Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Saying goodbye

Last year, on this day, our family dog died.  

We knew it was coming. She was diagnosed with cancer in May. It was one of the three main cancers that pure bred Retrievers get, but it was the ‘nice one’ in that, had my family caught it early, she had a high chance of being cured. They didn’t catch it early, and the tumour was rather large by the time they took her to the vet. The vet removed what he could, and we hoped for the best. Had she been younger there could have been the option of removing her front leg, but at the age of 11 and a half, she would not have coped. There was a 20% chance that the tumour would grow and spread.  

They grew back.  

You would never have guessed Tia’s age when meeting her. She was by definition an elderly dog, yet she still acted like a puppy. Her teeth were in excellent condition, her coat never gained that sort of woolly curl that older Retrievers tend to get. While she wasn’t as fit as she had been (more due to lack of walking than age), she would still run and jump through the fields the way she had when she was younger. And when you came home, whether it was after months of being away, or just after half an hour of being at the shop, she would greet you as if she thought she’d never see you again. Her whole body would quiver with joy. She had the joyful whine that Golden's make when they’re happy, and she’d rush off to pick up her favourite toy of the moment and bring it to you, tail wagging furiously. If you’d been a way a while, she’d do a little dance in front of you, bottom wiggling on the floor, front legs doing a little two step, as she gave you a huge smile. If she was really, really happy, once she’d calmed down a bit, she’d give you a quick lick on the hand. Just the one. Her hearing was obviously fading a little, but beyond that she was the same eternal puppy we’d always known. 

The last time I saw her she looked old. She moved slowly, not in any obvious pain, just in a tentative uncomfortable way. Her left leg was twice the size of the other leg. She greeted me with the same amount of joy, but her energy levels had very obviously decreased. It was clear that it was a matter of a few weeks, maybe a month at the most before we’d have to say goodbye. I spent as much time with her as I possibly could, giving her snacks and treats she wouldn’t have usually been allowed, sneaking her food under the table. I took as many pictures as I could with my phone, hating the fact I hadn’t brought my proper camera. Before Corey and I left, I asked my parents to please let me know, if they can, before they put her down, so that I could come home and be with her.  

They hoped to go on holiday with her one last time. The first time she went was in 2014, when we went to Italy. Tia had very little idea about what was going on, although she loved sitting in between my youngest brother, Jamie, and I. The first night she refused to eat her food, pulling on her lead to go back in the direction of England. She barely drank any water. We realised the next day she would drink, but only out of the cups you get from fast food restaurants. I don’t know if it was because those were what we were drinking from (obviously not the same ones!), or because we held it up to her so many times she just gave in, but that was how we gave her drinks during the drive. However she absolutely loved being on holiday with us, and we all had a much more enjoyable time with her around. The following year she went again. My parents were due to drive over to Europe for a two week holiday on the 19th August, with Tia coming along. She didn’t quite make it that long.  

Just after lunchtime I received a call from my father, letting me know that he’d had to take the dog to the vet to have her put down. His tone was matter of fact, but I could tell he was upset, I could also tell he regretted that he wasn’t able to let me know with enough time to say goodbye to her. I left my office and stood outside for a bit, sobbing. I probably should have gone home, but instead I came back into my office and sat at my desk, staring at the screen. I’m not entirely sure what else I did that day. I’m sure I barely did any work.  

I found out from my mother later that evening that Tia had been ill that morning. Mom left for work, not thinking to tell Jamie, hoping that it was just something she’d eaten. Instead my father came home around lunchtime to find her still outside, covered in flies, barely able to move. She still tried to greet him, though. She still tried to get up and say hello, still happy to see him, even though her body was obviously shutting down. My father, who quite possibly adored her more than anyone, picked her up and took her to the vet without having the time to tell anyone else. He had to make the decision on his own. From what my mother told me, once she’d been put to sleep he walked straight out of the vet, forgetting to sort out payment arrangements.  

I’d never gone through the five stages of grief before. Along with family members, we’d said goodbye to pets over the years. It was always sad, but felt a part of the process of life. Tia’s death was different. I can barely remember the following few days. I know Corey texted me after I told him the news. He asked if I was ok, and I told him I wasn’t, but that he didn’t need to worry about me. I couldn’t stop crying, often having to go into the work bathrooms to cry away from others. I was angry at my mother for not staying at home that day. She had thought about it, but not done so, and I was so angry at her, even while knowing how devastated and upset she was. I hated the thought of Tia outside, all alone for so long. I was angry at myself for somehow not sensing that she needed me. Amongst that was me wondering if maybe the vet had got it wrong, that perhaps she had just eaten something and just needed some medication. I’m not entirely sure I went through denial, but for a few months afterwards I definitely went through anger, bargaining and bouts of extreme sadness. I couldn’t see another Golden Retriever without crying. At New Year’s I wondered if watching Marley and Me would help. It obviously didn’t.  

I know I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. My mother feels incredibly guilty that she left Tia. Jamie feels guilty that he didn’t check outside when the dog didn’t come to sit by him as he ate his breakfast. He, too, was angry at my mother for a while not telling him. I had made a calendar up for my mother for her Christmas present, with a different photo every month, either of the family or of the family pets. Christmas’s picture was Tia in a Santa Hat. Every time you came downstairs you’d see her, looking at you with her gorgeous face. Her death left a massive hole in our lives. The house, while no longer covered in dog hair, is quieter without the sounds of her following us about. I’m not entirely sure any of us realised just how hard it would be to say goodbye. 

