Podcast Interview: Stratford Calling

Stratford(-Upon-Avon) Calling is a new podcast series, promoting individuals and businesses in and around Warwickshire.

The series is available to download on all major podcast providers, including Spotify (search ‘Stratford Calling’).

Emma kindly interviewed me as part of episode 7, where I feature alongside the town’s new mayor and a dog grooming service (it’s a unique mix, I grant you).

In my segment you’ll find me talking all things bloggy and the challenges and opportunities it brings for creative types such as myself. I also read out my poem Sometimes It’s Hard.

(I wanted to read Mr Blobby’s Take on Mental Health, but we agreed that it would quickly turn into a lengthy discussion of everything 1990s.)

Stratford Calling Podcast

Bio: “This week I speak to the new Mayor of Stratford, Councillor Tony Jackson, and find out exactly what it is a Mayor does, and to Sophie from Happy Paws in the Shire, about doggy holidays to the beach and fussing and feeding our feline friends. I also speak to local blogger, Alice, who writes the blog ‘My Housemates A Mermaid’, about her very interesting housemate, and she shares her lockdown poem with us.”

Jump to 24:25 to listen to my interview in full.

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Alice Versus Life: The Laminator

Mumma B needed some help laminating a sign the other week. Me, with my years of office administrative experience, I jumped at the chance to do something useful* (*that doesn’t involve cleaning). I mean, it was just one piece of paper than needed feeding through the machine, how hard could it be?

Ah.

So it turns out these things can, on rare occasion, get stuck inside laminators and wrap around the hot rollers to such an extent this happens. What the manual doesn’t say is that nine times out of ten the person who does this is an absolute muppet (as per Mumma B’s summary of events).

Hours later and after Papa B had taken the whole laminator machine apart we finally managed to retrieve the item. That said, I don’t even think the UK’s strongest man winner could stretch this out, it’s that much of a concertina.

You know what? I think I’m going to stick to writing.

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Career Stories: Bucking the Stereotype

My old Secondary (High) School wanted to do a feature on me for their website. After a series of email exchanges (and some editing support from the lovely Alicia), my post-Chipping Campden School career story is now live:

Alice E Bennett: Bucking the Stereotype

Check it out and discover more about how I went from being a reclusive History graduate to an extroverted Finance professional / creative writer.

Opportunity shout out! I’m currently offering mentorship opportunities for students enrolled at my old Secondary School. Please contact the Alumni Developmental team for more information.

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Writing Course Success!

In July last year I subscribed to a Novel Writing course offered by the London School of Journalism. Keen and eager (although somewhat less convinced my idea could hold a story) I penned the first draft of a synopsis in a charming little coffee shop in Ilfracombe, North Devon.

(Shout out to Annie and The Flint – perfect atmosphere for penning those challenging first words!)

Fourteen classes and twenty-seven written submissions later, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve have completed the course with flying colours. Go me!

This isn’t the end of my creative exploits. Spurred on by the course, I’m continuing in earnest on my manuscript (#AmEditing as the cool cats on Twitter say) and dipping my toe into the world of short stories.

While my love, life and ambition is to turn my manuscript into a fully published novel, I’ve discovered that diverting energy into other avenues is a great way to refresh and experiment. Also a bit of fun! (Which I know for some people must sound weird. The idea of hours of writing, followed by 2000 words of something news.)

Thank you to my wonderful tutor Val Holmes for being a fresh pair of eyes throughout the course and being unafraid to challenge the creative choices I make.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, this isn’t the last you’ve heard of my writing exploits.

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Dad’s Polytunnel

At the age I am, never did I expect to be contending with a new rival for the love and attention of my father. But then never did I expect to be on my second glass of midweek wine while I wait for my dinner, chicken nuggets and chips, to cook in the oven. We all make surreal life choices.

My dad’s got a new polytunnel out the back. Mum says it’s a monstrosity, I say it’s because we’re on lockdown but dad says it’s something he’s always wanted to do since Autumn (when one of his customer’s mentioned it to him). So that’s all that matters.

One of the agreements dad made with mum was that he’d place the tunnel somewhere out of view from the back garden. After a lot of ‘discussion’ this was the agreed spot, although mum still moaned that you could see it from the Dovecot patio. Mum didn’t get why I was laughing, and then I then took this photo and laughed even more.

Polytunnel in the Field

Quite literally the most middle class, Cotswold, fiasco to happen since…well, ever.

Dad had the tunnel delivered days before the UK lockdown (23rd March 2020) and then two weeks’ later had a further delivery of wood to build up the raised beds inside. He proudly claimed he was doing a good job of self-isolating, whereas I pointed out making other people deliver water irrigation systems and bamboo poles for his new hobby was, once again, another very middle class response to avoiding non-essential travel.

