15 July, 2013

Being a 20's scholar - would you go back?

This Buzz Feed (courtesy of Pink Little Bean) got me to thinking of all the ways in which my life has changed since my early 20’s. These changes are not small. The difference between 22 and 27 is vast. This was most apparent to me when I lived with a girl 4 years my junior – either she was juvenile or I had grown up and got sensible at the speed of light. I think it was both. 

My friends and I have chatted a lot recently about we can now no longer stay out past about midnight unless fuelled heavily by coffee and the promise of 2am pizza. Whenever I find myself saying yet again how I miss the days of being able to rave ‘til dawn no worries, my mind flashes back to that episode of Friends where Ross, Joey & Chandler realise they are now 29 and can no longer party like they did with Gandalf. I used to watch that episode and think ‘of course you don’t go out anymore, you are OLD’. Never did I think I would see this day myself - 27 and tired. 

Apart from my inability to stay awake upon raving, there are countless other ways I have changed.

Then & Now

This sums up my 22's

When I was 22, saving money was out of the question. Mainly because I was on a salary fit for a legal dispute and could barely afford to eat, but also because I didn’t understand why one would keep money they could spend? 

My week used to work towards Friday nights out, now I look forward to (hangover free) Saturday mornings

I ran around trying to please everyone, now I please myself

I prioritised fun, now I prioritise family

I used to think that skinny equalled attractive, now I know strong and comfortable in your own skin is beautiful

I used to lose ½ a stone in 1 week, now I’m lucky if I don’t put that on in a day

My fridge consisted of wine, diet lemonade and crumpets. Now I have a glorious selection of fruit, meats, cheeses, GOOD wine, and low fat yoghurt

Going to work on one hours sleep, still drunk, was bearable. Now, if I get anything less than my 8 hours I JUST CANNOT COPE

I didn’t know myself. Now I do. (Not as in #youbetterknowyourself of Big Brother 7)

I thought pink shiny miniskirts suited me. I don’t need to finish this sentence.

I craved what I didn't have, now I am just so grateful for what I do have

I am in control of my own life

I now know what real life stress is. Boo. 

I now know what real life confidence is. Yay! 

So would you go back?  

Some of these changes have been timely and deliberate – I wanted to detox from years of 5am bedtimes and sinking 2 bottles of wine before leaving for the bar. I wanted to live somewhere that ‘bedtime’ didn’t mean ‘by all means hoover your room at 1am on a school night’ and more than that I wanted to wake up and feel ready to be a powerful career woman goddammit! I didn’t want to take naps in the disabled toilet at work anymore. 

Yet some of these changes have been less fun. Sometimes I wish I didn’t want to sleep as much as I do, sometimes I wish I could lose my holiday weight by just ‘staying off bread’ and ignoring cake, sometimes I wish I could still get away with a pierced belly button, sometimes I wish my hangovers did not last 48 hours, and sometimes I wish the bags under my eyes weren’t quite so permanent. 

All the tricky things about evolving into the late 20’s seem to be physical. Our spare tyres are more prominent, our crow’s feet are starting to show and vodka stays in our system for what seems like a week and a half. But you know what? I would never, ever, EVER, go back.

I would never trade the confidence I have now, my better sense of style, my many and varied interesting interests (not just drinking!), the excitement of my friends getting married, the salary that actually allows me to feed, my Cosmo (soon to be Good Housekeeping) subscription, my Filofax, the understanding of my body and what healthy means, the ability to say ‘it’s okay I will drive, I’m not drinking’ and not feel any remorse, the ability to accept people’s differences, the patience of not a saint but of something better than I was, the permanently stocked fridge, the labour of love that is my baking cupboard, the man I wake up to every day, the shoes that aren’t stinking/broken/from Primark, the ability to willingly save money for a rainy day, the buzz I get from things like watching a boxset or buying a new moisturiser, the utter knowledge that it really is their loss – whoever they may be. The belief that I AM ALRIGHT, instead of I AM A MESS.

