The Mystery of “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”

We are on an all inclusive summer holiday in Hampshire, aka a staycation at the grandparents’. There are enough bedrooms for everyone to have their room, including estranged separate beds. There’s space on the driveway for the seven million cars* parked outside. There’s a separate tv lounge for the girls to sit in, with a complementary line of parcel tape granny has stuck on the carpet to indicate how far away the children must stay from the television (in case of toppling). We have the run of the cupboards, and much to his chagrin I used up all my dad’s nice Leerdammer slices making a picnic to take the zoo. After five hours at said zoo with the girls and my dear friend who joined us for the day, I then drank the lion’s share of the bottle of prosecco my dad opened to celebrate Persie’s third birthday. Prosecco goes very well with Minion birthday cake.

We are lucky to have people who love us. My not-wicked stepmother, who known as Granny Bee to the girls, always makes a big effort for our visits, putting children’s bedcovers on their beds, getting out the garden toys, stocking up on turkey dinsoaurs. This time around, she also lovingly arranged some magazines and a book on my bedside table.

The book was “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”. I saw it and laughed, assuming that either she’d left it there as 1) a joke or 2) because she thought I needed it. I was reading-wise already occupied re-reading “Happier at Home” by my guru, Gretchen Rubin. But I thought I’d ask my stepmum about it.

Me: Thanks for leaving Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by my bed. Was it a joke?
Stepmum: No, it was your mum’s, so I thought you might like to have it.
Me: That book wasn’t my mum’s.
Stepmum: It was!
Me: Erm I am pretty sure that edition wasn’t published until after mum died. It’s definitely not hers.
Stepmum: I’m sure it was…

My brain remembers rubbish like when famous bookcovers changed. So, book nerds, we’re talking about the cartoon cover edition of the famous relationship self-help book. Published in 2002. Three years after mum died.

The next day…

Me: So I checked that book, and that version was published after mum died so it definitely wasn’t her’s.
Stepmum: Is it yours?
Me: Nope. It must be yours.
Stepmum: It’s not mine. I didn’t buy it and I’ve never read it. [The book has a cracked spine. It’s been read].
Me: Well maybe someone gave it to you?
Stepmum: Erm…
Me: Maybe dad bought it when he was doing his counselling course?
Stepmum: I don’t think so.
Me to Dad: Is this your book?
Dad: Non committal response.

So this book, which I suspect has been in the house for about fifteen years, is unwanted and unloved! Nor will anyone admit it’s theirs! I’ve decided to adopt it. Frankly, I do think I need all the help I can get when it comes to communicating with the opposite sex. And can’t help but wonder if that was my not-wicked stepmother’s game plan all along. Even if she didn’t say so.

*Tiny hyperbole but there are currently five cars parked outside. Only two of them belong to us.

What happens on tour, stays on tour

I’ve been meaning to write about my friend for a long time. I wanted to write about her because she’s a great friend, definitely part of my squad. But we said a temporary goodbye as she waddled off into a sunset with a tummy swollen with baby, preparing to add a beautiful girl to her very beautiful family. And I knew I wanted to write something in tribute to our working life together in honour of its temporary hiatus.

Do you have a work friend who keeps you on the straight and narrow? Who gets the work started, and also points out to you what you really actually need to do? My work friend has never failed to have already drafted a straw man, in an appropriate template, or to have set up that meeting, or to have been sympathetic about a tedious and frustrating meeting. She’s positive, full of humour, and brings me up, acknowledging that I struggle to reach her level of positivity and lack of cynicism. Meaning that I like to whinge. But we think a lot of the same things, and feel the same way about a lot of stuff too. It’s nice to be in concordance with someone, but to know that if you’re not, it’s an appropriate challenge, not someone being contrary for the sake of it.

Of course, one spends more hours with one’s colleagues than with one’s spouse/family. So my friend knows everything about all the work and life crap that I have been through over the past couple of years. She knows the real story, she watched it happen. She also knows exactly how many sandwiches I ate that day when I was really really hungover.**

But this is all just preamble. I knew what I wanted to write about, straightaway. It’s part of a much bigger, more complex story. But essentially, I wanted to write about the magic that happens when two or more people take a long car journey together. Conversations get to the nitty gritty quickly. Secrets are divulged. Tears are shed (by me, mostly).

