Category Archives: Uncategorized

Arrested Development

According to Dr. Maria Montessori, one of the ways children can discover and develop their independence is through regular participation in household chores. I’ve just seen a guide for age appropriate tasks, like putting toys in a box (age 2/3) raking leaves and emptying the dishwasher (age 6/7) all the way to shopping for groceries from a list and baking bread/cakes by age 12.

 

Sadly, conventionally schooled, I missed out on this groundbreaking alternative education; I am now about a hundred-and-four but still quite hopelessly trying to master the art of actually following a relatively simple and straightforward shopping list…

 

Now I totally agree that getting your kids to help around the house is for their own good. But apparently, this is not so that you can flick on the Nespresso machine, recline on your Le Corbusier chaise longue, and flick through Elle Decoration, while giving the housekeeper an hour off. Or would it be closer to say, flick on the kettle, sigh over a cup of instant coffee (you ran out of capsules last week, and there’s no sign of George Clooney), slump on the sofa, and read the You Magazine you didn’t get time for last Sunday, while taking a guilty half hour off all the stuff you know you need to do, cheerfully reminding yourself that self-employed shouldn’t mean fitting your advertising campaign around the spin cycles of a flipping incessant washing machine. Either. Neither. Both. Whatever.

 

Help around the house, particularly the picking up of toys, is of great benefit to my boys, especially the important development of their delicate eardrums. Are you aware of the strange nocturnal sound emitted by a sleepy and barefooted grown up, who has gone to check their little angel at night, and trodden on a small but strategically placed collection of Lego Mini Figures?

The problem with children and chores is that being a teeny weeny tiny bit of a control freak, I am really quite specific about how things are done. Call me fussy…

 

I’ve concluded that most of the time, things are better done yourself. Apart from cups of tea. That’s always best when someone makes it for you. And that includes a Hobnob, preferably chocolate.

 

The boys promised to clean the litter tray of our two little Siamese members of the family, but two easily distracted boys and cat poo? No thank you.

 

The eldest is a whizz with the hoover. However, he clearly watched the cyclone vortex doo dah commercial far too often and believes our appliance has the suction powers of a UFO about to beam up Captain Kirk. Witness one mildly frustrated mother extracting almost half a tree from the not quite so flexible hose (yep, I kid you not).

 

And your obliging kid running the dishwasher with three plates is not all that helpful* Sorry to be a killjoy. I do sincerely hope I won’t be the cause of arrested development. I am quite sure the pediatric psychologists reading this are currently rolling their eyes and looking at their calendars for availability in the latter part of 2020.

 

The truth is, I loathe having to spend hours over household chores as much as my boys. I’d rather leave pots to soak in the sink than stand and scrub (far less labour intensive) and in shame, I can sort of see that Quentin Crisp may not have been joking when he pointed out that after the third year, the dust doesn’t get any worse. Besides, we’d rather go out for a walk, watch a movie or play Monopoly.

 

So, in conclusion, there is only one thing for it.

 

I need a wife.**

 

A Nobel Peace Prize should be awarded to the person who finally invents a dishwasher with an integral waste disposer. Think of all the arguments they will save about scraping and or rinsing before stacking…

**Bugger off. As a woman and a mother, I’m being ironic. Get over it.

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The Perfect Christmas

My idea of perfection is not your idea of perfection. It is alarmingly easy to find yourself stressed out at this time of year.

This is probably all based around that rather annoying concept of – expectation.

In fact, the perfect Christmas only exists in your imagination, because everyone’s ideas are different!

We all have an idea of how we want the holidays to be; from who should be involved in them to where we should be having them, and that’s long before we get down to the detail of what we eat, what we give, what we wear and even how we decorate!

Do we keep gatherings small, do we go traditional or modern, do we go with turkey, do we stick to a budget with gifts or say it’s only for the kids? Do we have your mother, my mother, everyone’s mother, eggnog or mulled wine, bread sauce or cranberry relish, Christmas pudding or chocolate fondue? The decisions are endless!o

The idea of a perfect Christmas in the perfect house with perfect decorations and the perfect relationship with a perfect dinner and perfect presents and just the right amount of perfect snow outside is going to make you crazy with disappointment if even one of the elements is not right. It’s also just a little bit Stepford…

I recently had a chat with someone who spent a considerable amount of time deliberating stamps. If she got the Christmas ones, would they be too frivolous, and would she be considered a spendthrift if she used first class or perhaps mean if she sent her greeting cards second? I was actually amazed that this young girl was bothering at all, as it seems everyone is using email greetings these days.

