Saturday, 9 January 2016

Curtain Twitchers

Waaaay back I used to get asked why I left sunny Belfast for English shores - sure, didn't Ireland have the sea and the mountains and the beaches and the green green pastures and er... endless rain? What's not to love?

Back then, I didn't appreciate the beauty of Ireland, the charm of it's sometimes parochial ways and the friendliness of the people. Instead, I loathed the politics of the place - sick to the back teeth of the never ending war, the narrow minded attitudes of the Catholic church and most of all the nosiness of one's neighbours. People commented on everything, passed their time staring over the fence and spreading gossip like wildfire. In fact when I was only 6 a woman who lived at the top of my street spread such venomous and frankly insane rumours about me to the point my Father had to take her aside whispering talk of lawyers and slander. Her loud mouth finally shut. Looking back, who trashes a 6 year old - just because she has happened to join the same school as your daughter?

So, post school aged 18 I fled to the big smoke, delighted to be anonymous and forgotten amongst the millions. There was no more gossip and comments about my Mother living in sin with a man, no more checking on who drove what car, could afford what house, was seeing which man. In a moment it stopped. I felt free, optimistic and above all inspired by the busy buzzy streets around me, the multi-cultured lifestyles and people. I felt at home.

Loathe as I was to do it, I left London in 2008. House prices and lack of decent schools drove me out. Only the mega rich can afford to live there any more - it is a sad indictment of our times that 50,000 families have been shipped out of there in the last three years and a third of the entire population there want to move out - as 54% feel their mortgage or rent is creating untold stress.

So I found a leafy pretty little market town that my best friend had moved to a year previously. It ticked all the boxes and we moved into a 3 bed Victorian semi and spent the first year regretting it. Had I moved into a Daily-Mail-reading Tory-loving up-their-own-arses village? The first function I attended there, I was ignored by most of the pressed-linen wearing women, or grilled about my job by the men to the point I could see them putting me into my 'box.' I was the only woman wearing Converse and drinking beer from a bottle. The folk at that tedious BBQ hosted by the people we bought our house from, were at best insipid and at worse dull and money/status fixated. I wheeled my 2 year old home in his buggy and cried.

But eventually I met some like minded folk, especially in the last year - and they have raised my spirits enormously; they drink too much, swear like sailors and like me, feel they have yet to grow up.

On a whim we put our house on the market the week before Xmas. I know. Who does that - right? Insane-o people obviously - because no fecker wants to buy a house before Xmas. Thing is, we saw one we liked - kind of by accident and so we rushed to move forward with the whole selling/buying nightmare. My house had not been on sale for more than 12 hours when I walked up to school on Friday 11th December through the rain, with a mere day to make my home 'sellable.' On route to and from school I ran into 3 people I know and all 3 said 'I see your house is up for sale.' There wasn't even a sign outside the front door! Clearly they had discovered this from the might Rightmove... One commented that they knew the house I was hoping to buy, but I probably 'wouldn't get it' and 'you never do.' Whatever hope and positivity I had was lost by the time I made my breakfast that day.

Husband took our son to a couple of sporting events over Xmas and had more than a dozen people accost him with questions on 'where are you planning to go?' Etc. With the advent of Rightmove - I am certain that everyone I know has now had a good look at my loo, bedroom and 'oh I don't like the rug in her lounge do you? Too garish...'

People don't even wish you a happy new year or ask how your Xmas has gone - no, they just launch into such chat as 'I considered seeing the house you are going for but no... don't want it' with a wrinkle of their nose. Or 'Have you had an offer yet?' *fake sympathy* 'Oh that's a shame...' Then - 'Has the one you want had offers?' If you say 'no' they roll off a list of why then it isn't a good buy - otherwise why hasn't it been snapped up? If you say 'yes' they are wide eyed and reply 'yeah, you probably won't get it then...'  Such joy! Such warmth! Such supportive attitudes!

The curtain twitching brigade, or rather the Rightmove junkies, are in their element. They know what you house is worth 'over priced if you ask me...' and know what you can afford, 'I mean really, it's a 1960s horror...' and have opinions on all. It feels like the nightmare where you are naked at school and you can't wake up.

What does it remind me of? The blatant nosiness, the barely concealed jealousy, the judgement, the speculation? Yup Belfast. The place I wanted to leave behind. I'm suddenly back in 1986 but with the internet to divulge even more information about my life. (I know this has a twisted logic when I do in fact blog about my life - but in doing so I feel I choose what I share - and in that, it gives me my own control in a bizarre way).

Maybe if we don't sell our house, if we don't buy across the canal, then the writing is on the wall and it is time to go back to the place with the sea, the mountains, the green green pastures and the endless rain. At least there it's better the devil you know. Curtain twitchers, be damned. 

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Hello 2016....

It's January so the papers and rags are filled with obligatory shots of gym bunnies and relentless articles on hot 'new' diets that pledge to revolutionise our bodies if we eat some seeds and nuts and drink vegetable smoothies until we are a walking colonic.  What I find hilarious about them all - is essentially they are all saying the same thing, dressed up in fancy new ways: eat more veg, drink more water, run around more and you will feel better. Any fool can see that a diet of cake and burgers isn't going to shift the tyre around your middle.

