Thursday, 30 October 2014

Courage, change and £100k

Yesterday morning I arrived at work in my usual whirlwind way: scarf flapping, bag bulging, coffee sloshing out of its paper cup, face flushed, feeling hot, bothered and stressed from elbowing my way through hoards of angsty commuters. I started my day by juggling reams of emails and phone calls before dashing off with a photographer for a shoot, then back to the office where I fielded more emails, spent 2 hours training a dozen fundraisers and subbed an annual report while chomping through some lunch at 4.30pm, before crashing through yet more emails and then hallelujah - home. Needless to say by the time I arrived home I had just enough energy to crawl into my pyjamas and then into bed.

Over the past few days I've been working on a blog post for a competition being run by Jackpot 247, where I have all my fingers and toes crossed of winning £150 in vouchers (that I'd love to spend on fancy new bits for our eventual pad up north). The challenge was to write about what I'd do if I had £100,000. Immediately I thought I had it sussed: a wardrobe full of clothes and a big fat deposit on house. Easy peasy.

But then days like yesterday get in the way, where the demand and expectation on my time feels so unrealistic and unreasonable that I barely have time to breathe, let alone have a lunch break, spend some quality time with my friends, prepare a nutritious dinner and  get to bed at a reasonable hour.

As I stumbled through the post, a name popped into the forefront of my mind and stubbornly clung on, unwilling to leave. Forest Huntington. For those of you who haven't heard of him, Forest quit his job for Ralph Lauren in the summer of 2011, left New York, bought himself a van and has been travelling around the United States ever since, living simply, taking beautiful photos and writing about it.

Granted it takes a heck of a lot of courage to pack in life as you know it and make such a radical change, and this lifestyle overhaul laughs in the face of my little move to Manchester. That said, my mind is made up. If I had £100k (and preferably a book deal), I'd jack it all in and wanderlust to my heart's content. Soaking up all the beautiful, quirky, odd, dingy and wonderful goodies that this world has to offer. I can only imagine how an experience like that would change you, challenge you and make you see life through very different eyes. I only wonder if I could ever pluck up the courage...

What would you do with £100k?


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Tuesday, 28 October 2014


After last week's little wobble I spent a few days picking myself up, dusting myself off and throwing myself into anything and everything. Considering it's Tuesday and I'm shattered, cranky and hankering for my duvet reminds me to know my limits. Having navigated the flood of email invitations to 'catch up' before I move, blogging, Twitter, Facebook et al haven't had much of a look-in. I'm starting to regain my focus and energy though, and am looking forward to refocusing my blog as I upend my life and move up north.

I love that moment in Autumn when the clocks go back and you finally concede that it's time for the winter duvet. Fifteen togs of fluffy soft feathers and crisp white sheets have given me a stark reminder of the need to snuggle down and relax. When I handed in my notice at work I think I allowed myself to get sucked into the merry-go-round of send-offs (still with seven weeks to go) and I burnt myself out far too quickly. In fact, I saw friends for six nights out of the last eight - it's no wonder I'm ready to shift my priorities back to being healthy, calm and collected.

With all that aside, my days haven't been without a good dose of fun. A couple of Sundays ago I took my lovely colleague Mark to Fountain Studios to watch X Factor, courtesy of Mecca Bingo. I couldn't think of anyone who would enjoy it more (his biggest loves include One Direction, Christmas and superheroes), and sure enough we were both wide-eyed and a little bit squeally throughout the whole experience. We were whisked up to a VIP room where we were greeted with platters of yummy food (Mark ate no less than 6 French fancies - ick). We then made our way into the studio and up to our seats. Without boring you with endless musings about our evening, I thought I'd round up the experience in a few bullets:
  • It really is as glittery/shiny/sparkly as it is on TV. Magpies beware!
  • The studio is actually a lot smaller than you'd expect. In my head it would fit thousands but it's quite compact.
  • The whole thing is a very slick operation, and the studio springs to life during the adverts when roadies rush around the stage setting up props and backdrops. All very impressive. 
  • Dermot is a narrative god. Never stumbles, never falters, just gets on with the job.
  • A 'warm up' guy gets everyone going and prepped before the show. I thought he was pretty good until he made an extremely offensive comment about the size of one lady's breasts (she'd been given the chance to come up and hug Simon Cowell during the break). 
  • The two girls who left (Chloe Jasmine and Stephanie Nala) didn't seem at all bothered about being eliminated.
  • The hospitality was fantastic. Everyone had lots of fun and I'd go again in a heartbeat.
X Factor!

X Factor!

X Factor!

X Factor!

The absolute highlight for me happened as we were leaving. Mark and I decided to scoot off home and were walking down the stairs when we stumbled upon none other than Andrea Faustini (my absolute fave in the competition). There was time for a quick chat and a cuddle before leaving, and Mark dutifully took a photo. It's not often that I fangirl over people (and my adoration for James Arthur a couple of years ago was admittedly somewhat misplaced), but Andrea was an absolute sweetheart. Just look at that hug - no awkward, stiff poses to be found. Love him. 