The point is, there simply isn’t a right way or a wrong way. There is only what makes you feel comfortable and provided it causes no offense, you should really do what you like. Stop focussing on how you think things are MEANT to be and just enjoy how they are right now, in the moment you have.

Savour the brief moments that bring us all cheer; the brass band playing at my local supermarket was a perfect example! It was so lovely to hear some festive music as I bought my brussels and cranberries…

Just don’t expect anyone else to take responsibility for your ultimate Christmas. One of the girls at my gym has told me she’s dropped several hints to her partner that she would like to be given a ticket to the January Bootcamp sessions. She is quite sure it won’t happen. Maybe, she should tell her partner that she’ll be signing up for the sessions anyway, and compromising on something else. That way, she won’t get frustrated on the morning of the 25th when she opens up her gift of socks/fragrance/breadmaker (you get my point)

Anyway, don’t forget that we are never far away from someone who is struggling, and whatever you can do to help at this time will make you feel much better than you do right now, so have a think about what more you might be able to do at this time of year. People are in vulnerable positions everywhere. It’s not exclusive to the elderly, the children, the poor or even the better-off. Do what you can x

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Responsibility

Accept that although you cannot change what is in the past, you absolutely can change your personal feelings towards it.

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This applies to anything and everything and all circumstances; any time frame, whether the source of your discomfort was long ago or happened just this morning. It also applies to whoever is in your past, and whatever action has taken place. Of course, you are not responsible for someone else’s deeds; indeed this is a hugely important part – you are, however – completely responsible for how you choose to react to whatever is bothering you.

This is a complex topic and something in which I have a great deal of interest. Before reading the short essay here, the simplest terms are to always take responsibility. Obviously, it goes a lot deeper than that.

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I did not choose for my father to leave and never to return when I was just a few weeks old. You could say that I was perfectly entitled to carry feelings of abandonment. When, at the age of twenty-two, I finally found my father, he was quite sanguine about the whole thing; believing I would come and search him out one day, and how very nice it was to finally meet me. He actually told me that my parents should never have had me, as the marriage was already over, and my arrival tipped things over the edge.

All that emotion I had invested in my long-lost father seemed almost indulgent at that point, as I connected with what was tantamount to a stranger. After only a dozen or so perfectly pleasant meetings he died. It was a heart attack, and he went instantly. I went to see him at the chapel of rest. When I looked at his face closely, I saw our physical likeness, and felt the strange irony of sharing similar features with a man I hardly knew.

My mind ran through almost every emotion; obvious sadness, regret at not making enough effort and seeing him more often, anger at his laissez-faire attitude; a throw-back of the seventies and his “Cool Hippie Ibiza Vibe,” anger at him being snatched away before I had a chance to develop any sense of a truly meaningful relationship and a guilty sense of disloyalty toward my mother who had assumed complete responsibility for me and my sister emotionally, physically, and financially.

But more than anything, there was a deep sadness for the little girl who never knew what it was to be a daddy’s girl and a little princess; scooped up, held tight, and unconditionally loved. I felt such sorrow for her; the dreams she had of having her own daddy; her own knight in shining armour. Her hopes that one day he would arrive at her door, declare he was her long lost father, and would never again leave her side. I saw the scene in The Railway Children, when the steam from the train finally clears to reveal the children’s father; finally home. I always wished that one day my own might do the same, and I would run towards him with his arms ready to envelop me. I saw memories dance about before my eyes, of school plays attended always by one, not two, of my friend’s father returning from foreign business trips with exotic gifts, of all my little friends’ innate confidence that they were the most special and that theirs was the best, tallest and strongest daddy.

I told that little girl, that heart-broken junior version of myself, that although I couldn’t change anything and that regrettably, there would always be a part of her that would feel a sense of abandonment, she need not be despondent, she was very much loved and by exactly the right people, and her wonderful mummy had enough love to give, even for two.

