A Dry Spell

The weekend just gone has marked the end of a month of personal sobriety.  I realise that this is no big deal in the grand scheme of life, but those of you who know me will appreciate the magnitude of the statement.

For those of you who I haven’t met, don’t get me wrong.  I haven’t been hiding vodka in the loo cistern or pouring Special Brew on my cornflakes, but I do enjoy a glass of wine or two at the weekend, and when life is going tits up and that ‘can’t cope’ feeling is engulfing you then a couple of drinks definitely dulls the pain.  Not an entirely healthy coping mechanism perhaps.

Then one day in October I was catching up on blog posts from the lovely Kate Takes Five who is twelve times the woman I am; she stopped drinking for not just one month but a whole year, and has now given up alcohol COMPLETELY!  She began as part of the One Year No Beer campaign but loved the benefits so much that she has a permanent seat on the wagon.

And Kate’s list of benefits was long – clear skin, sparkly eyes, better sleep, heightened productivity…I definitely wanted some of that, so I decided to give it go starting the very next day finishing 30 days later.   At the beginning it seemed like an insurmountable challenge but (pats self on back) I did it and, in case you were thinking of having a go yourself, here are some titbits of advice from my own journey.

  1. Keep it Real

Unless your alcohol consumption is negatively affecting others then this is an entirely self-serving challenge.  You are not curing cancer, eliminating world poverty or solving the housing crisis.  You are not a superhero, you are just saying no to a gin and tonic.

  1. Don’t Keep it a Secret

I learnt this the hard way.  At the mid-point of my 30 day stretch I had a weekend in the diary catching up with a group of old friends. Traditionally these are boozy occasions and I didn’t want to bring the mood down by piously requesting fizzy water in my prosecco glass.  Big Mistake.  Having discounted the possibility that I was pregnant (hilarious), said friends eventually gave up trying to re-fill my glass and spent the rest of the weekend casting worried glances in my sober direction.  It would have saved a whole lot of misunderstanding if I had just come clean in the first place.

  1. Don’t Talk About it all the time

The flip side of point number two.  While it may be an amazing, challenging, life changing experience for you, it is quite boring for everyone else.  Sobriety talk is pretty much on a par with diet talk and we all know how dull a diet fanatic can be.

  1. Don’t hibernate

It was tempting to clear the diary and just go from bed to work and back again for a month, thus avoiding situations that might involve the demon drink.  In my book this is cheating, and if you are thinking of turning your month trial into a permanent lifestyle choice then becoming a total recluse is obviously not an option.

  1. Don’t Judge

Just because you are not necking flaming sambucas and dancing the macarena doesn’t give you the right to roll your eyes at those who are.

  1. Be Proud. Every Day.

Every day that you complete is a day nearer your challenge target and although the world wouldn’t stop spinning if you had ‘just the one’ your sense of personal achievement would be diminished.  It is really hard to stop doing the things we enjoy, whether it is wine, beer, chocolate, or internet shopping, but managing to overcome the urge, even for a short time, is a great feeling.

So how did I feel at the end of my month-long mission?  Well, I would say (VERY begrudgingly) that I did feel loads better.  My eyes really were whiter, my skin brighter.  By the end of the month I was sleeping better than I had for years and I had a Brucie bonus of being four pounds down on the scales.  You would be forgiven for thinking that this is a no brainer, why would I go back to my old ways having experienced all of the above?  A very good question, now pass me the corkscrew while I ponder an answer.

A Dry Spell


Does Thin Equal Happy?

When I was about 12 years old my mum came home with a new recipe book called “Cooking to Make Kids Slim”.  The front cover was a photograph of an unhappy looking plump-ish child dressed in tight shorts and a straining t shirt, standing on a set of scales.  As the podgy girl who always got picked last in PE I completely identified with this picture, it sowed the seed that fat=sad and thin=happy and marked the beginning of my dieting journey.**

Thirty four years later and I am still trying to reach the thin=happy part of the equation.  I have been on some sort of diet for most of my adult life; from mad ones that precluded all foods apart from tomatoes and edam cheese, too good to be true ones that allowed cream, chocolate and wine, to highly expensive ones that involved weekly visits to a suspicious looking ‘clinic’ somewhere off Great Portland Street.

I have been a size 8, a size 18 and spent my entire adult life madly yo-yoing between the two.

The problem is twofold.  Firstly, I love food.  Not just because it is food – I am not gratuitously mainlining Dominos pizza and Krispy Kremes. I also love all the happy associations that come with the stuff on my plate.  Family mealtimes, great nights out with friends, new tastes in another country, or simply the comfort of a bar of Dairy Milk in front of a good film.  Definitely what you would call an emotional eater.

