Three things happened in July. Firstly, I took a ‘vacation’ to Lake Arrowhead. The week unsurprisingly involved a lot of wild swimming in the glittering mountain waters, and as I revelled in the feeling of nothingness beneath my feet and my heart pounding with each stroke; somewhere in the back of my brain I started wondering why on earth I hadn’t been to a swimming pool once since I moved to Los Angeles. The same week, my mum accidentally attended the celebrations of David Hockney’s 80th birthday in our shared hometown of Bradford and she kindly sent me a photograph of the giant birthday cake that was made depicting one of his vibrant acrylic swimming pool paintings. Finally, my dear Kerry started sharing photographs of her regular visits to Bramley Baths in Leeds. The Edwardian baths have been there in some form since 1904, and are a now a Grade II listed building. Amongst these occurrences, an urgent desire burned for me to revisit a thread that has run consistently through my life and last weekend I finally because a member of the The Culver City Municipal Plunge.

1. Shipley Swimming Pool

I started swimming lessons at a very young age. I had an amazing terrycloth swimsuit that was bright blue with an orange goldfish on the front; that I’d enviously watched my older sisters wear before me, and was crushed when I too grew out of it. I splashed about in the baby pool working towards my Watermanship Badge. I can very clearly remember the terror of ‘jumping in’, the excruciating rub of pulling armbands onto dry skin, the ‘lightbulb’ moment when I thought that if I just walked along the bottom of the pool, but did the correct arm movements, I would fool everyone into thinking I could swim (clearly forgetting that the pool water is, in fact, transparent) and the heavenly taste of the raspberry slush puppy I was allowed after each class. I was an instant water baby and threw myself into taking as many classes and exams as possible. I quickly worked up from regular classes, to underwater skills during which I  remember a misguided test that involved picking a brick off the bottom of the pool whilst wearing pyjamas. I moved onto my 10 metres, 25 metres, 50 metres, 100 metres, 200 metres, and eventually so many metres that I did a charity swim for OXFAM where I swam for three hours without stopping. Next it was time to take the bronze, silver and gold certificates and after that my Saturday morning routine, which had existed for half a decade at that point, was ending. With no more classes to take, I had two choices. I could specialise in either diving or, synchronised swimming. I am pretty sure I took one look at the high-board and figured I would rather spend my time in the water than standing 10 metres above it, most likely paralysed with fear.

2. Belle Vue Swimming Pool

I’m smiling to myself as I type out the name, as I am guessing that Belle Vue means Beautiful View and there was absolutely nothing aesthetically pleasing about this building or the part of Bradford that it existed in. I tried to find a photograph but went down a Google rabbit hole and can only assume it’s long since been demolished; which would not surprise me. My secret life as a synchronised swimmer began at the age of 11. I can’t even tell you how UN-COOL ‘synchro’ was in the mid ’90s. There was none of this kitsch or quirky association of the now-Olympic sport; it was something I could not admit to anyone that I did. I went to great lengths to hide my swimming kit on practise days, and was forever having to scuttle off to the pool from school before anyone could ask me to walk home with them. My time as a synchronised swimmer was my one and only experience of competitive sport and having a coach in anything. I was part of the “City of Bradford Synchronised Swimmers” and would participate in meets and competitions around Yorkshire. It was quite a shock to the system. I arrived at my first lesson to be directed to a white board that had written on it: 20 x breaststroke, 20 x front crawl, 20 x back crawl, 20 x butterfly, 20 x sculling – which is the arm + hand movement that you do during synchro to keep the rest of your body looking completely still on top of the water. Yes, 100 laps was just the ‘warm-up’ before we even began doing our routines and positions. No wonder my body resembled a spaghetti strand at that age.

I wish someone had the foresight to make a documentary about pre-teen synchronised swimmers in Bradford in the nineties. The stranger-than-fiction lengths of bitchiness that a group of competitive pre-teen girls will go to is staggering. Tickling feet mid group-routine, hiding nose-clips before a big competitions and endless vying to be the one that was selected to perform a ‘solo’ routine at the next competition. I enjoyed the training and the craft, but back before the sport was taken so seriously there was still a strong ‘beauty pageant’ element to any competition. We wore ridiculous matching sequinned outfits, vaseline on our face to stop the caked-on make up running and our hair was covered in yet-more-sequins, flowers and then set with gelatine; which you could only remove after with near-boiling water. Each swimmer would perform various positions and then have a panel of judges hold up scores. It’s a tough age to receive a wall of 1’s for your wonky ballet leg. My one and only solo routine featured a self-selected musical accompaniment of East 17, Ace of Base and Eternal. Oh and The Power by SNAP! and you can just imagine how special that was for everyone. The clearest memory that stays with me from these days is the way the music vibrated through your body and cued the various moves. You couldn’t wear goggles, so vision in the deep water was pretty murky and it was the beats that guided you. As I slunk into my teens and puberty crept in, I started to buckle under the pressure to stay a certain shape that my body just wasn’t blooming in to. The previously harmless in-fighting took on a darker body-shaming tone, and I was absolutely sick of training when all my friends were ligging about watching telly or shopping at Bay Trading Company or planning sleepovers.

3. Central London YMCA Club

In my early-twenties I finally made the move from Yorkshire to London that I had been craving since my teens. My timing could have been better; as a week or so before moving, we found out that my mum had a serious health issue. She was still adamant that I go, and of course I did, but my heart was very much back home with her. The big smoke is a tough, rough and gritty city. I do adore it, but I am pretty sure nobody gets out of their first year unscathed. I had my chirpy, friendly northern edges quickly rubbed off. I missed everyone back home like crazy. I was in a disastrous house-share with two friends in a black hole part of Streatham that was nowhere near any form of transport; clocking my commute up to over an hour each way. I was working in my first high-pressure ‘career’ job, for ‘expenses only’. Looking back I was just completely clueless and bumbling through each day as best I could. It was at this time that I retreated back to old habits and spent every spare minute I could under water. I found a swimming pool at the YMCA just off Oxford Street, that was under a ten minute walk from my office. It’s not an exaggeration that I would sometimes go there morning, noon and night; re-using the same soggy costume after a quick blast with the hair dryer. The swimming pool at the time was in the basement of the building. You accessed it from the changing rooms by taking a long spiral stair case deeper and deeper until there was no noise and no natural light, which was as creepy as it sounds. The stairs led you to a dark dingy pond-pool that was actually demolished (there’s a theme to these stories!) later. In all my memories, I am alone in the swimming pool. This seems absolutely impossible with hindsight; as it was a busy central London facility. Why wasn’t there even a lifeguard for company? Maybe it really was that unappealing? Or maybe it was the fact I was probably there on a Saturday night when most people were spilling out of pubs. When I look back to this time, it has that sepia nostalgia film of un-realness. I think I owe those hours spent slowly-pruning, for transitioning me through that first foreboding year and into a London life that I loved.

I wrote a short story called ‘Chlorine’ at the time, about this swimming pool. I desperately want to edit it as it feels so clunky and cheesy now, but that would be cheating.

The shock of the air against my damp skin caused a blanket of goosebumps to sprout across my arms and chest. The swimming pool was empty, and I was alone apart from the echoing of my wet feet slapping against the tiles. An hour of monotonous lengths and playing chicken with my lungs, as to how long I could stay under the surface, hadn’t helped to clear my mind. The watery salvation absent that usually comes with tracing my fingernails along the lines on bottom and starving myself of oxygen until a thousand sparkles swarm my vision. Instead I ripped myself from the stillness that always looks such an enticing aqua marine from the edge. The stench of chlorine followed me as I stood at the top of the staircase back to the changing rooms. The one that twists and turns in spirals that seem to last forever, forcing you to spend an excess amount of time out of the water lusting for the hot soapy shower waiting only moments away.

Your figure shocked me as I turned the last corner. My swimming costume clung and creased into an itchy second skin. I told you my eyes were scarlet due to the chemicals that make the water that tempting toxic blue. You knew I was lying as you reached a long arm around my tiny frame. The one that shrinks and shrieks since I moved to this stupid city. Crevices appearing where softness existed before. Bruises sprouting on corners of my body that protrude instead of retreating coyly. The walls sang back the drip drip drip from our soggy embrace and our bones creaked as we broke away.

