The importance of being ordinary

I’ve been ruminating lately on what it means to be ‘ordinary’. We live in a society where we’re told, from being very young, that we should strive to be extraordinary: be famous, be beautiful, be clever, be rich. Alexander the Great had conquered half the world by the time he was, what. seven? Why haven’t you written a dozen best-selling novels by the age of 36? Hell, why haven’t you written ONE? Everyone wants to be descended from Cleopatra, but then gets disappointed when they find out that their Who Do You Think You Are moment is back to back Welsh miners and Irish labourers (hiya, ancestors!)

Alexander the Great: extraordinary, with lovely hair as well apparently.

At the same time, we’re told that ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things- especially in a pandemic. Protests, Major Tom, staying at home to combat the virus. But it doesn’t really compare, really, when you’re looking at those 30 under 30 lists and feeling like you’re hurtling towards insignificance. We’re all meant to achieve something before we’re forty, or else (as society puts it) we’re for the scrapheap. Societal gaslighting at its finest.

But what if we rejected this narrative? Embraced just being ordinary, whatever that means for each of us. I grew up in a very working-class, northern family in the 90s, where standing out was frowned upon, where being bullied was thought as probably being partly my fault because I went out of my way to stand out (I didn’t. I was just an eccentric child, a trait that I am noticing is developing in my own child, but which I embrace, rather than squash.) I didn’t pursue my interest in acting because it wasn’t a ‘real job’. I suspect my journalism degree was only tolerated because it might lead to a job and also I needed an A-level in English, which was seen as a proper subject. Ironically, being taught that I shouldn’t stand out meant I didn’t have the guts to try and get an actual job in journalism and that my confidence means I’m always a bit squeamish when chasing writing jobs and rarely think I’m good enough to do so. Tough crowd, your inner critic.

Being extraordinary looks quite tiring and, as I experienced burnout as a teacher, I’m not sure I’m really built for it. Sure, it’d be nice to have some of the things that come with being special. Maybe sometimes I’m a bit jealous. But not so much that I can’t feel pride for my friends when they achieve things I wish I could do. I know a lot of writers who have actually published books.

But. There have been times when I have been grateful for my ‘ordinary’ life. I am immensely privileged to have a nice life, much easier than that I grew up in. I have everything I need and I do not live in fear. I have a job. I am well and my kid and husband are healthy. Everything is in a fine balance and right now the plates are balanced without too much spinning from me. As a lifelong anxiety sufferer, I am always ready for the next catastrophe and 2020 has felt like the Olympics for me. I can’t rest on my laurels for too long.

And 2020 has felt like the year of the ordinary person. It has been them who have stood up when those we are told are extraordinary have screwed up- delivering meals, protesting injustice, helping those who need it. We can’t always depend on the extraordinary to do the right thing, we have learnt this year. We have to stick together, in our ordinariness. If we do that, we can support the quietly extraordinary people who work behind the scenes- not the dodgy politicians spouting about how we don’t believe in experts, but the actual experts- to do what they need to do to help everyone. Nobody is an island. It’s just some islands are less showy than others.

Going back to the ancestors thing- we shouldn’t be disappointed when we learn we’re not descendants of Cleopatra or Edward I or whoever. Think about all those generations who went before you, all the quite probable ordinary lives (unless you’re hugely aristocratic, or something) that led to you being here. All the disease, the war, the mistreatment, the malnutrition that was survived in order to produce you. You are here because of those so-called ‘ordinary’ people who BBC producers would probably think were too boring to produce an hour long show about.

Embrace your ordinariness. There’s a hell of a lot to be said about it.

Bookworming my way through 2020

Happy new year! I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s pretty brutal out there right now. 2020 is going to need some serious self-soothing and we’re only eight days in… It’s good and important to be aware of what’s going on in the world, but it’s important if you can- and you need to- take a break from the news. Add to this the added expectations of new years’ resolutions and it all seems that we’re in a permanent state of anxiety and a never ending discussion of how to make ourselves feel better. (Although to be honest my main resolution seems to be ‘make more pies’, so I’m not exactly Gwyneth Paltrow.)

