18 October, 2011

The Bratberry Blackout

When The Blackberry Plague struck last week it was, in a nutshell, DRAMAS.  For about three days the Blackberry users of the universe were suddenly disconnected from their fruity social lives and thrown back into the more basic days of the earlier part of this century, when phones were just for texting and if you wanted a different mobile from your mates you had to buy a themed cover. And OH what calamity ensued.

Poor Blackberry users could only access social networking sites via their computers, laptops and iPads, which was heartbreakingly primitive. Blackberry messenger (BBM) contacts were thrown into a pit of despair as their usual and instant means of contacting each other vanished. WhatsApp became WhatsAppeningggggg?! And worse still, we couldn’t Google Frankie Cocozza from the comfort of our sofas. We had to GET UP. 

It was all over the internet within minutes. #Blackberryfail was trending globally, Lord Sugar was on the 6 o’clock BBC news discussing if Blackberry could EVER recover from a corporate failure of such magnitude and BBees everywhere endured ongoing ‘absence’ from each other’s lives. As a Blackberry user myself, I experienced first-hand the side effects of this epic disconnection from the smart social sphere and I can honestly say....

It. Wasn’t. That. Bad. 
Don’t get me wrong, I definitely experienced mild level dissatisfaction and groused about it, sending *jokingly* accusing tweets (from my laptop) to Blackberry’s HQ and yes I felt the repercussions, but in a world where someone’s city can be destroyed by an earthquake in seconds or a tsunami can wash away your livelihood forever, are we really kicking up such a fuss at the temporary absence of one of the First World’s most blessed luxuries?

As much as I embrace social networking – and indeed endorse it for a living – I would like to think I still have my priorities in order. The day I start having a hissy fit because I can’t check my Facebook from the cubicle of a club or because I need to actually ring someone for instant contact, is the day I don’t deserve to have access to this remarkable social world. 

However, I was bemused to see so many people genuinely angry at Blackberry’s puppet masters and seemingly seriously unable to function without their little pocket pals. Yes it’s annoying when the technology we have come to depend on so heavily lets us down – even Mother Teresa would’ve been disgruntled had she suddenly been unable to BBM the Pope about how fit Gary Barlow is #xfactor – but to be honest the genuine anger and bitterness of some people that I witnessed on Twitter over those few days was deplorable. I was ashamed of my culture and the spoilt Bratberry users we have become.

#Bratberry fail
I do realise that for businesses and VERY IMPORTANT PEOPLE the BB fail would have caused them to struggle a little more than usual and perhaps even made everyday commerce near-on impossible in some instances – but the last time I checked, that’s how life goes.  And if that’s our biggest catastrophe, I think we have it pretty sweet. To illustrate my point, here are some of my favourite #Blackberryfail tweets:

•    @InStyle_Anna Refusing to pay my Blackberry bill this month for sure #blackberryfail  

•    @rachelannmorris ahhhh #BLACKBERRYFAIL you promise so much yet deliver so little

•    @tashabourne The one chance a week I get to actually sleep enough and I have to get up early to go to Carphone Warehouse #Blackberryfail

You had to get up EARLY?? WOE.IS.YOU. Refusing to pay your bill? How aboutthe people who can’t afford a meal, let alone the expense of something so far removed from their deprived living it would terrify them. Paying our Blackberry bills is a privilege. And as for “delivering so little” – unless you were born into a pot of gold, accustomed to a world of technology that NEVER EVER fails, with a silver spoon up your A...get a GRIP.

Some of the above comments to me demonstrate a genuine 
inability to appreciate that although Blackberry “failed” us for a few days last week; by enlarge the global technology we are so fortunate to rely on today delivers to us every second of every day for the majority of our lives, making every aspect of them easier – work, relationships, social interests – we’re living in HD thanks to this fantastic intelligence. 

Do the above people forget so quickly all that their Smartphones give them? If your Mum cooks you a hot dinner every day of your life and one day burns it, do you call her a failure? We are all entitled to rant and experience aggravation at these mishaps, but there is a difference between blithely joining in the uproar (as to be expected, everyone loves a good vent) and actually genuinely getting a face on for three days. It wouldn’t hurt to remember that if like me you own and use a Smartphone regularly, then you live in the most privileged of societies in the most amazing of worlds. 

Back to Black

If anything, I enjoyed the mini-meltdown of my Smartphone’s intelligence, because it gave me the opportunity to remember I had a mind of my own. And what was most significant to me during the Blackout is how much of said mind had adapted itself to smart tech. Here is what I discovered:

1. I Tweet therefore I Think

When unable to Tweet so readily, I realised how much I now think in Tweet form. I found myself waiting at the tram stop, my hands unsure what to do with themselves, thinking “god that man looks pissed for 8am #jealous” and automatically mentally reducing it into 140 characters.
But the thought would materialise and then get stuck in twitter limbo, where over the course of the few days, a whole host of them gathered. The Tweets that got away. Profound capsules of thought never to be heard. 

Without wanting to go all George Orwell, what had become Text-speak has now progressed into Twit-speak and it was frustrating to have these hash-tagged 140 character musings floating around in my mind and no outlet for them. The problem with the immediacy of Twitter is, if you can’t vent your profound Twit at that very moment in time, the thought has no value further down the line. The timeline has changed, its yesterday’s news, no-one cares that you had a hilarious bus anecdote YESTERDAY. 

The thinking in hash-tags is what really alarmed me. It woke me up to the fact that I actually say ‘hashtag’ out loud in normal conversation *eurgh*. It might not be the newspeak Orwell envisaged, but I’m turning into a Twit. The next time I say “hashtag awakward” out loud in a social situation – throw my Blackberry off a cliff. And then me. 

2. Friends are like stars...visible in a Blackout

 The people who are REAL friends and acquaintances i.e. not just social-networking ‘contacts’ will #ShockHorror find other means of reaching you. Those people on your BB contacts who claim to be sad when you’re no longer there – did they pick up the phone or telegram you instead?
Only a handful of the people I would usually tweet, Facebook and BBM found other ways of contacting me – good old-fashioned text being the obvious starting point...and those people are the real people in my life. There even when the lights go out. It was a good to highlight even for a moment that even in this modern world of social technology; we can still maintain traditional friendships and relationships that have more sincerity than anything Blackberry can offer. 