I looked at my father, in peaceful repose. My anger and frustration subsided. I realised in that moment that all I could do was let go of manufactured dreams, of idealised scenarios and ultimately, of disappointment.

In truth, I really felt a great deal of pity for the man; after all, he never knew the joy of raising two little girls. He never experienced their tiny hands in his, or the simple pleasure of reading a bedtime story and a kiss goodnight. He missed so much and now it was too late.

I forgave him.

When he was lowered into the ground, I forgave him again, but more than that, a little part of me was released, and finally free.

The eminent psychiatrist and survivor of the horrors of Auschwitz, Viktor Frankl authored the greatest book I have ever read; “Man’s Search For Meaning.” He said; “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

If this post has brought up feelings you might like to discuss, do please get in touch x

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Selfie

Last week’s episode of the Apprentice saw Lord Sugar summon the candidates to the National Portrait Gallery in order to receive their instructions. It’s my favourite place to while away some quality Me-Time, and the programme reminded me that I really must go and look at the Van Dyck, now it has been expensively wrested from private ownership and bought by the public to be proudly displayed before it goes on tour around the country.

But the painting did indeed cost a small fortune, and in order to promote an entirely worthy campaign to raise ten million pounds for the purchase of Van Dyck’s self-portrait, the National Portrait Gallery got down with the people, and on the website called this seminal work of art a “Selfie.” I think the word is rather fun, although slightly misleading. Much thought, energy, and originality has gone into this particular Old Master, and indeed, all my favourite artist’s Selfies. I am particularly fond of the wig-free Hogarth, the delicate charm of Élisabeth Vigée Le-Brun, and the directness of Frida Kahlo. But these works were poured over, all time and talent concentrated to the canvas, to present a story to the viewer, a presentation of the self, to show not a mirror-image likeness, but instead an attempt to show how one would wish to be seen.

So how do we present ourselves? Are we, like the artists, always as we “wish to be seen?” Is it clear what we stand for? Do we show what is important and what we value? Our image should be consistent with how we choose to be thought about. We know that authenticity is key to establishing trust and rapport. This is essential, not just in our photographs, but every time we show up live, in front of our connections. Remember, it might not be you taking the photograph. It’s not just the stars who get “papped” these days, and now there is video to take into account; and goodness me, we’ve all got smart phones now…

But couldn’t we argue that perhaps too much emphasis is placed on authenticity, and not enough on creating and maintaining a professional image?

After all, the Old Masters showed only what they wished us to see. Oh yes, they were the original Masters of Spin; expert at using costume and props to portray themselves as they saw fit. I may be going against the grain here, but careful editing is not dishonesty; it is about choosing what we should or should not reveal to the public about ourselves. We do not have to tell everyone everything. This is not about concealment; it is more about being selective and allowing the audience to focus on the image of our choosing, rather than dilute our core message with excessive and unnecessary information.

Nowadays, we are so much more than just a picture, in fact, we are a Profile. In the past, journals and personal correspondence were written and kept, but although the enjoyable reading of them affords a tiny glimpse into a life gone by, they were written as personal commentaries, and usually in private. In this digital age, every time we write a post on social media, we add to our on-line image. Countless articles have been written about not tweeting or updating one’s Facebook status while under the influence of alcohol, (an important reminder at this time of year) but what about posting while under the influence of anger, fatigue, or infatuation? Do we really want to be known as the person who moans on a regular basis about missing the train, or who we are rooting for on X factor, or the outpouring sentiments of our romantic leanings?

So next time I’m in London I shall make sure I visit the National Portrait Gallery to gaze upon all  my favourite portraits and of course, the Van Dyck Selfie. It is a beauty, a true work of art. At the same time, I love the fact that I can use my phone to capture impromptu moments in an instant and share them with my friends, however, I very much doubt anyone would want to pay around ten million pounds for a snapshot I have taken using my mobile phone in four hundred years time. Of course, I can always ask my wonderful portraitist Jonathon Xavier Coudrille what he thinks.

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You can see the Van Dyk and the tour details here 

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The Music In Your Head

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So there I was, sitting in the car, on yet another beach run, one son about to go surfing, and the other son about to go skateboarding.

It was perfect weekend relaxation; something for everyone, and a delicious roast to look forward to later. I had been to the gym earlier that morning and was feeling most virtuous, having completed a double whammy of Body Pump followed by Body Combat.

