Life half full

It is nearly half past twelve on ‘Writing Monday,’ and thus far I have achieved the following: A five kilometre run around Clapham Common (to offset the weekend’s beer and chocolate indulgence in Bruges); the weekly shop in Sainsbury’s; a clothes wash; a top-to-toe clean of the entire flat AND the preparation of a slow cooker gastronomic delight (lamb stew, since you’re asking) for two friends who are coming for dinner tonight. I have also, it would seem, entered into a stand-off with a lederhosen manufacturer in Germany (not a sentence I ever thought I’d write), as the product I returned last week via airmail (due to their mistake in sending the wrong size, I might add) has thus far failed to arrive, meaning that they are now withholding the replacement (in my correct size) until it does. This is a particular problem as said item was ordered for my impending birthday party, which makes swift resolution of the issue significantly more pressing. Given my recent track record with Royal Mail (two of five letters sent by my mum never having arrived), I know which side my money would be on if it wasn’t for the fact I’m already exorbitantly out of pocket from making the purchase in the first place. I could not be kicking myself more for not sending the damn thing recorded, but since they offered me free coloured contact lenses instead of agreeing to pay the return postage cost and the postage was ten pounds via regular air mail and twenty via recorded, I opted for the former – evidently a big (and costly) mistake.

Anyway, I digress. The point I’m trying to make – more to myself than to anyone else – is that it’s nearly half way through Writing Monday and, whilst the level of productivity today has seen is certainly impressive, not one bit of it has had the slightest thing to do with writing. If I was a professional runner, chef or cleaner the past few hours would at least have been lucrative. As it is, I am none of these things. No, for one day each week I am a freelance writer – a freelance writer who is very good at doing anything except the thing she claims to love. In the past ten minutes I have even abandoned my computer again to go into the roof and fix the window so the wind no longer whistles through it (though as that was, in fact, something that needed doing in order to avoid losing my concentration whilst writing that’s technically allowed, no?). To surmise, today I’m feeling mostly useless and frustrated at my own inadequacy. I may have managed to post a blog for every day of the year so far, but in terms of cold, hard cash I’ve hardly covered the cost of the lederhosen dispute with my writing, let alone made enough to pay myself a wage for Writing Monday. Still, I’m writing now, aren’t I? Even if it is only today’s blog? And anyway, we writers write for the love of our trade rather than out of any serious belief we’ll ever earn a crust from it….don’t we?

Right, enough with the negativity and introspection. All is not lost. I’ve just remembered this picture I took in Bruges yesterday and it’s buoyed me considerably. Half the writing day may have been wasted but it was wasted doing necessary things. And now there’s still a glorious half day remaining to make up for lost time. The only question now is what to write about…

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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…

Man’s best friend

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When the alarm clock beeped Maurice groaned his customary groan and stretched out like a tiger waking from a snooze. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and blinked several times. Then, with a whoosh of excitement that coursed from the top of his head to the tip of his toes he remembered: Today was his eighth birthday.

He leapt out of bed and ran out of the room and all the way down the stairs into the kitchen. There he found his mother, his father and his baby brother Teddy sitting at the breakfast table waiting for him.
“Happy Birthday Maurice,” his parents said in unison. Teddy just grinned and waved his rattle. “Here,” said his mother, “sit down and I’ll make you a special breakfast before school. Eggs and bacon okay?”
Maurice beamed and nodded as he took his seat at the head of the table where, he couldn’t help but notice, there sat a large box with a ribbon on it. His father smiled and nodded so he ripped off the paper and shouted “yes!” and punched the air when he saw it was the remote controlled rally car he’d been wanting for ages. “Can I take it to school?” he asked,but his father shook his head. “I think it’s best kept safe at home for the moment,” he said.
Maurice kicked his chair under the table in silent protest, but was soon distracted by the plate of fried breakfast his mother had put in front of him. She sat down beside him, pulled her purse out of her bag and fished a shiny pound coin out of its depths. “Here you go,” she said, handing the coin to Maurice, “I know we normally say no sweets at school but as it’s your birthday why don’t you pick up a little treat from the shop at break time.”

