What HAVEN’T you done during Covid-19?

Remember at the beginning of lockdown, when everyone apart from key workers (or heroes as we should call them) was either working from home or furloughed and considering how they would be spending all their extra time? Bold claims such as learning a new language, decorating their home, and getting in shape flooded my Twitter timeline – either from individuals full of naive enthusiasm, or experts suggesting ways to cope.

Fast forward a few weeks, and it’s quite clear that this is a really strange period, that isn’t the ‘paid holiday’ that many people thought it might be. Advice about how to improve your life has been taken over by advice on how to ‘just’ survive. Getting through, coming out of the other side, protecting and preserving mental health however we can has become way more important.

Some people have thrived, some have struggled, and there are sad stories in the press about some people not making it. Those who have taken their own life because they couldn’t handle the pressure, the loneliness and the not knowing.

So, in this post, I’m laying it bare about the things I haven’t done whilst I’ve been working from home. Admittedly, by not being furloughed, I haven’t had heaps more time in my life, but working from home means I have ditched the commute, late afternoon meetings and doing anything at weekends, so there has been extra time knocking about!

Sorting out the utility room

Its been almost 2.5 years since our house renovations were complete, leaving us a utility room upstairs for our washer, dryer and storage. The furthest I ever got was putting up two big shoe racks. Our laundry basket is too small; the decorating is a mix of missing, raw plaster and 90s wallpaper and it’s just a disaster zone! About 6 weeks ago I bought a clothes rail for hanging drying clothes. It’s still in the packaging. It has, however, moved from the downstairs hall to upstairs, so yay for small victories.

Sorting out my spice cupboard

This sounds kind of middle class (which I definitely am not) until I break it down to laziness. I have no idea what jars of dried spices and herbs lurk in the overflowing narrow cupboard in the kitchen. Opening it is a sport in itself; who knows what will hit you or the floor once you unleash the protective door barrier. Heaven forbid I actually look in there to find something if I’m trying a new recipe. Why would I? I’ll just buy another glass jar, shove everything else back, and precariously position the new neighbour in a too small space hanging over the edge.

I did start the job a couple of weeks back when I was looking for some parsley. It quickly became a chore so I decanted a couple of half empty jars into one, then put it all back. One for a rainy day, maybe!

Blogging

The rate at which I post (sporadically at best) says everything there is to say on this point I think!

Exercising

I’m not an exercise person; it’s fair to say I’m very sedentary (not proud of it, but I’m nothing if not honest). I’ve seen lots of pics of people going on long country walks on routes they never knew existed near to their home. Now that restrictions have been lifted people are heading further afield to hills, woods and coastlines (I disagree with this somewhat, but that’s another story). I never even took advantage of the government approved one hour outside the house! I blame this on having a garden and therefore freely accessing fresh air. It’s not to do with being lazy. At all.

Reading

“I’ll use this extra time to read more” I told myself. I’ve actually only read 6 books (that isn’t a lot for someone who reads as quickly as I do). Some days I just can’t get into a book. Some days I’ve tried to read and my mind wanders. Some days I’ve just wasted days playing crappy games on my phone and then feeling annoyed with myself afterwards! But reading should always be loved and not forced, so if I’m not feeling I’m not going to push myself to.

Sorting out my pension

I have a few different pension pots sitting around, which I keep meaning to combine into one. It’s annoying that every time you change job you get another one set up – it would be so much better if you just had one for life that followed you around to your different employers. Everyone knows that sorting these things generally takes lots of phonecalls, being placed on hold, and time that you just don’t have in a busy office. I really should use a quiet home to multi-task whilst also cracking on with my day job.

It looks like I’ll be working from home for the foreseeable future, so all that could change (it won’t). I may come out the other side feeling productive and accomplished (I won’t). But in these strange times just getting through it is enough.

What haven’t you done since the world changed in March? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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My pandemic life – the story so far

Hey! How is everyone? Hopefully you’re in good health and staying safe, wherever you are in the world.

I’ve read a few insight posts into people’s life during lockdown, and I find them quite fascinating, so thought I’d do my own. It will act as a diary entry when all this is nothing but a distant memory!

Working

I’ve been working from home for 7 weeks now. I was only 6 weeks into my new job at the time, so still fairly new to everything anyway. My employer acted really quickly – one day they were setting everyone up with the tech to work from home for a one day trial, and we just never came out of it. It wasn’t a huge change for me, as my role isn’t 100% office based anyway, but still a new way of working with everyone completely remote and only available by phone or video call. There have been frustrations as people try to adapt, but on the whole it’s worked out pretty well. I’m super lucky that I can carry out my role from home, and also that my employer doesn’t intend to furlough anyone, so I am grateful.

The husband is now furloughed, this is his third week, and there are times when I’m a bit jealous as he watches a film and I’m in the middle of another Teams meeting, but I just need to keep remembering that I’m fortunate!