I’ve commented that it looks more like the pop up hospitals they used for Ebola cases back in 2016 and from that mum has decided it’s going to serve as a self-isolation unit if anyone, aka dad, gets sick.

Not like he has a problem with hanging out down there at the moment, he’s gotten very much into planting his seeds and herbs.

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Mum’s justification of the self-isolation polytunnel was further heightened when dad took power and water down to it, making it easier for him to grow produce without having to traipse up and down the length of the garden to utilise the outdoor water tap. The raised borders were completed shortly after that and seed-planting followed swiftly afterwards.

Here is a tour of the polytunnel I made dad do.

The cats have yet to make a formal decision on where they stand with the large tube of plastic in the back field. Given what we know him to be like, I’m convinced Bubble sees the whole thing as a 5-star, deluxe toilet facility. Glastonbury VIP++

Bubble in Polytunnel

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The polytunnel must have been up about a week when mum charged into the dining room to disrupt me in the middle of writing.

‘You have to see what your father is doing with the polytunnel!’

‘What?’

‘You have to go and see!’

I sighed. ‘Right, better go get some shoes on I guess. Not like I was focusing on something else. If I go all the way out there and find it’s nothing…’

‘You have to go and see!’

‘Yes, I got that part. Goodness me.’

So I made my way all the way down to the back field and found dad was digging a trench. The polytunnel wasn’t enough it seemed, he’s now growing raspberry canes as well.

‘Don’t you want to get up and running with all the things you’ve go planted already, dad?’

‘I’ve always wanted raspberries. My father used to grow them when I was a child.’

‘Right. It’s just you’ve already got a lot on the go here, the polytunnel is twice the size mum thought you were buying…’

‘When I have my massive bowl of raspberries I’ll remember you said that!’

‘Well…’

‘Have you seen what your father has done, Alice?!’

‘Hi mum. Well yes, I’m standing by it.’

I took a photo of Squeak sat by the narrow trench and looking in a similar way to how I felt about the whole situation.

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And then the slugs came. Downside of trying to be an ecowarrior (and a little bit too proud) with his compost heap, dad’s version of compost came invested with delightful little balls of slime. Shortly afterwards I found myself making hacking up in my car to the convenience store in the next village to procure a bottle of beer as part of my essential food shop. I was more than willing to help, that was until I found him drinking more of the beer than actually using it to kill slugs.

‘This is surprisingly good stuff for cheap beer! How much was it again?’

‘£1.60.’

‘Oh, you shouldn’t have got it then.’

‘The instruction I got was “please get beer. It’s urgent.”‘

‘No worries, thanks anyway.’

‘…Can you please drink something else?’

Mum once made the fatal mistake of telling him that Tesco used to stock a four-pack of canned beer for £1.00, but now can’t been found on shelves for love or money. Dad occasionally laments the fact that Covid-19 has stripped him of his supply of slug trap booze, making him in a unique position of being able to relate to the average park bench boozer.

Slug traps are still ongoing, with more surreal contraptions coming in the post everyday courteously of eBay. If this economy has any chance of survival then it’s through my dad’s endless purchase history of online shops (in comparison, my grand total of spend equates to a set of new books and a couple of reusable face masks).

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Mum has given dad a strict two year lease on the polytunnel, if after that time the venture has been a complete failure or dad stops taking an interest in looking after his produce then the whole thing has to go.

It sounds tough, but given my sister and I have fond childhood memories of trying to salvage his dead salad plants from growbags you wouldn’t blame us for being a bit sceptical of his latest venture. He also once bought a rotisserie from a late night shopping channel which never got used. We love him dearly but he’s the biggest impulse buyer in a household containing three women.

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I personally feel that this is very much linked to him being forced to stay at home and needing a hobby to keep him busy. I’ve told mum she shouldn’t complain as much, as him doing this outside means less time of him around the house. I told her it worked for Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice, after all.

Course, whether dad would be as equally understanding if I’d announced I was spending hundreds of pounds on creating an allotment at this very moment in time, I’m less sure. But heck, if nothing else if gives him something to do and countless hours of laughter from me as it winds mum up.

Long term I guess we will all just have to wait and see…

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Covid-19 Shower Thoughts

When your country is in the middle of a hard lockdown it’s sometimes hard to see what life could possibly be like on the other side. Will things ever be the same? What will our human interactions be like?

Here are some of things that have randomly popped into my head as I’ve carried out my day-to-day life trapped in four walls (not limited to just the shower, even if it’s now the highlight of my day).

 

Will Everyone be Terrible Drivers?

There were enough bad drivers on the road before lockdown, but now everyone has been cooped up for so long without regular driving/commuting, does this mean that the entire driving population will default to their newly qualified status? Will people forget the highway code or which side of the road to drive on?

