Ones to Watch: Writer Alice E. Bennett

I was recently interviewed by as part of a industry-wide ‘Ones to Watch’ podcast. The resulting interviews were distributed across a large national network of Life Coaches and clients.

The series showcased and promoted creative talent but also encouraged high-performers to pursue development goals outside their 9-5 jobs. It was a great project to be part of and I’m now excited to be able to share the final output.

Podcast Bio:

This week we’re meeting Finance professional and writer Alice E. Bennett (author of comedy blog My Housemate’s a Mermaid).

Having relocated to London for work, Alice provides a first-hand insight into the challenges of renting in the capital, getting onto the housing ladder and how a career in Financial Services is continually helping to shape her success as a creative writer.

 

 

**

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.

**

‘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?’

Image result for angel london

**

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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Banking on Social Investment

A recent write up I did for a volunteering day some of my colleagues went on. NB – names and some details have been changed.

Banking on Social Investment

There are many reasons why people work for the same Financial services provider as myself but I’ll be quite frank with you, a mini-seminar on all the places a use-by date can be displayed on a tin of Tuna, that didn’t make my top three.

‘It can be on the top, the bottom, the label…’

‘Controversial.’

‘I know!’

It felt less like I was talking to a Project Manager with years of experience, but more my company’s answer to a WI revival.

I’d caught up with Lily* to find out more about the Risk Squad’s recent social investment day at the Swindon Food Collective. An independent food bank with over sixty volunteers, the charity offers food parcels to people who are facing a crisis and feeds almost 5,500 people a year. Sharon was part of a ten strong team of colleagues from across the Squad who, for one day, decided to ditch the board packs for packing boxes in very fetching hi-vis jackets.

Everyone had a role to play, from food voucher administration, to checking the sell-by dates on food-stuffs extended beyond May 2020. The contents of each food parcel were surprisingly strict; 80 tea bags, 500g pasta, meat content of 40%, firm rules needed to ensure fairness to everyone receiving a parcel.

‘Did you know those tinned Fray Bentos pies don’t have a high enough meat quantity to pass the test?’ Sharon asked.

‘Wow.’

‘Exactly! I didn’t know they still existed either!’

I wasn’t going to comment that I felt quite sure I had an emergency Bentos pie in the back of my kitchen cupboard.

‘And as for Bob*, what was he up to?’

‘Oh, he found himself at home sorting through the toiletries.’

‘Bob? On shampoo?’

Lily laughed. ‘It was his happy place!’

The more I chatted with Lily over a vending machine coffee the more I wished I’d been there to have seen it for myself. A well-oiled team, where everyone had a part to play and took on the tasks with a sense of collective spirit. It’s perhaps no surprise that by the end of the day the group managed to sort through more than the large number of boxes set aside by the charity.

‘Did Bob tell you he’s signed us up to help out next year?’

‘Wait, he was referring to December 2020?’ I responded in surprise.

‘I’ve already booked my spot. It was so much fun, and it got us talking about a lot of issues sounding austerity and homelessness. We learnt a lot.’

As I sat in one the office’s comfy seat areas with the poster-clad notice boards and suited colleagues, I couldn’t help but feel that some days my life was a little removed from reality.

‘You know, I think I’ll sign myself up too,’ I said to Lily as we started wondering back to our desks. ‘A year to prepare, I even think I might have something in my cupboard I can bring with me…’

You can find out more about the Swindon Food Collective by visiting their website:

https://www.swindonfoodcollective.org/

Swindon Food Collective

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Five Years Ago Today…

11th November 2014, five years ago today…

I had been living in Swindon a couple of months, having relocated in the Summer to begin my first job after graduating from Southampton University with a BA (hons) degree in History. I was living in a HMO (House of Multiple Occupancy) with four others; a hospitality worker, an engineer who only utilised the room on occasion when work required him to be in Swindon, a journalist for the local paper and a woman who worked in security. The lady in security also had a unique hobby, in her spare time she liked to dress up as a mermaid.

 

I was shopping that one night in the local supermarket when I stopped by the toilet roll isle to buy its namesake. I was debating which type and brand to purchase when an idea came to mind. Why don’t I start writing a blog?

The moment resembled something like this:

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From that minute, through to the walk back to the house in the drizzle and dark with the heavy shopping the seed of an idea rapidly grew. By the time I’d made it to my bedroom I decided on a name. I’d title the blog after the opener I used when I wanted to make a quick impression on people.

