Tag Archives: friends

Thoughts on Chronic Illness

Daughter fall asleep waiting her mother in hospital

Recently a friend told me that she might have cancer.

Two lumps had appeared, one small, one big. The doctor immediately sent her for a biopsy. The cells were abnormal and treatment is needed.

The doctor was worried because she used to be a heavy smoker and overweight, two known risk factors.

She said the worse part was the torment of not knowing.

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Once she has a diagnosis, she can plan, but for now she has to wait, thoughts churning around about the future.

We discussed how she could manage it and even speculated as to what the result might be. I tried to reassure her, but there isn’t much I can say or do, other than telling her that I will be there for her, no matter what. She was experiencing an emotional storm of frustration, anger, sorrow and fear. She is a strong woman both mentally and physically, but nothing can prepare you for the shock of being told you have a long-term illness.

My friend is courageously dealing with an uncertain future. She said that her illness had helped her gain more focus and she will now attack her bucket list with a renewed vigour.

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In times of difficulty we need the courage to draw on our inner resources and access support networks. We may need to evaluate our perspective. In Buddhist philosophy, adversity is seen as the best teacher, a chance to learn from experience and emerge a stronger, wiser person.

So what have I learnt from the experience of my friends?

Firstly, the importance of living in the moment.

No one has a crystal ball. If we speculate about the future we only create fear and worry. This destabilises us and prevents us from being fully present to support friends in need. Everything is easier if we take a moment, slow down and just float on the river of life, wherever it takes us. Not accepting our reality is like trying to swim against the current; it wastes our energy and is futile.

Secondly, I need to be grateful.

We spend so much time focussing on what we do not have. We are constantly unhappy with the present and want more. We forget just how lucky we are. There is so much suffering in the world and, whilst we all experience peaks and troughs, somehow we escape the worst of it.

I would like you to take a moment to be grateful.

Be thankful for all the people in your life who guide and support you, your cheerleaders. Be thankful that you have mental and/or physical good health. But most of all, be thankful for the love and kindness of family and friends. Against all odds, love conquers all.

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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.

Shopping

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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Unemployed…again.

“The-greatest-teacher-failure-is.”-Master-Yoda-Star-Wars

Since my last blog post, my life has changed completely.

In November 2017 I decided to apply to do a postgraduate nursing diploma. I had spent years working my way up to a well-paid steady job as a civil servant. But I wanted to have a job where I could help people. It was a gamble but it was the last year of the bursary – it was now or never.

“My bursary was £450 and rent is £380 – all activities were limited by my budget.”

I am no longer on the course but I hope that I can start again, because I really enjoyed both the academic and practical aspects of the course. It involved military discipline and if I wasn’t passionate about nursing I wouldn’t have managed it. I woke up at 6am to go to placement, got back at 5 or 6pm, ate a sandwich for dinner and then wrote a 6 000 word essay in the library until it shut at 9pm…for over a month.

My bursary was £450 and rent is £380, so all activities were limited by my budget, even food shopping. Gone were my flights of fancy at Waitrose. Now it was Aldi or Co-Op basics. The 30p bag of pasta and the £1 jar of pesto with some defrosted peas or carrots became my go-to meal.

Despite the long hours and low budget, patients kept me strong, smiling and focused and made the experience enjoyable. Being able to provide care was a privilege and gave me a deep sense of contentment.

It made me realise that caring for others is not just what I do, it is a fundamental part of who I am. It gives my life more meaning and purpose.

This is why I volunteered to help at a Dementia Cafe with a wedding theme this week. I immersed myself in the experience, from blowing up confetti balloons to hearing people’s life stories. It was a welcome relief from the stress of feeling lost, confused and worrying about the future.

If I don’t get another chance, what am I going to do?!

Things couldn’t be tougher. The intense combination of university and placement have been replaced by throwing myself at the job market. My bursary has been stopped but I still need to pay the rent. I have already had to endure two consecutive days of rejections from two job agencies.

“I didn’t get off the sofa most days.”

If I don’t find work in June, I will be forced to give up my independence and move back in with my parents. My housemate couldn’t believe it. “I love living with you” she said, “please don’t move out.”

