Like a skeleton key

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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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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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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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I’ve already done a bit of a look back at 2014 aka the biggest year of my life but every year (2013 here, 2014 here) I write some resolutions which I inevitably don’t stick to but really help me look back over my year and structure a bit of a misty mulled brain review of what I’ve been up to. This time last year I hadn’t updated this blog since September as I had been busily seeing the world and tapping away on Twentysomething Burnouts but as we holed up in a hotel in Panama City and recovered from our most traumatic travel moment I snuck down to the “business office” and did a sole post from Latin America. I’m in a different (way comfier) place this year as I sit writing this in my PJs, with a giant mug of tea, a fiance curled up next to me and in my own little treehouse flat; full and content from a week of port, fondue, friends, family and wintry walks.

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2014 Resolution Recap

01. Read 52 books I think a hefty combination of events has conspired to make this the year that I will read the most books in my ENTIRE life! This year I didn’t just read a book a week as I aimed, I read 74 books in total! Crikey. You can see the full list here – thanks GoodReads for the lovely layout! Travelling for the first 3 months of the year spiked the number I could rattle through, with long journeys and endless need for distraction whilst waiting around sketchy bus stations and without pesky things like full-time work getting in the way. Then when pesky full-time work did come along… It was in publishing! Which means that not only do I now read for fun, but I read for work, and luckily most of the time I enjoy both kinds. There have been some incredible releases this year, plus I have discovered new authors and books that have been floating around for years but only surfaced into my brain this year and this led to some classic Bee-book behaviour where I then buy or download every single thing by that person and devour it as if they might vanish from my life again. Here are some of my 5*/top reads.

Dublin Murder Squad Series – Tana French
Somehow Tana French had passed me by; despite the fact that the first book in this Dublin Murder Squad series (Into The Woods) came out embarrassingly in 2007. Since then, there have been five books in the series and each one is told from the perspective of a different detective from within the Murder Squad, working on a different case. After reading Into The Woods at the start of November and really enjoying it, within moments of finishing the last paragraph I downloaded the rest to my kindle and Tana French was basically the ONLY thing I read in November! I am actually so happy that I read the books in this binging-fashion however because the same characters crop up and there are lots of bold, then more subtle, links between each novel and knowing my inability to retain tiny details; these would have been absolutely lost on me if I’d read the books as and when they were released.

It’s hard to choose, but I think I most enjoyed The Likeness where Detective Cassie Maddox is contacted after the body of a woman is found murdered and whose identity is none other than… Lexie Madison, a former alias that Cassie herself created when she was working as an undercover agent. In a slightly paranormal twist; the body also looks identical to Cassie. Attempting to discover more about this mystery unknown and now dead twin; Cassie goes undercover again and lives with Lexie’s university housemates to try to discover what on earth happened and who killed her (but not her). There was just a hint of Secret History about the dynamic between the students and their outsider cliquey life. All the other books are told via male narrators, and despite the characters all being layered and different, they can slide into slightly blokey territory. With The Likeness I enjoyed the female slant and perspective; Cassie’s behaviour and responses felt the most authentic to me of all the Detectives. That said, I really warmed to Detective Frank Mackey in Faithful Place, and my favourite storyline by far was Broken Harbour.

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How To Be Both – Ali Smith 
I strongly believe that the less you know about this book in advance, the better, so no spoilers here… or much information at all. I’ve been a lifelong Ali Smith fan and feel that her writing has grown up with me, and been such a comfort at various points in my life. With that in mind I was frothing at the mouth with excitement at a new release, and wasn’t at all disappointed. The book is printed in two entirely different ways; so that the reader will be met with the story Eyes first, followed by Camera OR Camera followed by Eyes. One story is slightly harder to get into but more rewarding. One is contemporary, one set in the past. That said, there are so many themes that thread between them, that at no point does it feel like two individual books. There are really only two things to say -1. Read it! and 2. No one describes falling in love better than Ali. “Cause all I could think of all that week was flowers for breath and flowers for eyes and mouths full of flowers, armpits of them, the back of knees, laps, groins overflowing with flowers and all I could draw was leaves and flowers, the whorls of roses, the foliage dark.”

