Write My Life

Alongside my new venture as a life coach, I have decided to realise another ambition – setting up a service to capture people’s life stories. At school I remember being fascinated by the stories I read about the soldiers in the world wars, and their families. As the years passed, with each world war memorial service it struck me as sad that eventually all of the soldiers who fought in the wars would be gone, and their stories with them.

Closer to home, I have often found myself wishing I knew more about my own family’s history, so that I can tell my children and grandchildren (God willing) about it. We so often spend time with our parents, aunts and uncles without ever really uncovering who they were before we came along. Of course it’s natural that the younger generations grow up and usurp the family’s attention, but wouldn’t it be nice to capture the older relatives’ experiences, first hand, for future generations to discover? My goal in setting up this service is to do just that – to immortalise the stories of loved ones.

So if you have a loved one whose story you would like committed to paper, or if you would like your own story told, do get in touch. In the early stages of setting up the service I will be offering free stories in exchange for (hopefully positive!) testimonials on my website. So let’s begin…

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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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Eight Weeks to Wed: An Update

Last weekend I went to Las Vegas for my hen party with six close friends. It was predictably fabulous. We crammed an enormous amount of fun into a short space of time and did ourselves – and Vegas – proud. Wild, unbridled hedonism like that is harder to come by as you march inexorably further into adulthood, which is why it’s so important to appreciate it when you have it. The same applies to friendships. Whilst they should be nurtured throughout life, opportunities to  celebrate them become fewer and farther between as the myriad demands of life creep into our daily existence. And so the memories of last weekend and all the laughs we shared will stay with me forever. I am truly grateful.

And now it’s time to look ahead. Eight weeks ahead, in fact, to my wedding day. As a child I always dreamed of this occasion, wondering who I would marry (or, more specifically, who would want to marry me!) Now it’s nearly here it feels surreal, like a dream. The organisation has been a  challenge, but I know it will be worth it when we look around at the hundred or so loved ones who are so generously travelling to Austria to share it with us. I feel so blessed not only to have met the man I want to spend the rest of my life with, and to be so utterly confident in that statement, but also to have such wonderful and supportive people in my life.

Getting married feels like such a grown up thing to do. I feel ready for it, yet at the same time the little girl in me is tugging at my sleeve, chewing her nails down to the stub with worry. Will I be a good wife? A good mother? Am I actually mature enough to take this step? I have always felt a dichotomy within me. On the one hand there is the dreamer, the thinker, the artist; the one who likes to party and who yearns to travel, to explore, to be free. And on the other is the planner, the matriarch-in-waiting who wants nothing more than to care for others, to have a family and thrive on being responsible for others, instead of being concerned only with myself.

In some respects I suppose I’ve always felt that having a family would save me from myself, and stop me from pursuing the relentless search for meaning that drives my every waking moment. But now I’m on the cusp of that I’m filled with fear; of all that I ‘should’ have done up to this point in my life, and of all I will not be able to do if and when I take that next step. I suppose these worries are normal, and that everyone has them at some point in the run up to making such a big commitment to another person.

I don’t expect for one moment that getting married will mean a life free of worry and drama; far from it. But what it will do is cement our partnership in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of God, in whom I do believe, at least in some form. It is a statement of intent on both our parts that we are prepared to put each other first, to work through all our issues together, and to co-create a stable and loving environment for our future children. The divorce rates reported so gleefully in the news don’t bother me at all. Marriage has always been important to me, and I am entering into it with my eyes and heart wide open.

The fun-loving, free-spirited party girl will always be a part of me, I have no intention of shunning her or locking her away. But despite my fears what is becoming ever clearer to me is that I owe it to myself to explore the other side of who I am, to get to know the girl who wants so desperately to help, to make a difference, to put love above all else.

This is a new chapter in the story of my life. And I am ready to turn the page.

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Proof of Life / Life Lesson

Last night I took my external hard drive from its safe spot in the bottom of the wardrobe, plugged it into the computer and switched it on, with the intention of finding a photograph of me and R to use on our wedding website. Minutes later, on being asked to do something, I jumped up, and, forgetting the wire was in in my way, walked into it and sent the hard drive crashing to the ground. My heart stopped. And, sure enough, when I tried to turn it back on the computer failed to recognise it. It also made a beeping noise (which, as I later read, is never a good sign). A brief call to a data recovery specialist confirmed that paying for professional help was not an option (500-800 Euros? You have got to be kidding me). In the end we whacked it in the freezer for good measure, on the advice of one website that admitted it was a dubious and last ditch method but might possibly work (yeah right), but it is with a heavy heart I am forced to accept that it – along with about five years’ worth of photos – has gone. And most galling of all is that I’ve been here before, having done the same thing a few years ago (and failed to get the data back after parting with 50 quid).

I feel ridiculous admitting it but I’m devastated. Last night I was inconsolable, and couldn’t stop crying. Rightly or wrongly, I value photos enormously. They are a means of remembering all that’s happened in my life, of connecting with my past and demonstrating how I’ve made my mark on the world. Perhaps it’s that last point that’s the most psychologically interesting. People sometimes tease me about how prolific I am on Facebook, and I have often questioned my need to share the details of my life on social media. However, I don’t believe I am a narcissist. My motivation in sharing pictures in particular is not about boasting, or at least my conscious mind disputes that notion. I suppose I do feel a strong need to make my existence in this world tangible, and posting pictures is akin to sticking a sign in the ground saying ‘I woz ‘ere’.

Photographs are, essentially, proof of lives that have been lived. Loath as I am to admit it, on further analysis there is almost certainly a link to my fear of death – of dying, and of people I love dying. I guess I feel somehow that by capturing images I’m keeping myself present, real, alive. And similarly, by capturing pictures of my loved ones I am keeping them alive, and if, God forbid, anything bad should happen, to me or any of them, at least those memories will exist and can be treasured. Is that morbid? Perhaps. But it’s also true.

