Confession Time

I couldn’t decide whether to quote Usher or the Foo Fighters to start this post. But in the words of my beloved Dave Grohl, I’ve got another confession to make.

As open as I have been with you about my experience of breast cancer, I haven’t been entirely honest with you about certain other aspects of my life. I’ve alluded to what I’m about to tell you, but I’ve never actually written it down for the world to see in a way that is quite so frank. I’ve toyed with the idea of writing this post for a very, very long time, even before I got my cancer diagnosis, but I never really found the strength to actually go through with it.

Now I’ve written that paragraph, it feels like I’ve built this whole thing up too much. Because what I’m about to tell you isn’t really that big a deal. It’s a big part of who I am and it’s a part of who I have always been, pre, peri and post cancer. It’s a thing that lots of people know about me, but it’s also something I have tried to keep hidden for a big part of my life. So here we go.

I’M ACTUALLY AN ALIEN. No. That’s a lie. That’s not my “big reveal”. Truth be told chums, I’m standing here with my hands up, my defences down and I’m telling you that, for most of my adult life, I have lived with depression. A depression sometimes so crippling, I can barely put a pair of socks on. A depression so severe that sometimes the whole world looks grey – like every millimetre of colour has been extracted, never to be seen again. A depression so strong that I have, at times in my life, looked in the mirror and genuinely not known the person looking back at me (and I’m not even talking about when I was bald, fat faced and boobless). Sometimes, I am so anxious I can’t even decide what to buy for tea because I’m overwhelmed by fear of what might happen if I pick the wrong thing. I take antidepressants. A little dose of a little tablet, every single day to help me not be swallowed by the black abyss. I have had cognitive behavioural therapy. I have had counselling. I am due to have more cognitive behavioural therapy, ‘cos the work I was doing on that was somewhat derailed by that time I got cancer.

Despite all that, I like to think I’m still a pretty highly functioning individual. That I get shit done and when I’m not in the grip of the shadows, that I have a pretty sunny disposition. It took me a long old time to realise that a) my feelings about the world weren’t necessarily the same as feelings other people experienced and b) that I needed to get some help, before the big dark hole I’d found myself in swallowed me whole. And by Christ am I glad I took help for those things before I got diagnosed with breast cancer at 26. I mean, that’s a bit of a shitter for a person who hasn’t battled with their mental health, let alone someone who has seen the darkest depths of their own brain.

It occurred to me recently that I’ve been so very, very honest about dealing with my breast cancer diagnosis and all of it’s related treatments, it’s ridiculous that I’ve hidden this part of myself away. I’ve openly talked to you guys about VAGINAS for goodness’ sake, but I have been ashamed of the fact that my brain isn’t wired quite right. I’ve been afraid of people judging me and dismissing me as someone who’s just looking for another excuse to bang on about themselves. But the thing is, there are so many people like me. So many people who know all too well the horrible feeling of awakening and feeling sick at the prospect of trying to make your way through another day when you feel like you’re wading through treacle. And so many of us feel ashamed and afraid of talking about these things. And that has to change. So many people are dying because they can’t talk about this illness. I never would have dreamed of keeping the fact I had breast cancer from people I loved. So why do I hide depression? Because of stigma? Well, the only way to change that is to stand up and be counted. So here I am. I am one of the 1 in 4. And I’m going to start talking about it.

ANYWAY. The crux of this post is that I’m working on something I’m really excited about at the moment and I wanted to be up front and honest with all the people who read my blog, so that when I let you know about this new project (hopefully sooner rather than later) you won’t be blindsided by the fact that I’m all too familiar with getting a case of the blues. I’m really hoping that this new project will prove to people that even when living with depression or going through a traumatic health scare, or having to deal with both at once, it’s possible to find light in the darkness, you’ve just got to remember where the light switch is. To paraphrase Dumbledore.

God I wish I was as cool as JK Rowling.

The Shine Theory

Friendship is a funny old thing, isn’t it? I mean, you essentially pick a person and then decide that you want to hang around with them and do things with them. When you think about it in the most basic of terms, every time you begin a relationship, you’re essentially going “oh. Yeah, ok. You’re a person I’d like to do stuff with. You’re a person I think I can be my most weird with, you’re a person who I reckon can deal with my shit. And I’d really like to be a person who deals with your shit too.”

I completely believe that no man is an island. The human nature encourages us to be part of a village. Even those who are notoriously selfish crave companionship in one form or another. Your village doesn’t have to be particularly big, nor does it have to be made up of people you see all the time. My village is spread out all over the world. But finding and curating a group of people who you can share your life with is, I think, integral to living a happy life.

