Saturday, 24 June 2017

After Twenty Four Years of Planning....

I get married in two days.

Tonight is the last night before the night before my wedding.

I imagine that most of you who have had a wedding will have found that you have very little time alone in the weeks leading up to The Big Day. When I haven't been at work I've been in meetings with various people, and when I haven't been doing that I've been with Dale/my cousins/my brothers/my parents/my grandparents planning and organising.

Today we had brunch with Dale's dad who has come to visit from abroad for the wedding, met my Grandma and Mum for last minute shopping, headed straight for a spray tan and then back home where my Dad, his girlfriend, her son, Chip, Dale and I finished off the last of the favours whilst discussing the last final details of the day.

And then they left.

Dad, his girlfriend and her son went home. Chip went to the gym. Dale went out for dinner with his dad.

And I was left alone.

For the first time in what feels like weeks.

The sudden silence was too loud for me, so I put Pitch Battle on (fantastic Saturday night background tv, by the way), where I was almost immediately greeted with our First Dance song.

And finally, after what Dale thinks has been seven months but has actually been around twenty four years of planning my wedding, I felt overwhelmed.

Not with stress. Not with the ridiculousness of how many times seating plans need redoing, not with the outrageous prices provided at the word 'wedding', or the difficulty of being asked the question 'which flowers do you want in your buttonholes?' (Absolutely no idea about flowers. As I demonstrated with the florist when I commented that the plant on her table smelt incredible and asked what it was, only for her to tell me that they were unscented, artificial flowers.)

Instead I was overwhelmed with the fact that this is really happening.

I haven't always wanted a big wedding. We're not particularly having a big wedding. It's going to be a relaxed family affair- one flower girl, no best man, no hats, no hen/stag events, no videographer. I would have been happy popping to Orlando and doing it in a strappy summer dress.

But I've always wanted to get married.

And more than anything- I've always wanted to plan a wedding.

Not even necessarily mine. Anyone's.

When I was a kid I used to tell everyone that I was going to be a wedding planner when I grew up. It was always assumed- to my absolute horror- that it was because of the Jennifer Lopez film.

It wasn't.

It was because of the film Father of the Bride. It was and continues to be one of my absolute favourite films, and I know it almost word for word. I watched it on the plane on the way home from the holiday that we got engaged on, and I will be putting it on again as soon as Pitch Battle finishes.

And I cannot believe that it's finally me.

I'm Annie. Granted I'm six years older than Annie and not living in my parents' mansion in LA. But that, ladies and gents, is where the differences end.

Tonight, when everything finally went quiet and I had a rare few minutes to reflect, a few things suddenly hit me....

1) I am no longer going to be Rebecca Ann Lund.

Obvious right?

Not really.

I knew I was going to change my name when I got married, but it's seemed so far away for so long. Then this evening I was filling in the form for my spray tan and realised it was the last time I'll circle the 'Miss' option, the last time I'll fill in that last box with 'Lund'. My brothers are Lund. As is my Dad. My Grandad, my auntie and uncle. My blog is Lund. My degree. My name tag. My Boots loyalty card. Twenty eight years, twenty seven days, four hours, twenty nine minutes of my life as Miss Rebecca Ann Lund.

And suddenly it won't be me anymore?

 I voiced this to my dad's girlfriend, who lightened the mood by replying 'and will you be changing your Facebook name as you walk back up the aisle or will you be leaving it until after photos?'

This is why I'm pals with her.

2) My parents could rule the world.

Seriously. I am, as I am frequently told, fiercely independent. Which means that whilst I will regularly call my Mum and ask her opinion on topics as wide ranging as 'what shall I have for lunch?' to 'what shall we name our baby?' and will quite often call my dad to rant about something stupid that happened during my day so that he can also be outraged on my behalf, it's quite rare that I actually ask them to take any action for me.

I wouldn't have done during wedding planning, had I not put a Facebook status declaring that I had asked all of the sources I had at my disposal and couldn't seem to organise a microphone and speaker for the singer, and asking whether anyone would be able to help. People had started to comment when my Dad- who is in no way a singer or DJ and who it had not even crossed my mind to ask- commented 'I'll sort it', closely followed by 'sorted it.'

Bit embarrassing.

Similarly, every problem I've mentioned in passing in front of my mum, she's managed to fix. She bought my wedding planning book, she's providing baskets, a postbox, and jewellery, suggested the venue for me, she came to the first viewing and the final meeting, has solved guest list/table plan conundrums, and knows the best places to buy crafts.

How lucky I am.

3) On Monday I am going to be a bride.

I LOVE seeing a bride. Have done ever since I was old enough to know what a bride was. A friend and I used to take turns in walking down the middle of the lounge to 'Going to the Chapel' holding my mum's artificial flowers when we were about eight. When I lived in Rome I used to drive everyone crazy by gasping, pointing, and jumping up and down in excitement, leading them to think I'd seen a new incredible building only for it to be a bride. And now I get to be one? Seriously? I actually really don't love being the centre of attention (hence the desire for a smaller wedding), but I am so excited to be a bride.

4) I seriously have the best people around me.

My parents, grandparents, best friends, brothers, cousins (especially cousins, actually) aunties, uncles, Hayley (who I regularly refer to just as My Hayley as she isn't actually related but may as well be), colleagues, parents from work, and even friends on Facebook who I haven't seen for years have all  been INCREDIBLE in helping my dreams come true and I am blown away by the efforts some people will go to for other humans every day.

5) Most importantly of all...

On Monday I am going to become a wife.

Earlier on my Dad's girlfriend said 'you're going to have a husband!'

For just a second I felt really, really grown up. I am going to have a husband. I'm going to be wearing two rings on my left hand, and I'm going to be able to say 'my husband,' and soon after that 'our baby.'

Then I looked across the room and remembered I'm marrying Dale.

'My husband' sounds ever so grown up and serious.

Dale was playing Cotton Eyed Joe for my Dad telling him he's going to organise for that to be played as we walk back up the aisle instead of the song I painstakingly chose that means a lot to us.

I had a flash back to the excitement on his face when he pulled out the blow up electric guitar he had bought and jumped around the living room with last week.

Remembered that when I was only eight weeks pregnant and telling him we mustn't get too excited, he was looking at nappies, suggesting names, and asking if it was too soon to be buying the baby a bubble gun.

