What Happens When You Stop Drinking

If you look for it, there is a deluge of confessional articles on the internet about the dark tarnished glamour of alcoholism. You know – the good bit? The bit before it all falls apart, the bit about being Kate Moss and a rock star and not caring. Euphoric, dazed, crashing headlong into the end. All I can really offer of my own experience is that I woke up hungover at 4pm one New Year’s Day with toast stuck to my face. No honestly, it really happened.

In other words, I did not excel at drinking. Neither did I hit ‘rock bottom’ before I gave it up. I had a library card and was trusted to babysit other people’s children. There was no problem. Imagine me belligerently slurring that last bit (sno poblem!) as I opened the sixth bottle of beer.

There was no problem until there was. Hangovers stretched like shadows at the end of summer, so that by my late twenties, a night out on Friday made the weekend a complete write-off. I was always a bit anxious and could never truly relax unless I’d had a drink. I was scared of everything and had a terrible time making any sense of my own feelings. My gut instinct had been so thoroughly doused in gin cocktails that it had almost dissolved.

There was no rock bottom, and yet, I knew. Perhaps my gut instinct wasn’t entirely defunct. It made one last valiant effort to get my attention, and thank goodness, for once in my life, I listened. The game was up. I was always tired and angry and stuck in mild, unending, daily angst. I finally realised, alcohol was not the solution for all of this. It was the cause of it all.

Even though I had identified that the one big obstacle in the way of the life I wanted was that clinking glass of something rather nice with ice – even so – I felt really, really sad about giving it up. I was sure the future would be as flat and boring and depressing as plain pancakes. Not even any sugar or lemon or Nutella. ‘That’s it’, I thought, absolutely full to the brim with self-pity. ‘Nothing exciting will ever happen to me again’.

This is the story of what happened next.

  1. The internet will help

The internet may be 50% cat videos, 40% twitter abuse and 9% hardcore pornography (that’s my guess anyway), but there’s a final 1% which means everything: that’s the 1% which is people being brave, sharing stories and saying, ‘you too? I thought I was the only one’. It’s a tender, caring, non-judgemental and lovely place to find, that 1%. It changed everything for me. I read blogs and articles from those who did not have a ‘visible’ problem – those who couldn’t moderate, those who had never been on a date sober, and all the working parents out there who threw two bottles of wine over themselves every night after the kids had gone to bed. If you are thinking of giving up the booze for a little while, or a long while, I’d highly recommend checking out some of these (I’ve added a reading list at the end). I stayed in bed every evening and scrolled through it all, thinking, ‘you too?’ with everything I read.

  1. The first few weeks

I learned from that 1% of the internet that the first few weeks are the bit where you might find yourself ‘white-knuckling’ it. My mantra at the time was protect and distract. I shouted it like I was on some kind of spying mission, involving wearing night-goggles and doing lots of ducking and rolling. I had to protect myself from being persuaded to drink again, so (sadly) I had to dump my whole social life for a little while. Then I embarked on a distraction project. I consumed a vat of peanut M&Ms, watched every episode of Parks and Recreation, and lost myself in really trashy romantic comedies. I hoovered up Netflix. I wore a woolly hat with a pompom every night. (It went fabulously well with everything in my pyjama collection). I bought so many pyjamas I had a veritable collection. I wrote blog posts about nice things. All I could handle at that time were nice things. Nice, gentle, utterly benign and unsurprising things. I got heavily into Chai Lattes.  This is what it means to ‘white-knuckle’ it. You just hold on. You focus and you hold on. Sugar, all the sugar, and no guilt at all.