For our first road trip to the midlands satellite office, I arrived at St Ives Park and Ride in our hire car at stupidly early o’clock. I had my happiness playlist playing, and no make up on. We got lost – which is my modus operandi – and thus extended our journey by a good half an hour. Having done some initial work chat, we got into talking about the really important stuff. And that was when I asked her opinion about the butt plug. It’s part of a longer more complicated story, and in that sense, what gets talked about on tour, stays on tour. But this is a brilliant example of how my friend provides “appropriate challenge”.

Me: Would you think a butt plug with a tail would be an appropriate Secret Santa present?
Her: Yeah, I think that would be hilarious!
Me: From an older man to a younger woman? [voice rising] I think that’s inappropriate.
Her: I think you’re being uptight. If I were friends with that person and it was a good joke, I’d totally do it!
Me: Even amongst all their colleagues? In a professional environment? Don’t you think it could be interpreted as sexually aggressive? If that happened in my team, I’d take the person aside and Have A Word.
Her: No! It’s got a tail. It’s clearly a joke!
Me: Well I stand by my opinion. I didn’t even know butt plugs could have tails!
Her: I know what I’m going to get you for your birthday.*
Me: I googled. They’re really bloody expensive you know.

For our second road trip, we were joined by our colleague. We are like the three angels to our boss’s Charlie… or something like that. To mark our first road trip as a threesome, I added their own handpicked songs to my happiness playlist to represent them (Groove Is in the Heart by Dee-Lite and A-Punk by Vampire Weekend, in case you were wondering). On the outbound journey, we talked about work, but in a masterful stroke, my friend spread out her pregnant self in the back of the car on the way home. This meant that our colleague had to sit in the front seat, next to me. Maybe it was just timing, maybe it was the stars aligning, perhaps it was that skilful back seat manoeuvre, but that was the day our colleague really opened up and started to tell us about herself. Part of becoming friends is being aware of other people’s shit. And that stays on tour too.

*On my birthday, she gave me a cool lipstick set. They were from a premium brand I suspect they still were less expensive than a butt plug with a tail. She said to me “I didn’t want to spend that amount of money on something for a joke!”
**Four. Breakfast was a Tesco sandwich with a Coke Zero.

The Full Nigella (Writing about clothes and make up) 

But you get ready, you get all dressed up
To go nowhere in particular
Back to work or the coffee shop
It don’t matter because it’s enough
To be young and in love

It’s enough just to make me go crazy, crazy, crazy

I get ready, I get all dressed up
To go nowhere in particular
It doesn’t matter if I’m not enough
For the future or the things to come


Lana del Ray – Love

Huge thanks to all of you who told me what you think about this blog, and what you’d like to read more of. If anyone else would care to contribute anonymously by filling out my survey the link is HERE
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I now know that posts about what I’m wearing and beauty stuff are a bit marmite, which I totally understand. And it’s not a gender bias either! However, I wanted to share some of my philosophy about clothes and make up, which I suppose partly justifies writing about it, but mainly to explain why clothes and make up are important to me.

We all understand that clothes and make up can be armour against the world. People talk about putting their face on, but really they mean their public face. It starts when you’re a teenager, I guess, dressing to the part of the tribe, expressing who you are, with that band tee, those DMs, those ripped jeans. And scarily I could be describing my contemporaries in the 90s, as well as the Cambridge sixth formers I see every morning. And maybe it’s because I’m still about 17 inside, but I still I love dressing up. I actively enjoy thinking about what I’m going to wear, choosing outfits, deciding which me to be that day, or tomorrow, or for that event or in that meeting. I enjoy putting on a favourite outfit which reminds me of a lovely time I had. I keep clothes that are too big, because of the memories. But I know when I’m not feeling so good and certain about myself, because then I start buying clothes like, well, like they’re going out of fashion… And the more clothes I buy, the more insecure I’m feeling. It doesn’t take much amateur psychology to come up with the correlation. There is probably a graph I could draw about it. Oh look, I did! Thank you iNotes!