Thought of the time we spent Christmas in Disney and he was jumping on the bed on Christmas Eve in excitement.

Realised that agreeing to spend the rest of my life with this guy is not as huge and grown up as it seems.

It's what was always meant to happen, and what I knew I would one day do on the day I met him.

Suddenly leaving behind my name doesn't seem so serious, and instead it seems that the absolute honour, joy and excitement that comes with selecting that 'Mrs' box and typing in his last name will never wear off.

So I will blink away the overwhelmed tears before they drip down my face and wreck my spray tan, put Father of the Bride on, and practise walking down the aisle in my lounge one last time. Planning this wedding has been every bit as magical and exciting as I thought it would be, now I only hope the day is just as wonderful. And I know that the rest of my life as Mrs Stark will live up to expectations.

I do :)

Monday, 29 May 2017

The National Curriculum of Social Etiquette

I've read and heard a lot of comments from adults saying that they wish that at school instead of algebra and Pythagoras, they had been taught life skills such as budgeting and working out taxes.

I don't particularly wish that I had been taught budgeting and working out taxes, I've managed to navigate those on my own. 

There are, however, plenty of things I wish I had been taught. In fact, the further into my twenties I get, the longer my list becomes. Because my list is not made up of finance lessons, but of social etiquette classes. 

I really believe that social etiquette classes should become essential around the age of twenty five; the age that I, at least, was suddenly presented with a whole host of new social situations that I had no idea how to handle. 

So I, ladies and gents, have put together my own Social Etiquette Curriculum. If anyone is available to teach me classes on any of the following, please let me know...

1) The bride and groom have requested money for their honeymoon in their invitation. How much do I give them? 

I've asked so many people about this, and nobody seems to have a clear answer. It needs to be at least twenty, right? But then thirty also seems reasonable. But then thirty is quite a lot. Twenty five? Is it different for an evening guest? A family member? If I'm a bridesmaid? 

My wedding season began in September 2011 and hasn't really stopped since. I've been a bridesmaid, a reader, a day guest, an evening guest, a family member, a best friend, an old friend, a family friend, the friend of a family member, and the family member of a friend, and I still don't know. 

Help me. Please. 

2) Someone has just done something far kinder for me than our relationship really calls for. Do I accept? How do I ever thank them? 

This actually happens to me quite a lot- I have a lot of ridiculously nice people around me. As I was typing that last sentence I received a text from Dale saying that his sister has just done something so kind and thoughtful for us that again, I'm not sure how we will ever thank her. 

The example I was thinking of though- that I regularly cringe at- was when I told one of the mums at work that I loved her nail varnish and she said I could have it and she would bring it in for me. I opened and closed my mouth a couple of times and actually couldn't tell you what came out in the end because I just had no idea what to say. Should I have just said thanks, I look forward to it? Objected and said just telling me where she got it from would be enough? 

I think the reason I'm often so awkward in these situations is if it's so unnecessarily kind I fear I may have misheard. 

Imagine if I had said 'ooh yes please, that's so kind of you to offer to bring in your nail varnish for me to keep' and she had to say 'oh no, I was just saying it's from Avon and it's called hot pink.' Or worse, then felt she had to give it to me even though that's not what she'd said at all. 

Similarly when people do really lovely things for me I always feel like I have to do something really lovely for them, but then sometimes that would be weird. Like one of the dads at work once bought a coffee for every single member of the team that was in that day just because. It would be so strange if I just bought him a coffee. Or anything in return really. But then how do I make him realise how much that meant to us, and that none of us will ever forget that kind gesture? 

I try my best to be as kind as that, and to do things in turn for others who I think would appreciate it, but that doesn't make me any less awkward at accepting kind gestures.

As I said above, I'm surrounded by lots of outrageously kind people so this happens a lot. Any thoughts?  

3) I've just realised that I've put my foot in it. Do I acknowledge it, try backtracking, or just completely ignore it? 

Obviously what would be really great would be a lesson in how not to put my foot in it. But a far more realistic fix would be how to deal with it once I've realised what I've done. I've just been going on and on and on about how much I dislike the name Talia. That I think it's a stupid, ridiculous name and have no idea why anyone would do that to their child. (NB: I've purposely chosen Talia because everyone knows it's actually my favourite name. I mostly manage to avoid offending people when I'm writing because I have time to think. Mostly.) I've just got to the end of my rant and realised that the person I'm talking to is, in fact, Talia. She shortens it to Tilly so I had forgotten. 

Do I tell her I've just realised and I'm so, so sorry? Do I backtrack and say, of course, it's beautiful if you're blonde, and tall, live in Chelmsford, have a sister called Holly, work in a bank....other completely unrelated things about this particular Talia....

Do I just leave a horrible silence whilst we both think about what I just said? Or speak frantically about a totally different subject. "Anyway, tell me about your new haircut, ever so lovely..." 

4) What I've just said hasn't gone down the way I thought it would. How do I save it? 

I was actually on the other end of this recently. A poor lady commented on how teeny, tiny I looked. I think she was trying to compliment me. I have a personal dislike of people commenting on my size anyway (such a strange thing to comment on I think, but maybe that's because I'm socially awkward), and what she didn't know was that I was twelve weeks pregnant and had been sick every day for eight of them and was actually acutely aware of my weight, and slightly concerned about my baby for it. What she also didn't know was that it felt to me like she was eight hundredth person to comment on my size that week, and I had used up all of my polite responses and said 'well I haven't lost any weight' in a manner most unlike me. Fortunately this lady, unlike me, is a queen of social etiquette and didn't miss a beat. She smiled serenely and came back with a perfect response that immediately calmed me. 

A few days later I was on the other side of it, and had accidentally said something that didn't go down the way I thought it would. I like to think that I also replied with a smooth, calm reaction and fixed the situation, and was temporarily proud of myself. But then I spent the rest of the day cringing that I had said the wrong thing in the first place.

So really, my question is not so much how do I save the conversation, but how do I save myself from worrying about it forevermore? And does everyone do that all the time? 

5) I'm going to a friend's house for a lunch/dinner/barbecue/gathering. I've offered to take something (right at the last minute because I am the absolute worst at planning and don't think about anything until I'm doing it) and they say no thank you. Do I still take something? 

Really I suppose my question is: is there a trick to knowing when someone is being polite and when they actually mean what they're saying? 

