Some serious grit

So, it’s uh, been a while since the last post hasn’t it?

picard where

There’s been stuff you see.  Some of it good stuff.  I had a baby!  Yup and 15 months later, she’s still in one piece (if you ignore the recent, slightly wonky fringe trim and the extra large hat she now wears to cover bad styling.)

I also relocated from London, my northern hemisphere home city of the last 14 years, to join the movers and shakers in the potentially more manageable metropolis of the north of England, which henceforth shall be known as Manchester.  Or if you want to say it really annoyingly like a pirate that just stepped on a nail, “…Man-CHES-tAAAAaarrrH.”

I miss the friends and networks I’ve built up over many years in the capital, but despite the emotional complexities and separation anxiety I’ve been jiggling with every day, I put this move to Manc-land in the ‘good stuff’ basket, because it’s meant the following:

  1. Change with a capital C – a big old leap out of the comfort zone.  I find when you’re approaching 40 (or even 30, or 25), change helps to prod you into brushing your hair and putting on eye liner in the morning, amongst other things.
  2. It has brought my fella and I closer as a couple/family unit/crime-fighting duo.  Okay, yes, I made that last one up, but while leaving jobs, wading through the madness of moving to the opposite end of the country on a shoestring, and managing an increasingly energetic and strong-willed small person who’s existence has taken over my life, nothing knits you together like being strangers in a strange town. I mean, nothing threatens to break you apart either like the energy-zapping slog of life admin, endless job-hunting and child-rearing.  Not to mention the emotional and psychological mind mess that is dealing with the local benefits office. (That, dear reader, is a whole other post.) Thanks to buckets of persistence, stubbornness, and necessity, one of us (the fella in this case) has achieved the status of gainful employment once more, but frankly it’s been a proper tightrope walk for the past eight months and the only way our marriage has really survived is combination of Friday pizza nights and a mutual dependency on CBS Action’s Star Trek programming to laugh at.
  3. The move has given us the chance to be closer to Mr Lottijots family, and for my daughter to get to know her Merseyside brethren.  She is the first baby in the family for several years – they are clearly nuts about her, and she delights in the attention of adoring adults and older cousins, so until she starts throwing epic tantrums (and food) it’s win-win.

But there’s been bad stuff too.  No pearls without a bit of grit as the saying goes (or should), and people, there’s been some serious grit in the past year.

Moving always comes with challenges and the fella and I, despite our best efforts, are yet to feel at home in our new city.  I know this will eventually change, but right now Manchester is still a stranger – friendly, lively and offering canals with geese and a couple of new tram lines – but not as yet familiar to me the way London was, where I’d built up my geographical memory maps of a thousand little moments from the last decade and a half.  We’re both still reeling from the blows to our egos (and bank accounts) that comes from leaving behind London employment, transport links and salaries.  On top of this, we know only a handful of people in Manchester and for me particularly these days as a full-time mum, deeper friendships and relationships take longer to build as my own life (or rather my daughter’s) takes over, and the opportunities to hit it off with a like minded soul seem more random.  Mind you it’s not all Nellie-no mates –  some new, kind faces and a few friends-of-friends have invited us for cakes and ale, so at least I know we’re not totally unappealing on a social level.  Eventually we’ll manage to locate a baby sitter on an irregular basis, and find the funds and energy to drag ourselves back into the real world where the grown ups live.

But all this is small potatoes compared to the big stuff.  At the end of 2015 we lost my mother-in-law, a wonderful, stubborn, brave woman who was swallowed by cancer and all it’s complications, before we could believe it had happened.  The family thrashed through Christmas on a wave of grief.  My daughter was 9 months old and didn’t know what was happening and thankfully wrapping paper and Yorkshire puddings were all she needed to have a jolly festive season, but it was hard to keep things upbeat when the rawness of a vibrant life just departed was everywhere.

Then, a few days after Christmas, my grandfather died.  He was the last of his generation in the family, and while the shock was not as harsh as that of losing my mother-in-law, it was no less painful to know he’d gone.  It was 26 hours and two long-haul flights to Australia with a baby by myself (and then back again a few weeks later).  But it meant I was with my family on a humid, Queensland afternoon at a peaceful, well-filled service, to say goodbye –  a few shaky words for the group on behalf of my brothers and cousins to try and capture what having a kind, funny and loving grandparent meant to us.  For that I am truly grateful.

