Monday, 28 September 2015

looking at my selfie

A while ago now I did a post on the importance of accepting, and even liking, the person we see in the mirror. You'll find it here.

We're all stuck with ourselves, so we need to love the people we are in order to live the best life we can.

Margot Meanie recently started her rebellious self love challenge - a photo a day, for a month on various topics, all related to ourselves. Lots of selfies are required. Check it out on Instagram.

I noticed it starting, and I shuddered, decided that people would think me too big headed if I did that, and forgot about it.

But, as the days went on and the interesting pictures kept cropping up, I noticed that I didn't think any of the participants were big headed. Nobody was saying nasty things to them either, despite them being open and honest about the things they liked about their, mainly fat, bodies.

I felt inspired.

I wondered if it wasn't a bit of a problem that I felt too scared to do this. I've said before that I don't want to erase myself from the pictoral history of my own life, just because I'm fat, or my hair's not just so.

I figured it's only a month.

So I joined in.

Taking all the very many selfies is a bit of a nightmare, and is making me think more about makeup and clothes and hair than I normally would. However, once I've put a bit more effort into my appearance, I do feel more confident. People are saying nice things (and people have only said nice things). One person said she wished she was as brave as me, and I felt such a fraud.

I'm not brave. But forcing myself to put myself out there has done wonders for my confidence, and I'm really glad that Margo pushed me to do it, and for the support she, and lots of other people, known and unknown, around the world, are giving me. I kind of feel pretty.

Thank you Margo.

Here are some of my pictures so far. Mostly of me, but there's one of Goth Girl (a gift from my brother, you can follow her adventures from time to time in my Instagram feed):

Do you fancy joining me? Or is that a really terrible idea (but you're going to do it anyway)?

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

talking about the weather

Nick Cave developed an obsession with the weather when he moved to Britain, because of course, we have so very much of it.

I always thought it was the changeable, unreliable nature of British weather that had us talking about it so much, but Stephen Mangan reckons there's more to it than that.

Stephen thinks that we talk about the weather not just to avoid talking about our emotions (with our stiff upper lips and all that), but that we use the weather to talk about our emotions.

For example, when I came out of the shop the other day (I'd been shopping for another blogpost you'll find here), I was greeted by another shopper. Here's our conversation: 

Him: "Morning! Lovely day. Do you think it will stay sunny?"Me: "Doubt it. Those clouds look like rain's coming."Him: "Oh, well, hopefully it'll come to nothing."Me: "It is Scotland, you know."
If what Stephen reckons is true, then what we were really saying was something like: 
Him: "Morning! I'm feeling on top of the world this morning, I hope it lasts."Me: "Doubt it. Something is going to dampen your spirits."Him: "Oh, well, hopefully I'll be OK.Me: "You might as well give up now. You'll be miserable before you know it."
Or something to that effect. Hmm, sorry sunflower guy!

The freaky thing is that once you start thinking that people might be talking about the weather as code for how they're feeling, you start having much more interesting conversations. Have a see for yourself.

Our weather has been pretty good of late, but it's cooling down. Autumn is coming, but at the moment it is still summer, and the flowers are wearing their prettiest gowns. How's the weather with you? Sunny I hope.

School update: Miss 5 is still getting a bit anxious in the mornings before school, and when I drop her off I have to go straight away. However, she is enjoying being there. This week she's brought her first reading book home from school, and has been reading it to anyone who will listen. "Look at me." Dead proud.

Monday, 14 September 2015

getting into cars with strange men

Long ago, and far from here, my boyfriend and I decided to get a taxi back from somewhere in almost central Leeds (University area), to our horrible flat in Meanwood (otherwise known as 'close to Headingley').

I cannot recall why we got a taxi on this night, nor where we had been, although I suspect a rubbish nightclub was involved. All of that has been eclipsed by our journey home.

