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:

13239076_10153505053206050_7683170340973044535_n.jpg

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.

73150390_254811438739521_3906285357146046464_n.jpg

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.

face-injury.jpg

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.

IMG_0752
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.

V2 summerballticket9

It even got a feature in local press.

summer-ball-2016-write-up-the-swindon-advertiser.jpg

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.

xdd

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…

mail.jpg

…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.

BBC.jpg

**

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.

58409454_353664122168508_5047849016995624972_n.jpg

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

sign.jpg

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.

72460380_695295001297489_7949272466692505600_n.jpg

 

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!

pride.jpg

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.

swindon 18 30.jpg
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

 

Amsterdam Calling

Some people wake up after a heavy night on the tiles unable to remember what they did the evening before. Not me though, no, no, no. In my kooky world I send letters to people and completely forget that I’d even written them, let alone what I’d written. That’s normal to me.

Take this recent letter for example sent to none other than the Amsterdam Tourist Board shortly after returning back to the UK post city break in the Dutch capital.

Dear Sir or Madam,

At any given time there are three things you need to know about me: 1) I do not have any fingerprints, 2) it is not a proper cup of coffee until I have spilt it everywhere 3) I used to share a house with a mermaid.

Curious? I would be.

It is a funny old situation when one chooses to travel alone. In this day and age you would have thought ‘fem power’ would have made it perfectly acceptable to exclaim to the world “I am a single female and happy to travel in my own company!” Instead of getting the weird looks I did at 08:00 at Kings Cross station. But then again I used to think it was normal to request a cake that just fallen to the floor if it meant I got a 50% discount (turns out there is this thing called ‘Food Standards’ that prevents that sort of thing happening, sigh).

I am probably setting myself out on the wrong foot, so let me backtrack a little. Less than a month ago I decided I was done with Brexit but also desperate to explore somewhere before the border gates went onto lockdown. Having also visited Bruges the November before I made the decision to hop onto the Eurostar once more and enjoy a four-day retreat in the Dutch capital. There was no strong reasoning behind the location, it was close to hand and I heard you guys had some awesome cultural shizz going on over there. I booked my tickets and excitedly looked forward to my arrival in the centre of Amsterdam.

I do not know how but five minutes after arriving I think I got high. In hindsight this does not surprise me much, given the only thing I have ever attempted to smoke was a cigarette in the beer garden of a nightclub in 2015 and that ended disastrously. At the time however I did not know what to make of all the smokers and the loud British people (by the way I am sorry all our men are loud, if I could stop them I would), so that by the time I found my hotel I was quite exhausted and wondering what on earth I had signed myself up for. Ever been to Bruges in Belgium? Amsterdam is probably the complete opposite as cities go (I would advise not pairing your tourist offices).

However, that being said over the course of my time in Amsterdam I had such a wonderful stay and the weather was glorious. I took great smugness as showing off my sun tan to my English friends on my return, especially when I heard they had experienced a lot of rain in my absence (in the UK it is common courtesy to discuss and compare the weather at length – true fact). I went to so many places and almost on every occasion the locals made me feel incredibly welcomed and wanted, despite being I suppose out of sorts with the groups of drunk men, loved up couples and stoned gap year students. I went to far too many places to list in this letter however I have created several light-hearted videos for my blog page, My Housemate’s a Mermaid, which I would encourage you to watch (I would attach them here, but unfortunately technology has not quite caught up yet to let me print off videos – still waiting for Apple and Google to pitch that idea to investors).

Yours Faithfully,

Alice E. Bennett

Now I’d completely forgotten I’d sent that on 23/04/19 until last week my inbox lit up with the following message.

Dear Alice,

Thank you for your letter. I read it with great pleasure, as it is a rare phenomenon these days. That is probably why it only reached me yesterday. It was, however, a bit of a disappointment that when I get the odd physical letter, it is not hand written 😉

What you ask or offer is not entirely clear to me, but I have watched your travel vlog. I enjoyed it, but it’s a too personal perspective for us to share. But I invite you to follow our social media channels and share what you feel like sharing with us. Who knows we’ll be a match in the future.