Growing up, many of us made questionable choices about who to spend our time with. While we were trying to figure ourselves out, many of us made friends who weren’t particularly good people to be around. That’s not to say we were all hanging round with people who tried to get us to smoke weed or drink alcohol or steal cars – just that maybe the people we were choosing to spend our time with didn’t allow us to be our best selves. As we grow older, I think we get better at figuring out what sort of people we respond best to, what sort of people help us grow and be better and learn more about the world and our own lives.

I was reminded of something the other day that I had long since forgotten had a name. You might have heard of it too, or it might have passed you by, but there’s a theory that, as women, we thrive when we surround ourselves with other brilliant women. It’s called the Shine Theory and it’s something I think all women need to be reminded of.

Women are so often pitted against each other, in love, in life, in work, that we’re practically programmed to forget just how brilliant it is to exist in a world where women bolster each other up, rather than rip each other down. Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look bad – in fact often we find that being around successful and intelligent women makes us more successful and intelligent too. Their shine makes us shine.

But the Shine Theory isn’t just limited to careers and professionalism either. There are people I know who are the very best kind of people and they make me want to be better, to do better with my life. All of my friends have qualities which I can learn a lot from. There are people who volunteer for amazing charities, people who spend their time improving the lives of a generation of younger people, I know some people who are absolute career badasses but without compromising the fact that they’re really bloody nice people (NB: you do not have to be a dick to succeed in business. This is a MYTH we are fed to make up for people who are shitty when they’re successful).

Here’s the thing though. We live in a society where we, as a human race, but particularly women, are told how to be, how to look, how to feel and what to do with our lives. We’re told that we should constantly be striving to “bag the man” “get the job” or “take down the competition” so we forget all of the incredible lessons and skills and experiences we can learn and gain from actively seeking out successful people to surround ourselves with.

Do you know what’s funny though? We’ve all been both sides of the shine theory coin before, we’re just often guilty of not recognising that other people think we are being shiny – we just see the shine in other people.

I’m not suggesting that the next time you go to a networking event, you follow the keynote speaker around asking them if you can be friends, but I’m just saying that we should’t shy away from the opportunity to see the shine effect in action. It’s time we, as a tribe of women, as a village of people, started making friends with those who might give us a feeling in the pit of our stomachs like we aren’t enough. Because we are enough and doing this can bring an end to  the female competition that the patriarchy has forced us into living.

Because you know something, our shine will make them shine right back too. And it’s not just a reflection.

Aftermath

I’ve been trying very hard to concentrate on moving forwards recently. I’ve been distracting myself with work and a wedding and love and all of the great things that have been going on in my life, but sometimes the darkest bits of cancer creep in when I don’t want them to, and it’s a case of no longer being able to escape it.

I’ve been so open about my experience . From writing here on my blog, to writing for Red magazine (out next month – exciting and terrifying), deciding to take part in the Breast Cancer Care fashion show and all of the press that entails, preparing for my first Boobettes talk and taking my top off to be photographed for a national magazine (New!) half naked with the artist formerly known as boob hanging out for all to see. I do all of these things because I think it’s important to raise awareness of the reality of cancer for younger women. I do all of these things because I think it’s important to spread the message. I do all of these things, but sometimes it comes at a bit of a cost.

My mental health has always been volatile and in the aftermath of cancer this hasn’t changed. It has neither got worse, nor improved. I’m perpetually hard on myself for everything in my life. I spend a lot of my days consumed with anxiety and warding off dark thoughts that often pervade my sunny exterior – but often only when I close the front door and find myself at home, in my safe place. And talking about all of these cancer type things, and living in the midst of all of these things is so important for the mental healing I’m working on, but it’s also sometimes completely overwhelming. Yesterday I cried for the first time in a while. I cried because I’d eaten too many chocolate fingers. I cried about cancer, I cried about the fact I only have one breast, I cried out of fear for the future, I cried for all the other people in the world I know and love or have spoken to who are going through cancer treatment or have been through cancer treatment. I cried for all of the women in the world who have developed secondary breast cancer and know that ultimately, the disease I have survived for now, will kill them. I cried out of sheer exhaustion.

Because even on the days when I’m sunny and shiny and positive, I’m constantly fighting being tired. Cancer treatment makes you tired for a long time after it has finished. I’m also constantly fighting a battle in my head. I’m embarrassed that I’m still so tired, even though treatment finished six months ago. I feel like a failure when I see other people who’ve been through treatment or are going through treatment smashing life, doing all of the great things, without being shackled by a need to hit the hay at approx 9pm every night. I think “I should exercise more, I should eat better. I should try not having as much sugar. All of these things would help me”.