The Lazarus Prophecy – F G Cottam
F G Cottam features in every reading round-up I’ve ever done. He’s one of my must-read authors. Previously I would have said must-read “horror/spooky” authors but with his latest release (and recent branching out into Young Adult/Super-Natural) I think it’s clear he is so much more than that. The Lazarus Prophecy is an ambitious new take on the Jack The Ripper mystery; set between a Victorian and contemporary London. The book opens with London left in the wake of a string of murders of women in the space of a few weeks. The killer seems to be targeting high profile victims who exist in the public eye and leaving behind clues in long dead languages. DCI Jane Sullivan leads the investigation supported by an ensemble cast of experts spanning religion, history and crime… but it quickly becomes unclear who can she really trust as she faces a race against time to avoid becoming a victim herself. This is by far my favourite Cottam novel and so ambitious, yet executed with precision and intricacies that make re-reading (and re-reading again) as enjoyable as the first time. I sound like a broken record (see Tana French above) but it was so refreshing to read a strong female lead; especially as the story revolves around horrific violence and violation of women. The strength and intelligence of the majority of women featured really offset that becoming an uncomfortable read; which I feel it might have if the protagonist was male. Cottam really captures the enchantment of old and new London and how they sit side by side; something that as a London dweller I am in awe of on a daily basis. I learnt some really fascinating London facts about places like Bedlam as an aside to it being a great read! I say this was an ambitious project because not only is a thrilling page-turner, it touches on some very relevant current issues such as religion, race, the vulnerability of the UK and the state of confusion around politics and beliefs. I am now extra keen to ensure that this year I take a trip to the Royal London Hospital Museum to see the famous “From Hell” letter in person.

I also really enjoyed Hawthorn & Child, The Rental Heart and The Broken (reviews here) and The Goldfinch, Hangover Square, The Shock of The Fall, Burial Rights, The Gospel of Loki, Disgrace and Apple Tree Yard.

My biggest WTF was We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Clearly I am the only person in the world to feel this way, given its rave reviews, but I just couldn’t abide it. I actually resented the time of my life spent reading it, and wish I could claim it back!

Finally, and I know it’s not a book, but like 99% of the world this year I got massively into SERIAL. I can’t remember the last time I felt the infectious addiction around the next instalment for anything; not TV, film or books. I love This American Life, but Serial really tapped into that event feeling of a shared experience and I found myself seeking out fellow listeners wherever I could (including once on the tube!) and picking over the facts and story over and over and never getting bored. It really served as a gateway into re-kindling my love for audio and listening; that seems to have been buried for a few years. I REALLY should have re-kindled the audiobook love before I did a ton of 20/30 hour coach journeys, rather than after, hey? Now I am armed with an Audible subscription and the Librivox app; ready to keep me company on my long walks to work.

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02. Re-learn to drive. FAIL! To re-cap on this, I passed my test first time when I was 17, then enjoyed a few years of driving around Yorkshire like a maniac, often dinking the car then attempting to blame my dad (sorry dad). I adored driving but then I moved to London and now I have been here nearly 9 years and not driven once. I had grand plans that 2014 would be my year to re-learn but then Nick went and popped the question, and money that might have been spent on something boring like a car is now being squirrelled away for way more fun things like Wedding! Party! Honeymoon! I think this is more likely to be a 2016 resolution, when I actually live somewhere that doesn’t have an amazing public transport system (and doesn’t have eye watering parking space costs)

03. Stay in touch with travel buddies: Could do better. We met some amazing friends from all over the world during our trip to Latin America, and due to the intensity and other-worldyness of the experiences you go through together; the bonds you make feel unlike anything else. When I was travelling, I felt like my barriers and boundaries were at an all-time low. There is no small talk because everyone you meet is already a kindred spirit in the fact that they happen to be in say… Ecuador at the exact same moment as you. Rather than than talking about careers or small talk, it felt like conversations with travel pals were always much deeper and honest because a) they have no preconceptions of “old me” from my “old life” and b) there was that sense that you may never see the person again so could risk a lot more soul searching. As with so many big thoughts and plots and plans I had whilst travelling; they had to be modified once I was back in the daily grind and day to day living that didn’t just involve hammocks and bug-spotting. Whilst we have stayed closely in touch with the people we made the deepest connections with such as Jordan and Skyler in Galapagos, Beau in Bolivia and Ike in Big Corn – it will be a special year when we see any of these people again face to face to reminisce about the days on the road! We did have one great twist of fate though; Tom the micro brewer from Minnesota that we met in Guatemala popped up over Christmas. My eldest sibling Meg went to Minnesota to visit friends this year so I encouraged them to pop into Tom’s brewery bar and say hey. Unfortunately he was off travelling again (jealous) but Meg did pick me up an amazing Indeed Brewery tee that was presented to me on Christmas Day.

