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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When Three Weeks Becomes Three Months: Family, COVID-19 and the Faith of the Fatigued

Every morning I roll out of bed and stumble the 1.5 strides to the bathroom. I look in the mirror and study the damage; one new spot since yesterday, five new eyebrow hairs, a shade darker under the eyes. I toy with the idea of doing something to remedy this, but then sigh and do little more than splash water from the sink lined in dirt and limescale. If it’s a ‘treat day’ I might apply a thin layer of face cream but today, like most others, is nondescript so tepid water will suffice. Pasty skin ready, I grab one of my face coverings from the coat hanger, rubber gloves from the box and go out into the big, dangerous world to stand in a queue. “Just another day in paradise” plays solemnly through my headphones, a Phil Collins track which I long to change, but my unisex latex gloves are two sizes too big and even if I could, touching the screen would only defeat the point of preventing the spread of germs. I leave him be.

Here I am, starting another 24 hours in a string of days that end in the letter Y. Dull, predictable and dragging, welcome to the human face of lockdown. 

If you haven’t already got the gist from recent posts, in March (2020) I made the choice to move fully back in with my family, days before the UK went into COVID-19 lockdown.

I own a house, a car and a job in the same location, but with the job reduced to working from home and my ability to travel limited to as far as the curb-side wheelie bin, it seemed more logical to return northwards.

At 27, the novelty of spending an extended period of time with my family felt like a throwback to the days when home was a refuge from exhausting summer jobs or algebra homework. But now the family home represents my safety and my imprisonment. I am denied my freedom and, some days, forgetting what it feels like to be a fully accountable adult at all. I’m turning into a woman-child.

Three weeks I thought this would last, three. But now we’re speedily heading towards twelve and to be quite honest, I fully expect it to last longer than that. I normally work out of an office populated by a large number of employees. I can only imagine what social distancing will look like if I am, ever, mandated to five days a week in that environment.

Practical but impractical: the DIY masks that itch and pull

Can you imagine the first day of everyone being back? A three hour queue to get your pass reactivated, followed by at least two trying to fix some technical fault with laptops (always tends to be that way). Everyone will take an extended lunchbreak (by which point the only option will be a cheese sandwich) and then there’s just enough time to go around hugging as many people as possible before it’s home time. Michelle is given an out of date bottle of wine from the store cupboard for something she won twelve months ago and then it’s off to the car park for gridlock congestion.

That reminds me, I think I left behind a large stash of snack bars in my locker before I left town. Damn.

I’ve gotten slightly off topic, but then again, I always do. Can you really blame me, when one of the few excuses I get to spend time away from my family is to find one of the few quiet spots in the house and type on this blog? Mumma B is forever demanding new blog post, Papa B is forever blissfully unaware of them (but then sending a text to dad has a likelihood of receival on a same level of attaching a letter to a dove in a hurricane).

The improvised supermarket queue barriers of early lockdown

I haven’t dyed my hair since January. I guess originally I saw it as a form of resistance, the idea that I wouldn’t colour it until we were out of lockdown, but that idea faded as quickly as the shade of my roots. Resistance turned to indifference, colour fading with every wash, and now I’m reunited with a shade of brunette I haven’t seen in years. It could almost pass for stylish, a layered multi-tonal style.

Makeup? What are these expensive alien products of which you speak? I’ve almost forgotten how to apply what little I used to wear. Mascara is a challenge, the smudgy black fluid streaking up my eyelid and smearing across my fingers when I try and rub it off. I’m a toddler experimenting with these curious substances, playing about with pencils and powders that used to mean something to me. The woman I recognise in those summer holiday pictures, how can I look like her? How can I wear lipstick like she once did without turning into a clown? But then, what’s the point?

Five closure signs are better than one

Now you can’t exit the house without having to cover up. Facial coverings and gloves have swept across the globe, marking the creation of a new religion with its own dress code. The irony, the racists and xenophobics who used to speak against religious coverings are now the same people yelling that face and hand covering should be made a legal requirement. Next they’ll be demanding the use of headscarves to prevent spread, whilst splashing and gargling in the sea. Society has been united (be it on a surface level) by new codes of conducts and coverings. We have no way to object to the world around us, voices blocked by sheets of fabric, we can only go along with the rule of government. By law or by fear, the faith of the fatigued marches on in varying gaps of social distance.

