New Endings

Today I am tired: dog-tired. Lately I’ve been burning the candle at both ends and the outcome is not pretty – bad skin, concentration span of a gnat (not intimately knowing their cognitive capabilities, I acknowledge this may be unfair to gnats) and the general feeling that I am clinging to my raft on the fast-flowing river of life by the tips of my fingers, with only moments to spare before I fall off and am pulled beneath the murky depths (that last bit was the hungover melodrama speaking, best to ignore it).

But today four things happened that snapped me out of the downward-spiralling torrrent of my own selfish emotions:

  1. I read the news from Calais, where fire is ravaging through the Jungle camp as I type this, and, at the very same time, unaccompanied minors are being sent back there to wait until they can be processed.
  2. I heard a piece of  news from England, which nearly made my heart burst with happiness and joy.
  3. I received my fourth book through the Facebook book exchange I signed up to a couple of weeks ago, which has gone some way towards restoring my faith in humanity.
  4. I watched this video by Prince Ea, which made me realise that those of us who are lucky enough to live in relative freedom are the masters of our own destiny. We can make as many excuses as we like for why we don’t put ourselves out there, but in the end all that will come of our procrastination is regret.

Too often we let our minds wander, thinking of all the paths we could go down but failing to take even the first step along one of them. Fear is a paralysing force, and a toxic one. So many of us stay in the trap our fearful minds have set for us, instead of facing our fear head on and saying, you know what? I’m not falling for this. Not again.

Collectively, as Sapiens (I urge you to read that, by the way, it will change your perspective on everything), we’re not doing that great a job of things: segregating ourselves by our countries of origin and religious beliefs, killing our planet, killing one another. But individually we can still make a difference. For all our faults, we humans have such capacity for kindness, for love, for hope. Even in the Jungle, where those awful fires are burning and people’s future is so uncertain, people are dancing. I’m sure those very people could teach the rest of us a lot about what it means to be happy, and how little we really need to find happiness, and peace in our hearts.

As Prince Ea says in his video, you cannot go back and make a new beginning. But you can start now, and make a brand new ending. It’s not too late to change ourselves, or to change the world. All it takes is courage: to feel our fear and do it anyway. I don’t know about you, but I plan to do exactly that.

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Grey Skies, and Blue

Today in Brussels it is grey and rainy. I really can’t complain; since we got here last Saturday the weather has been nothing short of glorious. Both weekends were spent wandering around parks and suburbs in t-shirts with our faces raised to the sun like flowers. You’d never know it was November.

But today it seems the harsh winds and lashing rain have brought with them a kind of malaise. Or perhaps it’s a melancholy of my own making, made more prominent by the sudden onset of such inclement weather. In large part I’m caught up in sadness over the recent deaths of two people; one, a dear family friend who last week lost her battle against cancer, and the other this brave soul who yesterday chose to end her life at the age of 29 before the cancer that was invading her brain brought it to a close.

I didn’t know Brittany Maynard personally, but her story and the videos she made documenting her decision to end her life were so personal and inspiring it was impossible not to be moved. Or at least that’s how I felt. I know there are many who criticised her stance on the right to die movement, but I’d hazard a guess none of them have been in her position or been close to someone who has, or else they would most likely feel somewhat differently.

I have some personal experience of watching someone with brain cancer lose their fight, having seen a colleague pass away some years ago. And I can honestly say there are few things more traumatic than seeing a person’s personality and joie de vivre decline day by day, watching as they lose the ability to speak, to function, as their body wastes away and their face puffs up with all the drugs that are pumped into their system in a futile attempt to keep them alive. What is most distressing is seeing in their eyes that they know exactly what is happening to them, and understand how things will play out. Having witnessed this first hand I could never agree that someone in that situation should not have the right to die with dignity, should they so choose. I think the real tragedy is that more people don’t have this right.