3. Sometimes...a break is nice

Although of course I won’t claim I wouldn’t miss my BB if it was gone for good. Of course I would. When I lost my late Purple Blackberry Curve on a beach in Croatia, it was merely a matter of days before I had replaced it with a brand new shiny version despite having no money and being in a foreign land – what the heart wants, the heart gets!

However, when I was prevented from constantly plugging away at it during the Blackout, I realised that being unplugged had its benefits. I got things done at twice the speed. I could cook without getting grease all over my handse. I could wake up at 3am without being alarmed by a little red light demanding my attention. All of which felt pretty humane. I have spoken before about the inability of the modern world to switch off, and this was a blessed break. Even if we have to be forced to do it, don’t you think sometimes it’s good for us?


To conclude, Blackberry are now ferociously trying to make up for last week’s Blackout by offering free apps to its users and their recovery from the blip is definitely going to make interesting observation, but for now I will say that one sour blackberry isn't the end of the pie, and I hope most will have found the silver lining in the experience, and been reminded of just how sweet we do have it.

22 May, 2011

Shadows Fall Behind You: Running for My Life

 "I always loved running…it was something you could do by yourself, and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs.” – Jesse Owens.
When people ask me why I love to run, I never have one clear answer. I partly run for fitness, partly for pastime, partly because I have that much energy that if I didn’t run it away I would fizz away into the sky. More than this though, I feel like when I’m running, I’m running for my life. I don’t mean I’m forever being chased down the road by a madman angrily wielding a sharp stick, rather I feel like my running is the essence of everything I am and do. In this blog post I am baring my soul a little, and explaining to everyone exactly why running can be so brilliant and why it is by far and away the best thing I ever did.

"Chase Your Passion (Not Your Pension)" - Denis Waitley
Everybody needs something. Something they can depend on to keep them strong when everything else falls apart. Something that will without fail lift their hearts, clear their view and unbound them from the sting of reality, even if it's just for a moment. Our worlds are changeable, unpredictable and perilous, so we need something consistent to fall back to, whether you’re the happiest person in the world or if it’s all you can do to breathe. This something has to be free, immaterial, because you never know when you will have spent your last, and it has to be something you can return to anywhere, anytime, without the need for a single other person. And it has to be yours.

Some are born to sing. Some are born to dance. Some are born to listen. Some are born to search a lifetime for that thing that will see them right. Luckily for me, I found mine just over a year ago. And I can honestly say that whether by pure coincidence or by consequence, since discovering this new passion of mine I have never been happier, more confident, better able to handle the shit life might throw my way and better able to progress in the directions I have always wanted.

Runners High
I first started running just over a year ago, when the chips were very much down. I had been emotionally, physically, mentally, professionally, socially and thus spiritually at absolute breaking point. Some days were pretty Black, and I couldn’t see a way out or up or on. It was, in a word, bleak.

At the beginning of the end of that untidy time, my Mum suggested to me that when I had hit a wall, I should just ‘go for a little run’. Exercise has never failed to have the power to lift me from a slump, even if just ever so slightly. Yet it’s something I had long since forgotten about amidst my turmoil. I’d never, however, had the confidence to run out on the streets, during my insecure university days it seemed daunting and like something only Cameron Diaz should do. But, made bolder my challenges, when my Mummy dearest recommended I give outdoor running a try, I did. And I thank the world every day that I got in from work that day, borrowed my housemates running jacket, re-discovered my trainers and ran…around the block.

That first day I think I managed about ten minutes before I collapsed back through my front door and claimed I had “been for a run”. Standing in the shower after that first run I remember feeling lifted and a bit like I had just said “bring it on” to everything in my world that was difficult at that time. I felt instantly stronger, freer and more confident about who I was. The next day I did the same thing again and the same feeling came back. I was experiencing the buzz of the Runner’s High, and I loved it. Before long I was going out 4 or 5 times a week and over time built up my distance, 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 40 minutes, 1 hour.

Addicted to Pace
It only took a few months for the addiction to really kick in. I would sit at my desk at work craving the time when I could get out on the streets, put my ipod in and pound away my stress, strain and fears. If someone pissed me off at work, I could hammer the pavements and mentally say “f*** you” whilst doing so, and it felt amazing. If something had made me sad it was admittedly harder to gather the strength, but within a few minutes of running my spirits would be lifted and I would remember what was worth caring about. If I was happy, running was a celebration, the icing on my cake of dizzy excitement. If it was sunny I would feel the burn in more ways than one, and if it was raining I would just get absolutely drenched and although my hands would be so cold I could barely hold my ipod, my feeling of strength just got stronger. 

They say one addiction replaces another and I can honestly say that running has since then replaced all other negative focus I might have had. Obsession with my social life has lessened; any dependence on the people in my life has eased and there is no longer room for focus on anything or anyone negative – and if they dare to creep in, I’m straight on the pavements shaking it away again.

When you’re running, you feel yourself getting stronger with every step, feet falling heavily on the ground like you’re putting a physical stamp on the earth and you’re paving your way. You see the world from the outside looking in and consequently see it a little clearer. With each foot that falls to the beat of your playlist, you feel a small achievement. For each steep hill you struggle up, the view at the top is a reward 100 times over. For each park you run round, taking in the scenes and sights (and in my case trying not to fall over fishing rods into dams), you feel your stress fall away and your carefree self return.

For me running isn’t just about fitness or pastime. It’s my detox when I have over-indulged. It’s my head-space away from the world when I’m feeling the strain. It’s something I can do when I want, where I want, for free, independently. It’s where I collect confidence when I’ve taken a hit. It’s where I find perspective when it's lost. It’s how I remember who I am and it’s where I discovered who I want to be.

I know running may not have this affect on everyone and people often tell me I am mental when I say I love running. But in the same way my Dad picks up a guitar and finds himself in a new tune or my friend picks up a brush and paints herself back to life, for me it is running that built my life as it is today. It slowly lifted me out of a pit, and continues to carry me onwards and upwards. Running continues to save me every day (or every other day to be precise).

What a Difference a Year Makes – The Leeds Half
A year later and last weekend I completed my first half marathon. I entered 6 weeks before the date, knowing I was probably a regular enough runner that I would be able to finish, but also knowing that it would still be a massive challenge. In the weeks leading up to the marathon, I trained as best as I could push myself to. I did everything right. Ran, stretched, slept, ran, ate right, ran, cut out (*cut down*) alcohol and compiled a Playlist Paula Radcliffe would pay millions for. Yet despite my preparation, when the day came I was petrified. Not of the running, but of the unknown. Like the first anything, no matter how much you prepare yourself for something, you don’t know until you’ve done it. And that’s terrifying.