Should. That word should, I think, is the curse of our generation. It’s what makes us apply unnecessarily high amounts of pressure to ourselves, meaning who we are is squashed under a weight of expectation that is preventing us from being who we really are.

I’m frustrated that I’m not right and fine and back to normal again. But what even is normal, you know? And the “normal” I was before cancer (actual LOL) is a normal I can never go back to. You can’t go backwards to who you were yesterday without going through cancer, so how on earth do I expect myself to go backwards to who I was before my body tried to kill me? Apparently, in true Alice fashion, I’m expecting too much of myself and I’m being hard on myself when I don’t meet my own expectations. But what’s that about? DUDE. Stop it. You’ve had a pretty tumultuous 18 months. And even if you hadn’t, why are you expecting yourself to be some kind of superhero? In the words of Jessie J, and many before her, it’s ok not to be ok.

I think the pressures we experience as a result of living in the world we live in, make us all guilty of expecting too much of ourselves, and that hasn’t changed for me, just because I have had cancer. It’s not worse, it’s not better. It’s just different. Life in the aftermath of cancer is a whole different kettle of fish but with the same old challenges of life before cancer even crossed my mind.

I’m taking the day today. I’m staying in bed for a while. I’m not going to check my emails. I’m going to try and stay off social media (not in the least because I don’t want to be inadvertently exposed to whoever was kicked off Bakeoff last night). All of the work I have to do today is done. I’m going to recharge and replenish, because that’s what my soul needs.

If that’s what your soul needs, I recommend you do it too.

I want to be fine. I want to be great. I want to have put cancer behind me and moved on. But it doesn’t work that way. I need time. That time might be weeks, months, it might be years. Decades. I just have to accept that’s what I need.

I’m pretty lucky, but if you know someone who has gone or is going through cancer treatment, ask them how they are. Really ask them. Look them square in the face, tell them you’re ready to listen, and get them to talk to you about their feelings. Even if you can’t understand, and I hope you are never able to understand, because understanding comes at a big cost, ask them. It’ll be good for them to talk. Because you can almost guarantee they’re feeling a bit lost, a bit overwhelmed, a bit tired and a bit like they need a hug. But they will almost never ask for it, for fear of feeling like a burden.

Oh. And I got married a few weeks ago. That was nice. This guy is pretty great, you know. I’m thankful for him every single day. But don’t tell him I told you.

Food for the Soul

I’m a firm believer in doing nice things for yourself. Sometimes I buy myself flowers if I’m feeling a bit low, or I’ll drag myself through a couple of sun salutations if my body is feeling heavy and tired. When my mind is clouded, I’ll try and get out for a run, in the hopes feeling my heart beat faster and feeling my lungs stretch beneath my rib cage will help me figure out what’s going on in my brain. But for my whole life, the solace I have found in reading offers my soul hearty and healthy food like nothing else.

Reading is my sanctuary and always has been. My family joke that one day I’ll have so many books the walls will start to fall in, but until then, I’ll keep buying books and devouring them a page at a time. And I’ll keep noticing and being grateful for the way they impact on my life long after the last page has been turned.

I found comfort with Harry Potter when I was sick. When my brain was too tired to take in the intricacies of a new story, I pulled Harry Potter from the shelf and put the words on like they were a warm and familiar coat. I barely had to read the words to know what was happening, and returning to them in my chemo-addled state was like coming home after a long time away. JK Rowling’s words offered me safety and a chance to escape from what was going on around me that I’d never truly needed before.

The words of Mary McCarthy in The Group and Marilyn French in the Women’s Room helped me establish a big part of who I am as a woman, a reminder of what people went through before I was even part of someone’s imagination. After reading these, I went through a stage of reading fiction set in 1960’s America, demolishing Revolutionary Road and Light Years, then moving on to London pre and peri-war fiction in Norman Collins’ sprawling novel London Belongs to Me and Patrick Hamilton’s three part 20,000 Streets Under the Sky. These make up some of my favourite books of all time – and any time anyone asks for a book recommendation, they’re the first I turn to.

A Little Life; Where’d You Go Bernadette; We The Drowned; The Blind Assassin; The Secret History; The Goldfinch; The Luminaries; The American Wife; White Teeth; Americanah, We Need to Talk About Kevin; My Friend Leonard; The Goldne Notebook; The Belljar. All of these and so many, many more have stayed with me long after I’ve returned them to the shelf.

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I get anxious if I’m reading a book I don’t enjoy. If my soul doesn’t have a place to rest, it gets fractious and I feel consistently on edge if I can’t sink into the paragraphs of something that makes my body and brain a better place to be.