Last year, on a whim, I bought a beautiful hardback copy of The Secret Garden. I have a bit of a thing for very nice, yet relatively inexpensive hardback copies of classics. I was, I decided, going to save it for when I was feeling my anxiety creep up and revisit a favourite from my childhood. In this vein I have also picked up three more classic books I loved as a small girl- Heidi, A Little Princess and Little Women (even though I can’t even remember if I liked the book much as a kid, or whether my A-level Media Studies essay comparing the 1994 film of Little Women with The Virgin Suicides ruined the story for me.) I’m not going to lie to you, either- I bought the latter three purely because they have beautiful covers designed by Anna Bond of Paper Rifle- apparently you can get a copy of Alice in Wonderland and Anne of Green Gables also. I have my eye on a very nice edition of The Borrowers, too, mainly because a) the compendium of novels given to me by my Grandma for Christmas the year the stories were adapted for the BBC remains one of my favourite presents ever and also b) as a small ginger child with limited role models, Arietty was the OG.

But. Those books also hold very strong emotional memories, something I’m revisiting by reading Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading, which I pre-ordered ages ago and then didn’t get round to reading until now- proving my belief that every book has its Martine McCutcheon-esque perfect moment. I remember reading all of those books in cheap volumes collected from one of those part-works which came with a magazine (discarded), each book bound in faux leather with oft-smudged type printed on very thin paper. I loved them.

Life wasn’t always easy- home could be difficult and I was badly bullied at school- so I was quite drawn to stories about little girls with hard lives, even if I seriously doubted whether I would ever be the benefactor of a mysteriously well-timed windfall. I remember being mesmerised by the thought of goat’s milk in Heidi (god, that was a disappointment, as an adult. Johanna Spyri really sold me a number on how delicious that was.) and obsessed with the idea of a garden of my own, which I fully attribute the fact I have a garden and an allotment to. I even have my own robins which follow me round, unimpressed. Just call me Mary, yeah?

So why am I writing about these novels, now? Mainly because I think, like the Lucy Mangan book, for me these books’ time is now. I need escapism again, but this time from the wider world. I’m curious to see how I respond to the books as an adult with my own child (did I really love Little Women, or no?) So, aside from making pies, I’m going to make 2020 the year I revisit the books I loved so much and that meant so much to me. I’m hoping that I find some of the same comfort in the stories again. I think it’s also important that I never taught any of these novels, so they have a position in my brain where they are linked purely for enjoyment and escape- and I have a feeling that we’re going to need a lot of both to get through the early months of what already feels like a turbulent year.

Modern anxiety and teenage tarot readings

I’m going through a bit of a weird time at the moment. I’ve had to stop watching the news (again) because of Brexit causing my already highly-strung brain to go into overdrive. I’m on the point of stockpiling tinned tomato cans in secret because Benn, probably quite rightly, refuses to indulge my inner survivalist thought that society is on the brink of chaos.

I’ve also started writing something related to my teenage years, which has led to me revisiting that period of my life. This is not fun. I know most people feel that they were outsiders during this point in their life, but I really, really was. Ostracised at school for most of my time there, deeply unhappy at home in an environment that was at times turbulent and always poor, I found solace in books and was attracted to all things ‘other’.

Obviously as this was the mid-1990s, I found The Craft. This came to me via a huge obsession with The X-Files when I was 12 and a dedicated readership of, amongst other things, The Fortean Times. The downside was that I was convinced we were all going to be dead of ebola by the year 2000. The upside (?) was that I was very open to learning about the occult. I babysat for a woman called Sandra, who gave me a pack of tarot cards and another of past life cards. I bought crystals and burnt incense. I frequented the hippy shops in Leeds and, later on holiday, Brighton. I devoured ‘spell books’ and learnt about wicca. So far, so 1990s teenage girl.