Early days of lockdown shopping

The highlight of my week is now the Saturday morning food shop and the lowlight is getting back from it. That feeling of exhaustion from exerting myself more than at any other point in the days leading up to it. The rub of the fabric mask, the feel of rubber residue that sticks to my fingers long after I’ve taken the gloves off. In the world I live in this is one of the few excuses I have to leave the house, my world is now so tightly tethered to that of my family. I have no friends to see, no places to visit, no errands to run that can’t be handled over the phone.

Fun is now reduced to comparing the length of supermarket queues week-on-week and counting the number of times we’re reminded to keep two meters apart over the tannoy. The buzz when tinned foods are taken off restrictions, the disappointment when when they’re reapplied the following week. Three tins of soup per customer, a luxury. And yet, the Saturday food shop is the one thing that reminds me time is passing at all. Time is reduced to the little-wins, twice daily teeth brushing, hair washes every other day, changing bedding every few weeks. The mundane activities that make milestones of hope; another week towards a vaccine, another week towards normality. And not just a new one, a true one.

Later methods of enforced social distancing. One way systems and theme park queues outside to reduce store numbers inside

The phrase ‘new normal’ has grated on me since first time it was used by politicians who know about as much on what ‘normal’ looks as Chairman Mao knew of peasant struggles during the 1960s famine. New normal implies that this is the first time normal has changed, but what about the invention of the internet? Or the Industrial Revolution? Or when we started hunting with metal spears instead of stone? In which case, what are we headed into? New Normal Version 9999998767.8?

Instead of new normal, I’ve adopted a different phrase, ‘My Normal’. The way I see it, you have to embrace and adapt to what works best and safe for you. In lieu of coffee shops I’ve taken pleasure in making my own coffee and enjoying the views I’m lucky to have. I miss the noise and hubbub of activity, but sometimes I think it’s easy to romanticise an experience. Countless times in life I’d find myself trawling from coffee shop to coffee shop to find space, only to find it too noisy to focus or hold a conversation.

I write a hell of a lot more now than I used to. Whether the quantity results in quality is yet to be seen but regardless it feels, well, good. But I’ve also dropped the stupid targets, I’ve moved away from expecting myself to have produced the next best-seller. I’ve realised that I get bored, I procrastinate, I live with three other adults who seek me out if I go three hours without doing a tea run. I’m human. One day I’ll spend an evening working solidly on a manuscript, another I’ll decide to do something unrelated to writing; I might watch rubbish TV or read my History Magazine. My lunchbreaks I might donate towards researching the publishing industry or even find myself so done with taking myself seriously that I turn to this blog to remember that deep down I am still the kooky person I’ve always have been. No lockdown is going to stop me being me.

More time to clear out the junk

Do I scrap with my family? Of course! Even when I was living here as a teenager and my parents were working jobs we didn’t see each other as much as we do now. There have been plenty of times I wanted to get away from it all and return to life where I had my independence and my freedom. But the benefits of being in a space where I feel safe and wanted outweigh having to ‘go it alone’. I am incredibly lucky to have the family I do, even if they do all drive me insane.

And here’s something potentially controversial; I’m actually more content now than I have been in years.

More time to read

Gone is the pressure to look a certain way or to live in a certain location (e.g. London). I don’t feel the pressure to be in a relationship, in fact, as time has gone on and the faked perfection has slowly disappeared from the internet, I’m left wondering what it must be like those couples, the unstable relationships built on sand and Snapchat filters.

In just under three months my life has, once again, changed enormously. And there was I thinking living in London was the biggest shake-up to happen to me. Moving back into the family abode is shifting my perceptions and five-year goals more than any office manager or two-day Excel training course ever did.

Those lamenting that office work is as extinct as the dinosaurs need to get real and understand that people will always crave social interactions. There will always be a queue for my office car park and when the doors open I will be at the front of it.

Like everyone else I worry for the future economy, my job security and the health of those I care most about. But of all that I worry most about what we will become. More than once I have woken from a nightmare, to discover it was only a more warped version of the life I used to lead before. I fear that when this is all over and the generation moves on behind us, we will horrify or romanticise this event like it’s our version of Vietnam. The youth will never understand, will never appreciate what we went through, when in fact we were the ones who returned to 45-hour weeks, we were the ones who were so desperate to recoup physical loses that we forgot the gains we made on our front door.