  1. The next few months

I finished everything I could possibly watch on Netflix, except for the Christmas-themed romantic comedies starring Some Guy from 1998 that show up if you scroll for a really, really long time. Then I found myself training for a half-marathon. I’d call this the bit where not-drinking starts to make a lot more sense. I had stopped because I didn’t know what else to do about my anxiety and how much time I was wasting hungover. I stayed stopped because I realised that my body could be strong and I could feel young again – sort of more stretchy and limber, able to get up early and do things, able to make thing happen. There were suddenly a lot more hours in the day and a lot more daylight in my life, and if anyone wanted to meet me for coffee at 10am, I would love them for it, instead of raising a horrified brow and promptly blocking them on facebook so they could never make such a disgusting request again.

  1. You will suddenly have more money

Funny that. After I stopped drinking, I was able to get through the last big stretch of saving money toward a house deposit. I have no doubt that continuing to drink would have delayed this by about a year. As a very special treat (please see point 2: no guilt at all) I stayed one magical snowy winter day in a five star hotel with a bathtub perched in a window surrounded by velvety curtains. There was an espresso machine.  Haters gonna hate, but I’m just saying, it would never have happened during the drinking days. I would have instead turned the cash into liquor, drank it all, and finally, through that painful alchemy, converted it into a grotty hangover. And then no doubt I would have declared that five star hotels are a waste of money.

  1. You will care about absolutely everything

Feelings arrived like a well-trained, superbly equipped army and laid siege to me. I cried at a lot of videos of adorable animals that I saw on the internet. I cried about my stupid twenties, all the Sunday mornings I wouldn’t get back, and finally found my way to the agonising guilt and sadness that I carried around about some of the really awful and thoughtless things I’d said and done when drunk. I mourned for the past and the future – you name it, I cried about it. It was an expansive misery which I somehow managed to extend to include pretty much the whole world. I guess I was feeling rather grandiose about it all (another feeling to add to the list).

  1. Then you will forget

Once you’ve got through the white-knuckling weeks at the start, and then the Great Sugar Rush, and finally into a new kind of life in which not-drinking is normal – you will eventually find yourself forgetting about alcohol altogether. It has been about fifteen months since I stopped drinking, and now and then I completely forget that alcohol is even a thing that exists. I turn up to dinners and parties without any itching desire to grab a beer. I never ‘prep’ by drinking at home before I go out. I just go out. I trust myself again – a feeling I had lost for such a long time. I trust myself to be able to handle pretty much anything. (Earthquakes, or finding a sad lost dog, I’ll be honest, I’m not entirely sure I could handle).

  1. Feelings

A wise women once pointed out to me that alcohol is, above all else, an anaesthetic. I drank whenever anything became too scary or difficult. I chose to be numb instead of brave. When I stopped I wondered how on earth I was going to handle life. I mean, I self-identified as a complete scaredy-cat. Yet confidence somehow arrived, unassuming, with no struggle at all, and reclaimed its rightful place. This was the part that felt quite miraculous. I’d been used to thinking of confidence as something that you worked at. Then it became apparent and I realised it had always been there within me. It was quiet but it was there. It had just been squashed for a while.

  1. The downsides

As my brother said: ‘are you sure you’re ok with being the designated driver? For everyone? Forever?’

That happens.

Also, a lot of social events are not particularly soup-friendly. It’s a problem.


  1. Oh more feelings

A lot of us feel a bit embarrassed about being playful, and don’t like looking silly in front of others, so before we can be witty and silly together, we have to imbibe enough alcohol to tranquilize an elephant. Only then can we let loose. When I gave up boozing, I lost the keys to the playground of life.
I had something else, though – an extremely good support network. There were some damn good friends who accepted me just as I was, sober or drunk, and invited me to all kinds of antics, boozy or not. There was my long-suffering family, who listened to me wailing and crying about stuff, and gave me hugs in return. There was my boyfriend, who not only accepted without any qualms my new sobriety, but crucially, is the kind of man who knows the value of a good bit of nonsense. One summer afternoon, I was tired and frazzled and very sober, in the middle of moving house, with the shards of an Ikea flat-pack disaster littering my empty flat, a sore back, and a very large springy mattress, freshly delivered, dumped on the floor because there was no bed frame. I was on the phone, waiting on hold to speak to customer service at Ikea, lying on the floor, getting myself quite comfortably mired in first-world despair, when I realised the music on the phone was a gem of 1980s hair-rock. So without even discussing it, me and my man put the phone on speaker and proceeded to dance around on the mattress, trampolening and doing very energetic air-guitar solos. We held hands and danced around in a circle for a while, for no reason. It was ridiculous. We looked ridiculous. And it made everything ok. I thought, this is what I’ve been missing. So I now know that there needs to be a little sprinkling of silliness every day.