I’d always had a spiritual element to me. We were sort-of church goers at points in my childhood, Church of England kids brought up by a lapsed Catholic (my favourite joke about this is that I got all of the guilt and none of the pageantry of Catholicism, at least until I went to Catholic sixth form college. Spoiler: I loved it there.) I was also deeply unhappy and desperate to escape a home that was, at times, toxic. The Wiccan thing, even though I doubt I truly believed in it, appealed to me. Be nice to the environment; say aloud what you want- an important thing during a time when you feel you may not have a voice.

And I tell you what: I became bloody good at reading the tarot, despite not ever properly learning to read them according to the book. I had a deal with my hairdresser that I’d read her cards for my hair being done. I don’t think I paid for my haircuts for about three years. She once interpreted something I said as relating to a hugely traumatic event that had happened to her on holiday. One time, I was excused from lessons for a whole day to read the cards of students and staff at my secondary school, in order to raise money for Comic Relief. I was 15.

Was I psychic? Nope. I’m pleased I wasn’t, although I did wonder if I was at the time. My anxiety was already bad enough without knowing what was going to happen to everyone. I just think I was very, very good at reading people and my emotional intelligence saved the day. But I liked feeling that I was helping, or giving people information they wanted to hear. I could never ‘read’ my own cards and the one time I did have them read, the woman told me I’d never end up with my then boyfriend as, and I quote, I was ‘too cosmopolitan’ for him. Having once seen his Facebook profile about five years ago, I agree.

I eventually grew up and out of all the occult stuff. I think going to uni, sort of finding a partial escape, as well as having a huge depression break over me ended it all. I stopped believing in tarot and ghosts and God. Science made everything make sense. If anyone asked my religion, I’d reply with ‘cheerfully agnostic’. I answer my son’s fervent questions about religion respectfully and allow him to decide what he believes.

But now my anxiety is back and witchcraft is de rigeur again (witches, like fashion, apparently come around, in a cycle). I read an article in the Guardian about how social anxiety about Trump and Brexit is causing women to be attracted back to the rituals associated with being a witch. You can buy kawaii tarot cards in Urban Outfitters for fifteen quid- totally at odds with the reverence the cards had traditionally been treated with.

But I get it. I get this desire, by women, to take back control of the narrative, in a world where it often feels like we’re hurtling towards The Handmaid’s Tale, where the strength of our female ancestors, with their links to long-forgotten rituals feels empowering. Wise women were the glue that held together rural communities, that knew which plants did what. I reflected on this the other day when I found myself buying a copy of Alys Fowler’s A Modern Herbal because my brain was convinced the NHS would shortly be going to hell in a handcart. I’m back on the St John’s Wort I first took as a student because the GP would not give me anti-depressants because I was ‘too young’. There’s something to be said for rediscovering the element of the wise woman, even if we can’t really tell the future with a deck of cards, or cure a migraine with a lump of amethyst, no matter how pretty it is.

I feel like this is a prevailing mood because we’re in a weird place that our ancestors might recognise. We’re living through something that potentially could be terrifying and shattering, but we’re expected to carry on as if nothing is happening. The antics of a few politicians will affect all of us- but unless there’s an election, what can we do? So we turn to our gardens, our cards, our crystals, because they make us feel powerful, like we have a say in the universe. And even if there’s nothing really in it, that feeling of empowerment is important.

Farewell, Fleabag

Before we begin, I want to re-iterate that this isn’t a Phoebe Waller-Bridge fansite (although it probably looks like it). I want to talk about Fleabag and that ending.

(SPOILERS AHEAD. You’ve been warned.)