Truth be told I’m thankful of the structure that WFH brings me. It means I still have to get up early every morning for our daily department call, I can’t have afternoon naps, and I don’t have a load of excess time to fill. When I was made redundant a couple of years back I had a lot of time on my hands, and that was much more difficult.

Eating and drinking

Eating out is one of my pleasures in life – not necessarily fancy restaurants, just good traditional pub food, bars and eateries. We eat out at least once a week, and it’s a highlight. So that’s been a big change for us. Our local indian takeaway closed after about 3 weeks due to Coronavirus, but luckily we’ve found another even nicer one. Chinese takeaway is out of bounds due to the husband’s gluten intolerance, but we do have a local restaurant that does Malaysian and Thai dishes which are gluten free, so that’s stepped into the breach.

Outside of that we’ve been doing burgers at home on the barbecue (thanks to the good weather), and truth be told Mr G cooks a better burger than any I’ve ever had in a bar or fast food place.

We bought an airfryer just before lockdown, which does the most amazing fries and, surprisingly, steak! So a weekly steak night has become a thing, with peppercorn or blue cheese sauce, and the added indulgence of truffle oil fries.

I seem to have slipped into a bit of a “we deserve it” mentality so there has been pate, multiple types of cheese and crackers and all the crisps – the kind of thing usually reserved for Christmas! But food is a big pleaser for us, so in the absence of other things, it’s worth it to make us happy.

Gluten related rather than lockdown related I have a list of things I want to try that the husband can eat, including cheese scones and flatbreads (we didn’t eat cheese scones before he was GF, so I’m not sure why they’re on my list now!) I made black pudding scotch eggs for the first time yesterday (we had to order gluten free black pudding online from the Bury Black Pudding Company – it’s really worth it if you’re a fan).

As for drinking, well I’m drinking too much and too often, and that’s that!

Reading

My first thought when I have time to myself is that I’ll fill it with books, but so far I’ve only read three.

RSVP by Helen Warner
A chick lit book with a bit of a difference. 4 different main female characters whose lives intertwine, and not always in a positive happy way. It was a nice read, not too fluffy!

So Lucky by Dawn O’Porter
This was a (requested) Christmas present, but I saved it for a time that was worthy, if that makes sense (I do that with much anticipated books). So, a few weeks ago, on one of the first Sundays it was warm enough to sit in the garden, I read it cover to cover.
I’ve been a big fan of Dawn for years, from her early television days, and read another of her books The Cows on holiday last year. I really enjoyed it, although didn’t like the characters as much as in The Cows which had a bit of an effect. Dawn is a fab writer though; I look forward to reading more of hers in the future.

Sisters by Rosamund Lupton
An oldie published back in 2010, which I picked up in Poundland. A psychological thriller and murder mystery all in one with a really great twist at the end I did not see coming. I read it cover to cover in one sitting (the best way to read a book, I find) which is testament to it’s un-put-downability.

Watching

I’m not a huge film and TV watcher, because I get distracted fairly easily! That said, there have been a few things recently that have really captivated me, and meant I didn’t reach for my phone once!

Gangs of London
A new 9 part series following a criminal family and their dealings – both legal and illegal. Very brutal and violent (with a couple of hide behind the cushion moments), but a brilliant watch.

After Life Season 2
I was so glad to see that this had made a comeback, after the absolutely brilliant first series. I wasn’t sure how it would fare, in view of how the last season ended, but it was as funny, heartwarming, heart wrenching, and tear inducing as season 1. I laughed, I cried, I snotted. Absolute brilliance and realism from Ricky Gervais.

Upright
This is a new series from Tim Minchin, about a man trying to drive across Australia with a piano. He ends up with an unexpected companion along the way and the 8 half hour episodes follows their journey – literally and emotionally. It was another laugh/cry/do both at the same time series, and I highly recommend you put it on your list (we binge watch it in one night).

Goodfellas
I have spent most of my adult life thinking I’ve watched this film, and agreeing with people in conversation about how great it is. We watched it yesterday afternoon, and it turns out I have never seen it! I thought I had because I’ve seen some of the iconic scenes, but for the main I had no recollection so it was all very exciting and new! Now I can genuinely say it’s a really great film. Never have I seen a film with Robert De Niro that wasn’t fantastic.

Shopping

I’ve settled into a similar routine of shopping once a week, which is unusual for me as I’ve always been a little and often type person (I go to the supermarket about 3 times a week with a basket rather than once a week with a trolley). Now though I’m trying to limit my outings, for obvious reasons. I’m also shopping for my mother in law, who is 80, and her next door neighbours/long time friends who are also in their 80s, and one of them has cancer. So off I go with my 3 lists – first to Lidl, then to Asda, then to a local shop for any bits that I couldn’t get at the supermarket. Mother in Law is a Daily Mail reader, so it’s with gritted teeth that I’ve been picking that up for her, and then delivering the shopping to both houses by leaving it on the doorstep.

None of them have left the house since mid-March, and I know it’s getting to them, but I’d rather them be safe than risk popping out for a loaf of bread.