I hadn’t been able to write any of this until fairly recently, because it still hurts to think and talk about it. It still hurts to think that she was alone for all that time, then to think that my father had to go through saying goodbye to her by himself, afterwards having to ring my mother and I up to tell us the news. She was such a massive part of the family, and it still feels wrong that she’s not around. I’ve written this, partly to process things, but also because I wanted start blogging again. Yet so much happened last year that it’s been difficult to put pen to paper, so to speak. I’m planning to do NaNoWriMo again, although once again I’ll be breaking the rules and not writing a novel. Instead I want to write about Tia’s life, before the memories I have of her start to fade. 

Since this has been a rather sad post to write, I'm going to finish off with a (not best quality!) video of Tia. It's from a few years ago, when I was looking after her. I had been watching older videos I'd taken of the animals, and the noises my laptop was making really confused her.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Yes, I'm still angry

*This post will be ranty. It may also contain profanities. I don't think I've sworn on this blog, but I'm warning you in advance that I am likely to swear now*

Last Thursday, in case you didn't realise, a very small majority of 72% of the UK population that came out to vote voted to leave the European Union. 51.9% to be exact. If you haven't guessed by now, I voted remain.

Even though I saw the result coming, it was still incredibly upsetting, both to watch it unfold, and then to wake up to confirmation of my fears. Four days later I am still angry about it. I am a sore loser, I will admit. But usually 20 minutes alone in a room and I'm over it (case in point - the aftermath of South Africa losing to Japan in the Rugby World Cup). This time I'm not being a sore loser. I'm not whinging about a result I don't like.

Instead I'm angry that my citizenship to 27 other countries has been taken from me without my consent. I was very much hoping that one day Corey and I could live somewhere in Europe. Last year I started German lessons, and was planning on continuing to learn until I was at a point where I was competent enough to perhaps work there. Last November we discussed the possibility of moving to the Netherlands for Corey to study for a second masters, as it seems he will be unable to get a job in the field he wants without a second masters degree. He sure as heck can't study for this in the UK where Masters fees are incredibly high. We talked about staying there should he wish to continue to do a PhD, and how lovely it would be to bring up children in another country. After looking at our financial situation we decided it's not something we could do within the next 12 months, but we put it aside as a possibility for the future. Leaving the EU may very well take this option away from us.

I suppose that's a selfish reason to be angry. Well, it's certainly not the only reason I have. Universities, which have seen massive funding cuts already, as well as a drop in international students because of draconian visa rules, will see further cuts. These cuts will be devastating. The UK and Germany receive the largest amount of research funding to universities from the EU, funding that goes towards a wide range of subjects, including scientific and medical research. In case you think it's a bit too soon to know what sort of effect this will have on the research community, a friend of mine was told on Friday that as of October he no longer has a job. He is more than likely going to have to move abroad to continue in his subject. One thing is clear, without this source of funding, there will be a large number of the best and brightest of people leaving this country to do their research elsewhere.

What about the Northern Ireland border? Considering the fact that since the Good Friday agreement in the late 90's it's been a relatively stable place to live in, this will quite probably have devastating consequences. They voted to remain. It was pointed out to me on Twitter that the border regions voted to remain, while the more eastern regions voted leave. I'm not an expert on Northern Ireland, but even I can see that it's more than likely because people living near the borders knew what this could mean. There's already a split politically as to what should now be done. It won't take much for there to be a split among the general population.

Scotland looks likely to leave the United Kingdom if it doesn't somehow manage to remain a member of the EU. I sure as hell don't blame them, but that destroys the Britain some leave voters wanted to make 'great' again. As if somehow we will now be transported to that wonderful utopia of imperialistic Great Britain, where one tiny little island nation robbed the world of it's resources and enslaved its people. Where women knew their place, and so did the working classes. Or perhaps we want to go back to the '70's, because that decade sounded great, especially for me, a woman.

I know that polls are an indicator for how people voted, rather than a count of how they actually voted, but it seems that the under 40's wanted to remain, especially those of us under the age of 35. That's not to say no one over the age of 40 voted to stay. My parents, in-laws and Corey's grandmother and step-grandfather voted to remain (his grandmother voted to remain because 'better the devil you know'. Considering the current alternatives, I'm wholly with her on this). I'm still angry at those who voted otherwise. I'm angry that 16 and 17 year olds, whose future was decided for them, weren't allowed a say. They can join the army, have babies and get married, but they aren't allowed to decide whether or not they get to live, and work, and love in the EU the way that generations before them have. I saw one person comment that essentially we should stop complaining about the way the older generation voted, because they fought and died for this country and our right to vote. FUCK THAT. Beyond the fact that a large percentage of those who fought in World War II were conscripted, one act does not mean you have no right to ever be criticized. No one should be insulted, and anger is best directed elsewhere rather than personal attacks, but I sure as heck have the right to criticize the vote of people who don't have 60 or so years to live with the consequences.

No one in Westminster has a plan. We currently have no real leadership in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. I omit Scotland, because the way that Nicola Sturgeon came out on Friday shows that she was the only person that had planned for the possibility of this country leaving the EU. The Conservatives seem lost, Labour is tearing itself apart and the Lib Dems have very little voice after a general election result where they were (unfairly in my opinion) punished by the electorate.