X Factor!


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Tuesday, 21 October 2014


It's a beautiful thing when the mind commits to what the heart wants and the feet are eager to go. Unfortunately for me I’m not quite there yet. I suppose it’s inevitable that once you plant a bomb, everything blows apart before coming back together again. It’s a disconcerting but necessary part of the process. As the dust settles on my decision to move to Manchester, the initial euphoria I felt at finally acting out a long-awaited dream is giving way to a whole flood of new emotions for which I wasn’t prepared.

One face said it all. Five of us were sitting around my friend’s kitchen table drinking wine and gossiping. Laughter rang in the air until the faint drum of fingertips on wood aroused their suspicion. “I have something to tell you all.” Blank faces. Here goes the bomb. And in that split second between shock and celebration, her face dropped in a way I know only too well. You know - when you’re fighting to look very, very happy when inside you feel like your guts have just been torn out.

That night, somewhere along the Thames between Bankside and Tower Bridge, I learned an important lesson about friendship. I know that a side effect of this move will mean certain people will slip off the edge of my little world and become vague shadows. Some of them I’m resigned to. The ‘season, a reason, a lifetime’ adage rings true, but there are some people I’m desperate not to lose. It’s been a conscious decision for me to isolate myself in a strange city, 200 miles away from my sister and friends and 750 miles from my mum. The heartbreak and hurt is sobering (you can tell I’ve been listening to Ben Howard’s ‘Black Flies’ on repeat), and I know I’m going to have to work my arse off to keep these friendships strong. Because proximity makes friendship convenient. I’m flaky. That’s my flaw. And that’s got to change.

Life can be so fucking bittersweet. Every time I think about moving I can’t decide if my nausea is caused by butterflies or the lump in my throat that grows larger and larger as the days pass by. When I think about leaving my friends - my silver linings - I feel like I’m being wrenched apart down the middle. But it’s okay. All of this soul-searching is painstakingly nudging me towards a resolution. A way to not leave them behind or be left behind. After all, I know I’m no good to them if I stay and force them to navigate through my melancholy at having fallen out of love with my life here. The rain’s been beating against the windows a lot recently. I’m taking that as my signal to go.

There’s beauty in the brutality, I just have to find it. So I’m going to be a walking contradiction for a little while. The text messages and emails are flowing, my diary is filling up fast with coffee dates, gallery excursions and half-hearted attempts to tick off some kind of bucket list before I leave the capital. Not to mention the ‘last supper’ I have set up with my friends. God help me. I just have to stitch myself back together, lick my wounds and get on with it.


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Friday, 17 October 2014

So long, London

You may have noticed that the blog has been a little quiet of late. I won't bleat on about how busy I've been (after all, aren't we all?) but what I will say is that something quite exciting has been unfolding in my life that I haven't been able to talk about until now.

I know how irritating it can be to read vague blog posts that allude to 'big changes' and 'new adventures'. I also know how tedious it can be to read 10 paragraphs of background before getting to the point (which I always end up skipping because I'm too impatient to hear the big news). So I'll save you the trouble.

I've decided to move 200 miles away, from London to Manchester.

The View from the Shard

I know I know, it’s not as though I’m jetting off across the world. But as a born and bred southerner who’s never lived further north than the Midlands (and that was a decade ago), this feels like a very big and rather scary change indeed.

It's no secret that I've been steadily falling out of love with London for some time. My love-hate relationship with the city causes me no end of inner turmoil. Maybe it's because I grew up in a village by the sea and countryside, but I never fully adjusted to London life. I enjoy the vibrancy of the city, but the scale and scope of London is not for me. It’s just too darn big and too darn busy.

As you can imagine, there’s been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing to get to this point, and I’ve spent a lot of time mulling over the pros and cons of London.

I love that I can sit eating cake surrounded by cats, admire a 15ft electric blue cockerel in Trafalgar Square, dine on crocodile and locusts and see Roman ruins sandwiched between skyscrapers.

I hate that I can pay £5 for a cider, £70 for a standard haircut and £1300 a month to rent a shoebox of a flat.

I love standing in the shadow of some of the world's most famous landmarks, feeling very small and very special.

I hate arguments between tightly-packed commuters that usually involve pursed lips, sarcastic remarks, stomach knots and awkward silences.

Russell Square

I love walking over Blackfriars Bridge every morning, with Big Ben on my left and St Paul's on my right, the sun peeking over Tower Bridge and the river buzzing with boats and people.

I hate travelling an hour to work or to see my friends, even though I live (and work) in Zone 1.

I love walking past a little piece of history every single day.

I hate getting complacent about it.