As his mother had suggested, Maurice went to the shop around the corner from school during his lunch hour. When he arrived there was a little dog tethered outside. Maurice didn’t know much about dogs but he thought this was what his father would call a Scottie dog-a Scottish Terrier with charcoal grey fur, a long body, short little legs and ears that looked too big for its head.
As Maurice bent down to pat the dog the shop door opened and an old lady came out. She was wearing a thick wool coat even though it was warm outside and she had a scarf wrapped around her head like a turban. The skin on her face was baggy, like it was too big for the bones and sinew underneath, and she had drawn thick black lines around her eyes.
Maurice stood up and the old lady smiled. “Oh don’t mind me dear,” she said, “Colin loves the attention.” Maurice knew it was rude to stare but he couldn’t take his eyes off the old lady. “Colin?” he repeated? “Yes,” the lady said, “it’s a silly name for a dog I know but it was my husband’s name, you see.”
The old lady stopped to cough, and Maurice noted with alarm that when she pulled her tissue away from her face there were spots of what looked like blood on it. “Are you alright?” he asked. The old lady straightened herself up as best she could and forced her withered lips into a thin smile. “Yes,” she said, “I’m fine, thank you,” though Maurice was far from convinced. “What brings you here, anyway?” She asked. “Shouldn’t you be in school?”
Maurice grinned and pulled the coin from his pocket. “It’s my birthday,” he said proudly. “I’m eight years old today and so my mum gave me this to buy sweets.” The old lady coughed again and winced in pain. “That’s nice,” she said. Her breath was shallower now and Maurice was scared. What should he do? Call the shop owner? Call an ambulance?
As he was thinking trough his options the old lady pulled a small black coin purse from her pocket and began to root around in it. “Drat,” she said, coughing again. “I’m a pound short.” “For what?” Maurice asked. “For a taxi to…it doesn’t matter.” Maurice looked at the pound coin in his hand, hesitated, then held it out on his palm.
The old woman smiled through her obvious pain and took the coin. “That’s very kind of you little boy,” she said, “what’s your name?” Maurice, who had been told never to tell strangers his name, replied without hesitation, “Maurice Brown.” “And you go to the school next door?” He nodded. “Well Maurice,” the old lady said, “I promise to repay you for your kindness today. Though it may be in a different way to that which you might expect.”
Before Maurice could ask what she meant she had flagged down an approaching taxi and climbed unsteadily into it, coughing and wheezing all the while. Colin jumped in after her and she shut the door and drove off. Maurice returned to school empty handed.
That evening, after his birthday dinner there was a knock on the front door. When Maurice’s father came back into the room he was carrying a large box. “Another present?” Maurice asked. “From who?”
His father put the box down onto the table with great care and handed Maurice an envelope with MAURICE BROWN written on the front in thick marker pen. Inside there was a piece of paper, upon which was written:
Dear Maurice, if you’re reading this it means I’ve gone to a better place, so please don’t be sad for me. When we met today I could tell you were a special little boy. In return for your kindness I would like to offer you first refusal on this gift. I hope you will love and care for it as I have, and that it will bring you great happiness. God bless you, Annie (the old lady outside the shop).
Maurice put the note down and stared at the box, and as he did a scratching noise from inside made him jump. Suddenly he knew what was inside, and began tearing at the wrapping. He opened the box and, sure enough, inside it sat Colin the Scottie dog. When he saw Maurice he jumped up and licked his face, making everyone laugh.
“Can we keep him Dad?” Maurice asked. His dad looked at his mum, and his mum looked back to him. “How could we say no?” she said with a smile. “We’re so proud of what you did today Maurice.” Maurice beamed back at her. “This is the best birthday ever,” he said, and Colin barked his agreement.

Dilemma

I’m currently struggling with a dilemma. It’s of both a personal and financial nature, because I’m trying to decide whether to spend money that I don’t currently have on my personal development. In other words, the big question is whether it’s worth getting further into debt for.

There are pros and cons to both of the options on the table, and I intend to weigh them up very carefully. For the first time in my life – rather embarrassingly, given I’m now 31 years of age – I’m starting to think about my financial future. I have no savings to speak of but am fortunate not to be in an unmanageable amount of debt either.

If I don’t take the plunge with the personal development option I’ll be out of debt and saving for my future within a year (providing I buck the longstanding trend of frittering money away on holidays as soon as my finances are looking vaguely under control). But I will always wonder if I should have gone down that route, and where it might have led me.

If I do take the plunge, the goal of saving within a year will be pushed back. Realistically it could be quite some time (and by this I mean a very long time) before I’m in a position to put down a deposit on a house anyway, but in doing this I’ll have to accept it will be even longer. And yet…I might have gained something that money can’t buy which will help me for the rest of my life.

I don’t believe that money can buy happiness, which is really just as well considering the sector I work in and the salary I’m currently on. That said, I’m fully aware what money can buy is security – and the ability to splurge on the occasional weekend away, which those who know me will attest to my being rather partial to.

I’ve always struggled to balance my desire to ‘make a difference’ with my desire to enjoy life to the full and it’s a struggle that’s getting harder as time passes. But something’s telling me that now’s the time to take responsibility for my actions, to make a plan and stick to it, whatever sacrifices that entails. Because there will be sacrifice with either option, of that I’m sure.