Gardening

When lockdown started, one of the first things I was upset about was that my garden wouldn’t be full of pretties this year! Yes, I know it’s petty, but my garden is my hobby and knowing we’d be spending a lot of time at home meant I wanted it looking as nice as possible. On the plus side, the local shop I go to once a week also stocks a plethora of plants and I’ve picked stuff up from the supermarket during my weekly shop too, so I’ve been able to pot petunias, fuschias, geraniums and more. It’s a small thing, but it brings me joy, especially as we won’t be getting away on holiday anytime soon.

We bought a fire pit right at the beginning of lockdown too, so it’s been good to spend evenings outdoors with the warmth of the fire.

I’ve also worked on a small project that’s been brewing for ages, which I’ll share soon.

Things I’m missing

Family, obviously! It’s been a godsend being able to video call them, especially seeing my nephew as he’s started to crawl, but nothing makes up for a physical hug.

Afternoons in the pub with friends. You know the type; sunny days, overcrowded beer gardens, a buzz in the air, rounds of drinks, trays covered in booze and overflowing ashtrays. Who knows when we’ll be able to socialise that way again?

Holidays. Unusually we hadn’t booked anything prior to the virus hitting the UK, so haven’t had to cancel anything, but not knowing how things will progress for the rest of the year leaves uncertainty about whether we’ll be able to get away. I don’t think there’ll be any overseas travel this year, certainly not in the summer anyway, but hopefully we’ll be able to get away in the UK.

Our campervan! Strictly speaking I can’t really say I miss this, as we haven’t yet camped out in it, but I miss the freedom it would have given us. We’d certainly have used it at least a couple of times so far already this year with the unseasonable good Spring weather we’ve had. On both bank holidays we’ve reversed it up to our garden gate and used it as a little get away space for drinks, naps and even eating a takeaway but we’re yet to use it to its full potential.

Again it’s trivial compared to what many families have been going through, but I think in such a strange and uncertain time all feelings and emotions are valid.

Things I haven’t missed

Wearing a bra! 6 and a half weeks without one!

Wearing make up. Same timescale as above. Just goes to show that all that talk about women wearing make up for themselves is rubbish! I’ve never been the kind of person who won’t leave the house without make up, and because I’m not going anywhere apart from to the supermarket and delivering groceries I just haven’t bothered. Now it’s been so long I can’t help but feel I’ll look stranger with it than without!

Hairdressers. I’m scared of hairdressers and haven’t been to one in about 13 years. I was feeling a bit bored by my appearance so I gave myself a 6 inch chop and some layers through the front.

So, how’s everyone else getting on? Has your routine changed much? I’d love to know!

And thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Charities worth supporting during Coronavirus

Hey! It’s been an age. Life has changed. Last time I posted I was talking about my husband being gluten intolerant. Since then pasta has become more rare than gold, toilet paper was being traded on the black market and pubs are closed. Finding restaurants with a good GF menu has become pointless, but we are glad that toilet habits have changed to conserve that much needed loo roll!

I digress. This ‘situation’, whilst bringing out the worst in some people, has also seen some magnificent shows of benevolence, charity and generosity.

Whilst all charities are worthwhile in terms of the fact they’re there to do good (at least you would hope), there are certain ones that I think are really worthwhile right now, in terms of the benefits they can deliver to people who are suffering as a direct result of Coronavirus.

Trussell Trust / food banks

With people being furloughed, illegally made redundant or having no income if they’re self employed, the demand for support from foodbanks will be higher than ever before (and it was already too high for a western country). With social distancing and rules around reduced movement and travel it may not be so easy to physically donate food stuffs and supplies to your local food bank collection point, so a donation of money will enable them to speak to suppliers, order exactly what they need, and help those who need support.

Make a one off donation here.

Mental health charities

Physical health is obviously, and understandably, at the forefront of people’s minds right now, but mental health will also be a big player. Whether it’s those with already poor mental health or those whose mental health will deteriorate due to circumstance – whether financial or social – it’s quite possible there will be a mental health crisis when we all get back to “normal”. And in the meantime, call lines need financial support to stay operational to support those who may be facing financial ruin, stuck in 4 walls, have no-one else to turn to, or working on the frontline and struggling with everyday life and what’s expected of them.

Click here to donate to Mind.

Click here to donate to CALM – a movement against suicide

Domestic violence charities

It makes absolute horrific sense that domestic violence cases will increase during this time; people will be at home together more, unable to leave the house to escape conflict, and the additional pressures of everything going on (not an excuse) will lead to increased levels of aggression and, in some cases, death. Labour MP Jess Phillips is a vocal supporter of the need for more DV assistance, and heads up the APPG on Domestic Violence and Abuse (All Party Parliamentary Group – basically about the subject regardless of your political party). Jess stands up in parliament and reads out the names of women who have been killed by their partners to give them an identity rather than being a statistic (I know DV affects men too, before anyone says anything). Videos from previous readings show ridiculously low numbers of MPs in attendance, but that’s one for another day.