4. The Culver City Municipal Plunge

My last blog post talked about anxiety and taking control over unwieldy thoughts and feelings. Well I think it’s evident that there has been quite a key location missing in my life. Every night that I now pack my swimming cap, towel and locker padlock in advance of a morning dip, I feel some of the days stresses and strains just melting away. I’ve made no secret that moving countries and re-setting life has it’s ups, and it’s downs. When we first moved here I actually bookmarked the swimming pool information, but instantly found the prospect of working out when I could fit in going, what the membership fees were and just not knowing the etiquette of lanes and lessons completely overwhelming. I’m angry at past-me for giving up so quickly and taking nearly two years to fall back on what is clearly such a tried and tested method for my brain. On my first trip there, everything was a disaster. I paid the wrong fee (I should have got a ‘resident’ discount) and I misjudged the lanes so badly that I got into the fast lane, and was instantly yelled at by a butterfly-ing man. And it was FINE. I retreated to the medium lane and basked in the fact that I can swim outside, in an unheated pool, all year round. My view from doing backstroke is palm trees, and bright yellow diving boards. I like to do my laps underwater, watching the the sunshine dancing on the tiles and the bubbles from my nose obstructing my view.

I get into the swimming pool with questions, and I leave with only answers.

And this time around, I get to do it inside a real-life David Hockney painting.

 

 

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I’ve spent pretty much all my life skirting around the fact I’m an incredibly anxious person. I hide behind calling myself a worry wart, a control freak, a Monica-from-Friends and most commonly an over thinker. It’s a relief that nowadays anxiety is better understood and widely discussed. However, that doesn’t mean I’m anymore comfortable with it being a dominating part of my personality and an exhausting presence within most of my decisions, desires and dreams. I’ve mostly dealt with my anxiety using two methods; denial and flooding. Denial is the veneer of confidence, togetherness and surface level cool-cucumber I attempt to fool the world with, whilst silently wringing my hands under my desk at work or laying awake at night re-running conversations and analysing them into oblivion. Flooding is when I force situations onto myself such as backpacking around Latin America or moving my life to another country where my anxiety almost implodes with possible scenarios to fret about, and for a short time I’m left with the type of calm that potentially most people live with all the time.

I was a teenager when I was first diagnosed with a heart condition. It was an excruciating time to suffer the symptoms I initially had; palpitations and fainting. At the age of sixteen, where all I wanted to do was melt into the background and avoid the judgement of my peers, I felt like the world’s biggest attention seeker. My condition was quickly under control with medication and I have lived without any real impact on my life, other than the fact I can’t take drugs and I can’t ride rollercoasters; which let’s face it, is an over-thinkers dream existence anyway. When I arrived in America, I started getting some new and alarming symptoms which led to getting a fancy Beverly Hills cardiologist and an ultrasound of my heart. The scan was a far more emotional experience than I expected; it felt like a privilege to get up close and personal with the organ that enables me to live this huge life. And boy, was it NOISY. I can only compare it to listening to a full orchestra. The obvious comparison is the persistent and booming drum beat which you’d expect. What I wasn’t expecting was the reedy, wind-section whistling of the valves or the high pitched sinewy string-section.

Shortly after, my cardiologist shed a little light on my heart-life. Firstly, the ‘condition’ I thought I had been diagnosed with as a teen, was actually just the name of my symptoms (tachycardia) and not the cause. Secondly, he could clearly diagnose that I had Mitral Valve Prolapse. The marvellous mitral valve sits between the left atrium and the left ventricle and helps control the flow of blood as it passes from the left atrium into the left ventricle. The valve has two flaps of tissue — known as leaflets — that open and close together like a pair of swinging doors. Each time the heart beats, the left ventricle pumps blood out to the body and the flaps of the mitral valve swing shut to prevent the blood in the ventricle from flowing backward into the left atrium. In my case, one of the leaflets is oversized; causing it to occasionally ‘stick’ in the incorrect position and causing the (as you’d expect) frightening sensation that something is very wrong in the ticker department.

The sensation is always (always!) corrected by the heart and only lasts seconds, so I am extremely fortunate as it’s a completely safe and common condition, and more of an inconvenience than anything to be concerned by. The reason I am telling you this; is that the diagnosis was instantly followed up by him asking if I would consider myself an anxious person. I was totally bemused and my ‘denial’ brain was on the cusp of absolute outrage and the million reasons I am absolutely together and cool, calm, collected thank you very much. But instead I was honest, and explained that anxious is basically my default setting. He explained that he’d actually been part of a study where they investigated the link between MVP and anxiety and found it to be disproportionately high; the reason being that the condition keeps your body in a daily state of physical anxiety. This explanation was followed up with the advice to avoid stress, to reduce the symptoms. (lol)

So, after a life of denial and flooding; two very short term solutions for being anxious; this was the nudge I needed to stop being so passive about my constant over-thinking. I’m finally investing some time and effort into a journey that will see my brain grow out of those bad habits and cycles I find myself in. I’m having faith that perhaps I’m way more in control over the way I respond to situations than I have previously thought, and that I don’t just have to accept this as my forever-state. I took a month to actively reduce the time I spent on my phone, the time I spent communicating with others and the boundaries I needed to just to give myself space to stop, and re-start. I’ve found Start Where You Are by Meera Lee Patel a great source of plots + plans for areas to focus on both short and long term. I’m finding the 52 List for Happiness Journal a great way to mark my progress each week. I’ve also discovered bottomless mimosa brunches with my friend Karolina, where we seem to be able to put the entire world to rights by the time we reach number 5. It’s felt like I am getting to know an entirely new part of myself (peace sign emoji!) which is unexpected at the age of 33. One of the top recommendations from, well, everywhere has been meditation.

I signed up for Headspace and started the ‘Take 10’ programme in earnest. Firstly I was horrified by my prioritising of time. Why oh why do I think it’s acceptable to spend hours scrolling through Instagram, or logging onto my work emails at the crack of dawn, or snoozing for an extra twenty minutes, or vanishing down a conspiracy theory about Avril Lavigne; but claim I cannot find ten minutes each morning to meditate? I’m an idiot. It’s really taught me a lot in how I place value on my time and how ten minutes should not feel like such an impossible daily hurdle.

The next issue was that when I am meditating I just don’t know how to stop thinking! The nice Headspace man starts chatting and I feel totally committed to listening to him for oooh about twenty seconds, before my chain of thought goes something like:

“OK! Listen to my surroundings. Well I can hear my neighbour stomping about and Buttercup whining because I have closed the bedroom door. Maybe this would be better if I was somewhere relaxing like the beach. Then I would just hear the sea. Except the closest beach is so close to the road. And LAX. So then I’d just hear the aeroplanes too. When am I next going back to LAX anyway? Oh Kerry’s visit is soon, I can’t wait for that. I need to prepare the itinerary though. I wonder if we can get a reservation at Mama Shelter. What even is Mama Shelter? I’ve just heard lots of people talking about it but I don’t know if it’s food or drink or what. So maybe we should go somewhere I have actually been and know is good. But maybe it’s fun to try somewhere new? etc ETC ETCCCC!”

By which point, I’ve totally tuned out every tip, tactic and instruction that Headspace man is telling me. I find the Headspace blog really insightful and interesting, and their recent How to stop overthinking and start living article was great, but not specific to the meditating process.

Do you meditate and are you an over thinker? Is there hope for me yet? It feels like a key to unlocking some better brain behaviour; but at the same time it provides the perfect un-distracted space for my thoughts to run riot.

 

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Since moving to Los Angeles I’ve written a grand total of two blog posts. That’s one post every 9 months, and it strikes me as ridiculous that it is taking me a human-baby length gestation period to get any words out of my buzzing brain and into this nook of internet. It frustrates me on a daily basis, as I know this is an experience I should be documenting in a more meaningful way than photographs of sunsets on Instagram. It’s not that I’m not inspired, it’s not that I don’t have creative juices flowing and it’s not a case of writers block. It’s just that taking your whole life as you know it and plonking it down again 5000 miles away is an experience that I just find impossible to translate into words. I wrote last year about the pressure I felt to be living the dream and box away the shell-shock that came with my newly-wed, new-job and new-country triple whammy.

I’ve had a few moments recently that have led me to realise the only comparison I can make to my Los Angeles experience is that it’s like being in a new romantic relationship. I haven’t met a new beau since the age of 27 which was way back in 2012 when a boy called Nick asked “Excuse me, is your name Bee?”. He dazzled me in that moment and we’ve spent the next five years facing our formative late twenties and transition into thirties hand-in-hand. We’ve explored, we’ve danced in the kitchen, we’ve had to look some of life’s biggest fears in the eyes and we’ve never been able to say no to an adventure. We’ve matured together; adapting and adjusting ourselves like tree roots growing around each other and tightening their grip.