I would never trade that. I would never go back to the anguish and setbacks we suffered whilst we learnt our lessons and found our way. I am much happier here thank you, a 20’s scholar, a 30’s undergrad waiting patiently for the big 3-0 to arrive and bombard us with a whole new set of rules. Oh goodness, please be kind!



12 July, 2013

Mindfulness, Head Space & learning to live in the present

Meditation is often associated with monks in mountains and despite the fact both my parents are open to it and have practiced it, I only first started ‘getting into’ mediation myself at the start of this year. Now I have dabbled my feet in the waters of relaxation a little, I am desperate to report back.

Why me-ditate?

Like some of my contemporaries, I am a strange contradiction of a girl in that I am essentially a ‘happy person’, very easily pleased and able to find happiness in seriously mundane things. Like, nothing makes me happier than eating a big sandwich or just being on a bus. Anything more exciting and I am basically in euphoria. As you can imagine, euphoria is a common theme for me. This ability to find happiness in the everyday, they say, is one of the key attitudes in maintained ‘happiness’. 

However, I trip myself up and get stuck in thought processes which bring me down or stress me out. Yes I go about my day ‘happily’ and tend to spread positive vibes, but what’s happening inside doesn’t always reflect that. I have got into a cycle of forever planning ahead, making it hard for myself to just be in the present. I would put it out there and say this is a fairly common problem in modern Britain, a problem born out of a combination of:

1. frantic world syndrome
2. too much choice
3. unconscious thought habits we adopt at a young age

It seems to me that decisive and calm people, who aren’t prone to over-thinking, tend to be happier. I know that in learning to live in the moment and generally calming the hell down, I could be not just happy and excited, but actually content and free. So many of us proactively do things to try and achieve this – running, blogging, healthy-eating. I am so proud that our generation seems to be slowly tipping the balance back away from binge drinking and McDonald's to wellbeing. I personally pay so much attention to my wellbeing (after I found debauchery just did not work for me) that my main problem now is the fact that I just do do do do do – never taking a breath to be. Enter meditation.

Mind you...

Both my Dad and my boss recommended this mindfulness book to me, when all my previous releases – running, baking, writing doing doing doing, - were by this point just making me tired and ill, adding to my stress. I was keen on trying something which involved and encouraged just being. Mindfulness seems to be about giving your mind/mental state the same attention you give your body. If you want a strong body you have to go the gym , if you want peace of mind you have to work on it. I really wanted to work on it, but knowing where to start was hard. So taking their advice, I started with the book and it's accompaniment the Head Space app.

Head Space is a fantastic concept, it combines mediation with our modern lifestyle. At first I thought ‘what’s more contradictory than meditation in an App??’ - the most solo pastime, solitude defined, representing itself in social technology. I wasn’t sure. I needed to come away from social not get closer to it! But I downloaded the Head Space Take 10 app (free) and committed to 10 minutes of meditation every day, via the app. It involves effectively sitting quietly for 10 minutes, whilst Andy Puddicombe (founder, narrator and one-time monk) takes you through simple breathing exercises, effectively distracting your mind from whatever else is going on it. Even on day 1 appreciated the way the exercise forced me to switch off, even if just for 10 minutes, and instantly I felt calmer.

Continuing with Head Space for 10 days wasn’t easy, forcing yourself to continue when there is no tangible benefit is tough and I struggled to concentrate around days 6 & 7. Andy says this is normal. By day 10 I had definitely noticed a difference – taking just 10 minutes out of my day to clear my mind felt so good. I didn’t feel as wound up, I slept better and my partner seemed to notice the change in me.

Re mindfulness

For me, Headspace works not in the way you necessarily notice. I didn’t go around thinking ‘wow! look how calm I am!’ but I did find myself much better able to cope with the day to day. On a recent BBC2 documentary about the power of positive thinking, Andy’s Headspace featured, and specialists  on the programme claim that there is a biological link between meditation and the part of your brain which manages your emotions. This for me is very interesting, as I would say that’s the main change I witnessed – the ability to remain calm and just get less ruffled by small things. Andy suggests 6 - 8 weeks of daily practice before expecting significant long-term changes, but the actual benefits showed pretty quickly for me.