Today I made the decision to go back to England next week to attend the funeral of a dear family friend, Fran. I have hugely fond memories of the many family holidays we took together in France and Italy when I was a child; me, my mum and stepdad, Fran, her husband Paul and son Matt, playing boules and listening to Dire Straits on repeat. I was distressed to learn of Fran’s cancer when it first reared its ugly head a year or so ago, even more so when it was discovered the cancer had returned, this time terminally. She passed away last week with her family beside her, and when I found out her funeral was next Wednesday I knew in my heart I had to attend. So I’ve booked my Eurostar and will accompany my parents. It feels right for us to be together as a family at such a sad time, and I’m so glad we will be able to show our support for Paul and Matt, with whom we share such happy and joyful history.

I suppose it’s not surprising that I’m feeling a bit homesick in light of the above. When people die it shakes your foundations, especially when those people are so close or, in the case of Brittany Maynard, so tragic and reminiscent of other sad losses.

But instead of being sad I know both Brittany and Fran would say come on, buck up, be happy; this life is short but full of love, and hope, and joy – so go out there and enjoy it, be good to people, make a difference. And don’t let a bit of rain and grey skies get in the way. There’s always blue sky on the other side, after all.

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Friendship

Tonight I shirked the plethora of imminent-house-and-country-and-job-move responsibilities that have been piling up on me of late in favour of a night out with my girls. Four of them, to be specific, each precious to me in ways I won’t go into now, except to say they’ve always been there for me, and for that I’m truly grateful. One of these gorgeous girls is a mother, two are mums-to-be, and whilst it’s clear we are all moving on with our lives (“growing up,” some might say, though I think I speak for us all when I say we loathe that term) what is also unequivocally clear is that no matter what twists and turns we face on the journey of our lives, we face them as a united front, ‘one for all and all for one,’ as the old adage goes. We may not all be together that often, but when we are together the magic of our bond is stronger than ever. I know no matter where I am in the world these girls have got my back, and there is just no feeling like the one I feel right now, knowing that, and realising how lucky I am.

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The Moon / Reasons to be thankful

I’ve just spent ages staring out of the window at the full moon. I find it utterly mesmerising – magical, even – that from all the way down here it’s possible to see the light and shadows of its surface. It makes me feel so small, but in a good way – like there is so much more to this universe than my tiny mind is capable of fathoming, but that somehow that’s okay, because in accepting that I also accept there is so much more possibility, so much more breadth of experience; so much more life to behold.

Today has been a GOOD day, for the following reasons:

1. I finally had my physiotherapy consultation at the Crystal Palace sports injury clinic and have been referred for a course of NHS physio treatment in Clapham, starting Wednesday. The recovery starts here…

2. I edited one 750 word story, wrote a new 1,600 word story and submitted both to competitions whose deadlines were today.

3. I received an email from the editor of my favourite magazine saying they would consider my recent pitch (but warning me they’ve received a lot of similar subject matter of late – which is totally fair enough and will only serve to make me more inventive in the future :))

4. The sun was shining brightly and warmly all day long – it’s finally starting to feel like summer is just around the corner and I LIKE it!

5. I spoke to two extremely special people in my life, who made me feel amazing and who I love beyond words.

6. I managed to cook a delightful supper (albeit from a recipe, but shhhh, don’t burst my bubble) of aubergine stuffed with chorizo, tomato, spinach and ricotta. NOM.

7. It’s a full moon – and as I said above, I just love a full moon (maybe I was a werewolf in a previous life).

Just wanted to share the above really. Because it’s all too easy to forget to stop and look around once in a while at all the wonderful things and people that we’re blessed with in our lives – and to appreciate each and every one of them for the richness that they bring.