We used to go out pretty often, and definitely every Friday night. We would start off after Uni/work, in one of the pubs across the road, The Pack Horse, or perhaps The Eldon, at some point we might move to the other one of these two, and sometimes we might even head to The Bricklayers Arms. After a while, sometimes as late as 11pm, it would seem like a good idea to head to somewhere that stayed open later, and so we'd go into town a bit, although not far. 

Eventually, we would attempt to catch a bus, or just meander back up through Headingley and down into Meanwood (because you wouldn't do the short cut at night). Very occasionally, we'd be willing to fork out for a taxi.

One night we got into a taxi, which was swerving alarmingly around the road, while the driver kept up his cheerful banter. I was calculating how long we would need to stay in the car, and my boyfriend muttered to me that perhaps the driver was pissed, and then, he decided to do the conversation with the driver.
"How long have you been on for?" He asked."Couple of days mate, couple of days.""Long days then?""Nah mate, I've got this stuff, lets me stay awake, so I can work a couple of days straight, no worries."
I had this moment of thinking that the driver was so sick of people asking this question that he'd decided to make something ridiculous up, but as we swerved out of the way of an errant lamp-post, I concluded that he was telling the truth.

I have caught a taxi in Leeds since then, but only a proper hackney carriage, at a rank. I got changed in the back of the last Leeds taxi I got - into a ballgown, as I travelled from the train station (I'd just been for an interview for a job in Edinburgh), to some sports place for a ball. Those were the days! Happily, I got the Edinburgh job, and bid farewell to our nasty Meanwood flat. I do miss my Leeds friends though, and those nights in The Pack Horse/Eldon. Happily, I got to keep the boyfriend. Reader, I married him.

Have you had any interesting/hair raising taxi experiences?

This is one of my '50 things' posts. You can find the rest here.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

shopping locally

I've been thinking about what people say about shopping locally.

We are lucky in Largs, in that we have a 'proper' high street. We've got a few chain shops, but we've also got things like butchers, bakers, fishmongers, ironmongers, greengrocers etc, so perhaps as the person buying the shopping, I should be using these shops rather than the supermarkets?

I have a feeling that shopping at the supermarket is cheaper and more convenient, but I thought that I'd do a wee experiment to see if this is true.

So, I'm taking a shopping list, and buying the items on it (or as many as I can) at a supermarket, and then, a week later (so all that good stuff doesn't go to waste), on the high street.

I'm going to let you know about the experience of shopping, the cost; whether I can find the things on my list, if I buy extra stuff (or decide to do without), and the convenience. 

Here's the list (the list was chosen because it was the stuff I happened to need this morning):
  • Oat crisp cereal
  • Carpet shampoo
  • Hay fever medicine
  • Stamps (1st and 2nd class)
  • Toothbrushes
  • Mug shots
  • Diet cola
  • Soda water
  • Cat food pouches
  • Eggs
  • Muller lights
  • Milk 
  • Bread
  • Mushrooms
  • Fruit
  • Tissues

I went to Morrisons in Largs (because that is my nearest supermarket), parked in the car park, took a small trolley, and went around the shop. It took about 30 minutes to do the shop. The shop was pleasant enough, and a man in the car park chatted with me about the weather (he hoped for sun, but I predicted rain, we were both right), when I came out.

What I didn't buy
  • Oat crisps (my favourite cereal but very hard to find).
  • Carpet shampoo - they definitely sell it, but I couldn't find it on the shelf.
  • Hay fever medicine
  • Stamps           
        • I meant to get stamps at the checkout, and the medicine in the chemist, which is past the checkout, but I forgot, as I often seem to do! I'm blaming it on the checkout operator who was grumbling about a child making noise, which surprised me, because that's kind of what kids do.
  • Toothbrushes - the cheapest was £2, which I deemed too expensive.
  • Mug shots - my new favourite snack, but overpriced in Morrisons at the moment at 80p for what is basically akin to a packet of crisps.
What I did buy
  • Diet cola - I got Diet Coke @ BOGOF - 2 bottles for £1.85
  • Soda water - I got a four pack AND ALSO a four pack of tonic water (bound to come in handy) because of a special offer. The two four packs came to £3 (I'm counting £1.50 here and £1.50 in the section below)
  • Cat food pouches - I got a box of 44 Felix pouches for £10, on offer.
  • Eggs - 12 medium free range eggs for £1.69 
  • Bacon - 10 slices of bacon in a pack for £1.89
  • Hummus - nice big tub of hummus for £1.25
  • Muller lights - 6 packs of Muller Lights are on offer at the moment for £2 each. I got two, so £4.
  • Milk - 1 4 pint bottle for 89p
  • Bread - 1 large cob loaf for 50p (special offer)
  • Mushrooms - punnet of mushrooms for £1
  • Fruit
        • Gala apples bag £1
        • Punnet of Scottish strawberries £1.87
        • Pineapple 77p
  • Tissues - Savers Tissues 225 pack for 65p