Thanks for your letter, keep up the writing and blogging and enjoy it. And of course we hope to see you in our beautiful city in the future. Just give me a heads up – preferably hand written with a fountain pen on parchment paper – and I’ll make sure we’ll have a little welcome gift ready for you in our store.

Regards/Vriendelijke groet,

Bas Timmermans, Editor in Chief Online

So there you go, one step closer to becoming a global brand and coincidentally one step closer to visiting Amsterdam again just for a mystery gift.

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.”

 

notebooks

Because I Can: Solo Travels in Amsterdam

“But why are you going to Amsterdam on your own? Is it because of an event?”

“Nope.”

“…a guy?”

“Christ no!!”

“Haha ok. So why are you going?”

“Because I can.”

 

Part I

 

Part II

Alice Bennett and the Mystery of the Three Eggs

Alice Bennett and the Mystery of the Three Eggs

By Alice Bennett, aged 26 (& 1/4)

 

It was Tuesday evening and Alice was relaxing in her room with a healthy dose of catch up TV.

‘Hmm,’ she thought, ‘by choosing to watch American reality show “The Bachelorette” I severely risk damaging my IQ and the Feminist cause, however I have already listened to two hours of Classic FM today and learnt about the benefits of a Public Council on Radio Four. I think I can treat myself.’

Just as Alice leaned forward to reach the play button her phone buzzed awake. The surprise caused an elbow-jerk reaction, knocking the stained mug’s overfilled tea contents all over the dark mock-wood next to the bed.

‘Fudge!’ She actually said.

The text has come from Alexandre, a delightful young flatmate who had many wonderful qualities including, notably, being of the French persuasion. Alice had learnt this one evening when she muttered ‘c’est mort’ as a farewell greeting to her younger sister on the phone and ended the call with Alex thinking she was the French Godfather. After the initial encounter the poor European was left quite perplexed with English culture.

Alex had put a message in the flat’s social media group chat to enquire as to the ownership of the three eggs in the kitchen. Alice knew exactly what Alex was referring to, there had been three medium sized hen eggs in a saucepan of water all day. When she’d originally seen the eggs sat in water on the cold hob her first reaction was balanced, educated and above all very cosmopolitan in outlook.

‘Eh, must be a French thing.’

Now Alice would never want to be labelled as culturally insensitive or stupid, but now she had to admit she was both. She felt like a muppet, a right muppet indeed. Slouched in Gap jogging bottoms and a strap vest top of brown, Alice pointed a finger at season thirteen’s first African-American bachelorette.

‘You did this’ she hissed.

Alice realised then that getting out of her room may be a good idea. She picked up her phone (because she’s a millennial) and ventured into the dark hallway. Halfway down the stairs she saw Alex stood at the sink with a hoody on. While she could not see his face Alice had to make the assumption that it was Alex and not some random intruder, after all if Crimewatch had taught her anything gang members do not tend to carefully stack Tupperware boxes on the counter, they steal them.

‘They aren’t my eggs!’ Alice called out, piercing the silence with her brash statement that entered the world more cockney than either party expected. The loud noise in the nearly quiet flat made Alex jump in sudden panic. No one in the establishment makes conversation, let alone that of the light hearted, small-talk kind.

‘Oh right,’ Alex responded. ‘I am not sure why they are there.’

‘Beats me. I saw them there before but didn’t know what it was all about. I assumed they were yours.’

‘Why?’

‘Because you’re French!’ The words burst out of Alice’s lips like Brian Blessed storming towards a voiceover contract.

‘Great, now he’ll think I’m a racist. An egg soaking racist’ Alice thought.

Alex laughed. ‘No, not mine. I do not cook eggs like that!’

‘Well who do the three eggs belong to then? Why would anyone do that?’

‘Maybe it is preparation for a meal.’

‘Don’t be daft, English people aren’t as exotic as that. And Daniel doesn’t cook anyway, lucky sod who gets free food from work while some of us live on scrambled eggs every night.’

‘What did you say?’

‘I said they cannot be Daniel’s. The three eggs must belong to someone else.’

Alice and Alex laughed some more over the matter. Alex stood firmly in the kitchen, Alice crouching on the stairs, the two had quite the chin wag. In the end Alice raised herself and started ascending the staircase once more.