That’s a summary – to go into it any further would involve a feelings-post of grievous extravagance. I wanted to write about this because I kept my soberness under wraps for quite a long time, and when talking about it I tried not to sound too evangelical or judgemental about it (although I’m sure I failed, because being evangelical and judgmental are two of my main hobbies).

I know that drinking is just fine for a great many people. It’s a nice extra, a treat, a bonus in life. I wouldn’t dream of imposing abstinence on anyone. Drinking is just great for a lot of people – it just wasn’t great for me.

I also know that a lot of people give up drinking without writing a blog post about it like they’re a special snowflake. However, if you’ve got this far, I hope you found it sort of interesting and maybe helpful. For a much more acerbic and rage-filled take on the whole thing, this article is pretty wonderful. And here’s that reading list:

Soberistas – a fairly comprehensive site, mainly directed at women but there are luckily a few less gender-specific articles. Useful for some feel-good buzz about sobriety.

Mummy was a Secret Drinker – one of my favourite finds. This woman is so funny and writes beautifully about the ups and downs of her sober life, as well as some glimpses into her rather glamorous big-city-ad-agency-1990s-champagne-n-celebs past life.

The Sober School – this developed from a blog and the ‘about’ bit is a really great read. It’s a great place for newbies as it offers hope and reassurance, and looks very glam and polished and breezy and fun. Again, like so many other sober resources, it’s very female-oriented. Sorry menfolk. Let me know of any good general resources I’m missing out on!

Rachel’s Holiday – this is one of my favourite novels. It pretends to be your bog-standard chick-lit, with it’s frilly, fluffy cover art, but is in fact an extremely well-written, beautifully paced story of addiction and recovery. Marian Keyes is a master of the art of the slow reveal. The character of Rachel is so prickly and mean and hard on the outside, and so soft and vulnerable on the inside, that I would dare anyone to read this and not weep a little bit. Go on.

On that note, Marian Keyes’ brilliant essay on her own experience of alcoholism and recovery (you can find it tucked away in her collection of writing, Under the Duvet) is a fascinating and enlightening read.

Occasionally over at Captain Awkward there is mention of sobriety, but more generally, confidence, dating, boundaries, trusting oneself, and all other feelings are covered. It’s a great place to find out some great things.

Edited to add: I’ve realised that, as WordPress digs up ‘related’ posts as handy suggestions if you’re looking to read more – it has chosen to highlight below a post I wrote a few years back when I gave up alcohol for 6 months (called ‘I Gave Up Everything Good for 6 Months: The End Point’.) Reading this post again made me feel rueful (all the feelings of rue), for past Amy. I had an absolutely brilliant time when I gave up the booze for those 6 month, and that post pleases me as it reminds me of a really lovely window into sobriety that I tested out for a while. My plan at the time was to start drinking again, but in moderation, and sadly, the ensuing failure was how I learned that I am not able to drink in moderation. So that old blog post was but one step in a very long, difficult process of learning that I couldn’t really handle drink. Ah, past Amy. Your hair was better but your plans were doomed.





Secret Style Icon No.23: Albert Einstein

I’ve become infatuated with a theoretical physicist. I guess it’s the sort of thing that happens, in the end days of capitalism, as ice bergs melt and we continue to deny that climate change is happening and meanwhile put all our energy and resources into killing each other in much faster ways.

I’ve been searching for words of comfort, hope and wisdom; ideally from someone wearing bunny slippers. I believe, readers, I have now found that person.