I never thought I would be in this position again. It has been two weeks so far. The first week I was an emotional wreck and I came down with a sore throat and a cold. Exhausted and drained both physically and emotionally, I didn’t get off the sofa most days, crying, blowing my nose through a full loo roll and watching TV. I didn’t have the energy for anything else.

But when you’re at your lowest, you realise how lucky you are to have so many good people around you. Everyone gave their time to listen, offer advice, meals, and a shoulder to cry on. With their support my week gradually improved, and I was able to focus instead on my birthday celebrations.

I have already tried to get care work but sadly it wasn’t possible. I have no formal qualifications in it (despite years of experience) and I can’t afford a car.

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A few days ago I decided it was time to stop crying and get off the sofa. Partly because I had watched everything remotely interesting on TV catchup, from the BBC to More4 and ITV. There was only dreary daytime TV left.

I started by creating a more positive and restful environment. I tidied, cleaned and hoovered the house. The saying “clean space, clear mind” is confirmed by research showing that messy rooms cause excess cortisol production and can be distracting for the brain.

I then began a Post-It Power Plan, where I brainstormed ideas to find a way forward. It was a good method to get some clarity in the chaos.

I am either too qualified or too unqualified – I am stuck in Catch 22 limbo.

Yesterday my job mission continued. I rang up three job agencies and applied for admin work online. So far I have been turned down by two job agencies on the basis that although I have experience, it is not recent enough. This is a new level of competition compared to the “you don’t have enough experience” response when I was last unemployed some five years ago.

But persistence is key if you are to break through the increasingly reinforced walls of the current job market. The next day I ramped up the pressure by going in person to other job agencies with my CV and even going into various businesses with it. It is always more effective going to a job agency in person than contacting them by telephone or email. In person they can practically smell your desperation as you offer to give their employers your time on any basis, working for any pay and at any level, as you hand them your CV, your passport, your CRB certificate and your dignity. They can see that you’re tired from walking around all afternoon in the pouring rain in your business power dress.

Next week I am going to a job fair where up to 25 companies will be hiring and I will be spamming companies with CVs. By the time I’ve finished, I will be surprised if there is a business in the city that has not heard of me. Short of walking around with a billboard strapped to me, reading “AVAILABLE FOR WORK NOW” and my phone number, there isn’t much more I can do.

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I now have a busy week of job-hunting to look forward to next week. I have signed up with one agency and I have an appointment with another next week. I also have an appointment for Jobseekers Allowance. I am dreading going back to this handout again, it is so shameful that at my age and with my experience I will now have to sign up to weekly harassment involving job skills workshops, when I got a first in a careers development module at university. I know how to gain employment. The problem is that I am either too overqualified, or too underqualified – I am stuck in Catch 22 limbo.

I was in this desperate position when I started this blog in 2013. The blogging community spurred me on and eventually my documented struggle to find employment attracted over a thousand views a month from all over the world.

If you are in the same boat and you are struggling to keep your head above water, read this article about the importance of learning from failure and being patient until you succeed.

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My First “Airbnb” Experience

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For my birthday I was going to see Prodigy in London with a friend. I was delighted that my cousin had decided to join us.

It was the weekend before the event so there were hardly any places left in the bed and breakfast (bnb) houses we were looking at. Only the expensive or low-rated options were left and the nearest hotel was 5 miles away.

A “B ‘n B” breakthrough

“What can we do?” I asked my cousin “this place only has a single room left! and this one is a bit too expensive isn’t it.”

My cousin would know best as she was an experienced traveller. On a break in between her Masters degree she had gone to Spain spontaneously on her own. She is a student and I am saving for a big holiday (of course I will blog about it) so we are both skint. We had already shelled out £50 for the gig ticket.

“Well…” she replied “when I was in Madrid I stayed in a really nice air bnb place. It was really cheap and overlooking the main plaza! It would have been really expensive to stay at a hotel in that location.”

“What is air bnb?” I asked. I vaguely recollected an advert on it.

“Is it that one where you sleep on people’s sofas? cos I’m not doing that!”

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I had spent one night on a sofa and hadn’t slept a wink as I tried to find a way to get my long legs spread out without having the arm of the sofa digging in. There wasn’t enough width to curl up. It was a nightmare and there was no chance of it being a dream. I had emerged from that student house looking like I’d spent the night in a hedge, and that probably would have been more comfortable.