See the source image

Will Offices be Full of Zombies?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve gotten dangerously comfortable with rolling out of bed and not having to be quite so concerned with hair and makeup. So when we are eventually asked to return to the office will the change of routine and earlier starts result in a workforce of smartly dressed zombies? Zombies downing coffee like there’s no tomorrow.

 

The coffee maker is broken | Coffee jokes, Coffee cartoon, Funny ...

Should I Have Embraced Dabbing?

For those less aware, dabbing became a worldwide craze in the mid 2010s. It was a thing young people did to celebrate gaming success in their bedrooms, living rooms and (I think) other places? To be honest, I’m not sure of it’s history (I was having too much fun watching paint dry this afternoon to research it thoroughly), however it looks like this. If you were a unicorn.

Amazon.com: Dab Unicorn Sticker Car Truck Laptop Cup Window Bumper ...

I don’t think much more explanation is needed as to how this links to Coronavirus and the spread of viruses.

How to protect yourself against coronavirus | World news | The ...

Should have got in on that gravy train back when it was cool. As opposed to now when it’s Government advice (aka ‘the man’ aka uncool).

Will Vampires Become Fashionable Again?

See the source image

This sounds wacky, but traditionally economic recessions are often marked by a moodier feel to what we watch on big and small screens (think Daniel Craig in James Bond).

Vampires in particular tend to peak in popularity just before or during a recession, although it’s less certain why that’s the case. The first Twilight film was released in 2008 following the success of the book series by Stephanie Meyer.

Like it or loathe it, the film series went on to become an icon of teen viewing during the time it dominated movie screens. The last film, Breaking Dawn Part 2, was released in 2012, at the point people were beginning to feel more positive about the economy (and waking up to better fiction). Coincidence? I think not!

If that’s not enough proof, BBC’s Dracula started airing on 1st January 2020 and here we are months later facing into economic turmoil.

See the source image

So, if the economic and popular culture trends are to be believed, do I need to dig out my CD copy of My Chemical Romance and invest in garlic like this town?

Will we be a Nation of Alcoholics?

Short answer – yes. But there are sweet little pictures on the internet making fun at this so it can’t be all that bad…right?

See the source image

Will Pets Become Intellectuals?

My family cat, Squeak, sitting on my lap and facing onto what are likely to be confidential work emails.

Now we’re around all day a number of family pets must be feeling very spoiled by attention right now. That’s more time watching how we act, more time listening to us talk and, most importantly, more time of my cat watching money advice like The Martin Lewis Money Show.

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How Will I React to Other Humans?

It’s exciting enough returning after Christmas break and reconnecting with colleagues and friends I haven’t seen in about two weeks, so how the hell am I going to get through thirty minutes without bursting into emotional tears and wanting to hug everyone?

I’ll be like Miranda from Shakespeare’s The Tempest when, having spent her whole life in her father’s company, she’s introduced to multiple new men also on the island.

PPT - Brave New World by Aldous Huxley Pre-Reading Guide ...

Will I be Expected to do Thoughtful Gifting?

Two reasons I say this. Firstly, the world supply chain will be shaky, so the more quirky things things I might usually buy via China (or in shops…via China), well they might not be available to purchase anytime soon.

Secondly, I rely on human interactions to pick up on people’s interests which then feed into what I buy. You tell me how the stuff I’m meant to do that when I’m only catching up with you over the phone, once a month?

Look, all I’m saying is don’t get Judgy McJudgeFace with me when the best you get this Christmas is a bath bomb in one of my old socks, or a Bic “for her” pen.

BIC pens for her become the most sarcastically reviewed product on ...

 

Has “The Matrix” Run out of Money?

Our alien overlords were sat around a table.

See the source image

The Director of Financial Records made an announcement to the board. “We’ve got the shareholders on our back,” they said. “We can’t afford the maintenance of the full-blown software this year. We also need to cut costs elsewhere.”

The software operators thought long and hard before responding. “Don’t worry,” they said. “We will create a killer illness meaning the humans are forced to stay in their homes. We can scrap the complex mountain/exotic beach software, because most will do as we (aka their governments) direct. It also will explain why a number of humans suddenly disappear from the Matrix, no one would question it.”

See the source image

Alternatively…

Truman Show Theory – Have we Become too Boring?

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The Chair of Audience Engagement storms into the writing department at Human Watch HQ. She throws the proposed plot lines up in the air.

“Viewers are getting bored of Trump!” She yells. “Our target audience aren’t responding to religious wars like they were ten years ago. The weekly statistics are down and plummeting. Do something better and make it quickly implementable, something that’ll catch people off guard.”

The writers pulled out their previous storylines. “We haven’t used a global pandemic in a while; in fact it’s a centenary since the Spanish Flu affected the richer zones. We could build some great marketing around it.”

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There you go, some initial concerns and/or anxieties I’ve introduced into your merry little worlds. Don’t worry, you’re very much welcome.