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Reasons to be winter-ful

Unless you have been living in a cave for the past few days it cannot have escaped your attention that the nights are drawing in. Winter, dear friends, is coming – as we all knew it would (although we clung to the warm weather like limpets to a rock). But the demise of British Summer Time need not send us spiralling into a depression. Summer has gone, that much is true, but far from being summer’s miserable cousin, winter brings with it a whole new list of reasons to be happy. Reasons like:

1. We can invest in new bedding

When winter arrives and the sunlight hours decrease it is more crucial than ever that we get a good night’s sleep, not least to fight off the threat of Seasonal Affective Disorder. So as the colder months approach what better way to prepare than with some goose down pillows and a nice 13.5 tog goose down duvet? S.A.D? Not me. I’m Z.Z.Z…..

2. We can buy new clothes

Last year’s wardrobe’s been eaten by moths? Never mind, you can always clear it out and invest in some new choice threads to keep your smile white hot when the temperature drops…

3. Animal hats are back in vogue

…and animal slippers, ear muffs, slipper socks…

4. We have an excuse to get the hot water bottle out of retirement

What can be better than retiring to bed with a miniature heater and a good book? Cosy.

5. We can drink hot chocolate like it’s going out of fashion

For the rest of the year it would seem gluttonous, but when winter rolls around it’s perfectly acceptable to drink hot chocolate every day. Yum.

6. It’s CHRIIIISSSSTMAAAAAS

Okay, so not everyone loves the festive season, but surely everyone appreciates having some time off work?

7. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…

Snow crocodile anyone?

See? Winter’s not so bad after all – embrace it!

Mister Moneybags

(I wrote this yesterday and, for reasons I can’t go into now, didn’t get round to posting it. Let’s just say yesterday was a tough day).

Hey Mister Moneybags, look at you! In your high rise office with your high flying job. Is that suit from Savile Row by any chance? I knew it! And those shoes, genuine Italian leather from last weekend’s jaunt to Milan? How’s the wife? The kids?The mistress? What’s that-two mistresses?! Gosh, you really do know how to live the high life! Has your golf handicap improved? Surely those expensive clubs have paid off by now? Not to mention that public school education. By golly your parents must be proud.

You know what Mister Moneybags? You really have made it, whatever ‘it’ is. You are the definition of success. Everything you ever wanted is yours. You’ve got properties and cars by the dozen, private jets and yachts the likes of which most of us can only dream of. Your family must adore the lifestyle you’ve created for them.

What’s that Mrs Moneybags? You’d rather have a husband than the lifestyle? And not have to share him with dozens of floozies at that? You’re sick of making excuses to the kids about why daddy’s let them down again? And actually if truth be told you’re starting to re-think the marriage altogether?

Oh dear Mister Moneybags, maybe you can’t have it all, after all…

Summer loving

For the first time this year it feels like summer has finally arrived, and it may even hang around a bit to brighten the collective mood of the nation. Temperatures are high and spirits even higher. We may not get much good weather here in Britain but when we do, by heck do we know how to eek every last drop of satisfaction out of it.

Yesterday I went to Brighton for a mini break with three girlfriends. It had been planned for some time so the good weather was a fortunate, though most welcome, addition. We arrived just in time to secure a good spot on the beach and whiled away a very pleasant few hours in the sunshine before retiring to our capacious hotel suite for a rest and some pre-drinks. Later on we braved the inordinately large number of hen and stag dos congregating on the sea front and made our way to a club called Audio, which played decent music but which was packed to the rafters with what I can only describe as utter pikeys. Nonetheless we had a great night and laughed our heads off, so we absolutely fulfilled our fun quota.

When we returned today the weather was so fantastic that the only logical thing to do was sit in the sunshine on Clapham Common with ice lollies and some summer tunes on the speakers. As I sat and looked around at my friends and reflected on the great weekend I was having I felt a deep sense of contentment, in part because I love the summer but in the main because I realised how fortunate I am to have so many wonderful people to share it with. After a bit of sunbathing I met some other friends in the pub beer garden for a quick drink before heading home and had the same feelings of good fortune and happiness.

It’s all too easy to take the people and places in your life for granted, which is why it’s important sometimes to just stop and look around at what you have – and to realise that despite the odd down day here and there, all is just the way you like it – lovely.