My sister dropped me off in Leeds city centre before the race; I happily got out the car, smiled excitedly, said bye, shut the door and…started crying. I opened the door again. “Why are you crying!!!” she laughed, her eyes darting around her, vaguely concerned in case the story she’d been putting to my parents all these years (that I am insane) had actually come true. “I don’t know!” I cried (literally) and resisted the temptation to launch myself back into the passenger seat and indeed declare insanity. I shook myself, laughed to show her I am NOT insane and quickly darted off to the start point before I bottled it. I didn’t bottle it. I ran the distance in a time I was proud of and at the end I felt a sense of momentous achievement I had only half expected to feel.

I know I’m no hero, thousands and thousand and thousands of people run half-marathons, full- marathons, triathlons, 10K’s and other such races all over the country, all year round. And in as much as those people deserve congratulations, my sense of momentous achievement wasn’t because I had run 13 miles. Lots of people run 13 miles all the time. No, my sense of achievement was because as I approached that finish line, with a proud river of sweat pouring down my face and my feet completely detached from my body, I thought about that day when I had first started running. I thought about how my life was then, that bleak moment when I was on the floor, and I looked at how my life is now and how running has, one way or another, helped me turn my world around so completely, so that I’m on a path that just makes me stronger and stronger with every stride. And I can honestly say I have never been so happy.

Thank you

So THANK YOU to everyone who sponsored me and supported me, because while your financial donations are going to DeafBlind UK to support those with this lonely and challenging disability, your support will also continue to, for a very long time, act as a reminder to me as to why I’m really running and what I’m really running for x

27 April, 2011

Prince Harry, T-Mobile and Finding the Rebel in Regal

When I first heard about the engagement between Prince Will and Kate Middleton my reaction was “weren’t they engaged already?!” This response was in part a reflection upon my terrible attention to detail  (I work in PR and read all the newspapers including the Daily Express every day, so there’s no excuse for being out of the Royal loop) but as well as this, I was always totally indifferent to anything going down in the Palace. As far as I am concerned, the Royal Family are like the ornaments in your grandparent’s house – well kept, inoffensive and nice to have on show, but if you take them away no bricks are going to fall down and no one is likely to miss them.

I have no active disrespect towards the Royals, not least since my History teacher at school adorned his classroom high and low with pictures of various Royal Family members, dressed twee in tweed jackets like he thought he might be invited to a Royal gathering at any moment and would rant daily that we “must respect the monarchy!”, drilling the concept into us in his *put-on* posh southern tones. After dealing with that for 5 years, there was no way I could have sustained any insolence towards our regal friends, for fear of being kept in detention if I dared chew gum in front of Prince Charles’ portrait. Yet despite Mr South’s best attempts, I have never really taken an interest in the Royal clan, apart from when my sister did the Queen’s wave at passing vehicles out of the window of my Dad’s car, as we hurled down the M25 every Saturday.

In the run up to the Royal Wedding, since that unsurprising engagement in 2010, I have continued mainly to look the other way. Though as the day has drawn closer it has become harder to avoid – it is unlikely you’ll find a page of media print that hasn’t been defaced by the happy couple, an increasing amount of bizarre Royal Wedding memorabilia has gone on sale and a startling number of the general public are finding Kate’s face in a baked bean or Will’s silhouette on a tree stump (the joys of having to read The Sun). Everybody it seems wants a piece, everybody but me?

Prince Harry and the Royal Blues

My main interest in the Windsor family has only ever been in that unruly Prince Harry. The one who hasn’t got his life mapped out and seemingly isn’t afraid to live outside the Royal Box. If anything, he’s dangling over the edge of it, clutching for reality, like a child reaching for the monkeys through the cages at the zoo. For me, Harry is an almost tangible member of a family who otherwise live so far removed from our own experiences they might as well be gnomes.

When Princess Diana died I wanted to hug him, mainly because he was the smaller of the 2 boys, but also his ginger-ness was clear for all to see – this lad was never going to be able to get away with anything less than Factor 35, destined to a life under a parasol. Years later, when Harry was forced to return home from the army, unable to serve his country in Afghanistan due to his high-value/high-risk status, I wanted to hug him again. This time partly because he was demonstrating a muscular physique no-one ever expected him to achieve (is it a divine right of Prince’s that they shall go forth and blossom into a ripped Adonis?) but also because I felt for him and his inability to live out his passions. I have always thought that although being, ya know, a Prince admittedly has its advantages – they inherit a pretty good estate/royal wedge with their Grandma’s face on it, the Queen’s got their back and they have a tool for wooing women that other men only ever see in Disney – at the same time the Prince’s pay a price they didn’t choose, every day of their lives.

Both William and Harry are bound by their duties every single day, are forever isolated from the rest of their generation and will never, ever, ever be just common Eton lads.  While Will has succumbed to this life and finds himself about to marry one bang-tidy lady and the people’s actual Princess (no that isn’t you Cheryl Cole), Harry seems to be struggling more with the Royal chains.

When my friend met Harry on a night out in London a few years ago, she told him off for smoking, because she felt he was doing his role as a role model a huge injustice. That probably pissed him off royally and forced him to check in with his conscience that night, something that doubtless happens to him a fair bit. So when in 2005 Harry got into trouble for donning a Nazi uniform on a fancy dress night out with his mates (2 weeks before the Queen was due to lead the UK’s Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations #FAIL) I felt all the more sorry for him and slightly wanted to applaud him. Yes it was a careless, insensitive act of rebellion and his PR team had a nightmare on their hands, but suddenly Harry was relatable, fun and a little bit risqué.  This was a Royal male I could get on board with. It’s a while since I have believed in Princes, but since then I have believed in Harry, not least because he is now my last chance to be a princess and thus restore my faith in Aladdin.