How am I supposed to know if she really doesn't mind what restaurant we go to or if she's just too polite to say? How do I know if he really doesn't want a coffee or is just worried about me spending my money? 

And are you always meant to take something to someone's house? Where does it end? Dinner? Barbecue? Coffee? Dropping in a birthday card? 

Also what are you supposed to take? Flowers? Box of chocolates? Wine? Is there a rule for which gift for which situation? 

Who is meant to teach me this? How do other adults know? 

6) What makes a good house warming gift? 

I don't think I have ever bought anyone a good house warming gift. When we moved in we got some gorgeous gifts- but I was so open with our colour scheme and I am so easy going that I think I'm quite easy to buy for. But how am I supposed to buy a house warming gift for someone who has very specific taste but rarely talks about their home decor choices? 

It's so hard. Help me. 

7) My friend's had a baby. How often do I call/text/turn up? 

When someone's had a baby I take it completely for granted that everyone that they have ever met will want to see them. Perhaps because I love babies, or because I have a close family, or because most people I know love babies. So I just assume they'll be inundated with guests and won't need me getting in the way. And they won't want to be bombarded with messages from me when they're getting used to the madness of parenthood and dealing with all these visitors and getting over childbirth. So I'll pop in when invited but will otherwise leave them to it. 

But then I read something recently about new parents feeling let down and lonely when their friends don't call/text/turn up. 

But surely doing it all the time is just as much of a pain? 

Adulthood is a minefield, seriously. 

When am I supposed to learn this stuff, and who is supposed to teach me? 

I could actually write an entire novel on this topic. I haven't even got started on eating meat when your friends have forgotten you're vegetarian, talking comfortably about death and illness, how to deal with having a serious dislike of your friend's boyfriend, or what to do when you realise you haven't been listening and your pal is waiting for a response. So for the moment, I will continue trying to Do The Right Thing and Not Make A Complete Idiot of Myself, and will use all my ridiculous mistakes as writing material. But as soon as you start offering social etiquette lessons- sign me up. 

Saturday, 11 February 2017

There's A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow

For those of you who weren't already aware, I'm getting married this year. 

Within days of getting engaged I had made two promises to Dale's sister. 

I promised that I would a) not become obsessed with my wedding and talk about nothing else and b) never deny myself anything delicious in pursuit of The Dream Dress. 

With the exception of my long-suffering work colleagues who, before the engagement had to put up with my non-stop talking about Dale, our flat, and Disney World anyway, I think most people would agree that I am doing a fine job of sticking to my promises. 

(Just to be clear, they are top witnesses to the fact that I have not started denying myself anything delicious- although I really do need to face the fact that it's not Christmas anymore and we don't need cupcakes every day. But they would probably argue that I could talk about the wedding less. Sorry ladies.) 

Anyway, for one day only I'm going to officially break promise A and tell you aaall about it. 

(That was a warning. If you don't want to know, close this down and maybe do a Friends quiz? Or is it just me whose news feed is over run with Friends quizzes right now?) 

SO first things first. 

The Proposal

I won't bore you with the details that I bored my Mum with, but here are the key highlights...

Dale and I have always disagreed on our anniversary. By quite a lot. In that I say it's 14th August and Dale says it's 5th November. (Yep. A lot.) 

Which is why despite arriving in Orlando on 28th October, Dale decided to wait until 5th November to propose. How he waited that long with the ring sitting in his suitcase I do not know. 

Every Walt Disney World resort hotel shows a Disney Movie Under the Stars every night, and on our first date in mid 2013, Dale and I watched Up under the stars at Disney's Port Orleans Resort Hotel. We laid on a blanket outside and talked all the way through the film, eating a picnic and swapping life stories. 

It was every bit as magical as it sounds. 

On 5th November 2016 at 11am Dale and I popped into the Port Orleans resort to get a drink and look at how pretty it is. 

It never gets old. 

As we walked past the spot of our first date, Dale pointed out that there was a big, Princess chair and asked if I wanted a photo in it. 

I did. 

I got a soaking wet butt, not realising that the chair was still drenched from the previous night's rain, jumped up, checked how obvious it was (really obvious) and turned back to find Dale holding a ring and asking me the most important question I will ever be asked.

I will never stop being impressed that he managed to find somewhere in Walt Disney World that was not only hugely special to us in a way that it probably isn't to many other people, but was also deserted so that we felt like the only two people in the world for the big moment. 

I was then immediately whisked away to Animal Kingdom to see my favourite show in the entire world (The Lion King show) in VIP seats, before going to meet the cast. 

By the time I turned the corner to see the whole cast there waiting for us, having still not had a chance to tell anyone we were now engaged, I was totally speechless and, I'm fairly sure, left them thinking that I couldn't speak English.

I was whisked from there to my favourite restaurant in Disney World (and the real world, in fact), Be Our Guest, and then to watch The Festival of Fantasy, the most magical parade, and then to meet the main man- Mickey Mouse- who was, of course, delighted at the news. 

From there, Dale took me back to our hotel and told me to pack my bags, we were going on vacation from our vacation. 

To my favourite resort. 

Yacht Club. 

Yacht Club is my favourite resort for many, many reasons. 

But the main one is that when I stayed there for the first time there was a painting of a lady who looked incredibly like Dale. Seriously, it's uncanny. 

So you can imagine my absolute delight when I walked into our breathtaking room to find this on the wall: 


Potentially the best part of the day. 

I was then whisked off to VIP seats for my favourite evening spectacular, Fantasmic, in Hollywood Studios, before whizzing over to Epcot for what is always my dinner of choice, from the French Pavillion. We took it to go and ate it on the balcony of our hotel room as we watched Illuminations, the Epcot fireworks. 

It was the first time either of us had done all four Disney parks in one day, and it was the best day of our lives. 

It will take a lot for the wedding to beat it. 

Which brings us seamlessly to...

Wedding Planning

We were ever so good and vowed not to discuss the wedding until we got home, despite having agreed long before we got engaged that we both wanted a short engagement. (By which I mean I wanted a short engagement and Dale said okay.) 

I like to think I knew more or less what to expect when it comes to wedding planning. I'm the last of all my close friends to get married, and although I didn't have a huge involvement in planning their weddings I did lend an ear when chair cover and invitation thickness decisions got too much, and I have attended more weddings than I could count on my fingers and toes, so I know more or less what weddings involve, and also what I do and don't like. 