Los Angeles feel like the start of something very similar. Firstly, in a familiar way, I am falling fiercely in love. Everything is rose-tinted (literally, with the California natural ‘filter’) and I’ll hear no criticism of the city or the ways it could be bad for me. I want to bask gloriously in the ways which is it making my heart so full. Perching at the top of Baldwin Heights as dusk settles over the sprawling cityscape and lights begin to wink knowingly at me. Driving down the freeway with a car full of friends; laughing and singing and weaving through traffic. Always having the Hollywood sign in my peripheral vision. Being able to leave my desk, and have sand between my toes within half an hour. Small talk with my neighbours. I’m trying out new ways of being me, to people who have never known anything different.

Then you creep out of the honeymoon period and into the intimate stage. Where you open yourself up and share your slant on life, your hopes, dreams and terrors. It feels like Los Angeles is challenging me on a daily basis to revisit everything I thought I knew about myself; and ask why it is that way. If I hadn’t moved from England and my comfortable slope into a future I pretty much had mapped out, I can’t imagine I would ever have analysed myself in this way. It’s something I feel like is only possible when you’re ripped away from people who’ve known you forever and the only society you’ve ever known; especially when in your home country and adopted country that society is seriously going through the wringer.

Moving to LA has also been like jumping into freezing cold water. Every day my heart is racing. Sometimes I am gasping for air, because it’s too overwhelming. But I am kicking my legs and I am determined to keep my head above the waves because this city is demanding that I be the best version of myself. It’s teaching me to demand the highest standard. To be braver than I knew, to be kinder than before and to ask myself, in an experience that is giving me so much; what the hell am I giving back?

When Nick and I first met; we talked endlessly about how neither of us had ever felt ‘at home’ in any city or country we’d lived in. (Between us we’d racked up Bradford, Southampton, Sheffield, Norwich, Leeds, Toronto, Melbourne and London) This was a big part of our decision to travel the world. There, we checked-in with a further sixteen countries and still we’d closer our eyes each night with a feeling of not quite belonging. Then we moved here and it was like someone turning a key and everything clicking into place. We both are thriving here; individually and together. So keen to clutch to this new found sense of certainty we decided to adopt a dog who’s breed means we can never move back to the UK whilst we own her.

Make of that what you will. I think we might finally be home.

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When I was 17 years old, I had a lot of feelings.

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I was also fortunate enough to be in the possession of a newly minted driving license and semi-regular use of my dads bottle-green Vauxhall Corsa. When anxiety crept through my veins, cruel words skittered around my brain or sadness started seeping through my thin skin; I had a solution. I would get in my car armed with a teetering tower of cassette tapes. I would drive, and I would drive, and I would drive. As I travelled further from my stifling attic bedroom and out into the wider world, I wouldn’t stop until I had put enough distance between myself and whatever had got me tied in knots.

I only had a car for two sweet years of spontaneous 2am trips to service stations, daring the boys at college to ‘race’ (cheers Ryan Gosling) ordering a hundred McDonalds Apple Pies through the drive-through window and the myriad of novelty car-uses you can find in the heady days before full-time employment and any sort of responsibility. Then I moved away for university and my name was removed from the insurance policy, never to return.

Since then I’ve never lived anywhere that would warrant having a car. Cut to… actually let’s not count the years as there are many; I have settled in a city that is defined by just that. Whilst it’s an urban myth that it’s ‘impossible’ to live in Los Angeles without car, it certainly makes it easier to navigate the 503 square miles of city. After not driving for so long, I had to start the process pretty much from scratch. Muscle memory isn’t too reliable when you learnt using manual gears, and driving on the opposite side of the road. It’s like viewing everything in a mirror and my first year here has been dominated by sweaty palms and second guessing if I’m really on the right (wrong) side of the road or not. I also had to take a test to legally drive with a state issued driving license. 17 is the perfect age to revise road theory and take long Sunday lessons with patient parents. 32, plunged into a foreign country with a full-time job, is not the perfect age to revise road theory that refers to the British ‘pavement’, as sidewalk and the British ‘road’ as… pavement. Confused? Welcome to my world. It’s also not the perfect age to practise driving on your precious weekends when you could be at the beach or the mountains or doing something that doesn’t fill you with the sinking suspicion that everyone is trying to kill you.

But, as I ticked over into my thirteenth month here I took my practical test and passed. Highlights included my examiner asking me to point out where the window defroster was (there is no frost in LA, ever) and the part where practically the whole test route was dug up for roadworks and the nice chap barely seemed to know where he was going, let alone how to instruct me. Oh and I got tooted three times by drivers who didn’t appreciate my ‘actual stop’ at the red diamond signs, far preferring the iconic ‘California roll.’

On Friday night, I was home alone. Nick was out of town. I was battling the germs that come along with the first rain of the year, because I am a soft Angeleno these days. I was feeling gloomy. And then I was in the driving seat before I knew it. And I drove, and I drove, and I drove. The sky above me was water colour blooms of burnt, bronze and blush. Neon signs, twinkling headlights and sparkles in the sky that could be stars or planes or something else entirely. Silhouettes of birds, and the metro rumbling over head. It’s truly impossible to feel lonely when you’re in LA traffic. The comfort of person after person making their own way in the world, but on the same stretch of road as you.

I may have switched skylines from the mill chimneys of Bradford to the palm trees of California… but I’m so happy to have rediscovered the peace that can be found in a dusky drive to nowhere, anywhere and everywhere.

 

A Year On

Tonight, for the first time in over a year, I felt the urge to write. To sit down with a candle burning, Bon Iver playing and to type my heart and brain into this blank space until it started to make sense to me, and I guess, to you.

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That process, in itself, proved to be a pretty accurate comparison for how I am feeling. I go to log on and can’t remember what the URL is to even access my blog CMS. I panic. I realise the URL from my designer lays in an old hotmail inbox that I haven’t logged into for over a year. I try to log on, and I don’t know the password. So after 15 minutes of frustrating faffing with codes sent to UK mobile phone numbers I no longer have, and even more archaic ‘back-up’ email addresses, I reset the password. The inbox is frozen in time. The last email received was the day of my wedding, which feels so impossibly long ago. The recent-message-list is peppered with shipping company chasers, ‘deep clean’ flat quotes and a reservation reminder for a leaving dinner at my favourite London tapas restaurant. Hotmail welcomes me as Miss Barker, and of course that’s not me at all anymore. I finally find the buried treasure URL I’m looking for in a 2011 email chain, and then… I try the only 4 passwords I can imagine I used, and am instantly locked out. Too many failed log-in attempts. Please try again in 20 minutes. By this point I am hot with rage at the tediousness of how something that used to be second nature, that used to be so me, could now be unobtainable.

I’m finally here and I feel like the virtual riddles of ‘old me’ versus ‘new me’ from the last hour pretty aptly sum up the effect that moving 5437 miles across the world has had on my mentality. I’ve become fractured into two versions of myself, and it’s only tonight that I have put my finger on that. And realised that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Moving to Los Angeles is obviously an opportunity of a life-time and there isn’t a day that I don’t feel incredibly hashtag-blessed hashtag-grateful that this California Dream happened to me. To a girl that grew up in Bradford, didn’t even step foot on an aeroplane until she was 18 years old, and has stumbled from city to city, room to flat to room, never quite finding anywhere that felt like home. However in true Hollywood style, the highs of been high and the lows have been low. I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s the hardest thing I have done in my whole life and that I was woefully unprepared for that when I signed the contract and shipped out on my LA adventure. There was an additional factor in the tough-stuff in that I had also spent all my time leading up to the move, planning a wedding. It was worth every second, but I feel like the big-life-happenings of the past two years have left absolutely no breathing space for me being me. And I almost haven’t. I’ve got my head down, gritted my teeth, put my nose to the grindstone and all the other turns of phrase about body parts. I’m not saying I’ve been a hermit because you have probably followed me on Instagram or the YouTube videos and seen the sunsets, the weekends away, the cocktails and the galavanting. What I am saying though is that I haven’t quite known who I am in those situations and unless you’ve transplanted yourself into a whole new world then it probably sounds bizarre. In the same way I find it peculiar that 2016 has so far been both the happiest and toughest years of my life.