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04. Move to BrightonObviously this didn’t happen, and I think I am on a much better path because of it. Although now “live by the seaside” remains on my bucket list for the foreseeable future.

05. Eat more veggies: Yes and yes; and the purchase of a spirazlier and the discovery of courgetti has meant that I am no longer permanently on the brink of scurvy.

06. Finish knitting my scarf: This is a running blog joke. This will never, ever actually happen.

07. Start a project with Meg: This didn’t happen, but there are plans afoot…

08. See more of my friends and family: Yeah! It has helped being back in the same country as them and not just relying on pixelated Skype calls. The Christmas period was special for catching up with heaps of family, then New Years Eve I hosted a party with some of my absolute dearest friends for whom the stars had aligned to make them all be in London on this one night. We drank prosecco and danced to 90s music, and it was the best start to a year I have ever had.

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09. Get Outdoorsy: Off to a good start with trips to Exmoor and Sweden hiking about the place; we are currently trying to pick somewhere to sneak off to in February for more outdoorsing as we both got new adventure gear over Christmas that we want to put to the test.

09. Apply all the lessons I have learnt travelling to my life back home: I could write a million things here, but for the sake of being short and sweet I wouldn’t say I have managed this, at all. But that isn’t to say I wont.

10. Keep trying new things and pushing myself: Definitely, it’s been a crazy waltzer year with a ton of adapting and being flexible and taking on new challenges. I am certainly barely ever in my comfort zone.

11. Get back in music: Oh so much. This year has been soundtracked by Future Islands, Haim, Boy, Dry The River, Jenny Lewis, Half Moon Run, War On Drugs and I even went to THREE whole gigs – a 300% improvement on 2013.

12. STOP saying “Oh my God”: I think I finally did it. My chat is now peppered with a lot more crikeys and blimeys.

13. Daily Records: This year I turned 30 and I documented it on Instagram with a photo a day, and my own cheesy hashtag #beeing30. Check out the serious side eye this giant tortoise is giving me!

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2015 Resolutions

01. Deal with my anxiety. I might write a longer blog about this at some point (if that sounds interesting?) but… Worry wart, highly strung, nervous disposition. Call it what you will, I am constantly battling to reign my anxiety in, and it’s exhausting. When I quit my job and travelled to some of the worlds most remote and dangerous countries, you would think I’d have been at my PEAK anxiety right? Wrong! It was such a joy to have day after day after day of clear headed cool as a cucumber living. I think it was almost a flooding effect, where there was so much to potentially worry about (and trust me I did before we left – what if the coach crashes? what if I get bitten by a poisonous spider? what if our tiny plane crashes? what if we get kidnapped? etc etc etc) that I actually just shut down that side of my brain and didn’t worry about any of it. I think most people would be surprised to hear I’m anxious, because I put on quite a good efficient front and in a warped kind of way I think I only am so efficient because I worry and angst and get things fixed. I definitely go through phases of being better than others; but the standard pattern is that I am a) either worrying about something legit such as friend/family problems, work issues or big life stuff or in the absence of these I b) worry about things like yknow, my illness, death, why the hell we are stuck on this planet in the middle of space… It’s ridiculous! I have conversations in my head I know I’ll never dare translate to real life, I get paranoid, I lay awake churning over the same things again and again. So! It’s definitely time to take control and do the things I know alleviate my worrying. Sadly, heading to Latin America again isn’t on the cards so it’s more mindfullness focussed; such as doing meditation at least twice a week (head space app ilu) sticking to regular pilates and basically being kind and admitting that some days I just need to not do everything, perfectly, right now. If any other fellow anxious-types reading this have any hints or tips that work for them please hit me with it!

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02. Sort out my organisational approach I initially wrote “be organised” here, but I am ridiculously organised so that’s not the right way to phrase it. My problem is that I am organised in different ways and places for different areas of my life. For example I use my phone calender and notes sections for some things, paper diaries for others, Evernote for work and I have a nifty anti-bride planner for wedding stuff. But! A colleague at work recently introduced me to ToDoist which I think is finally the solution. I have spent the Christmas break transferring all of my life lists and chores onto it (hello Monica from Friends style fun); with colour coding, different folders and tags for work/home stuff and it’s already making me feel so zen. Planning a wedding (especially a pretty budget DIY one where we are stubbornly doing most of it ourselves) has the potential to become stressful and I really don’t want anything about my wedding to feel stressful; so I think delegation (haha, thanks already to people like Craig aka our Creative Director and Cindy our shout-at-people-and-get-them-to-move-around-er) and organisation is key to stop is becoming a last minute panic. Every day my shiny new To Doist delivers me a synced to-do list on my laptop, Outlook, iPad and phone and I work my way through them. Sometime I put things like take a bath and drink tea just to make sure I tick a decent amount off.