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When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Antibacterial Wipes: Lockdown in the Cotswolds

This is what we do for ‘fun’ in the Cotswolds:

(Thought I’d kick off – pun intended – with something a bit light-hearted)

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With old Charlie Covid doing the rounds, I made the decision to move back into the family home until “this blows over”. I want to say “until this passes through”, but then that would liken Coronavirus to a digestive complaint you have after a dodgy kebab. Funny, in the strange old world we’re in I think a good deal of us would envy suffering with that as opposed to months of quarantine.

So this is where I am now; in the Cotswolds, with family. I brought with me a kilo of pasta, a 24-pack of loo roll and a massive stash of antibacterial wipes. It was the best cop-out of Mother’s Day – I’ve never seen my mum so happy to see a box of max. strength cold and flu relief.

Antibacterial Wipes
Finally my OCD for end-of-world preparation has come in handy!

(Papa Bennett was kept satisfied with the 25-pack of Quavers squeezed into the boot of my car.)

The current situation does mean however that I’m starved of a good deal of blog/comedy source material whilst everything is closed. For about a week I lapsed, finding myself viewing articles and videos with little meaning or sense.

From the despair of time wasted I’m never getting back, I thought I’d change things up from doom and gloom and pick out some of the positives of my current living arrangements.

Lockdown in the Cotswolds

My diet has vastly improved

People think I’m joking when I say most of the meals I eat contain three ingredients. I’m really not. Case in point, scrambled eggs: eggs (no milk), toast, butter. Cheese sandwich: cheese, bread, butter. I really could go on, but you get the idea.

Mumma B is amazing in the kitchen so I can only assume my body is going into shock right now with the quality of what I’m eating e.g. I’ve just recently rediscovered this wonderful foodstuff called ‘fruit’.

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Alcohol on tap

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It’s funny, my parent’s generation often see the sights of drunk brits on the street and moan that we’re the ones with a problem with alcohol.

I go for weeks on end in Swindon not touching a drop, but come back to the Cotswolds and am being frequently plied with the stuff. You’d think the water wasn’t safe to drink!

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And as for what counts as a single measure around here…

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I’ve got time to write

Just because I haven’t been blogging as frequently, it doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing at all. The time saved not commuting to work, not being able to get out or be tempted to frolic in fields…

Theresa May, ex UK Prime Minister. If you’re British you’ll get it.

…Having that time has been a great push to get me focusing on other writing ventures. Time well spent on researching the publishing industry; learning how to write covering letters, how to sell yourself and your work etc. When it comes to writing, the words on the page/screen are really only half the battle, the other half is convincing people to read them and back you. It’s also why you’ll find me frequently asking lovely people such as yourselves to follow my social media outlets and tell your friends about it.

I’ve also needed the extra time for editing. Not until recently, when I’ve been working on the manuscript for a book, did I quite realise how much crap I tend to produce in my first drafts. God, I’ve been rewriting so much rubbish copy! How do you guys put up with some of the things I must waffle on about? (Don’t answer that.)

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More time with the cats

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Bubble, left; Squeak, right. Both hogging the fire

Anyone who has family pets will relate to this. The family cats, Bubble and Squeak, are two furry faces I spent all of my teenage years growing up with. We think they’re now about 15 years old, which makes perfect sense as they’ve taken to constantly yelling at us for food or sleeping.

That said, I love them very dearly and it’s good to be around them. Plus, Squeak and I have started watching TV together.

We’ve really bonded over the complex storylines.

I’m blessed with space

This one shot of my parent’s back garden:

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Need I say more?

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In short, things really could be a lot worse for me right now. Big claps and respect for everyone working in healthcare, police, frontline or other jobs that can’t be done from home. You are protecting and saving lives or supporting infrastructure, so thank you.

I’m working on a couple of other blog posts in parallel so stay tuned for new content coming soon. We may be under a lockdown but I’m not going to let that hinder me producing or sharing anything less than high-quality!

You’re welcome.

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Stop Faffing About and Get on With it!

Cally Beaton, TV Executive and stand up comedian extraordinaire, delivered a powerful presentation recently in my workspace. If that wasn’t an experience by itself, my colleague I and alo had the pleasure of catching up with Cally afterwards to record a podcast. We covered lots of important topics including imposter syndrome, mentoring dating woes and the difficulty of acquiring paracetamol without ID. First world problems, you know?

Unfortunately due to company restrictions I’m not allowed to share with you the audi (trust me, I tried). However, that said, it was an absolute pleasure to interview Cally and write up the subsequent article.

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Stop Faffing About and Get on with it!

When Kirst and myself, Alice Bennett, joined this company we never thought we’d have a stand-up comedian instruct us to stop fearing change and become a disrupter. It was a bit forward given we’d only met this woman fifteen minutes prior, but we were prepared to go along with it.