You may want to look for domestic violence charities in your local area, but there are country wide ones which would welcome your support and apply it where needed too. (worth noting that mental health charities also deal with DV cases for both genders)

Donate to Women’s Aid

Donate to Refuge

Donate to Mankind – specifically for male domestic abuse victims

Donate to Men’s Advice Line – a free phone support for men affected by DV

Last but by no mean’s least – our NHS workers

Where do I start? Can you even imagine? I have friends who work frontline in the NHS and they’re petrified to do their jobs, petrified to be at home with their family in case they infect them. I have friends working in other areas of the NHS who have been deployed to frontline and are outside of their usual comfort zone.

It doesn’t mater if you’re a receptionist, a doctor, a paramedic or a cleaner, our NHS are wonderful right now. They’re doing jobs most of us wouldn’t want to do. And for all the claps and the rainbows in windows and the appreciation, the NHS needs cold hard cash. Whether it’s to subsidise their salary, feed them a hot meal, pay their parking fines (don’t get me started) or get them much needed PPE which the government has failed to provide (don’t get me started, part 2!) then all cash donations to the NHS are welcomed right now.

Side note to say – they shouldn’t be necessary because the NHS is supposed to be government funded and accessible by all parts of our society. The NHS is NOT a charity. But in times of need we pull together and protect those who protect us, and then (hopefully) we hold the government to account later.

Again, there will be lots of local places you can donate, including local restaurants who are supplying hot meals whilst their restaurants are closed by the government and organisations who are working on PPE – donate here. Always check the legitimacy of Just Giving accounts and the like, but do support locally while you can.

Finally an honourable mention to War Veteran Captain Tom Moore who, at 99 years old, decided to raise money for the NHS by walking the length of his garden 100 times before his 100th birthday at the end of April. He hoped to raise half a million, but is currently at over a staggering £8 million. For a man who should be enjoying his retirement to be busting his ass when our government are being so shit (sorry, I’m bitter) is incredible, and just shows the WW2 war spirit he obviously had when serving our country.

Captain Moore, if I was wearing a hat I would take it off to you.

In the meantime I will be donating to Tom’s 100th birthday walk, and you could too by clicking here!

In addition, it’s Tom’s 100th birthday on 30th April so there’s a campaign to get birthday cards for him on social media – whichever channels you use, tagged #MakeACardForTom Do get involved and make a real hero very happy!

Everyone stay safe! Take care of yourselves, and each other (wasn’t that Jerry Springer’s by-line?

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My husband is gluten intolerant

It’s recently become apparent that my husband is gluten intolerant. He’s always been a bit “loose of bowel” shall we say (sorry if TMI!) but we thought that was just him. More recently we started noticing patterns of stomach troubles when we’d eaten something particularly wheat heavy (fajitas, pasta bakes) and I suggested it may be wheat related. A few other symptoms later and I started to read more into it. I became convinced he had coeliac disease.

He went to the doctor with his symptoms, and she immediately said he’d need to be tested for coeliac. He was keen to start cutting out gluten immediately. But all of the resources say you shouldn’t do that until you have a diagnosis. You need gluten in your diet in order for your body to react to it so you can get an accurate test result, as advised by Coeliac UK and all other health organisations.

The good news is, he isn’t coeliac

The bad news is that the nurse who gave him his results was completely dismissive of all the symptoms he has. She pretty much sent him on his way. He’s going to book a follow up appointment with a doctor to discuss further. Meanwhile, we have self-diagnosed him as having Non Coeliac Gluten Intolerance (NCGI). I know self diagnosis isn’t ideal, but it’s all we have right now. We’ve come to this conclusion because he’s cut gluten out completely and is already feeling heaps better. So there has to be something going on.

The thing about NCGI (and coeliac) is that it’s untreatable with medication. That means a diagnosis doesn’t really benefit you in any way. All you can do is cut gluten out of your diet.

There are two aspects to finding our you’re gluten intolerant

One is the practical side of things (cutting out gluten containing foods – more stuff than you would realise), and the other is the emotional side. The husband is, understandably, struggling somewhat. He keeps realising things he won’t be able to eat from this point forward and I guess, in a way, he’s in mourning. Food is a big part of our lives, as is eating out, so there’s a lot to think about.

Since this all started I’ve gone into research overdrive. I figure that the more information I have, the better I’m armed to deal with this for both of us. I do the food shopping and the cooking, so non gluten containing ingredients are my responsibility. While the husband is dealing with the emotional side of things, I can be the practical person working out what all of this means and – more importantly – how we’re going to face it with as little impact as possible. For people living together any kind of food intolerance is obviously going to impact both/all of them; both in and out of the home.

