Category Archives: Advice

Six Years Strong

It feels like yesterday when my fresh-faced future boyfriend walked into that wine bar, twenty minutes late. 

Last night we went to a delightful local restaurant to celebrate our anniversary. I enjoyed a tasty goats cheese tart, hake fish in a spinach sauce topped with a giant King prawn, and berry sorbet with Moroccan mint tea. A pianist tinkled away behind us, just audible beneath the hubbub of merry voices, infusing romance into the atmosphere. I thought of the Shakespeare quote: “If music be the food of love, play on.”

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Today we went to a village pub in Derbyshire, on the border between the “White Peak” and the “Dark Peak”, in the picturesque Peak District. It was built in the late 1700s when it was an Inn for weary travellers. I had butternut squash lasagne and a battered Yorkshire fishcake with fruit cider. We went to admire the view and stood together watching the golden afternoon sun illuminate the fields below.

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So what is the secret of a successful relationship?

Patience, kindness, listening and laughter. The path of true love never did run smooth, but you can resolve most issues with communication. Whilst you may have many shared interests, you need to remember that you are different people and you are bound to clash at some point, unless your partner is incredibly relaxed or a pushover. It is hard, but you have to try and remove the emotion of the disagreement, rationally discussing each other’s views to find a compromise. Sometimes you don’t and you have to agree to disagree.

Your partner should feel understood and appreciated.

Laugh often and simply enjoy spending time together, companionship is as crucial as passion. You should bring out the best in each other. You can advise and guide your partner, but don’t try and change them or apply pressure. No one wants to feel like a decision has been made for them or that they have been coerced into making changes before they were ready.

Of course you will squabble and bicker. It may even take years to stop shouting and start listening to each other. But if you are willing to invest time and effort to develop your relationship, and maybe even yourself, the clouds of confusion will eventually clear.

The trick is to let the little things go and focus on the bigger picture. Stop finding fault in flaws, we all have them. In this age of technological Tinder swiping and souped-up selfies, it is important to remind ourselves that virtual reality is just that. Real beauty beats any fake “perfection”.

I feel lucky to have found someone that loves me for who I am, despite my quirks, foibles and bad habits. I still feel giddy when we are together. Through the twists and turns of time we stride on, six years strong.

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Recruitment agency registration

Today I had two interviews with job agencies for administration and legal administration.

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I didn’t need to set my alarm clock because my housemate gets up for work at 7.30. I didn’t mind as I then make the most of the unemployment holiday. Looking for work is a full-time job as I searched for jobs, re-writing my CV, filling in forms and then actually applying. I had struggled to get to sleep with stressful thoughts whirling around my mind. I dozed off and woke up at 11am. I dressed in tailored pinstripe trousers, a lace sleeveless top and a navy striped cardigan. I looked in the mirror and checked that I was business-ready. Fake it til you make it.

I had ensured that both appointments were in the afternoon as I am not a morning person. Apparently it is in your genes whether you are or not, so that is not going to change no matter how much caffeine I drink. I allowed 45 minutes for a 20 minute bus journey. Just as well as the bus was packed and stopped every few hundred metres to pick up yet more noisy students, mothers with children, and retired people.

The general administration recruitment consultant was a business-like young lady in a sharp black tailored jacket and trousers. She had brown eyes and shoulder-length brown hair that was straightened to within an inch of its life. I admired her sparkly peach manicure as she went through the wad of registration bureaucracy. She gently persuaded me to lower my asking price from £9 per hour to minimum wage. Although I have eight years of administration experience, the consultant firmly urged me to lower my desired salary to minimum wage, due to the level of current job competition.

The company receive so many CVs that their email warns that you may not receive a response due to the sheer volume of applicants. In today’s market you have to stand out. It is not enough to have a degree when there are so many graduates, you need a masters. It is not enough to have some experience, you need extensive and recent experience. If you can’t get a temporary job for the CV you need to volunteer or try to get an internship.