03. Get married. Just a little one. Sometimes I just feel like everything starts and ends with Nick, I’m so in awe of him every single day. I cannot wait to legally stick myself to him forEVERRRR (and of course throw a massive party and wear a nice frock)

04. Read 52 books. I think it might be optimistic to attempt one a week now that I am busier and not on the road; but I’ll give it a try and may just chuck in a few thinner books here and there, as I tend to go for total whoppers.

05. Keep blogging! It’s hard being a greedy guts with two different blogs. I’d like to think most people follow both, but when I’m active on Twentysomething Burnouts I am aware that this blog suffers with periods of radio silence. I actually (shhhh) enjoy writing here as it’s more personal and cathartic, so for the sake of getting ~feelings~ off my chest I need to make sure I still touch in here regularly.

06. Get back into the blogging community. I still read my favourite blogs regularly, but as I am mostly reading them on my phone when sat about somewhere I am dreadful at commenting and sharing the love. I need to set aside a bit more time to do this!

07. Get in shape! What a cliche. Don’t worry, I’m not talking fad diets or anything that involves me buying a ton of January shred type books… but I have eaten so much over Christmas that I didn’t fit into the PJ bottoms that I wore at the start of the holidays! I can’t even look at another crisp, peanut or chocolate. I also have a gym subscription and didn’t enter the gym ONCE in December; oh no actually I went in once to use the vending machine and then left, which says it ALL. I know I’m happier when I’m exercising regularly and when my clothes aren’t on the tighter side, plus I want to feel my most confident on my wedding day (I know, I know) so I’ll be trying to eat more spinach, less cake for 2015. That said, as if I’d EVER give up cheeseburgers, so it won’t all be rabbit food.

08. Drink more water. Why do I hate water? I need to sort this out! I have a pint of the stuff evil eye-ing me right now and I a just thinking WHY ARE YOU NOT AS FUN AS DRINKING A BELLINI.

09. Keep up daily records. I am doing my photo a day thing on Instagram, this year under the even cheesier tag #beeinghorton as it’s the year I become Mrs Horton (how weird is that!) because I enjoyed it so much last year. I also have my Q&A book which I fill out every night, and now that it’s in its 3rd year it’s so interesting to read my answers from previous years and how much my perspectives alter and shift.

10. Go snorkelling again! This was something I never expected to fall in love with but absolutely did. The most peaceful I’ve ever felt in my life was swimming under water with a giant sea turtle brushing against my belly and a giant ray circling over the top of me. I think I might have been a mermaid in a former life (which explains why I am never happier than when I am in the bath. Today I propped the iPad up against the taps and watched 2 hours of The Good Wife whilst my skin went prune-y) Hopefully we will decide on a honeymoon destination that has snorkelling as a potential activity, alongside a lot of chilling out.

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11. Visit my friend in Berlin. My oldest school friend Sarah lives in Berlin and has for 4 years or something ridiculous. Every year I say I’ll visit, every year I fail, and it’s crummy behaviour. So this spring I will put my money where my mouth is and actually make it over there and learn all about what has made the city capture her from me for so long.

12. Send more snail mail. Some of my best friends are scattered all over the world now; and I love nothing more than sending out care packages of british bits and tidbits of news, but am so bad at getting organised enough to do it. Maybe I need a new To Do-ist folder…

13. Climb a mountain. I’m about to join a mountaineering club which is very exciting and feels like something out of Victorian times, attending socials and heading off on some expeditions. I have some great walking boots now and I quite fancy making Snowdon actually happen this summer. Any excuse to eat Kendal Mint Cake!

14. Be kind. To myself and everyone else. Sometimes it’s easy to forget this, even though I try my best. I need to remember to smile at people when I buy my coffee, and when I get into a meeting at work, and remember things people tell me and check in at important times etc.

15. GET A PET! Ok this is more likely to be 2016 but I wanted to make 15 resolutions for 2015 and you never know… it might sneak in as a Christmas present to myself or Nick. Preferably the feline kind.

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As was the case last year, I think what I am most excited about is that I have NO idea what my life will look like this time next year. I’ll be married! ME! Who is this grown up person? We’ll be trying to make a home somewhere for the forever after, build a menagerie of animals and hopefully use our honeymoon(s!!) to see more of the world.