Introducing Cally Beaton; board member, stand-up comedian and single super mum. Cally’s success hasn’t come over night and despite her colourful background, in recent years she’s taken time to strip herself back to her core and purposefully gravitate towards the things that scare her.

An interesting thought. I mean, many people wouldn’t dare venture outside their comfort zone and don’t get me started on imposter syndrome which, according to Cally, affects 97% of us. Could it be our wonderfully unique mindsets are being plagued with self-doubt to the point where we all act and do the same? According to this insightful speaker, they very much are.

Cally turned to comedy only five years ago after realising she had to make space for the things in her life that mattered. Laughing freely, Cally told us she’s never learnt as much from a good gig, as a bad one.

While she’ll be the first to admit it’s not been all smooth sailing, this is a woman who clearly holds no regrets about her life choices. It goes to show, it’s never too late to try something new; one small change today can make a massive difference tomorrow!

There were too many one-liners and stories to detail here but our key takeaway was the need to stay true to yourself and be a driver for change (aka a positive disrupter). The future will be different so, in the words of this charismatic communicator, buckle up!

Kirst and I caught up with Cally afterwards to record a podcast (which truth be told, felt more like a girl’s night in). In doing so we really got under the skin of what makes this vibrant and infectious woman tick (in her own words, ‘no questions are off the table!’).

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Left to right: Kirst, Cally Beaton, Alice Bennett

Link to Cally’s website: http://callybeaton.com/

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Mr Blobby’s Take on Mental Health

With everything else going on at the moment, there are a lot of people also talking about mental health (and for good reason, like so many it’s a topic close to my heart).

The way I see mental health, it’s a lot like Mr Blobby’s house. Now, bear with me on this…

(By the way, if you don’t know who Mr Blobby is, he/it was my life in the 1990s and the single weirdest thing to happen to British TV, as demonstrated by Jack Whitehall.)

(My understanding is that to anyone who didn’t grow up with this character it’s the scariest thing you’ll ever come across.)

What’s Mr Blobby got to do with mental health?

The outer bubble

When it comes to how you look and act (especially on the internet), to most of the world you’re like an episode of Noel’s House Party, living this amazing life that people absolutely envy you for. Grand houses, upbeat music, laughing along the way; you’re living the dream!

The secondary bubble

Your friends and family meanwhile, they know you better than that. The flashy estate on TV, that doesn’t exist, that isn’t the real Crinkly Bottom. No, the real CB is somewhere in Somerset, remind me again Noel…?

Gotcha, near Chard.

Those close to you, they see you as being more like Mr Blobby’s house ‘Dunblobbin’. This unique and random construction that is completely random and, to be honest, a bit bizarre. But, they know you’re owning your take on weird and that’s why they love you so.

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Image result for blobby land

The inner bubble

But sometimes, it’s really not okay.

Really, things are like Dunblobbin after it was rediscovered in 2014, almost two decades after the park closed…

I.e. in your own head, things are a mess

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And deep inside, you don’t even recognise the things you see and feel. And it’s not quirky or unique, it’s scary.

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Guess what? Sometimes life is tough.

And I’m not saying that in a ‘they’ve run out of avocados at the supermarket’ kinda way, I mean it’s tough, as in a real challenge.

A short while ago I went through a rocky patch when event after event hit my life like a kick to the shins. While writing was great for getting out the anger (maybe one day I’ll publish the drafts), it wasn’t helping me get out of the rut.

The game changer came when one of my good friends sent me several texts:

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Admittedly she’d had a little to drink at the time, but it actually made a massive difference in my mood.

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I always harp on about lollipop moments, the idea of recognising someone for the things they don’t see, that I’d never thought about receiving it in return.

(Video for context.)

I realised that while I loved writing, sitting alone in my house and getting pent up over the things I couldn’t change would get me nowhere. So I started going out more, re-engaging with people I hadn’t seen in years. And God did I feel better for it.

There are still things I’d like to change and nothing is ever stable; like all humans I have my good and my bad days. But I just wanted to say that to anyone not feeling entirely themselves that it’s okay. Things can get better.

Never underestimate the power of friendship…and Mr Blobby.

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Nb – for anyone interested, here is a great mini-documentary video charting the rise and fall of the Crinkley Bottom theme park.

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Update: This post was originally drafted in January 2020, prior to the mass spread of Covid-19 across Europe. Author fully endorses staying safe and being considerate of others in the prevent of further spread. Be kind.

STOP BUYING ALL THE TOILET ROLL!

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London Recalling…Straight Lesbians, Like Us

I’m sat up in bed, feeling incredibly rough with a head full of cold and a nose full of…stuff. Hot water bottle, chocolate bar wrappers scattered all around (not that I can taste anything) and badly wanting to curl up into a ball and sleep (prevented by a sharp pain in my throat – I might be coming down with tonsillitis again). Oh, and my left calf is covered in bruises, but at least not so swollen.