My Housemate’s a Mermaid was set up that very night and I wrote my first ever blog post in eager haste.

On 11th November 2014 I published The Birth of the Grimgrad

11th November 2015, four years ago today…

I was still living in the same house and working the same job. Both came as a surprise, my original contract of employment had been a nine month maternity cover, so I fully expected to have been given the heave ho after that time and been working/living elsewhere. Not that I wanted to leave or that my old boss wanted me to go, I was such a hardworking and loved member of the team he’d go on to extend my contact length multiple times to keep me on, even when my colleague returned from leave.

The extensions played on my mind, it was flattering that I was wanted but not reassuring that someone along the chain wasn’t prepared to make me a permanent fixture in the team. My mind started wondering to where my future lay in this role…

Meanwhile, outside of work, desperation to meet people and loneliness in a house where people didn’t talk had forced me to try new things to get me out and about. In January I started attending evening classes in pottery at the local college. Although my skills with clay left a lot to be desired (I made more things explode than create)…

…it was a fun activity that got me out the house and chatting to people.

After discovering the society building platform ‘MeetUp’ and being frustrated at the lack of societies for young people in Swindon, in January my Dad offered me the cash to set up a MeetUp group in Swindon. The agreement was that if I made back the £30 I’d pay him back the money he’d stumped up. I accepted the offer but didn’t see how it could possibly come to much.

I founded Swindon 18-30 Professionals on 2nd February 2015, and asked new members to pay a £3 fee to cover the administration costs. Then I set up the first event and nervously waited at what was then a club called Baker Street to see who would turn up. I sat there by myself with a drink, adamant that no one was going to come, but then suddenly people started arriving and things went upwards from there.

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By the summer the monthly ‘drinks night’ had been rebranded to ‘First Wednesday Drinks’ and were now starting to draw a sizeable crowd. I’d long since paid off my Dad, the fees for the next six months of operation and was in the middle of negotiating with Baker Street a sponsorship deal that would carry into the present day. I removed the new joiner fee, taking away the last barrier and making Swindon 18-30 truly accessible to all young people in the area.

In November I was in the middle of organising the group’s first Christmas meal at Pizza Express. I was chuffed when I persuaded the venue to offer up multiple bottles wine free of charge in support of the young professional network of Swindon.

As my visiting friend from London said “you’ve really achieved something in a short space of time, don’t shrug it off!” But I still couldn’t help myself, I downplayed the whole thing.

The year wasn’t without calamity though; in the Summer I sustained face, head and leg injuries when I tripped on a paving slab outside a pub (the Gluepot) whilst walking back from a lunch break. Holding a loaf of bread and food shopping, I failed to utilise my hands to break the fall meaning that my right knee and head took the brunt on the impact. I shambled back to the office completely unaware of how bad a state I was in and, when the 111 service finally stopped asking me if the injury was a result of heavy drinking, I was told to head over accident and emergency. A work colleague sat with me for over an hour waiting and checking I didn’t drop off from concussion. She was an absolute saint.

I came away from the medical centre covered in bandage tape and pumped with drugs but luckily escaped the whole ordeal with only a slight scar to my knee which remains to this day. A reminder that while looking forward is important, you’re only as successful as the last step you take.

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Blogging kept me sane throughout the year, even if sometimes the content was anything but.

On 11th November 2015 I published Don’t Touch Me Tomatoes

11th November 2016, three years ago today…

I was still living in the same house as the mermaid, but by now the gripes of living in an increasingly shabby property were starting to grate.

The tenants had moved on and I started becoming aware of how little sway I had in who I lived with. When an older gentleman viewing the property started making me feel uncomfortable, that was when I knew how little input I had in decision-making.

The housemate in the room next to me started seeing a girl who was particularly ‘vocal’ when she stayed over, which was when I realised how fed up I was of being single. From late Spring I started narrowing down my outlook from meeting new people to meeting potential romantic matches. The results were mixed but through it I learnt a lot about myself and Swindon’s dating scene.

I met my first long term partner at a speed dating event in the October of 2016 and things went from there. Naturally I put my foot in it by texting him at the same time as he was texting my friend (who’d he’d also matched with) and then went on a date with his ‘then’ best mate the night after ours, unaware of their connection! He found my horror-stricken face incredibly funny, he laughed it off said no more of the mess-up.