But more than this, so much more, is the reassurance that this will not last forever. One day I will return to the town where I live and work. My mum will go back to cooking for two, not four, my sister will teach in schools and my dad will be able to work in customer’s homes without wearing a mask. None of us will be the same, but we will have future hope. One day we will all be reunited and will laugh; back when we thought this would all be over in less than three weeks.

**

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Five Minute Review: Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Simple premise, five minutes to type up a speedy overview of a recent read. Lets do this.

Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown by Lorna Martin

(Amazon sales link here)

The Sun describes this title as “Bridget Jones with knobs on” and initially you can see why. Like Bridget Jones, Lorna works for a national paper, has multiple calamitous oversees trips (hints of Edge of Reason) and experiences tonnes of supposedly awkward mishaps. This is setup against a background of counselling where gradually Lorna comes to unearth and overcome personal challenges, from deep-rooted peer envy to relationship closure.

Expect a lot of monologues in this book. I didn’t have a problem with the first-person narrative but took issue to her friends who all happen to be phycologists. The author knows a bit about the topic and goes to almost unbearable lengths to use it. I ended up skimming these segments when girly nights out with countless bottles of wine turned into soapbox-speeches on the pros of Freudian methodology.

I also struggled with the approach with wooing the love interest. Two examples (of many) include this 35 year-old woman writing lengthy, one sided, emails about her life and then shocked when he doesn’t reply and another interaction where she bluntly states he can only get her number if he acquires it from a friend. Only a week later (and sans calls) does she internally ponder her tactic. I’m left questioning why the author feels the need to labour this storyline beyond the realms of realistic.

Not the ending I was expecting and, to be honest, a little bit disappointed by this title. It tries to be Bridget Jones in Glasgow but somehow never makes it out of the starting block.

UPDATE: I’ve just done some digging and discovered this is actually a true account of the author’s own experiences in therapy. Awkward…

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?

truman-show-2

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.”

**

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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Lockdown: 10 Things No One Warned Me About

It’s a strange old world when the phrase “you must have been living under a rock” is more of a compliment than criticism. Because why would you choose to be kept informed on a minute-by-minute basis? Why would anyone take to pointing the blobby face in the BBC’s Coronavirus background just to get through the 10pm news? Why would anyone do that? They’ve to be pret-ty sad to do that.

BBC

bbc edited
Once you see it…

Like many people around the world who has or is currently going through a version of a lockdown, there are a number of things I feel that I was no prepared for. Most are very typically British and being me, I’m going to take a very Alice-y approach to this. The community spirit, the crazy hoarding, those are commonplace knowledge in the UK. But what about the little things? The small changes to the day-to-day that I really was not prepared for and some I’m really not sure I’m okay with.

Lockdown: 10 Things No One Warned Me About

1. I look good in a mask

Never did I expect to scrub up nicely in a DIY mask. I don’t wear it very often, only the couple of times when I’ve gone out food shopping. But you know what? I kinda like it.

img_20200328_160743_634304081365821512030.jpg

Solves the problem of make up and my fledging career in ventriloquism, as this accidentally taken video shows.

2. I’d be fighting pets for work space

Squeak in the Kitchen

I mean, sure, space can be tight when you’ve got multiple people working from home, and I get having any age of children about can add an additional layer of ‘fun’ to the mix. My cats however, no one seemed to teach them the importance of sharing.

Squeak in particular, she seems to view my presence are a mere inconvenience to her sleeping arrangements and trust me, this lady is not for turning!

3. I’d listen to more questionable radio

Tune in to Heart 90s right now! - Heart

I’m not adverse to radio, in fact I listen to a good deal of the stuff when focusing on work or creative projects. But, listening to so much of the same hosts you naturally want to venture out and explore new things, did I however expect to be listening to Heart 90s? Did I ever expect to be researching The New Radicals on my lunch break? And did I still expect for Westlife to not be over their exes? Short answer, no.

Reminds me, I really need to buy more CDs. Also, did you know Cyndi Lauper did a remake of her hit Girls Just Wanna Have Fun in 1994? Well, you do now.

4. I’d drink more

Coffee, gin, prosecco – they’re all the same, right?

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Still, for the first time in my life I’m actually drinking two litres of water a day.

5. People are more demanding

Sometimes it’s household chores, other times it’s life admin, but living with family I cannot get away with dodging tasks in the same way I could when I lived over an hour’s drive away. I feel like I’m six again.

