae evening with friends at ours to take advantage of the warm weather and the balcony. I made jerk chicken and coleslaw, and we drank several bottles of rum. Then S took me to Go Ape in the Forest of Dean, which was a lot of fun, and that evening we drank a lot of Prosecco and ate pizza while watching Mystic Pizza.

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

.Less worry and more alcohol.

  1. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2016?

I would never really describe myself as having a ‘personal fashion concept’, as I’ve been wearing exactly the same type of clothes for years now — skinny jeans, short skirts, dresses, boots. A few years ago I made a conscious design to be much more aware of where my clothing was coming from, and not to buy from the worst ‘sweatshop’ offenders on the high street. I have kept this up now and will only buy from a handful of shops that put effort into the transparency of their supply chain and that have better ethical ratings than Primark, Asda et al. It’s not always easy but it’s worth it. I also consider that (myself included) people have too many clothes, clothing is far too disposable, and this is something we really need to address as a matter of urgency. I’m halfway through watching The Minimalists documentary on Netflix, which I can highly recommend if this is something you’re interested in.

  1. What kept you sane?

I took up yoga on a regular basis this year, which really helped to calm down the chattering in my head, as well as being good for my fitness and strength. I find regular swimming good for keeping sane too. Mostly though, it’s my amazing husband. He always, always knows what to do to keep me calm. And red wine or gin as a last resort!

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

I’m always partial to a bit of Kit Harington.

  1. What political issue stirred you the most?

Oh my gosh, where do you start with this considering the year we had? If I had to pick one, though, it would be the EU referendum. I am still horrified that the UK voted to leave and am hoping against hope that something comes along to block it. I wouldn’t have minded so much if I felt that Leavers had voted for good reasons, but it seems that the majority of them did it as a protest vote without considering the consequences. I was also appalled at the xenophobia that it stirred up.

  1. Who did you miss?

My friend N. We didn’t meet up a fraction of how much I would have liked, but we always had a lot of fun when we did. I still can’t really believe I won’t see her again.

  1. Who was the best new person you met?

I got to know one friend and her partner (now husband) a lot better this year, and I’m so glad I did. I now count her as one of my closer friends and someone I can talk to about so many things.

  1. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016.

Always be grateful for what you’ve got.

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

“They say that new life makes losing life easier to understand” — Jack Johnson, If Only I Could. It’s a cliche but it’s so true. I found out I was pregnant a month after N died, and it helped to put things in perspective a little. I like to think that this baby will have some of her amazing characteristics, and I look forward to telling them about her achievements. I’ll probably skip the more juicy tales of us getting drunk at university, though.

 

 

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In which there is a spring clean

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I’ve had a bit of time off work recently, as I didn’t have any production shifts booked in and my stuff to do from home hasn’t been enough for a full nine to five. I’ve taken advantage of this glut of spare time, however, by doing a massive spring clean of the house (and watching two daily episodes of How I Met Your Mother, but shh, don’t tell S), which has been extremely satisfying on many levels.

It’s not exactly been a laugh a minute; I’ve had to motivate myself to snap on the Marigolds (ooh Matron!) and get going, but once I have, no stone has been left unturned. I’m talking dusting under the wardrobes, washing out the recycling bins, taking out everything from the kitchen cupboards to wipe inside, scrubbing the white stone tiles with an abrasive polish, washing the windows with a squeedgee and three cloth system, the full works, all followed by an orgy of rearranging and sorting and organising.

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All my cupboards have satisfyingly neat, label front facing and lined up products, although I don’t know how long it will last!

I’ve also gone through my wardrobe and had (yet another) sort through, and this time I’ve actually got rid of the stuff I’ve been hanging onto ‘just in case’ and consigned it to the charity shop bin bag. The result is that I have room in my wardrobe to actually push hangers along the rail, I’ve lost an underbed storage bag and the clothes in my wardrobe and chest of drawers are actually those I wear and like.

This spring cleaning marathon has taught me several important things:

1. Our dust is 90% beard trimmings and cat hair, and it’s necessary for me to wipe my (very white) desk every time I sit at it if I don’t want to stare at muddy paw prints. I’m going to start hoovering Olivia at the door from now on, and try and build an integrated mat for her paws in the cat flap tunnel. And once the weather is warm enough, S is banished to the balcony for his shaving.