While fiction offers me a kind of quieting, non-fiction grants me a view from a different perspective. Though I wanted to, I couldn’t get on board with the essays of Marina Keegan in The Opposite of Loneliness, whose talent was unfairly cut short. I felt it was clear that she hadn’t reached the level she really could have done with just a few more years – and the fact that she hadn’t been able to reach her potential left me on edge. Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist (current read) offers me a chance to examine someone else’s truth – someone whose life has been so very different to mine – and have it impact the way I carry out my day-to-day. Reading Girl Up by Laura Bates, about 10 years too late, made me wish someone had been able to hand me a manifesto for living like that when I had been 16. How different would my approach to my late teenage years have been if I had a bible like that leading the way? How much sooner would I have found myself comfortable saying “I am a feminist” had a writer like Bates given me the understanding and the permission I thought I needed to do so? I can’t wait to read Ctrl Alt Del by Emma Gannon when I’ve reached it in my “to read” pile and I’m building up to reading When Breath Becomes Air. Bryony Gordon’s Mad Girl is somewhere in transit on it’s way to me as we speak.

I tried to join a book club once. It didn’t go well. I didn’t like anything we read. I was critical of the characters (I just didn’t care about them), I was critical of the writing (I’m really judgemental, OK?!), I was critical of the storylines (I found them tiresome and dull). Then I recommended stuff that I loved and everyone else hated. I learned that probably, I should sometimes keep my opinions to myself, and, while sharing literature is one of my absolute favourite things, I also realised I’m a much better solitary reader than I am at reading in a pack.

Words have such an incredible power and this power is so often undervalued and underestimated. I’m reminded of that old expression “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” and I think this is naive and simplistic. Words can hurt and they can move and they can create and they can provide support and show passion and tell stories that have been previously silenced. Words are powerful and I never underestimate my privilege to be able to pick up a book and read it, let alone enjoy it.

So I want to talk more about books and words and what I’m reading. So…stand by, I guess.

On Bravery

I read this post on The Pool on the Everyday Bravery of Being a Woman a month or so ago and I wanted to send it to all the incredibly powerful and brave women in my life to remind them that even if they don’t feel brave, they are. They’re often just brave for existing and doing stuff that people have told them that they shouldn’t or wouldn’t be able to do.

So what makes a brave woman? I asked a few of my friends and the internet what they thought made a brave woman and who they considered to be brave and loved the truly varying nature of their answers.

One told me her Nan was the bravest person she knew, because she ditched her cheating husband in a time when it wasn’t socially acceptable to do so, and went on to raise two incredible daughters on her own.

Another told me that people who escape abusive relationships are brave. Another explained that her sister is brave because she isn’t afraid to work hard and get what she wants from her life. People who stand up for what they believe in, doctors working in horrendous conditions and impossible circumstances. Taking the path of least certainty. Another told me that they consider bravery to be “a lifelong condition” that is determined by the experiences of your life and not what you do in one specific situation.

One of my friends is an incredible journalist in the US who works her arse off to educate people on the racism and discrimination that is still prevalent in the USA. People aren’t always nice to her about it, but she doesn’t back down. She stands her ground and she’s making the world a better place. Every time she tweets or puts something on Facebook that I can’t possibly understand because of the life that I’ve led, she makes me think about things from an entirely different perspective. Speaking out and putting your neck on the line? That’s brave.

I obviously didn’t know them but the women who fought for our right during the Suffragette movement were the definition of brave in my book (and this is particularly poignant as we approach the EU Referendum). They were arrested and beaten and chastised and ridiculed simply because they wanted to be afforded the same rights as the men of the country, the other 50% of the population.

Joan Clarke who worked on and cracked The Enigma Machine with Alan Turing and changed the course of the second world war entirely, during a time when women were completely disregarded in the fields of mathematics, science, medicine, engineering. That was brave.

Amelia Earhart – the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932, aged 34. Can you IMAGINE the sheer stones it must have taken her to do that? God, I don’t think I’d want to do it, let alone in the 1930’s when she, and the other 98 women she worked alongside, was aiming to advance aviation for women.

I came across Maud Wagner the other day, the first known female tattoo artist in the USA who cropped up circa 1907. ERM. Can you imagine the shit she must have gone through to express her art? I know people who are shirty about women having tattoos now, over 100 years later. Yep. BRAVE. Rosa Parks for her simple but enormous act of staying sat on that bus seat. Katherine Switzer who defied Boston Marathon organisers in 1967, completely disregarding the fact that her genitals didn’t meet their entry criteria.