Extra things I bought
  • The tonic water on the special offer with the soda water (see above)
  • 3 bags for life, because I'd forgotten to bring my bags at 12p each: 36p
  • Pasta n Sauce packs (because they're low syns and last ages, and were on special offer) 3 @ 50p: £1.50, also 1 pack of low fat Super Noodles (same reason), 50p.
  • Corn on the cob (because it was a good price, and I've got some in the fridge, but not enough to go around). 4 half cobs for £1.

I think I did alright at Morrisons, but I think I could get the toothbrushes cheaper on the high street, and I wonder if the quality and freshness of the meat, fruit and veg might be different too.


I parked as close to town as I could get, shoved a load of bags in my (great big) handbag, and went into town to shop. I wore my headphones, but took them out whenever I was going to be speaking to anyone. Everyone I spoke to in the shops was pleasant. No-one else spoke to me, although I did smile at a few people. My shopping took 45 minutes. I've mentioned below that there were a few things I didn't get because they were too heavy. Carrying the stuff back to the car was really sore on my arms, and as I write, my shoulder is still hurting. I remember having to do this back in the day, and the frequency with which I had to shop because of it. Ugh.

What I didn't buy

  • Oat crisp cereal (couldn't find any, as before).
  • Diet cola (couldn't find any caffeine free stuff, which is what I drink).
  • Soda water (I noted that the price for the soda water in our little Tesco is £1.50 for four. Can't imagine I'd ever want to attempt to carry four litres around though. I suspect I would do better if I got one of those bag trolley things. Too heavy!)
  • Cat food pouches (too heavy; the pet shop didn't have any of the kind the cat will eat, and the vets was out of the way, so didn't get any).

  • What I did buy
    • Carpet shampoo - yay! Found it in Semi Chem £1
    • Hay fever medicine - from Boots £3.19 
    • Stamps (1st and 2nd class) - from the Post Office - I got books of 12, and no receipt so cannot remember how much they were, sorry!
    • Toothbrushes - yay! Semi Chem three for £1.99
    • Mug shots - 63p each in Tesco. Got three. £1.89
    • Eggs - from the greengrocer (6 large free range, from a specific farm) about £1.70, but no receipt to check.
    • Muller lights - 3 for £1.50 from Tesco (only two flavours available).
    • Milk - Tesco, £1
    • Bread - Tesco (we have bakers on our high street, but we're not keen on their bread). Sour dough loaf for tea £1.80, standard bread for sandwiches 78p
    • Mushrooms - no receipt from greengrocer but about 50p for about 125g - same price as Morrisons
    • Fruit - about £2 for a punnet of grapes. 
    • Tissues - Semi Chem £1

    Extra things I bought
    • Local 2016 calendar from Post Office £4.99 - it's got to come in handy, right?
    • Toothpaste - found my favourite kind in Semi Chem at less than half the price it's on at in Morrisons, so bought two tubes £2.58
    • Peppers in Tesco - three for 99p, with no yucky green ones.
    • Meat at the butcher - not sure how the cost broke down, but it ended up costing about the same as Morrisons.


    It surprised me to find that prices were pretty much of a muchness. The main differences were about time taken and convenience, on both of which the supermarket won, however, I just couldn't get all I wanted at the supermarket.