Instead we are left with a country bitterly divided. One where the racist underbelly has felt it's been given permission to emerge. This is entirely unsurprising when you look at how the Leave campaign was run. Words like "TAKE BACK CONTROL" are going to be seen in a very different light if you're a racist who votes. While the Leave Campaign meant taking back control of the country from the EU (because they want Parliamentary Sovereignty and the right to do whatever the hell they like), racists think they meant take back control from immigrants and migrants. It's incredibly upsetting to read about the racist and xenophobic attacks that have been happening in the past few days. I can't imagine what it must feel like to be a person of colour, or a person with a foreign accent.

All I can say to those people is: I'm sorry. I'm so very, very, very sorry. I am worried about you, and I swear to do everything I can should I see one of these acts happen in front of me.

If anyone tries to tell me that I can't know for certain that attacks have increased or if reporting has increased, or tells me it's ok because it'll blow over soon, that rage I currently have simmering below the surface will explode.

Then there's Nigel Farage and his 'Breaking Point' poster. Yeah, it's all very well that the leave campaign said he's got nothing to do with them and that his poster was absolutely awful, but there's an unfortunately large proportion of the population listen to him. This whole sodding bloody pointless referendum was held because David Cameron (thanks a lot) was wary of UKIP. This country has pandered to him for far too long and given him a voice and platform for far too long. This has legitimised his views and allowed many others to think what he's saying is right.

This country was NOT at a breaking point. Immigration IS NECESSARY. The strain on the UK's resources: the NHS, housing and schools, has very little to do with migrants and immigrants, and a lot to do with an aging population and governments who haven't planned for increases in population. Oh, and anyone who tells me that 'yeah, but they use the NHS when they give birth': my mother gave birth in this country 6 months after we arrived, after using the NHS a lot because of her getting pre-eclampsia. This was after I'd been to the doctors once, when a lump appeared on my chest at the age of 9. Turns out I was growing breasts and my mother had forgotten that's what it looks like. I'd like to apologize to the entire country now for that unnecessary doctors appointment and utilizing of precious resources. If it gives you any consolation, I've remembered how embarrassed I felt and I certainly won't be doing the same thing should I ever have a daughter. Immigrants and migrants pay taxes. Often people from other European countries aren't here forever. They come over for a few years, work, pay taxes, then head back home. Basically they pay towards pensions, schools, the NHS, and then leave before they need to claim a pension or really use the NHS.

Apologies for going off on that tangent. Like I said, this is a bit of a rant.

This isn't the country my family emigrated to 21 years ago (21 years and one day, if we must be exact, since we moved here on the 26/06/1995). For the first time in 11 years, since receiving my British citizenship, I don't want to be here anymore. I don't feel welcome - if people of colour, those of with different accents and nationalities are currently being told to go back home, surely I should be packing my bags too. I don't feel like I belong.

Then there's the fact that since the result came through on Friday, it's emerging that there are a fair few people who regret their decision. You see, it turns out some of them genuinely thought the NHS was going to get an extra £350 million a week. Others thought that immigration would be curbed, or stopped altogether. In the past few days they've discovered that this won't be happening. Some people voted leave, not really wanting to leave, but wanting to prove a point. I'd like to know if they've ever heard of spoiling your ballot. I'm pretty sure Boris Johnson fits into that second category. Some people made their decision after careful thought and consideration, others...not so much. From the leave voters I know of, only two could give me a rational explanation for why they were voting the way they were voting. I didn't agree with their reasoning, but they'd actually done their research. From my anecdotal evidence, the majority of leave voters I know had no rational reason for their decision. One person voted leave because she wanted to see what was going to happen.

I'm not entirely certain I'll ever be able to look her in the eye again.

How am I not supposed to be angry when the leave campaign spread lies and deceit, when the media, instead of demanding honesty, colluded with this? Currently critical thinking is only really taught at universities. This means that an awful lot of people believe what they read in the papers, without realizing they're being manipulated into thinking a certain way. How am I not supposed to be angry when they then woke with a shock on Friday to discover that not everything they read was true, when there's reports that people have asked if they could now vote, or change their votes? The general population barely even knows what the EU is and what it does, because the media sure as hell don't report on it accurately, yet they were expected to vote on whether or not we should remain a part of it!

I'm supposed to just suck it up and accept it when I know what this may very well lead to. The government have been saying for ages they want to repeal the Human Rights Act and bring in a British Bill of Rights. They want to leave the European Convention on Human Rights and impose a bill of rights and duties. I've read the proposals. I can tell you, as someone who has a masters in Human Rights law, that it looks like no human rights document I have ever seen. I'd love for the Human Rights Act to be repealed, to be replaced with a better Act, one that allows the Supreme Court to strike down incompatible laws as being against the European Convention on Human Rights. I don't want it to be replaced with the Bill of Rights and Duties the government wants, because it will let the government do whatever the heck it wants.