My advice if your husband is gluten intolerant

(Or your wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, housemate, mother, brother, sister – you get the idea) is to do your research. Find out as much as possible about gluten containing foods. Look for gluten free replacements where available. Most supermarkets will have a gluten free section in their dried, refrigerated and freezer sections. The choice is much much better than it used to be. Decide how you’re going to tackle it as a household. For example, we’ve both switched to GF bread, purely because I don’t eat a lot of bread anyway. It doesn’t make sense to have two types in the house and, more importantly, I don’t want to contaminate things like butter and the toaster with GF containing breadcrumbs.

I have pretty much deglutened (not a word, but you know what I mean) our house, just to avoid accidental consumption by the husband while he’s getting to grips with it all. Soups – a lunchtime staple for him – have been carefully checked to make sure they’re ok (many tinned soups contain wheat flour, so his daily choice has been severely curtailed). Condiments have been cleared out – if it’s got gluten in, it has no place in our cupboards. My supermarket shopping trips now consist of avidly reading labels for suitability (helpfully, all allergens are shown in bold in the ingredients list, so there’s no need to read every single thing in detail).

Personally I’m taking this as an opportunity to be more food aware…

…and also as a little bit of a challenge (that sounds like I’m getting enjoyment from it, which obviously I’m not). I’m determined that he won’t miss out on some of his favourites just because of the dreaded G. There’ll be things I’m going to cook from scratch where previously we may have bought pre-prepared or takeaway. While he comes to terms with it all, I’m on hand with a GF version wherever possible. It’s a learning curve, but we’re in it together.

I’d love to hear from you if your husband is gluten intolerant (or you, a loved one, etc!) Going forward I’ll be sharing my GF finds and tips with you as well.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

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Thinking about my Dad

It’s been 3 years, 4 months and 8 days since my Dad died. I don’t count the days and weeks, but a quick mental calculation when I started planning this post was easy enough.

3 years, 4 months and 8 days is a long time. Try imagining 3 years into the future. Its impossible. Or think about the past 3 years. I’ve started and finished jobs, moved house and been to new countries. All things I would have discussed at length with my Dad.

So why this post, after 3 years and 4 months and 8 days? It’s not like I don’t think about my Dad daily. But sometimes, like at the moment, I think about him intensely. Almost all consumingly.

It’s all circumstantial, I know

I’ve been job hunting and interviewing and I know I would have had pre-interview prep talks with him, and post interview dissections of how it all went. He’d have been super excited that I got my job offer and a pay rise. So there’s that.

I also saw a Facebook memory of when I got my Dad tattoo, while he was still alive, so he would get chance to see it (he was pretty underwhelmed, tbh, Dad wasn’t a tattoo lover!)

My Dad tattoo

There’s also the presentation I had to do in my current job about my life (sounds a bit weird eh?) All staff have to do a 5 minute session about their background, childhood, family, likes and dislikes. I guess it’s to help you know and understand your colleagues better. I thought I’d get away with it, being on a 3 month contract. But I thought wrong.

Anyway, I’ve known since before Christmas that I had to do this presentation, although I didn’t finalise it until the night before it was due (what can I say, I work better under pressure!) I’d been mentally planning it for a while. And I knew I had to include a section about my Dad, and his illness, the late diagnosis, and his scuppered plans for an assisted death if that’s the route he wanted to go down. It’s such a big part of my life and who I am that I couldn’t not acknowledge it. It was also an opportunity to bring the Dignity in Dying message to a captive audience.

I was surprised by how emotional I got telling my Dad’s story in front of what is, essentially, a group of strangers. My voice cracked, I had to fight back tears and I didn’t remember all the things I wanted to say, but I had people come up to me afterwards and say they agreed that a change in the law is needed, and other people who shared memories of their own parents when they were alive. It was good and bad, and happy and sad all at once.

It’s just a mindset

You may have read my posts on grief and talking about death, and this is neither. It’s just a mindset. A mentality. A thought process and awareness that I’m going through.

Not that I didn’t already know it, but it’s been a deep and intense reminder that my Dad’s death changed my life; not just through him not being here anymore, but through the impact he had and continues to have on me consciously and subconsciously.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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2020 plans

I don’t make resolutions. They’re daft. But I do like to have something to aim for at the start of the year (yes, I’m aware how contradictory that sounds!)

Here’s the 2020 edition!

2020 plans

Pay off my credit card

Hello, my name is Kelly, I’m 42 years old, and I always owe money on my credit card. It’s quite ridiculous. I have sufficient money in the bank to pay it off, but that’s not the point. I need to deprive myself of monthly earnings to clear what I owe. It’s not a lot, or anything. Just that I get close and then something happens (like Christmas) and I use my credit card for ease then don’t get round to paying it off and it mounts. 2020 is is the year I will become a financially responsible adult. Honest! (not in January though, my car insurance and MOT is due).