I’ve always gone with my heart over my head but now I have to decide whether to keep doing that or buck the trend and be ‘sensible’ to the detriment of my own personal development. It’s a quandary, but one I am determined to solve, and which I’m certain I’ll come out the other side of stronger.

Living below the line – for real

Last night I caught the tail end of a TV programme about people in this country who have to feed their families on less than £2 each a day. According to the programme, recent research estimates that nearly five million people in the UK are struggling to feed themselves properly and eat nutritiously.

Watching the families’ struggle had a sobering effect on me, and made me realise just how fortunate I am. It also got me thinking about the poverty divide, and how so many people wrongly claim to be on the wrong side of it when really they’re nowhere near.

So often people – myself included – say they have no money, and yet no sooner has the breath escaped their lips than they are buying their daily speciality coffee and Pret a Manger salad. Admittedly such purchases are often the difference between being in the red and being in the black, but real poverty is about far more than having a few hundred pounds to pay off on your overdraft and/or credit card.

Real poverty is parents going without food to ensure their children don’t, or families having to swallow their pride and visit food banks so they have enough to survive. Real poverty is scouring the marked down section in the supermarket out of necessity every single day rather than to secure the odd bargain now and again. Real poverty is having to choose between heating and eating.

So next time I’m about to complain about not being able to afford a night out (when I’ve only just had a night out), not having savings (when, even after my recent pay cut I’m still able to afford £150 each month to pay off my credit card) or not being able to afford holidays and clothes (when I go on plenty of the former and have more than enough of the latter as it is) I’m going to stop and think about the families on that programme. I’ll put myself in their position and imagine what it’s like to struggle every single day just to put food on the table and keep the house heated. And I’ll keep my mouth shut.

Doing less better (starting with cuddles)

It was a novel feeling waking without Monday blues today; the knowledge that from now on Mondays are my own time to pursue various writing interests and freelance commissions has certainly put a spring in my step. But that’s not to say it’s going to be easy – I’m already feeling the pressure to cram more into my solitary freelance day than is feasible, and I know if I want to be “a success” (whatever that means) I’m going to have to be selective with what I take on. Tempting as it is to commit to lots of small commissions, I fear in doing that I’ll lose the essence of what I want to achieve. Whilst money is of course a consideration, ultimately I’d just like to get to a point where I’m writing for enjoyment and getting paid a reasonable sum in return. Is that too much to ask? I think not.

But in the short term I know I must be realistic. A good friend who I went to visit this afternoon (for cuddles with her gorgeous son – see pic. I have been working today – honest!) wisely told me not to expect to earn anything from freelancing for at least the first few months, because it would take that long to get set up and work out what I want to specialise in. And I know she’s right. I need to play the long game and not get distracted by the shiny nuggets of £20 commissions to write blogs for people too lazy to do it themselves. What reward is there in that, after all? To establish oneself as a professional in any field one must first learn to value themselves, and never is this more important than when becoming a freelancer. If you don’t back yourself who else will? It’s vital to stay strong and confident in the knowledge that your talent will shine through and it will do exactly that – leave those who value themselves less highly than you to take on the menial commissions and keep your eye on the prize.

My old boss’s motto was “do fewer things better,” and it’s stayed with me over the years because it’s great advice. Whenever things get on top of me and I feel I’m juggling too many balls in my life, I remember the mantra and try to strip it back until it feels more manageable. Because there are always things you can cut back on to make time for what’s important – if what’s important is really as important as you say it is.

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Remember way back in January when I started this blog and I posted a pic of my pregnant friend at her baby shower? Well this little treasure is the result – and I love the bones of him 🙂

The misery maker

On the surface you have everything; the looks, the brains, the charismatic smile that says you’re someone worth knowing, worth pursuing. You have money to fund the kind of lifestyle that most people only dream of. You stride around in suits fitted on Savile Row with shoes so shiny your face reflects back up at you as you walk: The face of success.

Other men want to be you. And then there are the women – so many women. A different one each day of the week, picked up and cast off like items of clothing depending on your mood. This week alone has seen you dine with Sylvia, attend a gallery opening with Lucinda, have animalistic sex with Stacey, beat Mirelle so hard she won’t be able to sit down for a week.

Tonight, for your own enjoyment, you will tell Annaleese that she is fat and she disgusts you. She will go home, cry, drink a bottle of whisky and swallow a handful of pills to ensure she never has to hear you say those words again.

You revel in the misery of these women, in your ability to make them feel so worthless. But what you fail to realise in this deluded state of hatred and bitterness is that there’s only one person in this situation who is worthless.

And that person is you.

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I wasn’t sure what image to choose to accompany this post, so settled for this pic of a porn star martini, taken in a gorgeous restaurant in Brighton last spring. That particular evening was fantastic, but I guess what this image represents where the story is concerned is the loneliness that goes hand in hand with the behaviour described.