The balance and the bliss

This afternoon, whilst working from home on a PR strategy document so complicated it made me want to repeatedly bang my head against a concrete wall, I began to ruminate on the importance of sometimes doing things we don’t want to do. When I became so frustrated with the document that a break was imperative I decided (somewhat irrationally, with hindsight) to do something else I didn’t want to do: Go for a run. And I’m not going to lie to you, every single step was horrendous. Beyond horrendous, actually, it being so humid the sweat was running in rivulets down my back before I’d even turned the corner of my own road.

But despite the discomfort of these activities, the important thing is that I did them – not with good grace and humour, admittedly (what do you want from me – blood?), but with something more resembling grim determination. And in doing them I managed to assuage the guilt I had been feeling about putting both activities off for the past few weeks.

It’s not just about assuaging guilt, however. One of my favourite singer-songwriters, Megan Henwood, wrote a beautiful song in which she explains why it’s important to endure harder times in our lives in order to appreciate the good ones: “Without the down and dark there would be no contrast between the high and light, the happy times, the balance and the bliss.” Now I’m not saying writing a PR strategy or going for a run when it’s humid are on a par with, say, a family bereavement or relationship break up, but no one could deny they place significantly lower on the scale of good times than winning the lottery or getting engaged.

So now my daily quota of ‘Things I Don’t Want To Do But Regrettably Have To’ has been filled, I’m off to view my new flat and spend the evening eating fine food in fine company. I might even treat myself to a glass of wine – it’s all about striking a balance, after all…

Winning at life

You know those rare kinds of days when the universe seems suddenly to have aligned itself and all your hopes and dreams feel just that little bit closer to being realised? Well, today is one such day. Annoyingly I’m not yet in a position to be able to share all of the reasons for this sudden upturn of events. For now I can just say that positive changes are afoot, and that I feel excited about what the future holds for me and grateful for the good things that have come my way.

Other good things soon to come my way are two exciting birthday parties this weekend. Tonight we’re off to the Zoo Lates evening at the London Zoo to celebrate my colleague’s birthday (giraffe headband at the ready), and tomorrow it’s my good friend’s birthday party, for which he has decided to splash out and install three inflatable hot tubs in his garden so we can have an afternoon pool party. After last weekend’s course (which I loved every minute of but which, it must be said, was far from relaxing), I’m looking forward to letting my hair down and catching up with old friends in the glorious sunshine that’s finally decided to come out and play.

Apologies for the nauseating post but today I’m simply happy and I just wanted to share that.

‘W’ is for ‘Well’

It’s funny the effect being under the weather can have on the mind and body. I use the term ‘under the weather’ because I’m referring not to a state of full-blown illness, but rather one in which you exist in a perpetual state of feeling just below par, as one feels when afflicted with the common cold. You’re not too ill to work, or do the weekly shop, or even to socialise with friends. But all the while you’re acutely aware of not being the best version of yourself; hardly surprising given that your body’s putting all its effort into fighting off the bug that’s threatening your immune system, leaving little energy for anything else.

It’s often not until you’re fully recovered that you realise quite how below par you’ve been feeling. I found this out today, when I donned my trainers and went for my first post-cold run. This time last week I attempted a run despite having a scratchy throat, and was forced to turn back after ten minutes through sheer exhaustion. Since then I’ve laid off exercise entirely, feeling uncharacteristically unbothered by my lack of exertion. But today, for the first time, I woke up full of energy. And I just knew I was better.

When I set off on my run and settled into a comfortable pace I felt as if I could run for miles – which I did; five of them to be precise. Each one was as glorious as the last, and as I ran from Clapham to Battersea, around the park, along the river and back in bright sunshine with new music playing on my iPod, the world felt as if it had righted itself once more. I returned with a smile on my face and a song in my heart: It’s just so wonderful to be well, and better still to have those occasional moments when you actually appreciate it.