Re-exploring Head Space again last month, I again noticed how much better I slept on nights I had meditated and found myself coping much better with some quite big worries/anxieties. I am now certain that this practice is beneficial to people who struggle to feel calm in every day life or to live in the present moment. And I don't have to go to a cave to do it!

I plan to invest in Take 15 this week and maintain it this time. In the summer sunshine, emotions can run high and life can pick up even more speed, so I plan to enjoy every moment in the moment. The future can wait. Wish me luck!



10 July, 2013

A nod to the good men - we do love you really!

I was inspired to write this post after I published this one and ended up in a Twitter debate over my comments about sexist attitudes towards women. The post in question perhaps came across a little generalist - quick disclaimer, I don't for one second presume the points I make about sexism apply to all men, not even nearly, just enough of them for sexism to still be a resounding issue.*

After a good debate in which we accepted each others points, the Twitter guy who'd challenged me ended with saying he just was fed up of reading women bang on about how awful men are ALL THE TIME.  And he kinda has a point. We do like a good whinge, forgetting to mention the good stuff. I responded with 'men of course have so many great qualities as well, we just don't think to write about them.' As in life, people generally only speak up when there is something wrong which needs changing. And that applies to issues around gender. In this blog post I seek to change that and focus on all the GOOD men.

So, this is for all the decent men who have had to suffer the inexhaustible wrath of women which has built up through the ages, for the men who have to tolerate the blame for mistakes of their grandfathers before them, for the good men who respect and honour not just us as individuals, but women as a collective. The same men who don't feel the need to reply with an undermining comment every time I publish an inherently feminist blog post...


There are so many reasons why we adore men, individually we love you, we even sometimes commit to honour and obey you. That's how much we freaking love you. For me, I do have some qualms around some male attitudes, and those qualms materialise in my writing, but I have so many positive things to say about the men folk, I maybe should say them more often. To list 'male qualities' would be to generalise, so I can only base this on the unique men I know. Namely my Dad and my boyfriend.


Where to begin? My Dad has always had a very respectful attitude towards me and my 3 sisters and is approachable, open for us to chat to him about anything. He's always been 'on a level' with us, even when we were small he listened to our ideas, thoughts and feelings, never once belittling our needs. My Dad is not a remotely aggressive man, although he is strong and authoritative when he needs to be - this is a quality I really respect in men. That balance between strength and sensitivity - some of you just nail it.

My Dad is sensitive, and openly so, he doesn't shy away from his emotions. He has always encouraged us to be self-aware too. He is creative, strong, very intelligent, emotionally intelligent to boot and admirably independent. I am very proud of my both my parents, and while I have mentioned my heroic Mum before, perhaps it's time to show the same love for my Dad. He is my Dad but also a friend, he knows many woes and more than that he supports me with them - support being the operative word. My best memory of my Dad is when I got in trouble with work aged 17, trouble I deserved to be in. He didn't get cross or lecture me, he just listened to my side of the story, believed me, came to a disciplinary meeting with me and told me he was proud of me afterwards. WHAT A HERO! He is also adventurous and active, providing us with experiences like camping in France and Jet-skiing in Crete.

All these fantastic qualities I have listed in my Dad are the same qualities I respect in men in general. No these qualities aren't exclusive to men at all, but it's ace when men have them! I also love how chilled out my male friends tend to be, it's pretty hard to piss them off, unlike us girls who live in constant fear of upsetting each other. I admire how level headed blokes can be, I have found men tend to show a logical approach and an ability to separate feelings from practicalities - you men seem to spend less time dwelling/feeling miserable, which works out well for us as we get to spend time with you. Men show resilience too - when an obstacle presents itself to my boyfriend, he takes a step back, thinks about what hes going to do to best deal with it, sticks to the plan then puts it out of his mind FOREVER.  I on the other hand spend 3 days crying and whining before getting near a conclusion and eventually i might stop caring after 6 - 12 months.