Those of you who are familiar with these classes will know that amazing feeling of elation and physical exhaustion in equal measure, and those of you who don’t can just take my word for it!

I had so earned my hot chocolate, and I cupped its warmth in my hands, watching the waves break on the shore, while one son slithered into neoprene and the other son checked his trucks.

In my head was a song. It was one I heard that morning at the gym, and I remembered it from some time ago too. The thing is, I am not a huge pop-music fan. That is to say, I love rock and classical music, but I’m not too keen on the stuff in between, and therefore I’m not particularly knowledgeable on all the new songs.

But that morning’s particular “earworm” was driving me nuts! I simply couldn’t figure out what the girl was singing, so I had no idea of the lyrics, and therefore couldn’t find it on google/YouTube/iTunes etc. Instead, I kept comically (well it was to my children) whining the bit I thought sounded most like the song I had heard, hoping the boys would recognize what I was attempting to sing. Of course, it was absolutely nothing like it, because I couldn’t recognize or repeat a single word, and therefore it caused much amusement, but the actual track could not be located.*

This led me to think about the fact that nobody else really knows what’s going on inside our own heads unless we perfect the art of clear communication and choose to share our thoughts. 

I was reminded of a funny game show; “Never Mind The Buzzcocks” where two of the panel had to play out the rhythm and sing the guitar or keyboard melody of a song for the third panelist to guess. I always found this the most hilarious part of the show. Here’s a clip of Gareth Malone doing just the sort of thing I would, only with a slightly better voice. (That’s him, I mean, not me…)


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It is extremely difficult, if not impossible to guess the song when another person is simply tapping out just the rhythm part. I think Jingle Bells, We Will Rock You and maybe Happy Birthday might be recognisable, but that’s it. God Save the Queen might work, but certainly not the Sex Pistols version.

The reason for this is that nobody else can hear the tune in your head. If you just tap out the beat, it won’t be enough to work out what the melody actually is, and therefore the song can’t be guessed, often with quite hilarious results.

This may be a great source of entertainment for a musical game, but in life, it is not quite as fun. We often make the mistake of thinking that those closest to us should know what we are thinking. We can feel hurt when we discover this is not the case.

But every time we get on a plane, the flight attendants still show us what to do in an emergency, and we are duty bound to watch, whether it is the first or the thousandth time we have traveled by air. Wouldn’t it be easier just to do the same with those around us in both our professional and our personal lives?

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Of course, we don’t have to repeat ourselves constantly and indeed, that would probably be irritating, but we must never assume that someone else always knows the tune in our head. Equally, we must never assume that we know the tune in someone else’s head, even if we know him or her intimately. All AssUMe does is make an Ass of U and Me.

*The earworm was “Promises by Nero https://youtu.be/llDikI2hTtk

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Are You Meeting Too Many People at Networking Events?

Ok, so you’ve attended an excellent networking meeting, party, book launch or seminar and made some great new contacts.

If you’ve taken my advice, you’ll have no more than five or six people to follow up with if that is the only event you’ll be attending that week; even less if you are planning to go out to more.  The theory behind this is really quite simple. It’s all about time. I don’t know about you, but I never seem to have enough of the stuff, and I know everyone gets the same amount, but I swear I’ve lost some, somewhere.

You need to decide if you are going to get along with the person you’ve just met, and if they are actually worth your most precious commodity. If we consider new contacts as keys, ask yourself if they will open doors for your advancement, development and progress or this person just a key to provide access to a broom cupboard?

One of the biggest mistakes in networking is that new people are mistaken as potential customers and clients, rather than a rich source of future leads. It is worth always remembering that each new contact will know between two hundred and two thousand new people. If you develop your relationship with that person, over a period of time, with due care and commitment, if you demonstrate a high level of integrity, if you give before you receive, and if you maintain a pleasant and professional relationship, they will become your advocate and provide a new stream of contacts.

For someone who has hosted hundreds of networking events, perhaps you’ll be surprised at this next bit. I very much believe you need fewer, not more new contacts.

Here’s the science bit.