I recently discovered the rather magnificent Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) who writes about her fights with depression and anxiety with a candour and humour I’ve never known before (srsly, if you haven’t read Furiously Happy, you absolutely must. It is equal parts sidesplittingly, snortworthingly hilarious and desperately tender and poignant).

But bravery isn’t just about flying across the world and breaking down boundaries and moving things for forward for the women of the future. There really is an abundance of every day bravery in our lives.

I know women who have lived and survived through incredible hardships and have come out remarkably unscathed. I’ve watched people I love deal with terrible loss and get up the next day and carry on with a life that will be forever changed. I know doctors who tell stories about saving lives in road traffic accidents like it’s no big deal. I know people who have picked up their lives and moved across the world in the name of their career, leaving everything they know behind to follow their dreams. I know women who have started their own businesses and been incredibly successful despite growing up in incredibly deprived areas of the country and leaving school without a single qualification to their name. I know people who have struggled with dyslexia but spend their days teaching kids who live with similar issues.

There are little flecks of bravery everywhere in our lives. Isn’t that nice to think about? Isn’t that special? I bet you, like Marisa Bate says in that piece in The Pool, have never called yourself brave before, but you’ve said it of your Mum or your best friend or someone you’ve read about in the news. So maybe you should think about something you’ve done that’s been brave in your lifetime. Maybe you’ve started over alone after a brutal break up, or you’ve upped sticks and left your hometown. Maybe you’ve suffered abuse, or you’ve stood up for a friend who has been on the receiving end of a heavy dose of sexism. Maybe, actually, just getting out of bed was brave today because you’re surrounded by the darkness. That’s still bravery.

The world feels like a pretty dark place today, given the news that’s been flowing out of Orlando in the last 24 hours. I guess I just wanted to put a little bit of love and light out there.

9 myths on moving to London from the Inimitable North

When I moved to London, a lot of people couldn’t figure out what I was thinking. I come from a reasonably small town in the North East of England where things are comfortable, life doesn’t move overly quickly and the pace is relaxed. I was leaving behind my family and many of my friends, but I was carrying a huge part of the North with me – my identity. Moving to London was a big decision but I was lucky, I’d spent a lot of time in London, so I was never scared of moving from a small town to a big city. I dragged my boyfriend along with me for company, so we figured out the ways of the Big Smoke together. But not everyone has that option and moving to the big city from the Inimitable North can be overwhelming, fraught with horror stories and thick with myths. So I wanted to take an opportunity to share my thoughts on some of these, to offer reassurance to anyone who might be thinking of abandoning their roots, upping sticks and following the bright lights of the city.

1) Myth: Londoners are miserable, you’ll never talk to anyone

Reality: I think this is an important one to address from the off. I’ve met some really bloody incredible people in London be they through work or blogging events or work blogging events, or just in and around the city on a Saturday night. I’ve seen people do things on the underground that have made my heart glad – like the woman who ran down the platform waving a plastic bag at another lady who had just had hers split in a rather dramatic fashion. Or the guys who carried an older family friend up the stairs in her wheelchair when my family had been caught out by the stairs at Covent Garden. Or the Londoners who get asked for directions, might not know the answers but go out of their way to help. People say London was a different place during in the Olympics, but the London the world saw then was the London I see most of the time. That’s not to say some people aren’t miserable some of the time – you try travelling to work in a tin can that’s hotter than a furnace (more on public transport later) and see how your mood fares – but that’s not permanent. And if you talk to someone on the tube, they’ll talk back. If you smile at someone on the tube, they’ll smile back. You’ve just got to be willing to make the first move. london 2) Myth: London is nowhere near as beautiful as the north of England

Reality: I am the first to admit that the north of England is absolutely stunning, especially that there Yorkshire (sorry Lancashire dwellers). The countryside is like none I’ve seen anywhere else, with glorious rolling hills, plush greenness and an abundance of nature it’s hard not to feel humbled by. The cities – York, Newcastle and Liverpool are among my favourites – give the area a brilliant vibrancy that it’s hard to duplicate anywhere else. But sometimes, when I pass by Big Ben in a cab at midnight after a long day at work, the sight catches my breath. When I discover something new – like climbing to the top of Primrose Hill, or seeing the steam rising off the warm water of London Fields Lido in the dark and cold of winter – I have to blink twice to believe that it’s real. London is as beautiful as the north, it’s just a different beautiful. You’ve just got to look for it in different places. You’ve just got to allow yourself to see it.