Parliamentary Sovereignty means that the British Parliament can ignore anything the Supreme Court says, unlike in other countries where the highest court in the land is able to strike down legislation. This is partly due to the fact this country has an unwritten constitution, therefore there is usually no document that the courts of this country can point to and go "um, you actually can't do that" in the same way the Supreme Court of the United States does. It also means that the British Parliament can do some pretty dodgy stuff, as it has done in the past, and can chip away at civil liberties, in the way it as done in the very recent past. Yes, if there is a strong opposition they can prevent this happening, but that is reliant on a) an opposition that's strong b) a government that doesn't have a large majority and c) an opposition that doesn't agree with what's being proposed.

I LIKE the fact the EU was acting as a check to the government's power. Yes certain acts of the EU were arrogant and wrong, but that doesn't mean we should leave it, it means we should call for a reform and help change it. I also love the way the European Court of Human Rights (separate to the EU, although very much linked to the EU) has been a check on the power of government. Soon both of these checks may be gone. While I'm not saying we'll descend into a dictatorship, I know that this is a very bad thing, particularly where certain human rights are concerned.

I signed the petition calling for a second referendum, knowing that the answer will probably be no. I truly don't know how you can say that because 51.9% of people voted leave that that was a definitive answer. That's as close to a 50/50 split as I've ever seen in a vote. To me all the country did on Thursday was say "I don't know". Yet we're going to leave the EU on this basis.

By the way, I did not encourage, nor do I condone any fraudulent signatures. It undermines the very nature of the petition. It also gives those who have signed it false hope.

I shared a letter template for people who are regretting their decision, if they want to let their MP know this. Yes I know that remain voters can write a letter pretending they voted leave in order to pressure their MP's into making a stand, but I hope that they don't. Any suggestions that I might ever think about doing that can only come from people who don't know me at all.

I've also read people asking for angry remain voters to calm down, to come together to help pull this country back, that we need to stop navel gazing. I will, someday. I will, soon. It won't be today. It won't be while there's report after report of racist attacks, while there's no plan in place to sort out this fucked up mess, while I feel lost, and scared, and upset.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

My 2016 Challenge

I don't really do New Years resolutions. I admire those who do and manage to stick to them, but I find the idea of tasking myself to do something for an entire year, or within an entire year, just isn't practical. There are too many variables. Often I'll lose interest in something pretty quickly, or discover it just isn't something I enjoy. Life is too short to continue doing something you don't enjoy.

I like to set myself little challenges instead. I realise that this may just be semantics, and perhaps I am making a resolution after all, but these challenges are mostly around trying new things or doing something I've always wanted to do. They're often a bit vague and easily accomplished.

This year I've set myself the challenge of reading 52 physical books in a year. You see, I love books. I love the look, the feel and the smell of them. I love the way the words of a good book seem to leap off the page, how an enthralling story makes me read faster, longing to get to the end to see what happens. I often have to force myself to slow down and re read paragraphs I've just skimmed over. The second I had a disposable income I started to purchase my own books. Usually they were second hand books being sold by the library, with the occasional trip to a bookshop where I would spend ages going backwards and forwards between the shelves, wondering what to choose. Some people bought hundreds of CD's. I instead bought so many books that the shelves of my bookcase sagged under their weight.

I've continued to buy books. Usually it's when I head into town to purchase something for someone else. I'll head into Waterstones fully intending to only buy a gift and walk out with a bag so full the seams are at risk of splitting. The problem is, I've stopped reading them. I fully intend to, then when it comes to go to bed I pick up my phone instead and read via my Kindle app. Books lie there, collecting dust, many of them half started and not finished. Too distracted during the daytime by housework or other crafts, my books have become decorations rather than reading material. I've still read book after book on my phone, but I've missed the joy of reading a book I can hold in my hands. I've also put a ban on myself buying any more books until I've read the ones I've purchased and not read. This is incredibly difficult for me.

Therefore my 2016 challenge is to read these books. No, I haven't bought and then not read 52 books (although I wouldn't be surprised if the number is close to that...), but I'd love to read the other books I own. I want to read all of the Discworld novels in order, re read Harry Potter, and have a decent sort through to see what books I should perhaps be getting rid of.

It is the 13th January, not quite two weeks into this year and so far the challenge is going well. I've read 3 books, one of which I'd started and not finished, two were completely new reads. The first was The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Given to me as a gift by Bex, I found it incredibly interesting when I first started reading it. I don't know why I stopped (I probably got distracted by another book), but I'm glad I picked it up again.

This is a wonderfully researched book that explain why habits form, why they are hard to break once formed, and how to form the habits we want to have, all with real world examples. It's a fascinating insight into how our brains work and why we are our worst enemies sometimes. Corey read and finished it before I did and I noticed how he tried to utilise what he'd learnt. I finished it last week. I very much hope to use my knowledge for my own benefit.

The second book I have read and finished was The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. I had bought it years ago when I saw it recommended either on twitter or Any Other Woman. It was an easy, very enjoyable read. It's one of those books that takes you through so many different emotions as you go on the journey with Harold. I laughed, cried and despaired with him. When it came time to turn the light off and sleep I didn't want to put the book down. I finished it on Monday and have already leant it to a colleague in the hopes she too enjoys it as much as I did.