I am fully informed.  I know that to lose weight I have to put less in and expend more, there is no magic solution to shedding the pounds.  The only real value that the bonkers diet plans hold for me are the change in routine and break in habits and, with something like Weight Watchers, the weekly weigh in of shame – nothing like the disappointed sigh from your WW leader to focus the mind.

I know I am not alone, I don’t think I have a female friend who is not on perma-weight-alert, so why do we do it?  I don’t have a burning desire to look like a particular celebrity, I am not medically obese and in a ‘diet or die’ scenario.

Do I think that if I was my perfect weight then everything else in life would fall into place and be perfect?  To be honest?  Yes, probably a little bit.  Because the self-esteem demon that has a cosy home in my brain’s frontal lobe keeps telling me so.  If I was thinner I would be happier, more successful, more liked and loved.

I will never actually find out if this is true because I will never feel that I am thin enough.  I have a postcard that someone sent me once that says “I wish I was as fat as I was the first time I thought I was fat”.  This about sums it up.  If we took a straw poll of 100 women I wonder how many would answer yes to the question ‘are you at your ideal weight?’.  And of those who answered yes, would they also answer yes to ‘has it changed your life and made you happy?’.

So as I embark on a six week pre-summer diet jaunt (giving Slimming World another go, haven’t tried them for a few years) wish me luck and, if you have the answer to the thin=happy conundrum I would love to hear it.

**Disclaimer – this is not an exercise in maternal guilt, I’m pretty sure I nagged her to buy the book…


What (Not) To Wear

One of the pluses of your children getting older is that you have a little more opportunity to think about yourself.  Life is no less busy but in a different way – mother and toddler group replaced by late night pick-ups from parties or cinema, pre-primary ballet superseded by GSCE revision.  However, the days of staggering out of the house, bleary eyed from sleep deprivation, with baby sick and toddler Weetabix encrusted onto your sweatpants, are in the past.  The only downside is that when your children are three and six they still like you and greet every outfit with “Mummy, you look like a Princess!”.  Ten years on and my sartorial decisions are generally met with an eye roll, a sneer and the teenage equivalent of “you’re not going out dressed like that are you?”.

So, in the spirit of all self respecting magazine articles aimed at woman in their mid forties, I decided it was time to implement a bit of an image audit and try to regain some of the polish I think I must have had back the heady days before children.

This is obviously not going to be an overnight process.  In fact, it is a mission for 2016, so no pressure to be transformed in record time.  I don’t really want to be completely transformed, I would settle for marginally improved – set the bar quite low and anything else is a bonus is my theory.

Step one took place last week when I spent the morning having a ‘Colour Me Beautiful’ consultation.  Twenty years ago this system of colour analysis was all the rage.  People were flinging scarves on you at every opportunity and labelling you as Spring/Summer/Autumn/Winter depending on your palette.  To be honest, I was always a bit sceptical and never took any of the opportunities to have my colours done – it all seemed a bit New Age and bonkers.  Then, a few years ago, I was out with a friend and we were idly browsing the rails in a clothes shop.  As we flicked through the hangers the friend dived into her bag and pulled out a little wallet filled with coloured bits of fabric which she proceeded to hold up against the clothes in the shop.  It turned out that she was a colour analysis devotee and would not entertain the thought of buying something that did not feature in her range of given colours.  As we were discussing this I realised that yes, she did always look lovely and always ‘right’.  Not because of the latest fashions or massively expensive purchases but because whatever she wears is entirely appropriate to her skin tone, hair colour, body shape and style.

I was prepared to be talked around and booked myself an appointment with the wonderfully monikered Fennella Flor (yes, it is her real name, I asked!  I love it, it makes her sound like a 1950s movie studio starlet), a Bournemouth based consultant for Colour Me Beautiful.  I had booked in for the full works, colour, make up and style – an approximately four hour session with a light lunch included.

Fennella sat me in front of a mirror in the window (natural light is key to the process) and created a blank canvas by covering my clothes in an off-white gown.  She then proceeded to drape different coloured squares over me holding them to my face to see what worked.  The funny thing was, it actually did make a difference.  Colours that I thought suited me such as dark navy and shocking pink actually sucked the life out of my skin whilst some shades of green and teal (yes, teal) made my skin tone glow and eyes shine.  I was instantly converted and we spent a happy couple of hours drilling down the exact colours that are right for me and loading them into my own personal wallet so that I too can be the person in the shop furtively comparing clothes to fabric swatches.  Interestingly Colour Me Beautiful no longer use the seasons to categorize clients, as a global company it did not make sense when the seasons invoke different colours depending where in the world you live.  Instead they use groupings of light, deep, warm, cool, clear and soft in varying combinations.  Turns out I am warm and soft with lots of tones of green, camel and lighter blues in my wallet.