And on to make up, that public face. I can’t bear that certain kind of male who prefers a fully made up face then gets iffy about women ‘faking it’ or ‘pretending’ because make up makes them look all shiny and glamorous and then the morning after they’re a bit smeared and creased and pale and they don’t live up to the hype. I would say that displays an inherent misogyny, of course, and as a feminist, I’m more concerned that women have the right to choose whether to wear make up or not for *themselves*, and it’s not about the male gaze at all.  I look much the same with or without make up. My nose shape is the same. My eyebrows and eyelashes are still there. My skin isn’t ever going to be perfect again, thanks to air conditioning and pregnancy and years of not being able to resist picking it. I like my face, I have nice eyes and lines and a wobby nose and I look like my mum mixed with my dad. My smile is goofy and I’m getting lines. But it’s my face. Never say never on botox, or even an eye lift, in the future, mind…

My favourite make up stories have got conflated over time. The first is when I visited the Bobbi Brown counter in John Lewis before my wedding and said to the make up artist I’d like some nice make up to wear on my wedding day (I did my own, by the way). When I dared to voice my concern about the two products she was using under my eyes, that I didn’t want to look caked in make up, she uttered the now immortal words:

“Better to be caked in make up than look tired on your wedding day.”

This has since apocryphally lost the “on your wedding day” final part of that advice.

 The second story is related to the fact that Rosa and Persie’s dad once met Nigella Lawson. I asked what she was like, because Nigella is totally one of my idols, and he said “She was wearing a lot of make up.” So Bobbi Brown counter levels of made-up-ness are now known as “The Full Nigella”.

I appreciate the way make up has the transformative power to turn me turns me from undead zombie mother in to relatively fresh looking working person. But I realised that my recent purchasing and Full Nigella approach to slapping on the slap, it’s because I was unhappy. I knew I was feeling better on my holiday when I spent a day make-up free. And yeah, it may have been the day I spent mostly in the car, but still, make-up free. I couldn’t remember the last time I hadn’t worn make up. And then this weekend, I didn’t reach for the products once. I moisturised… and done. And that’s when I knew I was really finally feeling a lot better. I even went to Tesco bare faced. Now that doesn’t mean I’m abandoning the search for the perfect coral lipstick for summer, or that I’m going to stop experimenting with my eyeliner (nearly got the flick down), but you know, it’s a less combative approach to the world.

You see, I want to express myself with how I present myself to the world. I don’t want to look like everyone else, even if thanks to fashion and the high street, I absolutely do.  I want to wear my shift dresses to work, and tone my eyeliner to the blue check in the tweed. I want to coordinate my red boots with my lipstick, and put my yellow cardigan on and make people smile.  Certain clothes have the power to give me instant confidence.  Wearing my camo jacket makes me feel cool. Wearing my denim dress reminds me of standing in someone else’s kitchen and being told I looked pretty. I still wear a maternity dress I bought in the early days of pregnancy with Persie, and the memory is of me of keeping a secret, snug and safe, in my tummy.

I haven’t gone to the extreme of having a uniform or a signature outfit. Some men end up that way by default – always the same colour suit, the same colour shirt, and really they only mix it up with ties and cufflinks, and that’s the advantage of formal work attire, I suppose. I read an article about this woman and I considered developing my own real uniform, for about two minutes. Because I really admire those who take this approach. To do it, you’d really really have to know what suits you, and what you like. I understand that much of the appeal of the uniform approach is to do with the removal of the stress of having to make a decision on a daily basis. But, very quickly in my considerations, I realised that to dress only one way, and commit to it, properly, it means you’re jettisoning the opportunity to be someone different that day. And maybe you could do that on the weekend, and that would increase the pleasure of the days you could make that choice, but I’m not sure I’m ready to go there, just yet. Maybe it’s that I don’t yet know how to say “this is me, and this is how I want you to see me, every day”. 

So if I post some pictures of what I’m wearing, or my great new lipstick, it’s not that I’m shallow, it’s not that I’m vapid, and it’s not that I care especially about how I look. Although I am as vain as the next vain person. It’s that I’m telling you something about myself and the me that dress, that lipstick helps me be, who I am and how I feel when I’m wearing it. Right now, I’m wearing yoga trousers and a non-wired bra, my least flattering glasses and the remnants of today’s make up. It’s not glamorous, but it’s real.

Holidays 

There was radio silence for a bit there! Sorry. Simply busy with other things – the Live More part of Write More Live More, I suppose. And of course, I did put out the survey. More on that in another post.