It goes without saying that I love my boyfriend for loads of reasons, but I actually just really like him as a person, and his female friends clearly have a lot of respect for him too. Why? His winning card is that he shows so much respect to both me as his girlfriend and women in general. I hear stories of men telling their girlfriends to shut up when they moan, ignoring their ladies when she asks something of them, telling them to stop being a baby when they cry or even worse being aggressive towards them. I find this hugely disrespectful and tell my friends to get as far away from that man as they can.

I couldn't associate with a man like that mainly because I am an emotional little thing and I can only ever be with a man who totally 'gets it'. Luckily for me, mine does. I cannot tell you the hours he has spent listening to me, giving me the most spot on advice and encouraging me to feel so good about myself.

Some men I had met prior to him made me feel like I shouldn't be the way I am. One even said to me 'I couldn't be in a relationship with you, you're too emotional'. Cheers then. As a result I used to feel like I had to hide my soft heart from men and pretend to be tougher in order to be cool or attractive to them. I wouldn't give those men the time of day now. Gareth helps me build on my sense of self-worth and anytime I have an 'issue' with a friend, family member, colleague or just a general life problem, he completely sees the situation for what it is, without me having to explain what I feel and why. I am lucky he is so insightful and perceptive, mature beyond his 32 years. And sometimes us girls just need that kind of support from a man as well as from our mates.


These are all reasons why I more than anyone know that issues like sexism and disrespectful attitudes towards women do not feature in all men and I certainly don't go around hating on men in general. I do think changes need to be made though in terms of how some men think of women, and our society still has a way to go to lose that gender gap, but men are so brilliant in many ways. That's why our magazines are full of you, that's why we have written books about how to understand you and that's why we love nothing more than to fall in love with you.

So don't be disheartened when we moan about the gits who cat call and label us slags, be proud that you stand apart from those men and that you give your gender a bloody good rep!


* Just yesterday, a lovely chap I have never met randomly commented on a photo of me & my friends which had gone online, proclaiming 'Ugly bitches!' Why are we a bitch because we probably refused to let you grope us? Odd. You wouldn't see him randomly commenting on photos of men calling them bitches now would you. Ironically, he seemed to be the bitchy one. Hmmm. Point made.

08 July, 2013

Boris' Boo Boo and how men refuse to find women funny

Boris Johnson has just made the news for all the wrong reasons (again), for making some tragic joke about women mainly going to university in order to achieve finding their husband. Oh how well he knows our deepest ambitions! Heaven forbid he meant it. Chances are he was joking, simply because he wouldn't risk the thrashing he is currently receiving from women UK wide (although I could easily sit here and argue that the thoughts which sparked that joke could only have been genuinely sexist, else why would they exist?)
Joking or not, Boris is feeling the wrath of Every Day Sexism - for they love a good juicy piece of evidence like this to chew on. I have been following the Every Day Sexism campaign group with real interest on Twitter and elsewhere, as they work to raise awareness of all the ways in which our society is still so casually sexist towards women, to the point that we don’t even know when sexism it is taking place. Reading some of the comments which come in on their Twitter page are astounding. Stories of girls being heckled in the street, subject to sexual harassment at work and so many other 'every day' ways in which we experience sexism, without even realising that is what it is. A few of my favourites include: 
  • “@qlaura77: @EverydaySexism: Guy just leaned out of car and shouted 'gonna smash your back doors in' to the several women waiting to cross the road.” 
  • “@jonatahanhaynes: Sky News just twice called Andy Murray the first Brit to win Wimbledon in 77 years. #everydaysexism”
  • “@SarahMann_2: SHAME on you Inverdale #5live: 'd'you think Bartoli's dad told her when she was little 'you're never going to be a looker?' @EverydaySexism"
  • "@claire990:apparently, moms would recommend @Pampers_UK. What about dads? Do they not change nappies? @EverydaySexism
  • “I love being called a whore because I didn’t smile back at two men who heckeld me~ #saidnobodyeever @everydaysexism