& That’s it. Have you got a resolution? Have you seen any other good bloggers list theirs? I’ve seen a few but I’d love to see more. Roll on 2015, I have a really good feeling about you being sparkly and shiny and super.

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Sometimes you have years that just slope by lazily, without much changing from one end to the next. Then you get those years where your life feels unrecognisable from the point that the bells struck midnight at the start, to the point where you tuck into the Christmas tree chocolates at the end. This has without a doubt been one of those years for me, in fact it’s been the biggest year of my entire life. On the first day of 2014 I woke up in Panama City. I was half way through 6 months of backpacking, starting in South America and taking in 16 countries through Central America up to the USA. I’d already seen and experienced so much; but felt like I still had so much left to go. Due to being on the opposite side of the world as the year started, I had no idea how the rest of it would unfold. Where I’d be living, what job I’d have or what my life would look like in any way. I certainly had NO idea I’d be planning a wedding! Being a total control freak; the concept of having so little idea or handle on my future is something that would have used to terrify my. But that’s what I mean when I say it’s been the biggest year of my life; travelling taught me so much about my personality and boundaries and lifestyle that basically meant I came back a different (better!) version of me.

Anyway! I could ramble on about my ~feelings~ and ~journey~ for hours but I’m guessing anyone reading this is doing it through a Baileys or mulled-something haze (if not, why not?) so I’m going to keep it simple, and just list some of the big events of this year that I most likely failed to blog about as I have been way more active over on our travel blog Twentysomething Burnouts. I’ll try and keep them in chronological order!

Why are you calling me Beyonce? I said FIANCEE!

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On the 25th January, not long into the shiny new year, Nick asked me to marry him (read all about it). We were enjoying a couple of weeks holiday from travelling (I know, how sickening) on the Corn Islands off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. We’d had a lovely meal, then strolled to a secluded beach that we had visited earlier in the day. It was just as beautiful at night. The air was balmy, the sea smelt incredible, and we sat snuggled up doing some star gazing. And then… it happened! Although it’s obviously something we had nattered about here and there, I had rationalised that there was no way Nick could bring a ring with him, so in my head I had completely parked the idea of any proposal speculation. It’s the first time in my life I have been fully speechless (until I yelled YES!) He couldn’t have asked at a more perfect time in our lives and trip. Having spent every minute of every day for the 4 months prior; and supporting each other through close-encounters with scorpions, death defying boat rides, teeny tin-can aeroplanes and 32 hour bus journeys with no air con OR toilets… we certainly knew each other well enough to be confident we can take on anything else in our forever future. We get married in September 2015 and so far I’ve done a bit of planning… and a LOT of obsessively watching Don’t Tell The Bride as research.

A friendly face in deepest, darkest Guatemala

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If I started writing about every highlight of our travels, it would go on for a hundred years and basically be Twentysomething Burnouts. If I started writing about every highlight with a certain Craig Heathcote in 2014, it would also go on for a hundred years. Therefore I will try to keep this section short and sweet! When we had initially announced our travel plans we had tons of people say they’d come out and see us at various points. Obviously then things like real life, work, holiday allowance and penny pinching get in the way; but despite all of those things Craig stuck to his guns and managed to wrangle over a week to join us out in the midst of Guatemala, a place I doubt would have been on his top holiday locations otherwise (to put it in context his mum kept asking, “Where are you going again? Guantanamo?” !)

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By the time February rolled around, I have to be honest and admit that we were slightly waning. We had been travelling at absolute breakneck speed in order to see all of Latin America in a tiny space of time; and sticking mostly to overland travel. Two detours had held us up; the first being an excursion to the Galapagas (yay), the second being Nick’s terrifying back injury in Colombia so as we trucked through into Central America we were racing against time to get to Guatemala in time for our date with a VIP. We hadn’t had basics like hot water for 5 months. We were SHARING a pair of socks. We had gone a month without soap. Everything we were carrying around stank, had holes in it and was bleached with too much DEET contact. We were obviously still loving our adventure, but were fraying around the edges and this meant that Craig’s arrival was exactly what we needed! He arrived with a giant My Little Pony tote bag (soz Craig) that my sister and he had packed full of clean clothes, British treats and stuff to make us smell better. He had magical things like new music – we had been sharing 2 ipods with a total of about 80 songs for months. He had new news from home, updates on all our friends and just a totally different outlook on life. It was so special! You can read all about our actual adventures here and here. Those 10 days are an absolute highlight of our entire trip. Big beers, breath-taking views and places that constantly 1-up’ed each other, wild swimming, late night jungle nattering and being zoomed about in the back of a 4×4. Oh and the time a monkey threw a rock at Craig’s head (and luckily missed!)