I'll not go into too much detail about what I do and don't like as I want some things to remain a surprise for the day, but here are the top things I've learnt planning my wedding...

1) Being Fearless has never been more important.

What a super time for me to have made that my new resolution. People are brutal when it comes to expressing their opinions on both your wedding and the weddings of others, and if you listen to them, you'll end up doing a lot of your breathing into paper bags and taking up daily drinking. 

Honestly it has shocked me how many people have felt the need to tell me everything they didn't like about all the weddings they've been to. What if I've already organised that? That lesson has actually really helped me with my promise to my new sister-in-law not to talk about it too much, because I really don't want to talk about it. I don't want any more opinions, thank you. 

Compiling the guest list is also a brutal task for a sensitive soul like me. 

Between us we have so many friends, if we invited everyone we love we would have a crowd to rival William and Kate, and as relatively shy people, we would both rather stick pins in our eyes. 

So it's a family affair for us, but it's surprising (and mortifyingly awkward) how many people openly say that they expect to be invited. 

I really hope that everyone finds this and we're not the worst people in the world for feeling this way, but we have had to be fearless with the guest list. Dale jokes that if it were up to me we'd be inviting the lady from the Post Office and asking guests to let us know when and where would be most convenient for them, and he's not far off the truth. 

2) It does not need to be as stressful as Facebook tells you. 

Seriously. Ever since the second we put our engagement on Facebook we have both found our news feeds filled with blogs, articles, videos, and lists of reasons telling us how and why getting married is the most stressful thing you can do. 

One article told me we need to put aside at least £27, 000 (if I had that much money to spare it would absolutely not be going on a day). I've read so much about the stress of choosing the right dress (bought the first one I tried on), choosing the right venue (booked the first one we saw), and choosing a theme (a no brainer for us). 

I have managed to find a human being, among all of the human beings in the whole world, that I like enough to promise to spend the rest of my life with, and he wants to promise to spend the rest of his life with me too! Surely I've done the seemingly impossible bit?! 

We started planning this wedding in December and finished planning it in January. 

It's been nothing but fun. 

3) There's one thing nobody ever tells you. 

Don't worry though chaps, I'm going to share it with you now. You think you know everything. You know about the dress, the flowers, the vows, the entertainment, the little touches. 

What nobody tells you is that if you get married in a registry office, there's a £50 charge. If you get married in a venue, there's a £525 charge for the registrar, plus a £70 appointment beforehand.

It's daylight robbery! Why does nobody ever warn you about this? NONE of the Facebook warnings included this. 

You have all now been warned. 

4) Getting engaged brings you closer to everyone you've ever met. 

It's been amazing how many people have been excited about our engagement, have wanted to hear about the wedding, and hugged and kissed me in congratulations. 

It means I've had special days out with my best friends and my mum that I wouldn't have otherwise had, and everyone suddenly has something to say to me. 

My favourite thing about every wedding I have ever been to has been getting to know the families of my friends and their new spouses. 

My favourite thing about our wedding is all my favourite people getting to know each other. Doing the table plans has been an absolute joy for that reason. 

5) Say Yes to the Dress is the best thing since Reese's peanut buttercups. 

Seriously. You get the expert help and undivided attention of an absolutely amazing professional with years and years of experience, they're incredibly kind to you, give you champagne and lunch, and I certainly ended up choosing a dress I would never have chosen for myself. 

I do not understand why you wouldn't do it. 

If you're yet to get your dress, I cannot recommend it enough. Even if you don't end up getting a dress I had the best day with my mum and my friends. 

Of course, the absolute best thing about being engaged is the excitement. 

Since the day we got engaged I've found myself overwhelmed with the need to tell Dale that I just can't wait to be his wife every single day. 

I think that out of all of the traditional milestones, being engaged has to be the best one. You're in a wonderful position and you know that all the best bits are yet to come. 

Like Christmas Eve, but for seven months. 

When I was away and all my friends were getting engaged I used to feel a little rush of excitement that I had all that to look forward to still. I like to think that I'll feel an equal warm rush of nostalgia every time I look back. 

Okay it's out. It's off my chest. This is my experience of being engaged. I'm getting married in four and a half months!

Promise I won't mention it again until 26th June, and I assure you I will continue to eat all my favourite things throughout the engagement and beyond.  

Wednesday, 21 December 2016


Almost every day I have the same conversation with frustrated parents.

We know she can do it. She holds herself back. If she just believed in herself she could go so much further.

And I sympathise. Genuinely. Because I also have total faith that their daughter has more ability than she's showing but is being held back by some innate fear.

That's where my job comes in. The company I work for spends its days building children's confidence to Become Fearless. To be able to enter the world as adults with absolute faith in themselves to be successful, to make their own dreams come true, to ensure that no doors shut in their faces and that- above all else- they are not held back by themselves.

Then this week somebody said the same thing to me about a famous sportsperson. That they had read that his own mind holds him back because he's crippled with self doubt.

And again I nodded along, sharing their frustration that fears and doubts could hold somebody so talented back from their full potential.

Then Dale and I went to see Moana.

Before the film started there was a Disney Animated Short. A short film.

It was, in my humble opinion, the best they've ever done.

I'll not give too much away but the basic premise is that a man sees the potential negative consequences of everything, and therefore does nothing. Out of fear.

About half way through, Dale leant across and whispered 'it's you.'

I tipped my head to the side, taking it in.

To my absolute horror, I realised he was right.

Now I like to think I've done a lot of fairly brave things.

Not earth shattering things, but things that certainly changed up my world and took confidence as a result.

I was the first in my family and one of the only people in my group of friends to go to university, for example. I was therefore the first to move out. And I did it totally alone.

I went to Italy alone aged twenty to live with a family I had never met.

I once left my job, broke up with my boyfriend, sold my car and moved to France.

I worked as a live in nanny- packing my bags and moving in with people I had only spent an hour with (or in a couple of cases only spoken to on the phone).

The thought of the interview for my current and previous jobs were so daunting I almost called and cancelled about an hour before I was due to be there.

But as I get older, rather than Becoming Fearless, rather than fully understanding that life is too short and ridding myself of these worries, I seem to be becoming more and more fearful.

And I think a lot of that has to do with 2016.

I know we can't blame everything on 2016.

(I'm fairly sure I've heard people in Sainsbury's muttering bloody 2016 because the Christmas queues are long. The Christmas queues in Sainsbury's are always long. Nothing to do with 2016.)