But what’s done is done. I must move past the sadness, anger and frustration that I’m currently feeling. I’m glad I’m so prolific on Facebook now because I do at least have low resolution copies of the lost files; the memories are not gone forever. But even if they were, what’s most important is the fact I have my health and I have my loved ones – here, in the present, not in the past, which now no longer exists, except in my heart, my mind – and a few low resolution images on Facebook.

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Nostalgia Rules

Tonight, over dinner with my best friend, we took a stroll down memory lane and revisited our memories of the family holiday we spent in Corsica when we were 15 (dare I even speak aloud that was not too shy of 20 years ago now?!) On a recent visit to her family home she found a wallet of photos from the holiday, and we spent a good couple of hours poring over them and recalling all the funny moments we had shared and the people we had come across during our time on the island.

Whilst the nostalgia trip was in itself a wonderful and long overdue experience, what interested me most was that we were able to remember things that had long since been consigned to the depths of our memories – so much so we thought they had been lost forever, when, in actual fact, they had spent all these years gathering dust in boxes at the far recesses of our minds.

The prompted recollection of names (like Ingrim, the lifeguard who rescued us three times from sea when our newfound windsurfing skills failed to render us proficient enough to turn around) and occasions (like the time we found a litter of kittens in our luggage on a previous childhood holiday to Italy, or the time we blagged our way into a Corsican nightclub foam party) has triggered so many other, related memories in my mind (did I really wear underwear from Knickerbox as outerwear?!), which has sprung open like Pandora’s Box.

It’s comforting to know nothing in life is lost, but rather pushed aside by other, newer and more relevant memories. And that all it takes to recall what’s been forgotten – and remember what it was like to be in those long forgotten moments – is some visual prompts and an animated conversation with a good friend.

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Firenze, Ti amo

Yesterday began in somewhat of a rush, after a miscommunication regarding the start time of our visit to the Medici tombs (which I can’t deny may have had something to do with the slightly excessive alcohol consumption the previous night). Nonetheless, after the initial panic things were swiftly back on track, and after a salad lunch on the terrace and an afternoon rest and market browse (where some scumbag vendor tried to fleece us out of 15 Euros-not so fast sunshine) we were ready to enjoy our final evening in central Florence.

 
A tip for anyone visiting Florence is to pre-book tickets for the famous Uffizi art gallery one or even two days before you plan to visit, as this will mean avoiding the huge queues on the day. The gallery is well worth a look around, being full of treasures such as Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. It’s well organised, air conditioned and has some of the best vantage points along its numerous corridors and terraces to enjoy unrestricted views of the Arno river, Duomo and town hall.
 
After two hours spent wandering around the Uffizi-the only mild irritation being the hordes of tourists and tour guides passing through the halls-we went back to the restaurant where we’d dined on our first night for one last plate of mixed grilled meats, which we followed up with one last gelato at Vivoli  ice cream parlour (when we walked past it earlier in the day the queue was right down the street, but by 10pm it was virtually empty) – if you ever get a chance to sample its delights the coconut ice cream comes highly recommended.
 
As we strolled back past the hugely impressive Pizza del Duomo I took one last look around at the city I first fell in love with as a six year old, and it felt as magical in that moment as it felt all those years ago.

Il Palio 2013

Sometimes in life there are days almost too comical to recount. But, for the sake of brevity and duty I intend to try. 
 
Yesterday began with a quick breakfast before we headed to the train station in central Florence to catch out train to Siena. An hour and a half and some beautiful countryside later we arrived at our destination. A short while (and many escalators-Siena train station feels, from a geographical perspective, like it has been located in the core of the earth) later and we were sipping beer in a delicatessen whilst waiting for our dinner rolls to be prepared (the owner apologised for his gruffness but said it was one of the most important days of the year and nerves were understandably frayed).
 
After wandering through the streets and soaking up the carnival atmosphere that is pre-Palio (Siena’s twice yearly  famous bare back horse race) we arrived at the restaurant my stepfather had booked for lunch and took our seats outside on the terrace. Which is where the fun really began, as my mother saw fit not only to inform us olives turned into grapes somewhere along the manufacturing line (and I wondered where I got my gullibility-not wondering any more), but also that she had always rather liked the idea of being a nudist (“unencumbered by clothes”) – just what you want your boyfriend to hear during a family meal.
 
After lunch we made our way through the back streets to the cathedral where we visited some relics and watched the various parishes who would be taking part in the race parade with their flag bearers and other accoutrements. 
 
At 5pm we began the queue into the central square to find a spot from which we could observe the race. Fortunately the area we picked was mostly in shade-whilst it was delightful to have sun at Glasto nothing could prepare our pasty skin for the onslaught of true Tuscan sun-so we sat out the next three hours in relative comfort (save for the thousands of people all around, and one particularly nauseating couple in front of us who seemed incapable of not being attached by the lips at all times).
 
After much waiting around and several false starts the horses were off, and in three short laps it was all over, with three of the ten jockeys being unseated. Then came the real fun (were I speaking to you at this point you’d be hard pressed not to notice the sarcasm in my voice), as we tried to scale a four foot wall to beat the crowd out of the enclosure. The sight of my 66 year old mother revealing her knickers to the world and screaming “I can’t do it!” as she clambered over, followed by my boyfriend’s whispered comment of “II totally just groped your mum by the way” were matched in the bizarre stakes only by mum’s enjoyment of my drum and bass music as we slightly tipsily shared my headphones on the train home afterwards. In short, an odd but supremely enjoyable day out a la famiglia.