Conforming by Rebellion

Akin to the time I have for Prince Harry, my interest in the Royal Wedding was always going to be minimal until it showed me something I could relate to. Despite my eagerness to see Harry rock up to the service stoned, my initial impression of the whole affair was of long boring ceremonies, Kate being put on an unrealistic pedestal never to be taken down, forced patriotism and news story after news story after news story. My heart said “whatever” and my mouth followed suit. Yet to my surprise, although for me this sentiment still reigns, from the moment I heard “national bank holiday” and read Cosmo’s feature on how to get Kate’s face, Kate’s body AND Kate’s style (err, okay then) I kind of discovered a Royal Wedding I could get involved in and finally gave it a tiny second thought. Like a child bribed by sweets, suddenly Kate & Wills had my attention, ever so slightly.

I have gradually departed from my original values and admittedly have found myself wondering what Kate’s dress will look like. Uh-oh! I have bookmarked a “Royal Wedding Drinking Game” in Glamour (drink one finger for every metre of Kate’s train, down a shot every time Prince Phillip looks like he might be thinking something racist, have a sherry every time you spot the queen etc). I have actually considered going to various Royal Wedding themed BBQ’s and parties, something that up until a few weeks ago I was adamant I would NOT because it was boring, hypocritical and I had better things to do. But drinking games and bunting? I never was one to turn down a party…

In part the slight collapse of my principles can be blamed on the gradual erosion of any resilience by the relentless press and the endless Royal Wedding Facebook and Twitter updates , but it can also be put down to the fact I finally found some down-to-earth entertainment in the affair. No I am not patriotic and really I don’t think my life will change at all for the fact we have a new Princess in our midst’s, but fun is my weakness and if this royal union means an extra day off work, free BBQ chicken and a new reason to have a cocktail, then who am I to snub it?

My full conversion came at the weekend when this T-Mobile viral leaked online and the occasion I had initially deemed to be totally dull and irrelevant to me and mine, suddenly took a turn for the amusing.

Much like my interest in Harry, my curiosity regarding the wedding this Friday was only realised when I eventually found in it something fun, relatable and a little bit rebellious.

I may not watch the wedding this Friday with my British flag spice girls dress on and God Save the Queen playing on a loop in the next room, but I’m more than happy to raise a glass to the happy couple the night before, take that free day off work thank you Queenie and scan the crowd of attendees, commenting on their hats and hoping to see Harry staggering in late, with the ring stuck somewhere awful. Royal Cheers.

10 April, 2011

The Summer of all Fears

Yesterday the centre of Sheffield city was swarming with floral dresses, gladiator sandals, over-sized sunglasses and thousands of pairs of pale, unprepared legs – unprepared to have overnight been tugged out of those trusty skinny jeans that saw us through from October to now and into last summers short shorts that we’re now thinking perhaps look a bit like maybe we should have left them to Kate Moss.

The above scene can only mean one thing – Summer has made it’s first appearance and citizens of the UK are excited. Ice-creams? Hurrah! Beer gardens? Yes please! Holidays? Flights are filling faster than my wine glass on a sunny day. Festivals? The line-ups are being announced, the early-bird tickets are a thing of the Spring past and we can’t go on Facebook without seeing the following status “[insert infamous festival name] Booked!” taunting those who have not.

However, beneath all this excitement, deep down inside the bottom of every Summer 2011 debut Mr Softy cone, I sense panic. For as much as we love the summer and embrace all that it represents with open arms, there is the fear that we are unprepared and that those open arms may in fact be badly dressed bingo wings that frankly should never see the light of day. In amongst other summer related fears, this is enough to make us wish we’d had just a little more warning…From bingo wings to bankruptcy, here are my four summer fears and how I have learnt to combat them.

Out and proud
Having hibernated inside with winter comfort food and warmed our cockles with too much alcohol over the festive season, and well into the “New” Year, cellulite counts are probably higher than one would want to find on a beach. As a result, my room has for the past week resembled a jumble sale, as I have tossed clothes out of my wardrobe and into an abyss, in a bid to find anything appropriate for this glorious weather. Anything that doesn’t make me feel like a giant mound of mozzarella trying to pass itself off as a girl in a frock. I don’t need a dress; I need dressing and a side of tomatoes.

Yet while sat in amongst the heap of garments, colouring my life like unwanted bunting, I realised that it isn’t the cutesy dresses and tees that aren’t right. It’s the pasty legs and untoned tummy hoping to parade them. Nothing a nice tan and a few weeks on the salad can’t fix. But we don’t have a few weeks, people, summer starts NOW and those BBQ’s won’t wait for no man. For me, there is only one thing for it – straight into Boots to frantically clear the shelves of Johnson’s Holiday Skin and then next door (literally) to HMV for the Davina DVD. No we won’t necessarily look like Jessica Alba by next weekend, but it’s a start, right?

April is the cruelest Month (T.S. Eliot, 1922)

So for another year we have had a taste of what life would be like if we lived in Australia, California, Spain…or anywhere that isn't the UK and seemingly has year-round sunshine. We have sampled a life of parks and happy bus drivers and smiling children and joyful bosses. And we’re terrified, because we know all too well that when April comes along and offers us a delightful splashing of sunshine, it is just a matter of time before the clouds close on our yellow friend and we’re sent plummeting back into April showers and “unsettled” weather. Unsettled indeed! A mere euphemism for an unpredictable collaboration of cloud and drizzle. If you’re going to break our hearts, Weather Man, at least have the decency to be honest with us.

I don’t want to burst anyone’s sunny bubble, but as a fan of the 5-day forecast, I know all too well how quickly he taketh away and I am prepared for the flip flops to go back under my bed for a little while longer.
Looking on the bright side, this does negate my first flabby fear – I like to see the April “summer” as a preview, or moreover a warning. This is what you and your bare legs need to be prepared for, my friends, says the man in the sky. So now we have a little while longer to crunch the living daylights out of our abs, hand-wash those linen dresses and pursue an interest in Fake Tan (just remember, Fake it Don’t Bake it) until our real summer rolls around.

The working Summer

When the summer comes along, it is a wonderful parade of BBQ’s, beer gardens, park-based gatherings, long lazy lunches, road trips, festivals and holidays. Great when you are a student, have all the time in the world and are still sponging free money, but now we are all grown-up, how are we going to fit in a job around all these exciting activities? When the world is outside supping and sunning, it is highly inconvenient to be trapped in the confines of 9-5.

It is easy to be professional during the winter time, when there isn’t much calling you away from your desk other than a comfy sofa and a hot chocolate. So we’re pretty happy to put in the hours at work instead, because at least we don’t pay for the heating at there (every cloud). It is a little harder now however, when there are 9,781 massive reasons to be outside and just 1 small reason to be indoors – your job. With each BBQ we miss and each sunny drink we pass up in favour of hitting the gym to prepare an Ibiza body, it becomes more of a struggle to stay strong.