My cultured cousin laughed. “No it’s not that one! Though I think there is one like that. It’s called couch-surfing isn’t it? This is similar but you get a proper bed.”

“A proper bed? isn’t that the same as a proper bed and breakfast then?”

“It’s like that but it’s where someone rents out their spare room. You get to meet lots of different people doing it and the ones I’ve met have all been lovely. You don’t always get breakfast but they’re usually in good locations.”

I was intrigued. The other choices were pretty limited so I thought we should give it a try.

You just needed an email address and password to set up an account and it was free. You could search by country as well as by city.

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The places were advertised with a picture of the bedroom with the Google map location on the right. Perfect. We looked and most of the good places were taken but there was one that stood out.

London Luxury

The photograph that I liked featured a beautiful white “Victorian” bathroom with a vintage bath (a new bath in an old style, not a tin one). The house looked modern and spacious for London. Not only that but it was a 10 minute walk from the venue. There was a paragraph or two about the owner, a smiling middle-aged lady who had travelled around Ecuador and liked the theatre. There were good reviews and it wasn’t too expensive.

The house was close to the station and my cousin was already there.

As I walked up to the stained-glass front door I felt a bit nervous. It seemed odd to walk in to a stranger’s house and stay there like one of their friends or family. But my anxiety subsided when our host opened the door and greeted me, grinning from ear to ear.

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She was a warm, friendly lady with a healthy glow and a slight tan. She served us tea and sat with us in their airy conservatory with a view onto a verdant garden. There was a little shed at the end and a trellis with flowering plants.

My cousin looked relaxed and had enjoyed a pleasant chat. I had not expected such peace and quiet. But it was a privileged residential area and of course, only parts of (mostly inner) London are chaotic, dirty and noisy.

I felt that I needed a shower on arrival to the house, as I had been on the Tube and became conscious of the grimy soot sticking to me. I couldn’t see it but I could feel it. That and the gig atmosphere turned the bathwater grey the next day.

Double delight

We were amused that we were sharing a double bed. We had dark wooden drawers and a wardrobe to match, with a fluffy turquoise carpet and curtains tied back. I laid down some ground rules – no farting in bed and no trespassing over the middle line. My cousin broke both rules by the next morning.

We got glittered-up for the rave and headed out. We clip-clopped in our heels through the drizzle along rows of tall neat Victorian houses, shivering. Pretty soon we felt rather lost and decided that we would turn back after ten minutes.

“Did you see the pictures in the bathroom?” my cousin asked.

“Yes, interesting weren’t they!” I replied. There had been pictures of the couple in skimpy 1930s-style carbaret outfits with feathers and pearls.

“Do you think they’re swingers?” my cousin giggled.

“No it’s just fancy dress.”

“Yes but there was more than one of them like that.” We laughed.

Fortunately after a 20 minute totter we found the pub our host had directed us too. But as it was 9pm they had closed for food so we went to the takeaway opposite. It took ten minutes but the kofta kebab was well worth it. As we were late we had to eat waiting for a taxi, sheltering under a tree from the relentless rain.

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The Gig – Prodigy the-prodigy

I enjoyed the band, especially the classics that reminded me of student days. Thousands filled the hall with a high ceiling and the lighting was great but unfortunately the sound at the gig was focussed at the front and there were no speakers further back. The sound system was clearly not built or configured for the electronic music either. One of the band did make an effort to remedy this by coming near us to sing (or rather shout, it is that kind of music) on a mini stage in the middle, dreadlocks swinging. Cheers erupted around us as people surged forward. Eyes bulged and hands shot up to follow the beat.

Sweaty beer cheer 89067_ORIG-pig_pen_smelly_kid_peanuts_charlie_brown

The hyperactive crowd fully compensated for the muffled performance when he went back, as they thrashed around with reckless abandon. Beer flew everywhere and drenched us. The air was thick with the smell of that and foul body odours. Every so often I had to move as I would end up in a cloud of it and I decided that I’d grown out of grunge.

Pint pouring

When my cousin had a pint poured down her she lost it, turning round and shouting at the miscreant. He apologised and moved away. She angrily said to the man behind him “I hope you’re not going to pour that down me too!”. This started a conversation which went very well and she ended up on the bearded bloke’s shoulders waving her arms around.