To better illustrate what I mean; tonight I found a box that still hadn’t been unpacked from our shipping delivery. It was full of dusty unloved vinyl that I bought on a whim in 2004 and have never owned a record player since. But recently we bought a dinky sky-blue one, so I greedily dug them all out and played them one after another after another after another. The soundtrack to such a specific period of my life had me slow dancing to myself around my apartment; evoking such strong memories of damp leaves in Leeds’ Hyde Park as I traipsed from university lecture halls to my bar maid job. My attic bedroom in my Hessle house-share. The nights out with sticky floors, the obsessive friendships, the walks of shame as the sun rose and the birds started to sing, the stubborn self-confidence that you can only muster when you’re yet to even begin to figure life out. The experience was so jarring on so many levels. Firstly, the brief transportation back to a decade old version of my life. Secondly, I realise I have barely listened to music since I moved. Instead I listen to podcasts obsessively, finding comfort in the company of faceless voices discussing wrongful convictions and folklore and 1920’s Hollywood scandals and how to Lean In to my career that fill my brain and prevent it from wandering anywhere. My consciousness is filled with shiny-new disposable stuff, and kept at arms length from music that might send nostalgia flooding into my world that is so far from the one I’d be reminded of.

This is so hard to articulate and I imagine you’re reading this with a healthy dose of side-eye by this point. Perhaps what I am feeling is what it is to grow up, and by removing myself from the places that I did grown up – the change is impossible to ignore and more dramatic? For the past two years I think I’ve pretty much denied myself access to ‘past’ me, as it has been so crucial to focus on this new life I’m hastily building. I don’t have the same solar system of family and friends here who know me so well they can see through any ‘I’m-fine’ bravado; of which there has been plenty lately. They are on a different time-zone. We are trying our best with exotic stamp-marked snail mail, army-mission planned Skype calls and the holy grail: transatlantic visits! But there are times when it’s 7pm on a Friday night and I feel melancholy and it’s 3am for them and the loneliness is crushing. I send my SOS texts but I know they will only be answered when I have finally fallen asleep, and by then it’ll be a new sunny day in LA and most likely, I’ll be feeling chirpier and keener to focus on new news than my wallowing.

I have put an unreasonable and unattainable amount of pressure on myself to enjoy every second of life in LA. I’ve felt incapable of putting my hands up and saying this is really bloody hard work sometimes. I’ve felt it would be a failure to admit it’s a challenge. I’ve felt that so many people would love to be in my position that I have to suck it up and put on a brave face. When actually, that builds barriers and only puts double the distance between me and the people in my life; both old and new. I think the break through I had today is that I absolutely need to be all versions of me. I need to remember everything that has bought me on the journey to a point where I am sat in America, surrounded by those things I traipsed from room to flat to room, and with a snoring rescue pup warming my feet.

I guess I wanted to say, I am okay – but at times I have been very much not okay. Leaving behind everything you know and adapting to a new culture, a new job, a new city and a new status as somebody’s wife is bound to be a stretch. Just doing one of those could cause a tailspin, so climbing a mountain of them was bound to create a noticeable shift. It’s taught me so much though, and I am proud of the fact that a year on I am finally shifting gears into a new phase. I am comfortable in my own skin. I am confident about the dynamics I need, and those that the distance is actually benefitting. I am in awe of my inspiring husband, who has ridden his fair share of rollercoaster dips and dives in this past year too but continues to make my wellbeing his priority.

I am adapting to a quality of life that will allow me to listen to records, to wake up to catch the sunrise, to feel the sand between my toes and to stitch together the pre-LA and the post-LA me.

Ahhh, it is so nice to be tapping away here again! You’ve probably noticed that this blog has purely become a little hidey-hole of the internet that I only update when I know I will really enjoy scratching the itch and have a rare solo afternoon like today. Nick is wearily making his way back across the country from his stag do! And so, charged up on a millions cups (bowls) of tea and having completed all my wedmin / wedding crafty tasks I thought oh! Like a Skeleton Key! Let’s do this old friend. I stick mostly to posting about my travel adventures over on TwentySomething Burnouts and this really is a place for more intimate and ramshackle brain ramblings. However with the total-plot twist life change news that I am moving to LA (as in, this time next month I will be a fully fledged living-working resident of Los Angeles – woooah) I have a feeling that I will be recording my life a little more fully on the internet again. That said; I don’t know if it will be blogging. I LOVE it, don’t get me wrong, and having kept a diary since I learnt to write, and an online journal since I discovered Livejournal at the age of 17, I’ll always do this. That said, writing a blog entry takes quite a bit of brain power. Working in marketing I regularly write long form content (blogs, press releases, campaign round-ups, copy etc) all day long which means that in my downtime I am slightly more reluctant to sit at my laptop continuing to work. After quite a bit of thought I decided I’d like to document my move to LA a little more visually; so will be setting up some sort of home to post videos. I feel like since I’ll be on the other side of the world it might be an easier way to share my new life with friends and family than attempting to do it justice with fancy words. PLUS! I will find it much easier to sit and natter at a camera than typing away; although I have no editing skills so might need to sweet talk my husband (!!) for help there.

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But that’s enough of that, back to life right now. Well having said goodbye to London before; you’d think I’d be doing a better job of it this time but it seems to be a similar gut wrench of excitement to leave the pesky bits (tube traumas, grumpy folk, crazy creeping rent costs) and sadness to face the fact that realistically this may be the last time I live in the big smoke. Those pangs hit me at the funniest of moments. Don’t get me wrong, I know I am ridiculously blessed to be moving to a place that sounds like a dream to live in… but London has been my home for a decade. So I’m totally allowed a long goodbye! I even found myself gazing adoringly at Piccadilly Circus the other day – having spent 10 years desperately trying to avoid that particular patch. I think it boils down to the fact that I know who I am in London. I know I like to treat myself to a mocha from The Fields Beneath if it’s a dreary day. I know I like to wow visitors by taking them to Kings Cross Dishoom & nattering over pink drinks. I know I can pull on some trainers and be at the top of Primrose Hill in 15 minutes looking out over the whole of a toy-town skyline in the distance. I know that the cat who lives next door is called Thomas and where he likes his belly ruffled. I know Craig and I can go dancing at Archer Street at any given moment and they’ll play Taylor Swift and everything will feel ok again. I know I’m only a 3 hour train journey from Yorkshire and the wilderness when I need a brain break. I don’t know how to live my life in LA. Where will I go to make sense of myself?

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It’s ok though. Because I had all these feelings before I quit my life and backpacked around the place and they dissolved within about a day of me stepping foot off the plane. It’s hard to be all wistful and emo when a new culture and adventure is demanding every ounce of concentration! I’m also a bit over-whelmed and run-down from: a) leaving my job/downloading my work brain b) preparing for a new job c) planning a (very DIY) wedding and d) preparing to ship and move my life to another country. I’m sure all of these feature on a “most stressful life things” list somewhere and I’m a bit like a bingo card of THINGS TO THINK AND DO right now. I honestly don’t know how I would function without To Doist. Every second I spend my time right now feels like it’s been colour coded, tagged and categorised in that app right now (even writing this – cringe!) Luckily Nick has been on hand to save me from myself and make sure that I have downtime. This week he surprised me with tickets to see Empire Records at the Camden Market Backyard Cinema Film Festival! Let’s not talk about the fact that Empire Records is TWENTY years old this year (it’s ok though, Pretty Woman is 30 years old). Nick splurged on some sort of lux (so LA!) tickets that included a free whopping Honest Burger and a giant cider. We cosied up under blankets on deck chairs and not even a decent dose of British Summer rain could stop us bopping along to the soundtrack (which I used to have on tape cassette in my first car) and talking along with the unforgettable quotes that are taking up valuable GBs in my bee brain. Attention Rex Manning fans, to your left you will notice a shoplifter being chased by night manager, Lucas. This young man will be caught, deep fried in a vat of hot oil and served to our first hundred customers. Just another tasty treat from the gang at Empire Records! The festival is running for another couple of weeks, including the chance to see Amy in Camden which would be pretty fitting and a screening of Teen Wolf which sadly clashes with my work leaving shindig so please go and watch it on my behalf!

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Something else that’s been making me happy is flowers! When Blossoming Gifts emailed me to ask if I’d like to sample their delivery flower service I obviously said yes please and then swooned over the fact they had a bouquet of Apricot Rose & Hydrangea. I am having hydrangeas for my bridal flowers so the thought of having some in the house whilst I did the final bits and bobs of wedding planning felt really special. And no I haven’t walked up and down the side of my bed holding the vase as if it was my bouquet and smiling sweetly at the walls pretending they were guests. Nope, no siree. I was super impressed with the delivery bouquet options; it felt like they had some really unusual colour and flower combinations and are clearly experts in what works well together. The flowers arrived in a very sturdy box and lasted a whole week without wilting, even in the tropical London smog we had lately. In fact the apricot dalidas are still going strong so I’ve transferred them into a little glass vase that Nick bought me which is actually a wine carafe that is given to Italian army officers as standard kit (snazzy!) which he picked up at the local Army Surplus Store.