But seriously this year.

I normally write one blog post a month.

I don't write it for any other than reason than I enjoy writing and it's good to keep up the practice.

I am not, and have never been, intending to go viral. I never intend for these to be for anyone other than my mum, my Grandma, and my best friend Jiminy Cricket.

But this year one unintentionally went almost viral. (It went viral enough that a friend saw it posted in a group that I had nothing to do with by a person I've never met. But not so viral that Very British Problems and The Lad Bible shared it.)

Anyway, it resulted in me being sent truly nasty words by people who have never and will never know me. (If I do ever meet them in person, I've got my speech planned. You know, like Charlotte in Sex and the City plans what she would say to Big if she ever saw him again? She does, but that's TV. I'd say the chances of me meeting Shaz off of Facebook in real life are slightly less likely. The chances of me realising it's her, even less so.)

 So I lost my nerve a bit, and missed a few months this year.

Partly because of those nasty words, partly because of an increased fear of insulting somebody- again, thanks 2016.

Seriously, isn't it so easy to offend people now?

I have shoulder length brown hair with little flecks of blonde in the ends, and I'm sure that insults somebody.

It's got out of control, ladies and gents, and it's putting me on edge all of the time.

I try my absolute best every day to be the kindest person I can be.

I put kindness above all else, and I value it so much in other people.

But now that it's offensive to braid your hair, to be a woman without a child, to post your engagement on social media, to marry a celebrity, to write an honest article about your relationship, to choose to feed your baby in a certain way, to donate to certain charities, to enjoy certain TV shows, to live your own life and concentrate on your own priorities, to be demonstrably sadder about things that have happened to you than about things that have happened to somebody else...I can't keep up!

I feel criticised, embarrassed, and sorry for something I do almost every day because of this out of control fashion to be offended.

And it means I write less. I say less. I do less.

And it's stupid.

Because of course when I truly think about it I know it's nonsense. I know that life's too short, that you can't please everyone, that there's nowt so queer as folk.

But it's hard to keep that at the forefront of my mind all the time.

One friend told me that I need to read less. Stop looking at social media, stop reading articles, just live.

I did that for six weeks, and it was a simpler, happier time, I'll give you that.

But when I returned to social media, oh my, I cannot tell you how many people had had babies and got engaged.

And I love that stuff! I don't want to miss out on wonderful news like that.

Plus I do have super friends on there who I wouldn't speak to every day without it but who do make me smile all the time.

One such friend pointed out yesterday that pizza doesn't please everyone, and if pizza doesn't please everyone then how on earth can I expect to?

Excellent point.

But again, difficult to keep in mind all the time.

Chalene Johnson, fitness guru and all round hero, in my eyes,  highlighted it when somebody wrote on her account that she found her annoying and that she would be deleting her.

She highlighted it to make a point that nobody is liked by everybody, and that's okay. She also said that it's good for you to erase the annoying people from your life. So that girl was doing the right thing in deleting her if she found her so annoying.

Another good point.

So my question is this: how can I possibly be enthusiastically nodding along with parents in frustration that their child is holding onto their fears, and working tirelessly to communicate to children that letting go of fear is going to catapult them into this incredible new world, when I am holding myself back?

If I so strongly believe that letting go of fear is what unlocks an even more incredible you, why don't I just do it?

So that, lovely readers, is my new year resolution.

I am going to Be Fearless in 2017.

In everything.

Work, Home, Life.

I am going to take a leaf out of the book of the latest Disney Short character (spoiler alert), and stop avoiding what could be wonderful just in case it goes wrong.

I have total faith that I can do this, and I must do it, to be a truly positive role model to these children I'm trying to inspire, right?

And what better way to kick it off than with a wedding?

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Let's Get Together...

There's a post flying around social media at the moment that explains what living together as a couple is really like. I won't repeat the entire thing here, but the basic summary is this: living with the one you love isn't falling asleep cuddling and eating breakfast together every day, it's screaming at each other about nothing, being so tired that you fall asleep on separate couches, and crying because they haven't done the washing you reminded them about five times.

I saw this post approximately two weeks into living with Dale, and frowned at it. Surely if you're not eating together and you do a lot of screaming and crying because of the behaviour of the person you're living with, you shouldn't be living together?

I voiced this to a few people. Some of them absolutely agreed with me. If you're screaming at each other every day, something is not quite right. Others gave me a patronising smile and told me to just wait.

We've now lived together for seven months.

Now that is not a lifetime. So there's still time to be proven wrong.

But I still say if you're screaming at one another and crying about the washing, perhaps you're not as happy as you could be.

So I thought I would write my own version of what living together means, now that we're a bit further along the road...

There are The Parts We Always Imagined...

1) Cuddles On Tap

Now if Dale were writing this, perhaps this wouldn't be on his list of great things about living with me. Perhaps it would be on his list of things he just has to put up with. But I'm sure that's only because for some reason he doesn't want to admit how wonderful it is.

The other day I was with Lady Adelaide and Pumbaa and their husbands, and it was their husbands that were expressing their love of cuddles, and the ladies that were saying that they sometimes need their own space when it's this hot. Not me. I need some peace to write, and space to do my makeup, but I'm never too hot or too busy for cuddles.

Unlike the couple from the social media post, we do tend to sleep in the same bed rather than separate couches, and we do manage to cuddle rather than screaming at each other.

2) Breakfast!

Again, the social media post insisted that instead of breakfast together, it's slanging matches that start the day when you wake up on separate couches in the morning.

We don't have breakfast together every single day, we don't feed each other pieces of toast, or eat two ends of a pecan plait until our lips meet in the middle, but on a Sunday we normally have eggs on toast in front of the television with the quilt over us. If it's a really special occasion we'll have croissants. And by special occasion I mean the sun's out. Or one of us bought a new pen this week.

3) Time together

It might sound obvious, but lots of people told me that when you live together you actually don't spend much more time together than when you were apart because you don't prioritise time together like you did when you could only see each other at weekends.

We haven't found that.

We have synced calendars so that we can make sure we've got lazy days planned in, and we normally end up going out together at the weekends in between anyway- mainly because the reason we moved in together in the first place is that we're best friends.

Before we took the leap I thought that I would miss having all day at work on a Saturday to be really excited to see Dale again at the weekend.