Get a job

2019 saw me “part company” with my previous employer, and it was a really shit time but taught me a lot of things. I’m currently 1/3 way through a 3 month fixed term contract, and it’s a kind of weird workplace, but I’m learning from it <<side note – everything in life should teach you things and be a learning experience>>. Anyways, I’ll be officially unemployed again at the end of February. So I need to find and secure the next chapter in my working life. (I was going to make a flippant comment about maybe winning the lottery before then, but I don’t play the lottery, so who’s the fool?) Needing a new job rather than wanting a new job changes your decision process, so I’m more likely to accept a job that wants me (!!) but I’ve been selective in my applications so everything I’m going for is something I’m interested in. I have a second interview and another couple of things lined up for (way too) early Jan, so we’ll see what happens!

The year of the Bongo

Did I mention we bought a campervan? Acquiring Bodhi (as our Mazda Bongo is named) as late as October meant we wouldn’t be doing any overnighters in 2019. But 2020 is going to see us heading off, setting up, and sleeping over! We need to start getting ready for when the good weather arrives; our inside is set (fairy lights and cushions) and we’ve had some days out (the kettle works perfectly). But it’s time to start thinking about toilet arrangements, awnings and where to go.

And that’s pretty much it!

Nothing more solid than that. Because you can’t predict this weird thing called life. You just have to buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Let me know your 2020 plans in the comments!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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2019 in review, with highlights!

As the New Year approaches rapidly I always think it’s interesting to look back at the 12 months that have passed. Not in a congratulatory or self-pitying way. Just as a round up and reminder. And of course to pick out my 2019 highlights.

I couldn’t possibly do my decade in review, because that would be way too long and detailed, but needless to say the biggest and most life changing event was losing my Dad. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to lots of places and build a strong marriage (at the beginning of the decade I was fairly new to being a wife, whereas now I’m a veteran!)

In a nod to the decade “thing”, I will post a comparison pic – it’s actually my old vs new passport photo. I’m not doing too badly!

2009 vs 2019 - passport photo

My passport, on the other hand, is no longer European, sob…

So, 2019!

I started the year full of gusto, in a new job that felt very promising and full of great people, with travel plans afoot (as always) and hoping for another incredible summer after the great wonder that was Summer 2018.

I’m ending the year feeling a little more jaded, in a different (temporary) job; having learnt life lessons, employment lessons, and intuition lessons. If something feels wrong then it probably is! That said, an amazing Christmas holiday has made me happy and content, and that’s the most important thing.

2019 highlights

Every year has its ups and downs, and 2019 was no exception. But when I think of the best things, off the top of my head, these are the three that come to mind.

The birth of my nephew

After a really shitty pregnancy during which she was pretty much constantly poorly, and a 3 day labour, my sister gave birth to a 10lb 2oz beautiful baby boy by C-section on Saturday 27th July. It’s my first time being an auntie and it’s filled me with a new sense of pride and delight. Jacob is a joy (now he’s stopped crying when he sees me, and rewards me with smiles instead!) Being part of his first Christmas was incredible. I love him so much!

2019 highlights - my nephew

Easter weekend in Paignton

This was totally unplanned and very last minute! The weekend before Easter we were watching Four in a Bed on TV and I said how nice it would be to have a short break at the English seaside. We haven’t been to Paignton for many years. The husband has happy memories of childhood holidays there, so we found a B&B and off we went.

Last time we were in Paignton it was quite run down. Lots of places were closed and not much going on. We were thrilled to see there’s been some investment in the area, with seafront pubs reopening and lots of people around. It helped that the weather was unseasonably excellent for Easter. We went to the zoo, went on a steam railway, went on the fairground, met up with friends who were staying in Torquay, and had an absolute blast.

2019 highlights - a weekend in Paignton

Read about our weekend here.

Buying a campervan

The highlight about this was seeing my husband’s face as he lived a childhood dream. He’d gone on and on AND ON about it for months; looking for the right one and umming and aahing about what to do. Then we found Bodhi Bongo at the end of September. We picked him up in early October, and have already had some great times with him. No overnighters yet, but watch this space in 2020!

2019 highlights - Mazda Bongo campervan

What are your 2019 highlights? Thanks, as always, for reading!

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Autumn winter in the great outdoors? Go on then!

Any season that isn’t summer is not my bag. Summer is the absolute dogs danglies. Autumn is, in my opinion, the worst season. Spring means summer is coming, and winter at least has Christmas. Autumn? To me it just signifies the end of the good stuff (summer) and the beginning of the cold of winter. I don’t understand how people get excited about autumn.

I’ve already posted about my dislike of September (the beginning of Autumn, if so many are to be believed!) a few years ago.

I read about pumpkin spice lattes (I don’t drink long coffee drinks), jumper season (I prefer t-shirts), wrapping up in hats and scarves and boots, sitting in front of the fire and going for autumn winter walks.

And I Just. Don’t. Get. It.

You don’t really see autumn colours when you live in the suburbs of a city. Sure, my garden is covered in leaves and they’re a range of colours, but that doesn’t bring an appreciation of the beauty of autumn. It just brings a mulchy mess that ruins the grass!

And as for winter, it’s barren and cold, with no greenery, dull dark days and the only brightness in months of darkness is the excitement of Christmas.

Confession: I may have changed my mind a little bit, all thanks to Bodhi Bongo!