So how have I got to be in this state? And how come, in a strange turn of events, I don’t mind it quite so much as I would normally?

London Recalling

Part One – Straight Lesbians, Like Us

I rock up to Paddington early on Saturday morning. I am sans coffee and already reminding myself what it was like only a few months ago when dragging an over weighted cabin case was the norm.

‘Where are you?’ I text my friend, although the delivered but not received tick says it all. Still hacking across London on the Underground. When we eventually catch up it’s as if only a week has passed since we saw each other. Two long-time friends who, as luck would have it, met in Swindon in different industries but bonded strongly in London working for rival banks. We hop on the Bakerloo line and speed away towards China Town.

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‘You know what you’re having?’ Cherice asks me over the top of the menu, a quirky place tucked away behind theatres staging Thriller and Les Miserables.

‘Not sure. Maybe the eggs?’

‘Oh, okay. Because I was thinking the full English…’

‘Thank God you were thinking that as well!’ I exclaim in a garble, just as the waiter comes by.

‘Know what you’re having?’

‘You go first.’ I say to Cherice.

‘No you!’

‘No you!’

‘Well, one of us has to go first.’

‘Fine,’ I put the menu down. ‘The full English, please.’

‘I’ll have the same,’ Cherice adds, handing the menu over. They’ve put us in the window seat, the best seat in the West-End restaurant, the table where they put the cute couples.

I watch group of tourists in protective face masks walk by. ‘Why is it every meal with you turns into a flirtatious date?’

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Cherice laughs her signature laugh, causing everyone to stop for a second to study the source. One of the things I love about her. The waiter agrees with my judgement, rushing forward with my very much needed Americano.

‘You laugh has just brightened my day!’ He chirps, leaving Cherice to squirm under the attention. I roll my eyes.

‘Every time I take you out. Just like the time in Dalston,’ I sigh. ‘When the waitress thought we were on our anniversary. Remember? When you gave me the chocolates for my birthday and she said it was cute of you to treat me to Hotel Chocolat?’

**

We’ve often spoken at length about how life would be so much easier if we could date. Cherice, with her 100 egg diet and cross-fit, in the old days it was enough to convince me I was the more effeminate one in our pairing. Then London happened and I decided the only thing separating us in that regard was that I was the more decisive one, the one more likely to be more assertive, less caring what others thought. Now, as Cherice literally held my hand on every Tube change my thoughts were scattered again.

‘I know how to board the Tube, Cherice!’

‘You’d have left your case in the restaurant if it wasn’t for me! Do you even know where we are?’

‘Urm…London?’

‘You trust me that much? I could have taken you anywhere!’

‘Cherice, a stranger in bookshop could have promised to take me to the British Museum and I would have followed. You said we were going to the Wellcome Collection and here I am.’

I was at this point I directed Cherice to our mutual favourite series, You (FYI – I still can’t bring myself to watch season two, because…well…I am far too drawn to Joe and discovered my online life is far too relatable to Beck’s. Also, I get bad bookshop envy.)

‘Fair enough.’

We walked around the collection, idly laughing about the medicinal equipment (knew the GCSE would eventually come in use) and watched children playing around some of the kid-friendly exhibits.

‘Kids don’t have the space to roam like they used to,’ Cherice pointed to a diagram. ‘Me and my brother were allowed to wonder around massive areas growing up.’

‘In Croydon?’

‘Yes,’ she says flatly. Our extremes of surroundings growing up has always been a topic of immense bewilderment to the other.

‘I guess it was similar for me,’ I say, looking again at the satellite image. ‘Not the urban environment, but the space to be able to be me. I lived in the middle of nowhere, nothing but fields as far as the eye can see.’

‘Didn’t it ever drive you mad? Having nothing to do?’

‘Not at all!’ I counter. ‘Some people create imaginary friends, I created imaginary worlds to escape into.’

‘Ah, so that’s why you’re like you are?’

‘Maybe. Depends if it’s a good thing or not!’

We pop our heads into an exhibit on the power of water, splitting up briefly before Cherice returns to find me watching a surreal video of a McDonalds slowly flooding.

‘Water is bloody scary, man.’

‘Cherice, pigeons scare you and you’ve lived in London your whole life.’

‘Yeah, but it’s the destruction water can do. Why are you still watching it? It’s depressing.’

‘It’s strangely fascinating though, don’t you think? Slow TV, but with undertones of climate awareness. Makes you wonder, where are the humans? Where is the water coming from? It’s only depressing to you because of the conclusions your own head is reaching. See, it says right here that it was all set up, it’s not even a real restaurant. Wow, the effort that people put into art, eh?’