    The meat which seems awfully expensive in the butchers, is, when I think about it, about the same price as the supermarket (possibly with the exception of bacon). The butchers has the benefit of doing smaller or bespoke portions, while the supermarket has the benefit of use by dates. To be honest, I'm not a big fan of meat anyway.

    The Greengrocers has less choice than the supermarket, but has more local produce, and I really like their mushrooms. It's worth checking if anything looks good. The eggs I bought were really large, and would probably be a similar price in the supermarket, although as long as they're free range, I'm perfectly content with medium eggs to be honest.

    I wish we had a decent baker in town, but it's good to know that Tesco does sourdough loaves, because we love those for a treat.

    Semi Chem was a revelation. Great prices and my new go to store for toiletries and cleaning stuff. Other shops I think I'll just pop into if I happen to be in town anyway.

    What I'd really like to see in Largs is improved free parking (I'm not sure how to achieve this, but at the moment the situation makes shopping in town really hard), a good, possibly independent bakers, and a farmers market actually in town (perhaps we could close Tron Place for the purpose?) on a Saturday morning.

    What's you home town like for shopping? And what improvements would you like to see?

    Tuesday, 8 September 2015

    shutting up and writing: a creative writing exercise

    I've recently heard about 'Shut up and Write' - it's an academia thing. Academics or research students get together somewhere and write in companionable silence for a while, before chatting together over coffee. There's a useful piece on it here.

    I like this plan, it might be because I like coffee and writing, but hey. It seems like a good enough plan for all of us.

    If you're going to a 'Shut up and Write' gathering and you're stuck about what to write about, I'm intending on giving you some suggestions to get you started. You'll be able to find a few different ideas right here under the Writing tab. If you've got suggestions for useful prompts then let me know, because different things work for different people at different times.

    Disembodied words

    For this exercise you gather words that you hear when you turn on a radio/resume your podcast. You know, just a random sentence from the middle of an interview or news report.

    I wrote mine down on wee post its and just collected them until I had the requisite six (I always do six, why is coming up if you haven't already guessed).

    Once you've got six you roll your dice to select the one you're going to use.

    On paper, write down your sentence, and spend five minutes exploring ideas about it - you can do a mind map if you like, or just do some free writing on it. You can even come up with a load of bullet points if you fancy that.

    When the five minutes is up STOP, this is my time to get a cup of coffee, and let those ideas percolate through, but you might be happy to get straight on with the next bit, which is to take something from what you've been doing to start work on a story/article/poem/interpretive dance. Get absorbed in that for about 20 minutes, at the end of which you can drink more coffee, and chat with your mates (if you've managed to bring any out with you - if you're doing this at home then maybe have coffee and read your work to the cat). 

    You can share what you've been doing, or you can set the world to rights. It's up to you.

    And just in case you don't have time to capture six sentences, here are mine (I'm not going to give you any context):

    1. 2,000 people experienced severe delays.
    2. Sometimes, if it's really quiet, even if you're wearing a bra you can still hear them.
    3. There is this black hole of responsibility on the internet.
    4. They can bring down our wages, starve all our children, in chains they can bind us...
    5. They're going to use you for that year of medical school.
    6. We live in a society where the options to look good are huge.
    Now roll your dice. If you don't have one, use an app or an online dice roller.

    I got a 6. My first thoughts were about Jenny Agutter's character in Logan's Run, and a back story on her.

    My immediate thought after the five minutes was that I should go and watch Logan's Run, and indeed I did watch a bit, to get a snippet for your information. But back to the task at hand. 

    What I wrote was a bit of Fan fic based on Logan's Run (the film and the book, I can't remember the TV series). I'll share it here, to prove I did it.

    The Options

    Jess bent over, leaning on the old stone wall and gasping for breath. Dylan was trying to look around the corner without being seen.

    "Who are they Dylan?" she panted, wondering who he'd got in trouble with this time. It wasn't just Dylan's hair that was spiky.