Let us assume you have met one new person and spent twenty minutes chatting with them initially. You may have asked them if they would like to stay in touch, and they have given you their contact details. You then go back to your office and perhaps Google your new contact, check them out on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter. You may have added them on Skype or even YouTube. You may go wild and actually check out their website. Add another ten to fifteen minutes. You know you have probably hung out for too long checking out their photos/blog…

At a recent networking event I hosted, we discussed preferred methods of getting back in touch. Email and telephone seem obvious, but an increasing amount of people use LinkedIn, as we are all too aware how swamped our inboxes can get. Often people find me via Facebook and You Tube too.

My favourite method of communication right now is Eyejot video mail. It sends video content via an email and is fresh, fun and innovative. It also gets you remembered. If your new friend has been to a few Christmas parties and picked up a whole bunch of new contacts, your Eyejot missive will make you stand out like a Santa in a Scuba Suit.

Use this method simply to make contact. If you are going to arrange to meet, it is still best to do that via email, as you will need to refer back to dates and times etc.

If you then arrange to meet someone, you are looking to invest at least an hour and a half of your time, plus travel. Let’s say half an hour as you have probably been savvy enough to dovetail with other events.

Assuming the meeting went well, there will be follow up, so add another ten minutes for yours, plus at least another twenty for your writing and receiving further introductory emails.

If any of those introductions were worth investigating, you would now need to repeat the process above.

Let’s work out this calculation based on meeting just three people at a drinks event on Tuesday, two at a book launch on Wednesday and four people at a Seminar on Saturday. You may think this is not an unreasonable amount of new contacts and be questioning the point of networking if you don’t get at least six to ten new leads from each event.

Allow me to demonstrate how if you actually follow up in this way, you would soon have to give up your day job.

A calculation based on meeting just one person.
Meet them at event = 20 minutes
Looking them up on Social Media = 20 minutes
Follow Up, Arrange to meet = 20 minutes
Initial meeting plus travel time 120 minutes
Follow Up Email = 10 minutes
Reading and Receiving and acting upon three New Introductions = 30 minutes
You have just spent three hours and forty minutes.

If you were to repeat this nine times over the course of one week; that works out at one thousand eight hundred and ninety minutes or thirty one and a half hours!

Instead of attending too many events and allowing yourself lack ineffective follow up, wouldn’t it be better to have taken just one or two new contacts from each event?

Even then, if we look at our previous example, you are looking at a time investment of between 630 and 1260 minutes, or ten and a half to twenty one hours on follow up.

I hope this clearly demonstrates how we need to dramatically reassess how we network in order to be effective.

If you would like any further help with your networking or communication skills, please get in touch; I would be delighted to help.

Here is the link to Eyejot, give it a go, let me know what you think!

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Three Life Lessons From a Cornish Beach

Beach Scene with Kites

1. Kites
2. Sand
3. Waves

1. Kites
Stumble upon any Cornish beach and you are bound to see a kite or two flying high in the sky. The Atlantic breeze coming off the sea is so strong that even inexperienced kite flyers have no trouble in keeping their tethered objects aloft, at least for a little while.

Higher and higher they go, until they compete for air-space with the gulls and the crows and for a short while they are a fascinating delight to the eyes.
Then for anyone other than the kite flyer, there comes a point when we want to focus on something else. The silken spectacle has ceased to be a draw, and although pretty, after a period of time, our attention wanders elsewhere.

Until

I watched a man with a wonderful kite. He controlled it with two strings. The inanimate object danced into life in his dexterous hands, and made beautiful patterns in the sky as it rode the current. Then quite suddenly, it swooped dangerously low; I thought it was sure to crash until the Kite Flyer deftly brought it back up on another gust of air, back up and up the coloured silk climbed higher than ever, before plummeting again and then lifting once more.

I observed the people around the kite flyer. They all stood transfixed, watching the thrilling display.

The thing is, when things are always perfect, they don’t stay all that interesting. The excitement is all about keeping things alive. That is what we all need to do. And as with kites, life takes constant monitoring and effort. That Kite Flyer may well have been experienced and therefore would have found it easier than a novice, but he must have started sometime. And, however good he is, even if he is brilliant, the kite won’t fly, unless he stands there and makes it.