Admittedly, I came to Fleabag later than most as part of my research into Phoebe Waller Bridge’s work. I was hooked and watched the whole first series in one afternoon. It was sharp, witty and the heroine was like most of my friends- slightly messed up carrying a tote bag in place of the handbag we’d have been expected to have twenty years ago (I’m convinced that those of us in our 30s today are ‘younger’ than our parents were twenty years ago.) She had an emotionally frigid family and seemed determined to pinball her way around London and a host of men who were the very epitome of ‘meh’, screwing up but doing it fabulously, Nancy Mitford for the 21st Century. Honestly, I have a whole Twitter thread on how Waller Bridge is the reincarnation of Mitford.

It was funny and weird and voiced those thoughts we have in our heads that we think no-one else thinks and she’s voicing them directly to us as she breaks the fourth wall. The fact that Fleabag is nameless, along with many of the other characters, means that we can project ourselves onto her and those around her. This is a common transference we make whenever we watch TV/read books, but it’s unusual to be so included in the process, invited into a character’s life in such a blatant way.

And whereas Series 1 one is about a character (and her family) who can not and will not communicate properly with those around her, the finale finally allows them to admit how they feel, albeit obviously in a very British, middle-class reserved way. The seeds are initially sown during a squirmy counselling session foisted on her by her father early on, but the process is there throughout Series 2, culminating in her father’s wedding when everything that has been so contained finally spills forth. Her sister Claire, the very epitome of a Type-A personality, admits her feelings for both her husband and Finnish Klare, as well as admitting that she loves her sister; closure is achieved with her father as he dithers over marrying her divinely vile stepmother; and, after two series, we finally see Fleabag as properly emotionally vulnerable. We’ve seen flashes, but it takes her realising that the priest will never be available to her in the way she wishes for her to allow her to show us emotion. It’s at this point that she walks away and does not allow us to follow- we’ve seen her having sex, her best friend’s death, but this is a step too far for us to go any further- because she has finally achieved a calm that has eluded her until this point.

To me, the acceptance of the priest’s semi-rejection (he loves her, but of course he loves God more) it feels like she has achieved a maturity and moved away from the class clown persona she’s sometimes cultivated. It’s raw and hard won, a fitting end to something that has gripped so many people. It feels like it was always going to have to end this way- we knew, deep down that the priest would never leave God for her and I think she does, too. So she has to change and to change, she has to leave us- her co-conspirators- behind.

And, because we feel like her friend, we let her go.

Me and Killing Eve

Like pretty much everyone in the latter half of 2018, I was gripped by Killing Eve. I watched it (savouring it weekly rather than bingeing, taking my time over it) and I read the first book, struck by the difference in tone to the series. It was, I reasoned, a product of a male novelist being adapted by a female screenwriter. After all, I spent a decade of my life looking at the representation of gender in minute detail as part of my role as an A-level Media Studies teacher. This was my bread and butter, something I was deeply interested in. I threw a tweet out about how I felt there were differences and then sort of forgot about it.

Until I got an email asking whether I would like to write a short piece about it to mark the publication of the second book in the States and the upcoming second series. Oh, and it was for The Washington Post- a paper I’d long admired right back to my uni days when, as a journalism student from a very working class background, working for newspapers like it seemed like an unreachable dream. Of course I said yes.

And so I set about researching everything I could about Killing Eve and its print counterpart, the Codename Villanelle books. I read the latest book and watched Fleabag, to better understand Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s writing style and how this had shaped Killing Eve into the phenomenal success it was; it struck me that as a spy novel (a genre traditionally very male-dominated), it had amazing resonance with women and seemed to be coming as part of a shift in TV drama. We’re now seeing more female-led writing rooms, with showrunners such as Shonda Rhimes, Tina Fey and Phoebe Waller-Bridge becoming more prominent and a move towards female led shows.

I spent hours re-watching Killing Eve, taking a whole notebook of notes on minutiae that I would never use but that helped me formulate my essay. I even took apart the fireplace in our living room to rescue a birthday card that had fallen down the back in an attempt to procrastinate. To me this was the most important piece of writing I’d ever done. THE ACTUAL WASHINGTON BLOODY POST.