At the grand age of 23 he was my first boyfriend, the first man who had ever taken an interest in me, let alone buy me flowers or take me out for meals or look after me when I was sick. I was completely smitten.

He was smart, considerate and incredibly patient. He never once made me feel the need to rush our relationship.

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Nervously waiting for our second date at the local museum (my suggestion, of course).

In March I had moved roles within the same company to a permanent position in a different department. For the time being I was content, moving onto an identical salary didn’t fill me with the same level of keenness compared to when I moved to Swindon originally but a permanent job meant more security.

Throughout the Spring and into the Summer I flogged myself to death organising Swindon 18-30’s first Summer ball in the grounds of Lydiard Park, the town’s fancy country house. I learnt a lot about event planning and it served as good preparation for what would come if I ever got married; organising catering, DJ, venue, photographer etc. all single handed, it pretty much felt like I was planning my own reception!

The event was a massive success and was attended by 60 individuals, a real celebration of the young professional population from around Swindon and the local area.

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It even got a feature in local press.

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In Autumn I started writing for a local publication called the Swindonian to help build my writing portfolio and in November I took part in National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo), where bloggers around the world attempt to write a post a day. Writing a post a day whilst managing Swindon 18-30 and a fledgling relationship was very hard, but I was proud to say I achieved it.

On 11th November I published Nablopomo Day 11: What Happens when You Introduce Technology into the Cotswolds

11th November 2017, two years ago today…

I had not only moved out of the house with the mermaid but actually bought my own property one door down. The mermaid was no longer my housemate, she was my neighbour!

Me

I carted out as much of the stuff from my bedroom as I could, the massive items of collated furniture sitting at my parent’s home in wait for the destined day.

In March 2017 I officially moved into my house with the help of a Luton van, my parents and my boyfriend. At 6″ 8 and a hobbyist in mixed martial arts, my boyfriend came in a great deal of use when it came to lifting heavy items of furniture up staircases. It was the first time my parents had met him and they were happy enough to have him about, even if it was noticed that we barely said a word to each other.

In hindsight I should have ended my relationship with my first boyfriend six months in, but to my dying day I will not judge the person I was then for holding out hope. Because when you have nothing to compare to how can you make a balanced choice? I’d watch the TV shows, listen to the songs, hear the colleague chit-chat, the theme was all the same. “Men are all useless, men will lie and cheat on you!” Well, my guy wasn’t any of that. He was kind, he cooked food for me, he loved spending time with me. So why wasn’t I happy? Why wasn’t I grateful? Why didn’t I love him? What was wrong with me?

This spiral got worse and worse. In August we went to Prague, during which time I snapped and ended up spending a good deal of time wondering around the city by myself. I went to a classical music concert one evening and cried my eyes out. Those next to me must have thought I was crying because of the music, in fact I was crying because I knew then my relationship was dead.

 

I swore to myself then that I would leave this man before Christmas. I returned the the UK colder and more distant than I’d ever been in my entire life. Time spent with him felt like a chore, it seems laughable now that we never kissed when we returned from Prague. He was not a bad man, but I was not a good woman for bottling up my emotions, I accept that.

We would stay together for another five months. Even when he forgot my birthday and shoved the bent card and a half price necklace through the letter box (receipt left in the damaged paper bag), when I sat on the stairs with my head in my hands in hollow disbelief. Despite that I stayed; a broken woman, a woman I didn’t recognise.

In September I started a new job for a organisation I’d never dreamt I’d be working for. I couldn’t believe my luck and made damn sure my managers knew I was grateful by the time I invested into learning the role. But every day I spent in my new job only made me feel more weighed down by someone who was on a completely different wave length to me. Was this the same man I’d fallen for? Was I the same woman?

Meanwhile, I started doing a few pieces of writing for The National Student. When the editor of the Swindonian found out he blocked me from publishing my work to his website, effectively kicking me off the team. Given the Swindonian was “Swindon’s third biggest news outlet” (editor’s words) I decided to cut my loses as opposed to grovelling for forgiveness. I was done with producing popular content for their site free of charge.

My family, my friends and my writing, they were the lights that kept me going. My boyfriend never read my blog so through MHAM I had a sense of independence.