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Blossoming Gifts have kindly passed on a discount of 33% off if you’d like to treat yourself! I’d definitely rate them and the ease of being able to pick a bunch online and know they will be delivered safely and swiftly is so easy. No more scuttling around a service station hunting out a crummy old carnation creation when in need of thanking someone! You just need to enter the code BGIFTS33. You can check out their flowers by post here and their cheap flower selection (which don’t look cheap – score!) here. I’m already desperate to order myself the orangery selection – those giant daisies are cute as a button.

One thing that is also concerning me greatly about the upcoming move is WOE I will not be in the UK for the Great British Bake Off final. And apparently there isn’t a Great American Bake Off to fill the (cake) hole so I am going to need to work out how to use Tunnel Bear properly and work out the time zone different for watching it as soon as possible and hope it doesn’t involve being awake at 4am or something. Everybody without exception in my team at work is GBBO mad; so for the last couple of years I have helped to organise a team bake off where a different person bakes every Wednesday. Last year I burnt my arm so badly whilst making a Chocolate & Yorkshire Ale cake that I had to go to A&E when it made my veins turn red and angry! This year I managed to avoid any hospitalisation and also managed to make a random thought that had popped into my head a baked good reality. I had wondered if I could make a cake that looked like a watermelon using some kind of mystical food colouring / dark chocolate drop combo. And well… it kind of worked!

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Before I sign off I just want to share a few final things that are currently floating my boat, since I have been absent for a while. Mainly – PODCASTS. Serial was my gateway drug, which led onto podcasts about that podcast (still totally hooked on Undisclosed, Serial Dynasty, Serially Obsessed and Crime Writers on Serial) and about the same time I discovered Welcome to Night Vale and This American Life which tend to also be the big gateway podcast pathways for the less crime oriented types. Oh and I loved listening to Grantland’s Watch the Thrones almost more than watching this season of Game of Thrones. Podcasts have completely revolutionised my life in terms of how much more fun any sort of travel or chores now are. Whereas previously I might have put a few tunes on to motivate myself to do the washing up or my commute; now I honestly track my walk to work against how many episodes of podcasts I have to get through and get extremely excited about that time alone in a totally immersive world of audio. I feel embarrassed, as an audio book lover, why it took me so long to figure out that podcasts were swiftly going to become my favourite form of entertainment.

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Recently I have got deep in to three podcasts that I wanted to share; given that basically all my podcast discoveries have come via recommendations. They all have something in common and have unearthed a part of my tastes, likes and interests that had somehow become dampened as I have grown into an adult. That thing is… MYSTERY! As a child I was absolutely obsessive about mysteries. My sister and I would count down the excruciating seconds for Strange but True with Michael Aspel to come on each week. We had various books of unsolved mysteries including the classics like the Bermuda Triangle, Jack the Ripper and Mary Celeste and I would paw over them every night after lights out using the old torch-under-the-duvet trick. I can remember the giddy-terrified sensation of hearing about a new spooky story or unsolved mystery and laying awake for hours trying to unpick the details and try to solve it; not for the good of humanity but in order to not be totally freaked out and need to do the shameful climb into bed with my sister! As I’ve got older I have developed a more control-freak-ish personality and therefore all things mysterious have slightly gone out of the window. That said I have still always had a curiosity for true crime (mainly in the form of an addiction to Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City and always reading the headlines of Chat magazine when lurking at the supermarket checkout) and maintained a love for zombies and b-movies. All of these long lost loves have been re-ignited through my three top podcasts; hooray! Childhood me is so happy to feel that spooky goosebump skin once more!

  1. Lore : Sometimes the truth is more frightening than fiction. This bi-weekly podcast explores topics such as real life zombies, folklore, mysterious beasts, asylums, cabins in the woods and haunted hotels. I almost squealed when I saw episode 9 pop-up in my feed as it covers the story of the Devil on the Roof; the story I remember terrifying me into a near catatonic state when I first read about it with sweaty palms at a stupidly young age (blame having elder siblings!) It’s hosted by Aaron Mahnke who has the worlds most soothing voice and is also a supernatural thriller author and resident of Boston (known for the Salem trials and being Lovecraft heartland; so a pretty good place to start) and I can’t recommend it enough. Just make sure you have an Ovaltine lined up for bedtime after listening.
  2. Generation Why : Murders, myths, monsters and miscarriages of justice. I have come to this cult podcast at a shamefully late date considering how much it’s my cup of tea. That said; it now means I could binge on about 50 incredible episodes in the space of 3 weeks – covering everything from the disappearance of Madeline McCann, the case of D B Cooper, the Zodiac Killer and Robert Durst. Amongst these more contemporary cases though are sprinkled a ton of old classics from my reading-by-torchlight days which I have gleefully revisited with an adult brain – Loch Ness Monster, Bermuda Triangle, Big Foot and the Bermuda Triangle! The podcast is so well produced and presented by Aaron and Justin that you soon feel like you are sitting down with a couple of old chums for a natter about the weird and wonderful. I like the fact that the more grizzly / grim cases (multiple homicides or violence against kids/women) often focus far more on education around the legal implications or the culture surrounding the circumstances than just fear-mongering or focussing on the gory details. For example I listened to the podcast about Lucie Blackman; a story I felt really affected by at the time when it was all over the news, and was relieved that the podcast was super respectful and featured a real expert in Japanese culture and lifestyle to explain the context of the case.
  3. The Mystery ShowA podcast where Starlee Kine solves mysteries. This podcast is a ridiculously simple concept – Starlee Kine investigates mysteries that cannot be solved by the power of Google. On the journey to solve the mysteries however; it’s the people and the places that Starlee is taken that create a rollercoaster of emotions, unexpected forks in the road and twists & turns that become so unexpected you almost forget what the original mystery way (for example the SPECTACULAR Phil Spector story that is revealed whilst looking for the source of Welcome Back, Kotter lunch pail artwork) it’s adorable, it’s engaging and it’s a must-listen.

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Ah that was nice. See you again sooner; I promise.

 

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It’s been a while, huh? If you feel out of touch with my goings on, I have been wittering away about recent travels such as BERLIN over on Twentysomething Burnouts; so don’t forget to subscribe over there! Life is feeling pretty settled at the moment; which is a rarity for me and something that usually means I am going to do something crazy to unsettle things! But for now I am still here in my lovely treehouse flat in North London, which I’ve lived in for a year this month. I’m still working away at Penguin Random House and pinching myself that I get to read books for a living (although there is a little more to it than that) Oh and still wedding planning. The big day is 133 days away (I am obsessed with the Big Day app!) (and brackets it seems) and after finding wedding planning a little bit stressful initially, I have now hit my stride and am really enjoying the process. It helps that all of my friends are pitching in so much and letting me delegate, which is a skill that does NOT come easily for someone with Monica-from-Friends-control-freaking-syndrome. The most helpful of all has been my beloved Craig or should I say… my Creative Director! Who is helping on the decor front; from hunting out treasures on eBay to setting up on the day so I can concentrate on getting my hair done and drinking bubbles. What a wedding gift!

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I don’t know how other people have approached wedding planning but Nick and I have a system that works pretty well. Firstly; broadly speaking I am organising the wedding, he is organising the honeymoon. This has kept things really clear and plays to both our strengths. I was worried that wedding planning was going to grow into a monster and take over my whole life; which isn’t really possible when I have a full-time job and busy year (2015 has already been an insane one for other weddings/anniversaries/30ths etc etc… in fact I have been away every weekend since the beginning of March! Phewf!) so my method has just been to IGNORE wedding planning on a day to day basis; and then set aside one Sunday every month to get up early and spend the whole day planning, booking, paying bills, filling out forms and all of that stuff. It’s so productive and I have a list up until September of what I need to tick off each month; so I always know what’s coming and what to power through. Then I have a week off in June where I can sit around in my PJs listening to Taylor Swift and doing all the crafting and little details for the tables and guests. This has kept the whole thing feeling incredibly manageable and dare I say… fun!