Turns out now I just spend all day every day excited to see him again tonight.

There are The Pleasant Surprises...

1) Opportunities to Be Nice

A few Sundays ago I woke up and realised that we didn't have any eggs. Dale hopped out of bed like a hero and declared that he would go to Tesco to buy some. Then he realised it was eight thirty on a Sunday and no shops would be open.

I explained that that was fine. I could wait until ten. At nine forty I announced that I was too hungry to wait. I would have a banana. Once again my hero jumped up, and this time got dressed and went to a Tesco Local so that I wouldn't have to wait any longer.

Before we lived together Dale was so nice to me, and he does continue to be. But when you live together the opportunities do little nice things for each other increase ten fold, and I like to think Dale and I are excellent at embracing them.

2) The Little Things

The silly in jokes, the terrible singing and dancing around the kitchen, the weird eating habits. Getting to know the little things about one another has been one of my favourite things about the past seven months. I hadn't thought there was much for me to learn. How wrong I was.

3) Keeping my Sanity

Dale has a No Talking About Work rule in the flat, which has genuinely turned my mental health around. I have a forty minute drive home in which I clear all the cobwebs from a busy day at work, and then have a totally separate life at home. It means that I enjoy my evenings and weekends more, sleep better, and do a lot less worrying.

And then there are The Parts Everyone Told Us About...

1) Driving Each Other Crazy

I'm not talking about screaming and crying at each other because of washing here. I'm talking about him rolling his eyes and telling me I've used up my quota of the word love for this week because it's 8.02am on Monday and I've already told him twenty five times how much I love him. I'm talking about having to open every single window when he hangs up his running shorts over the shower because they smell disgusting. (FYI: one of my favourite things about Dale has always been that he always smells like a combination of Abercrombie and toothpaste. One thing I've learnt in the past seven months is that the only time he doesn't smell like that is after a run. I won't go into too much detail. Use your imagination.) I'm talking about our regular disagreements on what a made bed looks like. He says my standards are unreasonably high. I say if the cushions are still littered all over the bedroom floor, the bed is not made.

We don't scream about these things. We roll our eyes a lot, make fun of each other a lot, and accept certain irreversible truths.

2) Knowing Everything

There's nothing I wish I didn't know about Dale. But there are a lot of things I wish he didn't know about me. What I've discovered about myself since we moved in together is that I kid myself a lot. I make a lot of promises to myself that I don't keep- mostly involving getting up early, eating less sugar, drinking less coffee, and watching less television. Before I lived with Dale I would declare these changes to nobody in particular and then when, three days later, I was curled up watching yet another episode of Friends at ten am with a caramel cupcake, nobody would bat an eyelid and I would have forgotten all about that naive vow that I made. I can no longer get away with that now that somebody actually listens to me.

3) Seeing Everything

Having spent the first two and a half years of our relationship going to the effort of tricking Dale into thinking I was a real life princess, I have spent the past seven months proving that I'm closer to one of the strange creatures from Monsters Inc. He now knows that I wake up looking like Anna in Frozen on the day of the coronation. I spend a lot of time in comfy clothes, am always tired and almost always have the symptoms of a cold, take far too much enjoyment in a cup of coffee, spend far too much time reading and am unreasonably worried about the scent of every room.

And here he is. Rolling his eyes, making fun of me, cuddling me, buying me eggs, listening to my nonsense and remembering it, making me laugh at least ten times a day, keeping me sane, half making the bed, looking after me when I'm ill, surprising me with treats, missing me when I'm not there, reassuring me when internet bullies decide they don't like my writing, cuddling me after a hard day, cuddling me after an easy day, and allowing me to write all about it for goodness-knows-who to read. And he does it all despite knowing all the gory details of who I really am.

 This is our version of living together, and I like to think it will stay that way.

I'm sure we'll find all kinds of other horrifying things out about each other. I'm sure we'll continue to disagree about the important things in life like the making of the bed and the regularity of washing the towels, but I like to think we will also continue to laugh, to care, and to love far too much.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Let It Go

Some of my friends and family appear to fly through life, light as air, happy as a clam, with seemingly no concerns at all, and I am fascinated by this. Of course they do have worries, they're adults like the rest of us, so what is it that they do to seem so unencumbered by adulthood and all it brings with it?

I've done a little bit of unofficial research to work it out, and the answer seems to be this: they have the power over those cheeky little voices in their head.

Please bear with me on this one. I've mentioned this (slightly nervously at first) to a few people, and they have all agreed that they also have voices in their own heads that speak up in quite similar ways to mine, and that it's those voices that are quite often holding them back.

See if you recognise any of them...

1) The Voice of Cringes Past

This little voice can make an appearance at any moment, and will often pop up in my life when I'm either having a quiet moment- like driving alone or exercising- or when I'm nervous or lacking confidence.

It normally starts 'hey, remember when you...?' and goes on to list unbearably cringeworthy things that you said or did, spanning as widely as something you regret from when you were seven years old all the way up to something as recently as five minutes ago.

Ughhh if only you could undo those things. If only you could replay them so many times that you could become desensitised to them and stop wanting to curl up in a corner eating peanut butter cups and avoiding human beings for the rest of time.

You can't.

But it might reassure you to know that only the other day somebody told me that she regularly replays something she once said to me and every time convinces herself that she can never face me again. HONESTLY it's something that I didn't think anything of at the time and that hasn't crossed my mind again since. And I'm not the most easygoing person. So maybe most people have forgotten about the things I still tear myself apart about. And maybe nobody even thought anything of them at the time.

It may also reassure you to know that when I was tentatively broaching the subject of The Voice of Cringes Past with one of the most confident, outgoing people I know last week, his reaction was 'I thought that was just me! I do that all the time. Sometimes it'll be things I said years ago and it'll randomly pop into my head and make me think why did I say that?'

So it's not just us. It's everyone.

Well, almost everyone.

2) The Voice of Shocking and Unnecessary Mean Thoughts

This one may be more difficult to admit to. But it's there.

It actually doesn't make an appearance very often at all, but every now and then it does and it's brutal. 

A few weeks ago I popped into the Post Office to pick up a package. The lady who served me was a dream. She smiled as I walked in, was polite when she asked me for my ID, and efficient when she collected my package for me from what I call backstage. And yet as she asked me to sign the form to confirm that I had received my package, The Voice of Shocking and Unnecessary Mean Thoughts made an appearance.