We rocked out until the early hours, leaving as the orange streetlight sky started to pale. It was about 4 when we finally went to sleep after a hushed chinwag.

Healthy host

Four hours later I was woken by the sound of the front door closing as our healthy host ran to the gym. As you do on a Saturday morning. I was impressed but seriously sleepy and dozed off until an hour before our checkout time. It was a quiet area and we were in a little guest room down our own hallway with our own bathroom at the other end.

After a bath I felt rejuvenated (and much cleaner). We had a nice chat with our host, who was back from her early morning workout, and her husband. They were a good-looking, kind and knowledgeable pair. I felt guilty when I asked her if I had woken her up and she said she had heard the door shut when we came in. She assured me that it was fine and we were very quiet. She said she was a light sleeper.

We left in search of the nearest pub breakfast. As we stumbled along I decided that although I would not be going to a Prodigy gig again, I would definitely be staying with airbnb for my next trip…

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A Country Wedding

bride and groom 2 My boyfriend’s housemates were getting married. They had been together for five and a half years when Tony popped the question in Italy at the top of a tower. If you did say no at the top of a tower you would have a long awkward walk down but no was never an answer that applied to this couple.

They had been together happily in the two years I had known my boyfriend. I had rarely seen them argue and they are both warm friendly people with a healthy sense of humour.

They had moved in officially for about a year, as before that Jess had been working nearby and visiting. But then she managed to get a dance teaching job in the same city. Tony manages a promotional film company and is likes Star Wars and Lego, so Star Wars Lego figurines decorated the front room.

The first time in their house I was intrigued by the bizarre collection of Tony’s former mobile telephones decorating the wall by the stairs. The oldest one was an early 1990s cordless. It is great to have Jess’s company around the house. She ensured that there were no more random socks and beer/wine bottles/glasses littering the kitchen and front room. The previous housemates had moved out and got married too. Eventually it will be our turn to move out of separate houses and try living in one. Who knows, maybe we will even get married too.

The epic celebrations began on Friday night. As the groom was a Beaver/Explorer leader, they helped cook pie and peas. My boyfriend said he would help but unfortunately as it was in the middle of the countryside I was reliant on a lift (I am halfway through driving lessons…). He had to wait until I could finally escape from work, getting home about 6.30. So when we arrived some were obviously irritated that we did not appear “after lunch” as my boyfriend had suggested. He had just told me to leave early as possible and regrettably that was not an option. darwin lake birds eye

We arrived in the middle of the countryside where in the middle of farmers fields stood a circle of new build cottages around a lake, with a “barn” – a modern stone hall at the back. On the grass stood a massive white marquee complete with tables, chairs and decorations. darwin tent Almost everyone had enthusiastically participated in the beer-brewing competition and someone had even made a lovely fruity cider. There were beers with ginger, apple, a smoky flavour and the bride’s family homegrown honey. The beer tasting glasses had a little sticker on the base with a cartoon couple, their names and the wedding date. You could tell the bride was a teacher. Everything was immaculately planned. We had a pub quiz as a friend brought his own beer taps and questions along. This was accompanied by a hilarious game featuring a ball tied into tights around your waist. You had to hit a ball on the ground with it which involved a lot of thrusting. thrust game   At about 11 we called it a night and returned to our self-catering cottage. In the morning woke up to sunshine. The Scout boys staying with us organised their own breakfast, so we had cereal. Then we rushed out to Matlock to get a cable for the Wii, as this was to be set up in the bassment of the barn for the children.

Before that they would play a live video of the wedding for a friend with locked-in syndrome, Nick. I first met him at the end of last year at a housewarming party for him. Someone told me he was joking with me through interpretation of his eye movements and I was inspired by his positivity. It was a moving experience. There was a scene about this type of communication in the film about Stephen Hawking and it made me cry because it showed what a challenge it was. Like Stephen, Nick was an Oxbridge graduate, and was in his 40s helping to run Scouts when he randomly had a brain stem stroke which paralysed him.

After going round all the video game shops in the small town we rushed back and had one of my boyfriend’s best dishes for lunch – omelette with caramelised onions, cheese, olives and salami. On returning to the cottage I saw a glamorous slender tanned lady with blonde waves get out of a Jaguar with a man in a sharp suit. We were later told that the man was a military commander in Brazil.