Most of the employment available online was for those without qualifications, knowledge of Microsoft packages was the sole requirement. Typing jobs were few and far between and the recruitment consultant that this would severely limit the opportunities available. It doesn’t matter that I type at around 90 words per minute or that I have a bunch of text and audio processing certificates. For temporary work, basic administration skills are all that is required.

The legal recruitment agency meeting was helpful because I got advice on how to improve my CV. The meeting was in a new office at the top of a building, with a lovely view out over the cityscape.

waiting for job agency interview

My CV was not extensive enough, so I popped to the central library and increased it by a page. I added another three years of job history to make it more comprehensive. But the smiling young woman with long, ginger curly hair and square glasses told me that they had no temporary opportunities available at the moment. She would keep my file on record for any future opportunities. I was getting used to hearing this.

So, when should you choose a job agency?

  1. When you are looking for temporary work. Agencies are best-placed to get work quickly. Temporary work is also ideal for those with bar work or acting jobs who need to supplement their income.
  2.  When you need a quick fix following redundancy or unemployment. Sometimes this can lead to full-time, permanent work, as was the case when I last worked with an agency.
  3. When you are not interested in taking over the office, but are content to be a cog in the wheel.
  4. When you are trying to get your foot in the door of a new industry.
  5. If you have recently finished school/college/university or if you are returning to the world of work following a break.

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Job agencies are like sales companies. They “buy” jobs for their potential employees and then they “sell” you to the company.  Some have better working conditions than others. It is good if an agency specifies in its recruitment material whether paid annual leave is included and how many days annual leave allowance you are entitled to. Some even have a pension plan. A good recruitment agency should work with you to try and match your particular CV to a job that suits your skills and experience.

If you are a fellow jobseeker I wish you luck. Never stop trying and never give up the fight. Today’s job market is tough but you have to stay strong.

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Shopping on a tight budget – five top tips

Shopping takes on a new dimension when you have low or no income.

Recently I was a student and my shopping budget was £17.50. Currently I am waiting for benefits to start so I am getting by with my savings.

So how do you manage? Here are some tips for getting the best deals.

  1. Skip Shopping (known as “skip diving”).

No, I don’t mean give shopping a miss altogether, I mean shop from a skip. Seriously. It beats “dumpster diving” (salvaging items from shop bins is a step too far for me). It is not illegal to take items from a skip as it is rubbish and it is in an area accessible to the public. There is always one in our neighbourhood. I look over its contents quickly as I walk past. If I see something, I wait until I go back home via the skip. I check to make sure the street is empty (for the sake of my dignity) and then I whip out the item as quickly as possible. I have so far retrieved a leather Michael Kors handbag, a lacy black top and a flowery mug from two skips. These items are completely free of charge and all they require is a thorough and careful clean to restore them to their original glory. I simply sponged the handbag with soap and water and used some make-up wipes to remove any makeup on the inside. The mug went in the dishwasher and I am waiting to see how the top looks after a good wash. Getting the handbag (worth approximately £100) from the skip gave me the same dopamine hit as finding a cut-price bargain at TK Maxx. Priceless shopping is just what you need when you’re on a tight budget.

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2. Get back to basics

If you shop at Waitrose when you are on low income or unemployed you either live off your partner/trust fund/inheritance or you are delusional. Waitrose was the first shop I crossed off my list when I became a student. Say goodbye to the pink Himalayan rock salt and culinary experiments. I stick to the economy/basics section of most supermarkets or I shop at Aldi. I still haven’t found cereal cheaper than their £1.15 granola.

But be warned, other supermarket basics are often a similar price. Retailers sometimes just sell less food for the same price. My diet mostly revolves around the 30p bag of pasta and the £1 bottle of pesto.

The secret is to buy in bulk. I bought a 5 kilo bag of rice for £5. It requires 30 minutes to cook instead of the 3 minutes for microwave rice, but it is at least three times cheaper and I have the time now that I am unemployed. To make that into a meal, I combine it with a sliced frankfurter from a jar or packet (whichever is cheapest) and a 15p tin of tomatoes with herbs from Aldi. You can also buy a tin of frankfurters in tomato sauce and have that on toast if you don’t have the preparation time. I actually like tinned ravioli as well.