2. Sand.
You get all kinds of aggregate on Cornish beaches. Certain beaches boast their own unique sort of sand, unlike any other, anywhere else. Some beaches are pebble, some are shingle and some are sand. Of course, some are all three.

Last week I took my son for a walk along a stretch of beach, before the café opened for our breakfast treat. We calculated that we could walk for twenty minutes one way and then twenty back to arrive in perfect time. The sun was climbing high in the sky and we watched a trio of ladies in boiled-egg swimming caps and sensible swimming costumes wade into the sea. Further along was a man practicing yoga on a bamboo mat. A little way on, a sweet couple clearly in love, dared each other into the refreshing water.

“It’s so lovely!” I said to my son. “Let’s leave our shoes at the café and walk along barefoot!” Now my little one’s middle name is Caution. Well, it’s not actually. It’s Winston. But you know what I mean. He said he didn’t want to because the stones looked quite sharp. (He’s far more sensible than me). “Oh, yes, I see what you mean, but we can pick our way over those bits and get to the shoreline where the sand is as smooth as velvet!”

Off we went, mother striding forth like Bear Grylls and son, reluctantly sloping behind. When we got through the powdered sand to the place where the shingles began, it started to feel like a particularly painful version of reflexology by way of acupuncture.

It delighted my boy. You see, we all like a challenge! He grinned and yelped (sometimes, with joy) as we screeched (ok, that was just me) across the sharp stones. Please note, no blood was drawn from either of us…

We giggled as we dared each other on, just to get along the patch of shingle to where the sand began. Oh wow! I cannot describe how blissful the feeling was, when we put our sensitive little soles onto the cool silky sand, and wandered back up the beach, this time, along the shoreline. “Ahhhhh…”

We arrived back at the café, ordered and ate breakfast, admiring the view and talking of this and that. When it was time to leave, we put our socks and trainers back on and again experienced another surge of sensory pleasure. “Oh!” We both declared; “The cushioned soles!”

How funny: that thought hadn’t crossed my mind when I laced up my Nikes at 6am that morning. You see, everything is a matter of perception. Take something away, and then you will appreciate it all the more when you get it back.

3.Waves.
All savvy surfers check where the best waves are to be found along the coast in Cornwall. They also balance that with how busy the section of sea is likely to be, if it’s hazardously rocky, and what the riptide is doing. I just concern myself with accessibility and whether or not there is a good café, and/or free parking. Some days, it’s the North shore, others, it’s down to the Lizard and our favourite, Poldhu Cove.

For serious swimmers, they want just the opposite. They are looking for millpond flat sea, ideally with little or no white-water.

Those who take care of little ones want beaches they can see from one side to the other clearly, with sweet little waves to paddle in.

Adventurous kids want rock pools and caves to investigate, so they don’t particularly care what’s going on with the waves.

Don’t even get me started with the paddle-boarders and the sailors…

And there you have it. The same fabulous ocean surrounds us, but it means different things to different people. What is perfect for you is a complete turn-off to someone else. You may have to travel the coast in order to please the people around you, but in the process, please don’t forget to also find time to please yourself. x

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What Do Kids Know About Politics?

Over a particularly juicy red grapefruit I had the good fortune to share with my son for breakfast this morning, it seems that post election, young Nicholas is truly disgruntled. “After all,” he said, “I was promised things that simply have not been delivered.”

I looked up from my newspaper and asked him what was making him quite so cross. I mean, I know breakfast was a fairly modest affair, but there was no need to take it out on the toast he was now bludgeoning with enough butter to induce instant cardiac arrest. “They just haven’t given us what we wanted!”

Intrigued by my juvenile malcontent, but slightly worried I lacked the political nouse to get into a debate before reading the latest copy of The Week, I took another sip of coffee and asked him what, in particular, was he most angered about. Nicholas fixed his enormous baby blues on me, with all the sincerity of a young man feeling wronged and let down. I encouraged him to share his thoughts with me, surprised, but yet proud his interest in current affairs didn’t revolve around the Kardashians.

“Well,” said Nicholas, “We were promised a tree-house but there is no sign of one, and water fights, but they still haven’t happened, and smoothies instead of those milk-shakes at the tuck-shop! I would never have voted for this school council if I thought they couldn’t deliver!”