We quickly changed for the main event. We got back in time to help the groom get the wedding room free of clutter. I wore a sleeveless A-line dress that was lined and navy with pink roses on. There was quite a breeze making things chilly but we stayed outside to drink quartetchampagne and listen to the lovely male quartet sing. They were wearing white suits, red bow ties. The songs were old-fashioned classics.

Then it was time for the wedding itself. We filed in. The groom swayed from foot to foot anxiously, fiddling with his watch and looking around, chatting to his best men in front of the registrar, a middle-aged lady with round cheeks and blonde cropped hair. There were about 200 guests filling the floor. There were waves of whispers and the air was heavy with anticipation . There was a small wooden trellis in the middle of a stage with ivy round it but other than that the decoration was minimal. Then the music started and the bridesmaids slowly entered, all wearing slightly different outfits but in the same dark navy.

There was a pause and then we finally got to see the dress. Normally when I see the bride it is after work so she is usually exhausted, sleepy and hardly has energy to smile, but today her face was illuminated with joy from her rosy, natural complexion and perfect plaited dark hair as she glided along with her train, perfectly poised in her strapless white satin folded gown. The groom, on seeing her, appeared to breathe a sigh of relief in his flattering dark suit and smiled broadly in return. vows and dress

They said their individual vows and the registrar spoke of the sanctity of marriage and how it was about cherishing and supporting each other. Then we were invited to sing “Stand By Me” by Ben King. It was a beautiful moment, the couple so perfect for each other, two kind, lovely, cheerful souls combined for evermore, and the music of so many voices, young and old, in harmony. I welled up with the emotion.

As we filed out I turned to my boyfriend and saw that he had tears in his eyes too. I had never seen him cry before and I was touched.

We were then seated in the marquee which was decorated with (fake) ivy and carpeted. It was beautiful with little wedding gifts for guests of the bride’s family honey and lego for the groom’s touch. lego and honey Every little detail had been planned. We had a starter of nice Italian meats and olives. Then lasagne and brownies.

There were several short speeches and the groom thanked everyone for their efforts in helping bring the wedding weekend/festival together. Then there was the longest speech from the best man. Apparently it was timed at an hour and 25 minutes and featured raffle prizes for gifts such as a bottle of Fanta that featured in the story of how the groom and his best man met. It reminded me of an embarrassing time at junior school where I did a competition which hardly anyone entered and then I presented sherbet sticks in assembly as the prize, after trying to sell them for 25p each.

After that there was a break to get ready for the evening event. I kept the same dress on and we sat and chatted in the barn. Then we went upstairs to watch the bride and groom’s choreographed dance. It was beautiful and the delivery was flawless. wedding throw The disco came on later – the wedding room had been transformed with the chairs and the stage was gone. The LED backdrop ensured there were coloured lights across the dance floor. My boyfriend sorted the children out on the Wii and showed them how to use the controls. wiiii He looked like good father material helping and chatting happily to an inquisitive boy but of course I did not tell him that. He was concerned enough by me hinting that maybe it would be our turn for a wedding at some point. You should have seen his face when my cousin and I looked at diamonds in the Natural History Museum in London and then went on to accidentally (honest) walk through the maternity and baby clothes sections of Harrods. He frogmarched us out of there when I cooed over a baby duffle coat.

We danced the night away at the disco and he barely took his eyes off me. It was lovely and it was nice to see the groom getting into it at the end of the night. Tony and Jess made sure they had time for everyone.

The lake of the venue

Wonderful shot by Martyn Miller, the retired photographer. All other photographs are courtesy of him as I forgot my camera. The lake of the venue

My main impression from the weekend was that it was completely inclusive. Everyone was made to feel special and welcomed. There were people of all ages and backgrounds there and they were so friendly and enthusiastic. We were not sure whether to stay on Sunday but we soon discovered that the toilet paper and washing-up liquid were running out and the heating and television had gone off, so it was time to make a move. It was overcast and still windy, not ideal for the summer clothes I had brought, hoping for warmer weather (you can never hope for better weather in England. If you don’t bring a coat it will be cold, if you don’t bring an umbrella it will rain). I had forgotten my coat. The Scouts in our cottage all left.