The bitter-sweet Summer issues us with a constant conflict of interests – the sunshine beckons us and begs us to go play, but more than ever we need the extra money to do so (hello job) and the confidence to wear a bikini (hello gym). For there is really no point in going out to play if you have 10p to your name and refuse to change out of your boiler suit, sat uncomfortably under a gazebo insisting you just like being dressed in head to toe black in 35 degrees.

So the summer scares me somewhat, as it is the Apple to my Eve. However, I have found ways of assimilating my professional lifestyle with the temptations of the outside world. By bringing summer indoors. If like me you’re lucky enough to have a relaxed employer, who advocates summer attire, lunchtime BBQ’s and an endless supply of diet coke, then you’re halfway there already. Wearing flip -flops at your desk, walking around bare foot (no I don’t, Health & Safety) and swishing around the office in a pretty skirt makes you feel instantly more summery. Browsing the Topshop summer range online (under the supervision of your line manager) in office hours is also a great way to make sure you’re not missing out.

As well as dressing for the occasion, I like to plug into Radio 1 of a working afternoon so that I can have a dance at my desk and keep in mind all the fabulous music I am going to experience at my chosen summer festivals. I have also found pinning up half-naked images of Matthew McConaughey strolling out of the sea in and around the work space is an effective means of living the dream within the confines of reality. If the Mountain won’t come to Mohammed…

So much to do, such a perilous credit card…
From about March of each year, you can’t go online without being reminded of the thousands of possibilities for your summer. Pop-up ads from EasyJet offering to send you off to a glorious beach somewhere for 99p. Emails from those devilish Ticket Masters painting pictures of fantastic live music in the beautiful sunshine. Invites from friends for holidays, festivals and other summery treats. Seriously Eve couldn’t say no to an APPLE and we’re supposed to be restrained with all this??

However, the reality for most is that with limited free time and funds, we need to be selective with the events we commit ourselves to, and consequently a wave of panic ripples through us as we invites come flooding in and we wonder in alarm which one, WHICH ONE!? Do you go to Glastonbury with the rest of the world armed with Hunter’s, a car full of crates and some dry shampoo? Or do you head to a beach in Eastern Europe, where the sun is pretty much guaranteed and beer is half the price? As excited I am for the festival season, a small part of me wilts inside when I have to say “No” to the mass of other potentials that I’ll do “another year”…

However, as much as the initial panic and confusion sends us crazy trying to decide what to do and when, I have found that once the decision has been made, the flights have been booked and the excitement built, we don’t care what else is going on in the rest of the world because we know OURS will be the best time ever, and it doesn’t matter if U2 will be headlining or not…Decision is the sweetest thing and once it’s played its part, its all systems go and what follows is weeks and weeks to get excited for what will be the festival or holiday of a lifetime.

Oh Summer, I Love You!

30 March, 2011

"Fiction Reveals Truth that Reality Obscures": Can't Read, Won't Read

I have discovered, over the past few years, in my post-graduate frenzy, that I cannot read.

I mean, I can read – I have a degree in English Literature and a subscription to Cosmo (guess which I’m most proud of), both of which would be a small struggle without the reading badge on my Brownie’s sash. What I am referring to is my loss of ability to let a book consume me, my thoughts and my emotions, to the point I entirely forget about the real world, what time it is or what I have on tomorrow.

This is a girl who grew up reading her Mum’s Marian Keyes’ and taking books onto the beach or into the garden escape teenage trials and tribulations. It is a sad realisation that the last time I read a book cover to cover was on holiday in the summer. Two summers ago.

When my friend agreed the other day that she also can no longer relax enough to read, I concluded that my own experience is in fact a fairly universal tragedy of our generation. A poignant calamity for the people who have grown up reading with Big Bird, listening to Jackanory and anxiously awaiting the next Topsy & Tim.

So what has become of us when we can no longer sit down with Harry Potter, Dumbledore, the invisible cloak and a couple *HUNDREDS* of Hobnobs, without wanting to focus our attention elsewhere?

Social Media (again)

Facebook, Twitter, 4-Square, BlogSpot, LinkedIn…with so many social networking sites to update, monitor, check in on and report back to, is it any wonder our precious little spare time is now spent checking for messages, notifications, posts, comments, likes and tags, rather than flicking through to find out if Darcy ever gets a bloody grip?

Not only do these social sites increasingly consume our time, but they provide effortless and instant entertainment with minimal thinking required. They’re free, accessible at any time/from anywhere, they don’t require their own storage facility and you wont find squashed spiders between the pages (unless you’re on some dodgy insect forum), so why wouldn’t we reallocate our time to these virtual monsters, instead of going cross eyed from trying to understand what the hell George Orwell’s on about?

However, this is not good. For although social networking sites fill our time perfectly adequately, definitely tell their own story (and not even fiction, in these gems you have your very own online docu-soap) and provide hours of entertainment (why read about Mr Darcy when you can stalk his modern-day counterpart on Twitter *Ashton Kutcher @APLUSK* 24 hours a day?) they are still a social past-time. They can’t replace the indispensable solitude of reading – which, for me, is wherein the remedial aspect of it lies. 
Reading - the best state yet to keep absolute loneliness at bay.  ~William Styron
My Mum (the wisest woman in the whole wide world luckily for me) says social networking sites are like being at a “constant party” (although she obviously wants to attend as she has for few years now “had a wall”.) On the flip side, reading is like knowing when it’s time to just settle down, get down from the table, retrieve your bra from the chandelier, climb out of the cage and go the HELL home from the party (which apparently is in Charlie Sheen’s basement). Which we all need to do sometimes.

Mark Zuckerberg recently claimed that “people no longer expect privacy, it is no longer a social norm”, highlighting this all-sharing, anti-solitary nature of today’s society, encouraged by the likes of Facebook. The problem for my little social networking generation is we’ve all been at the party far too long and we no longer know any different. We’re mad for the next hit and we won’t let any new John Grisham stop us from getting it. Book shelf? Isn’t that where people keep their dust?