Colours sorted it was onto style and make up.  The style section of the consultation is where you try and work out what style of clothes suit your body shape and lifestyle, it is a good opportunity to have a hard think about making some changes and stepping out of your comfort zone.  I finished the session with some homework – going home to my wardrobe and weeding out the wrong colours and shapes as well as items that are more the ‘old’ you than the ‘new’.  This posed a bit of a problem for me as one of the things that emerged from the session as that I should stop wearing stripes.  What, no stripes?  That is 85% of my wardrobe obliterated in one hit.  I’m not sure I’m ready to bin all the Bretons in one go, that will have to be a gradual withdrawl.

I came away from Fennella’s studio feeling fired up and ready to shed my mummy chrysalis.  I have my wallet of colour swatches and tons of great advice on ways to update and improve my look.  What I really need now is a Fennella Flor clone to be with me whenever I go shopping and every time I look in the wardrobe to choose what to wear.  I’m definitely converted to colour analysis and the whole experience was not only really good fun but a perfect springboard to my 2016 improvement mission.


I think I need to join SA – Stripes Anonymous…



My Day With Woman And Home Magazine

A couple of months ago I received an email via my Contact Me page from a features writer at Woman and Home.  They were researching a piece on ‘new beginnings’ and had seen my blog – would I be interested in chatting to them?  A few emails and phone calls later and I had agreed to be interviewed and photographed for the January edition of the magazine.

Eeek!  I was not too worried about the interview part of the equation but the photograph…that was another matter.  I am well known amongst family and friends for being fantastically un-photogenic.  Many have accepted the challenge of capturing a decent photo of me but few (very few, OK, none) have succeeded.  The chicken and egg result of this scenario is that when faced with any kind of lens I undergo some sort of gurning/rigor mortis transformation.  Not a good look.

So, whilst this was a fantastic opportunity to promote the blog, it also gave me the chance to stop being such a wuss and face my photographic demons head on.  YOLO, as Teens 1 and 2 would say.

The day for the photoshoot was duly scheduled for three weeks later.  An emergency pre-photo list was required.

  1. Lose a stone
  2. Have Botox
  3. Grow four inches
  4. Discover art of looking like a relaxed human being in front of a camera

This was clearly on of my more ambitious lists and when it became obvious that it may not be possible to achieve all (or any) of the points I decided to adopt a faux casual laissez faire attitude to the day; an altogether much more relaxing approach if not quite as constructive.

The day of reckoning arrived and I headed to London on the early train.  I was met at Waterloo by a taxi and had a lovely journey across to Fulham where the shoot was taking place.  It was a crisp, bright autumn day and London was at its most beautiful – every shade of golden brown on the trees, sun glinting off the river. Why did I never notice any of that stuff when I lived there?!  Maybe because my journeys were conducted underground not over ground in black cab luxury I guess.   It was like driving through a Richard Curtis movie, if the cab driver had turned out to be Hugh Grant I wouldn’t have been surprised.

We reached our destination and I stood at the door.  Deep breath, shoulders back, best foot forward.  I needn’t have worried though, the Woman and Home team couldn’t have been more friendly. There was a small army in situ from photographer to stylist to hair and make up and everything in between.  There were also three others like me, there to be photographed for the January issue of the magazine.  I was the last to arrive and the others were in various stages of readiness –  full make up here, rollered hair there.  As the photographer went to work on her first subject I was taken downstairs to find an outfit.