I had 850 words. I had to keep it to the bare bones. I had to decide if ‘thrush cream’ would translate to an American audience (not really. Stephanie, the commissioning editor, explained that in the States ‘thrush’ is usually considered to be passed between mother and baby during breastfeeding. Nice.) I wanted to write about Fleabag and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s weirdness around parent/child relationships and how this transferred to Killing Eve. I wanted to write about how the mostly female soundtrack made us feel that this was a more feminine environment than traditional spy dramas and how the attempt to make Charlie, in the recent adaptation of Little Drummer Girl, a fashion icon in the mould of Villanelle didn’t work. I also could have legitimately mentioned Olivia Colman twice, but I resisted the urge.

Anyway. I submitted my piece a week and a half early- despite my best efforts with a screwdriver and the mantlepiece. Mainly because once I started writing, I couldn’t stop. I remembered that I love writing and I love pop culture. Also, I can now actually say I’m a proper writer who has written for The Washington Post. And that’s really cool

You can read the article here.

Writer’s HQ: Brighton Writing Retreat

joancrawford writing

Please note, the author of this post is not as glamorous as Joan Crawford.

I have been trying to write a novel for two years. I have the idea, but I am not very disciplined. Luckily, my friend Jo is better at this stuff than I am and has had loads of success with her writing- and is one half of Writer’s HQ. She suggested that I try one of the monthly writer’s retreats held around the country.

Through writing sprints and goal-setting (and gold stars), the retreats aim to help you unlock your potential and get something down on paper/screen. I bumbled up with the aim of a thousand words and a short story submission for Mslexia magazine. Within an hour, I’d smashed both of those things and started working on something that could later be a novel. By the end of the day- which is also filled with a great lunch and generous servings of tea and cake- I’d written 6,500 words, earned three gold stars AND had loads of goes on the giant indoor swing.

The atmosphere was supportive and no-one read their work out, which was a relief. We all had different goals: writing short stories, plays, screenplays, pitches; editing. I’m pretty sure all of us left with a sense of accomplishment. And everyone was so nice! In the breaks, we chatted about books, babies and all sorts of other things. If I didn’t have pesky commitments (a child and a husband with a Brighton season ticket), I’d seriously be there every month.

Since going, I’ve found a way of working in twenty minute sessions that’s way more productive than trying to work for a solid hour (I can write 1000 words in two twenty minute sprints, whereas a full forty minute session would probably be mostly me pratting about on Twitter.) And although I have yet to get into a solid, regular writing habit, they have a free online course starting in a couple of weeks which I’m signed up for. I’ve previously completed their Seven Ideas in Seven Days course (review here), so I am DETERMINED to finish this bloody novel, mainly because I’d like my brain back for a bit without the characters taking over.

It’s also worth mentioning that you can try all of the courses free for seven days and then sign up for full membership if you want. I can also highly recommend the Writer’s HQ Facebook groups for support, even if I did accidentally make someone cry with a piece I put on there.

So go forth and write. Join a retreat and have fun. I’ll buy your novel at the end of it.

 

Stuff I learnt in floristry class

Hello!

If you follow me on social media, you’ll know that I’ve been going to a beginner’s floristry class since January. I’m not very good at it, but I don’t even care because I really enjoy it. I’ve even made my peace with the fact that my nemesis is florists’ foam (also known as oasis, which does make me think of the Gallaghers.)

alliums

I do, however, enjoy putting bunches of flowers together (although I think I’m not allowed to call them ‘bunches’ now that I’m *sort of* trained. I think I’m meant to refer to them as bouquets…) I’ve learnt some great tips about choosing flowers and putting them together, which I would have liked to have known before I started putting stuff together.

  1. Bleach your vases and change your water

28235344_10155296869792267_8276381645575148795_oEvery time you have an empty vase, fill it with water and put a few drops of bleach in it and leave it overnight (although I forget and sometimes leave it a few days…) Empty it and rinse it out. This will kill any bacteria and means that you’re starting with a clean, germ-free vase. It’ll mean that your flowers last longer from the get-go. In a similar vein, make sure you change your water every couple of days.