The girls are on school holidays, but of course Hampshire school hols don’t match Cambridgeshire school hols. Luckily my stepmum doesn’t work Fridays, so I took last Friday off and drove us down to my family. The M25 was hell on earth. If ever get to purgatory it’ll be the M25… anyway, we survived the three hour journey and were greeted warmly with a late pizza lunch, and a walk to the park with ice creams followed by a trip to Pets at Home and Home Bargains. The girls thought it was brilliant.

We went to the coast on the Saturday. My girls don’t know how lucky they are experiencing Aldeburgh and then the New Forest! On the journey down I sat in between the car seats in the back of my stepmum’s people carrier, holding a hand in each of mine. When we arrived at our destination there was a road train taking daytrippers to and from the car park and cafe to a golden sandy beach and beach huts stacked in a row. And another cafe. I sat on a rock, paddled a little, and watched Persie run away from the foaming incoming tide. The edges of my jeans got wet, even though I rolled them up. Rosa got sunburnt (bad mummy), but in my defence she was the only one of to do so – we realised later it was because she had been nearer the water and the rays had reflected on her to lovely cheeks. 
I forgot my phone, so no photos, of either the beautiful beach or the girls, tastefully anonymous, or my outfit, which that day was my camo shacket again. The one that looks awesome with red lipstick. Although I was wearing the Maybelline vivid matt nude flush, lipstick fans. My dad, who annoys me all the time, as dads do, asked me as we boarded the little train for our ride “what is this army jacket?” And my stepmum, who is one of the funniest people I know, said “it’s not working, we can still see you.” I chortled, good humouredly, and glowered at my dad in the “regress to teenagerdom” way that seeing my folks brings out in me. Then Rosa pressed the emergency stop button on the stationary train that they had to switch it off with a key, and I told her off until she cried. Parenting fail.

Seeing the girls enjoying themselves with my folks was precious. Persie laughing being read a story (Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman, children’s literature fans) her granny making her giggle as Chu sneezed. One evening we re-watched Fantastic Beasts (it’s a perfect film, in so many ways), another Rosa snuggled up to granny and watched the motorbike racing (don’t ask). My folks took Rosa out for a special day trip just for her while Persie and I caught up with my oldest (longest standing) friend in a picturesque country pub. After our lunch, we deliberately took her for a drive, taking circuitous routes around the country lanes so we could chat as she slept. My friend and I said our goodbyes as Persie snoozed, and for the next two days she asked “Where’s mummy’s friend gone?”.

Since we returned, it’s been very relaxed. I’ve had lie ins. LIE INS MULTIPLE! I’m running down the stocks of my fridge and cupboard, so I ate mashed potatoes with beans for my dinner last night. The girls’ dad has been experimenting with flavoured gins, which is lethal for me, as anyone who knows me IRL will be aware. I visited The Kimono and had my hands *and* feet done. I’ve been to the same cafe three times in two days. I’m reading again. Real actual books from my box of books. Not even on kindle! Gasp! Everyone needs a holiday sometimes, but I’m so glad I’m having mine in the two places I call home.

Emptrix Nata Sum

I had to start with a little Latin joke for all my Classicist friends out there. Back in the day, Past Times sold a shopping bag which had this slogan on it, and it means “I am a born (female) shopper” literally, so… born to shop.

Shopping is not a pastime. I like to remind myself of that when I find myself just tootling out on to the high street, with time to kill, a song in my heart and my debit card in my wallet. Shopping is not a pastime, I remind myself when I browse idly on fashion websites instead of writing. Shopping is NOT a pastime, I tell Rosa when she begs begs begs to go to Bury, or to Westfield in Stratford, so that she can go shopping. Shopping is NOT a pastime, I convince no one when I make my regular pilgrimages to Ikea and Costco.

Oh, but who am I to blow against the wind? Because I am a really good shopper. For myself and for others. I love nothing more than a shopping mission, than to track down the perfect something to a brief, I love to research and can spend hours weighing up the pros and cons of one version of the same thing versus another. But I know my tendencies (thanks Gretchen) and I am a satisficer, not a maxmiser and I love abundance, not simplicity, so I am not actually that discriminating a shopper. And if I don’t have something in mind, but am just browsing, I will quite happily make rash impulse purchases. In fact, it turns out, I’m pretty much a rash, impulsive kind of person.