One thing I’ve had to do is get a little bit fit this year. I didn’t want to do the predictable bridezilla dieting and being miserable for the year leading up to the wedding (I love cheese way too much for that) so instead I have just carried on eating what I want, but focussed on exercising. I pay for an expensive London gym membership but in November and December I only used it twice – once to use the free Wifi and the other time to use the VENDING MACHINE (!) so honestly it was time for a change. That and the fact that when January rolled round, I had a wedding dress fitting and couldn’t fit in the dress I had altered the previous October. From that point I made a vow to do some form of exercise 5 out of 7 days. My problem is I get quite grumpy and bored at fitness of most kinds and am basically huffing, puffing and pouting before I have even laced up my trainers or stepped into the pool. By switching up what I do, I have managed to trick my brain into not hating it because there isn’t a predictable routine. Some days I just walk into work (just over 5k/3miles) and then it’s done for the day before I’ve even really woken up. Other days I swim, spin, pilates or if I’m feeling really brave, I go to step aerobics set to 90s music. I’m also doing one run a week. I have had such a love/hate relationship with running but after reading Running Like A Girl by Alexandra Heminsley it really re-ignited all my warm fuzzy feelings. I can’t run very easily in winter because cold air is my main asthma trigger, so now the warmer days are here I am actually enjoying the chance to race about a bit. I am SO spoilt to have Primrose Hill, Hampstead Heath and Regents Park all on my doorstep, so it’s nice to be making the most of that.

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Even though it’s May, and I have shed the excess Christmas pounds and am feeling fitter than ever, I have found it hard to accept that this is a “permanent” shift. I’ve been stubbornly wearing the same crummy old band tees and old running leggings that I’ve had for six years and are peppered with moth munches because I’m still in the mindset that this is just a phase. Finally last month Nick talked some sense into me and I invested in some running tights, proper fitting/quick-dry tops and basically things that don’t fall down/off when I do any sort of movement. It’s amazing how this has revolutionised my running particularly; how feeling good about myself carries me through on days where I feel less like getting out there. Primark has actually been my best source of nice-looking but nicely-priced sports kit; so it’s worth going there for a dig around if your gym kit needs an overhaul.

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As well as feeling chipper on my wedding day, I wanted to put this new found energy and zing to good use. A month ago an email came round at my work, and before I had chance to convince myself of all the reasons I COULDN’T do it, I signed up… to climb the Three Peaks in 24 Hours! This is happening in just over a months time, so I’m stepping up the training with a few 20 mile walks planned in May. Oh and climbing the stairs at work every day, as I am on the 7th floor and it’s two-flights per floor. I mean that is totes the same thing as Snowden… right?! I am obviously quite intimidated by the challenge that lays ahead of me, but as it’s with a bunch of colleagues so I feel like it will be an incredible bonding experience and I just know I’ll feel so proud every time we reach one of the summits (even if I only learnt for the first this week that err, Ben Nevis has SNOW on it, that’s how high it is) I need to wake up to the fact I’ll need to invest in a bit of kit, our list includes things such as 2L hydration system… and I am not naive in how gruelling this will be as not only is it lots of steep walking and scrabbling, but it’s also 24 hours with no sleep (the second peak is done in the night, with only a head torch to guide us… so hopefully that one will kind of be like sleepwalking?) but I just plan to stock up on jelly babies, flapjack and a few audio books to tune into if I need distracting. Wish me luck and if you could be ever so kind; donate a few pennies? I’m raising money for Mind; a charity incredibly close to my heart who always need more funding to do their amazing work. I’m only at the half-way mark of my compulsory £550 sponsorship target so even if you only donate the cost of a pint that would still be hugely appreciated! Sponsor me and my legs HERE. If you do, I will be THIS happy and you can see how happy that is!

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All of this gadding about the place in trainers has got me a little sore; so when a different kind of email came round work offering reduced price sports massages; I booked myself in. Imagine my horror when I turned up to my session and the masseuse is a 20 stone body builder, with a body fat ratio of 5%?! He even enters in professional body building competitions and eats 40 eggs a day. it made my jaunts around the park look small fry. It certainly was not what I expected and I was scared he might permanently break me, considering he resembled the incredible hulk. Obviously he didn’t, because he is a professional masseuse, but I sure could feel the work he did for days afterwards!

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Well that’s probably most of the new news for now! I turn 31 on Monday and am quite excited to inch further away from my twenties and into a decade that feels like it’s fitting pretty well. I told someone yesterday that it’s my birthday soon and their response was “well you don’t know how many you have left to celebrate; so enjoy it!” which at the time totally destroyed my feel good celebratory vibes and put me into a bit of a downward mortality-questioning spiral. However, she was right in a way. We are so lucky to have every day, birthday or not, so it’s nice to feel like I’m trying to squeeze the most out of them right now.

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Why is 2015 in such a hurry ey? Maybe it’s because I am planning a wedding and so hyper-aware of the days left to get my bum in gear and organise things are speeding past in a blur of well… doing everything but organising things. I just can’t believe that it’s mid February, that the days are getting long and that things in April (like my next dress fitting) suddenly seem uncomfortably close rather than dark distant days!

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I feel like this gorgeous Hello Dodo tee-shirt sums up my general life-vibe lately. Bear with me; I’m trying my best to be good and enthused about all the things but occasionally I just have to take a day like today where I sack every thing and everyone off and am still in my PJs at 4pm, intending to make the most active thing I do changing into a fresh pair when bedtime rolls around. Anyway! I am really keen to share with you a really neat thing I did in London lately. My friend Ianthe writes for the BA High Life in-flight magazine and got in touch a few weekends ago to see if Nick & I wanted to accompany her, along with some of Nick’s other uni buddies, to a “locked room mystery”. A few Googles later and I realised that there a craze sweeping well… the world, which London is actually a little late to the scene on. The craze actually started in 2007, when in Japan there was a sweep of turning simple point and click computer games into a physical challenge, that took place in a locked room. The participant would only be able to leave the room once the challenge had been successfully completed. This soon became so popular that the trend was picked up and soon “escape the room” adventures were popping up across Asia, Australia and Europe.

So, this led to me finishing an uneventful work Monday in January and making my way to an anonymous looking door in the city, near Bank station. The first challenge was to locate the entrance to Escape Hunt; the only signage being a small logo next to the doorbell. After plummeting 3 flights of stairs into the bowels of London, we were met by an enthusiastic lady dressed as a sort of sexy Sherlock Holmes (!) who introduced herself to us as our Games Master. We were pretty swiftly taken to a door and the process of what lay ahead of us was explained. The building contained various themed mysteries; our mystery to crack that night was the called “The Artists Bedroom”. In the bedroom we would fine an artist had been brutally murdered; and we would have exactly one hour from the second we entered the room to work through various codes, clues and puzzles in order to solve the crime. For the duration of the hour, our Games Master would be watching us on CCTV. If at any point we got stuck; we could phone her for a clue. However! This was discouraged because every time we phoned for help; we would lose a minute from the countdown clock. If at any point she felt like we were taking too long, she could phone us with a hint to keep us on track. We deposited all of our worldly belongings in a locker outside and were quickly hustled into a small infra-red lit room and the door slammed with an electronic click. We were totally locked in and we needed to get a wriggle on to escape…

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In case you are planning to take part in Escape Hunt I won’t give too many spoilers about the mystery itself, because that’s obviously the best bit. Once in the room, there were various different types of tasks; from reading music, to maths, to word games to picking up on subtle clues within the room. We also had to basically turn everything within the four walls upside down in order to find keys, padlocks, hidden laminated hints and NOTHING was what it seemed (for example an innocuous looking wardrobe ended up being a door into an Alice in Wonderland style set of smaller and smaller rooms beyond it). The main theme, cheesy as it is, was team work. We quickly figured out that unless we organised who was focussing on what and where, we didn’t have a hope of getting past the first hurdle. It’s also unbelievable how quickly an hour can flit past once you are racing against the clock. In the end, we had to phone ole sexy Sherlock three times for a helping hand, and she phoned us once… and we cracked the crime with 7 minutes to spare! Afterwards we got to celebrate by a) being freed from our locked room prison and b) dressing up in tweed and posing at a photo-booth with various Baker Street appropriate props.