I wiped the Nutella from his sun-kissed cheeks and attempted to soothe him by suggesting water-fights would never get head-teacher approval and they’d have to raise funds for a tree-house, although smoothies may well be the way to go…

Relieved I didn’t have to get into a difficult political debate, unprepared and before I had fully digested my muesli, the car arrived to take Nicholas to school. (He has two or three drivers who take him to school and back because we live in the sticks.)

“Hurry up” I said, as I located his shoes, behind the sofa, naturally. “Come on darling, you don’t want to delay the man.” I watched Nicholas wriggle on his rucksack and plonk on his baseball-cap, feeling huge relief that this little man of innocence didn’t have to concern himself with anything more worrying than what was on offer at the school tuck-shop. There’s time enough for him to worry about the EU Referendum and what sort of cuts are to be made to public services.

“Actually,” he said thoughtfully, “I really don’t mind making that driver wait a bit.”
“But you really shouldn’t,” I gently admonished. A wry smile flashed across his face. “It’s alright mummy. After all, he voted UKIP.” And with that, he planted a soggy wet kiss on my face and ran out the door.

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Feel A Fool and Do It Anyway

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My mother used to serve us a particularly interesting (shop bought) frozen pudding. She would valiantly saw through the resistant confection using an electric knife. A modern day warrior woman; wielding her way with a menacing bone cracking implement. My Neanderthal mum, wild eyed and resplendent with sophisticated hair do, setting upon a prone offering, fresh from the kill. Only this was just ice cream.

One day I looked at the simple cardboard box that contained this delightful frozen fancy. There, in fairly bold letters, were the words; “Defrost for three hours at room temperature.” I suggested that maybe, it might be fun to actually try following the instructions. By adhering to this simple guideline, the almost impenetrable boulder became a crumbly carapace of meringue, and its interior a melting mélange of cream and silken toffee. What a delicious discovery. To this day, I still tease my mum (well so would you) and of course we all laugh, and the product still sells in quantities at you your local M&S store.

When I was very small, perhaps no more than three or four, I remember taking a train ride across Europe. Our final destination was to be the delightful coastal resort of Rimini in Italy. I can still picture my mother and her friends enjoying a picnic, someone spilling red wine, hoots of laughter, and then everyone going to bed in the various couchettes. In our particular cabin, my sister chose the top bunk. She became quite convinced that a small bird had got trapped inside the cabin at the end of her bed. Understandably terrified, she spent the entire night at the far end of her bunk. There she stayed, as far away from the creature as possible; her knees pulled up so tightly to her chest. It was almost impossible to unfold the girl in the morning, when daylight revealed the “trapped bird” was no more than a soft leatherette window handle, flapping against the glass.

On the last day of a recent business trip, I realized that I had been drying myself every single day with a floor towel. I couldn’t work out why it was a little on the rough side, and so teeny weeny, or what I was supposed to stand on. The larger towels were right up on the top shelf. Perhaps my slightly sheltered upbringing had preconditioned me that nice girls never look up there…

Ah, so when do we stop making mistakes or feeling a fool? The thing is, we don’t. We will always make mistakes, we will always get things wrong as we go along. That’s ok. What we need to do is to learn from them. The biggest mistake you could ever make is being afraid to make one. I don’t know who said that the master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried, but I wish it had been me. 

Still not quite feeling like the Star in your own story? Perhaps its time to give me a call. 

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Decisions

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Last week, a difficult choice had to be made between two alternatives. We are not talking Craig or Connery. The dilemma was not chocolate or pistachio. No, this was serious grown up stuff. The absolute decision process weighed heavily on my mind; this was sort that we have to make from time to time, the sort where there is no option but to choose a or b, and even though the outcome will have major life affecting consequences involving several people, I alone had to make the final call, and abrogation from the process was completely impossible. A timely conclusion was necessary, and although plenty of advice had been sought, the responsibility for this onerous task laid squarely at my feet.

The Artist, aware of my imminent responsibilities, reminded me of the need for an ultra clear head in order to achieve the best possible conclusion. This he said, was no time for mulling things over indoors, this was a time for striding out, into the spring sunshine. He declared that the only way to get to an end result was to pull on designer wellies and get outside. Actually, I think he was just bored and wanted to go for a walk.