Loving shopping and cheap fashion might make me shallow and unethical, and I probably ought to worry about bigger things. But sometimes, you need to think about the things that don’t matter, because if you thought about the things that really matter all the time, you’d go mad. I love the book The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic, as glossing over the fact it’s about a young woman with an addiction and a debt problem, it’s the on the funniest, whip-smartest books of its kind, and if it had been written by a man would be called satire. Anyway, in it, she just longs to be ‘the girl in the Denny and George scarf’, hoping that becoming that girl will mean she is transformed into the person she feels she really is. I totally get that. We all know that having that pair of boots, that top, that dress, that hat won’t fill the holes in our souls, nor will being the girl in the red boots/ with the kick ass lipstick make life’s decisions any easier, or get someone to love us when they’re emotionally unavailable, or make being a mum any less relentless and exhausting. It’s just a plaster on the wounds. But plasters stop the wound getting infected, while your clever body gets on with mending itself. So I guess that makes shopping Savlon for the soul. It doesn’t fix anything, but it helps briefly, while you work out how to fill the hole in your soul or mend your broken heart.

With that little spot of self-justification over, I have some exciting new purchases, bought in about half an hour on the high street, and it’s all very exciting.

Firstly, Maybelline Vivid Matt Lip Colour in Nude Flush. I read about this on The Pool and I am currently all about the matt lip, so I decided to give this a try. It’s not got the staying power of the Revlon equivalent matt lipcolour, but it’s relatively long lasting and I love the colour, a pleasing slightly bubblegum tinged springy pink, that looks good with grey eyeliner.

Secondly, Rimmel Insta-fix 2-in-1 primer and finishing spray. I picked up one of these at the supermarket on Saturday and have been so impressed with the results so far that I bought a second for my handbag for work, where the air conditioning wrecks my skin, and seems to evaporate my make up regardless of what base I wear, cheap, expensive, light, heavy, liquid, powder, liquid-to-powder, cream, fluid… you name it, the work air conditioning evaporates it off. So I have high hopes that this can stop that happening, as you can use it under your make up, to fix your make up into place after applying, and during the day to refresh it, so I’m hopeful this is going to solve that problem. There are more expensive versions of this kind of thing out there, but I like cheap and cheerful and being able to buy two guilt free.

Thirdly, I’m a bit obsessed with pink and grey this week. I can’t wait to wear these cheapo New Look tops with my grey jeans. Remember I was fretting about not having a pale cardigan to wear with the yellow cold shoulder top? Well, this crochet backed long-length number will be perfect, and it’s got a slightly boho look that I really enjoy. Alongside it, I couldn’t resist the printed tee-shirt, which says Rosa Fortuna and a picture of a playing card – two of my favourite things, roses and cards…

Finally, the sun came out and my ancient M&S sunglasses had seen better days. I don’t buy expensive sunglasses, because I have children, and also I like to wear them in my hair a lot, but I am thinking of getting a prescription pair for driving and also, seeing… but in the meanwhile, these two pairs at Boots from their own range are cheap enough not to worry if you lose them, but not as cheap as New Look where all the glasses sat wonky on my wonky nose and ears. The Ray Ban style pair have floral patterns on the arms, and the cats eyes are suitably oversized for pretending you’re a 50’s film star going incognito. Oh, that’s just me?

This weekend I wore… several shades of grey and the ankle sliver

MOTHER’S DAY! Rosa and Persie excelled themselves with the help of nursery/school and their dad. Persie in particular has been very excited about this day, because she was making a 3D card which was the receptacle of two chocolates, which she and Rosa ate themselves. On Sunday morning, Persie had a moment of impressive realisation and shouted at me “IS SUNDAY! HAPPY MUVVERS’ DAY!” with true joy. My Waitrose-purchased and school created haul included a card with “I love you Mummy” written in Mandarin (oh yes!), a new Mummy mug and the biggest box of Ferrero Rocher you’ve ever seen. Cue many jokes about the ambassador’s reception etc etc…

And we went to the Suffolk coast! Aldeburgh is one of my favourite places and has been since I was quite young. There is a tiny house along the sea front that used to be painted pink, and I wanted to live in it and write books.  That’s pretty much my ambition still… Anyway, we didn’t have the famous fish and chips, because the queues for both chip shops stretched down the road (seriously!) but we did visit both the Joules shops, Fat Face (OH! So many cardigans of desire!), and had shabby chic tea and cake in a tea room. We also spent a happy forty minutes dropping serious money in Aldeburgh bookshop, where I made the most satisfying purchase of a box of 20 Poems, printed on thick buff card, by The School of Life. When we opened the box to take a look the first poem was so perfect, so apt, I simply had to buy them. The poems in the image are not that poem, which definitely deserves a post all of its own in the future. I can’t wait to find ways to display the cards and to using them for inspiration.