The third book, finished this afternoon when I came home from work, was As You Wish by Cary Elwes and Joe Layden, If I were reading my books in order of the date I had got them, this should have been one of the last. Corey bought it for me for Christmas last year. I was given another copy at my London hen do. I just couldn't resist it, though. The cover was a thing of beauty. Don't be deceived by its plain look, it feels amazing to touch and hold. When I picked it up I remembered why I keep buying books, why I could never just be an Ebook reader. The book was also well worth a read. I am a massive fan of The Princess Bride. I quote from it at any given opportunity and beg people who haven't seen it to watch it. This book is a must read for any fan. It's quite possibly the most delightful thing I've read in a long time. With plenty of behind the scenes stories from those who were a part of it, it has given me a much greater insight to how the film came about. What became clear as I read it was how much enjoyment all those who were a part of the making of the film had in being a part of it. It's clearly something they are all still very much proud of. There are no "tell all" sordid tales, or bitching about others within the book, although there is also a lot of honesty contained within. I've given one of my copies to a colleague who loves the film, too.

I've thoroughly enjoyed getting back into reading like this again. Holding the books while lying in bed hasn't been the pain in the backside I thought it would be. I've sped through pages and pages each evening, eager to continue reading on the following night. I've only encountered two problems:

The first is that I had started reading Wolf Hall years ago and had gotten a fair way through, but not finished it. I picked that up, intending it to be one of the books I finished first. It turns out that I'm not overly fond of it. I don't know if that's because it's not really a book my brain wants me to read at night, or because I just find the style it's written in to be a bit too different to what I usually read. I've decided that I'll try again at the weekend. I do want to finish it, as well as Bringing Up the Bodies, even if it is to decide they are not for me. I struggled to get into the Book Thief, yet got hooked about half way through and absolutely loved it. Hopefully this will happen again.

Secondly, I thought that reading these books would help me go to sleep at night. Instead my brain seems overly excited at the fact that I'm reading actual pages. It wants me to finish the book then and there and each night resists going to sleep. Rather than getting to sleep within the usual hour I designate, the clock hits 12 far too often with me wide awake (my bedtime is 9:30). I'm hoping I'll get into a routine, as my sleeping patterns are a bit messed up after the Christmas break, but for now I'm reading books for half an hour followed by my phone for half an hour (I have an app that reduces the blue light on my phone in order to prevent issues with sleep from it).

Tonight I'm going to start reading The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett again. I intended to wait to read it until I'd read all the other Discword books (including some of the more recent ones I've bought and not read), but I couldn't resist it. Once again, for a reason completely unknown to me, I stopped reading it and it has sat, half finished. I should have it finished by the end of the week. It'll be a bitter-sweet read, knowing it's his last, but I'll enjoy every minute of it.

Monday, 4 January 2016

30 is the I guess

At roughly 4:15 am this morning I turned 30. When I turned 21 I had a bit of a freak out. Before my 25th birthday I wondered what I'd done with my life and vowed to make the final 5 years memorable.

Now I turn 30, a time when I have seen other people get reflective, or sad, or emotional in some way. I don't really feel much, beyond excitement for what is hopefully going to be a lovely evening. I've been looking forward to 30. I've noticed a trend in my 20's: the older I get the less I worry or care about things out of my control.

I've seen a fair few people attempting to complete a list of 30 things before they are 30, aptly called 30 before 30. When I first saw such a thing a few years ago I contemplated making a list of my own. However, I've become a lot more self aware in my 20's, too. I realised pretty quickly that I'd make a list, focus on it, perhaps achieve a few things, be unable to achieve others due to finances, time or circumstances, and then forget about it until just before my birthday. At that point I would look at the list and wonder what I'd done with my life.

Instead I've decided I'm going to list 30 things I've done this decade, some of which are small, some are big.

So, here goes:

  1. I had my first kiss.
  2. I got my first boyfriend (is there a better way of saying this? I got someone just sounds a little odd and possessive to me...anyway, I digress)
  3. My boyfriend and I managed to make it through 18 months apart, whereby we were in two different continents, dealing with terrible internet connections and often a 12 hour time difference
  4. I moved in with my boyfriend, 
  5. We got engaged. 
  6. We got married.
    This is pretty much the sum total of all photographs of us together. I've resolved to take more pictures of the two of us.