Gosh, she's got surprisingly fat fingers. 

It said, totally unnecessarily and really nastily. Where did that come from? I am a kind, and thoughtful, and positive person.

Sometimes, it even comes dangerously close to the surface, and I find myself hugely thankful that it didn't quite come out of my mouth. Someone was once saying to me that they thought they were an excellent communicator, and the evil voice popped up inside my head: 'do you really?' with a raised eyebrow. I honestly had to take a moment to realise that it hadn't come out of my mouth. Thank goodness.

3) The Voice of Self Doubt

I heard recently that an overwhelming percentage of people, and in particular, women, feel that they are 'pretending' at their job and just waiting to be caught out as not really being capable of doing what they're paid for.

You are not alone if you relate to this.

4) The Voice of World Issues

As I'm sure you're aware by now, I'm a worrier. Along with being a worrier, I'm passionate, opinionated, and empathetic. A potentially unhealthy combination, in that it means I get unreasonably angry about things happening elsewhere in the world, something that my boyfriend does not understand at all.

Whilst the voice in my head is riling me up and leaving me frustrated at the state of the world and the fact that there's very little I can do about it, Dale is calm and serene as always.

"But you  being angry about something that someone posted on Facebook in Japan isn't going to change that they did post it and that it's caused what it's caused. It's nothing to do with you. Let it go."

He's right, of course.

I voiced this to a few people who told me that I should never change. It's anger that sparks action. If you just let it go then you could argue that you're a part of the problem. It shows you're human. It shows that you care.

But the more I think about it, and the more I consider Dale's words every time I get angry, the more I think it might be better for my mental health to follow his advice.

What I don't think I will ever be able to change is being upset about the world. Anger I can work on, but empathy is far harder to tackle and therefore so is sadness.

I try my best. I try to recycle, to eat and shop in a moral way, to donate to charity.

 But it doesn't matter how much you do, there's always something more you could be doing. And that bothers me far more than it should.

Do your best, then let it go. That appears to be the advice from the happy and the wise. Easier said than done, I know.

5) The Voice of the Future

Will I have enough money? What jobs will I do? Should I have more qualifications at my age? Will we buy a house one day? How many children will we have? What will we name them? What if all the good names are gone by the time I get to have-a-baby age?

Just a few of the totally unreasonable and totally unnecessary questions to pop into my head when The Voice of the Future is on the loose. We have so much to be happy about today. Why worry?

6) The Unstoppable Voice

It doesn't matter who you are, where you're from, or how you've come into my life. It doesn't matter if you're a colleague, a friend of a friend, my best friend, a man on the tube, the lady serving me in Sainsbury's, or a clearly psycho total stranger who has happened to get your paws onto my generally friends-and-family-only blog. I have a pathological need for you to like me. And that is exhausting. 

This voice is the loudest and the most persistent, and it drives me to insanity sometimes.

Earlier this year I saw possibly the happiest person I know. She also happens to be the most kind hearted and the warmest person I know. And I was so surprised at her reaction when I was worried that her friend- a person I had only met that day and have no reason to ever meet again- seemed a bit annoyed at both of us.

For some reason I had imagined that she would be the same as me- pulling her hair out about it and bending over backwards to apologise. But she wasn't.

"Whenever my Dad's mad, my mom always says he'll get happy in the same pants he's mad in. It's the same. She'll be okay again in five minutes." (Please note she's American. She means mum and trousers.)

I won't bore you with the details of what this girl was a bit annoyed about but as my friend explained why she didn't feel the need to fix the situation even I could completely see that she was right. Her friend wasn't angry about anything that actually mattered and she'd be over it in five minutes and never think about it again.

I cannot emphasise enough how energetic, kind, and thoughtful this friend is. Perhaps it's because she isn't weighed down worrying about the nonsense that I worry about.

I also recently read something on the internet posted by one of my ultimate heroes, health and fitness Guru Chalene Johnson.

Somebody had commented on her status "you annoy me. #unfollow."

That would have resulted in me gulping back the tears and my quivering voice insisting that I know it doesn't matter but then needing a few minutes to blow my nose.

Chalene drew attention to it. And not to make a fool of the writer of the comment, and not to shame her as a 'hater', but to demonstrate to people that it's okay if everyone doesn't like you. I won't write exactly what she said (mainly because I'm not sure about copyright), but basically her message was this: not everyone is going to like you. And that's okay. If you find somebody annoying/ boring/ upsetting in any way then try your best to remove them from your life to make room for all the wonderful, magical, fascinating people that are out there. And let the people that find you annoying (because there will be people that find you annoying) leave your life, to make room for the people who find you wonderful, magical, and fascinating. And just be thankful that your life is only full of these great people.

My happiest friends are also the healthiest, most beautiful, most energetic, and kind, and  I truly believe that if I could keep the energy that I put into worrying, and could let go of those totally unnecessary things that pull me down, I would be lighter, and as a result be as happy, musical, and energetic as the happiest people I know.

Now just to be clear I am a happy person. I am happy every single day, am positive, and grateful, and smile a lot. But I know that if I could just Let Things Go I could be lighter and even happier. And so could you.

So this is me promising you, lovely readers, that I will continue to do my best at everything, but then I will Let It Go. And so should you.

Monday, 20 June 2016

I Think I Can, I Know I Can....

When I worked in London two years ago I was fortunate enough to a) also live in London, and b) work only evenings and weekends. Since then I have worked in Essex. As a result, I have made it to the ripe old age of twenty seven never having commuted to London for work.

This week though, the stars aligned in a way that they haven't before, allowing me the opportunity to commute from Chelmsford to London like a real, grown up commuter. 

For those of you that have been lucky enough to live this commute, I'm really hoping that you will relate to this and not just think I've become grumpy in  my old age. For those of you who have never experienced it, sit back, relax, and have a read of what I learnt from my four days as a commuter...

a) The rumours about the weather affecting the trains beyond the reasonable? 

All true. 

All three of my trains in the morning of day four were delayed due to inclement weather. (It was raining. No snow, no hail, no monsoon, no hurricane. British June Drizzle- that's all.) All three of my trains in the evening of the same day were also delayed, despite the fact that the rain had stopped around midday and it had been 21 degrees for most of the afternoon. 

b) The reason the weather affects the trains so much is this...