On a similar level, I’m getting constantly asked when my book is getting completed, the expectation is apparently I’ll come out of lockdown with the next international bestseller ready to hit the selves.

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My face when people ask for a publication date.

I’ll spoil it for you now, it ain’t happening by September 2020.

And then there are some people who use their connections and position to request frequent updates on new blog posts (yes mum, I’m looking at you).

I have more time, but I do also have a job and endless cups of tea to make.

6. Downing Street briefings would become the highlight of my day

The daily updates, usually televised from 17:00 have been a key milestone I structure my day around. Stranger still, I now have favourite ministers who I get more excited by presenting than others. Business Secretary, Alok Sharma, not a big fan.

New Housing Minister is Alok Sharma, MP Reading West - The Negotiator

(Also, I can’t un-see Tom from Tots TV whenever I look at him. Don’t ask me why.)

Inline image
Just me?

However, Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, he’s a bit of a political dreamboat. I always look forward to his briefings, which is something because I barely knew the chap before this all kicked off.

Why Rishi Sunak is the one to watch in parliament | The Spectator ...

At the age of 39 he’s basically 20 years old by political standards and doesn’t he know it? I mean, the man even poses for photos in his socks. Puts the full shirt and tie combo on, but no, leave off the shoes. What a tease!

New chancellor Rishi Sunak cashed in on fund that helped break ...

All I’m saying is that the next series of Love Island needs to watch out.

This leads nicely onto my next point…

7. Having a legitimate excuse for my non-existent dating life

After years of trying to defend my singledom status to an irritating number of people (singletons, you’ll get it), it’s taken a pandemic to stop people asking.

I mean, the apps can give it large by encouraging people to facetime but if there’s one thing I really can’t be handling is the awkwardness of a) making an effort when really, what’s the point? Or b) having to talk through my choice of bedding with someone I’ve known all of five minutes or even c) terminating the ‘date’ because the 17:00 briefing is about to start and Rishi is chairing.

Instead, the phrase I’m not using is “I’m practising this new fashion called social distancing. Very a la mode, it’s all the rage on the continent!”

After all, it worked for the Netflix series Love Is Blind

Love is Blind

For those less familiar with the car crash TV series on Netflix…

8. My family are insane

I love them dearly, but with all us temporarily living under one roof for an extended period, a length of time none of us have known for many years, well, the weirdness starts to surface eventually.

Case in point: Mumma Bennett has taken to drawing on a potato.

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And I know what you’re thinking…

For better, or worse, Mr Potato is now part of our lives. Mum is very precious about it and gets upset if we says nasty things about it.

Mr Potato Abuse

Again, we’re all living in the same house.

I’ve now come to embrace Mr Potato; he’s no couch, he’s my mate. He’s pretty sharp on boosting morale.

Boris Potato

(But I have had to have words about his unexplained trips.)

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9. I’d be using Christmas decorations in Summer

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We’re now using seasonal charms on every glass/mug to identify who has been drinking out of what. The only slight difference now is that instead of it being “ho-ho! Wouldn’t want to accidentally drink your wine!” it’s more “DON’T YOU DARE CONTAINATE MY COFFEE, YOU MASSIVE GERM!!”

10. Dad’s legs

Apparently it’s now Summer. Missed that memo; the one which said the weather would be pants for weeks and weeks, but the second we go on lockdown it would improve. But, dad has his legs out so it must be the case. Can’t argue with that, (really, I can’t.)

Dad's Legs

**

To finish off, here’s one of the more respectable 90s songs I’ve heard on the radio (it’s a cover of an absolute classic but then, the 90s):

**

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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)

**

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?

**

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.

**

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

**

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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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.

 

 

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London Recalling…Wapping Old Stairs

It’s been a tough few weeks powering through illness but finally, dear God finally, I can see light at the end of the tunnel. My body is finally kicking out the nasty virus that’s had me confined to my bed for so long.

As I reenter the real world and crack on with life, it seems apt to now find myself reaching the conclusion of this tiny fragment of a life well-lived. Time to reflect and move on.

London Recalling

 

This post follows Part 3, Solo Sell-Outs

Part 4, Wapping Old Stairs

 

I awoke on the Tuesday wanting to get on and make the most of the day, but painfully aware of the hot breath of fleeting time breathing down my neck. The final day; when the clock becomes so familiar a sight that it could be better described as an uneasy relationship, a bitter partner always demanding attention.