Overnighters in our campervan are very much for longer days and warmer weather. But as a day van, Bodhi has opened up new possibilities for us outside of summer. Our van has a twin gas hob, we have a kettle and a griddle pan and lots of space, which brings a whole new dimension to going out for the day.

Our first trip out was to Sudeley Castle which I posted about here.

November

In November I experienced a whole new take on Autumn. The husband suggested driving down to the Forest of Dean for a scenic drive and a wander. I was enthusiastic but wary. Autumn isn’t really all that, right?

The drive alone was beautiful. Being in the campervan you’re much higher than a normal car, so you can see a lot more. More colours, more streams, more bridges and tree lined roads.

Bongo drive to the Forest of Dean
Bongo drive to the Forest of Dean
Bongo drive to the Forest of Dean

We parked up in Speech House Woods, which is maintained by Forestry England, changed our shoes, and off we went!

Autumn Winter Bongo in the Forest of Dean

It wasn’t long until I stopped in my tracks, looked all around me, and declared “this feels like an autumn fairytale!”

I’ve never seen such beautiful shades of orange, rust and gold, interspersed by blue skies and evergreen leaves. The air was crisp, there was a blanket of leaves underfoot and trees of all shapes and sizes.

Autumn Winter Forest of Dean
Autumn Winter Forest of Dean
Autumn Winter Forest of Dean
Autumn Winter Forest of Dean
Autumn Winter Forest of Dean
Autumn Winter Forest of Dean
Autumn Winter Forest of Dean
Autumn Winter Forest of Dean
Autumn Winter Forest of Dean

It definitely turned me into a fan of Autumn walks! So much so, that, a couple of weeks later, we headed up to the Clent Hills, which is just a short drive from Birmingham. At their highest point, Clent Hills rise to 1037ft, with 360 degree views over multiple counties.

Autumn Winter Clent Hills
Autumn Winter Clent Hills
Autumn Winter Clent Hills
Autumn Winter Clent Hills
Autumn Winter Clent Hills
Autumn Winter Clent Hills
Autumn Winter Clent Hills
Autumn Winter Clent Hills
Autumn Winter Clent Hills

December

And so to Winter, where surely the drop in temperatures and bare branches would hold no interest for me? Well, such is my new zest for outdoor life (!!) that the suggestion of a post Christmas drive to the Wyre Forest was jumped upon by me. I adorned myself with coat, scarf, hat and gloves (all the things I sneer at!), packed our campervan bag with all the essential (teabags, sweeteners, kettle, bread and sausage) and off we went.

Autumn Winter Wyre Forest

Turns out that even winter in the forest is a joy! There’s a surprising amount of green thanks to coniferous trees, and the low winter sun creates beautiful shadows and casts a glow through the trees.

Autumn Winter Wyre Forest
Autumn Winter Wyre Forest
Autumn Winter Wyre Forest
Autumn Winter Wyre Forest
Autumn Winter Wyre Forest
Autumn Winter Wyre Forest
Autumn Winter Wyre Forest
Autumn Winter Wyre Forest

How does our campervan make autumn and winter walks more enjoyable?

When you’ve been for a walk in bracing temperatures, you (I) need a little downtime before bundling back in the car to go home. Having Bodhi Bongo means we have plenty of space to take off all our layers, change our muddy boots and stretch out (and stop sweating!) before we head back. We can have a cup of tea and some food sitting at a proper table. So far we’ve cooked bacon sandwiches, cheese and ham toasties and sausage sandwiches, all fresh and hot. It’s a real novelty and makes it so much fun. Who thought I’d look forward to watching a kettle boil on a gas stove?

Buying our campervan at the “worst” time of year means that we still have the very best to come! But,, rest assured, when autumn rolls around in 2020, I’ll be chomping at the bit for days out. This is a year round hobby for us, and I’m excited to see where we end up in the future!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Does your employer really care about you?

It’s not enough these days for employers to pay their staff for a job well done. As employees we want more. We want to feel part of something bigger. We want to feel like our employers care.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that! While money is most people’s prime motivator for going to work (because, obvs) we also benefit from relationships with colleagues and a feeling of achievement.

It’s fairly common these days, certainly in my job searches, for ‘good working culture’ to be mentioned in the job advert. Employers may class themselves as ‘great to work for’ or having a ‘family feel’. But how much of that is all talk?

Only a mercenary (or stupid) employer would tell their staff that they’re just a number, contributing to the bottom line, but there are nice words and then there are the associated actions.

Is your employer all they seem to be? Here are some signs that may suggest they’re not!

Terms and conditions of employment

So you know what your salary will be, and how many days annual leave you’ll get. Great! But don’t forget to read the small print.

