The Resistance

Today things feel a little bleak. On a global level, in five days of office Trump the Tyrant has ridden roughshod over the environment, women’s rights, freedom of speech and now refugees, ushering in a new era of legitimised fascism along the way. On a personal level, my spirit is feeling dampened not only by the events in the US, but also by the plummeting temperatures across Europe which signal further devastation for homeless refugees, the crazy levels of air pollution in my old home town of London where many of my friends still live, and the fact I am under too much pressure at work and don’t know how I’m going to juggle it with the masters degree I’m starting next week (next week!!). In short, I feel helpless, and also a little hopeless.

But – as life sometimes has a way of doing to drag us out of our despair – a chance encounter with my local florist this afternoon when I stopped by for tulips for our cleaning lady (whose brother recently passed away) reminded me why it’s so important to have hope. We got chatting about how beautiful the flowers were, and she told me she had quit her office job some years ago for a simpler life. Despite earning less money now, she told me she is far happier. She then asked about me, and, when I told her I was soon to start an MSc in Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology and had aspirations to be a freelance wellbeing coach she said “the world needs people like that more than ever now.” I felt a surge of optimism at that, and a renewed sense of purpose. And to remind myself of that I bought this beautiful pink orchid.

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Hope springs eternal

When I got home I was delighted to see that Greenpeace had unfurled a ‘Resist’ banner right outside the White House, and to read that a group of scientists are coming together to march on Washington in protest against Trump’s gagging order against employees of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Also heartening was the Badlands National Park Twitter account which sent out three messages on Tuesday promoting climate science despite the Trump administration crackdown on agencies communicating on social media. Since then they have been forced to delete the tweets, but an alternative Twitter account has sprung up which already has 575,000 followers.

This growing groundswell of angry defiance in response to people like Trump must spur us all into immediate action, because action is all there is now if we are to stand up to what is so patently wrong – to save ourselves and our planet.

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2017: The Year of Cautious Optimism

Despite the many terrible world events that happened in it (Brussels, Paris, Nice, Orlando, Syria, Turkey, Brexit, Trump, Berlin to name but a few), 2016 was a great year for me personally. I married the love of my life after five years together, had the most joy-and-love-filled celebration with friends and family followed by a two week trip around my favourite places in northern Italy. I also had not one, not two, but THREE fantastic hen celebrations in London and Las Vegas (!), a relaxing break with friends in the beautiful Belgian Ardennes and an amazing holiday to Vietnam (thanks to Tom and Lily for having their wedding there!), plus numerous other special moments shared with special people. And for all of this I feel incredibly thankful.

The instability in the world has proved our future is far from certain, and that every day is a blessing and not a guarantee. I am therefore approaching 2017 with an attitude of cautious optimism. From a personal perspective there is much to look forward to, and potentially big changes afoot, not least my MSc in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology starting in February.

From a wider world perspective, I do believe that we can, to some extent at least, be the change we want to see in the world. Even if it’s only on a micro rather than a macro level, when individuals come together to realise a common goal – whether it be helping other humans, animals and/or the environment – something magical happens. If we never look outside of ourselves and our own immediate concerns we not only lose perspective but we also fail to make a positive impact on the world around us. Whenever my time comes to shuffle off this mortal coil I hope it can at least be said I made some progress on that front.

So here we stand on the threshold of a new year. The future may be uncertain, but it is also what we make it. I don’t know about you, but I plan to make 2017 the best year yet. Happy New Year.

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7/7

Ten years ago today, fifty two people lost their lives in London when terrorists targeted three packed commuter trains and a bus during rush hour traffic. I have a hangover to thank for not being on a train that went through Edgware Road that morning. Instead I drove to work, arriving late. When the news broke I tried frantically to contact my then boyfriend, whose journey to work took him perilously close to where the bus bomb had gone off, in Tavistock Square. But the phone lines were jammed by other frantic Londoners trying desperately to locate their loved ones, and it took over an hour to confirm that he was safe, more time still to do a head count of my friends. I remember it like it was yesterday; the panic, the sense of helplessness. It was like watching a disaster movie in real time, where the ‘stars’ could well be people you know – people you love. Just awful.