We went out for brunch at a farm cafe which was expensive but tasty. I had spinach soup and a cranberry and bacon panini and felt less sleepy. When we got back my boyfriend said he wanted to help and I was expecting there to be a team already on the case. I had told my parents we would be back for dinner. But it turned out that aside from the bride and groom’s immediate family we were it. I felt that we were fully justified in arriving too late to help at the start after our efforts packing up.

We collected the rubbish and heaved the sacks into a little cart. We pushed the dripping smelly things into the bins. We carried piles and piles of chairs from the big white tent into the hall. Then we started on the tables. We unpeeled the black masking tape keeping the strips of carpet together, wrapping maggots and whatever else had got from the soil into it. We took up all the nails holding down the carpets and rolled them up.

I drew the line at lifting up the muddy boards and entertained the best man’s baby instead. The mum jokingly asked whether I did babysitting and I wished she was serious. The little girl with large dark eyes looked at me in wonder. She liked my shiny purse and kept trying to chew on it, so I would distract her with the tassles on my scarf, which she then pulled into her pram, choking me, so I untangled it from her tiny fingers.

Finally it was time for the baby’s nap so I then said if I was walking on the mud with muddy boards I would need to change my footwear. Once in the car I finally stopped shivering and couldn’t face going out again. I was in a t-shirt, thin cardigan and a pashmina scarf. I sat there for 10 minutes with my walking boots on before heading back out and running through the rain. Thankfully it was done. lego wedding cake I forgot my slice of the wedding cake, so eager was I to leave the cold and get back to a home-cooked meal. We said our goodbyes to the pale sleepy couple and went on our way.

In the car on the way back I asked my boyfriend whether the wedding had made him want to have a big event if we got married.

“Are you joking?!” he said.

“Didn’t you see how stressed they got? Nah, what’s the point? Why not save it for a house instead?

I’d just go to a registry office.”

“But what about my big white dress?” I asked.

“Do you really need one?” He replied.

“It didn’t happen this time, but I’ve seen the meaning of marriage lost in a big wedding, it becomes all about that instead.”

He had a point, but hopefully we could compromise on the dress…

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My First Hen Do

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I’m coming to the age now where friends are getting engaged. After watching Don’t Tell the Bride I assumed that these always involved pink sashes, penis accessories, tiaras, tutus and competitive drinking.on-it-until-we-vomit-hen-do-t-shirt

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But this was a classy do, especially as the bride’s mum was in attendance. There were pink sashes but no phallic items here, the organiser proudly announced. We had a private room booked out in one of the most fancy places in town. The tables were grouped in an upside-down U-shape enabling conversation with more people.

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Everyone was dressed up and looked lovely. The bride-to-be is a dance teacher and her teacher friends enthusiastically complained about their ridiculous workload and the panic surrounding Ofsted (government evaluation) visits. Then the talk turned to dogs – one of the girls had brought one over from China that had lived with them while she’d taught English. He’d had to go back weeks before they did and his flight was more expensive. Then he’d had to have lots of jabs. He’s an enthusiastic Golden Retriever that we’ve seen on occasion, his big fluffy self scurrying towards us biting a slipper.

I said I would quite like a pug, a chihuahua and a cat and they didn’t seem to know what to say. I always thought pugs were ugly creatures with their wrinkles, squashed nose and scary goggle eyes. But then I met one. It looked up at me and I walked away in disgust. It trotted behind me wagging its tail. I sat down to watch TV and it looked up at me with it’s massive eyes. Then it braced itself, arched its back and launched itself onto the sofa. It sat next to me on its hind legs with its little front paws dangling in front, panting heavily and making Darth Vader noises.cute-pug27

I haven’t met a chihuahua but they look cute and cuddly and a vet told me that a dog should have a canine companion to play with.

Ok it's a corgi but you get the idea.

Ok it’s a corgi but you get the idea.

They’re also a lot cheaper than children and I won’t be ready for them for a long time. I’ll also get practice on caring for something that is dependent on me and they’d persuade me out in this atrocious English climate which currently oscillates between sleet, rain and the occasional spot of sunshine, but always with temperatures below 10 degrees, at least until late April I expect.