‘See what the others say, but this is the most British thing I’ve been in debate over in the long while!’

Two minutes later Daniel entered his response into the group chat ‘not me! I don’t cook! Laziness < cooking’ before taking his turn to enter the small kitchen and see the spectacle for himself. Alice who was busy preparing herself for the pub (if chav wear wasn’t acceptable in Swindon it probably wouldn’t be suitable in trendy London) took it upon herself to pause her preparations re-join her flatmate’s debate, this time sporting a pair of cheap leggings and a long top.

Three grown adults, staring at three pale eggs in a pan of water. As real life mysteries go it was enough to top any mid series episode of Midsummer Murders and even Alice acknowledged that seeing the eggs gently bump into each other was probably witnessing more action than in the whole duration series thirteen of The Bachelorette.

‘Talk about a love triangle! Left egg is such a player’ she thought.

‘So who’s eggs are they?’ Daniel asked.

‘Quelle mystoire.’

‘Please stop speaking bad French.’
‘Sorry.’

‘But they are not our eggs?’ Alex continued.

Alice pointed her thumb in an upward direction. ‘They must be Lily’s. But all the same it’s quite the English mystery don’t you think?’

Both boys shrugged, it seemed Alice was more invested in trying to ship this as some kind of scandalous tale than her roommates. In many ways it was to be expected, back in the Cotswolds she could see great appeal in “The Mystery of the Three Eggs”, she need only open with a description of the semi-clean environment and she could have housewives fainting. But in the here and now all three fleshy compositions decided that little nor much interest in doing something with the shelled eggs while they sat unclaimed in a black pan, chilling in a pool of odourless water.

‘I’m going to the pub’ Alice stated on the way back to her room.

About five minutes later a blunt message came through from the final flatmate. ‘Not mine’ it stated.

‘Curiouser and curiouser! Who on Earth is the owner of the three eggs in a flat in Wapping?’

For Alice the mystery simply did not make any sense. Was there an egg bugler, an egglerer on the loose? Was it the egg God bestowing medium price range goods on Alice in return for long months of searching for value? Why did the faith of Dale’s Dad on The Bachelorette mean Rachel had to send him home at the rose ceremony? For poor Alice this whole situation really was quite a conundrum and she hadn’t consumed enough wine to be processing words like conundrum. Wanting a break from it all she tugged on a lightweight jacket and some pearls (obviously) and with a flash was out of the front door and on her way to a large glass of wine. A place where closest thing served to an egg was some kind of hipster named beer.

Alice was about half way to the pub when she felt the phone vibrate in her rucksack.
‘Wow, I’m like Chaka Khan after a ten-year media break,’ she thought to herself.

Given it was dark and she was listening to a banging tune by Genesis (who FYI are still a cool and acceptable band to appreciate in the 21st Century), well she decided to simply not give the buzz any attention until she was in the safety of a local boozer.
Sat at a high table amongst the warmth and safety of a large number of semi-drunk regulars she pulled out the little iPhone to view the message that had come through minutes before.

‘So mine, but I don’t remember’ was the short but self-explanatory message from the fingers of Alice’s French friend. She sighed and took a slight sip of her 150ml house wine (Alice being, as ever, somewhat of a tight wad). ‘Of course the eggs were Alex’s all along! Classic Agatha Christie plot, the Frenchman did it! It’s always the Frenchman! Or is it always the butler? Did French people exist in 1920s Britain when Christie was writing? Maybe I should look it up.’ But before Alice could sink herself into an even deeper, potentially borderline insulting, hole another thought popped into her mind.

‘Why don’t I sit here in this pub and write out this whole account? Yes, that would be a good idea. It’s so classically middle-England! Creating a soap-opera drama over something so trivial as three eggs. People will instantly get it and find it charmingly hilarious.’

But then sat in the crowded Wapping pub, immersed in a great deal of other fascinating conversations in all manner of tongues, another thought popped into the head of the young professional.

‘But what if people read the tale and feel let down? What if they read the whole account expecting some hilarious punchline or deeper meaning, but instead get only three grown adults staring at a pan of eggs? Wouldn’t they be really disappointed? I would be if it were me.’