I haven’t even begun on the changes having a child has brought into my life or how incredible family and friends have been in supporting us, but right now you have things to do – tea to brew, meetings to prep for, that dancing cat video to watch.   It does however lead me nicely to my twee and unoriginal summary of what I’ve gleaned from these past months…

  1. Be kind to yourself.  Yes, sometimes you mess up.  Sometimes you don’t have the strength to keep your feelings bottled up.  Sometimes you just want to doze for 20 minutes on the couch while the baby naps instead of doing yet another tax credit form or calling the recruitment agency again or berating yourself for feeding the baby fish fingers and breadsticks for dinner.  But everything is going to be OK.
  2. Don’t give up.  I know it’s easier, and it sometimes seems the sensible option.  But you can do it.  And if you need a photo of Ryan Gosling saying ‘Girl, you got this‘ to motivate you, then print 100 copies of that shit and paper the roof of your house with it.  Give Tim Peake and those space station guys something new to look at.
  3. Big up the little things.  Healthy as a clam? Rejoice! Baked some muffins? Get in!  Did your ironing? Skillz!  (And do you fancy doing mine?)
  4. Finally, love who you have in your life and what you’ve got.  Whether it’s many or few, blingin’ or broke, super-duper or driving you a wee bit nuts, give ’em a squeeze.

    It makes the world a better place.

    hey girl gosling

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In memory of his mum, my husband is cycling from Manchester to London for charity. If you’d like to donate, its simples, visit his JustGiving page here.  Big thanks.

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Iyengar is not the only fruit

Doing something different can be a very scary thing. There’s always the potential for it to go completely tits up after all, and for you to end up looking foolish, getting hurt, or in painful footwear, none of which appeal to most people.

It’s rare however to regret diverging from the path and taking the road not travelled.  Even when you hit on any of the examples above, you inevitably get something from the experience.  Usually it’s a lesson about the kind of person you are, or think you are.  Sometimes it’s just learning that you can’t get away with a peep toe heel on a night out in Camden for more than three hours.  But either way, it sticks with you.

Exhibit A: I had an orange and red onion salad a few months ago.  I’ve detested fruit since the age of two apparently (some sort of childhood citrus trauma is no doubt buried deep, deep in my subconscious) but it was a friend’s pop-up restaurant effort, it looked delicious and so I thought ‘what the hell’.  After my first bite, I thought I’d died and gone to tropicana-tastebud heaven. The salad was sweet, juicy and refreshing, the tartness of the onion melding with the lush flesh of the oranges and the moreish olive oil dressing. Now, I’m not suddenly scoffing oranges every other day as a result of this encounter, but to know that there’s a way of enjoying a food that was previously heinous to me and my fussy palate was a happy revelation. And I only learnt that my putting my supposed self-knowledge (and fruit prejudices) on hold for a few moments.  How often do we cross something off our ‘to try’ list because we think we know better?

orange elephant

Bob went a little overboard for the dessert table at the annual worker’s picnic

Of course, sometimes we do know.  Exhibit B: I recently tried a new yoga class.  My usual Hatha yoga class hadn’t happened for a few weeks and I was keen to keep my dogs downward (so to speak) so I thought I’d give a local class of Iyengar yoga a go.  It turned out to be a lesson that it’s good to try new things, if only to realise that you never, ever want to do them again.  (I could also tell you the story about the time I went on the waltzers at a local fair a few years ago but that’s a lot more embarrassing and just consisted of me yelling ‘help! help!’ in a pathetic, I’m-over 35-and-shouldn’t-be-pretending-I-like-fast-and-spinny-carnival-rides voice.)  The yoga class was something I was keen to do, to go outside my comfort zone, even if only for me to learn that I wasn’t ready to embrace every citrus fruit warrior one combo on the block.

Firstly, the class was scheduled for an hour – but went for two.  I realise this a proper middle class concern I’m voicing here, but thank god I didn’t have an Ocado delivery scheduled. It was two very long hours of which fifteen minutes at the start was given over to the instructor – a short, powerful, verbose Italian woman in her early 50s – talking at me and another startled new pupil about the wonders of Iyengar.  It was according to her the ‘one true yoga’ and she had dedicated her life to it. Her glowing, walnut-hued skin and Chris Hoy-esque thigh muscles in small 70’s styled shorts attested to this claim, and despite her long oration (and urging to us to part with a ten quid to buy a book she had illustrating a variety of Iyengar poses), I still felt confident she’d provide good instruction. Thighs that impressive don’t lie, right?