‘Suit yourself,’ Cherice shrugs as she says this. Like anyone who has ever visited an art gallery with me, you give me an inch…

‘…Then again I used to stare at pieces in the Tate Modern for ages until I was able to force myself into finding some deeper meaning,’ I ponder aloud. ‘Anyway, shall we go somewhere else?’

‘Sure,’ Cherice says gladly as we walk away together.

‘There is one thing though that bothers me about that video…’

‘What?’

‘Well, the description says the only audio is the sound of water. When did water sound like that?’

**

We next went to a couple of Riverside bars near King’s Cross.

‘There’s more to King’s Cross than the station?’ I exclaim.

‘How the hell did you survive here for a year?’

‘I live off £7.50 a week, maybe £9 at a push.’

‘How are you still alive?’

I ignored the question. ‘This mocktail is almost double my weekly food budget when I was living here full time. You really think I was hanging out at places like this? You think I ever travelled as far out as this for what is effectively a lemon juice?’

‘Fair enough.’

‘Besides, I always got the guys to take me to Shoreditch.’

‘Alice Elizabeth Bennett!’

‘What? One of them was a Programme Manager on Crossrail! Not like those guys ever seemed short of money…’

Cherice paid for our drinks, including the service charge, before we both scampered out.

‘Jesus, how much did you just pay on service charge?’ I scoffed. ‘You didn’t even like that drink! The waitress gave us evils the whole time!’

Cherice laughed. ‘I know, what am I like?’

‘No wonder you London lot are all skint, you keep paying for crappy service because you’re too embarrassed to say no.’

‘Well…’

‘Remember the time in the Korean chicken place where I told the waitress I wasn’t paying the 12.5%?’

‘Yeah, I admired you so much.’

‘Thank you.’

‘But I also couldn’t go back there again for a few months.’

I sighed. ‘Oh, look, book barge!’

Cherice could see me jumping from foot to foot, like a child desperate for the toilet. ‘Go on…’

‘What?’

‘I know you, you want to photo it for your blog.’

‘No I don’t…I just want it for…personal reasons. It’s a pretty boat.’

I was lying, but we both knew this.

‘Just take the photo and we can move on.’

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**

We ambled over to another cocktail bar, one with an amazing 70s theme and a DJ playing retro tracks to match.

‘I want to be this bar when I grow up,’ I thought, looking around at the interior decorations.

Cherice meanwhile was having a moment with her Old Fashioned.

‘You okay, there?’ I smirked.

‘It’s just…amazing.’

‘Question,’ I start. ‘Would you take a date here?’

‘Of course! The drinks are so good!’

‘Agreed, but doesn’t that make it a negative?’ I take a sip on my gin cocktail, the taste swarms around my mouth. I blow out a short stream of air. ‘Like that, right there. I’m having a better time with my drink right now then anything else.’

‘Thanks.’

‘Yeah, but don’t you think it’s a bit of a distraction? Aren’t you meant to talk to people on dates?’

Cherice shrugged. ‘You tell me.’

‘I haven’t dated anyone since I left London in May, you tell me.’

‘The men haven’t changed, Alice! There’s still none!’ She thumped her glass on the table.

‘Woah! That alcohol is really going to your head, huh?’

‘…It is. I think I’m going to go freshen up.’

‘Okay b…’ I stop myself mid-word.

‘You can call me bae if you want.’

‘Really? We’ve reached that level of our relationship?’ I shout across the room in joy. Seeing the general reaction from other consumers I quickly turn around. Maybe I was a little tipsy too.

‘You okay there?’

‘Jesus Christ!’ I shout in surprise at the most retro looking server to have ever existed.

‘Sorry!’ I quickly add. ‘Didn’t see you.’

Ironic, given his orange floral top and beautifully styled beard, he was the most obvious man in the whole bar. He smiled, clearly finding the comment amusing as well.

‘Did you and your friend want anything else?’

‘I think we’re good, thanks.’

**

I quickly followed suit after Cherice returned, admiring the record covered walls in awe when the retro waiter appeared out of a cubicle.

‘Here,’ he held the door open for me. ‘This one is free.’

‘Oh, thanks,’ I duck under his arm and close the door. I stared at the back of the door and pondered some of the big questions for any woman to consider in her life.

‘Do I like beards now? I wonder what they feel like? Come to think about it, does this count as flirting in the modern age? Did 70s Henry Cavill just flirt with me? And why am I standing here when I need to pee?’

**

‘Sorry, there was good music playing in the toilet. Was too busy Shazaming the hell out of the space,’ I say as I grab my coat from the back of the seat.

‘Wow,’ my friend replies as she lifts herself from the padded seat.

I do a half-second rain check. ‘I’m both sorry to myself and our entire generation that my statement isn’t nearly what it would have meant ten years ago.’

After that we agreed that there was still time for another coffee, but Cherice couldn’t decide whether to take me to Paddington in West London or Angel in Islington.

‘Any preference?’

