Seven Little Books

“29/04/18. My arms are aching, my legs are covered in bruises and I’m completely shattered. I must be in London.”

It has been a week since I vacated my flat in central London and returned once more to Swindon. It almost feels like the past year has all been but a dream, vape steam in the breeze. Invisible, abstract and only memorable by the faint smell it leaves behind.

On 2nd May I left London Paddington station for the last time packed like a loaded Buckaroo: an overfilled holdall case, a heavy rucksack, an additional handbag, a canvas tote filled with redundant bedlinen and a heavy laptop across the body for good measure. I learnt from my mistakes moving out and managed the travel back relatively bruise free, however my body has ached for days from strain. The day before I fully moved I’d completed a separate trip to Swindon with a similar amount of goods and wondered why I couldn’t stop violently shaking. I spilt coffee everywhere at the formal work function, of course. At the time I put it down to the amount of rushing around but now I see it as the culmination of mental and muscular stress.

Other than the short term pains it would be easy to pass off what I’d been through and achieved in just over twelve months living and working in the English capital as nothing more than normal. ‘Business as usual’ as my colleagues would say. But it isn’t. And it’s not just the big things that make me say that, like moving into the flat and travelling solo in Europe for the first time, but it is the little things as well. The events I put myself out of my comfort zone to attend, the weird obsession with finding the cheapest eggs, the men (goodness the men). And as I stood in Brompton cemetery one Sunday afternoon while a random man called Nicolas tried to chat me up I thought only one thing.

Thank God I’m writing this all down.

Seven separate notebooks, all documenting the experience of spending a year in London. Seven books with unique but different personalities as I went through a deeply personal and professional journey. Just glancing over extracts from book one and comparing it to book seven the transformation is really quite something (excluding coffee spilling and egg hunting, those two are deeply trademarked parts of me). Admittedly I haven’t read any of the books in depth since writing, I want to let some water trickle under bridges first. But I remember so clearly picking the first notebook off a shelf in a stationery store and telling myself I would make every effort to record the upcoming eight months in London (as it was then supposed to be) so that I should not forget the experience when I returned once more to Wiltshire. To ensure that I never let this fantastic opportunity turn into little more than a faded dream. And maybe, just maybe, one day I will do something more with my scribbles, that people will know about the time I ended up at a celebrity wedding, when the artist Grayson Perry became a fan of my writing, the time I got screen tested for a dating show. And again, the men.

If two things show how much I’ve changed over the past year then look no further than these separate quotes.

“11/05/18…Let’s make this work.”

“06/04/19…Because I can.”

 

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2017 – A Chinese New Year in Review

It has just dawned on me I never got round to doing a write up for 2017. Oh how you poor souls must have struggled to survive these past ten weeks. Well good news, it’s the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Dog in fact (why do I say that like it’s that big a deal?) which automatically gives me an excuse to do the yearly review in February.

I’ll keep this short and sweet because I’m multitasking this between a conversation of Papa Bennett’s new Volvo and Mumma Bennett discussing ISAs and investments. There’s also a crumble in the oven which I need to keep an eye on (did I ever tell you how middle class my family is?)

Anyway, a quick update on 2017.

Important Stuff Kicking Off:

  • Trump / Brexit (use as headline news where appropriate)
  • Bruce Forsyth, Adam West, Peter Sallis, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and, most painfully, Keith Chegwin died this year. According to The Sun (look, it came top of the Google search) more men died than women. Not sure if this means more famous women are needed, more famous female deaths are impending, or The Sun is sexist (or all three)..
  • Meanwhile, in Ireland…
  • Meanwhile, in London…

 