I was prepared, being new to the style that she was going to have demonstrations and corrections for me to follow, but by the end it had put the ‘D’ in ‘diabolical class’.  There was no warm-up.  There were more props employed than an authentic production of Chekov.  There was so many demonstrations that I felt half the time I’d paid £14 just to watch someone else do yoga. Her guidance on rhythm or breathing was scanty at best, and any allowances in peoples differing abilities was minimal (although she did change my pose when I mentioned I thought my kneecap was ready to pop – only to tell me I’d need to practice at home every day in order to sort it out.)

yoga

As first dates went, it was rather memorable

And just when I thought I’d reached the end, there was a 20 minute ‘relaxation’ exercise that the instructor talked incessantly through.  I lay with my chest arched up on a bolster, a belt over my eyes, my knee throbbing from an awkward earlier twist and my brain bouncing between show-tunes and a nagging thought that I’d left my bathroom window open.  At the end, I said my goodbyes and hobbled out of there faster than you can say ‘Namaste’ to get home and put a bag of frozen peas on my aching knee and delete the class details from my phone.

But I don’t regret the class a bit.  For one thing, I learnt that Iyengar yoga is not for me or more specifically, that particular class and instructor were not for me.  There were people in that class who were loving it, I just wasn’t one of them.  There are so many forms of yoga now, I think a bit like salads or hair beards on men, it’s a good idea to put you preconceptions aside and give a different one a go now and then. If you did a bit of creative extrapolation I suppose you could apply that logic to anything – board games, citrus fruits, music, sexuality, skirt lengths, holiday destinations, whiskey varieties, breakfast TV shows.  You don’t know until you try, so you may as well give it a go.

By the same token, you are completely in your rights to try – and decide it ain’t your bag.  And if it’s not for you it may still be for somebody else.  That’s the beauty of freedom of choice – not everything is for everyone, but there’s something for everyone.  Freedom of choice means we are allowed to express our choices without fear, or prejudice, or pressure. You can say ‘yes’ or you can say ‘no’ and either should be okay.

So whether it’s orange salads or downward dogs, I hope you enjoy, and employ your freedom to choose.

 

 

 

Dogs, dessert, and why healthy fit people doing well makes me cry

Sport.  There’s nothing like it, is there?  The Olympics are being wheeled out with pride, like the dessert cart at a reasonably-priced-but-slightly-better-than-average restaurant.  (You know it’s better-than-average because dessert is on wheels.)  There’s no escape.  So I’m stoically putting up with it.  Ahem.

The really challenging part of her training was deciding what to have first.

Oh okay.  I’m LOVING the sport.  Really and truly. Woo the Olympics!  Aside from the chance to act like you know everything about an activity you’re only ever interested in once every four years (for me, it’s a tie between weightlifting and boxing – i.e. “Hey, did you see that one-two combo she just dished out?” “Ooh he dropped his snatch there!” Snigger snigger, and so on) – and aside from the fact you get to gawp at some of the ‘fittest’ bodies that ever strode the earth – and not to mention you also get to judge an entire nation on the quality and colour blocking technique of an endless parade of discipline-specific uniforms (or lack thereof, in the case of Germany’s Opening Ceremony polyester pile-up of blue and pink madness)….aside from all this, I’m loving the Olympics experience because it gives you the chance to drop that stiff upper lip and have a good old fashioned cry.

This to me is one of the ultimate benefits of a massive, international sporting get-together.  Even if you aren’t that keen on the physical fitness side of things, it’s an emotional stretch for anyone following a team or individual, (in some cases the only representative of their nation), through several gruelling rounds of competition (or even more heartbreakingly, failing to make it through the first round), with the field getting progressively tougher, the stakes higher, and regardless of the outcome, to not end up, you know, feeling something.

It can be joyous happy-wails, a private ‘something in my eye’ moment sniffling away on the couch, a mysterious metaphysical lump in the throat; there’s basically all manner of leaky emotions on display in the UK at present thanks to the Olympics.  Whether in celebration – check the super-gleeful tears of Katherine “I can’t believe we’re on a stamp” Copeland and Sophie Hosking winning the women’s double sculls – or commiseration, such as the ‘”We’re sorry I let everyone down and only got a silver” choked out by gave-it-their-all rowers Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter, crying alongside and along with the world’s most amazing athletes in my opinon leaves us feeling better about the human race and what it can achieve than some of us have felt in a long time.

I find I need only a flimsy excuse to want to cry these days, and I don’t think it’s just all this medal schizzle that’s causing it.  (Which isn’t the same as actually giving in to the tears, but more on that in a moment.)  Maybe because I’m less worried about appearing in control now that I’ve hit my mid-thirties and realised that, by jove, the older I get, the less I know about well, anything, but from the looks of it, no-one else does either, so why worry about trying to act like I’ve got it sorted?  The cause could also be something more mundane, such as a long-term hormone imbalance thanks to decades of oestrogen-enhanced tap water consumption, or more likely, my dependence on the local Chinese take-away’s won-ton soup as one of my ‘five-a-day’. (Hey now – it’s got cabbage in it.)  Whatever has brought it on, I have to admit it doesn’t take much these days to make my bottom lip quiver.