Smart Tech

Subsequent to the social networking sites distracting us from our poor neglected paperbacks, are the blackberry’s, iphones, laptops and ipads that allow us constant and instant access to our virtual entertainment centre ALL DAY LONG. On the occasions that I do try and focus on something other than life’s never-ending social gathering, I find it impossible not to pick up my Blackberry (with which I have a love hate relationship) every few minutes and look for that little red indicator, telling me I have an email, a Facebook notification, a text or a Tweet. And it taunts me, daring me to resist the temptation of finding out who, what, when, where, instead of proceeding to the next chapter. And increasingly that taunting red indicator wins.

I used to be able to regulate when I check my Facebook, but Smart Phones and the like give us social technology on tap, like a drug. And like a pesky child who we have inadvertently adopted they demand our attention and dare us to ignore them. When was the last time you went to the cinema and didn’t check your phone half way through or find yourself sat next to the person who keeps looking at theirs every 5 minutes, responding to their notifications right in the middle of Colin Firth’s coronation?  There is no room for books in a world where 28% of young adults check their Facebook from their SmartPhone the minute they wake up.  

I think Steve Jobs was in part trying to reconcile the discrepancy between old-school and modern day entertainment values with the rather desperate launch of the ipad, as you’re supposed to be able to read a book ON said pad, therefore eliminating the guilt-ridden decision to switch on your latest godly Apple device rather than finish a chapter. But really, come on, what is ACTUALLY the point? That’s like saying “No need to buy a real chocolate bar, because we can teleport unto you tiny chocolate particles through the screen, which you can then capture individually and enjoy with quite a lot of difficulty. And we will charge you $499 for the privilege.” How do you like that, Apple?

If ever we do switch off our “smart” devices in a manic act of defiance, the chances are we will run screaming back to the little imp within hours. “I’m sorry Blackberry Curve 3850, I didn’t mean it! Nothing compares to your ability to multiple-notify me! Life with you is a whole App World!” and we sigh with relief when we tap in and find the universe is still at our fingertips and no we haven’t been banished from the world’s everlasting social event.
The last time I read a book cover to cover I was by a lake in the south of France, where I had no signal for a week. And I absolutely loved it.

Choice and indecision

Today’s consumer culture means that we are overwhelmed by choice and decision throughout our whole decision-making lives. What sweets do I choose with my pocket money? What dress do I buy for my birthday party? Which car will pick up the most girls? Which toothpaste will give me a Cheryl Cole smile? What channel can I watch without relentlessly mouthing the words because I have seen it fifty times before (hint NOT e4)? We are presented with choice, opportunity and pressure to decide in everything that we do, everywhere we go, all day long.

This is a modern day concept fairly new to a society overwhelmed by consumerism. “When I was your age, we just had our favourite jeans and a few tops from Tammy Girl” my Mum tells me, whereas me and my friends pretty much have a new outfit for every occasion – a material example of our choice-ridden social existence.

In a world so sunken by variety, is it any wonder books get such a little look-in? As a friend asked me the other day “If its bedtime, you’re knackered, and you have the choice between watching Friends on your laptop or tackling Ivanhoe – you know what you’re not going to do.”   

Restless Minds

When I was at uni I rarely made it through a whole book. Given my course was English Lit, it may be concerning that I graduated. I could read poems no problem, even short stories and plays. But an entire book? Oh My Lady Jesus no. I had time enough, I probably could have whizzed through the entire reading list for all the universities in the Northern hemisphere with a bit of focus. But to read a WHOLE BOOK would require actual concentration.

The reason for my inability to concentrate I have since been able to put down to the fact that I was restless, discontent and unable to focus my mind on anything real, so caught up was I in superficial distractions, chasing after unsuitable suitors and co-ordinating (or as the pictures tell me, NOT co-ordinating) outfits, instead of chilling the hell out with Shakespeare. My course friend, however, was pretty content, confident, secure, able to switch off from university life, and consequently could plough through narrative at the speed of light. 

In order to read, I think, most people will probably find they need to be to some extent relaxed and have some peace of mind. You see people tapping furiously away on laptops looking like they might explode. You see people swearing into their mobiles whilst stiffly checking their watch. But how often do you see someone furiously reading a paper-back on the train, huffing and puffing with each leaf-turn, blaspheming at the pages?

The restlessness of the modern world rarely sees us in a fit state to just chill out, rest on our laurels (whatever that means) and kick back with the Montague’s and the Cap’s. We have too many dramas of our own to even begin to devote any time to the absurdities of Oscar Wilde and co. In order to sit, read and let our minds wander into the pages, we basically need to be a little bit chilled out already, and a little bit stress-free – something that is becoming as rare as a straight man who hasn’t fallen in love with Glee.


It no longer seems to be the case that we cannot leave our work at work (surprising when we carry our emails to bed in our Blackberry’s), and leave the day behind us with Richard and Judy’s latest bestseller. There are too many distractions, too many other options and a novel of other real-life concerns.  In a busy, scheduled, up-tight society obsessed with their Twitter following, how are we ever going to have the peace of mind to get through Middlemarch?

09 March, 2011

Moving cornerstones: Home is where I Hang my Miss Selfridge Babydoll Dress. And my Running Shoes. And my Photographs...

"We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things, because we're curious and curoisty keeps leading us down new paths" - Walt Disney

Last weekend I moved house. And not for the first time. In the 6 years I have lived in Sheffield I have had five experience-drama-fun-and-tears-filled addresses. No stranger am I to packing in a semi-orderly fashion, begging for boxes from the nearest Spar, throwing unidentifiable items into bin liners and loading up a car (usually my sisters) with speed, efficiency and a stomach full of excited expectation for pastures untainted.

For I am a bit boho. Or just a plain damn hippy as my friends would probably say. I love to keep moving and with each year that I learn from my lessons and mature from my mistakes, I find my environment needs to change to reflect the progress I am making in my life. And with each move I’ve made, I’ve taken huge steps upwards.  I love moving on to fresh places, places that bring things better fitted to my ever-changing needs – the excitement and the challenge of it feeds my restless spirit.

 That said, moving house inevitably has its downside. Each time you move postcodes, how ever near or far, you displace the whole centre point of you life. You leave a place of memories and familiarity, where your photographs have been lovingly put in place, your shoes have found a home at the foot of your bed and gradually over time you have built yourself an absolute personal haven, one that both reflects and encompasses the very essence of you. You tread your way around that haven for months, years and, for some, decades, so that your personality and your home almost blend into one.  So when you leave that sanctuary and step into the unknown – new faces, new memories to be made, new pavements to be trodden and an entirely different branch of Co-op to navigate – it is no small step for anyone.