2. Despite culling my wardrobe extensively over the last year or two, I still have too many shoes.

3. That having the time to clean the house and get that in order has also been great in terms of having time to look at other areas of my life and give them a whisk over with the duster. This has also been helped by reading of The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k by Sarah Knight. I’d read an extract from in the Guardian (which S also read and said I needed to buy this book) and then I’d seen other people such as Em highly recommend it. And they’re not wrong — while it is a tad overly sweary, at its core is some very sound advice: you have a finite amount of time and you cannot always do things to please other people. I am extremely guilty of this, and it drives S (and me) mad. This book gave me the chance to sit down, assess what I do with my free time and decide, actually, what I give zero fucks about (in a polite way, natch) and instead ensure I do the things that make me happy. Making the zero fucks list are scheduling catch ups with people that aren’t convenient to me, being overly polite to people in work emails and Donald Trump. There are more, and the list is an ongoing process, but just realising that I don’t have to care so much about stuff that’s not making me happy was so liberating. Fellow people pleasers, go out and buy it!

 

I’ve still got one more week ‘off’, as it were, which I’ll be using to forge some new work leads as well as actually taking the aforementioned culled clothes to the charity shop. (And, of course, watch some more episodes of HIMYM and wage the continual war against muddy cat prints and beard hair, but that’s a given.)

In which my working life changes yet again

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In a situation that I’ve encountered several times before, in just over a week I will be made redundant from my job. Unlike previous times, however, this role was maternity cover so it didn’t come as a surprise that my services would no longer be required; in fact, I’m quite amazed to discover that I qualify for redundancy pay (I’ve done two fixed term contracts back to back which have gone over the magic two years.)

In the past few months I’ve been applying for jobs in the same company, but while I was offered a role, it just wasn’t right, and something was holding me back from saying yes. Hitting ‘send’ on the email where I said thanks but no thanks was simultaneously terrifying and liberating: what if I’d made the wrong decision?

But ah, what if I’d made the right one?

And I believe I have: as of mid July I am going full-time freelance. It was a decision that took a lot of mulling over both in my head and with S, but now that the die is cast I’m really pleased I’ve done it. Going part time freelance in 2010 worked out super well and led onto wonderful things — including my current publishing career — so I have every faith that this will too.

I’ve already got work booked for the rest of July and all of August, which is fab, and the aforementioned redundancy pay will also provide a nice cushion, so for the next few weeks at least I am set. I’ll give it a go until Christmas, and then re-assess, and if my dream job comes up in the meantime then I will apply for it. But I’m excited at the prospect of being able to branch out and try new things, work for different magazines, and also at the thought of being able to go back into working for the third sector in addition to publishing. I am ready. Let’s do this!

In which I finally have a proper night’s sleep

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been tired. Most of the time I could deal with it; there was just a nagging sense of fatigue tugging at the edge of my consciousness, and if I didn’t focus on it then it would be fine. But every morning I would wake up wanting to go straight back to sleep, and no matter how long I slept for, it was never, ever enough. Offer me a nap and I would take it. Put me as a passenger in a moving car and I would zonk out, no question.

I just thought this was me, though: that I was sleeping too much, or not sleeping to the right patterns of time; that I drank too much coffee, or not enough water. A few years ago I went to the doctor to see if he could come up with something, but while he was very sympathetic and nice, blood tests showed nothing and all he could suggest was reading Frank Lipman’s book Spent.

It wasn’t until S was having trouble sleeping last summer and noticed that I had very erratic breathing — I would gasp and sputter, he said, as if I had been holding my breath, and never seemed to have the regular, deep breathing you associate with sleeping people — that something clicked, and I started to Google symptoms, putting two and two together (plus the Darth Vader-esque heavy breathing/snoring I did) and thinking that the answer of apnoea could well be the magic four. Convincing my GP (a different one) wasn’t the easiest: when a 32 year old womansays she might have apnoea, it’s not the typical overweight middle-aged man you’re expecting, so it’s understandable that there was some scepticism. But after completing an Epworth sleepiness test, which I’d already done for myself, the doctor realised that I may well be a candidate and I was referred to the sleep studies unit at the hospital. For two nights I wore a pulse oximeter strapped to my finger, which measured my pulse and breathing, recording these onto a USB so they could be mapped out as a graph on a computer. I saw the consultant two days later, and was fully expecting her to declare that I was a malingerer, a fraud, and not to waste her time anymore. Instead, she told me that there was no doubt I had apnoea, and she could diagnose the reason why straightaway – my very narrow jaw, which when relaxed in sleep closed off my airway, restricted my breathing and caused my brain to come out of deep sleep in order to get more oxygen. This was happening 6 or 7 times an hour – I was never getting enough of the deep sleep my body and brain needed and craved. Finally, the mystery was solved and I had an official diagnosis of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA).