3) Myth: You’ll have to live in a shoebox, infested by rats

Reality: Ok. So this one might not be a total myth. There is a strong chance you will live in a shithole at some point during your time in London. While I’ve been incredibly lucky with the places I’ve lived, I’ve seen some truly awful places with extortionate rents in amongst the tens of properties I’ve viewed in my time here. BUT if you’re willing to move a little further afield than the likes of Brixton, Clapham into zone 3 (my only points of reference are south of the river, sorry) you can find some pretty nice places with relatively (key word) affordable rents. Rent will be considerably higher than if you still lived at home and don’t even get me started on house prices, but the horror stories aren’t always true. Sometimes they are, but not always. You just adapt. I mean, I lived in a property where you couldn’t stand up in the shower for two years, no questions asked. Your priorities change. That’s what living in London is about.

cropped 4) Myth: Your friends will eventually stop asking you when you’re going to return to The North

Reality: I’ve lived here for four years, regularly shout about how much I love it to anyone who’ll listen (this article is exhibit A) and some of my friends still ask when I’m coming home. I think I will go back one day, but right now, I absolutely can’t picture myself leaving anytime soon. *Please see comment below from my good friend Carly. For the most part, they do only do it because they like you

5) Myth: You’ll never call London “home”

Reality: For a long time, this was absolutely true for me. I still yearned for the north often for the first few years I lived here (and sometimes I still do) but probably about a year ago, I realised that my heart had settled, very comfortably, in my little section of London.

6) Myth:

You’ll never be able to afford to do anything Reality: Yes. Things are more expensive in London. Yes, it’s incredibly rare you can buy a round of drinks for less than £20. But that doesn’t mean you can’t afford to do anything. London is awash with things to do for free and these things don’t just appeal to tourists. Museum exhibitions change all the time, there’s always something new to see at the V&A and the art galleries always have new new works on display. Apps like yPlan and Time Out London aim to make everything that bit more affordable for local people, so when you can afford to do something, you rarely have to pay full price for it. Comedy for a fiver here, deals on drinks for a tenner here, discounts and savings on food there – there’s always something affordable to do. Some of the best things I’ve done in London have been an absolute steal – and they’ve often been booked last minute. yaaay.jpg 7) Myth: Public transport in London is completely useless

Reality: While I will admit that some days, public transport in London can leave you at your wits end, there’s a lot of days when it runs incredibly smoothly. I always say the fact that people get stressed out when they have to wait more than 5 minutes for a tube is really telling of the level of service Londoners are used to. In my home town, I used to have to wait for two hours to get a bus to my college. Aforementioned bus would then take neck end of 90 mins to make a journey which I could manage in about 22 mins in my car once I’d passed my test (and that’s without speeding). I will admit that I don’t know many people who dwell in zone 2 or further afield who haven’t experienced a journey time that has been at least tripled by some transport nightmare. Be that signalling failures, passenger incidents, or something equally as bizarre as that fateful day when someone spilled concrete in the control room at Victoria, we’ve all had hellish journeys across the capital, but we usually get from a to b in one piece, often just a little more sweaty than we’d like.

8) Myth: You’ll never learn your way around

Reality: You’ll learn your way around surprisingly quickly. Once in a while, you’ll be wandering around somewhere you think you don’t know, then you’ll turn a corner and realise you’ve been here before. Another piece of your London map falls into place. You stop having to look at tube maps before you go on every journey. You’ll have conversations with your other half discussing the best route to go while none-Londoners look on as if watching a tennis match, glancing from person to person as you throw suggestions around.

9) Myth: London is MASSIVE

Reality: Greater London is massive. London is not that massive. You’ll be surprised how often you bump into faces you know. One of the things I love most about London is it’s a size that offers just the right amount of anonymity balanced with just the right amount of  not being a big fish in a small pond. For me, moving to London was like when I moved up to secondary school, in that it was terrifying but after just a few short months I realised just how small this city actually is…

All that said, I still love going back to my roots and hitting up the North once in a while. I mean – it’s excellent. They call Yorkshire God’s Country for a reason you know.

The New Forest and a Birthday

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HELLO! It’s 2015! Welcome, pull up a chair, grab yourself a cuppa. Isn’t it nice to be here? I feel like 2014 was an absolute whirlwind, but I’ve already reflected on eight and a bit months of the year in my #25at25 lookback, so I wanted to blog about my most recent adventure instead. Let’s face it, if you’ve been following my blog for the last few months, you’ve had it rammed down your face anyway…

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll probably have noticed that I spent last weekend over in the New Forest. Chris’ birthday falls in early January, so there are rarely many people around for celebrating. As a result, we started going away for a couple of days as a way to celebrate his birthday and start the new year right. Last year, we went to Bath, this year, after a lot of deliberation, we opted for the New Forest.