You can make a meal out of instant noodles by adding spinach, ham and even a boiled egg, ramen-style. For a snack I do nachos with a packet of mozzarella for 80p and a tin of tomatoes, with a small pot of sour cream (cheaper than guacamole).

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3. Shop savvy with “discounts”

Newsflash. Just because it’s reduced or on special offer doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. Sometimes the shops use this as a psychological grab because most people presume that this means it is much cheaper. If the discount doesn’t make the item at least £1 cheaper then forget it, it’s not a good deal and you’re just buying something more expensive than the basics variety. My mum taught me this trick and it’s really helped me look after the pennies (and the pounds will take care of themselves).

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4. Want new clothes? Let family/friends know, go to a clothes swap or charity shop.

Recently two friends have had a wardrobe clear out and I have accumulated a new one as a result. The only problem with those clothes are that they are past season. They fit, they look great and I now have more than one day dress. Charity shopping is about knowing when to go. The best time is in late June or July when students move out or return home.

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Credit: The Tamburlaine Hotel, Cambridge

5. Special offers and vouchers

Use vouchers as often as you can for as much as you can.

If you are on 3 Mobile you occasionally get a free tea/coffee, a free film or even free chocolate! The free tea offer encourages me to get out of the house and gives me much-needed caffeine for the job hunt.

 

 

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Thoughts On Turning 30

30. It sounds like a scary decade. Or at least that’s what my boyfriend thought as I reminded him that 30 is the marriage and kids decade.

It is strange to think that in ten years time that could be my reality.

If I don’t have children it wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it would  be heartbreaking because I’ve had maternal urges since the age of 18.

This sums up how I feel about being broody.

I know it’s just biology reminding you that your eggs are ready for fertilisation, but it is an unsettling feeling when you aren’t ready for kids – the biggest decision of your life. I go through intense broody phases every couple of years. I used to cure them by watching One Born Every Minute. Even that doesn’t work now. I find myself thinking yes, it looks like a horror movie, but after that she gets a beautiful bundle of joy to love forever.

Copyright: One Born Every Minute – Channel 4

Now I cure broodiness by watching Super Nanny. It should be compulsory viewing for potential parents.

“They won’t fear you with the naughty step. They will fear the punishment.”

When you see a couple going insane for two torturous hours putting little Freddy back on the naughty chair, you realise why so many parents resort to violence. It’s the easy way out, just like plonking them in front of the TV is easier than reading to them.

Copyright: Super Nanny

It was easy to see how parents could lose it when a child screams and screams…and screams. When a friend’s cat cried constantly from when I arrived to when I gave it food I was guilty of snapping at him. I raised my voice and told him off. He then avoided me for the rest of the day and I felt incredibly guilty.

You see it time and time again on Super Nanny. The screaming from parents to children, from children to parents, the slaps. One couple were even shutting their toddler out on the patio like he was some kind of animal. On the other extreme there was the complete lack of discipline, leading to children up all night running wild, children who are tired and cranky the next day. You could see how the couple were creating the nightmare they lived in. On the website debate.org 60% of respondents agreed that there was no such thing as “good” or “bad” kids,only bad parenting. Yes, some kids are just naughty, but who does the child copy? Their parents.

Think about it – by slapping your kids, what do you teach them? You teach them that you solve problems with violence. You teach them to fear you. Sometimes you even see the kids reflecting the parents behaviour, hitting their siblings.

Of course children need to learn that there are consequences for bad behaviour, but is control through fear what you want? Or would you rather control through punishments like the naughty step?

As Super Nanny wisely said in one episode: “They won’t fear you with the naughty step, they will fear the punishment.”

 

No child wants to be ignored and isolated and that’s how this control method works. Part of the reason I watch Super Nanny is that I am fascinated by the way the lady works with the child’s psychological perspective to get into their head and onto their level.