It is so easy to stop doing the things that help us when we are pushed up against it. We all know that we function best on a healthy diet, plenty of sleep and exercise, and exposure to the open air and sunshine. Ironically, the first thing that usually happens when we feel overwhelmed is to let these things go.

Most people use comfort food or alcohol as a buffer to stress. It’s often considered easier to reach for processed snacks than to shop and prepare fresh food, especially when the pressure is on. But the easiest way to feel great and in control is from within. A diet packed with nutritious fruit and vegetables makes a massive difference to mindset. Sinking a bottle of wine won’t help either. It may help take your mind of the dilemma at the time, but that situation is going nowhere, and the next day, you still have the same thing, only now you also have a headache.

Absorbing Vitamin D from the sun enhances well-being and positivity almost immediately. The process of walking allows thinking time. It is the most effective tonic for the soul I can possibly think of, and all that it costs you is your time.

So there I was, reluctant to leave the important thinking I had to do, harrumphing into my hat and coat and bundled out the door by the kindly Artist, keen to point out the masses of snowdrops, wild primulae and narcissi against the huge camellias at the end of my very own garden, just before the little gate that leads to farmland beyond. These are the flowers of optimism, the first we see after the barren winter, and we do nothing to encourage them; they simply arrive, brightly and generously, forgiving lack of attention, unlike their demanding summer cousins who insist on diva like maintenance, spring flowers just appear because they want to. I beamed at the sight of this utterly joyful display; taking in the bobbing heads of the snowdrops and the acid yellow of the daffodils like the gifts they truly are.

The giant waxy buds of the magnolia present a salient reminder that perhaps we should give the best of ourselves first; precocious blooms poised to burst into life among bare branches. I love the pared back elegance of delicate flower contrasted against gnarled bark. Bold can indeed be beautiful, and the toughness and resilience of these spring flowers makes them all the more so. The end of winter tends to drag, and despondency may creep in, but just at the point that it is felt most keenly, the emergence of perfect blooms on weather-beaten trees perhaps brings to mind that there is always another chance, and always another spring. 

We passed through the little gate, and continued down the path, towards the farm. I was starting to feel much better, and began to enjoy the brief hiatus from the burdensome responsibility of my decision-making obligation. I allowed myself to unwind, and delighted in the gloopy earth squelching beneath my rubber boots. Onwards we went; following the tractor marks in the mud, concentrating on staying upright.

We talked of this and that, and that and this, and then turned a corner to find a field full of steers! There must have been at least thirty beasts, and they were all looking in our direction. Now for those of us who are not country-born, these are young castrated bulls, their destiny to become beef. “I cannot go there!” I declared. This was one of the easier decisions I had to make that day. “Why ever not?” said the bewildered but patient Artist, who is used to my strange superstitions and has more than enough of his own. “Karma!” I cried. “They are all staring at me! They know!” I was not feeling the guilt of one too many burgers, but the fact that my family are butchers, and I was quite sure these babies knew it. “They can sense it!” I wailed. “It doesn’t matter that I have a chakra-aligning lentil and goji berry salad waiting at home for lunch – these guys want revenge!”

The unflappable Artist pointed out that we both had sticks, and that all we had to do was wave them about a bit and they would go away. I decided (again without much agonising) that I could detect bovine malevolence in their eyes. They wanted to make an example of me; retribution for several Sunday roasts. Payback for eagerly consumed prime rib. He said the cows/bulls/steers/oxen (delete as appropriate, I remain unconvinced) knew none of it. They were not interested in my carnivorous past, or the family trade. I was almost convinced, I mean, he IS from the country after all, so I went on a little further, only to find TWO more, lurking behind a tree, with obvious intent. No. The only thing to do was to slowly but purposefully cut back and then across the perfectly un-sinister field of harvested barley.

I can’t begin to describe how wonderfully mood uplifting it was, walking across a field without cattle. Soon I was almost skipping to keep up with the long stride of the Artist who didn’t mind a bit that we had to change course. I even spotted wild pansies growing against all the odds. All experiences are stimulating, and this one was exactly that, and helped me to get a very clear head and enjoy a most productive afternoon. 

As for the big decision?  I got there in the end. I wish to give thanks to those who love me and have been there for me. Some of them are very close indeed although they are actually really quite far away.

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