Personal Stuff Kicking Off

  • In March 2017 – bought a house (no biggie) and started a mini-series on my website documenting the process of buying and doing it up. You can access the series via the link on the top bar or here: The First Time Buyer Diaries (TFTBD)
  • June – builders moved in for a week and took off the back of my house to increase the size of the downstairs bedroom. Given the back of the property was protected only by a sheet of plastic for several days sleeping didn’t come too easily on those nights. Spoiler – I survived. (I’ll write more about this as part of TFTBD at some point.)
  • August – went on a mini-break to Prague. (Why Prague? Because it’s the cheapest place a skint homeowner can visit within the EU, that’s why.) Booked a hotel room in the centre of the historic capital which meant easy access after all the tourist hoards had left (although FYI the bars close early!) Particular elements to call out were a Gerhard Richter exhibition and a classical music concert. Found both experiences very emotive.
  • August – Bought a car. Still recovering from the expense of buying a house and paying for a holiday, my lovely blue Fiat 500 (and all associated costs) quite literally broke me. For all of about two weeks I had hardly two pennies to rub together. That was fun…
  • In September I started a new job in the glamorously corporate world of finance, working in project governance (haven’t you seen 50 Shades? Control is sexy). This job is wonderful because a) it pays more b) all the men have to wear suits and c) the support, development and progression networks are vastly superior compared to where I was before. Oddly enough A and B were not articulated in my original job interview.
  • October – discovered my new job is nothing like Wolf of Wall Street.
  • Technically it happened in January 2018 but I’m going to tell you anyway. Long story short, I’m now single. I’m fine, that is unless you’re offering to buy me chocolate, wine or coffee. In which case I’m a mess.

In Other News

  • I created this masterpiece for my sister’s birthday, putting together my two all time loves: Windows Movie Maker and Phil Collins.

(Ridley Scott should be afraid is all I’m saying.)

  • Swindon 18-30 breeched 600 member mark.
  • Writing stuff stagnated somewhat, but looking to revitalise this for 2018.

 

So overall a busy year for the world (Trump, Brexit, need I say more?) And for me (house, car, job, at this rate I’m going to run out of things to spend my money on, hah-hah as if I just typed that!)

Happy New Chinese Year everyone!

Things Are Going To Change Around Here

You’re lying on a beach, the warm Mediterranean sun kissing your sun cream-sheen body. There’s a Pina Colada in hand (it could be the second or third, but who’s counting anyway?) And you think to yourself, “yes, this is pure bliss”. Suddenly, out of nowhere…

“Things are going to change around here!”

You’re sat in an English beer garden in summer, holding a pint of ale that comes recommended by the landlord himself. There’s a gentle breeze flowing through your hair as you idly watch dog walkers stroll by. It could just as easily be Devon or as it could be Suffolk (but who’s reading the map anyway?) And you think to yourself, “can’t go far wrong”. Then…

“Things are going to change around here!”

You’re stood by a roaring fire, munching down on festive treats. Outside it’s dark and cold, but inside you worship only the primitive flames. The wine is pouring a plenty and the boxes of mince pies are never ending. You don’t care much for the brand (who’s checking the price tag anyway?) And you soon find yourself curling up into a ball and drifting off by the glowing embers. As your eyelids slowly lower, with loving family all around, you think to yourself “life doesn’t get much better than this.”…

“Things are going to change around here!”

***

All three of the above are, give or take a few juicy words, all scenarios I’ve shared in the company of my beloved Papa Bennett. It’s basically a family tradition, when you reach a sweet spot in life he will almost always cry out those seven words. “Things are going to change around here!”

Usually the statement will be followed by something that he feels is currently out of balance. These fall into two categories and you can usually pin point what he’s going to say and when he’ll say it down to a T. For example, Christmas time after eating four mince pies in one sitting = health, three days into a beach holiday = work balance. And every time we tell him “work less hours!” Or “eat less junk!” all we get is a look of horror. “I couldn’t possibly do that!” he says.

Papa Bennett aside, used in the right way the statement does have weighting to it. I think to myself, wouldn’t it be better to, instead of pledging resolutions at New Year, instead say TAGTCAH? (Does that read like a Lord of the Rings character? Or a nasty throat infection?)

Without going into the potted year of the Alice Bennett show, 2017 has been so unbelievably busy. New house, new car, new job (and everything else in between). I’ve dealt with busy builders, evil energy suppliers and a mortgage provider who tried to fob me off with a blank cheque. Swindon stays the same, sure, but everything else has changed.