Treatment options were discussed – I’d read about CPAP machines, devices which blow constant pressurised air down your throat, which didn’t sound appealing, but the consultant said a mouth device would be the best thing to try first. An appointment was made at the dental hospital for me, and now five months later, I’m the proud owner of a Mandibular Advancement Device, aka a very large gumshield. I wear this at night, it pushes my jaw forward into the correct position, and voila, I sleep properly.

The first week was tough in terms of jaw pain, but no worse than when I’ve had braces in the past; a few days of softer foods and ibuprofen did the trick. And any pain was cancelled out when I woke up and for the first time in over twenty years, I didn’t want to go back to sleep again. It’s a miracle.

There was a blip: on Monday morning, for some reason, I was exhausted again. I could have fallen asleep straight away (and in fact did), and had to have a nap in the afternoon. I panicked that the magic had worn off; that now my jaw had adjusted to the device and it wasn’t hurting, that it somehow wouldn’t work. But luckily it seems to have been just a one-off (touch wood), possibly because I lost an hour of sleep when the clocks went forward on the Saturday.

After finding a forum for apnoea sufferers, I feel incredibly grateful that mine was diagnosed so quickly and easily, and that I was referred to a sleep consultant without having to fight for it. Being told not to make a fuss, come back when you’ve lost weight, you’re just depressed seem to be common themes when people ask for a diagnosis. I am also extremely lucky that I didn’t have to pay for any of my treatment; having to pay for the MAD seems to be a normal thing too. And my OSA is classified as mild, which is great as it means an MAD is suitable for me and I don’t have to try more extreme measures such as the CPAP or surgery.

I think I will always be a ‘sleepy’ person who loves a lie-in and given the opportunity, will always steal a snooze on the couch. But the relief of not being tired is so unbelievably sweet. I feel like a new person, and it’s great.

In which that was the month that was: March issue

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Spring still feels a long way off as the weather this month, apart from one glorious weekend, has been chilly and grey. Today though, I finally wore my light jacket for the first time this year (albeit with a pair of wrist warmers and earmuffs) and smelt that scent in the air that announces yes, the season has definitely shifted on from winter.

So this month I have:

Enjoyed my first proper night’s sleep in twenty years

Farewell sleep apnoea — more on this to come!

Started hacking our garden into pieces

We’re extremely lucky in that we have 100ft of garden to play with, but we need to start from scratch by removing the huge amount of random rubbish, breaking up the acres of concrete and digging out the (mostly overgrown and wild) plants. Our neighbours on both sides did a dance of joy when S sawed down the leylandii that has been blocking their light for years. My friend and I also cleared more of our allotment (did I mention I now have a share in an allotment now? It’s very handily at the back of my house) and transplanted some raspberries, gooseberries and blackcurrants from our house to a new home there.

Celebrated my friend’s forthcoming wedding with a 30s style hen do in London

I wore a red satin dress I found secondhand on eBay for £15 which I adore (and am now looking for the next excuse to don it) and we had a vintage hairdresser style our hair — mine was Marcel-waved. We then aired our amazing ‘dos in a vintage club in London Bridge called Cecil’s, which is where I also went on a hen last year, and which I can thoroughly recommend — great music, fab outfits and a cocktail on arrival in an enamel mug.

Done a dolphin in the air

I’m top left!

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Made my first crochet granny square

This was a lot easier than I thought it would be — I think, in a similar way that I found snowboarding easier than skiing, crocheting is more logical to me than knitting. But I did also knit yet more booties this month as well as two of my friends (and ex housemates) give birth, on the same day — what are the odds of that?