For me though, one so accustomed to changing settings, I have discovered things about myself in the process of a million moves and as I grow more adapted to moving house and to the feeling of being away from my previous home, I learn how better to adjust myself to my new surroundings, I discover the marks I need etch in order to map my territory. But it hasn’t always been that way...

“I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore”
I vividly remember my very first home away from home, my small student room in the university flats. That first day I wanted to cry, that first night I wanted to run home, that first week I couldn’t sleep in this strange room that was not mine (I’m not referring to Freshers’ mischief) and that first month I reluctantly and gradually learnt the ropes of house-sharing with people from all walks of life (and with differing levels of personal hygiene – eurgh). It took me months to feel comfortable and “at home” in that place, and to be honest I’m not sure I ever did settle there, there wasn’t long enough before I was off again.

With each house-move that has followed that slightly traumatic first one, I have adapted a little quicker, a little easier, a little lighter on my heart and a little less stressful in my mind. This is partly because as you get older you simply get used to these things that at first seem daunting (like the first time you walk to school by yourself; that big scary feeling isn’t going to still be there when you’re still walking to school 6 years later), but it’s also down to understanding more about yourself, and to some extent being able to carry your ready made “home” with you everywhere you go, making any place “home” straight from the tin, by simply bringing to it the essence of yourself. 

The reason I was so disorientated moving into my first university flat is partly because I was just plain home-sick (being the mummy’s girl that I am...and a daddy’s girl too for that matter), but it was also massively because I didn’t know how I was supposed to live out my world without all the cornerstones of my life that I had become dependent on.  I didn’t know what clothes suited me (no really, I did NOT!) or what music I actually enjoyed, what I wanted from my future and from my friends, what my values were or how I should deal with and react to the rest of the world. I had to go and put my own big stamp on things and I did not have a clue where to start. I had no centre point to my life, as I was yet to start building it. There was no “home” inside me, apart from the one I had left behind at my family home in St Albans. Poor little me!

Fast forward 6 years, 5 moves, several hundred housemates and a very worn out suitcase, and I know enough about the Hannah-ness of me to know what I am, who I am, the kind of person I want to be (until I become Mrs Mark Ruffalo anyway, but that’s all in good time) and what is important to me. So now I can up shoes and go anywhere, and those things will remain, my character will remain and wherever I go my home will follow me.

Home is where the…hummus is?
During my most recent move, 4 short days ago, I realised that the things I need to have sorted instantly and quickly in any new place, in order for it to feel like home, are the following:

1. My (beautiful) collection of dresses hanging in my (almost-walk-in) wardrobe
2. My laptop set up complete with Twitter, Facebook, itunes and Skype (whoever knew I liked music and speaking to my friends.  Maverick)
3. A running route mapped out and completed at least once (by me)
4. My priceless photographs of my beautiful family and friends
5. Hummus in my fridge

Apparently, as long as I have these five things in place when i set up in my new houses, I am 99% of the way “home”.  Although these listed items might sound shallow (or in one instance just plain greedy), what they actually each do is reflect the different sides of my personality, what I value in my life and the things I rely on to stay grounded. Yes, chickpeas keep me grounded, deal with it.

If someone asked me what I would take to a desert island, I wouldn’t say these things. I would say diet coke on tap or my mum or Russell Howard.
"But if someone ever asks me what “home“ means to me, I will have no hesitation in saying 'the latest Topshop Tea dress and a vat of mashed up chickpeas'.
Because apparently that is the truth of it. For now anyway. This list will alter as I get older – I will be unable to still run and therefore will be too fat for my pretty dresses, I will be sick of hummus and fed up of Facebook/my friends (absolutely no signs of the latter happening) and my pretty pink laptop will just die with my youth…

So I have discovered along my changeable road, within the 4 walls of my many rooms, that for me the idea of “home” - although literally defined by the room, house or flat in which you live and the people you live with - is actually an internal concept, something that manifests itself in tangible objects, unique to and representative of the lovely you who you are. 

Wherever you go, whoever you live with, whether you live in a palace or in a skanky little flat above a Chinese...What are the five things that make your house your most valuable home?

15 February, 2011

The Mid Twenties Crisis: When Your Best Friend's Turning 25....

"All the crazy shit I did tonight, those will be my best memories” – David Guetta

This weekend I’m going to be celebrating the 25th birthday of one of my very best friends in the whole wide world. And I am excited. Not just for the event itself, but because of the significance the occasion holds for me. Niall, said birthee, is someone who I have known from the very first day I left home and moved into my university flat, just a little innocent (ish) 19 year old, full of expectation and high hopes for my life. I’d seen the movies, I’d read the magazines, I knew how it was all going to pan out, and I was excited then too. Niall moved into the bedroom next to me in halls and that was the start of two unyielding friends beginning an incredible journey, one that continues today and will carry on for hopefully a long time to come.

Since that day in September 2005, Niall and I have been through more, done more, seen more, cried more (mainly on my part), laughed more (mainly on my part) and changed more than I ever could have imagined we could in 6 years. We’ve had birthdays and graduations, holidays good and bad, festivals in the rain and barbecues in the sun, we’ve travelled across Europe via train, tried unsuccessfully to get drunk under-age in New York and we’ve watched the sunset (slash narrowly avoided a Tsunami) on a perfect beach in Sri Lanka. We’ve seen each other reach the highest highs with new jobs, opportunities and relationships, and we’ve helped each through heart-wrenching lows, when sometimes life has thrown a bullet. We’ve learnt to treasure our lives as we’ve sadly known two friends pass away and we’ve at times had to remind each other how lucky and blessed we are to have all the opportunities that we do.

So next weekend feels big to me, Niall’s big 2-5, because I look back at everything we’ve been through since we were young(er) and fearless, with all the other friends who have passed through our lives in that time, and I realise how exactly nothing today is as I expected it would be back on that day we first met. And for the past few weeks I haven’t been able to help wondering if the decisions I’ve made since spreading my wings have been the right ones, and I’ve often asked the resounding question “is my life as it should be?”. I have recently and reluctantly come to know of this time in my life as The Mid-Twenties Crisis (MTC), the Quarter Life Panic, the Half Way to Thirty (well, fifty) state of SHEER ALARM.