Before considering anything else there was a more pressing need to address. With my four blueberry muffins now little more than a sprinkling of crumbs in a plastic packet, I needed to get myself a solid breakfast to set me right. From previous visits when my parents had travelled to see me, I knew that Café Rouge did a morning offering (and the one at St. Katharine Docks had a considerably better view, tempting as the Wetherspoons on the main road opposite the hotel was).

I packed the non-essentials in my bag, ready for a speedy get away when I returned and headed out into the bright Winter sun to that familiar place once more.

At Café Rouge I placed my order and happily sunk myself into a History magazine and people watching. I tried to guess where the passers by were heading, what type of jobs they had based on their attire. An easy and difficult game to play; those wearing long black coats, accompanied with pressed black trousers and leather shoes jutting out beneath, well, they were clearly heading off to jobs in The City. To meet clients or handle their valuable assets. Everyone else though, they were harder to work out; their determination and singleness would strongly imply they were going to work, but the clothes varied to such a degree it was possible they could have sat at the bottom or the very top of their respected payrolls.

I flicked through the magazine whilst picking at my fruit-topped pancakes, enjoying the contrast of life in the near empty restaurant and the pedestrian rat-race outside. How enjoyable it was to reconnect with History as a leisurely activity as opposed to spending hours locked in a library.

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While I was sat there the odd person came in and out, spending the whole experience glued to their phones. Seldom did they even look up to take in the view. It didn’t surprise me, it certainly wasn’t the first time I’d felt strangely old and antiquated in my solo habits, but I almost felt sorry for them. They’d clearly come by themselves to this establishment for some reason, yet it was hard to see how staring at a mobile for half an hour could constitute as a particularly enjoyable, or memorable, an experience. It’s central London; you couldn’t walk fifty yards without hitting a coffee shop or take out, yet these people wanted to dine in.

Did they want to say they’d been there? Did they want to clear their heads? Or did they simply just want someone to cook for them? Unanswered questions; they departed before I could ever vocalise them.

**

The day was shaping up to be a beautiful one. The sun was bright, the sky a cool, clear blue and the weather unseasonably mild. Taking a stroll around some of the newest recruits to the yachting ranks, I undid a button on my red coat. It almost felt impossible to even consider this morning to fall under the gloomy banner of ‘British Winter’.

By the time I returned to the hotel and swept up the last of my belongings there was only five hours separating me and my inward journey back to Wiltshire. The hotel’s policy on baggage being a friendly one, I left my weighty case at reception and hacked off on foot in an Easterly direction with large handbag bulging with my fully charged laptop.

Time may have been limited, but for where I was headed it was plenty sufficient. I was returning to the zone two suburb that for over a year had been my home; I was returning to Wapping. Wandering around those old streets with its rich history and Overground line. You could almost say I was Wapping free…

A tenuous link, granted, but certainly catchier than…

…At any rate.

**

Wapping map
Rough mapping of Wapping region, as highlighted in red box

Wapping is, in my opinion, one of central London’s best kept secrets. As any map will clearly demonstrate, the little nub of a suburb is located only a stone’s throw from Tower Bridge to the West, and cradled below the trendy Shoreditch to the north. Via the Overground line you need only devote half an hour of your time and find yourself in any number of well-known spots around the capital.

To paraphrase a well known cinematic quote…

…Everything below the A1203 is Wapping. And that shadowy place? That’s Shadwell and I learnt very quickly that I must never go there…especially in Summer clothing on a hot day.

And yet, despite this, throughout my time during and after living in London, no one ever seemed to know the area. At a push telling people it sat below Shoreditch or Whitechapel, sometimes that jogged the die-hards, but otherwise it just became easier to tell people I lived in East London or by Tower Bridge.

Maybe because it lacks the buzzing night-life, maybe because it’s pumped full of millionaire residential flats and well-to-do families with privately educated children, but Wapping never drew the young professionals or the reputation other, similar, areas had gleamed. Whatever the reason for it’s amolimity, I was fine to accept my lowly status of ‘single professional’ in amongst the converted warehouse buildings.

The community watch reports were always printed on the highest quality paper with the most colourful of photographs. You’d find them stuck harshly next to the old lifts by some local who had access to the lockable noticeboard with brass-coloured pins that were starting to rust. Still, these seasonal reports were reassuring and amusing documents.