    Dylan ducked back down just as a flash of light signalled that a weapon had been fired. Jess watched sme sort of bullet fly past and then circle back around.

    Dylan saw it too, and ran out into the open space in the middle of the cathedral ruins.

    "Dylan!" Jess shouted, trying to stop him, but to no avail.

    The bullet hit him and his arms came out from his sides as if his own body had repelled them. She'd never heard a scream like it, and that made her keep her distance, although he'd be embarrassed to have wet himself.

    When the scream stopped he didn't so much slump as totter over, hitting the ground stiffly, and yet with no resistance, she could see from here that her brother had been terminated, and the realisation brought a sick feeling into the pit of her stomach, seeming to pull the warmth and blood out of her limbs. She saw the sandmen there, but she couldn't help but edge closer.

    Dylan lay sprawled on his front, his arm awkward by his side. His palm faced the sky, showing his palm jewel.

    It was black.

    "Do you want something?" A precise, meticulous voice, the kind of voice which commanded.

    She was crouched over the body, straightening his arm. He looked so undignified.

    "The clean-up team will be here soon. Do you want something of his to keep?" The sandman with the interesting voice seemed to be looking at her. His black leather uniform so much more defined somehow than the casual black leather her brother, on the floor, wore. She was reflected in the mirrored visor of the sandman's helmet. Her hair was all sweaty, her crouching posture ungainly, she realised.

    She stood up, smoothing her green dress down. Did she want anything? She wanted her brother to get up, but looking at the black jewel, she knew his time had come.

    "Why didn't he go to Carousel?" She asked the sandman.

    "I was hoping you could tell me that." He answered. "Show me your palm jewel."

    She held out her hand, like an offering, relieved to see that her jewel still glowed red. She looked up at te reflection of that glow in the mirrored visor.

    The sandman nodded. "Good." He said, putting away his gun. "Go and get your hair done, take some drugs, maybe put yourself on the circuit." He turned to see the other sandman, who was walking toward them. "My friend and I will take care of this." He said, gesturing to her brother.

    She dropped her hand down, recalling the way Dylan's arms had sprung from his body when he was shot.

    It seemed best to obey the sandman.


    And that's it, so far... I haven't got to the extreme makeover that she's going to go for, or the relationship that is going to develop. I think I might leave it there though, because it looks to me like this fan fic could become slash fic rather fast.

    Anyway, let me know what you come up with. I'd love to hear from you.

    Friday, 4 September 2015

    learning: 5 terrific TED talks

    1. First up a talk on Google's driverless cars from Chris Urmson. I want one! I could go on about this all day, but I shall defer to Roman Mars and 99% invisible who did a really great podcast on the topic, if you fancy finding out more.

    2. Next is an amazing appearance from Monica Lewinski, on cyber bullying, and steps we can all make to make things better for everyone. Many thanks to A Beautiful Mess for pointing out this TED talk in their marvellous piece on cyber bullying, which you'll find here.

    3. Margaret Heffernan talks about the origin of the phrase 'pecking order', and how important social cohesion is in an effective workplace. This is fascinating.

    4. I love this TED talk about feminism from Roxane Gay. It's funny and true and just beautiful. "I very much am that woman and cannot imagine being anyone else." Fabulous.

    5. Last up is a really interesting talk on pain relief from Latif Nasser. Having suffered from random pain in the past (more on that here), I know how all-consuming it can be.

    What TED talks have you been watching/listening to lately?

    Thursday, 3 September 2015

    making over my bedroom: in green and brown

    Now that my youngest has started full time school*, I allegedly have more time in the day, although any idea that I'd have hours of time to skip gaily around were sadly mistaken - there still aren't enough hours in the day!

    I have finally got around to redecorating my bedroom, which was still in its original white, with old chests of drawers which didn't really go, a brown carpet, and hastily chosen curtains.

    It was OK, but I wanted it to be cosy and snug, and feel like a grown up space. So I decided to paint all of the walls. Sadly that meant that this lovely decal I'd bought when we moved in (to personalise it a bit while we waited to decide what colour to go) had to go.