Some people swear blind that a drop of bleach in the water works to keep flowers looking fresh, although I would only do that for roses; for anything else I use a teaspoon of sugar or, if I have it, the packets of flower food you get with supermarket flowers.

2. There’s nothing wrong with supermarket flowers! 

27021216_10155227044562267_3429879072351896780_oI do love going to the florist, but it is expensive. There’s nowt wrong with supermarket flowers- I use them quite a bit for class, and a florist recently recommended I buy focal flowers (i.e. the main flowers in an arrangement) from a florist, the secondary flowers from a supermarket and the greenery from a garden. To be honest, it depends on time/money as to whether I have time to do all of that. But you can definitely gussy up a couple of bunches of Aldi’s finest- arrange them in a symmetrical pattern, twisting the stalks if you can, any foliage on the outside, and tying off with string. Chop the bottoms of the stalks off evenly- et voila! A tied bouquet! The only thing I would say is that supermarket flowers do not tend to last as long as florist bought flowers, but when they’re cheap as chips, who cares?

3. Don’t be afraid to experiment

IMG_20180214_083541_236I think one of the reasons I’m not terribly good at the lessons is that I’m not very keen on the formality of what we’re being shown. This is just my thing and no judgement on the teacher (who I love) or the whole world of floristry. It’s just me being an awkward sod. I tend to prefer smaller arrangements that suit a more vintage taste, which have a country garden look to them. This is what I will continue to make once I finish my course, and what I enjoy making. As one of Brighton’s top florists told me, ‘It’s not rocket science and there are no hard and fast rules.’ (He was quite dismissive of a lot of the formal structure of floristry- and seeing as he did my wedding bouquet, I tend to trust him!) One thing I would say: supermarket flowers tend not to smell much. If you want that, consider buying some broom or something like stocks from a florist- even one stem of these will lift your bunch of flowers into something a bit more special.

4. A few tweaks can make a bouquet look way more expensive

IMG_20180311_131728_492Around Valentines and Mother’s Day, flowers will be at their most expensive. If you wanted to make something flowery in the run up to those, I would heartily recommend you buy supermarket flowers for the bulk of it (especially if you want roses or tulips) and then go to a florist for a few finishing touches. The bouquet about was commissioned by Benn for his mum and I did go to a florist where I know I will get a good deal (and a discount for being a student, hurrah!) This is more my style- I love stuff that looks like I could just pluck it from my garden on a sunny June day and it’s nicely balanced, I think. Anyway, there are a few things I’ve noticed when you put together a bouquet:

  1. If you want roses, but not the expense, you could try lisianthus (the deep purple flowers above) or ranunculas, which are pretty in a similar way but often without such a steep price tag (although they will never be as cheap as daffodils or carnations!)
  2. Eucalyptus is having a moment. You can get the traditional varieties, with large silver leaves, or the smaller leafed variety, which is in the arrangement above. The good thing about eucalyptus, especially the bigger type, is that it will literally make any bunch of flowers look more expensive. Probably because it is quite expensive, but it would be a price I would consider paying for something special. To be honest, though, I’d just have vases full of it round the house I love it so much. If you want nice foliage, consider pistachio leaf, which is nice and half the price. Foliage is super important and I almost never have enough.
  3. If you want to make something look vintage, go with wax flowers. These tiny pink or white flowers are a bit of a discovery for me and also seem to be having a bit of a ‘moment’. Oh my god, I love them. They look like something from a Victorian wedding and they last an AGE. They aren’t hugely cheap, but they are cheerful and really add something to the flower arrangements I make. These would go in my vases with the eucalyptus.