I have experienced sexism in many different forms in my time, from being heckled whilst I go for a run, to having my bum grabbed whilst walking through a bar. I am so used to this that all I can do is  glare at the ridiculous men. Sorry, am I supposed to be grateful? Most recently, last Friday morning, I was on my way to give a presentation (that’s right, me a woman, standing up imparting my wisdom to 2 men) when I experienced the kind of sexism a lot of women receive on a daily basis. I was dressed unusually smartly, when two men walking just in front of me spotted me walking behind them, nudged each other and deliberately slowed down so that I would have to overtake them. I refrained for as long as I could, but had to get to my car and eventually unwillingly overtook them. As predicted, the second my back was to them they resorted to cheering and wolf whistles, which drew the attention of the various crowds aroundme. Humiliating in the first degree. I tried to not show any hint of a reaction, as I didn't want them to for one minute assume I was enjoying their attention. Eurgh.

I don't know what is worse, the fact that grown men with behave so appallingly as to objectify a young women like me, or the fact that young women like me have actually come to expect it. I pre-empted that situation and feel pit of dread in my stomach before they had even said anything. Quite WHY I should be made to feel like that is just so completely beyond me. How primitive some of the nation’s men still are is just absurd and disgusting. And for this reason I strongly advocate the work of Everyday Sexism Project.
Apart from the above scenarios, the groping and the heckling and the deliberately standing in my way when going out my day, I have experienced a worse form of sexism. A form of sexism that I find equally as offensive as when men objectify us. And that is the fact that blokes won’t laugh at our jokes. 
For years I have noticed how men borderline refuse to find women funny. Their male mates are all the next Michael McIntyre, but women are just not up to par. Apparently. I am a pretty funny girl. I certainly keep my mates laughing, and I tend to hang out with other funny people. But my GOD trying to get men to laugh is difficult. At Uni I would notice how I would make a joke, which would be met with indifference from my male peers, but when a bloke made the same joke a few minutes later (not as quick off the mark as me) the men would CHORTLE at it. Like it was the funniest thing they had ever heard. What's that about? Why are men so much more willing to acknowledge each other’s humour than that of a woman? It's so insecure of them. 
Even now I see it happen all the time. A male friend said to me a few years ago of his (hilarious) sister, 'she is pretty funny for a girl'. Another male friend was willing to admit one of his girl mates was ‘the funniest girl’ – not the funniest person mind. Just, you know, funny for a girl. Maybe it’s just because men think differently, and find different things funny, but that cant ring true when they are literally responding completely differently to the exact same wit, depending on whether it has derived from someone with a penis or a vagina. 
I can just about handle being objectified. Oh yes ha ha look at me I have boobs, and oh look I blush when you humiliate me, and yes, wow, isn’t it amazing the number of jokes you can make up which imply I am a whore. Clever you. You twat. No I don’t dress to provoke you and actually your attention makes me feel sick, but I wouldn’t expect pig headed men to acknowledge that. Us girls are all so used to this, to the point that we almost don’t care anymore (can you tell). More than anything men who objectify women are just embarrassing themselves, and we’re good enough to realise that and we just wonder how long it will take them to catch up?! But what I won’t stand for, is for you to take our wit away from us! Especially when we are equally as deserving of a laugh or 2 –for the right reasons. The funniest person I know is a girl, my best girls regularly reduce me to tears of laughter and some of the responses coming in from women to Boris on Twitter are have got me in hysterics (see my favourite ones below).
So yeah, sexism goes a lot further than men refusing to laugh at our jokes, but maybe if they noticed we had wit, it would then dawn on them that we aren’t objects, but in fact girls, with feelings, who are feeling embarrassed to walk past you in the street.
All I know is, if I was in Boris’ position, I wouldn't be resorting to sexism to get a groan of laughter from my audience. 