Poems

Finally, we went for a walk along the beach collecting pebbles. The pebble bag weighed more than Persie by the time we went back to the car.  I was delighted that I found a Hag Stone,  a naturally occurring stone with a hole.  I brought it home in my coat pocket, and put on on my windowsill, and seeing it makes me happy.

Clothes wise, I had made a recent purchase of grey jeans, and some paisley patterned springy trainers by Rocket Dog, which I got via Groupon, both items I was very excited to try out. Despite my reservations about the fact that it’s a good few degrees cooler out on the coast, I went for the bare-ankle look. My ankles were cold, I admit, but only because of the wind on the seaside, they would have been fine in town, and indeed today in the sunshine they were not cold in the slightest. No picture of the whole outfit, I teamed the grey jeans with the now-famous and faithful yellow jumper, a great colour combination, and there’s yellow in them paisley trainers, so they tied together brilliantly, and we know that yellow does indeed make me very happy.

The ankle sliver is even more of a thing this spring than it was last year, I’m finding. I was not alone in suffering for fashion in Aldeburgh on Sunday, there were many blue-grey ankles on show, freshly shaved, some with loafers, some with pumps, and some with trainers. Since the cropped trouser and the stepped hem are the new thing this Spring, I think I’ll just have to harden myself up a bit until the weather fits the fashion.

grey stones

This week I wore… all yellow

Look at the stars
Look how they shine for you
And everything you do
Yeah they were all yellow

I came along
I wrote a song for you
And all the things you do
And it was called yellow

So then I took my turn
Oh what a thing to have done
And it was all yellow

Coldplay

Don’t scoff at the Coldplay reference, that song has been in my head all week! On Monday morning, I was feeling pretty uninspired. After the triumph of the statement lip last weekend, the dungaree goodness, how could I top that excitement when I had to dress for work? As a result, I didn’t really try, I went for a grey Boden jersey dress and yellow cardigan. Boring, unthoughtful dressing. I did the statement lip to cheer myself up and… POP! Suddenly that yellow cardigan was looking awesome.

I love yellow. Apologies to Caitlin Moran, but yellow is a neutral. My feeling is that it works on the principal that because yellow doesn’t go with anything, it goes with everything. It is my favourite colour, I love it because of sunshine, happiness, daffodils, sandy beaches, sunflowers, autumn leaves, and champagne. It’s vivid mustard, warm and golden, or pale lemon, creamy, zesty… When I imagine death, I imagine yellow.

So I set myself a challenge – I shall wear yellow all week! I thought, and then immediately felt the pressure of the restriction. Luckily, I actually own quite a lot of yellow clothing, but I found in the end that the issue wasn’t wearing yellow per se, but styling it without black as the second colour. 


Day 1 – jersey dress and yellow cardigan. Boden, both items, so the palette toned, and the grey and yellow are a fresher combination than yellow and black.
Day 2 – pleather skirt with yellow chunky jumper *tucked in*! Very exciting, until I realised it was a big work exhibition that morning and I had to keep my mac on inside as my skirt was really really short and there were lots of important people there.
Day 3 – Roadtrip day, so comfort. Jacquard shift dress in yellow, layered over black thermal top as I set off at 6:30am and arrived home late – didn’t want to be cold. I don’t normally wear midi-dresses, so this required a higher heel than usual (not shown) – platform shoe boots. 
Day 4 – cheating, really, a spring floral dress (M&S several years ago) with significant amounts of yellow in the floral, with a beige jumper layered over the top, and brogues for a change from my ankle boots. I love this outfit, loving the jumper-over-dress preppiness of it, but it was the least yellow of the days. Oh, and I was absolutely bloody freezing – not warm enough yet for a thin cotton dress!
Day 5 – Dress down Friday! Yellow cold shoulder top (New Look), over khaki jeans, showing ‘the sliver’ at the ankle (brrr!) and a black shawl cardigan over the top. I wished I’d had a pale cardigan with a shape that worked, to make the outfit a little less black, but my boots were black which sort of pulled it together.