Olympic achievement/heartbreak to one side, I’m contending with the whole spectrum of everyday triggers, from toilet paper commercials with live puppies (so young! So happy! So delighted with double-ply thickness!), to a certain former terrestrial channel’s straight-to-TV dramas, imported fresh from the US, starring such luminaries as the feisty Barbara Hershey and a curly (and oh-so-slightly surly) Tom Berenger who together, leave no wild Montana ‘lost Native American tribe defending its traditional way of life’ stone unturned.  (It’s called Last of the Dogmen in case you’re keen, and yes, there is a dog in it.  I think he was nominated for an Emmy.)  But it isn’t often I actually feel like it’s okay to give in to the urge to cry – I certainly keep it in during the loo roll adverts for example.

One man. One hat. No dogs.

Keeping a lid on your emotions is part of day to day life, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Breaking out in tears every time you get cut off in traffic, talked over in a meeting, or overcharged by Tesco isn’t going to prolong your life or brighten your day is it?  There’s definitely something to be said for the attributes of discipline and professionalism, both in the sporting arena, and in everyday situations such as when you’re able to respond to some wanker’s flippant remark about your efforts/haircut/powerpoint presentation not with tears, nor rage, but by calmly pointing out what you’ve achieved/how great you look/your kick-ass slides, and then asking them how it compares to their tremendous cabinet full of Fuck All.  I’m a big fan of 18-year-old British competitor Zoe Smith’s response to the moronic abuse she received on her twitter feed for finishing 12th in her event as a great example of this approach. ( I’m thinking of making a shirt up and sending it to her which just say THE BIG TWO FINGERS.)

As for those taking part in the final week of the world’s biggest sporting event, controlling emotion is often the difference between achieving success, or leaving the track, pool, ring (and so forth) with dreams unfulfilled. So when we shed a tear of happiness or sadness with a sports professional and all they’ve been through, it’s because they’ve provided us with incredible, real-life examples for how to deal with the pressure and the pleasure that is living to the greatest reaches of your potential, with all its’ flaws, imperfections and sweat-marks.  It’s okay to get emotional, even when the world is watching.  We’ll have the tissues ready.

I’ll leave you with the BBC team’s overjoyed reaction to 10,000m runner Mo Farah’s final lap last Saturday.  Cause you know, even professionals have to let it out sometimes. C’mon Mo!

Gettin’ bloggy wiv it

I’m blogging.  My first blog!  Blimey, this is all so sudden. Where do I begin?

Well I can report that so far it’s just like riding a bicycle but with less emphasis on balance and coordination, and more capacity to eat biscuits during the execution.  So thumbs up there!  Also I haven’t yet run my blog up a tree the way I did, at the age of 9, with my first bike.  This is probably because the blog doesn’t have backwards-peddling brakes which, in my excitement to be actually riding for the first time, I completely forgot how to operate, so I peddled forward instead, frantically, thus ensuring I hit the tree at full throttle. In fact, my front wheel climbed the trunk, and under other circumstances, my ‘wheelie pop of death’ would have been considered well cool by anyone who was around to watch.  But instead I ended up sprawled on the driveway, in tears and alone, and so angry with my demon bicycle I kicked it, american comedy sitcom-style.  And then I refused to ride it for three months afterwards.

So as you can see, I cope well with setbacks.

I think the conclusion I’m trying to draw here is that, despite using it as an opener, similarities between my first bike and my first blog are, indeed, minimal.  (And like I said, there’s the biscuit thing.)  For me, this blog is about discipline.  But not like domestic chore discipline, or dentist appointment discipline.  More Life-with-Purpose discipline.  You know, the good kind.

I love to write, but I’m not so hot on the actual sit-your-ass-down-and-do-it bit.  I know I’m not alone in this, which I take comfort in (blessed are the lazy, for they shall inherit the earth – but not give a f*ck!)  Still, it doesn’t make a difference to the fact that I have of late, but wherefore I know not, lost my capacity to be arsed.   And not just about writing, about most things really. It’s a bit sad, and a lot frustrating. And who can I blame?  My first bike?  The Olympic Ticketing Committee? The endless hairstylings of Mr Johnny Depp?  No.  I’m on the slow train to Apathysville and it’s a really, really dull ride; there’s no catering trolley or anything.

People, I’m not staying on a train with no catering.

So, long bloggy short, I’m disembarking the train, popping on my most blinging shades, lifting the first Vespa I see (mimicking an Eddie Izzard ciao for good measure) and heading down the metaphoric highway, in the hopes that I’ll get back to the land of the living, or at least, the land where I’m motivated to create and share stuff.  That way if I do happen to inherit the earth (or some portion thereof), I’ll be ready.