RachelBunts: “@MayorofLondon The odds are against me finding a husband only 10/180 people on my course are men WHAT SHOULD I DO #helpboris” 

@DaisyGrace88: “@EverydaySexism @MayorofLondon I have two degrees but no husband. Who can I speak to about a refund? Advice needed.”
 @CaitlineEGleeson: “@EverydaySexism @MayorofLondon Hey Boris, I've managed to finish my degree with a first but no husband, can you give me some dating advice?”
 @chrisjones: “@EverydaySexism If there's one thing I can't stand about Uni it's all the women trying to marry me... ;)”


07 July, 2013

The Best of British (not America)

It's been the hottest day of the year, what seems like a startling proportion of the population of Britain have been watching the Wimbledon Men's final (either home alone with a cider like me, or outside somewhere catching it on a big screen). As a nation we have a Pimms on the go, we're all in White, we're finding any spot possible on which to sunbathe, we're all pink and burnt, Murray's making History. If any day was ever Best of British, this is it!

That is until we just saw Bradley Cooper on camera 4, spectating casually like he isn't one of Hollywood's most A of A Lister's. The commentator went all giddy upon spying the star (who was sat with his Irish match Gerard Butler), donned an American accent and said 'Hallywood's in Taaan' and I just thought 'oh piss off America!' and willed the camera to pan back to the real man of the moment on court. Because as much as I respect B Coops and as much as I value Hollywood, I am a bit annoyed with America sticking it's oar in everywhere. Taking over our culture. It's gradually sweeping poor little quaint, reserved, sometimes socially retarded Britain under the carpet and sprucing us up with Americanisms all over the shop. Or should I say 'mall'?

This notion was planted in my mind when I was probably about 10. My Dad's then girlfriend reprimanded him for holding his fork with his left hand and eating his meal all casually without a knife 'I hate it when you do that, it's so American!' At the time I thought oh shut up wench (I didn't much like her, but I was too 10 to think of a witty response) but in hindsight it could have been one of the more sensible things the woman ever said. We are turning into America a little bit and it's worrying.

Our fascination with America is undoubtedly linked to some kind of honour we feel we owe them after they supported us in WWII and we owed them money for like 60 years, but also it must be out of some notion that they are somehow bigger, better, 'smarter'. I get that as much as anyone with a minimal understanding of economics or politics can get it. But I don't really get why that means we have to be like them. When your friend lends you money, do you start wearing your hair the same and dressing like them? 'Oh Abbi has that dress Hannah!' 'Yeah she lent me a fiver so...'  When you are in awe of someone who you perceive to be admirable, fair enough to perhaps mimic their behaviour in order to achieve the same, but you don't adopt their vocab and start eating their food off their plate.

But we do do that with America, to the point I no longer know if I am using American or British expressions. We just love to dip our toes in their pond. Extra Big Macs, Apple, words like 'movie', 'smart' and 'recognized' with a 'z' - it's all starting to define our culture. Yes we undeniably sample other cultures too, we love a Thursday night curry, we go Salsa dancing and we participate in Wine of various origins. That's the beauty of how multicultural Britain has become, but sample is the operative word there.

With America we take it too far, actually replacing our stuff with theirs. We're going to 'the movies' instead of the cinema, we're wearing 'pants' instead of jeans , sneakers instead of trainers, our teeth are SiCo white and we're seeing therapists. Ladies, gentlemen, Britain - we have crossed the line. That line between American and British should be massive, the size of the Atlantic, but these days it's very, very fine. We're so insanely excited by New Yorker Bagels and we like to confuse each other by using words like 'pissed' in a totally different (Stateside) context to the one we're used to. You can't start changing the way we use our own words, it's just confusing when we don't know if you're drunk or angry.

I know America has given us a lot of fabulous (I refrain from saying 'ace') opportunities, products and concepts, and we should continue to sample their good stuff, but we need to be careful not to adopt their culture so much that we lose our own. Britain has so much to be proud, and while I love putting on an American accent to tell everyone I am 'having a real nice time right now', I never ever let Microsoft Word change it to 'Americanizm' when the dictionary is set to English UK!

At the time of publishing this Andy Murray just won Men's Single Wimbledon, making British history and breaking the 77 year ban on being good that Britain had imposed on it's tennis elite. I shall be celebrating with a cucumber sandwich and a cup of Yorkshire Tea. THAT, is the Best of British.