On 5th November I published What Halloween Means to Me 

On 16th November I published my first video on the blog dedicated to my sister This Could Be the Best Homemade Video Since Charlie Bit My Finger…*

11th November 2018, one year ago today…

I was living in London (Wapping, E1W), had been since May.

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I’d broken up with my boyfriend in late January. It had been as awkward as you could imagine, he went from telling me I was the best thing he’d ever had, to begging me to change my mind, to informing me he’d go home to his whiskey and start dating women again that very night. I wasn’t phased, I returned home to find my lovely housemates having bought me wine and pizza only to be more surprised by my casualness over the whole affair.

The next day I went into work and felt nothing for the night before. When I told my manager she suggested I go home if I needed time, but I declined. This was a man I hadn’t kissed in months (and he hadn’t seemingly hadn’t had issue with!!) The relationship had died long before that night. I was able to carry on my life.

I moved to London as part of an internal transfer in May to do a eight month stint working from their Threadneedle Street office in The City. Due to work and rental challenges it would end up becoming a whole year. In that time I was blessed with a Swindon house that required little attention to support itself and Swindon 18-30 having, by now, a leadership team that could organise events while I wasn’t around to be as hands on.

London was a roller coaster to say the least. I loved how all the men around The City wore suits and dressed smart, I loved how romantic dates involved going to art exhibitions and theatre performances. I loved how I my morning walking commute took me past Tower Bridge every morning…

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…or how I could hop on the tube and thirty minutes later be in a completely different part of the capital. It was a world away from the encounters I’d had in Wiltshire. Within my family (well, to my Mum), I’d created a name for myself when I made it to the dizzying heights of the BBC News at Ten.

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**

The bars of Threadneedle Street are the only place in the world where a minority controls the majority. When it came to the financial heart of London I quickly clocked on that it was the women who held the real power over men, if they knew how to use it. I took on a certain style, a certain walk, I dyed my hair a different shade, I adopted things to make people see me differently, to stand out from everyone else. It’s a bullish world where to just be feminine isn’t enough, to be treated seriously you have to think like a man, ‘group think’ if you will. So I starting convincing myself I was the best bloody thing to walk into any room, I was a peacock on show and you were going to know it, whether you liked it or not. And you know what? It worked. I started to see myself in a completely different light, just as they did too.

‘Fox’ I branded myself, because that’s how I felt and that’s what I wanted others to feel too. I was young, single and could charm just about anyone into my line of thinking. Sometimes it was an act, but acting got you free drinks, acting got you connections, acting got you a name in writing circles.

A year in London and I learnt that where my power lay was in not being them. Bankers and investors do the same job, day in, day out. Highly paid but highly stressed roles with a high inflation of their self importance. Me on the other hand, I was just a woman with a blog. A comedy blog that was as far removed from their lives as could be imagined and yet somehow touching on relatable. They came to me like moths to a light, the draw of escapism too much to resist.

I was in a cafe in Wapping when I first heard Billy Preston’s song Nothing from Nothing. From that point on it became my anthem of London. You coming along with big ideas? Sure, but you gotta have a spring in your step and something to back it up. Ain’t nothing free in this town and ain’t no one gonna be taken for a ride.

It was also in London that I discovered one of my main weaknesses stemmed from coming across those rare individuals that took a disliking to me. The flatmate who engaged in incredibly noisy ‘activities’ multiple times a night and turned aggressive when I delicately brought it up in conversation. The same flatmate who consumed a lot of alcohol one night which was then projected all over the one toilet five of us shared. This person refused to clean it up, leaving the job for two of us to handle at 3am. She never apologised or showed remorse for her actions, that was the worst bit of all.

When my flatmates ignored the aggressive letters demanding unpaid council tax (a detail which was meant to be paid by the landlord), it was left to me to handle the bailiffs. Bailiffs are scary, especially when you’re silently hiding upstairs while they bang on the door. But the attitude of my flatmates that problems would be fixed by someone else or simply go away by themselves, it screamed a lack of maturity. I ended up sitting for hours in Citizen’s Advice and, when the letting agents ignored my calls, emailing the council myself with countless documents to prove we weren’t liable. The mould in my room, the frequent migraines that suddenly vanished when I wasn’t breathing in air pollution, I could list for hours the issues I merrily overlooked.