Here we go again London

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We were moving to Brighton, then we weren’t. We were done with London, then we weren’t. I wrote all about it here and despite all my previous grumbles with life in the big smoke, I’ve had such a fantastic time since moving back and am so happy that a few twists and turns of fate bought us back here… for now!

It’s my job to read books!

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On the night we landed back in England, I couldn’t sleep. I had a serious case of reverse culture-shock, and a bigger case of jet lagging. Despite the fact I’d planned to avoid any semblance of job hunting for a few weeks of family time, it was 3am and I couldn’t sleep so I thought I’d just take a peek at the jobs on the market. I am so happy I did, because it’s then that I spotted the job advert for a role doing digital and social media bits at Penguin Random House; so after 6 months of not working or even thinking about work I had to attempt to pull together a convincing cover letter and update my CV. As a lifelong bookworm, it’s my dream job. I’m so lucky to work with so many inspiring people and just felt at home from my first day, it’s a very special company indeed and whilst there are challenging moments, it’s made life after travelling a lot easier to stomach. Plus, overtime is… reading! Who can complain about that?

Craigfest

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We had only been home for a month or so when our Craig turned 30! And luckily for all his friends, he did it in serious style. We rented out a beautiful venue in Dorset (um I think…my southern geography is so dire) for a couple of nights. There were bands (including Chime Hours), dancing, ping pong, walks in the beautiful grounds, bonfire, marshmallow toasting and all bunking down in dorms with lots of chattering late into the night/morning. And not even the British weather could dampen the party!

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Not such a Twentysomething Burnout anymore

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I turned 30 in May, officially hanging up my right to call myself a twentysomething burnout. I wrote about it here da da DAAAAAAA, but have come to the conclusion that the hype, fear and build up to 30 is so much worse than actually being 30 itself. In fact being 30 is absolutely no different to being 29, funnily enough! I was a total spoilt brat and milked my birthday for months. I am lucky enough that my eldest sibling Meg is my decade twin, and turned 40 this year. This meant we could throw a party for all of our friends, which Meg masterminded and did all the hard work on whilst I was still backpacking about; an amazing present in itself. The party was 80s Vs 90s movie themed… which sounds niche but it was amazing how inventive our lovely guests were. We had Ghostbusters… The Craft witches, Blue Brothers, Tank Girl, Marty McFly, Edward Scissorhands, THE TITANIC (!), Indiana Jones, When Harry Met Sally, Alien, Leon, Addams Family, Waynes World…. so many more. Meg and I took it in turns on our playlist with an hour of 80s, then an hour of 90s, and back again. I felt so fortunate to all my amazing friends who travelled from up and down the country to croon along to en vogue. The night ended strictly at 1am when the venue turned off the PA. But would we stop partying? No! And so my fondest memory is everyone insisting on screeching their own 90s hits super loudly until we were politely asked to leave… singing “this could be a case for Mald-ah and Scah-lly” at the top of our voices.

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Nick indulged (without TOO much persuasion) my wish to go as Sarah and the Goblin King from Labyrinth, my all time favourite childhood movie. I bought an 80s wedding dress from eBay and he ordered a “Sam Fox” wig from Amazon. He even did an amazing hypnotic dance with the crystal ball in front of everyone. I think he really embraced a bit of Bowie! A super special memory from this year was that after the party we were staying at Meg & Eds, which was just a 15 minutes walk down the river from the venue. Having had a few G&Ts, I decided we may as well just walk despite the time. So I walked in my full on HUGE wedding dress, holding 10 helium silver star balloons, through central London at 1am. Everyone we passed obviously thought we had just got married (I really hope Nick doesn’t take that as a hint to don his Goblin King costume at the wedding for real) and we had people shouting congratulations, asking to take photos and taxis beeping their horns. It was a balmy night, and town seemed to be full of just friendly, well wishing passer bys.

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Yorkshire Day

In the summer I had some holiday days to use up which coincided with YORKSHIRE DAY, the most wonderful day of the year! It was a great excuse to head up north and spend a week quality time with Lol, which I never get to do. We did lots of dancing, watching Ru Pauls Drag race, perfecting or telepathicness to the point of being too lazy to talk out loud, running round giant Asda, making nachos, eating nachos and gallivanting around the moors in the rain.