‘I think I once got stood up by a guy who lived in Angel…’

‘Angel it is!’

We searched around for a coffee shop, most filling up quickly down the expensive boutique shop-lined streets. I paused outside a wedding dress shop.

‘What are you looking at?’ Cherice asked.

‘That’s an ugly dress,’ I observed. ‘It’s see-through all the way to her crotch! And the bit in the middle, see through again!’

‘Someone will buy it,’ Cherice commented. ‘Take it that’s not you?’

‘Jesus no! Weddings are so expensive. Why not use the money on something like a holiday or a house?’

‘…You already own a house.’

‘You know what I mean. It’s just like Valentine’s day with the overpriced roses that wilt. What’s wrong with other flowers anyway? Or just going out another night? Or even better, nothing at all. I’d rather have a toasted sandwich.’

‘Has anyone ever told you you’d be the perfect girlfriend?’

‘Hah! Bless you. No, I’m not perfect, I’m like bloody Sea Monkeys.’

‘Sea Monkeys?’

‘Yeah, you have to keep feeding me or else I will float around. That or literally start burning rice and then end up contracting rickets. It’s not a great look.’

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‘Wait, how do you even burn…’

‘I’d really rather not relive the trauma, Cherice. Now bear with me, I need to stick one of my business cards on this noticeboard.’

We eventually found somewhere with enough space to fit us in. Cherice had a tea, I was on yet more coffee. We hung out there for a bit longer, and chatted through my friend’s plans to move to Canada. I suppose for her, having grown up and worked in London nearly her entire life, moving to another continent is just a big a step as it was for me choosing to move to London all that time ago. Still didn’t make it any easier to accept though.

‘How long are you staying in Swindon?’ She asked, putting the focus of conversation once again back on me. I’d rather she didn’t, I much preferred her telling me all the amazing reasons why I should move to Canada myself.

‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean, really, what’s keeping you there, in Swindon?’

‘Well…I…’

‘There are no men, your family aren’t there, your friends…’

‘My friends are all over the world! Some can’t seem to keep still…’

Cherice chuckles. ‘My bad. But really, would you consider moving elsewhere?’

‘I do miss London…’

‘No!’ Cherice cries suddenly, almost knocking her soy milk over. ‘You romanticised this place, that’s your problem! Thinking London is just one big culture trip with nice dresses and fancy men in bars.’

‘Well…’

‘Remember how miserable that flat made you? With the black mould? Do I need to make the same sounds as your flatmate?’

‘Please, God, no!’ I jump in, almost grabbing her arm. ‘The only way to make her and her boyfriend stop was to play Baby Shark against the wall on full blast FIVE…TIMES..A…NIGHT. Do you have any idea how much that screws a woman up?’

‘Exactly! No, you don’t want to come here. You’d be better off in Bristol.’

‘Bristol?’

‘Yeah, Bristol.’

‘Didn’t expect you to say that.’

‘Or Bath.’

‘Not Bath.’

‘Why?’

‘Well, aside from the lack of jobs, everyone is really snooty. I was on a night out there once when, outside a kebab shop, this guy started slating off Swindon. Not a gentle poking fun, but on his high horse level. Asking me why I hadn’t married my brother already or whether I could count to ten.’

‘Okay…’

‘Anyway, so you know me, when I’ve had a bit to drink I get super friendly or super verbal-sarcastic-aggressive. There was only so much I could take.’

‘Where is this going?’

‘Well, eventually I snapped and said “fine, you tell me all about your three-bed townhouse in the centre of Bath then!”‘

‘Wow.’

‘My friend had a mouthful of food and from the surprise at my sudden bluntness she covered this smartly dressed toff in half-chewed wrap, complete with halloumi and lettuce. It was beautiful.’

Cherice laughs.

‘We then made a quick getaway. I got to the rank, hailed a taxi and yelled at my friend to get in the car. She followed me in, not realising that it was me until the last second. My own friend swooned with my dominance.’

I raised a hand in mock charm, although Cherice by this stage had become less engaged in the story, trying to pour out the last dregs of loose leaf tea into her cup.

‘…Sorry, what were we talking about?’ She asks.

‘You know what, I can’t remember.’ I paused for a second while my friend kindly paid for yet another round of drinks.

‘Cherice?’

‘Yes?’

‘…Remind me again why we aren’t lesbians?’

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**

Places visited (in order):

Balans SoHo Society, SoHo

Doughnut Time, SoHo

Wellcome Collection, Euston

The Lighterman, King’s Cross

Word on the Water, King’s Cross

Spiritland, King’s Cross

Brother Marcus, Angel

NB – we were not paid to visit any of these establishments, adding links for general reference.

**

London Recalling Series

Part One – Straight Lesbians, Like Us

Part Two – The Creative’s Curse

Part Three – Solo Sell-Outs

Part Four – Wapping Old Stairs

 

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