View of Canary Wharf

I love working in a creative hub, full of talented and inspiring people.

I hate having little hope of ever affording the £250k+ it will cost for me to buy a 2-bed flat, let alone a house with a garden.

This roughly gives you a flavour of how I’ve been feeling, and ultimately this move boils down to quality of life. The truth is, I don’t want or need to spend too much time justifying my decision. It’s done, dusted and I couldn’t be happier (and after 10 years as a northerner living in London, Frank is excited about it too).

So, in December I’ll be upping sticks with Frank and the cats and moving to Manchester. In January I start a new job working in a marketing communications role for the Development Team at the University of Manchester. This basically means helping fundraisers develop materials that showcase the university’s priority funding areas and hopefully raising lots of money for fantastic causes.

I’ll be leaving behind some very dear friends, as well as my sister and two of my bridesmaids, which I’m a little bit heartbroken about. I’ll be living much nearer to my ‘second family’ (ie Frank’s), who are near Liverpool, as well as one of my other bridesmaids.

So that’s my news. I can’t wait to explore a new city, spend time roaming around the peak and lake districts and bed into my exciting new job. It also means we can start realistically saving for a new home. Hurrah!

Tips about relocating (and living up t’north) gratefully received!


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Friday, 10 October 2014

A few hours in Mostar, Herzegovina

The past week has flitted by so quickly I've barely had a moment to think, let alone bash out a blog post or two. Anyway, Friday is here, the sun is shining (despite it being a little chilly), and I'm looking forward to a weekend up in sunny Birkenhead to see the in-laws. I was scrolling through my photos recently and realised I never shared my little trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina during my Croatian holiday in September. I booked a little day trip before we went as I thought it would be fascinating to see how different it is from Croatia. While the landscape is largely similar and there are a lot of Croatians living in this part of Herzegovina, it has a distinctly Turkish feel.

We hopped on a coach and shot through the winding countryside roads, admiring the vineyards, oyster farms and turquoise glimpses of the ocean. Eventually we arrived in Mostar,

Mostar, Herzegovina

The 16th century bridge in the old town was built by the Ottomans, and is considered to be one of the most exquisite examples of Islamic architecture in the Balkans. The famous traveler Evliya Çelebi wrote in the 17th century that: "the bridge is like a rainbow arch soaring up to the skies, extending from one cliff to the other. ...I, a poor and miserable slave of Allah, have passed through 16 countries, but I have never seen such a high bridge. It is thrown from rock to rock as high as the sky."

The bridge that stands today is an exact replica of the original, which was tragically bombed during a 1992-3 siege following Bosnia and Herzegovina's declaration of independence from Yugoslavia. Local men wow tourists by jumping off the bridge into the water (once they've collected enough money of course!) We were lucky enough to spot someone just as he leapt off. It looked terrifying!

Mostar, Herzegovina

Our tour guide explained how the Muslim community had originally laid the cobbled stones throughout Mostar due to cleanliness. Because hygiene is so important for Muslims when they go to the mosque, traipsing through mud roads wasn't ideal, so they placed thousands of stones into the mud to create a walkway. Over time these hardened into cobbled roads, which take a lot of concentration to walk on. The tour guide also told us another theory - that the stones were laid so local women would be concentrating so hard on where they were stepping that they wouldn't be eyeing up men other than their husbands!

Mostar, Herzegovina

One of my favourite things about Mostar was seeing Christians, Jews and Muslims living together harmoniously. The town has several mosques and churches, and a spot where they're currently building a synagogue. The Jewish community had donated their synagogue to the people of the town so it could be used as a puppet theatre, so the town had offered them a piece of land in return so they could build a new place of worship.

We popped into one of the mosques and I loved the beautiful brightly coloured woven rugs that littered the floor.

Mostar, Herzegovina

We stopped for lunch in Mostar, where Frank ordered a local dish called Ćevapi (Bosnian kebabs). These are small grilled meat sausages made of a mix of lamb and beef, served with onions, sour cream, ajvar and Bosnian pita bread. I ordered something similar, although the meat had been flattened into a patty. It was possibly the best (and cheapest) food we had the whole time we were on holiday. It goes without saying that this was all washed down with an ice cold local beer!

Mostar, Herzegovina

Mostar, Herzegovina

And as a little bonus we spotted these two rather gorgeous pups while having our lunch :)

Mostar, Herzegovina

Having finished our tour and dashed around the street sellers to buy some souvenirs (needless to say I wanted everyone but didn't have enough suitcase room - boo!), we boarded the coach and headed back to Dubrovnik, feeling very snoozy and tired by the time we got home. For anyone thinking of going to this part of the world, I can thoroughly recommend a trip to Mostar. Culturally it was a stark change to Croatia and I'm itching to go back! We booked our trip through Viator. You can find the tour here.

Mostar, Herzegovina

Have you ever been to the Balkans?


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