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End of Cougar Season

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In November Nick caught me up and turned 30. We went to Paris for a long weekend of real animals and skeleton animals (and eating lots of cheese) you can read about it over here and here. I also went on lovely trips to Exmoor, Sweden and Ghent, so haven’t really had too much time to get the post travel blues.

I am still stupid at 30

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Just so this isn’t a boring blog of humble brag-ish boasting (ugh I hope not) I am still monumentally bad at functioning in life. I have had 2 trips to A&E this year, an infected horsefly bite oh… and lets not forget the time I managed to drop a pint glass on my eye from a great height – I was bending down snuffling about in the fridge and knocked it off the side straight onto my eyeball. Cue black eye for a week that gradually turned into a purple eye, a green eye and then a yellow eye.

This has been such a lovely post to write, it’s been so fun reliving the best bits and remembering just how crazy this year has been. I’ve focussed on the ups here, because they are the nice bits to re-live rather than being a moaning minnie. However that isn’t to say there haven’t been downs. It’s been a really hard year in a lot of ways. My battle with the ombudsman over my messed up surgery in 2012 has cast a shadow, as has the fact I will need surgery again (wah) and the pain I still have pretty much most days on some level. A lot of my friends have had tough years and it hurts me to watch the people I love go through rough stuff; even though they are all handling it in really inspiring, impressive ways and it’s usually me wailing away rather than them! I guess this is just to acknowledge the fact that whilst the year on the surface can look pretty perfect, it’s definitely been a huge learning curve in so many ways and I’ve been trying really hard to get better at coping with my anxiety and being a worry wart. Thanks for reading the blog this year, and whilst I haven’t updated as much as I’d like, I can’t wait to tap away over the Christmas break some more.

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I know every blogger and their dog seems to freak out come autumn; but there is a legitimate reason for that. Autumn is breathtaking! I can’t get enough of scrolling through my Bloglovin’ feed and snooping on page after page of burnt colours and leaf kicking and pumpkin carving and conkers and knitwear. In fact I am lapping it up even more obsessively than usual because last year I skipped town before Autumn hit and my A/W 2013 was spent in, well, sweltering tropical heat. This means I haven’t had an autumn since 2012 and that particular gruesome autumn was mostly spent in and out of hospital, and barely participating. Safe to say I have been refreshing the met-office weather app every day, waiting for temperatures to justify the wool tights, woolly jumpers and COATS (ahh lovely coats!) that have sat unloved and unworn for two years. I’m basically delirious because I just ordered my winter coat. What a big decision and one that I used the entire Daylight Savings hour to mull over with a cuppa.

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Whilst a fair amount of my autumnal adventures have included misty ramblings around and stomping about the leaf sodden streets; yesterday it was time to give my cold ears and nose a break and plan something of the cosier variety. After accidentally spending 3 weekends in a row away from London (a hen do, a wedding, our wedding planning!) I have been so giddy all week at the prospect of an entire weekend to do whatever I wanted. So yesterday I did my annual trip to brave the city centre for some perusing up Oxford Street, window shopping on South Molton Street and to spend some time shoving my nose up to the Selfridge’s Christmas window displays. I had wondered where would be good to grab some brunch or lunch and none of my usual haunts were taking my fancy. I wanted somewhere that felt a bit more special than just grabbing a bacon butty somewhere. I wanted somewhere that wouldn’t be heaving, with a queue out the door (I love you Breakfast Club, but you need to have about 100 more tables!) but that would still have a buzzy atmosphere.

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So, I have a (probably really silly) confession to make, and that is despite the fact I LOVE hotels – this was one of my first ever blog posts – and am aware that in London we are spoilt by the quality and quantity of them; I’ve never thought to head to a hotel restaurant for a meal, if I’m not staying at that hotel. In fact (and this is definitely silly) I wasn’t even sure you were allowed to go to one, if you weren’t staying. So, at the grand old age of 30, I can now share this valuable nugget of information – you are! In fact, it is encouraged! And it is such a great option for exactly my predicament of wanting somewhere to cosy up and while away a weekend in-between shops and scuttling about the streets.

With this new life lesson, I was fortunate enough to be invited by the delightful Fiona to the Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill and their restaurant The Montagu to sample their new slant on traditional brunch; an Italian/New York influenced offering that is more of an experience than a meal. Oh, and did I mention it includes unlimited Bellinis? I am such a big fan of the holy Bellini that when I type it in my phone, Syri autocorrects it to caps lock and with three exclamation points which gives a clue as to how many times I must have written BELLINIS!!!