I saw my cousin successfully use a similar technique on his son. He asked his son to go out of the room for being cheeky and the child stomped his feet and had a tantrum. His father patiently let him do this and firmly repeated his request for his son to leave the room until he did so. He then asked his son if he was ready to come back in. The child said he was but continued to be naughty. His father told him to leave the room again. The boy cried and wailed at the perceived injustice. But my cousin did not falter, he simple asked his son if he was ready to come back in and behave again. The child said again that he was and this time he complied.

I have done work experience at nursery so I’m aware of the reality of kids. The endless questions and demands for stories, the tears and the tantrums. Toddlers have to be the focus of attention 24/7. As soon as you look away they are there in your face, thrusting a soggy book at you with that wide-eyed look that you just can’t say no to. There are only so many times you can ask a child what number comes after three. Even the fingers on my hands didn’t help – the kid was convinced two was the answer.

Too many would-be parents think of the cute pink baby and its massive eyes, of the love they’ll feel for this little beauty, of how that baby might somehow make their relationship stronger. As if sleepless nights and endless poo and vomit might somehow create some kind of unbreakable bond.

Too many parents find out later that actually, what seemed like a solid relationship pre-baby wasn’t as strong as they thought, as sleep deprivation and drudgery take their toll.

A study of 2,000 couples in Germany found that the happiness of parents decreases temporarily after the birth of their first child. It even causes 10% of parents to decide that they do not want to have another child.

Knowing all this, I am slightly terrified about the idea of having children and I know my partner is too. I know it’s something I want and I hope he does too. But could I handle the stress?

It’s not just me that is worried about the idea. My mum had a nightmare last week about me being pregnant. She asked again whether I was definitely just overweight and not expecting. She said in her dream, her and dad were panicking, wondering what they could do. I know it would be tough, because I find it hard to function with less than 7 hours of sleep and I would be reluctant to give up work to become a nappy-changing milk-machine.

Scientists have discovered that how well we tolerate sleep loss is actually written into our DNA. Nothing can change that, and if all those affected remained childless, this gene would have been bred out in a kind of natural selection. But people are prepared for the pain and the sacrifice of children. As a friend said: “The sleep loss is only for two years and it’s worth it”.

I think I want to leave it at least five years. When I said this to another friend she warned me about fertility – we have been told that levels decline from the age of 37, or maybe even 35. I want to have two children, so I don’t want to wait too late.

Before I have children I need to be living with my boyfriend and preferably married. At the moment we are no further forward than when we met four years ago, because we are not even living together.

It’s only now that I’m 30 that I’ve started to worry about our current inertia. Suddenly I am aware of the fertility clock ticking in the background.

We women are born with all the eggs we will ever need. They just grow older every year until they become genetically damaged, increasing the risk of conditions such as Downs Syndrome. Genetic code starts to be eroded by the passage of time.

What if we leave it too long and it’s too late? This has happened to other couples. Women who have left children until they were ready and financially stable have found that they cannot conceive naturally anymore and some don’t even have any luck with IVF. What seemed like such a sensible decision in their twenties backfires. The fertility clock has stopped ticking and their time is up. They will never have children naturally or even with assistance, and they have to make the difficult decision to adopt or remain childless.

If I can’t have children naturally, I doubt I will bother going through the long, frustrating process of IVF. I’ve been into an Assisted Conception Unit and the room was full of miserable, defeated and exhausted couples. I promised myself I would never end up there. I’d rather adopt and help a child less fortunate than myself to have a stable, loving home to grow up in. I feel like I have too much love just for my boyfriend. At the very least I would need to get a pet, something to fill this child-shaped void in our relationship that is becoming more and more apparent as I get older.

Who knows what the future holds. Hopefully our relationship will survive whatever fortune throws at us.

If you’re thinking about having children please consider the reality first, think about the practicalities.

Discuss who is going to do what and how you are going to manage the extra responsibilities. Think about how the child will impact on your current lifestyle. If you don’t have sufficient time to devote to your children then don’t have them. It isn’t right to leave them in the care of others almost 24 hours a day.

You need to be prepared to support and guide each other through what is the most intense, stressful yet rewarding time of your lives. Or at least that’s what parents tell me.

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My First Automatic Driving Lessons

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I have been learning to drive for over two years.