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I cannot recommend Escape Hunt enough. It brings every childhood Crystal Maze fantasy to life! (Except not getting to go in the glass box and grab gold and silver tokens, wah) It was SO much fun! There seem to be endless iterations of escape adventures popping up across the capital at the moment, with Hint Hunt  and Clue Quest amongst them. I’ve chatted to colleagues who have been to other versions and I feel like perhaps the other companies might be a little slicker; with more maths/code based tech-y type challenges. I’m not going to lie; ours was pretty hammy! And the theme was definitely steeped in detective stories, clues and observation skills; which I’d definitely prefer over anything too tech based. The Sherlock stuff and the very low budget props in the room definitely made it clear that the money had gone into the CCTV set up, central location and working out the room riddles themselves. I guess it’s down to preference; so do a bit of research of what’s available where before you buy your tickets. That said, we found the slightly low-budget-ness really charming and a good ice breaker once locked into a teeny tiny room as a group of five. There really wasn’t much I would have changed about the experience; and we were all completely high on it afterwards! It was so rare to be that focussed on something for an entire hour; with the worries of work, life and London completely vanished. In such an intense environment, with a team relying on you, it was impossible to let your mind wonder. I’m already obsessed with taking as many different groups of friends as possible; as it’s such a good alternative to a night down the pub or an expensive dinner somewhere. I also feel competitive with my former self already, and desperate to get back in a locked room in an attempt to get out of it in a quicker time. One final thing to note is that ironically, I am quite claustrophobic (can’t go in lifts, but totally fine in tubes – to give you an idea of the size of my triggers) therefore the concept of being locked in a tiny room had my heart pit-pattering. That said, as I mentioned in my 2015 resolutions, I am trying to keep my anxiety in check and was determined not to let it stop me taking part in something that sounded so fun. As it turned out, the Games Master was SO understanding and gave me a couple of reassurances such as the fact she was watching the whole time and I could just wave to the camera to be let out. So if small spaces give you the fear, don’t let it put you off this amazing experience!

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What else has been occurring? Last weekend I zoomed up north to catch up with my friends and family, and take a bit of a London brain-break. I spent the Saturday in Leeds with my mum. I lived in Leeds for 5 years, so was amazed that she could show me something that had remained a completely hidden treasure the whole time I was resident there; luckily after a bit of research I realised it had only opened once I had left the city, so feel a bit less sad about the missed opportunities to while away some hours there. This most marvellous marvel is the Leeds Art Gallery Cafe and it’s certainly one of the most beautiful spaces I have ever seen, including every where I have visited on my world travel tour. It was originally a Victorian reading room for Leeds library, but fell into disrepair. In 2007 a huge project saw the hideous 60s shelving torn down and the tiled room restored to its former glory. There are wall to wall green decorative tiles, huge marble arches, gold globed roof detailing and floor to ceiling windows letting in beautiful light shafts. It’s honestly breath taking when you step foot inside, and worth going just to see in person. That said, the tea and cakes (and the company) were pretty great too.

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I slept at Becca’s house on the Saturday night. Myself and her other two bridesmaids drank pink wine and ate noodles and nattered away until we realised it had gone 2am. The next day I had a slightly hazy cross-Yorkshire mission to get to visit another friend, Annette, so Becca drew me a handy map to get me on my way. Please note her use of the word snicket which is such a Bradfordism that I am proud to say I haven’t let London knock out of me.

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This weekend was Valentines Day and although we hadn’t planned to do anything ~special~; actually one of the most romantic things we could do happened. We went to the town hall and gave our official Notice of Marriage. Nick had been saying all week that he thought we’d be separated and interrogated and asked hard Mr & Mrs style questions about each other. I was shaking my head and saying that sounded like something he’d seen in a movie and would definitely not happened. But sure enough, we made our way to the registrars room and within a couple of minutes had sent me packing to a chair outside whilst Nick had to give my occupation, full name and date of birth. Phewf! We had to switch up and then I did the same. Even though I knew all the answers, I found myself stuttering and stumbling because it felt like an oral GCSE exam or something pesky like that. Luckily we passed with flying colours (actual quote!) and we are now legally set to become an actual real life grown up married couple. Wow! This got us into the Valentines spirit so we decided to celebrate “Kanken-tines Day” instead (previous love letter to Kankens HERE) and head to one of our favourite little nooks of East London – The Brokedown Palace where we picked up some new Fjall Raven Joy. I also got myself the most amazing pair of socks that I have refused to remove since. After years of Primarks finest, I never new socks could feel this way! Toasty, cosy and the perfect temperature, I feel like I might have spoilt me feet for ever and might need to throw away every other pair I own.

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My name’s Bee and I’m a dress-aholic. Don’t get me wrong; I am not stating this to claim any sort of fashionista status, but more to confess that I actually find dressing up easier than dressing down. When faced with the bleary eyed pre-7am task of rooting through my wardobe, I inevitably sway towards my rack of dresses. Come summer or winter, it is just so much easier to pull on a single item and be instantly fixed up! I can then use any remaining early morning smarts to match it with one of my rainbow of cardigans or chuck on a couple of accessories. Whilst this sounds lazy; it usually ends up looking smarter than if I spend ages battling a jeans, shirt, jumper, trainer marathon outfit ensemble.

Prior to this year, I had never really thought of shopping in George at ASDA for dresses. The main barrier was that I don’t have an ASDA near me (Mozzas4lyfe) and despite being an online shopping fan, hadn’t ever thought of checking out their fashion offering. However as I write this blog I remembered that when I was 15 I had a school Christmas disco to attend and my mum took me to ASDA to buy my dress and even thinking about it now gives me tingles. It was a red tunic style dress (boy was I bolshy and brave, I wouldn’t opt for red these days) with lacey material over the top. I loved it so much that I styled it up after the disco by wearing it over a long sleeved black tee-shirt and flared jeans on a near-daily basis for about an ACTUAL year afterwards. So, it’s kind of nice that after living the same amount of years as my first George at ASDA dress (!) I am rediscovering them.

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So, this year my oldest school friend Becca is getting married and I am super honoured to be a bridesmaid. Luckily enough I get to return the favour a mere few months after her big day. I love thinking how if you’d told us when we were swapping notes in class and whispering in the playground at the age of 10 that we’d be getting married in the same year, and that year would be 2015, our kiddie minds would have been actually blown. Anyway, I digress, and the point is that Becca’s bridesmaid dresses are from…. George at ASDA. And they are GORGEOUS. I won’t spoiler too much here, but they are Audrey Hepburn cute little 50s frocks with pockets and perfectly flicky skirts. That said, I haven’t yet tried mine on, because the snow up north over Christmas quashed my plans of popping to Beccas for a dress up session (which I am slightly relieved about considering just how many Guylian sea shells I managed to consume over the festive period) I know this is a rambly explanation but bear with me! The bridesmaid dresses had sold out, so Becca wanted me to order another dress of a similar style from George to check it fitted ok. I logged on, thinking (terrible… forgive me ASDA!) that I would order any old thing, try it on, and send it back. Instead I found it super hard to even choose from the selection of lovely dresses and then ordered this floral beaut that will do perfectly for a snazzy work gala dinner I’m attending later this year. Sorted!

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In that weird way the world works, just a day later the lovely Lucy at George contacted me to say they wanted to gift me a dress and bag to share on the blog and wax lyrical about how dressing up is not just for the festive season. (It’s not!) What a twist of fate! Being extremely familiar with the dress selection I opted for this gorgeous brush-stroke effect dress. The pattern reminds me of abstract palm trees, and I desperately need an injection of summer in my life, and I am also really into the midi length at the moment. Too many of my dresses have gone down the route of being washed too many times and turning into X-rated bum skimmers. With a nice midi option, there is no risk of accidentally sharing my ass cheeks with the office, a fact which everyone will surely be grateful.

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(Can we take a moment to discuss my chubby elbows?! I guess you never really look at your own elbows, as that’s physically impossible, but wow. I didn’t realise they were actually dimpled like little smiley faces!)

The dress feels really versatile, whilst I love it with tights and boots and a blazer for a smarter office wear look; I think it’ll be great with sandals for some smart summer roaming too.

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I selected a beautiful croc textured & pink satchel big enough to fit all the bits and bobs I need for work in; which is pretty hefty. I then realised that I have basically committed a lifestyle blogger CRIME, in that I have never, not ever, done a “What’s In My Bag” post, despite the fact I devour them whole when posted by anyone else. So, for your noseying pleasure, let’s have a look at what’s lurking in my shiny new satchel:

1. Wallet: I take after my mum in needing the worlds largest purse to store the important stuff like bank card and driving license; but also my 1000 loyalty cards for everywhere I have ever eaten or drunk ever. There is also some random bits like my oyster card (aka all-my-money-sucker) a swatch of the fabric for my bridesmaid dresses (ee!) and some lovely photobooth photos from my two times in Vegas.