The three-course meal was delicious and the quizzes were a great idea. They both tested how well you knew the bride and groom with some interesting questions (what film/TV couple does the groom say they most resemble? Hans Solo and Princess Leia. What film/TV couple does the bride say they most resemble? Peter and Lois Griffin from Family Guy). The winners received rosettes.

The plans had been shrouded in secrecy, so we found out what the girls had been up to that day. They had been at a village hall making t-shirt necklaces, sushi and doing competitions. Then they’d put together a useful book of “wife advice”, from food and cocktail recipes, DIY tips, all beautifully collaged with their own photos and craft items. We wrote a message in it.

The hen looked lovely and smiled broadly all night, excitable and enthusiastic. She made sure she spoke to all the guests.

They are a lovely couple and I’m sure they will have a long happy future together. They’ve been together six years after being set up by a friend. You can see love when one of them walks in and the other’s eyes light up. They work as a team supporting each other, effortlessly co-ordinating daily life and making each other laugh.

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Filed under Days out/nights out, Life of Lydia

What’s hot – thermals and my blog on its anniversary!

Hello and welcome on a rainy dark cold English winter evening.

First of all I just want to thank you for checking out my blog over the last year. In 2013 I was unhappily unemployed and decided something needed to change. With qualifications and experience but fighting just to get an interview I began blogging and found a virtual family. Thank you to all those who read, commented, and supported me through that tough time and gave me the strength to keep going.

Thinking of ways I could help readers in my situation gave me something to do other than the endless repetitive task of filling out applications mixed in with a YouTube workout or two. I suddenly had an exciting project to do that stimulated my neurons far more than the endless repetition of personal details.

A year on I yet again face an uncertain future. But either way I will have gained more experience to help me stand out.

So what have I learnt during my year of blogging?

Rose Heart (4)1. Love and relationship stories are the most popular. My highest spike in viewings was the story of my first date. There are some highly entertaining dating blogs out there.

2. To accept an award you are expected to write endless drivel about yourself. I have only done this once, although I have appreciated the nominations.

3. The blog world is a real community – there are always friendly people that have been through exactly what you have and can sympathise. I found this especially helpful during times of financial hardship and struggling to get work. Use this support network.

4. It is a great way to help others. My most popular article remains Pros and Cons of Unemployment. I couldn’t find any articles on positives of unemployment. In this dire situation I thought about the British idiom “every cloud has a silver lining” and realised that if I could focus on this I would be able to cope with the situation much better. I began feeling happier, more confident and began interviews by following my own advice (for once). 

5. Blogging is a great tool to test creative projects – sharing photographs, paintings, cartoons and so on.

international-students1_10892518_std_16. I have been surprised at how international it is – my blog has been viewed in an incredible 87 countries and counting.

7. There is such a great variety out there. Just search for the topic you want to read and it’s all free.

And finally –

I have just realised how fantastic these are. Most people know that wearing layers keeps you warmer because they trap heat. The most important layer is the one next to your skin. Then the second one insulates and is also close to the body to minimise air gaps. You can read more about this technique here.

The lower the rating, the warmer it is! By silk I assume this means thick woven fabric…

Everyone raised their eyebrows and told me they were for the elderly and the elderly alone. When I looked on the thermals section of a clothing company the metrics did show that all comments were from the over 50s. But when thinking about saving money why not remember the wisdom of previous generations. Instead of turning up the heating, buy a few undergarments.

It cost me about £12 for the shirt and for the leggings but it’s a one-off purchase. You will get a lot more off your heating bill than that. I’m currently wearing thermal leggings with trousers over the top, thermal and standard long-sleeved shirts and an acrylic jersey. I have worn them all day. I don’t need an expensive wool one with all these layers. I find it itchy anyway.

As you have clothes over them, it doesn’t matter what they look like and you don’t have to admit to wearing them. But actually there are some good looking ones now – my shirt has dark blue and white stripes and being a scoop neck I can wear it under other tops without it showing. The leggings I’m wearing at the moment are more effective at retaining heat. They are mostly acrylic and their snug but comfortable fitting means there are no air gaps.

So go on, stay warm for less this winter.

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Filed under Advice, Jobhunting, Life of Lydia, Work