As a pair of Northerners, that part of the world has always seemed a really long way to travel, but it is in fact, just a short journey from London Waterloo. After the morning climbing the O2 (more on that later) we hopped on a train at around 2.30pm and made it to Ashurst New Forest just over two hours later.

newforest1I can easily say that the New Forest is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to in the UK. It’s an incredibly long time since I’ve found myself surrounded by woodland and I loved it. Love London as I do, it’s always nice to get away. Usually when I flee the city, it’s the seaside that I flock to so it was pretty glorious to spend some time clambering in amongst the trees, the deer and the wild horses.

We’d been anticipating good weather all week, so when I awoke on Saturday morning to grey skies and drizzle, I couldn’t help but being disappointed. Regardless, after a delicious breakfast at the Woodland Lodge Hotel, I pulled on my new favourite bobble hat, my walking boots and we set out across the boggy marshes of the New Forest. We stayed in Ashurst, but nearby village Lyndhurst is in walking distance and Brockenhurst which is often described as “the heart of the New Forest” is just 10 minutes away on the train.

I spend so much time daydreaming about travelling the world, it’s easy to forget about the beauty that’s on the doorstep. I’m fairly well travelled in the North, but the South still remains pretty much unexplored. Having discovered the #Take12Trips challenge from Travel Hack via Stacey Fenton, I’m determined to travel as much as possible this year.

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Before we headed to the New Forest, I decided to surprise Chris with a climb up the o2 on the morning of his birthday. It’s something we’d talked about doing for a while and sometimes, it takes a thing like a birthday to make it happen.

I never knew that the o2 (I still always want to call it the Millennium Dome) was modelled on time – it’s 52 metres tall to represent the weeks of the year, it has 12 spikes to represent the months, and it’s 365 metres in diameter to represent the days. When you reach the top after a pretty relaxing climb, you’re treated to panoramic views of the surrounding area, including the cable car, Canary Wharf and if you’ve got a super keen eye, you can just about see the Walkie Talkie and the Shard. We had a blissfully sunny and clear day for it, and I can 100% recommend it. Check us out in our adventurer suits below.

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Five Things from this Week

London, Drink Shop and Do, Bobs and Co, Throwback ThursdayI get to do some pretty cool things in London, and I take a LOT of pictures. If you follow me on Instagram you’ll likely have seen these, but I’m awful at captions so I often just leave these blank. I thought, for once – now that I’m trying to be a better blogger, I’d pick five of my favourite moments from this week – so here they are!

1. As a belated celebration for Chris’ birthday, we popped to London facourite Drink, Shop and Do for afternoon tea yesterday. A lovely selection of sandwiches, a cheesy scone with lovely herby butter, a fruit scone with jam and clotted cream, a selection of gorgeous little cakes, a Belini and unlimited cherry tea. Dee-licious.

2. This, my friends, is a LOBSTER ROLL from the incredible pop up Bob’s & Co in St Pauls. I discovered Bobs&Co when I visited StreetFeast at Hawker House in Hoxton (which is back for a couple of months and is completely worth checkin out) in December, where I had their glorious Lobster Mac n Cheese. The cheese sauce is made with a lobster bisque and has fried onions sprinkled on top. The lobster roll is chocked full of crustacean goodness sprinkled with paprika and is in rammed brioche. So very, very tasty.

3. This picture makes me laugh a LOT. This was shortly after Chris and I got lost somewhere in Finsbury Park but found ourselves on a night bus, a little tiddly and this happened. These faces were not so happy by the time we got home around 2 hours later…

4. I couldn’t decide whether to post this or another quintessentially London photo that I took this week of Tower Bridge, but for me this view wins out pretty much every time. The roof terrace of the office looks out over a really glorious London skyline, and recently there have been a couple of Friday mornings when I’ve got into the office at around 8am and the light has just been incredible. This was the view this Friday, and for me, it never gets old. At that time in the morning there’s a real peace and serenity up there you don’t get in many places in London, and that’s a treat.

5. I posted my very first Throwback Thursday on Instagram this week, and chose this excellent picture of me and Big Sis on my first day of school. Highlights of this for me include my awesome cardi (knitted by Grandma and with awesome buttons to boot), my squishy face and big sis’s knobbly knees.

What was your favourite moment of this week?