“To be old and wise, you must first be young and stupid”

My 25th birthday will follow Niall’s in a few months time, and I have to admit I’m finding it daunting. At nearly-25 do I feel like I have done everything right or have I missed opportunities? Should I feel more like an “actual grown-up” than I do? Should I still need my parents as much as I do? Should I have seen more of the world? Should I stop reaching for my dreams and compromise with reality? The ‘25’ land mark has for me drummed up so many questions, a hint of regret, doubt, wonderment and a heart load of fear.

Interestingly, approximately 99%* of my friends who are my age have voiced to me the exact same thoughts over the past few months. I’ve friends doubting their career choices, their relationships, their decision to travel, the fact that they remain living with their parents, their plans for the future, their plan to not have a plan, their ever-changing friendships and even their hair colour. “Am I doing it right though Han? Are you SURE I wasn’t better blonde? Or mahogany?!” I’ve friends abroad wondering if they should move back to England. I have friends wondering if they should be travelling “while we still can!” Because apparently at 25 you just STOP LIVING.

Christ. It’s like the quarter-life crisis tidal wave is sweeping its way across my contemporaries and we’re powerless to avoid it. The irony is, all of us are doing such diverse things and are at such different places in our lives, yet none of us feel 100% sure we’re where we “should” be. And those who are so sure – when did you get so cocky?

“Without parents to defy, we break the rules we make for ourselves” – Meredith Grey (Grey’s Anatomy)

I blame the crisis on the lack of “should” ness about being 24, 25, 26…Up until around the time we leave university, our society generally gives us a really strong sense of what we “should” be doing. At 16 we “should” be studying for our GCSE’s, at 17 we “should” be taking A-Levels or pursuing a vocation at college, at 18 we “should” be fleeing off to university or starting our first job. Obviously the “shoulds” of your life depend largely on your up-bringing, heritage and culture, but for me and most of my friends we took the university ticket (and what an expensive night that was) and had 3 whole years to fester in our own alcohol sweat until kicking out time. We’re turfed out all too soon from student universe, bearing still no understanding of real life and a massive stamp of expectation, we realise we “should” get a job or go travelling and we most likely did one or the other, or both. 

Now here we find ourselves, mid-20’s, having done all that we percieve we “should” and wondering…what next? What should we do now? Hello…? Is anyone there…? Muuuummmm….! Daaaaaad...! But unfortunately, although they may still have ultimate control over the biscuit tin, our parents no longer have the answer for us.

I have realised during my few weeks as a sufferer of the MTC, that there definitly is no “should” anymore and there's definitly no limits. For, at 24, I have friends who are married, I have friends who couldn’t think of anything worse, I have friends who are still travelling like hobos, I have friends who are quickly and successfully hitting goals in their careers, I have friends who have moved literally to the other side of the world and I have friends who haven’t left their childhood bedroom. None of them are wrong, because the mid-twenties are the limbo years. The world is at our feet, we only take on as much or as little responsibility as we like and we know that every choice we make now will drastically shape our future. This is why we’re all of a sudden running around our pens like headless chickens, trying to do everything, anything, to avoid the dreaded nothing. We’re like a school of sea-life frantically swimming upstream having suddenly lost out guiding light, the tide takes us off to different shores and we’re just not all in the same boat anymore. And that’s scary. Is it any wonder that we’re all of a sudden questioning everything?

“As we grow better, we meet better people” – Elbert Hubbard

For each of my friends who have expressed their own doubts and fears to me over the past few months, I have had a different but real answer. One friend has questioned if she should continue to live it up abroad, where she’s been for the past few years, as she feels maybe its time to join the “real world”. “What’s the 'real' world?” I ask her. “Surely you’re living your life there just the same as I’m living my life here, you’re just seeing more of the world as you do it. That’s real.” On the opposite end of the scale, another friend isn’t sure she should stay put in the hometown we grew up in, with the boyfriend she’s been with her whole adult life, in case there’s “more.” And I tell her she has everything, hat most people couldn't hope to have before they're 30, and she should just enjoy it.

I’m not lying to either of them, alhough they're such extremes, they are both doing what’s right, because there is no collective “should” for us now. And the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can stop panicking/panic-buying/over-committing/booking one way tickets around the world out of some kind of fear we’re not on the right track, forever running after something that actually has to come from inside.

For it isn’t where you are, what you’re doing or how much you earn that validates whether or not you’re going in the “right” direction. Anyone can sign a contract to live anywhere, anyone can within reason put their mind to any job (I am not for one second assuming I could be a neurosurgeon. I accept that I probably could not) and anyone can up sticks and go off around the world in search of completion, touching as many landmarks as they can along the way.

But I have realised from speaking to each of my friends (and sometimes to myself – more so since the MTC) that these aren’t the things that make our lives ‘successful’ or worth our own weight in gold. It is the people in our lives who are testament to how successful or happy we are. It is the people we meet along the way and their ability to support us, love us and validate our worth – they are what reflect the value of who we are. And I can’t help looking back on my life to date and feeling extremely proud of the amazing friends I have recruited along the way – a circle that grows and grows with each new move that I make (although there have been some painful filtering processes!) – and the wonderful relationships I have built with my family.

It is these things for me that show me who I am – I could be anywhere, doing anything, being anyone, but these are the people I will care about, come back to, call when something amazing happens and run to when the chips are down. So what if we haven’t a clue what we’re supposed to be doing from one day to the next year, right through until the day we die? We have a permanent home in the form of the brilliant people in our lives (if you’ve earnt it!) and that is what it’s all about (to answer Alfie’s resounding question.)

Happy Birthday Niall x

It is friends like Niall who make my life full, colourful and as valuable as I could ever have hoped it would be. We will continue to have different jobs, homes, relationships, trials, obstacles, successes and set-backs, but Niall and my other good friends, along with my family, will remain a constant. So (mid-twenties crisis permitting) I will be buying Niall a drink on his 25th birthday, wishing with all my heart for him to have a happy day and wondering where we’ll be in another 6 years. And I am so, so excited for the journey ahead. Hopefully my experiences have made me better equipped than I was back on that scary, exciting day aged 19. But if I’m not? Bring it on, I will no doubt give life one hell of a challenge in return and with any luck I will have a mid-life crisis to write home about.

So stop having that crisis my mid-twenties friends! Go out there and be who you are and do the things that make you happy every day, forget about “should”. I’ve healed you in one blog post.

*made up statistic