I booked my first lesson after I was unable to get to a friend’s wedding. It would have been easy to drive there and surely wouldn’t have cost the £40 taxi ride in petrol. The fare was fine but I was weak, wheezing and coughing every 5 minutes, so they probably wouldn’t have been able to hear their vows.

Two months ago my exasperated instructor suggested I try an automatic car which does not have gears. After asking whether I was ready occasionally, I was delighted to do a mock test and get no serious errors. You only have to get one serious error to fail and I would regularly get three. Something clicked and I put into practice what I had learnt. I had booked my test for this month. But as time went on and it got closer to the test and we started talking about it, my skills slipped. I had a lesson a month ago where I couldn’t work out what had gone wrong. I knew how to drive so why wasn’t I able to? It was really grinding my gears.

I called a driving school and asked for an automatic driving lesson. If you pass on an automatic you can’t drive a manual car. I was warned that the cars are more expensive to tax and use more fuel. After I accepted this briefing I was given the number of the instructor. I would recommend checking the website first as I was not told about a special offer and I didn’t know that an electric car was available.

“There was a bang as we hit the red blur of a car. It happened so quickly I couldn’t process it.”

I was very nervous about my first lesson because I have heard of so many accidents and been part of one as a passenger. We were leaving the pavement. We looked past a parked car and the road was clear, so mum drove out. There was a bang as we hit the red blur of a car speeding past.

He stopped a car length and a half down the road with a scratched door. It had happened so quickly I couldn’t process it. Mum noticed that the man said “got to go, I’ll call you later” as he dropped his phone into the door pocket, before coming over to get insurance details. Dad spoke about the driver who rammed a parked car outside our house last week while on the phone to his girlfriend. He hit the car with such force that a wheel came off and bits of bumper and brake light were scattered on the road. He called the police but as no one was hurt they didn’t press charges. A friend of a friend was coming out of a junction and a sign was blocking her view. She looked past the sign and the road was clear. She then entered the road and hit and killed a motorcyclist. Another of mum’s friends accidentally reversed into her dad, breaking his legs.

Finally, there was the driver the year above me at school  who killed her friend. She had just passed her driving test and her A levels. She reportedly went over a hill up the road from us too fast and lost control of the steering, hitting a brick wall next to the road. Her friend in the passenger seat had just passed her A levels and had a place at university. When I started sixth form the common room was quiet and sombre. That is why I didn’t drive at 18.

I live on a bus route to the city so I was able to get most places without needing to ask for a lift or get a taxi. In London the public transport is so good that there is no need. However, the buses to the Peak District only stop at the villages and are once an hour so it would be lovely to go somewhere off the main roads at a time that is convenient for my friends.

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The instructor got out and shook hands. I got into the driving seat and panicked. There was no third pedal, there was one massive one and one smaller one. ABC so that was the brake and the clutch. I couldn’t see past the car in the mirrors, the steering wheel and the pedals were too far away and I didn’t know how to adjust them. I couldn’t do the cockpit drill of making sure the car was set to my specifications.

The instructor was bemused. He knew I had driven for two years and I was sitting there doing nothing. “So, what do you do first?” he prompted. I told him and he waited for me to sort things out. I explained that this car was different from the Vauxhall Astra I’d driven previously and I didn’t know what to do. He smiled and helped. “What do you do next?” he prompted. “Put the clutch down and put it into…” I replied before I remembered that there was no clutch and no first gear, just a gear-stick. What did you do with it?

He demonstrated that you flicked the gear left to put it in gear and right to put it in neutral. He demonstrated that he had added plastic additions to the wheel to allow you to switch to manual if necessary. I frowned at the extra confusion this might cause and was relieved when he said we wouldn’t need them.

The ignition was higher up in this car and the key was in a different direction, so I wasn’t sure which way was on. The instructor had to show me how to switch the engine on. I was so embarrassed I struggled to remember the handbrake and indicator. The instructor wanted to laugh but smiled politely instead.