At that very moment the twentieth spam message of the day came into her email account, this one being from Groupon with the promise of ‘mega discounts on cheese’. Alice opened her laptop and smiled to herself. For if there’s one thing spam emails and novels like Fifty Shades of Grey have taught society anything is that people are a sucker for a catchy headline.

She started to type.

Why Can’t Men be More Like Snack Bars?

I was recently sat in a bar with a glass of wine and my new portable laptop (best investment of the year so far) when I had a flashback to all those Jordans’ Frusli snack/cereal bars I bought before London. Remember those?

So I decided, quite randomly, to send a letter to the lovely people at Jordans to make them aware. Of course this is me so naturally it wasn’t a standard letter. I took a sip on my rapidly depleting glass of red and wrote the following:

Dear Sir or Madam,

RE: Why can’t men be more like Jordans Frusli bars?

My name is Alice and I’m a finance professional and freelance blogger/kooky lady living in the centre of London. Now I’m pretty sure you’ve taken one look at the RE there and thought “hmm, this complaint may involve the assistance of a therapist, or a year seven biology guide”. But before you fear on that front, don’t worry, I know men can’t actually be like your Frusli bars. Everyone knows men are made out of used socks, cheese puffs and that weird smell no one can ever quite place. I think it’s a mutation of Lynx. Anyway, I’m not stupid but hear me out on this.

I relocated to London in May last year, a pretty stressful process as moves go. I was leaving Swindon with not a clue in the world what to do. I assumed that everything in London was expensive and topped with some kind of skinny foam, so I thought it wise to stock pile on what I knew to be good, wholesome and something I could pretend was 3 of my five a day. In my keen to stockpile for an event that you may have thought was a new Cold War I may have bought enough boxes to reach my hip… [picture insert]

You can imagine the fun I had transporting those from Paddington to E1. With everything else my bags weighed a ruddy tonne. However, unlike the many, many men who walked on by, the energy I got from a blueberry Frusli bar helped give the me energy to lug those bags on/off tube lines and up a flighty number of stairs. The power of the Frusli!

Once in the flat I managed to locate a drawer to put my various bars in to which I was quite satisfied. The drawer has since become a mini shrine to the many snack bars I have and, unlike men, I find the content of the drawer provide much enlightenment. Do I eat chocolate? Do I go out food shopping? When I open my Frusli drawer it always shows me the way. And I tell you what, they never ask me to make them a sandwich as a solution to my query.

Frusli bars offer variety, they have a fruity content and are even eco-friendly without rubbing it in your face (I see what you did with the packaging). They don’t take up space, they can accompany any meal or make time for you any point of the day and my parents love them. In fact, in many ways they’re the perfect partner. Wait a moment, maybe they’re too good…

Ok scratch the above, this is now a complaint letter. Congratulations on making something awesome that keeps me going and kept me strong when I didn’t know where to buy eggs in this crazy city. But you’ve made something too good so now I’m unable to find a living male who is as adaptable as an apple and cranberry cereal bar. Disgusted.

I look forward to hearing how you’re going to resolve this matter ASAP.

Yours Faithfully

I wrote that and sent it without re-reading it (until now, golly gosh that Merlot). I genuinely thought I’d never get a response. Another crazy lady from London. Well I was very firmly proved wrong when today I received a large parcel from the customer service team at Jordans. Inside the cardboard box was a letter.

Dear Alice,

Well what can I say? Other than, yes! Our Frusli bars are pretty awesome and they do offer the standard when it comes to offering variety and honest goodness. I am certain however, that there is a guy out there with equal qualities who can make time for you at any point and, most importantly, help you find eggs in the crazy city. In the meantime, here are some more Frusili bars along with some of our breakfast cereals – who knows, maybe once you’ve found Mr Right you’ll be able to enjoy our Granola together for breakfast.

All the very best,

Emma Morris, Customer Experience Advisor

And under the letter was this!

Boxthumbnail

How awesome is that! Completely unexpected as well. The luxury of Jordans cereal! I’m used to handling own brand Wheat Biscuits so this really is a massive step up. And given when I had to reschedule the missed delivery Mumma Bennett was convinced that I’d be getting her quilt cover this is very much a surprise to everyone. Mumma B said I must have written a very good letter to get such a response from the company…well, now you’ve seen it I’ll leave that final call with you.