“No anti-social behaviour spotted on recent night walk with local police, other than a worrying rise in the number of discarded laughing gas canisters littered in alleyways. Will continue to monitor.”

I many regards it often felt like I was back living in the Cotswolds once more.

Due to youth and circumstance I could only afford accommodation on a single, long street of ugly council and ex-council tower blocks, a street that ran through the heart of Wapping like an artery vein and what I’m sure the wealth of the area would probably rename ‘the embarrassment of Wapping’ if they could. But, if it meant I could both walk to Threadneedle street for work and feel safe and removed from the reputation of other districts then that was fine with me. I’d take the shady looks as I crossed down between the overflowing rubbish dumpsters; we all had the same postcode, I just had it for a fraction of the price.

Below is a great mini-documentary of Wapping that’s nicely pitched somewhere between slow TV and attention-demanding:

**

After roaming these streets freely in the present climate, the daylight and general lack of other people making the experience all the more satisfying, both feet and shoulder were ready for a break from carrying their heavy loads.

I briefly popped by a place I used to work from a lot as a change of scene, a cafe/eatery that was owned by the local community but rented out to private enterprises, the Turk’s Head. As I stepped inside I was taken with how drastically the interior had changed, I could only assume it was due to a refresh or change of ownership. Gone were the plain white walls, the barrel-top tables, the scratchy chalkboards; now there were normal tables, and stylish green colour pallette. It was busier than I remembered it to be.

I decided quite quickly that this wasn’t the place to stop, but not before I tacked up a business card on the community noticeboard by the door, just as it had always been. I ducked out onto the street just as a member of staff caught my eye and started heading towards me.

**

Cinnamon Coffee Shop, named after the street it corners, it was the one place that I had been determined to visit on my trip above all else, even before I’d set foot on London soil. Even if I’d put my head through the door and been unable to find a seat, I still wouldn’t have forgiven myself if I hadn’t at least tried.

When I lived in Wapping, Cinnamon was local to the very letter. I could leave my flat on the fourth floor and less than five minutes later be sat on one of the curbside seats watching dog-walkers stroll by as I sipped a hot Americano. If I could compile everything I loved about Wapping (and most of London for that matter) it would be the phrase, “my local is an independent coffee shop”.

Cinnamon

In my more navie days of London living I’d fantasized about visiting the joint early one Sunday morning with some imagninery guy I’d have been seeing, taking the bold step of introducing him to a closely guarded secret; the place that serves the best coffee.

Sadly or unsadly (the jury is still out on this one), this fictitious scenario never played out and, in the end, it would only ever be my younger sister that got taken on a ‘date’ to see Cinnamon. Entering the shop around eighteen months after the ever first visit, the feeling now was just the same as it had been then. Nothing had changed and neither had my feelings. I’d finally returned.

I handed my loyalty card to the barista; the little piece of card bent around the edges from having spent the best part of a year waiting to be redeemed. Once produced, I lifted the latte (cinnamon, of course) to my window seat where it joined my laptop and book.

Like any great and all-consuming love, I spent over two hours in the same spot, escaping my bubble only briefly on two occasions; one to ‘freshen up’, the other to order a panini at the counter that was less than a meter away.

Even thinking now to this part of my London trip, it seems strange to picture myself planning a day around a coffee shop, only for the time there to be spent mostly staring at a laptop screen. But I suppose in a sense that’s the very definition of happiness or an appreciation of something, when you take it completely for granted. And in my mind it still seems daft that I love this one little coffee shop so much, in the same way that I got a bit emotional when I went to attach my business card to the bottom of the noticeboard, only to find they still had the old one there.

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The original had been placed there little over a week before I moved out of London. A different time, a different frame of mind. I once visited a different coffee shop in Wiltshire only to find a week later the owner had striped away everyone’s adverts, so the unusualness of my card’s presence in Cinnamon after all this time, well, it only reaffirmed my respect.

Cinnamon had seen me through the good and bad times of London living, my unchanging urban rock.

**

I glanced at my watch and realised that time was nipping at my ankles. I tidied up my belongings and found myself, somewhat painfully, having to walk double-time to make my way through Wapping and back to the hotel where my suitcase was being stored.

From the hotel I made my way to Tower Hill underground to catch a Circle Line train back to Paddington train station. To get cheaper tickets I had booked a very specific train, the 16:04. God help me if I missed that and had to face up coughing up for a same day, weekday rush hour train!