And then at the weekend, trusty dungas and that yellow jumper again, AKA “the sexy minion” look.

I have actually gone into my storage bags to retrieve some more yellow clothes from my spring/summer wardrobe, although it is definitely too cold to be thinking truly spring-like clothing. thoughts. I could have done another week of yellow, but I’m thinking next week to go for a different challenge… maybe florals, which is also not too much of a stretch with my wardrobe. Probably the challenge should actually be “no black”- maybe that’s for another time when I’m feeling especially creative. 

On Friendship

Friendships, like any kind of love, I suppose, strike when you don’t expect them. It can be a bolt from the blue, or a realisation that friendship has snuck up on you unawares.

Recently, I had had an impromptu dinner out with two girlfriends who I count as relatively new friends. I ran into them at what I thought was the end of my evening out, and they invited me to join them for a drink. Have you ever felt stupidly touched at the acceptance of others? I was that evening.

So we went and ate burgers, and each of us had one sensible drink, as we were all driving, and we talked A LOT, or at least I felt like I talked A LOT, and it was about therapy, and new jobs, and men, and relationship problems, and men, and clothes, and men, and finding your place in life, and self confidence, and the artistic temperament, and men… and did I mention men?

So apart from eating a very delicious burger, and drinking a sensible glass of wine, it was a fruitful evening, because in it I learnt how Music Girl gets people to be friends with her! I need to learn this trick! Firstly she described how she said to Oxford Classicist “Ilikeyourskirtweshouldbefriends” after a few weeks of sussing her out in the office and realising that, indeed, she was someone who she could spend time with.
Then we reminisced, with the sweet nostalgia of whole months past, on how she accosted me in the ladies loos by circling her hand over my left one, saying “What is this? We NEED to go out for gin and tonics!” And that, dear readers, is how I ended up passing out after drinking many many cocktails, on my own landing, and giving myself a black eye… *sorrynotsorry*

My oldest friends are still there through sheer tenacity, I suspect. There are the friends you don’t speak with for years then randomly WhatsApp them and it’s as if you were never apart. I still miss my best friend from when I was eighteen, she was so dear to me and if she didn’t live so far away, I’d get back in touch but… maybe it’s better in the past. Aussie Nicole is a best friend across the time zones; you always need someone who’s awake when you should be asleep but can’t, because your baby is awake, or you’re stressed about work, or have stayed awake for whatever reason. A lot of my friends are at work – let’s face it, colleagues often see you more and know more about you than your spouse. There’s that friend you never see, the friend you always see… don’t get me started on frenemies…

Sometimes all it takes is one sentence, one joke, and you know, this person is going to be your friend. Or it can be the slow burn. But you never know who is going to be the person who gets you through a tough time, who is going to be the person you can’t wait to tell about x, complain about y. Some friends are fair weather friends, others are best in a crisis. Some make you laugh until you cry, others make you cry until you laugh!

When the days are long but the years are short, you realise you’ve been friends with someone for over a decade. How did that happen? Or you can have known someone for a year, and they have an impact on your life in a way you never could have imagined, in your wildest dreams.

Occupational Therapy

When I graduated from university, I worked in the NHS for a year, part time, as a receptionist in an Occupational Therapy department. I no doubt got the gig because of my touch typing skills (thank you Legally Blonde), as I was not at the sharp end of critical services but spent a lot of my time typing up reports about elderly people who had broken their hips going home with raised toilet seats and being tested on their ability to make a cup of tea. I am being a bit flippant – for the people who were desperate to be allowed to go home, making that cup of tea was a life-chances level assessment. I’ve admired Occupational Therapists ever since – it’s not the most glamorous of jobs, but it makes a difference. In its truest form, it is all about helping people to actually live their lives.

I’m currently experiencing all kinds of therapy. Through my work I’ve been lucky enough to encounter Time to Change, and I think it’s really important to remove the stigma around mental health, so I have zero shame in admitting that I currently see a psychotherapist regularly. Luckily for me I also a psychotherapist friend, who was able to persuade me to stick with it after the first six session. In fact, I really enjoy my counselling sessions now, although enjoy is probably a strange word for something which often leaves me feeling absolutely wrung out, and I judge the impact of the sessions on the number of tissues used. But I feel the benefit. It was a conversation with my therapist that brought about “write more, live more” as one of my edicts for life.