These were the unpleasant experiences of London that stick out in my mind, what you have to deal with living at the bottom end of the professional ladder. I got on (and still get on) well with most of my former flatmates on a personable level, but I wouldn’t rush back to a HMO any time soon as a result of my experiences.

London is a city of extremes, whether I spent the evening in a Leicester Square casino or writing in a pub where mice ran across the floor was complete chance. But it was an incredible experience all the same. Waking up to this view every morning reminded me how lucky I was to have such an opportunity, to sleep in the shadow of the Shard.

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Ultimately I think this hijacked road works sign in West London sums up my time in the capital perfectly:

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I was in Cambridge on my birthday when I heard The Trials of Cato, a three-piece folk group, busking in the city centre. These Are the Things is an anti-Brexit song although you wouldn’t necessarily think it on first listen. In contrast to the big smoke of central London I enjoyed spending time in the quainter spots of the South East I’d never before visited.

In November there was my first solo holiday. Bruges was an incredible city break for so many reasons and I fully intend to visit there again at least once, if not multiple times in my life. Aside from being a beautiful city, it made me realise how strong I was and how I didn’t need to force myself into a relationship to have amazing experiences.

One day during that holiday I was in a large church. I was about to leave when a local man came in and started playing the organ. I was completely stunned. I sat in the empty pews for at least 45 minutes just listening to the beautiful music being played for an audience of one. And then I started to cry, and when I realised I was crying I cried some more. Because in that moment I was so overcome with emotion, reflecting how far I’d come since the little girl who’d sobbed in Prague. I was in a new job, I was living in London, I was on holiday by myself. Above all else, I was happy.

Having donated a sizeable amount into the empty box, I left the church with a different pledge compared to that which I’d set myself a year before. I will never let anyone stop me being me.

By late October I was writing freelance pieces for the Swindon Advertiser and other places here and there, picking up fans from the most unlikely of articles. To name drop a few – the CEO of Royal Society of Arts, Matthew Taylor, Deputy Governor for the Bank of England, Nemat Shafik, and artist and TV personality Grayson Perry. While I was incredibly flattered by their letters and emails, I didn’t let it impact on my writing.

On 22nd November I published  Solo Adventures

(YouTube search “Bruges Wish You Were Here?” To watch the video)

11th November 2019, where I am today…

The London grind carried as per 2018, I had my second wisdom tooth removed in January and in March I took again to travel, this time to Amsterdam. ‘Why?’ My friend asked. ‘Because I can.’ I replied.

I moved back to Swindon fully in May, full of the cultural confusion one would expect having undergone a year living in the capital. I felt more connected with the work I was paid to do, but it took me longer to reconnect with the local area. Gone were the fancy bars and influential people, nowhere to be seen were the towering buildings and the bold cultural mix that came with the crowds.

In central London being single was completely normal, but returning to Swindon I felt like an outsider in my own town. While I’d been experimenting with vegan cookery classes near King’s Cross and tackling marshmallow challenges in Waterloo pubs, many of my Swindon friends had shackled up or even got engaged. It felt weird, almost as weird as going back on the dating apps to find that I’d cleared through the search parameters in minutes. In London I never touched the sides! When I tried reaching out to guys a little bit further out, cities such as Bath and Bristol, I never got a response. When I told my friend that in London people would travel 45 minutes to for a date she said ‘but Alice, that was London,’ as if it were a valid excuse.

I needed the distraction from reality. In May that I had the best time when a friend invited me to spend a week in her villa in Granada. I’d never met the others she’d invited to join the party, but knowing her personality I put my faith in her judgement. It was trust well placed; I had an amazing time in Spain and made four great new friends out of the process, including photographer Tom who made me see that perhaps one of my biggest assets had been behind me all along.

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Writing

I started a writing course in June to work on a novel and so far my tutor is loving it. While I started the course fully expecting to get critical feedback, I’m chuffed that the first draft is getting praise from well-established authors. Because of the nature of the course there’s a lot of two steps forward in draft, one step back to amend based on feedback but I’m working at great pace all the same.

26th June – enrolled on novel writing course (0 words)

1st October – 13,500 words

20th October – 28,000 words

11th November – 41,090 words

While there’s no hard and fast rule, general publishing consensus is that anything over 40,000 words could be published as an adult novel. While there’s still a long way to go, this isn’t the last you’ve heard of my novel. Keep watching this space!