    Brilliant photograph by Amy at Take Aim Photography
  7. I completed my LLB (International). 
  8. Oh, yeah, I studied abroad for a year, hence Corey and I spending 18 months apart. 
  9. I took a gap year to save and earn enough money in order to complete a masters. 
  10. In January 2012 I graduated for the second time, with a Human Rights LLM
  11. I made some wonderful friends in my 20's first at university, then through work, and finally through the internet. 
  12. A few years ago I got on a train to Manchester, then one to London, to meet people I'd only ever talked to over blogs and twitter. Some of those people were at my wedding. One was my bridesmaid. 
  13. I've learnt to let go of friendships, for one reason or the other. I discovered that, even when necessary, this can cause a lot of pain, and the grief of friendships lost can last for years,
  14. I did Belly Dancing classes, and would like to start them up again if I can only find where the person teaching the classes has set up her studio. 
  15. I took Burlesque classes, and was disappointed to have to miss the last few - they involved the popping of strategically placed balloons. 
  16. I learnt to run again. Of course this is a skill that we all have, but instead of running a few metres and having to stop because my heart was pounding and I was out of breath, I learnt how to run for half an hour at a time. 
  17. I completed a race for life. Granted I walked for most of it, but I had worked the 6 days previously, plus it was a pretty hot day...ok, fine, whatever, I wasn't fit enough to run it. However....
  18. A year after the Race for Life I completed my first 10k obstacle course run. I completed a second WOLF run 3 months later. 
  19. I went to Rome twice, a place I had wanted to visit since I first learnt about the Romans. 
  20. Corey and I had two holidays in Edale, where I discovered I quite like hiking. 
  21. We took a trip to Norfolk during the month of February - I learnt that winter camping is not for me. 
  22. We went to the Isle of Skye - a place I longed to return to. I vaguely remembered the first trip there with my family, although my memory was only of torrential rain and very deep puddles on the road. My second holiday there with Corey was far less rainy and a lot more memorable. 
  23. After 9 years together I finally took Corey to South Africa and showed him a few of the places of my childhood. 
  24. We honeymooned in the Lake District - a place I had wanted to visit for years. Although we spent most of our time napping, we managed to complete one of the walks that was in a book I had given to Corey - 50 walking routes to Britain's most spectacular views. 
  25. I learnt how to crochet and knit. Apologies to anyone who has ever had my handmade goods thrust upon them. 
  26. I bought a DSLR and have started to learn how to take good photographs. 
  27. I began German lessons in the hopes that maybe one day I will be proficient in a second language. 
  28. I attempted to lose weight and discovered something. I discovered that when your body is capable of running 10k, of pulling itself over walls and dragging itself through mud, that actually weight loss wasn't going to make me like my body more. Using it in various different ways, pushing it, discovering its capabilities was. 
  29. I learnt how to let go - this is a skill I will need to continue to build on as I still find it difficult. However, this is probably the most important skill I've learnt over the past 10 years. There are things I can control and things I can't. Sometimes even the things I can control are only controllable to a certain level. I learnt to try to focus on the controllable. 
  30. I have begun to realise that failure isn't really the terrifying thing I was brought up to believe. I'm slowly learning that it's important to try in order to discover what you want, who you are, and how to make yourself happy. 
Perhaps the most important thing I have done and I have learnt over the past 10 years, though, is that I am not responsible for the happiness of other people. It is up to me to be the best person I can be, to ensure I don't hurt other people, and that I look after those around me as much as I can. However, I can only control my own happiness. While I can certainly help to make others happy, their happiness is not my responsibility,. It's been the most difficult lesson. It's been difficult to break free of living my life in a way that was aimed at making others happy and proud, often at the expense of my happiness. It's been difficult to realise that I am not here to live up to the expectations of others. But it's been a lesson that's very much been worth learning. 

I am a happier, more confident person than I was 10 years ago. The next 10 years will bring with it its own challenges. I may end the first year of my 30's in a new country. I very much hope to be able to purchase a house this decade, have children and finally get a few pets. These are all uncertainties at the moment, though. 

One thing I know is, there will be no 40 before 40 list. However, I'm pretty sure I'll still do plenty of things, learn plenty of lessons and try plenty of things in the coming years. 

Monday, 28 September 2015

Surely you can't have a wedding with 120 guests for £4,000!

In case you haven't heard (although I'm sure you all have by now!), I got married in May. It's been a big reason why I've been so quiet on the blog this year. The engagement was short, which I am very glad about for many reasons. One side effect of this was that it took a lot of time and energy, both physical and emotional. That plus a very intense month at work straight afterwards has meant that I've been unusually tired. Whenever I recover a bit of energy I try to do all the things, leading to me getting tired again. I'm trying to use the last quarter of this year to break that cycle, be kind to myself and realise that sometimes plans and ambitions need to be postponed for the greater good. A clear sign that I need to be kinder to myself is that I've been ill twice this year with colds. I'm lucky enough to have a very good immune system, so getting ill at all is an unusual occurrence.

We had a relatively inexpensive wedding, although spending £4,000 on one day was a fair bit of money for the two of us! I thought I'd write this post because not only did we only spend that much, but we did it while having nearly 120 guests. Pretty much any blog post or wedding article about spending less on your wedding was all about how you absolutely have to cut the guest list. Those who didn't have to cut their list down usually had a reception venue they could use for free or for a very low cost. Our initial guest list was just over 200, we cut it down to around 150, but that was essentially as far as we were willing to go.

So how can it be done?