5. Use Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration

I have a Pinterest board where I keep all things floristry- I love looking at flower combos, as well as different colours and presentation options. I’m also obsessed with the language of flowers and what different flowers meant in Victorian times. I then use this as a starting point for ideas. There are also some really great Instagram accounts run by florists, with different styles and specialities. Have a hunt around and find your style. Then, go and have a go. It’s really, honestly, not that hard. Seriously- look at some of the mistakes I’ve made!

If there’s anything you’d like to know, but I may have missed, let me know either in the comments or on Twitter. Enjoy your flowers!

Tips for walking to work

Hola! So, as I wrote last time, I’m now in a new job! Most days, I walk to work and very often walk back too (childcare pick up allowing…) This is fine, except it’s just short of 3 miles each way. I like to walk- I like to see the seasons changing and stomp out any tension. Plus, I had to decide whether I was willing to pay gym fees or after school club fees and, as it’s generally frowned upon to to send your kid to the pub for a few hours after school, my money goes on having him looked after.

Screenshot-2018-1-23 Instagram post by Steph • Dec 12, 2017 at 8 14am UTC(5)

I am very much dressed for the weather here, although I look miserable.

I’ve been walking to work since I was temping in September and I do really love it- but there are a few things that have made my life easier and more comfortable, which is super important when you’re walking so much everyday.

Screenshot-2018-1-23 Instagram post by Steph • Dec 12, 2017 at 8 14am UTC(2)

  • Breakfast- I will usually have a cup of tea and a smoothie made of Adagio’s Chocolate Matcha, banana and oat milk. This is good, because a) it means I have a banana before I’ve even woken up properly and b) I like to think that the matcha does me *some* good. It doesn’t have an overly chocolatey taste, but gives it a nice sweetness- just enough for the morning. I might also try and have something like toast or I’ll take something like oatcakes to eat at work, especially as the walk can make me really hungry. I also like using oat milk because it gives the smoothie a bit of a porridgey flavour and a bit of a fibre hit, which is obviously good (I think.)

Screenshot-2018-1-23 Instagram post by Steph • Dec 12, 2017 at 8 14am UTC(1)

  • What I wear on my feet is very important, especially on a long walk. I will wear Doc Martens if the weather is bad, but they’re heavy. My go-to boots and shoes are Sketchers- they have memory foam and are lightweight, meaning I feel lighter on my feet and my legs don’t ache at the end of the day. (Benn bought me some Sketchers slippers for Christmas too. My feet feel permanently heavenly- and my posture is good as a result, too.)
  • I’d also recommend a good backpack- I hate my arms being restricted! I currently use one I picked up ages ago from the Ollie and Nic sale, but I’m on the hunt for something bigger- along the the lines of the Jansport bag I coveted at school but never got.

Screenshot-2018-1-23 Instagram post by Steph • Dec 12, 2017 at 8 14am UTC(3) The biggest things that have made the most difference to my walking commute though, are the following:

  • A good antiperspirant- no-one wants to be stinky! I experimented with different brands and found that this one is the best. Also, there’s no point wearing fancy perfume when you’re walking. I’ve resorted to bodysprays and lament the fact that Impuse no longer make Zen and/or O2 scents. Considering a Twitter campaign.
  • Keep Cup– I bought mine in November and I use it mostly on cold days, when I need warming up. With Pret and Costa offering money off hot drinks, and concern about the environment, this is just a bit of a no-brainer for me. Fun fact: as a result of taking this into work, I have caused six other people to buy one. Am awaiting my commission.
  • Bluetooth headphones and Spotify- I used to have rubbish headphones and a rubbish phone. It took ages to listen to anything and I spent a long time trying to get anything to work. My in-laws bought me a great pair of headphones and I treated myself to Spotify Premium and it has honestly improved my commute no end. I have podcasts and playlists and I can honestly say that I look forward to my walk to work every day. I don’t think I’ve ever said that before.

Screenshot-2018-1-23 Instagram post by Steph • Dec 12, 2017 at 8 14am UTC(4)

*All of these products are here because I love them- there are no affiliate links on this post. I was sent the matcha to review, but will be purchasing this once my sample runs out!