    I found the colour I wanted and went to B&Q** to have them colour match it and make me up a great big 5 litre tin of paint to do the whole room. This was a pretty cost effective way to do it. The paint they use for colour matching is Valspar Matt Interior paint for walls and ceiling. It was good paint to work with, not too drippy, but giving good coverage, and drying pretty quick. It was also not too stinky. It was fine to sleep in the room after it had been painted. 5 litres was about £35, and the colour matching process was pretty accurate. The only problem was that you're shown the colour in a tiny little circle on the monitor in-store, a circle about the size of a penny, and it is really hard to work out from that if this is the colour to go with, but they can save your colour and give you a tester pot if you want to check it.

    I washed the walls with sugar soap, and put masking tape on all the bits I didn't want painted, and then commenced painting. The colour looked a bit muddy at first, but it got better when it dried, and when there was less white.

    I did the main bits of the wall with a roller, which worked like a dream, and hardly needed any touching up, or second coat. The edge bits, and the fiddly bits behind the radiator, and in the corners I did with a couple of paintbrushes (a little paintbrush for flowing movements and a bigger one (pictured) for cutting in, and going behind the radiator. I'm told you're supposed to take the radiator off, as well as face plates on the light switches and stuff, but really, who does that!?

    The end result is that I'm very happy with the room. I was worried it might be a bit gloomy, but it's lovely and cosy instead. I like the way the wooden furniture looks now it's against the green background, and I've made a start on putting up some pictures. I've got more pictures that will go up, and plan to make that whole wall into a picture wall in time.

    While we're talking picture walls, I adore the IKEA Ribba frames (and there are more of them in the loft, awaiting pictures), but they can be a royal pain to hang. I was grateful to Lauren of L'Amour Chez Nous for her top tip for hanging them (basically you need a nice long nail). Thanks Lauren!

    The things still to do are: get more pictures up; get a bedside cabinet (because there's not enough room for all the wires and magazines etc, and it looks an unholy mess); and replace my earring tree (because I have broken it too much, and because it doesn't take stud earrings).

    As you can see, the colour is more muddy grey in daylight (which sounds horrible, but is actually rather nice, imho), and gets greener under the overhead light.

    The lovely red chair was a present from my mother-in-law, whose friend upholstered it. I personally love red and green, but it's not to everyone's taste. The chair is usually covered in clothes/cat/both, but I've tidied up for you.

    This is the first time I have owned a brand new house. I never thought I would. I thought new houses were bland and pokey, and rather shodilly built, and I'd really rather live in a Victorian house with big windows, curious draughts, and picture rails.

    I still love Victorian houses, but renting a new house brought awareness of the benefits - they are so cheap to run! All the heating bills seem to go on actually heating the house, rather than the sky above it.

    So that, and what was available when we needed to move, has led us to buy this very new build.

    It came white, so I left it white to start off with, so we could use the house and see how we actually used it. Now I'm working my way around the rooms and decorating. That's the bedrooms done, the study/playroom is next, and I've already bought the paint for that job! 

    I've got some ideas for the hall, but I'm completely stuck on the lounge/kitchen/diner, so I'm going to leave them for now. I suspect they'll get left a bit longer, because we're making the garage into another sitting room, which is very exciting (and the kids have lots of ideas for decorating that).

    I am loving the process of making this blank canvas home ours, and am grateful for being able to do it***.

    I'll let you know how I get on with the other jobs to finish the bedroom, and how the study comes on.
    Have you been doing any decorating lately?

    * School update: She's doing so much better, but still feels scared sometimes, and gets really worried before she goes in. On the plus side, she comes out of school buzzing about what she's done all day, she loves her teacher, and she can't wait to do her homework (my son could take a leaf out of her book on that front). I'm proud of her, and know she's going to get there soon.

    ** B&Q have not paid me for this honest review, but if they wanted to pay me to do something in the future I'd be cool with that.

    *** This post is for the gratitude project, and is on the topic of 'my home'.