  • Does the company have compulsory shutdown over Christmas? They may require you to use some of your annual leave to cover those days.
  • Are you entitled to any sick pay? If not, that’s pretty shitty, don’t you think? How can an employer really care about you if they don’t pay you for genuine illness, be that physical or mental? Many employers will put a cap on the number of acceptable sick days in a year, but not allowing any at all really sucks.
  • What’s your notice period? If things don’t work out on either side, are the terms equal? Do you have to give them more notice than they give you?
  • What are your entitlements in case of grievance during the first 2 years? Employment law only kicks in when you’ve been an employee for 2 years. Prior to that there is a recommended procedure for grievances and disciplinaries, but this can be over ruled by whatever is stated in your contract or handbook.

False and broken promises

If you were promised a salary review or promotion that never seems to happen, that could be a sign that your employer doesn’t really care about you. Introducing additional levels of management into the hierarchy so you end up further down the food chain could be another.

Treatment of other staff, and obvious favouritism

  • Favouritism exists in most workplaces in the same way as teachers pets’ exist in schools – it happens. But ask yourself is the favouritism justified? Also, is there fickle favouritism? If the flavour of the month changes when new staff join the business, perhaps the organisation, or certain people within it, are not as caring as they make out.
  • Is there a high turnover of staff? In some sectors and jobs – like telesales organisations – this is quite normal. In others it may be cause for alarm. If people disappear without being allowed to work their notice, or even say goodbye, perhaps the employer isn’t as nice as they pretend to be?
  • What’s the general feel amongst other staff? Are their grumbles on the grapevine? Dig a little deeper under the shiny facade and you may find that others have experienced issues you may be concerned about, like lack of pay review.

Flaunting their success without rewarding staff

In my first ever job my manager refused to have a brand new car because he said it portrayed the wrong image to customers; that the company was making too much money at their expense. Replace the word customers with the word employees, and the same can apply. Business owners and senior managers are obviously entitled to reap the rewards of their work and their positions of authority, but when the staff are working hard and their salaries aren’t being reviewed while the people at the top are clearly having a financial whale of a time, it can leave a sour taste.

What to do if this applies to you?

If you feel that your employer doesn’t care about you, you have 2 choices:

  • Suck it up and deal with it
  • Look for another job

It’s that simple! Sometimes we can forgive the actions of our employers because we’re happy with other aspects of our job; like our colleagues or the easy commute. But if you’re finding the same issues arising over and over, or that you’re becoming increasingly unhappy both in and outside of work, maybe it’s time to start looking around.

What are your thoughts on caring employers? Have you got any good (or bad) stories? Let me know!

Thanks, as always, for reading!

Enjoyed this post? You may also like:

Settling in to a new job

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Days out: Sudeley Castle

I hadn’t even heard of Sudeley Castle until we started researching places to go for our first day out in Bodhi Bongo. We wanted somewhere not too far. A place that my Mother in Law would also enjoy. Somewhere we could have a wander round before making tea and cooking bacon sandwiches in the campervan.

Remembering my Gardeners World 2-4-1 card which I hadn’t yet used this year (last year we visited Wollerton Hall gardens using the card) I came across Sudeley; just over an hour drive away in the Cotswold village of Winchcombe, with lots of associated Tudor history. It looked perfect for our inaugural voyage!

What a place!

Entry to the castle is down a long winding driveway to the main car park. From here the castle isn’t visible; enter through the gift shop then take the wild winding path down to the ruins of the old 15th century banqueting hall. You could be forgiven for thinking you’ve wandered off the beaten path; it’s very informal – almost like you’re trespassing!

A cross between a museum and a stately home

Sudeley charts some of it’s 1000 year history through exhibitions, short films and original artefacts, while also opening a handful of rooms lived in by the owners when they’re in residence.

Elizabeth I’s christening gown hangs in one of the exhibition rooms, as does a waistcoat belonging to Charles I (he took refuge in the castle during the civil war).

In another room is an ornately carved wooden bed, adorned with bed covers made for and slept in by Marie Antoinette.

The artefacts and storyline of the history of the castle, like everything, is wonderfully done but largely informal; making it a pleasure to just wander and soak in everything this gem has to offer.

Sudeley is also famed for being  the only private castle in England to have a queen buried within the grounds. The tomb of Katherine Parr – final and surviving wife of Henry VIII – is situated in St Mary’s Church within the castle grounds. This was not her original burial place; her body was discovered some 200 years after her death and reinterred within the church in the late 1700s.

The whole of the castle is surrounded by beautifully tended gardens, including the Elizabethan Knot garden. The Secret Garden is accessed through an archway in a hedge to the side of St Mary’s Church. Being October the gardens obviously weren’t in full flower, but still very lovely to wander around.

Wander at will

One of the things we found very surprising, and refreshing, about Sudeley Castle and the grounds was the feeling of openness. There were no designated paths to follow. No arrows telling you in which direction to walk around the building or, signs telling you to keep off the grass. It felt like everywhere was accessible and welcoming; like the owners really want visitors to be there, to immerse themselves, and to enjoy Sudeley in their own way.

Sudeley Castle is a truly wonderful place; beautiful, well looked after, true to its history, educational, informative and a joy to visit. Do go there if you can!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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