I hadn’t come out of the drive before but had only left from the side of it, so I did have a brief flashback of our collision, especially as we had just been talking about it. I nervously sat higher in the seat as I scanned the edge of the road on both sides quickly a couple of times before pressing the accelerator gingerly, inching out. He indicated and off we went.

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The accelerator required a steady and increased push to increase speed and the brake was really responsive. The slightest touch and the car would slow quicker than expected. I stabbed it gingerly, jerking the car to a quick stop instead of a slow gradual one. He said “I like to push my students so I might get you to do manoeuvres you aren’t that comfortable with.” “That’s fine”, I said. I had no idea what that would entail but I was about to find out.

At first the instructor was quiet. It was quite a change from my last instructor, who was chatty. I felt like I was being tested, which made me more nervous but I wasn’t driving as badly as anticipated. Or at least it didn’t feel like I was, until he said “mirrors…..mirrors….do you know what MSM means? No switch that off, what haven’t you done?……did you look in your mirrors?…..and then I heard a sigh. But I still forgot to check the mirrors before signalling. Embarrassed, I apologised again. I needed to get out of that habit for my instructor’s sanity.

After about an hour I did a few successful checks. His repetition had paid off. Then he said “I’ll give you instructions from now on.” I still drove like an idiot. I knew what to do, I was just driving like a boy racer. He said “what’s the fastest you’ve ever driven?”. “50” I replied, checking my speedometer. That was fine. He directed me on a roundabout to the start of a dual carriageway. I expected to go off but we kept on it until the speed limit was 60. I felt surprisingly comfortable doing 50 but was quite nervous about 60. It felt like the first time I went above 30 and felt like I was flying. I slowed as we approached a roundabout and I didn’t know what lane so I guessed and then indicated and changed into the correct one.  He asked how I knew what lane to go in and I told him how I went in the left for the first and second exits and right for the third onwards. He directed us around multiple roundabouts until I started to feel more confident. Then I was coming up to a roundabout when he said “what lane do we need to be in?” I guessed that I was in the wrong one. “I don’t know” I replied. “Look at the road markings” he said. I looked ahead and couldn’t see anything further in front. “Look further down” he said. There it was. I was in the wrong lane again.

Car driving down street, headlights on

Then I saw a car coming towards me on the roundabout and drove forward. I was on autopilot thinking about how I was in the wrong lane and I didn’t think about anything else. The instructor braked for me and looked at me, scared.

“What would have happened if you’d gone out then?”

“I would’ve crashed.”

“Yes you would have gone straight into that car coming towards us. Why did you do that?”

I paused. Why did I? I won’t be doing that again. It was like the first time I went on a dual carriageway with my first instructor (I’m on my third) who also liked to push his pupils. I thought I could turn the indicator off with the wheel at 50 miles an hour. I was surprised as we almost swerved into an oncoming car and my instructor grabbed the wheel with lightning reactions.

“You did three dangerous” the instructor announced. “I’ll drive us back”. Now it was my turn to sigh. I was never going to be able to drive. Ever.

“I can get you passing by the end of November” the instructor said. Well, maybe there was hope on the horizon. If I could just drive towards it safely and slowly enough.

On the way back the instructor imitated my driving a little until I giggled uncontrollably. He looked at me. “What?”. Realising that I could laugh at myself and wouldn’t be offended, he proceeded to show me what I was like. “I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get the idea.” He smiled.

I saw that I was driving with my arms stretched stiffly in front of me, my eyes mostly fixed ahead, occasionally looking down my nose at the door mirror as if I was looking down through spectacles and then quickly staring ahead again, then occasionally flicking my eyes to the other mirror. I was jerking the brake in a stop/start manner,scared-learner-driver-main holding the wheel gingerly with the edge of my fingers, flicking it to make it turn. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” The instructor said, bemused again. “Do you have a grandma?” he asked. “Yes” I said, smiling at the memory of Nana Joan in New Zealand, with her kind eyes, wide smile, curly brown hair (she still hasn’t gone grey at 89, I hope I have those genes) and laughter lines.

Nana Joan with my second cousin, Maliko.

Nana Joan with my second cousin, Maliko.