(Oh, and I am very much aware of the parody by Amateur Transplants – but let’s not. This a family show after all. I’ll stick with a song about nuclear Armageddon, thanks.)

No trip to London would be complete without a bit of drama, even if it shouldn’t have surprised me. Major delays. Major delays across the entire Circle Line. If that wasn’t enough, it seemed my usually reliable mobile application Mapper was bailing on me too. On one platform it clearly stated trains from that side were going Westward to Paddington, yet Mapper was adamant that I should board trains on the opposite side of the station. Cue the most manic fifteen minutes of my life as, with suitcase and heavy bag of cactus plants in tow, I went back and forth multiple times while I tried to work out which platform to board from. Because of the delays I only missed one train in that time, although I later questioned if I’d followed my gut and the large signs, I’d have got to my destination a lot quicker and less flustered.

**

Little time to take in the sights of my old friend, no sooner had I arrived at Paddington than I found myself jumping straight into the open arms of the Great Western train that would shortly carry me home.

My ticket specified a particular seat I was assigned to, yet given the length of the train the logistics of even getting to the coach with my luggage would prove a challenge. Let alone potentially dealing with the awkward conversation if I found someone sat in it already.

Instead I played the risky game I was all too familiar with; sitting in another person’s reserved seat in the hope they didn’t show up. I’d like to say I spent my last ten minutes in London musing on my time spent and idly watching life go by in the busy station, however it became a strangely nerve-racking experience. My phone’s battery power must have taken a hit from the constant time, nay second, checking. Each shuffling person in the gangway a reason to tense up and avert my gaze. Thankfully the seat was never reclaimed; I felt my body relax as the tubular bulk of machinery started to pull away.

**

The last time I’d left London on a similar train I’d been crying, which seems completely daft given London is only an hour away, but completely sensical given (up until the age of 14) I used to religiously cry at the end of every holiday. At the risk of sounding very middle class, I often wonder if my parents bought the holiday cottage in Devon just to shut me up.

13 months in London was always going to compare differently to a week holiday in Norfolk or a two week vacation to Florida. It had started off as a tick box exercise, a short fling to make my CV look better, but it had turned into something so much more substantial than that. Lustful, if not a bit abusive, at times, but an all-consuming affair nonetheless. A chapter was closing, the future was blurry and the things I loved most (the museums, the experiences, the local coffee shop), their accessibility was slipping through my fingers before my very eyes. Can anyone blame a girl for getting emotional?

Looking back on it now, I can fully understand why I’d been so caught in culture shock on moving back to Swindon the year before. All the young professionals, the culture, the high-flying men tripping over themselves to get to know me. And Swindon…just Swindon. That feeling of deep loneliness.

Over time I got over this. Writing was my saviour (as always). The time I used to spend visiting art galleries or on dates or lying in bed sick with frequent migraines, I started to invest that time into doing what I loved most. I told myself that it was okay to not be constantly booked up, that sometimes I needed to offer myself the luxury of a night off.

‘As long as I remember,’ I thought, glancing down at the cactus in my bag as the train gently hummed.

**

Our speed was increasing rapidly; another sign that we were escaping the clutches of the capital. It was around the time we hit Slough that I thought about a clip from the hit British TV show The Office

And reading my humble book I smiled to myself, the idea that London could be a bit of a David Brent character when it wanted to be; full of itself and now irritated. Despite four days of passion I was still going scurry back to that poxy little town in the middle of nowhere, back to Swindon.

I looked up from my book and out across the green hills that distinguished the world outside the M25 motorway, musing on many different things. The sun was shining, its setting rays feeling warm against my skin. I closed my eyes and thought deeply of all the things I’m lucky to have in my life. Health, family, a home, a job. And in there somewhere, deep within the list, the ability to visit London whenever I wished. That I’d had the chance to live it fully and now had the luxury of keeping the city on a tight leash. London could have me, but going forward it would be on my terms and my terms alone.

A song sprung to mind and then, as if from nowhere, I heard myself aloud as I started whispering the lyrics against the cold, cold glass.

‘So-called Mr. rock and roll, is dancing on his own again.

Talking on his phone again, to someone who tells him that his balance is low.

He’s got nowhere to go, he’s on his own again…’

**

Places visited (in order):

Nb – I was not paid to visit any of the above, adding links for 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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