I'm not stupid enough to limit myself for eternity to eating no carbs and ignoring the call of a freshly baked carrot cake - so I'm going Bear Grylls. No, I'm not going to drink my own piss and forage for snails in the garden - I'm doing the 80/20 idea. So Mon - Fri I will be virtuous and Sat/Sun show me the pizza! Husband says that with my daily Nutri bullet shake (TIP - add protein powder for a creamy fab shake - and less water) and my lunch of courgetti and crab with lemon and chilli - I have a fairly balanced diet anyway. So why is it so hard these days to shift 6 pounds? Because dear readers, I am over 40 - when your metabolism slows down as well as everything else.

My main rule of eating is this - cook it yourself. So bar the odd Thai curry paste, I make every sauce and dressing and meal and snack myself. Fresh local produce - bar the odd avocado. When I say odd, I mean I eat 2 a day... The only issue - is a healthy 'Eat Nourish Glow' life takes time and £££££££££. All that fresh fish (monkfish cost the price of a second mortgage) and nuts and oils and chia seeds cost so much more than a white loaf and a packet of cheese. I spent a whopping £30 on two packs of Chia seeds the other day - and actually screamed for joy in the shop when the cashier announced it was 'buy one get one for a penny.' It was almost workout carrying the 4 packs home. Protein powder, flaxseeds and fresh fruit - not cheap either. Is the idea we all are so skint we can't afford to eat and thus lose weight?

Anyway, this blog wasn't meant to be about food - it was meant to be about hopes and plans for 2016.  Because you have to have them, right? The minute Big Ben chimes, you've got to know EXACTLY what you are giving up and taking up for the next 365 days. Most of which you will have taken up again/given up trying by Jan 11th.

So I aint giving up any vice - bar alcohol for Jan. Not to help my liver - but just to prove to myself I can go 31 days without a drink and not kill my husband and give away my kids. Stayed tuned.

But having read Caitlin Moran's column yesterday - I decided I am giving one thing: anxiety. I have spent so much of my life worrying what every fecker thinks - worrying am I 'good enough,' worrying that I will fail - and you know what? The worst - what I am expecting to be the worst - never ever happens. It is the things you NEVER expect that blindside you. A dear writer mate also said that after year and years of stressing because he felt his muse, his ideas would never appear - only for them always to appear - he has stopped stressing. It doesn't help - it isn't a necessary part of the creative process. I spent most of last year with stomach churning angst - especially over the summer - thinking I simply couldn't write. While I'm no Sarah Treem - I am me. And I can do it. I have just remind myself of this and try not to stress over it all so much.

So like Caitlin and like my mate Chris, I am giving up anxiety. It will be the hardest challenge of my life I reckon - so ingrained in me is stress - but I've got to - as it makes me ill. I had a wee read of this guy Gerad Kite (an acupuncturist)'s advice for a calmer life in yesterday's Times mag - and I have to say - I'll be employing as many of his tactics as I can. (The man is a revelation).

Because dear readers, I am anything but calm. I am a stress head, insaneo worry wort when it comes to all things stress. I am OCD. I am a control freak. I need to sort this before I take myself to an early grave. Headspace app here I come.

So my plans are thus: I'm stepping away from as much social media as is possible. I never really indulged in Instagram - and am bored of Facebook. For all it's joys and sharing it is also a performance and we are all guilty of dancing to that tune. Who cares if 56 folk or 560 like my glam pic - it doesn't change the fact I have dinner to make for the kids and 6 Ikea bags of laundry to fold...  Twitter is informative, so I'll cast an eye on it, but all else - including the sidebar of shame - must be gone.

I'm going to fear less. The greatest joy of my last few years has been striving in a new career and whilst it put the fear of god into my every step - I am now in my happiest ever place. I have life balance and it has taken me FOREVER to get here. Now I need the head balance to match it. Fear holds us back - makes us doubt ourselves when in fact we all got to where we are now, because we are so freakin' great. Deep down, we all know we can - we just need to have faith.

One of the happiest ever times of my life was on a beach in Devon. Diving through the roaring waves with my friend's daughter, looking up at the sun, the salt water momentarily stinging my eyes. I was utterly in that moment - not wishing for or being distracted by anything else. My motto of this year is to be more in the moment. Appreciate my Husband's great dinners, the walk to school on a crisp cold day, the first coffee of the morning, the view from my dining room table, the log fire at my side. I'm going to watch TV only - not sit on a laptop as I do. I'm going to go for more walks. Listen more than talk. (I know - I know - this one may be a lie... but I'll try) and not be thinking about the next thing on my endless to do list. Life is flying by at a hideous rate so I'm going to try and savour it that little bit more, in the hope it will last longer.

I am going to drink more water. I really am. I must remember to. My 40 year old mate M drinks tonnes of water and has the skin of teenager. It is something I must train myself to do.

Finally, I'm going to be nicer to myself. Husband says I am incapable of relaxing - that I just cannot shut down - I am always thinking of things that need done, writing lists and giving him tasks. That is true. I am incapable of going to bed if the cushions on the sofa are not straight - that - and other slightly cray cray behaviour have to go. I have to train myself to give less of a f*ck.

I always feel I must achieve every single day. That I should be doing XYZ - as 'look at what ABC is doing. I won't get to XYZ if I don't do ABC within the next day'. Well, to hell with that. Enough with the self flagellation. I'm dancing to my own little merry tune - and I need to slow it down to a tango instead of keeping up a foxtrot. Life is pretty great. Happiness isn't if we move house, go on hols, lose 10 pounds, meet Mr Right - it is right now. In each of us.

So here's to 2016. May you enjoy every moment.