 

Volunteering

In July I started volunteering with the local Samaritans branch and through it learning a deeper understanding around the challenges of mental health, as well as practical skills such as line management (being accountable for retail operations which provides 50% of the centre’s income). The leadership team have welcomed me with open arms and, in the case of the Pride match, with a lot of branded material and face paint!

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Swindon 18-30 Professionals

At the time of writing Swindon 18-30 is 912 members strong, a number that would have made a younger version of myself well-up in pride and disbelief.

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First Wednesday Drinks moved to a different venue, the Royal Oak Gin Bar, in 2017 yet its popularity has continued to grow. Royal Oak are now Swindon 18-30’s main sponsor.

The hard work goes on, and I’d have struggled if it not for those who have championed the group through sponsorship, organising events, telling their friends or letting me put up posters in their offices/community spaces.

18-30 Poster

**

Looking forward toward the rest of this year (and the next five after that) I’d love to see myself doing something which allows me to keep being who I am whilst continuing to add value to the everyday. I want to make sure that no one ever feels that they can’t be awesome or that they have to stay in a box because someone says so.

On 31st October I sat on a Brexit panel for local radio, I came away from the experience proud that I’d been able to voice my views in a balanced way and give a fresh perspective to ongoing debates. In the words of my Mum, “you never would have spoken like that two years ago. You should be proud of yourself.” She was right, I wouldn’t have dared put myself forward for anything so exposing a few years ago.

I want to make money from what I love doing most, writing, even if it’s just enough to cover the cost of some of the many coffees I consume whilst I type or scribble away. The feedback I get each and every day from people gives me the strength to keep working towards that goal. I want to get my first book published and then write some more, and more. My old Secondary School English teacher used to call me her ‘little-novelist’, I want to do my nick-namesake proud.

I’d like to find a partner, but I don’t want to settle and I don’t want to seek it out of desperation. I’m surrounded by friends and family who provide the love to survive, at my fingertips an internet bursting with information on which to thrive. I want a partner, but I need to know if it’s right for me.

**

Two snapshots, July 2014 and September 2019.

Maybe in another five years I’ll take a completely different opinion on how things have panned out. But honestly? In the past half decade I’ve learnt the most about myself and others through the leaps of faith and the knock backs, more than through the smooth rides. My life has changed so much since I moved to Swindon in 2014, the path to get me where I am today has been twisted and anything but conventional. No doubt it’ll shift about some more in the years and decades to come but I’m more than ready for it. Bring it on!

Below is one of my favourite songs which I discovered just before I went to Bruges. It sums up how I’d want people to embrace me; it’s fun, upbeat and a bit different from the usual (in content and language – it’s sung by French artist Zaz). In essence it’s about the singer asking a prospective partner to embrace who she is above all else.

“Je Veux d’l’amour, d’la joie, de la bonne humeur,
Ce n’est pas votre argent qui f’ra mon bonheur,
Moi j’veux crever la main sur le cœur papalapapapala,                                                     Allons ensemble découvrir ma liberté, oubliez donc tous vos clichés,
Bienvenue dans ma réalité!”

I want love, joy and cheerfulness,
Your money won’t buy me happiness,
I just want to die with a hand on my chest,
Let’s go together discover my freedom, let you forget all your stereotypes,
Welcome into my reality!

 

**

Here’s to the wonderful unpredictability of the events that we call life.

On 11th November I published this post, Five Years Ago Today…

 

Did you enjoy this content? Please buy me a coffee to say thanks by clicking here: Buy Me A Coffee

 

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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Keanu Reeves is a Better Career Advisor than Britney Spears

Guess who’s been writing internal news articles again? Below was produced to promote the tool I’m developing as part of a team for a sub-project at work. More details below but so far the reception to both writing and project outputs have been great.

 

Keanu Reeves is a Better Career Advisor than Britney Spears

 

When I was a little girl I wanted to be Britney Spears. Then around the age of seven I realised it would be a difficult career path (turns out it’s a ‘dead man’s shoes’ role), so instead I settled on hard-hitting journalism, only to find myself documenting the adventures of a pineapple in a party hat (don’t ask). Post University there were three years in charity and now I’m fast approaching two of the same at Nationwide but it’s only recently that the words ‘Project’ and ‘Management’ have sprung out as possibilities for someone like me.