Which brings me to writing as therapy – yes, there’s often a cathartic element to writing. A friend asked me if this blog was just therapy – well, I’m not confessing all my secrets here… but I know that writing takes me to a place in my head that is a good place to be. There’s been research on it – the state of Flow. I love it when I get there, and writing is the way I’m able to snap in and out of it.

Retail therapy is one of my weaknesses, and has a downside, which is the spending of money – my lipstick collection confirms this economic theory. I’ve always been a keen online window shopper, which has nearly all of the thrill of shopping without the costs incurred. Ever loaded up an online shopping basket with all the things you fancy and watched the total get scarily high? Just make sure you don’t have one-click settings enabled…

This week I experienced a bit of genuine Occupational Therapy! One of my friends is preparing to live abroad with her family for a number of years, only two years after moving to her forever home. I went round to offer help (and also wine and profiteroles), as she has a toddler and a five month old, and also a dog! And she is leaving an idyllic country cottage, that is currently surrounded by daffodils and snowdrops. After some chat and some dinner, and thoroughly failing to console the baby who didn’t enjoy my cuddles, I was beginning to feel that I was there under false pretences. “What am I actually going to do to help?” I asked… and I was led to two cupboards of plates and glasses and a very large roll of bubble wrap.

It turns out that when you’re not packing up your own life to a deadline, bubble wrapping and packing is surprisingly relaxing. Apart from being worried I would end up breaking someone else’s precious wedding champagne saucers, it was a deeply satisfying activity. I’ve read that one of the best ways to engage with teenagers (and anyone reluctant to talk) is to do an activity side-by-side, and I’ve always found walking and talking to be a good way to have a conversation. We talked, while I wrapped, and the baby was fed and snuggled, and before I knew it, there were three boxes full of wrapped breakables, and I felt immensely satisfied. Completing a task and helping others – very Gretchen Rubin style ways to feel at peace with yourself, but it certainly worked for me.

Spring is here

The Trees

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Philip Larkin

Did you smell it in the air? I did. Last week, walking through town with a friend, we both agreed, we could smell Spring coming. A gust of fragrant growth hit us in the still-light early evening, and then as we walked through one of the colleges we admired the swathes of crocuses under budding trees.

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For me, the calendar year doesn’t adequately describe the rhythm of my life. Even when I wasn’t in education or working in education, September was the new year for me. That sense of preparedness and organisation, laying down stores, anticipating a bit of downtime as the days get shorter. And yes, stationery and boots. But when the nights draw in, I can’t help but feel that I’m just girding my loins, getting ready to face the onslaught of winter and darkness. I don’t long for the dark days. I know that some people love Autumn and Winter, and I do understand why. A chance to go into hibernation, the cosiness, stodge and red wine, fires, Christmas, carols, lights, candles in the darkness. I like the tang of bonfire in the air as much as anyone else. But for me, December, January and February are something to be endured. Not to be glass half-full, but I think of cold commutes, leaving for work in the dark and getting home in the dark, days when you’re stuck inside and there’s nowhere to take the children for fresh air because it’s freezing and tipping it down. Wishing for snow, because it’s so pretty, but then the snow comes and it’s a national emergency, the stress and pressure of Christmas obligations, no Bank Holidays, dry overheating in public places… the list goes on.

And then… Spring! Sweet, sweet relief. The pleasure of seeing the bulbs I planted when we moved in burst forth once more, the blossom on the trees, the joy of sending the children out into the garden for a while to play, taking a walk outside and not needing a hat, scarf, gloves, the day you jettison your coat for a jacket. Suddenly more seems possible. Getting home in the daylight dampens the urge to change into pyjamas quite so immediately. Inspired by the thought that you might need to lose the winter insulation, that protective jumpers will soon be too warm, ensures that the consumption of stodgy sustenance decreases. The sound of the first lawnmower of the season, the smell of the first grass cuttings, the smoky tang in the air of the first dry bonfire of the year when the dampness subsides. And then Easter – a four day Bank Holiday weekend! Even better than Christmas!

As I leave for work in the mornings in the light, I breathe more deeply, lift my face to the sun, smell the potential in the air.

The dark days are over. Begin afresh.