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We had barely stepped foot into The Montagu before a super friendly member of restaurant staff whisked us off by the elbows and toured us around the various treats that laid ahead of us. It was a little bit like walking into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Delicious smells and heaving piles of gorgeous food covered almost every surface surrounding the dining tables. Oh and a lovely man was serenading us on guitar; playing some really haunting covers of blues, swing and jazz classics.

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The first stop-off was the deli counter. To take the edge off any shopping starvation you might have entered with; this is an open plan station packed with cured meets, carpaccio, a giant cheese board, every bread you could dream up and glass mason jars of aubergine, sun-dried tomatoes, olives and picky-bits… and you are left to go WILD. I really liked this element to the brunch because it gave the meal a relaxed, luxurious feeling where it was totally acceptable to eat a bit of deli stuff, then something else, then go grazing for more. There is also a salad bar, where the friendly fellows will whisk you up anything that takes your fancy. I went for a Cobb, because I like my cheese to green ratio on the less-healthy side!

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As we let our first course settle, we were given the exact amount of space to natter and chatter; but we never felt like we’d been forgotten about, as our attentive waiter was either bringing us square slices of piping hot pizza fresh out of the oven (yknow, just to tide us over through all that exhausting story swapping!) or expertly topping up our glasses.

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The main course (you have to love a brunch that has a main course) is a unique offering where we scampered over to a big marble breakfast-bar attached to a vast open plan kitchen, where you can hover around and choose between fresh pastas, pizzas, risotto, steak and salmon. The great thing about the kitchen being right there, is that you have talk to the chefs about what they recommend, you can choose exactly what ingredients you want and then, if you are nosey like me, you can watch them prepare it and try to pick up hints to turn you into a chef too. I had Conchiglie (pasta sea shells to me) with tomato sauce, basil and meatballs. There is something just other-worldly about proper Italian pasta cooked by someone who knows exactly what they are doing! It was actual melt-in-the-mouth good.

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Now anyone who knows me can imagine that despite troughing my way through all of this, I really had my mind and my eye on the prize. The pudding prize! As we entered the restaurant I had already clocked the staggering dessert tray and thought “well I just want everything on that”. Here is a small sample of the choices that faced me:

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After an excessive amount of umming and ahhing, I opted for a slice of NYC style baked cheesecake and a tiramisu; just to be equal opportunities and trying something traditional from both sides of the ocean. The cheesecake was quite simply the best cheesecake I have ever eaten in my life. The vanilla tang, the crunchy super-buttery base and the cake itself being the perfect gooey texture. I feel like I’ll never want to order a cheesecake anywhere else in my life because there is no way it can be that good. The tiramisu was dreamy too; I loved the way it was served in a class tumbler, it means all the boozy coffee liquid had pooled at the bottom and just gave it the most amazing potent flavour. I polished both off in record speed despite being so full already. The pudding belly is a totally different thing right?

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I couldn’t believe it when I realised we had been brunching for almost three hours. We had completely pushed the official brunch-time-limit and passed through lunch and almost into afternoon tea territory. The fact this could happen without even noticing is a testament to the staff and the brunch. I hadn’t known what to expect from brunch at a 5* hotel; and worried it could feel stuffy. Instead, I felt totally relaxed. I absolutely loved the mixture of food you could choose yourself and create exactly what your heart desired, versus the food that the expert chefs could whip up. It meant that the experience felt really special, and like I was made a real fuss of, but it also felt really welcoming and intimate. Everyone we came into contact with was genuinely friendly, chatty and completely focused on making the occasion as dazzling as possible.

I am already trying to look ahead at my calendar of when I can go again; as I only had the stomach-space to try about a quarter of the delicacies on offer. The Montagu Italian meets New York Champagne Brunch is £39 a head; and that includes the unlimited bellini/champagne top ups and as much munch as you can muster. The Montagu also do something amazingly called “Sex & The City Par-Tea” which says it all really. I desperately want to take Lol; as she knows every word of every episode so could entertain me whilst we ate shoe shaped biscuits, by doing a one-woman performance of seasons 1-6! Thank you so much to Fiona and the staff at The Hyatt Regency Churchill and The Montagu for hosting me and treating me to such a marvellous menu.

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On the way out, I mentioned how the cheesecake had been the best I had ever had in my life, and an incredibly generous chap boxed up THREE slices for me to take home and so Nick could try some, rather than have me just describe how amazing it was.

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Now I am back home and whilst it’s great to have an extra hour of weekending, I feel a bit distressed about why there isn’t someone here to constantly top up my glass with BELLINI!!!

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