“Would you drive like this with your grandma in that seat?” he asked, jerking the car to a halt repeatedly. “No.” I replied. I also had a bad habit of looking at my instructor when he was talking. “Eyes on the road please!” he reminded me.

My instructor explained that he used to be a taxi driver and that when he took the instructor’s test he realised how shocking his driving was. He said he passed second time because he was too cocky the first time and didn’t show the instructor that he was looking in the mirrors.

“I got honked at and apparently got a rude finger gesture but I was completely oblivious in my learner bubble.”

I thought he wouldn’t want to see me again, after moaning about how a student nearly damaged his car, but he later said that he enjoyed the challenge of teaching me.

At the start of the next lesson the instructor had me reversing out of a drive onto the main road. I was terrified but I was driving under his instruction and at snail speed. That was smoothly done, as was a turn in the road. However, I went off a roundabout into the wrong lane and the instructor corrected me. I got beeped at and apparently got a rude finger gesture but I was completely oblivious in my learner bubble.

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Later, when I went to change lanes I thought I had space to move in front of an oncoming car and I didn’t. I forgot that I didn’t have the right of way and expected the oncoming car to slow down for me. Not so fast. Taking time to judge distance and the rules of the road is more important than speed. Having road experience from being a cyclist I drive defensively in that almost every time I am on the road as a (mostly safe) driver or a passenger I witness dangerous driving and therefore I expect the worst.

Every driver should be a cyclist to get experience of what it is like to be a vulnerable road user having to go into the flood of traffic to turn right or trying to turn in front of you into side roads. I see dangerous drivers much more often than dangerous cyclists. I expect a driver to emerge from a side road without looking. This almost happened today and my mum was ready for it, swerving and beeping (only to announce her presence of course). I now even expect a car to park in the middle of the road on a blind bend.

If you are struggling to learn on a manual try automatic lessons. It should make you a safer driver and automatic cars are the future.

In a new suburb being planned in London I learnt that the area is being planned around driverless cars picking up and dropping off passengers. Just when I was getting used to the idea of Uber taxis, technology advances yet again. If I still can’t pass my test I will wait for the new dawn of driverless cars.

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FODMAP food fun

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I have had a rocky ride with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). I was diagnosed with it as a university student in 2007, after I had agnoising abdominal pains that kept me awake and horrific belching.

Blood tests ruled out coeliac disease and I had an ultrasound which was clear. I was offered an endoscopy – an investigation where a tube is shoved down your throat – but mum warned me off, telling me what a traumatic experience it was for her.psyllium

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Psyllium looks about as great as it tastes.

I tried all sorts of remedies. Peppermint tea which helped in the short term, a low dose of antidepressant medication, which completely stopped symptoms but induced vivid nightmares, and psyllium husk (found in the brand Fybogel) which made me feel sick. You had to quickly drink grains floating in water. It was hard to pinpoint which particular foods set me off. No pain relief medication helped.

A 2013 medical study concluded that  the low FODMAP diet offers leads to significant improvement for the majority of those with digestive disorders, around 15% of the world’s population. Research suggested that certain carbohydrates were responsible in 1988 and the diet was developed following further studies. I have found that I no longer have stomach pains before or after eating and I no longer get bloating. It has given me significant relief.

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Around 75% of patients in two small studies found that their symptoms had improved. More research needs to be undertaken as this could be a cheap option for the National Health Service rather than relying on medication. It should be recommended to all patients complaining of digestive discomfort. A Gastroenterology journal entitled A FODMAP Diet Update: Craze or Credible? concluded: “evidence indicates that the FODMAP diet provides an effective approach to managing patients with FGID [digestive disorders].”

I discovered the FODMAP diet through online research. This stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols.

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The theory is that some fruits, animal dairy products, wheat products, beans, garlic and onion (containing Fructose, Lactose, Fructans, Galactans and Polyols) are incompletely absorbed and are harder to digest. IBS sufferers appear to be particularly sensitive to them. For a full list click here and go to the bottom of the page.