Woman and Home Collage 1

Transformation ingredients – Make up, hair, clothes, shoes, jewellery…


Down in the basement the Stylist reigned supreme and her two assistants darted around nervously plucking hangers from the rails, grabbing shoes from the rack.  The Stylist eyed me up and down and thrust trousers, tops, jackets and shoes at me in varying combinations – occasionally calling the Picture Director down to get her opinion. It was like playing at dressing up in someone else’s wardrobe, great fun.   An outfit was decided on, plenty of sequins and the most amazing gold glittery shoes.  There were no mirrors so I had no idea how I looked but I knew I was in safe hands and that the team were working to a master plan.  Make up was next, wonderful smoky eyes and false eyelashes, followed by hair which was styled and sprayed into a big and beautiful ‘do’.  A bite of lunch and it was my turn to face the camera.  The photographer and her assistant were friendly and laid back, obviously well used to getting the best out of clueless twits like me.  That said – they definitely had their work cut out!  I spent a lot of time swaying and flicking, smiling and laughing.  I was the last subject of the day so the whole team were there giving words of encouragement and cheering me on, and not once did I feel like a total wally.  For someone with such severe photograph-a-phobia (yes, I did just make that up), this was a huge achievement.  As the session came to an end I realised that – shock horror – I had actually enjoyed it.  I had no idea if they had managed to get a halfway decent photo of me but it didn’t matter – I was Cindy Crawford, I was Helen Mirren, my inner A-lister had been unleashed and it felt fantastic.

Woman and Home Collage 2.png

The Super Sparkly Result


When the finished article landed on my doormat it was confirmed, the friendly and helpful gang from the photoshoot were not actually mere mortals, but miracle workers put on this earth to transform the drab and dreary into sparkly glamour pusses for the day.  I was like the human version of a black and white film that had been colourised and re-released.  If only I had the full team in my house to get me ready every morning…



Learning To Run

I was going to title this post “Why I Hate Running” but I thought

(a) it was a bit of a negative start and

(b) when I thought about it really hard it was a bit disingenuous as I don’t totally 100% hate it.

In fact, if I drew a little pie chart thingy it would probably look something like this:

0 - 5K Pie Chart

So you can see that I am not entirely loathing it, although it would be fair to say that the tiny little slither of the diagram can probably be attributed entirely to the very moment when I have just finished the run and it is all over for another couple of days.

Let me rewind a little bit. I am not a natural runner. I never want to run a marathon or a half marathon or even a tiny fraction of a marathon. I get heartily fed up of receiving endless Just Giving requests for friends who are carbing up and pouring themselves into custom made lycra ready to sprint for 26 miles. But I do want to be thinner, leaner and fitter (yes, in that order) and received wisdom has it that running is the way to go.

Having made that decision there was a major stumbling block in that I couldn’t actually run for more than about 30 seconds without requiring medical attention. Back to Google, and a quick search of ‘learn to run’ told me that I needed to build up gradually over time, and, before you could say Paula Radcliffe, I would be bounding, gazelle like, through the streets of Dorset. I could work out my own interval training programme or there are a thousand and one apps available that would do it for me. What I call a no brainer – onto the app store and I eventually landed on 5K Runner which promised me that I would be doing exactly that at the end of the eight week course.

The system is based on a walk/run/walk/run idea, the lengths and distribution being subtly altered each time and , if you do it three times a week, it should take eight weeks to complete. I’ve got to say that I am just starting week three and the end goal still feels a VERY long way away. Running 5K without stopping is, at the moment, about as likely as either of my children realizing that we do not own the world’s first self-loading dishwasher.

Credit where credit is due though – I am (very slowly) building up and I have gone from a total of 6 minutes running in week on to 9 minutes at the end of week 2. Go me. You can play your own music underneath the app which is great and every now and again a peppy American lady pipes up “Hey awesome runner! You’re doing great! You’re half way through!” Only half way? Grrrrr…

When you have finished each run the app posts to your Twitter timeline something along the lines of “I’m on my way to 5K! I ran for 6 minutes! I am awesome! Woop woop’. What I actually want to post is “My legs are burning, my face is puce and I think I might be sick. Woop flippin’ woop’.

I’m going to keep at it though because that one slither of the pie chart might just get bigger as my stamina builds. I can’t deny that every time I finish a run and the endorphins are racing around my body I do, just for a nanosecond, understand what drives the marathon brigade. But don’t expect a Just Giving request from me any time soon.

Running Comparison

A Cure For A Blue Morning

Studland BeachOn Sunday morning I woke up feeling a bit ‘what’s it all about’.  Not a serious, full on, can’t get out of bed mood, but there was a definite heaviness about me as I struggled to full conciousness.  Those of you who have had the misfortune to have suffered any kind of depressive episode, from low mood to clinical depression, will know that at the top of all the advice lists around are three things – distraction, exercise and fresh air. In fact one of my own (many) home baked mantras is ‘occupation is the enemy of depression,’ as I do know that when left completely to my own devices I could be very correctly accused of naval gazing, and we all know that no good ever comes of that.

So, I undertook a quick Dr.Dorset Divorcee self diagnosis:-

Q: Had I woken up feeling a bit blue?

A: Yes

Q: Was I so bad that only prescribed chemicals would help?

A: No – this was not a Prozac moment

Q: Did I need to shake my arse and do something lovely with my children and my dog until the feeling passed?