  1. Make a list of the non-negotiables. What do you absolutely need and want on your wedding day. Then get a rough idea of what these will cost. At this point you may discover you can't fit it all into your budget. We had a second list of things we'd like to have at the wedding if we had money left over - some of the non-negotiables might actually fit on this second list. Be realistic. If you absolutely must have your wedding in a castle or stately home, it's not going to come cheap. 
  2. DIY what you can. I made the bouquets, grew the table centrepieces (although I wish I'd grown something else as I think the cornflowers didn't work!), we bought the salads for our hog roast from Waitrose and Marks and Spencers, my Dad DJed using a Spotify playlist, and my parents, uncle and aunt sorted out the drinks for the bar. They then ran it on the night. 
  3. If people offer to help, or to pay for things as a wedding gift, say yes. This does come with a few provisions: if you suspect they may not fulfil their offer, if you want that specific thing done a certain way, or if you think the fact they're helping you out will cause issues after the wedding, try and find a polite way to say no. We were very lucky and got a lot of help with things, significantly reducing our costs. We got help with:
    1. Our photography. I was lucky enough to have a friend just starting out whose prices at the time were a lot less than she's worth. One of my bridesmaids offered to pay for her to be our photographer. Our budget would have been £5,000 if we'd been paying for that. 
    2. My aunt sorted out our wedding cake and paid for that as a wedding gift. 
    3. My other bridesmaid did our invitations and order of services for us, again as a wedding gift. 
    4. Many of the decorations were made and bought by both bridesmaids. I'm very lucky to have some very talented, knowledgeable and creative people in my life!
    5. My parents paid for the alcohol for the bar (which was a pay bar, but at significantly reduced prices), the table cloths and the chair covers. 
    6. People were absolutely wonderful in helping us source suppliers. Often they'd here the resigned exhaustion in our tone of voice or typed words and offer to take the weight off for a while. It was a huge help and allowed us to have a few evenings off from wedding related stuff.
  4. Beg, borrow and steal what you can. Ok, don't steal, but borrowing things is great if you can. You may know friends who are already married who have a load of props for a photobooth, or who have things you can use as centre pieces. Ask them if you can maybe use their stuff. As an aside, I have many, many meters of bunting I'd be happy to lend to anyone!
  5. Let go of any expectations you or others might have about what a wedding needs or must look like. This was the most difficult part for me. All around there were pictures of beautifully designed and decorated weddings, in lovely reception venues. We had a venue that was high on the practical, low on the pretty. I kept tallying up how much people were spending to attend our wedding vs how much we were spending per head. I had to stop myself from mentally apologising to our guests because our wedding wasn't value for money. I felt guilty because we couldn't afford to spend much. I felt guilty because people were doing so much to help us out, buying things I felt we should be buying. I've since realised that:
    1. Weddings are not about 'value for money'. No one tallies up the what the wedding costs vs what they spend. They're there because they love you and want to spend the day celebrating with you. After the fact we were told by several people they had a lot of fun. We were asked if we could please do it again sometime soon. One of Corey's friends came up to him and said this is the exact kind of wedding he'd like to have (his girlfriend politely reminded him this requires a proposal of some kind first...). 
    2. People offer to buy things and help because they love you, because they know you don't have money to spare, and because they want you to have the best day you can have. I had two meltdowns during the engagement process, and one was because I didn't realise how much people loved the two of us. If you saw that blurting out of emotions and words on twitter a few months ago, I apologise...
I can't imagine that sticking to any kind of wedding budget is particularly easy. There will always be things that you want to do or buy that you can't. It is particularly difficult when you have such a tight budget, but it is doable. Think outside the box where you can. Our hog roast was supplied by a local butchers. The only reason we found him was because Corey's parents rung him up. Pintrest has plenty of ideas for how to decorate a room on the cheap. Decorations can be bought on Ebay. Expect to spend a lot of time sending emails and ringing people to find out the cost, only to say no thank you when it's too much. 

Do I wish we had a little bit more in the bank? Of course I do, but I don't regret doing things the way we did. We could have had a two year engagement where we saved for one year and planned for the other, but we'd rather put that money aside for a house. Besides, it was absolutely lovely to be able to look around the room on our wedding day and know that it was a real community effort. 

Photo taken by Take Aim Photography
That's my manager with the pint in his hand in the background. He bought me my first Jager Bomb that night. It will also be my last...

Saturday, 1 August 2015

"That was awfully nice of you"

It turns out that a 6 month engagement is not conducive to blogging. I've got a lot of things I want to share from that time. I've got holiday photos from last year I'd like to talk about. I've got the actual wedding weekend itself, with hints and tips for anyone wanting a wedding with lots of guests (we had just under 120 people), with a small budget (ours was £4,000 and we came in at just under that).

I also have a flat to clean today, but I'm ignoring that fact, because I've spent 3 hours posting our professional wedding photos to Facebook and now I can't be bothered to clean. Plus it's made me feel a little mushy. While I don't have time to properly talk about the day, I can quickly share for you Corey's wedding gift to me.

A few months before the wedding I asked him if we were doing wedding gifts, if so whether we were going to have a budget for it. He was rather non committal until just before when he said of course. I bought him a wallet with his initials on, as his wallet had just broken. I wrote him a card rather quickly. I think I'd run out of emotional energy just before the wedding and wasn't at my best when writing the cards (or giving my speech!). I thought his gift would be something he'd bought quickly in the weeks before as it had initially sounded like he wasn't that enthusiastic about wedding gifts. I'm using this as an excuse for my uninspired gift to him. I'm usually a great gift giver, but only if I have the time to think up something good!

It turns out I was wrong. He'd been thinking about his wedding gift for as long as he'd been thinking about proposing. Which makes it even more unfair as that was nearly a whole year before our wedding date...

Anyone who has read Any Other Women over the years may know that the West Wing has played a big part in our relationship. If you haven't, here's a link to where I talk about it, if you're interested. I was desperate to include something West Wing related in our wedding. A quote, a line, a piece of music, anything. It didn't work out. Then I opened his card. This is what he'd written (there is one minor spoiler in this. I've blanked out the second slightly bigger spoiler, hence the gaps in the writing! Any spelling or grammatical mistakes are his).

"Just a little message for you whilst you get ready.