This is love.


Now, how to take inspiration from this man’s style? Well of course you’ll need to get fluffy. But more-so, it’s his general stance of unblemished awesomeness that I think we should all be aiming for. Let us examine the ways in which he rocks.

1. Einstein said: “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” If everyone really followed his advice, would we not see human progress take stratospheric leaps? And wouldn’t there be an awful lot more collaboration in the world, and an awful lot less jealousy? Not to mention very glamorous, daring, nude trapeze parties for everyone? Also, people who are obsessed with their own success and prestige are really horrendous people. Less of them, please.

2. He described himself as having no special talent but to be ‘passionately curious’. The tenderness, the modesty, the open-mindedness, the tenacity, in that little phrase. I would like to have a tenth of this curiosity. Then I might try and fix things I’ve broken rather than just feel puzzled and sad about it.


3. He treated road safety with the seriousness it deserves: “Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.” Is it hot in here or am I just a lil bit flustered?

4. When Marie Curie was about to receive her second Nobel Prize, the great mob-minded public were more interested in her romance with a married physicist, branding her a ‘foreign Jewish home wrecker’. How extremely charming, aren’t people wonderful, and isn’t your sex life and background what Nobel Prizes for Physics are all about? Albert Einstein wrote a letter of support and consolation in which he told Curie to stay classy. He further mentioned that haters gonna hate, and that she just had to be herself, live her best life, and ignore the sexist trolls* [*modern translation]. That is Champion Level Friending.

5. Actually, in the letter to Marie Curie, Einstein wrote about how the rabble must ‘satiate its lust for sensationalism’. A handsome way with words, no?

6. Perhaps the greatest bit of advice I found is his explanation of his own achievements: ‘It’s not that I’m so smart; it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” This goes against so much of our modern attitude to brilliance. The idea of hard work, perseverance, and giving it time – I love it all. From now on I plan to explain my lack of achievements at the age of 30 like so: Me: ‘just… I stay with problems longer. Y’know, So I’m just working on a lot of… problems… right now’ [Exits, pursued by bear].


Young Einstein: ‘dudes, I’ve got problems to work on’.

7. Also apparently he revolutionized physics and science and sums, and helped us to understand our place in the universe better. For a man who believed in value rather than success, he really did extraordinarily well at being. And his hair! Did you see? That hair. Floofy.



When Will There Be Good News

Back in January I wrote a post about new year feelings and how terrible 2015 had been. It was a year of disasters that trundled interminably onward, with bees dying, icebergs melting, and people drowning in the Mediterranean while governments gathered, nauseatingly late, to squabble over whether or not to save them.  Everything was ugly and broken, and at some point in winter I wondered if keeping up with the news, and keeping myself sane, were perhaps mutually exclusive activities. Now and then, I would turn away from it all to watch movies, cook pasta puttanesca, and paint my nails to look like many little ghosts.


I had also written, in the depths of winter, that a commitment to the lighter side of life – the fun stuff, the messing around – does not mean that you are ignoring what is happening in the world. It’s the shield that you need to keep yourself in battle.

Then 2016 really got into its stride.

Humans in 2015: ‘we need to do something about all this really terrible stuff that keeps happening. We’re better than this’.

Humans in 2016: ‘same as last year but please send help everything is exploding’.

I had a shield but now I think I might need a full suit of armour, too. Right now I’m afraid to look too far ahead in life, and afraid to think too deeply about the things that have happened this year (but we must), and very afraid that life, if examined too closely, will turn out to be nothing except the desolate dreary night in Matthew Arnold’s famous poem, Dover Beach. He was afraid, too, when he wrote this honeymoon poem, his hope struggling against his fear:-

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

A world without help for pain is what I’m afraid is there to discover if you look too hard.