There’s something wonderfully resilient about Londoners. Even in a crisis they stand defiant. But that day tested the mettle of even the hardiest of the Capital’s inhabitants. It was a threat to everything they – we – stood for. And whilst there is, of course, the argument that our political leaders are responsible for the rise of the terrorism that now threatens our society – having provided arms and funding to the very people who now carry out these atrocities – those people who lost their lives in the 7/7 attacks, those who were injured, and the many more who will be killed and injured by terrorist attacks in the future, were, and are, innocent victims.

After work that day, at a loss for what to do and not wanting to be alone, we went to Notting Hill to try and process what had happened with friends. For as long as I live I will never forget the eerie silence as hundreds of Londoners walked past the window with their heads down; contemplating, as we were, the fact it could so easily have been them.

RIP.

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Why Fashion Just Isn’t My Forte

I’ve never been a dedicated follower of fashion. Sure, I know what colours and styles go together (just about), but I’m buggered if I have the time, energy or money to make sure my labels are in vogue and I’m adhering to the latest trends. In fact, embarrassing as it is to admit this, I’m still wearing some of the same work clothes now that I wore to work a decade ago. But if they still fit and are in good nick, why not? They’ll probably come back into fashion again soon anyway, just like my mum’s suede boots from the sixties that she wishes she’d held onto. Then who’ll be laughing?

But the thing is, as fashion-averse as I seem to be, I’m not entirely comfortable being this way. Why? Because I care too much what other people think, that’s why. Take wearing trainers to work as an example. In London it’s virtually de rigueur to throw a pair of Nikes on with your work suit as you pound the streets to the office. In Brussels, I have learned, it is far less acceptable. In fact, it seems, hardly anyone wears trainers to work here, let alone neon pink Adidas ones like me (I refer you to my previous points re: being unfashionable). Because of this, on the days when I do dare to leave the house in them, I can feel the heat of peoples’ collective disapproval burning a hole in my feet as I walk. I tell myself I don’t care what they think, and fundamentally I don’t, but what I do care about is feeling a bit of a tool, standing out and drawing attention to myself. That I don’t like one bit.

But here’s my dilemma: The morning walk to my office takes twenty minutes, and much of the route is lined with cobblestones, so even if I could be bothered to wear high heels (which I most definitely can’t) they would be a totally impractical choice. Now the weather is becoming warmer the knee high leather boots (flat, naturally) are also inappropriate. This leaves either my lone pair of flat pumps (a throwback to last summer’s meagre fashion injection – or was it the summer before..?) or my running trainers – the former being prettier, but the latter offering more support and cushioning for my feet. And much as I hate to admit it, now I’m in my thirties I’ll take comfort over fashion any day (within reason, I’m not quite ready to purchase my first pair of Clarks granny shoes yet).

Yesterday, on my walk home (wearing the fashionable pumps, I might add), I found the answer to my dilemma: two pairs of simple, unbranded (not particularly fashionable but who cares?), canvas lace-up shoes – one pair in wonderfully neutral blend-in beige, the other a slightly more upbeat pink – that might just see me through this summer of urban living without having to hang my head in shame and avoid the reproachful glares of my fellow city dwellers.

Fashion – 0

Comfort – 1

Fin.

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Being Present

I’ve just walked home from work. I did the same on Tuesday, but that time I was plugged into my music, walking in time to the beat in my ears but oblivious to the beat of the world around me. Tonight was different. It was a conscious decision to take in my surroundings, to be fully present in this balmy late September evening in the city I’ve called home for the past eleven years but am soon to leave behind for pastures new. I wanted to absorb its every detail, soak it up like a sponge, so that when I’m no longer here I can conjure it any time I like, simply by closing my eyes and remembering:

The Friday evening chatter as the bars by Borough Market began to fill with thirsty punters, relieved to see the end of the week; intricate brickwork in the arches leading down to the riverfront; tourists in droves slowly ambling with cameras and ice creams, no urgency or sense of purpose; runners dodging walkers like bullets; a man with unkempt hair, a typewriter and a sign saying ‘stories while you wait’ (what’s his story, I wonder); an Aussie in breeches calling ‘roll up, roll up to the cabaret freak show’ on the south bank by Waterloo; photographers waiting for the perfect shot as the sun slid down behind the Houses of Parliament, painting the sky in pinks and oranges like a famous work of art as the water lapped peacefully beneath, its surface soft as velvet; buskers with a range of instruments and abilities, one man in particular by the London Eye whose eye I caught as I walked past and whose voice was heaven wrapped in caramel with sprinkles on top; couples strolling hand in hand with smiles as wide as the mighty Thames along whose banks they walked; a discarded jumper that spoke of being forgotten, or perhaps cast off in a moment of passion or overheating; plants in pots outside offices, wilting and browning in the unseasonal heat; drunks gathered on steps with cans of lager, their pastime more acceptable somehow in the context of a Friday night when all around them office workers did the same; a bouncer underneath the bridge in Vauxhall, trying to entice me into his bar for happy hour; a leaf almost but not quite out of my reach as I jumped to touch it; a Portuguese café called The Three Lions where families spilled onto the street; children arriving home from school clutching violin cases and empty bags of fried chicken.

These are the myriad people and things that make up this special city, bringing her to life in all her kaleidoscopic glory. These are the things I will miss; the things I leave behind.

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The Word is Out: Onwards and Upwards

So, it’s official: Five weeks on Saturday I’ll be moving to Brussels. Why? Because my other half’s job is taking him there, and also because I know enough about both life and love to know that when opportunities come up you have to follow them – as well as your heart. To say I’m terrified would be an understatement, but the overriding feeling is one of excitement. I’ve lived in London for the past twelve years, and whilst I love this crazy, vibrant city and will miss it – not to mention all my friends here – more than I can say, I feel ready for a change.

Whilst ‘what will I do’ and ‘where will we live’ are pretty high up on the list of burning questions, ‘will I write more when I’m away from the distractions of London’ is the one that’s really running on a loop through my mind. It’s no secret that reducing my working hours by one day a week to give me time to write has been less successful than I’d hoped. But you know what? After a lengthy hiatus I’ve started meditating again and I’ve done some thinking, and have decided that it’s time to stop beating myself up for what I haven’t achieved, and start taking steps – no matter how small – towards what I am capable of achieving. That may be a published novel, or it may not, and for the first time in a long time I can honestly say that I’m okay with either. My new plan is to ease some of the pressure I’ve been putting on myself and fall back in love with writing, hopefully at the same time as I fall in love with the new city that is to become my home for the foreseeable future – and I’m excited.

Life is for living and the world is for exploring. And whilst Belgium might not be all that exotic, or, in distance terms, all that far away, it’s certainly a start.

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Diversity in Action

This morning I ran from Stockwell to Hyde Park and back (via Battersea Park) – an 11.3 mile route that saw me take in leafy open spaces, vast expanses of water (in both river and lake form) and the crowded shopping streets around Sloane Square and Knightsbridge. The sun was shining and the air was crisp; perfect conditions for a long morning run.

As I ran I made an effort to observe my surroundings, noting a dead fox by the roadside with a trickle of blood escaping from its mouth (poor little fellow), a cluster of canoes making their way determinedly along the river at Battersea, a dog that was exactly half white and half black and a group of ponies being ridden around Hyde Park.

I was particularly struck by the diversity of the other runners I encountered along my way – they were all shapes and sizes, from the larger lady running with her husband and children to the lanky boy with the bobbing head, the older gentleman with the grey hoodie and the numerous more professional looking runners in their state of the art gear.

Today more than ever before I felt part of a wider running community, and had a sense of kinship with my fellow runners that I hadn’t hitherto experienced except in races. The most wonderful thing was that it didn’t matter what size, shape, colour or creed they were, or how fast or slow they were running; people smiled at one another as they passed and gave each other right of way.

Put simply, there was a lot of goodwill on the running circuit in London today. Whether because it’s Christmas time I don’t know, but it was a pleasure to behold and be a part of, and it reinforced – for me at least – the joy that running can bring, and how wonderfully inclusive it can be.

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