We're British, right? We love nothing more than to moan about the weather. It's too hot, it's too cold, it's muggy, it's rainy, I'm burnt, there's hot and there's hot and this is too hot. So when something goes wrong with the trains- give the punters what they want, they say. Tell them it's the weather's fault. 

Now I know this because on the way home, once it had stopped raining and the sun had a little sombrero on and his maracas out- they found themselves having to be honest. 

And I am not kidding or even exaggerating when I tell you this is the announcement that came over the tannoy. 

(Please imagine your best over-the-top London accent. Bert in Mary Poppins, if you will.) 

Ladies and Gents, just to let you know I'm meanta be goin' 'ome now, only the new driver ain't turnt up to take over. So er...well you'll be delayed. Sorry 'bout that.

Oh that's okay, not to worry. This is a free train service after all, what can we really expe- oh wait. Most of us have had to remortgage our houses to afford a weekly ticket. 

c) You will see the same people every single day...

1) The One With The Phone....

Seriously, this guy has been on every train I've ever caught. Nobody seems to have told him yet that that dodgy Nokia ringtone that everyone abandoned in 2003...well, was abandoned in 2003. And that it's embarrassing to have it going off every two minutes for the entirety of a forty minute journey. 

When this guy is around (and he always is), the soundtrack to your journey is this: 

*dodgy ringtone*

"Hello? Hello mate, listen, I'm on the train so I might cut out a bi-hello? Hello?" 

*dodgy ringtone*

"Hello? Sorry mate, cut out cause I'm on the train. So this board meeti- mate? Are you still there?" 

And repeat. 

You've said it a hundred times! You're on the train! You're not going to have a useful conversation and you';re driving everyone crazy. Put.The.Phone.Away. 

2) The Self Righteous One

This one only appears on a rush hour tube. 

You're squeezed on. Your nose is pressed up inside someone else's armpit (and it's never someone who had time for deodorant), a different person's hair is touching your face, you're not quite sure where your hands are, and out of the corner of your eye you can see that there are about five people with their noses actually squashed up against the glass, their breath leaving slobber on the windows.

And then there's one person. Always. 

"Excuse me, you're quite close to my bag. Could you please step back?" At this point they usually, like number one, get their phone out and say, loudly enough for the entire carriage to hear, "ugh yeah, I'm on the train and I've got some idiot standing really close to me. Don't know what's wrong with people." 

As though the tiny student with her books squeezed against her and her head pressed against the side of the train has all the room in the world and has chosen to situate herself as close as possible for the laugh. 

I like to think that the person at the other end of the phone is picturing a blissfully empty train with a stranger hugging their friend because they just find them so charming and irresistible. 

3) The Tut Master

The one who is unimpressed by the behaviour of every other commuter- from anyone who has dared to bring luggage with them to anyone who squeezes past and accidentally brushes them- but, unlike the first two characters, is far too British to draw attention to themselves by being loud. Instead, they settle for a little tut and eye roll directed at all around them, and as a result attracting more attention than the loud ones. 

4) Superman

Most trains are filled with supermen and women, particularly during rush hour. 

These are people whose journeys are so much more important than everybody else's. They will step in front of you, push you out of the way, knock you down the escalator if they need to. These are also the people who sigh far more dramatically than necessary when the inevitable delays are announced, and immediately grab their phones, presumably to let the world know that they'll be a little bit late to save the day. 

5) The One That Everyone Bonds Over

These people are so ludicrous that all the other types of people come together in united amusement and/or disbelief at them. They're normally either shouting about their beliefs (not usually respectable religious beliefs, but the belief that their dog is reincarnated Elvis or something), singing out loud to their headphones, prancing about dressed in a gorilla costume (seriously), or dancing with the kind of enthusiasm that should be reserved for behind closed doors.

I love these people. They break up the tedium of 'I can't hear you, I'm on the train', and the tutting. 

6) The Overexcited One

We've left Shenfield, and the next stop is Stratford. It's still a long way away. Yes, it's the next stop, but we've still got a while to go. But they need you to get up from your seat to let them get to the front door, or worse, you're already standing as there were no seats free (because The Self-Righteous One is taking up a seat or two with her bags), and they insist on squeezing past you so that they can stand beside the door, ready to get off in twenty two minutes. (When you will also be departing.)

Now it's not like me to be negative, I believe my life's purpose is to make people happy. To Spread the Joy. 

But I did not enjoy my four days of commuting, and if I hadn't vowed, five minutes into the first journey, that I would be writing about this when it was over, I'm not sure I would have coped at all. So the main thing I have taken from the experience is thank goodness I don't have to do this every day. I have never been more grateful for my driving licence. 

However I will share with you my three highlights....

One of my favourite things that happened was when I was showing my ticket to a ticket inspector and just as I was walking away I heard him ask the lady behind: 'boy or girl?' I whipped my head around to see what on earth prompted that question, when I saw a hugely pregnant woman positively beam as she said: a boy and a girl. 

It made me happy, it obviously made her happy- that moment of interest in another person didn't cost much from the ticket inspector but it prompted a lot of smiles in a crowd of otherwise fairly grumpy people. 

Another was when I had just taken out a chewing gum and popped it in my mouth. "Excuse me?" the man sitting diagonally across from me said, throwing me completely by being polite and gracious, and none of the characters above. "Can I have a chewing gum please?" 

And then of course, there are the clever announcements. They bring more joy than I can explain. They give these moody, animal-like travellers an excuse to smile at one another without falling into category five. The man in Chelmsford is magical. He reminds everyone to stand clear of the doors, and then follows it up with "Outstanding as always, Chelmsford," or "Chelmsford, you never cease to amaze me." 

It's a small part of his day but this tiny bit of creativity and humour brings smiles to a lot of people. 

So, ladies and gents, I implore you. 

Next time you are on a train- please smile when you spot these people, rather than wanting to cry as I did this week. Please be kind to them. Be funny. Smile. Help people out. Be The Change. Spread the Joy.

I'm quite certain that when Cinderella said 'have courage, and be kind,' she was talking about surviving train journeys.

And as those of you who do these journeys regularly will know, courage and kindness are not common characters on the commute. 

So introduce them. Wiggle up and make room for them. Invite them on. Let them stand in front of you, move too close to you, bring their luggage and their kids on too. 

Have courage, and be kind. 

And for goodness sake, remember how wonderful you are to do that every day. 

If you can do that, you can do anything.