A main plus point is that it is not a restrictive diet. You could still have trigger foods, just less of them. It was only onions and garlic that the diet recommended completely avoiding. This only caused a problem with curries. Spring onions were a decent substitute for stir fries and garlic puree in stir fry sauces did not cause me any trouble.

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The aim is to try the diet for six weeks and then introduce one trigger food a week and see how much it affects you.

A typical day included:

Breakfast:

Porridge or muesli with lactose-free milk, banana and coconut flakes

I like lacto free milk by Arla, it is still cow’s milk and tastes the same, but with an enzyme added to break down the lactose. There is no point trying goat or sheep milk instead – it still contains lactose.

Almond milk tends to stick in the back of the throat, hemp milk tastes too watery and coconut milk is too sweet. Forget soya milk as soy beans are on the list of foods to limit.

I’ve saved money by bulk buying a kilograme of oats rather than ready-made porridge sachets. Simply add a quarter of a cup of oats to half a cup of milk and half a cup of water (or 40g oats, 175ml water, 175ml milk) and microwave for two minutes, microwave for two minutes more. You may need to practice this on a weekend first as it depends on your microwave wattage.

I got ready-baked oats which are a minute or two quicker, but they don’t taste as nice as standard Scottish ones.

Lunch:

Pasta or potato salad (I was able to handle the small amount of gluten pasta for lunch)

Green salad with mozzarella slices

Leftovers

Dinner:

Gluten-free pasta and sauce or

stir fry

or steak, spinach and potatoes (for days when I’m tired and need an iron boost).

Dessert

Snowconut frozen yoghurt – gluten and lactose free as it is made from coconut milk this is a tasty alternative

Melon (not watermelon – this is high FODMAP)

Strawberries and a little cream

Unfortunately there is not much lactose free yoghurt available but I find that in small quantities I can usually tolerate it.

I recently had wheat pasta again and as anticipated, I had a sore tummy approximately an hour later. Rice pasta is just as good if you get thicker varieties such as penne and fusilli. I will be eating lunch portions only. Before sport I avoid any trigger foods. I have also cut down on my alcohol intake as this makes my symptoms flare too. If I am out drinking I try to alternate with juice.

If you try it let me know how it goes. You can find checklists online to take when you’re shopping, such as this one. Remember you need to reduce/avoid intake of any high FODMAP foods for six weeks before you start reintroducing foods on this list. It may be helpful to keep a food diary during this time.

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How To Avoid Mosquitoes This Summer

images (1)Fed up of feeling like a piece of meat on your holidays? Want to stick to blood donation for people?

Here is a bite-sized guide to mozzie magnets and the precautions you can take to get them to buzz off.

What are mozzies attracted to?

Carbon Dioxide

We can’t help attracting mosquitoes as they hone in on the carbon dioxide plumes we exhale. So we have to take steps to defend ourselves.

Please do not bother with citronella though, research have found it is less effective than DEET – the active incredient in most bug repellant products – protecting for merely 3 hours or less.

Hot Skin

Common areas include the forehead, wrists, elbows and neck. You can protect your head and neck with a buff, a versatile scarf that can be worn in a variety of ways.

According to research published in 2000 in medical journal the Lancet, pregnant women are twice as likely to be bitten due to being hotter and exhaling more carbon dioxide.

Dark clothing

Some mosquitoes are visual hunters that search people out from their outline against the horizon. No need to break out the camouflage from that army surplus store – there is a range of bug repellant clothing.

Scented perfumes, colognes and lotions

Unless the perfume is bug-repellant deodorant.

Cholesterol

A reason to exercise before that tropical holiday.

Lactic acid

A good excuse not to exercise once abroad.

Movement

Unless you are a statue impersonator you won’t have much luck with this, so cover up. You may feel like strutting in your Speedoes/bronzing in your bikini but you won’t look so good covered in bites.

Type “O” blood

A 2004 study published in the Journal of Medical Entomology found mosquitoes landed on people with type O blood nearly twice as often as those with type A. O well, you will just have to follow the above advice.

Avoid going out at dawn or dusk as this is when mosquitoes are particularly active.

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