I applied to be on a team for this year’s Association for Project Management (APM) challenge with echoes of Britney in the back of my mind. What skills and qualities do you

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Take on a crazy challenge alongside the day job or delete the email?

need to have to enter it? Where do you go to access accredited material? Is Project management even the right career? I was about to call it out on when someone else said it, and then another, until we’d all agreed that between our collective 17 and a half years’ experience no one knew the answers to these fundamental questions. Our deliverable was born; in four months we’d build a tool to help practitioners focus their development time more effectively. We would call it the “Project Development Matrix” (and Michael, our project manager, would tell me to stop suggesting we wear long coats and shades like Keanu Reeves’ did in the 1999 film The Matrix). With our tool all you’d need to do is answer a few questions and the answers would automatically populate charts to help tailor the development plan of the user.

 

The APM challenge is designed to develop project management qualities and knowledge of the project lifecycle. We produce detailed reports to deadlines, stage project boards with our sponsor and must deliver what we set out to do. For the finals night in May we’ll either have produce additional material or present to a panel. You’re up against teams from a range of organisations so company lingo has to be stripped away and everything taken back to APM fundamentals. The project would be enough of a challenge for a single co-located team, however we’ve added a layer of fun to the mix by basing ourselves across two Swindon and one London office.

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Snow put central London into a state of paralysis

So where are we now? In February we housed a focus group to get consumer views and refine our ‘product backlog’ for the first release, with a view to develop and expand the tool and its use case after that. No project is entirely smooth running, given the snow I experienced in central London I struggled to see why the original focus group in Swindon had to be moved, but it’s the setbacks you learn best from.

 

The tool is presently due for release at the end of this month. Give it a go and let us know your thoughts. Any issues and I’ll don my shades and get Keanu to enter the Matrix himself and investigate further.

“Giant Hamster or Tiny Rhino?” The Time I Interviewed a Senior Finance Executive

For my second of two articles I had to produce for the internal monthly newsletter I decided to do an interview with a senior bod in the organisation. However this is me and while I’m still clinging onto the famous ‘graduate’ gold pass (I’m not a graduate, but there has to be some perks to people forever calling me that), well, it seemed perfectly reasonable to take a different stance on the traditional dry corporate interview the Executive Committee usually answer via email. Even though you won’t know the guy directly I hope you get what I was trying to do here, I certainly got the feeling he did.

Jeremy Paxman got nothing on me.

 

Closed Conversations with JS, Head of Digital

 

JS: So why are we doing this?

AB: I thought it would jazz up the newsletter interview if we got to know the man behind the face. Don’t get me wrong, I love Digital strategy…

JS: *Chuckles*

AB: …but we don’t really get to know you. Shouldn’t take long but before we start I should say you’re allowed to decline questions or terminate the interview should you feel uncomfortable

JS: What are you going to ask me?!

AB: I’m just covering my back J

JS: *Chuckles* okay, go on.

 

AB: What’s your favourite chocolate bar?

JS: Galaxy

 

AB: Biggest strength?

JS: Resilience

 

AB: Football or Rugby?

JS: Rugby

AB: Favourite team?

JS: Bath Spa

 

AB: Playground nickname?

JS: Ginge

 

AB: Would you rather be a giant hamster or a tiny rhino?

JS: Tiny rhino

 

AB: Bath Spa or Swindon?

JS: As in the city?

AB: Well, yeah, I wouldn’t make you compare Swindon to basic hygiene.

JS: *Laughs* fair enough, Bath Spa

 

AB: What’s your Zodiac sign?

JS: Cancer

 

AB: Morning lark or night owl?

JS: Morning lark

 

AB: Tea or coffee?

JS: Coffee

 

AB: Would you rather meet an alien visitor of travel into space?

JS: *Pause* travel into space

 

Favourite band/artist?

JS: Anything before 1998

AB: What happened after 1998?

JS: It all went downhill

 

Describe yourself in one word.

JS: *Long pause*

AB: Just anything

JS: It’s a tough one

AB: Have you never had to answer that at an interview?

JS: I haven’t been interviewed in ten years! *long pause* Determined

 

AB: Digital or analogue?

JS: Analogue…joking! Of course it’s Digital.

AB: God, you had me worried there for your job. As if an analogue fan could head up digital, I’d have to get you escorted of the building out on principle!

JS: *Laughs*