What’s going to change around here in 2018? Well, things I hope for:

Life to calm down (at least the things I can control)
I received a Christmas card this year with the added note “hoping 2018 is just as thrilling as the one before!” Well no, no I really hope it isn’t. I’ve invested enough time and money on the power three (house, car, job) in the past year, I welcome a break!

Stop worrying over the little things.
Recently someone gave me a piece of written feedback. I highly paraphrase, but it went something like “you’re doing great, but you’ve seriously got to stop worrying and overanalysing everything.” (So I’m going to stop fussing so much over the little things.)

Learn how to read electronic messages.
…My knee jerk reaction to the above email was to heavily defend why I cared so much about my job. I reread heir comments a week later and realised that I’d completely misread what they were trying to say. They’d written the comment in good humour as part of a longer email as a gentle nudge to relax a little. And yet I latched onto one slightly negative thing. That was silly and I wish I could take it back and not given out the Alice Bennett sob story. So as a writer I also need to learn how to read (hah, how ironic).

Stop overanalysing emails. (See above.) Because colleagues will think it weird and will be scared that they’ll appear on blogs, like they’re working with some kind of corporate Taylor Swift.

Write something awesome
Like truly awesome

Grow nails, preferably by finding something/one as actual motivation.
Because nothing else is working and I hate my hands and want nails so bad. I’m thinking like The Rock or Channing Tatum as personal trainers, Richard Branson staring me down from the other side of the office, and/or a naggy Martin Freeman? Not fussy, whichever comes easiest to hand (eh, see what I did there? Pun Goddess.)

Be you Alice because when you’re not spilling coffee everywhere you pass off for a decent human being. And you need to damn well appreciate it more.

IMG_8854
(Also because Oscar Wilde’s people called. Turns out he’s already taken.)

So there’s my ‘things are going to change around here’ list for 2018. Comment below any of yours, in the meantime I’m off to take on the new year.

Lets do this.

Blogging – The First Year (Alias a year since I bought toilet roll)

It may/may not surprise you to hear this, but I’ve now been blogging for over a year (one year two days to be exact).

I’ll be honest, it took me a bit off guard when WordPress pinged me a little congratulations notification on Wednesday 11th November. It was like WordPress was saying to me “well done you for making it to a year. We’ll be honest, when we saw your first post we were a bit unsure whether you’d hack it. We were not sure the content was really appropriate considering most of our bloggers write about interesting, informative things and make an effort with their photographs. However you sure stuck at your own little niche writing style and lo and behold you’re still around. I’ve lost 50 Bitcoin in a bet to Tumblr and still don’t get what keeps your readers coming back, but all the same well done you.”

Of course, all I got was this:

Capture

(I studied English Literature at AS Level, I can read between the lines. Well, line.)

At first I shook off this news. I was halfway through writing my last post and too focused on Ainsley Harriot’s tomatoes to process this notification. When I was 75% of the way through writing said post I was actually annoyed with WordPress for telling me this news randomly when I was typing something else that was unrelated to blogging for a year. I felt the site had robbed me a golden chance to post on the actual anniversary that I created My Housemate’s a Mermaid and my Grimgrad identity.

“Dam you WordPress” I thought.

“Sod off, I’ve already lost 50 Bitcoin to Tumblr and now I’ve got MySpace on the phone laughing at me. MySpace!” An anthropomorphic version of WordPress responded.

Anyway, here I am, a week later than billed, writing my thirtieth anniversary post. Sometimes it feels weird to think this image marked the start of something new for me:

Shock, horror! I'm a real adult now!

I mean the image itself is not strange, I pull stupid poses all the time (regardless of whether there is a camera present or not). But four things make it particularly interesting to me:

a) I think everyone will agree this photo expertly sums up everything about this blog. The style, the importance, the sheer randomness about every word that is written. Someone once asked me if I did stand up as well as the blog, they found the writing style to be so amusing and witty. Unsure whether I should be flattered, concerned or ring up my local comedy club I simply responded with the truth; that every word I write for my blog is 100% natural me. Colleagues and friends may say I’m nothing like this in real life, family will tell you I’m worse, but what I type are literally the mental ramblings of my little brain.

b) This one photo marked the start of a new interest, hobby and creative release. It kinda makes it a big deal to me.

c) Since posting it on my blog I have never taken the time to look at or use this photo again. I could have used it for the Hat Season post but I didn’t. I remember at the time thinking it was a photo of significance and it should not be repeatedly used without a justified reason. In a bizarre twist of fate, this silly photo had adopted a degree (pun not intended) of near holy importance to me.

and 4. It looks like a mouse is hiding on the top of my mortar board. Never noticed that before.