 

 

 

How I left my job and changed career

DollyParton-9to5

A year ago today, I resigned from my ten-year teaching career. I remember it well, mainly because it was the day of Trump’s inauguration and I’d had no sleep the night before. I’d been planning on resigning later in the term (Benn and I had talked about me resigning the year before and agreed that the best time would be when D started school- no more nursery fees), but for some reason I found myself pouring out my thoughts to my line manager, who was amazingly supportive. I wrote my letter there and then, although I decided I would stay til the end of the year: this would give me time to sort myself out, but also I wanted to see my students through the year.

I then began to plan. I saved as much money (read: not much) as I could every month and joined agencies specialising in helping parents find work (spoiler: they were crap.) I spoke to people who could help me- one friend gave me really good advice about CVs. I researched, planned and saved. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was pretty terrified- I was leaving a job I’d done since I was 23, with relatively good money for the days I was in work (but not those I was working outside of school hours) and school holidays guaranteed. I had never looked for a job as a parent. Hell, I hadn’t seriously looked for a new job in eight years.

The time went REALLY fast. I took the summer off and started looking for work the week after D started school. I wrote a skills-based CV, which showed what I could do (and is easier to adapt for the skills required by each job description.) I also narrowed down the sort of places I wanted to work- charities, public sector- and signed up for job alerts. I scoured job boards for the NHS, the council, universities and the civil service. I applied for three jobs and was offered interviews for them all (I accepted the second job and got excellent feedback from the first. I didn’t attend the third interview.) I bought a basic black dress in the summer sales, which I wore with a plain cardigan (I felt like a younger Miss Marple, tbh), but it looked smart and presentable.

I was lucky in that I got a temp job for a few weeks, which brought in a bit of money, but I budgeted HARD. I cut all non-essential costs and used the library. During times when I wasn’t working, I kept myself busy: looking after the sheep, learning French, going to a free weekly knitting group.

I started my job in the public sector in December and it’s very different. I’m also working five days a week until the end of next month, which has brought a temporary boost in money but headaches with childcare. I’ll be a lot less well-off once I go down to three days, but better in terms of health. I sleep better, I’m happier and Benn and D have noticed a huge difference.

I have had to deal with an odd side-effect though: losing a sense of identity that was tied up with my job. It’s liberating and less scary now, but it’s definitely taken a while.

For anyone looking to change lanes, I will tell you it’s potentially hard- I was lucky that Benn was happy to pick up the slack, even if it means a change in lifestyle for us for a while- but the rewards can be utterly worth it.

Where I’m at in December

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I have a new theory- the more horrible the world seems, the earlier people put their Christmas tree up. It’s either that or Instagram and I’m pretty sure I’m not entirely wrong. The boys persuaded me to put our tree up on the first weekend of December, which felt early- but then I realised that, for the last few years at least, I’ve been so fed up and exhausted by work as we sail into Christmas season, I’ve been the one insisting that the decs go up: part coping method, part over excitement. I gave in, the tree went up.

Speaking of work, I’ve just finished my second week in my new job. It’s very interesting (although some of the theory is drrrrry) and I’m feeling confident about working around D- he’s loving after school club, which is a HUGE relief! My new bosses are also keenly aware of the importance of work/life balance; it’s very different to what I’ve been used to. I still haven’t quite shaken off the Sunday afternoon weirdness that comes with not having a huge pile of marking to do.

When it comes to extra time, I’ve been spending it well: I’ve made a load of Christmas presents (all knitted, bar one), read loads, done sheep duty and just actually rested. I’m sleeping well, breaking a well-worn battle with insomnia. My next plan involves more blogging (I have a few blog post ideas: more tea, career-related stuff, writing stuff), although our laptop is so horrendously slow, which is one of the main reasons that blogging has been on the back burner. I’m currently working on our tablet, which is not ideal to be honest. But hey-ho! Onwards and upwards.