(Ps – Jordans/Emma, I’m still hunting for the best reasonably priced eggs in London and a man, in that order.)

A Pint of Blood Sir if you may: The Cloak and Dagger Tour of Southwark, London (Review)

 “Have fun on your date.”

“It’s not a date Mum. I’m going on a London ghost walk by myself, it’s a last-minute thing.”

When technology wormed its way into the English countryside I thought it would be a good thing. Get people more connected, better informed and stop my Mum asking me every five minutes if I’m going on a date. Well I was right, instead of asking me over the phone, she now texts me.

“Anyway, I’ve got to go now, it’s about to start.”

“Enjoy your tourist date.”

I sighed, dropping the phone into my shoulder bag.

Looking around at my fellow evening companions maybe having a plus one would have helped me blend in. Couple, Couple, tourists, female friends, couple. It was going to be that kind of a tour which is weird because everyone knows all men are attracted ladies with a fascination for historic execution, sewage and hanky panky. Obviously.

Our guide for the evening would be the creator of The Cloak and Dagger Tour, a man who goes by the name of Cary Galia. In the face of a number of competitors this guy decided to create his own tour of Southwark which, when you think about it, is pretty bolshy stuff. Dressed in 18th Century style attire he started the evenings activities at the historic George Inn pub, just up the road from London Bridge station. After formalities Cary lead the group into the heart of Southwark, notably Borough Market. I won’t give away all the gory facts and details for you (Cary would legitimately hunt me down if I did) but turns out I was more than a little misguided when I told my sister that the oldest part of the former pig market was “just added on as an overspill area for street food vendors”. Before this tour I clearly had rose tinted glasses on to think the block paving was only there to make the floor look pretty.

Still, time pressed on and there was a hefty round of drinks awaiting our cash in the warmth of The George Inn so we continued our tour. More gore, more History, more than some people could handle. I briefly got chatting to the only other single traveller on the trip, a middle aged lady who seemed shocked by the bloodied past of the South Bank.

“It doesn’t bother me, I used to study historic cases of infanticide. This is pretty tame in comparison.” I cheerfully replied, after which the lady didn’t approach me again. No idea why.

The walking tour was peppered with questions and mini re-enactments but the real spectacle came at the end of the tour when the group were safe back inside the historic interior of a function room. You’ve got to hand it to The National Trust, they know how to run a pub. Anyway, out of the blue another actor bursts in through the door and all hell breaks loose. Cary goes from jokey guide to full on performer, there are Northern accents flying about and to be quite honest I don’t know what is normal anymore. Where the hell am I? And where’s my pint gone? (Oh wait, I drunk it.) A dramatic fight scene, impressive monologue and the whole spectacle ends with the audience stunned in silence.

Suddenly Cary is all Southern again and returns to a normal person. But I can’t trust this man, the man of many voices and a coat I wish I owned. I eye him and the other actor suspiciously as he asks us whether we think his character was being honest or not. Silence.

“No thoughts?” He challenges again, “you’re that stunned?”

“It’s because we were so mesmerised by your performance!” One of the female friends quips with a giggle.

“Pass me the flipping bucket” I think, rolling my eyes.

We ended up coming to the same conclusion all British people have when faced with a debate; none. But that said it was a great end to the walking tour I’d had the pleasure in partaking in. I moved to London in May 2018 and have since spent a great deal of time frequenting the South Bank with, it transpires, a poor understanding of the blood and guts that used to flow down its streets.  Truth is, if you’re looking for a polished, clean take on history you’re better off spending the day in the British History Museum. But if you want to know the real, day-to-day existence for people living on the South Bank, before the coffee vendors, the refrigerated meat sellers and the hipster fruit smoothies then really this is your best bet at getting that. If you want to latter go to Cloak and Dagger Tours. But as I type this from a Wapping-side pub, glancing down at my phone, I request only one thing. Please don’t ask fellow participants if they’re on a date.

 

More information on The Cloak and Dagger Tour of Southwark, including how to book, can her found here.

 

cloak and dagger