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2. Kindle & Book: Working in publishing I now have a reading list as long as my arm. This means that I constantly carry three forms of books; kindle (where I can save manuscript PDFs), a physical book and audio, as I subscribe to Audible on my phone. During the day I usually switch between all three at some point. At the moment I am listening to “The Woman Who Stole My Life” by Marian Keyes, which is my first Marian Keyes novel and I’m excited to see what all the fuss is about having really enjoyed all the interviews and blogs I’ve read of hers. I’m trying to broaden what I read (/hear?) this year, as it’s important, now more than ever, that I am familiar with a real range of authors, titles and genres. I am reading “What She Left” by T. R. Richmond; which is an exciting proof copy as the book isn’t released until April (I still get geekily giddy about these!) and is told through a really unusual approach to fiction in that it is all written via compiled diary entries, social media posts and letters. There is no straight narrative prose. Finally, on my kindle I am reading The Amber Fury by Natalie Haynes and All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. I’m a quarter through each and should probably stick to one and finish it… but I feel like they both require me to be in a certain brain space to tackle the tricky topics in each. My kindle case was a Christmas present to myself from Klevercase as Great Gatsby is my favourite book. Considering my kindle is 2 years old and has travelled around the world and back; getting covered in sand, sweat and sea… I’m so impressed that it’s still battling on and am currently awaiting the liney screen of doom any day!

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3. Mustard Moleskin: I keep notes in lots of places; in Evernote, To Doist and my actual notebook. I find having numerous places to tick tasks off makes it more likely I’ll do at least a few…

4. Vaseline: For a short, sweet period of time vaseline did an amazing “Queen Bee” honey branded tin. I should have loaded up because I instantly lost mine. The old fashioned label cocoa butter one is a runner up favourite though.

5. Pad lock & Underwater Headphones: I always have these odd objects on my person because I go swimming twice a week. The padlock is for my gym locker, and the underwater headphones have revolutionised my laps because now I can do it whilst listening to The National and Taylor Swift, and therefore never getting bored!

 6. Washi tape: Because you NEVER know when youre going to need to get crafty!

Okay so nothing earth shatteringly secret lurking in there, but even if there was you wouldn’t be able to find it beneath the 1,0000 kirby grips.

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In the last week London has turned Arctic; and I’ve been frantically unearthing all my thermals (last worn in the ANDES!) and every piece of faux fur I own. Because I haven’t had a proper UK winter in 2 years, I am still enjoying the novelty of proper British weather; that sleety frozen rain that fills every crevice with cold and soggyness, or the air so frosty that on my walk into work – the section of scarf I have nearest my mouth has actual ice crystals on it by the time I take it off. I’ve mainly been using the cold front as an opportunity to wear my ridiculous jumper collection, and tuck up under the duvet reading about mountain disasters… because no matter how chilly it is here, I know I’m never going to be as cold as alpine mountaineers stuck up Everest at -27 degrees getting frost bitten faces.

 

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Last weekend we had my future in-laws staying for the weekend; so rather than wallowing about reading, I was forced out of my duvet cocoon and into full on hostess mode. Luckily Sue and Nigel are the easiest, cheeriest guests around and they had a very clear itinerary of what they would like to see in London. I do love having guests to London, because otherwise I stick to the same local treasures and favourite well-worn spots. I rarely make the most of the galleries, exhibitions and museums right on the door step. Our first stop on the tour was the Imperial War Museum. Nick & I visited the museum in Manchester last year and it was an incredible experience; so we had high hopes for the London version which had recently re-opened with a whole WW1 gallery. I suppose when deciding what museum in London to potter around for a few hours, the topic of war might not be high on everyones list and places such as the Natural History or Science museum might feel more tempting. To be honest, had I been left to my own devices, I might have been lured towards a nicer offering; so I’m really grateful that the Horton’s infectious enthusiasm rubbed off on me, as it is by far the best museum exhibit I have ever been to.

 

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Just one tip about the Imperial War Museum; you will never get through it all in one day! We took nearly three hours just to see the first floor. Part of this was because we went on the busiest day of the week, but part of it was the density and detail that there is to immerse yourself in. I did learn about the Great War at school, but in terms of my knowledge of world history, my brain is far more filled with facts about WW2 and the Nazis (talking of which… if you didn’t see The Eichmann Show on the BBC this week you absolutely MUST catch it on iPlayer. It is one of the most moving pieces of television I have ever seen; ever.) The Great War is also the entirely new gallery, so that was where we decided to spend our afternoon. I don’t exactly know what I expected, but the gallery was curated to perfection. There is a total mix of visuals, design, haunting quotes, video, audio and artefacts. The gallery takes you from pre-war and the tension build up, right through the war, and onto the build up on WW2. The refreshing element to the experience is that it isn’t just focussed on soldiers or the British. The gallery really brings to life how war affected everyone from children, to women, to men (both in and out of the army) and to people in pretty much every corner of the world.

Unbelievably, given the subject matter, there are some real moments of light relief or curious ingenuity – such as a video depicting how the soldiers in the Somme came up with the idea to build fake “bombed out” trees that they turned into look out points. Despite being entirely man made, to a German soldier looking over the battlefield, they never once realised they were in fact being spied on by the enemy from this innocuous part of the “natural” landscape. Another aspect that tickled me, was how very British the approach to war was; in that when soldiers were battling for their lives in the trenches – a priority was still to keep hold of their special army edition shaving kit and ensure that they were clean shaven and immaculately turned out where possible.

 

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Obviously, an awful lot of the gallery is devastating to take in. We all agreed afterwards, as silly as it sounds, that we felt like we had just lived through the war ourselves. The optimism and patriotism when war broke out is palpable; with men desperate to go to fight and represent their country. As the war goes on, and on, and on… the loss of lives reaches epic proportions and modern warfare catches everyone off guard with the introduction of gas, tanks and modern weaponry. The gallery was peppered with quotes from senior army officials at how “barbaric” the fighting was and how “un-gentlemanly and un-chivalrous” the war was turning out to be. It was quite a surreal experience to spend hours learning about every detail of the war, and dealing with all the harrowing emotions that came from being placed right in the centre of it… all whilst still being surrounded by hundreds of people taking the same journey. It’s such an important journey to take though, so I thoroughly recommend it to anyone in or visiting London.

 

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& Now for something completely different! An event that really cheered up the gloomy grey days this week was a very generous delivery from Apple Yard Flowers. One of my new years resolutions, that I didn’t list in my epic round up here , is to take more care of my little flat. The flat is pretty dinky, so never really gets messy as we wouldn’t physically be able to move, but I have got a little lazy at putting up art on the walls and generally making it feel as us and sanctuary-like as possible. Part of my resolution was to invest in decent fresh flowers for the flat every couple of weeks; as they make such a difference to our front room AND my mood! So my discovery of Apple Yard couldn’t have come at a better time. Full disclosure >> they invited me to select a bouquet from their Valentines Flowers range to receive for free (yipee) in exchange for an honest review of their flower delivery service.

 

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It was tough to choose from the Valentines selection, but in the end it was the Mimi Eden Roses that stole my heart. On delivery day, I was really impressed that the flowers arrived in a huge box (about half the size of me!) where the blooms were well wrapped up between giant bubble wrap and with the base in a special portable tub of water to keep them fresh. It reassured me of something that has previously made me apprehensive of delivery flowers; that the would just be heaped in a pile in the back of a van getting all wilted and bashed about! The bouquet itself was a generous bunch of at least 25 pink & white rose buds, in various states of unfurling. These were propped up in a bed of Buplerum and Hard Ruscus, creating a really stunning look. It’s amazing how many skills you accidentally learn when entering the wild world of wedding planning and suddenly finding yourself creating bouquet “looks” on pinterest. I know loads about foliage and green and what goes with what these days! Prior to this, I think I honestly would have thought buplerum was some sort of cocktail.

 

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I really can’t fault the flowers or the service. They arrived in beautiful condition and bought a real twinkle to my front room for over a week. I can’t tell you how much my mood lifted every time my eyes tracked from the drizzly dull view back to my beautiful bright flowers. It’s definitely reinforced in my head that it’s worth spending a little more on flowers that last, rather than shove a bunch in my trolley on a Morrisons dash and then be surprised when they are manky and mouldy after a few days! My only baby bug bear was that I should have picked something that didn’t need quite such love and care as roses. With roses you really need to chop a decent wedge off the stems and remove the lower leaves when they arrive (which I did… prickly business) but they then really do need the process repeating a few days in. Unfortunately work and winter whisked in and I never did get time, which meant the roses started to brown and fade at the edges. I think they could have lasted a little longer if I had paid them a little more Valentines care and attention, so if you are after something a little lower maintenance then I’d opt for a different bouquet.

 

Apple Yard have very kindly offered me a discount code to share with you all; which entitles you to 40% off all of their beautiful bouquets. The discount code is BLOG40, so please do treat yourself (you totally deserve it) or someone who deserves a special delivery. I am absolutely in LOVE with this “Nutmeg” bouquet (how sweet are the little daisies?!) so perhaps I need to drop some poorly disguised hints for Nick to use my blog discount code for a surprise Valentines present… Ha! Can you see this being the start of an addiction? I’m officially a flowerzilla.

 

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