But then I think of the words that helped me up when I had previously neared rock-bottom (for entirely different reasons, at an entirely different time of my life). Hilary Mantel spelled it out for me in her novel Beyond Black: ‘this is our life and we have to live it. Think of the alternative’. I want to make this into a motivational poster and stick it up all over town (imagine a picture of a sunset with this, in comic sans, over the top). It’s so very dark, and so efficient. Such witchy mischief. Well, think of the alternative. There’s no glazing over the facts there.

These lines have been floating through my head every day lately. They have tugged at my sleeve, tried to get my attention (‘the world which seems to lie before us like a land of dreams…’). I almost fell asleep on the bus home one night, and then walking down my quiet street I heard, sailing out from an open window, dialogue from an old movie. In a cut-glass accent: ‘well this is all just a dream, ofcourse’.

It made me happy. A mysterious old black-and-white movie, the spacious RP accent, drifting out over the hedge on a warm evening, was a sudden, flawless illustration of how rich and various and full of joy the world can be, sometimes.

I know that we need, more than ever, to engage with what is happening in the world, and I believe in showing up, staying in the battle, participating – join a political party, find out what’s happening near you – and finding out about things until you understand them better. I am constantly tripping over my own ignorance in most matters, and as much as I used to hate it when my parents directed me to the bookshelves to ‘look it up’ when I didn’t know the answer to something (Me as a child: ‘I didn’t want to KNOW the answer I just wanted to ask the question’), as an adult I can see that learning about things helps. It really helps. With life. All of life.

I know all this, but I also know that the world will always be full of pain that we cannot find or help; the news will always be astounding and barbaric. I would sink if I thought about that too much. Over the years I’ve realised that to do any good, you have to keep yourself on an even keel. You have to remain sane. You have to believe that there are parts of life that are various, beautiful, new. So I’d like to present some very silly, nice, good things, as the first step in regaining some faith in this funny little world. It can – not often, but sometimes – lie before us like a land of dreams. It can also be full of cats, internet memes, irony, and pillow fights.

Let us begin.

Vote for This Cat, or Something.

There has been a lot of horrified/fascinated discussion in the papers of our new ‘post-factual’ politics, in which politicians attempt to whip up the masses by overtly appealing to emotion and dismissing facts, as if facts were but the playthings of our evil elitist establishment overlords (see Michael Gove’s ‘people have had enough of experts’, a transparent attempt to ape Donald Trump’s rhetoric). Over in Japan, they have quietly out-weirded everybody, with a politician called Satoshi Shima campaigning just, well, with a cat.


Campaign minion: ‘So on your campaign poster we’re gonna have your face, obviously, but we need something else, something to tell everyone what you’re all about. I’m thinking an image-‘

Politician: ‘Cat’.

Campaign minion: …

Campaign minion: ‘But-‘

Politician: ‘CAT’.

Campaign minion: ‘Which-‘

Politician: ‘Do it. Do it now’.

Campaign minion: [whispers] ‘you’re a genius’.

[long, lingering glance between them].

As far as I’m aware, the cat is not an autonomous political figure itself, and is merely being used as a gimmick who is coincidentally totally adorable with his squishy little face.

Getting to Know Your Local Community

I’ve recently joined my local community facebook page, which I assumed would be a great place to ask if anyone knows a decent heating engineer. How wrong I was. It’s a stream of bonkers conversations which occasionally flare up into intense arguments. Several members have posted pictures of ‘lost’ cats (read: a cat minding its own business on a doorstep) asking if they should take the cat home with them, and been urged by other members of the group to ‘leave the cat alone’.


There was a robust debate about the ethics of a local café charging an extra ten pence for a scoosh of raspberry sauce on a sundae (someone even used the phrase ‘that gets right on my raspberry ripples’, which I thought was excellent). If you go and check it out on any given evening, someone will have posted ‘so what’s going on outside Tesco?’ and someone else will have enigmatically replied, ‘it’s ok, I spoke to Jim, everything’s fine now, he’s at home, bit bruised, sad about his guitar getting smashed up like that but what can you do’.  I urge you to join your local community facebook page. If it’s not crazy enough, then make it so.