Once again this present is result of an idea I have had since last summer when I chose the ring It is a simple gift but one I hope takes you back to the start of our relationship - those long nights of watching TV together, the day when you were exhausted/ill laying in bed whilst I played football manager. Then the long wait you had to watch the final series; to the geeking out we can now do together. 

Must like the symbolism of the show, this present represents the belief I have in us too. We are '9 Seasons' (10), stronger than ever (and well into the ____ ____ [ed: the gaps are the post Jed Bartlet President & Vice-President] Premiership). We have something that works exceptionally well, and like the show, something that has evolved and gone through several stages. From the early hope and insecurity which bloomed in confidence, followed by loss in faith, tension and arguments (without the shootout), the rediscovery and strengthening. Sure our plans have had to be modified, but I feel that we have the foundation for a strong future. Thank you for being my rock and support, I love you with all my heart and can't wait to spent the rest of my life with you"

Below is his gift to me.

Photo by the talented Take Aim Photography

If you've seen the West Wing you'll know what episode this is from. You'll know what it symbolises to the character it's given to, how important it is and how it gives him strength. It hangs above my side of the bed, where it will probably always remain, for me to look at in times when times are good and for those times when we might struggle. It's not just Corey giving me something he knew I'd geek out about. It's about him showing me that after 9 years he still believes in us and he always will.

This looks like a paper napkin in a frame which, essentially, it is. Here's the one from the show:

From the episode: Bartlet for America season 3 episode 10 of the West Wing.
Picture Source: West Wing Moments
Corey had researched the picture. He found the closest frame to the one that was used in the show. He matched his handwriting to it. He didn't go as far as scrunching it up, but I kind of like that he didn't. The one on the show was meant to be years old, it was meant to show that it had been carried around and looked at often. My one is new. Over time its age will show in a different way. It'll evolve and change. Just like we will.

Now, instead of cleaning the flat, I think I'll watch the West Wing instead.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

A standard New Years Eve post

This is where I'm supposed to recap what I did last year and look forward to the next. If I were to continue a tradition I quite like, one I started two years ago and continued last year, I would pick a word for the year and tell you why. I would talk about the word I chose last year and how I embraced it.

I'm not going to pick a word of the year. I've also decided that I will try and recap last year, since I barely posted about it, in a once a week post throughout January. I promised Amy that I would edit and post pictures on here and I haven't. I still need to finish my book that isn't a novel and post the rest of that on here. Again, I plan on that being a once a week post until it's done.

December kind of ran away with me a little. It started off as I expected it to, then Corey proposed and, instead of my evenings being spent editing photo's, crocheting and writing blog posts, it was spent catching up on things I couldn't do during the weekend. Weekends were filled with meeting family and friends. The first week after the proposal was spent calling people to tell them the news. It became rather busy, but not in the way that I expected, although it was all very lovely.

Through December I've discovered we have some very lovely people in our lives. Our wall is filled with well wishes and congratulations. We've had offers of help, offers to contribute to our wedding by paying for certain things, organising others and doing things on the day. Vouchers, cheques and money have fallen out of cards as we've opened them, leaving us bewildered but very grateful. Others have given me so much support already on Twitter. The generosity of people has been completely overwhelming at times in the best possible way. People who know we don't have much to spend on this are trying their very best to help us pull together a day that will be special.

Next year is going to be an interesting one. We've got a holiday to South Africa in March, a friends wedding in April, followed by ours in May and two on the same day in July. I'll be going to one, Corey to the other. It's going to be busy. It's going to be exciting, I hope. But it's also looking to be very difficult in many ways.

I'm currently not excited about our wedding. I'm not enjoying many aspects of the planning process. We have a small budget, but are expected to invite around 200 people, although only around 160 - 180 will be able to attend. So we are stuck with a conundrum: how to you get a reception venue that's cheap and will take up to 200 people? How will we feed these people? The place must be within a 15 minute drive of the church, for reasons I can't go into on here. It needs to have disabled access and level floors. If possible, I would like it to look vaguely nice and be easily decorated.

As you can tell, the venue is the biggest worry at the moment. Once we have that sorted we can get the food sorted. I can then sit down with my crochet hook and knitting needles and hopefully enjoy the rest of the time before the wedding.

I know I used the word hopefully there. Just to make it clear, I do very much want to marry Corey. However, there are things going on behind the scenes, things I wish I could talk about on here, but can't, that are stopping me from looking forward to our wedding day. This is unlikely to go away, but I hope will be not as full on than they have been in recent days.

And so, I cannot chose a word for 2015. There are so many to choose from, how can one reflect what I hope to achieve, what I want to focus on and the challenges that I may face along the way? All I'm going to do is try and not neglect this blog as much as I did last year, improve upon the skills I want to focus on, learn new things and try and enjoy the process as much as possible. I have promised myself that I am going to dip my toes into something new next year, in order to see if I'm good enough to take the leap into the unknown in 2016.

Cryptic, I know.

Most importantly, though, I'm going to learn to spend more time on myself this year. I'm going to learn to say no a bit more often, to step aside for a bit when I've taken on too much, just in order to take a few deep breaths, as and when I need it.

I shall end this rather rambling, cryptic, not all that optimistic post now. To those to whom 2014 wasn't kind to, I hope you have a much better 2015. And to everyone else,  I hope the next year brings you plenty of joy and minimal sorrow.

Happy New Year, everyone.