A: Yes

Diagnosis – Sometimes life gets on top of you

Prescription – Fresh air and exercise (see, I told you that’s what they always say)

Two hours later we were all three (plus dog) up, dressed and loading the car for a trip to one of our favourite Dorset beaches, Studland, near Swanage.  Studland is the most fabulous beach, a sweeping sandy bay backed by soft sand dunes thick with coconut scented gorse and long elegant grasses.  Further on behind the dunes you head into  beautiful woodland with a network of paths and loads of hidden places for making dens and camps.  The whole area is owned and operated by the National Trust, so it is really well maintained and operated, and members get free parking which is always a bonus.

We had packed some sandwiches at home and we found ourselves a sheltered patch of sand to sit and eat our lunch.  It was a lovely sunny day but the wind was cold and as we munched we were totally entertained by the quintessentially British tableau around us.  Every aspect of the clothing scale was covered. There were people swimming in the sea, yes actually swimming, and not in wet suits either.  There were groups of hikers striding out in chino shorts and walking boots, maps proudly held in a plastic wallet hung round their necks like some sort of orienteering talisman. There were dog walkers wrapped up in coats, scarves and wellies, and teenagers in teeny tiny shorts and crop tops.  J Boden esq. was well represented in the stripy clothed Yummy Mummy department, and there was a fair smattering of silver foxes strolling along, cashmere sweaters draped casually over their shoulders.  It was odd and funny and interesting and somehow made me glad to be British in a strange sort of way.

We strode out along the sand, stopping when we reached the naturist section of the beach.  I wasn’t wearing my glasses (thankfully) but the teen reliably informed me that yes, there were some wrinkles in the nuddy sheltering behind a wind break.  We struck out inland through the dunes and on into the woods making a full circle back to the coffee shop for our first beach ice cream of Summer 2015.

As we sat, eating our ice creams feeling the sun on our faces, I took some final lungfuls of sea air and could feel my mood lifting.  Operation Cure for a Blue Morning was complete.  Those lists were right, godammit.

Girls at the beach

Shiny Nails Day

NailsMaybe it is a Catholic education or maybe it is just the way I am but I generally feel very guilty about the much lauded ‘me time’. I mostly fill my non-working time with something from the long term, never ending to-do list. This is not a moan as it is my choice to do that and I am a happier-being-busy type so, generally, I bumble along quite well. Today, however, I took the morning off and IT WAS LUSH! It was a beautiful sunny day (which helped) and I was able to open the kitchen door to the garden for the first time. I made a proper coffee and telephoned a friend who left me a pointed message last week enquiring if I had actually joined the space programme and gone to live on another planet. Then…I went for a manicure! Not any old manicure but a Shellac manicure in this sumptuous and sexy deep purple colour. It was a glorious hour in my local salon (Pure Salon of Poundbury for local folk) and when I emerged I felt if not like a new person, then definitely like a better version of the person that went in. I had enoyed a rest and a chat and now have the most gorgeous nails that I can’t stop looking at. So, I suppose the lesson that I have learnt today is that I shouldn’t sneer at team me-time and that the all work and no play saying is probably, maybe, just a little bit true. What do you do to treat yourself?

Demons Of The Small Hours

???????????????????????Anyone who suffers from sleeping difficulties, either as a matter of course or due to a specific episode in life, will know that the 3.00am demons are the most real and persistent vermin scuttling around inside your head.  Issues that during daylight hours would be processed and dealt with in a reasonably calm and logical manner become huge and insurmountable as you lie dry eyed and wired willing sleep to creep up and carry you away.  As I was doing exactly that last night it occurred to me that maybe this is nature’s pressure valve?  As a single parent we spend our days fighting fires, coping, being mum and dad, good cop and bad cop, going to work, juggling money, planning meals, shopping, cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, helping with homework, remembering to put the bins out, tackling DIY jobs around the house  – the list goes on.  100% of head space and energy is spent just living a  normal life.  So, when we are in bed and the whirl of getting through the day has calmed it makes sense that less immediate and practical issues start jumping up and down begging for attention.  Maybe if they didn’t surface at night they would build and build until they exploded in spectacular fashion, probably while you were innocently minding your own business in the fruit and veg aisle at Sainsbury’s.  So, while it is hard to try and rationalize the small hour demons and even harder to banish them, at least I can take some comfort in the knowledge that maybe tonight’s insomnia is Mother Nature’s way of stopping me from swinging my pants around my head whilst singing Rule Britannia to the broccoli and blueberries when I do the weekly shop.