Perhaps I should be submitting the above picture to the various examination boards of Britain. I mean clearly this is an image that school children can and should rip apart to fully understand Britain in the early 21st Century. Best to get the resources together now AQA, you’ll only be regretting it when you have to pay my grandchildren royalties for using this photo.

To bring it back to the title, why is this post also being referred to as a year since I bought loo roll? Well, it’s not uncommon for people to ask bloggers the predictable question of “what made you want to start writing?” Now, the normal answer to this would be equally as dull and expected, something along the lines of “I was inspired to write because…” or “when *blank* happened to me I felt impassioned to tell this important story to the world”. Which one was I? Come on, you know me better than that. Did you seriously think this blog had a dully beautiful creation? I’ll tell you the story of how this blog came to be:

I was in Sainsbury’s after work. It was wet and cold out and I really could not be bothered to go, however we were out of toilet roll and it was my turn to buy some. Sure, I could have left it another day, but we were down to the last roll and you are playing with some serious hand grenade if you’re sharing a bathroom with two other females and you keep putting off the loo roll shop.

I was standing there in front of all the types. I think a new Olly Murs track was playing? Yeah, I think it was him. Singing some generic tune, something to make me feel happier about a product that would see my money being literally flushed down the toilet. In front of me was the branded Andrex on offer at £3.50 for nine rolls vs. Sainsbury’s own brand at £6.50 for 16. Sheri and I had always bought in high volume on the grounds that loo roll isn’t about to go out of fashion. I remember debating it forever, analysing every single aspect of each product. Sheri had always bought branded toilet roll and I didn’t want to look like a tight wad by purchasing own brand, but did I really want to pay up any more than I needed to?

I don’t think in the history of loo roll has anyone spent so much time studying the details of something no one really cares about. “Lovely bathroom Tina, but it’s a shame your toilet roll didn’t feature a floral boarder” said no one ever. I finally selected the Andrex family pack. I paid for the goods and walked out of the store, chuffed at my purchase.

“This will see us through to the new year. I won’t have to buy any more toilet roll for ages,” I thought “not even this misty rain is going to get me down.”

I pressed the button at the pedestrian crossing and waited for the lights to change.

“Hey, why don’t I start writing a blog? That could be interesting, although I probably wouldn’t be able to hack it. I mean I tried it once ages ago while at Southampton, when I created the account for a party pineapple…

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…that was until I realised I’d created a persona that was more Twitter than WordPress. He rotted away and I did not have the energy or funds to invest in a new pineapple. Yeah, that was a bit of a fail. But maybe I should try again though.”

Green man appears, I walk across the road.

“But what to call it…”

There was literally zero thought process to it, I don’t know how it came into my head but two minutes later the title “My Housemate’s a Mermaid” was firmly stuck in my head and I became more determined than ever to write my first post.

Ever since that moment the only time I’ve been frustrated with blogging was the first fifteen minutes when I got back and I just wanted to write something. I had to quickly research which site to use and fill in so many boxes to create an account “Jesus Christ, just let me write already!”

And that my friends is the true story of how I came to be sat in bed a year later, still writing the same old waffle. The same old waffle you’re still reading now. I’ve come a long way since then, I now type with the duvet over me as opposed to under me. No need to thank me, thank Sainsbury’s special promotions and your natural bodily functions. I was actually in the same supermarket a couple of weeks ago to buy loo roll. Even though I had no idea my blogging anniversary was coming up I had this weird feeling which I couldn’t quite place. And then it dawned on me…

Own brand toilet roll had increased from £6.50 to £6.65.