The next chapter of dating…

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You’re sat in a cafe, eagerly grasping a battered copy of your favourite book. You glance up to grab a quick sip of coffee as you turn the page. You notice a tall, dark and handsome stranger across the room who’s looking at you. He smiles. You smile. Embarrassed you bury your face back in your book. He comes over, he’s read that book, he loved it. He recommends something by the same author. You hit it off straight away, and here begins a new chapter in your love life…

It’s the fantasy of many book lovers. But surely, it’s just that? A dream? Perhaps, but with the new trend of literary speed dating, it may not be as far fetched as you imagine.

A huge hit in the USA, literary speed dating is in the early pages of development in the UK. In the USA and Canada, bookish singles everywhere are popping along to their nearest literary speed dating ses- sion with a carefully selected novel. Rather than talking about themselves, couples are talking about Henry James, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Thomas Hardy, and other literary greats.

Across the pond, bookstores everywhere are embracing this new trend. One of the most popular venues for the hot new dating scheme for bookish types is the Rare Book Room of New York’s famous Strand bookshop, in Greenwich Village. Here eligible singles gather every Valentine’s Day in the hopes of meeting their match.

Combining reading and romance to potentially create the stuff of fairytales, should be as much of a hit here as it has been in the USA and Canada. But as of yet, the UK has been slow to embrace the novella of literary speed dating.

These events attract all kinds – young, old, skinny, curvy, tall, short, but, unlike standard speed-dating, every attendee has one guaranteed shared love, providing a commonality, and a unique icebreaker to quell the inevitable nerves of speed-dating.

Though it’s been a slow-burner over here, these events are beginning to take place. London School of Economics held an event in March, as part of their Literary Festival. 30 people gathered in the university’s New Academic Buildings, clutching their novels, awaiting the previously discussed romantic fantasies.

Literature is all about making connections, emotional, intellectual and human. Speed-dating is the same. People are drawn to such events by the prospect of discussions around scintillating prose, but they meet new people, find new books to add to the pile of ‘to reads’ next to the bed, and get to enjoy a night of gentle socialng, based around something they are passionate about.

Will they find love? It’s impossible to say. But there’s only one way to find out…

And one things for certain…I don’t envisage any of these people will be taking their Kindles along to these events. But that’s another issue.

Confessions of a ballerina who can barely balance

I’m not built like a dancer. I’m broad across the shoulders, I don’t really know how to deal with my limbs. I’m not graceful, I’m not elegant, and I have the balance of a person who has had a few too many glasses of fizzy juice. But around this time last year, I took up ballet. You may think for a person without any balance, this was a massive mistake. And you could be right.

Looking at me, and knowing me, you can probably guess what sort of a ballet dancer I am. I’m terrible. My arms and legs are usually out of control. I’m rarely in sync with the rest of the class, always a second or so behind. I wobble more than a weeble but I never fall over.

But I love it. I love the moments when I catch myself with my toes pointed and my arms outstretched in an arabesque and I look (a bit) like the other people in the class. I love it when I land my feet in a pirouette at the same time as everyone else. I feel like I’m as elegant Sugar Plum Fairy on pointe in The Nutcracker. When I manage a ron de jambe I feel like I’m floating. A simple glisse makes me feel like I’m Darcey Bussell.

Call me a fantasist for all of this, but ballet has become my new love. I read an article in Marie Claire about the rise in people taking ballet classes in the aftermath of Black Swan (though I’m sure the main character in that movie had mental health issues?) and suggested that ballet isn’t such a good addition to an exercise regime.

In the article, professional ballet dancer Brynn Jinnett says that taking the occasional ballet class will have no effect on fitness or weight loss for the average person. The article adds: “Speaking to Page Six magazine, Jinnett criticised gentle barre workouts, saying, ‘We have women who come and say they’d rather do barre classes because they can walk out and their hair hasn’t been messed up’.”

Now I don’t know what kind of ballet classes these women are going to, or what they expect, but whenever I come out of ballet class, I’m hot, sweaty, and about 30 minutes after class, I’m reminded of the muscles I forgot I had in the previous week. I work hard, I use every muscle, I concentrate. And my hair is always messy.

The ballet class I go to is an hour and a half long. In that hour and a half, I digest everything that’s happened in my day, and my week. I relax, despite the amount my body is working. In that 90 minutes, I am calm, I am serene, and I am focused. Afterwards, I feel as though I’ve spent the last 90 minutes in gentle meditation, not working every single muscle in my body.

I will never be part of the English National Ballet. I’ll never be able to dance elegantly across a stage in front of hundreds. But I will keep taking small pleasures in my achievements, and I will keep enjoying learning something new, and applying myself. I’ll keep enjoying putting on my ballet shoes on a Friday night, and I’ll still enjoy being caught practising doing pirouettes in the kitchen while I’m cooking tea.

This post was partly inspired by the post The Power of Running – which appears here