All Dogs Go to Heaven

A phrase I’ve found very useful to have on hand at all times: ‘I’m crying because I saw a dog on the internet’. People just understand.

My New Favourite Thing is watching youtube videos of dogs re-united with their owners after going missing. There are so many of these videos, and every single one will melt you to a puddle. There is so much unconditional, unblemished, wholly committed love in each of their doggly hearts, I can’t believe we’re allowed to inhabit the same world as them and call them our pals. Dogs are like what humans could become if we could just let go of all our resentments and inhibitions, and also if we were being followed around by our own tails which we just couldn’t ever catch no matter how much we gave chase.

Desert Island Discs

A little gem hidden away in the BBC’s cupboard out back, Desert Island Discs has been going since about 1240 AD and includes interviews with every single famous person that has ever been. With the Radio Four Politeness Dial firmly turned up to 11, the interviewer (currently Kirsty Wark) gently intrudes upon the castaway’s innermost hopes and dreams; their childhood, their life’s work, their loves and losses. Tom Hanks in particular just floored me with his teary moment when he was explaining his lonely upbringing, which somehow seamlessly segued into his love of Dean Martin. I usually have this programme on when I’m cooking, so I’ll be pottering around frying some anchovies and suddenly get all emotional, holding a wooden spoon in my hand, hands covered in oil or flour, sending some ghost-hugs to the person being interviewed. If you’re new to the whole idea, I’d recommend starting with Gloria Steinem’s episode, in which she answers with such poise and warmth, and chuckles her lovely deep chuckle every now and then as if she finds all of life kind of hilarious.


Gloria Steinem: Feminist, author, activist, generally excellent

There is also this great exchange:

Kirsty Wark: ‘some people say, if you take all the differences away between men and women, you take all the fun out of life.’

Gloria: ‘each of us is, in fact, a unique miracle, of heredity and environment combined in a way that could never have happened before, and could never happen again, and we are all human beings, so […] to divide us into groups, by race, by class, by gender, is false. Why on earth would you put us in a box and give us a different label? It’s a deprivation, even for people in the best box, it’s still a deprivation.’

Good words, good people, and also, dogs. That’s a first aid kit for the soul.


(With apologies to the impossibly talented Kate Atkinson, whose novel title I have stolen here for the title of this post. Her book, When Will There Be Good News, is, by the way, amazing, and features Jackson Brodie, one of my favourite fictional characters of all time – a man much besieged by ex-wives).

The Friday Happy List 13th May 2016

I haven’t written anything for a little while because I’ve been moving house, which was really exciting, and then kind of stressful, and then overwhelming, and then I just melted. Being an adult is hard, and I hate it.

I was vaguely aware, while travelling with rucksacks of books on trains, or drifting with a completely vacant brain through the pretend bedrooms of IKEA, or reading and re-reading instructions for a very small flat-pack cabinet, that it was actually magnificently hot and sunny outside. The sun peeped through the tall windows of my empty new home. Delicious. Glorious. How I love that big yellow ball flaming away in the sky. How much I’ve missed it.


Week-nights are rock n roll

I hope you were outside, lying in a park, munching on watermelon, for at least most of the week. In celebration of my attempts to be a grown-up, and in honour of the splash of summer we got this week, here is a happy list about handling life as an adult:


News: A Screwdriver Will Actually Change Your Life

I have found the key to unlock the World of All Our Parents, and it’s a screwdriver. Obviously, life is really one giant mysterious game (pfft, we knew that already) but I now suspect that once I’ve fixed a certain number of things using a screwdriver I will open up a whole new secret extra level of adulting. A screwdriver can do anything. Change locks, remove and replace curtain rails, build things. A screwdriver could (probably) fix your ennui. It could (definitely) stir the ice and lemon into that triple gin you just poured yourself.

Hot Weather Books


This Friday a little flurry of clouds has appeared in my corner of the world. What to do to stretch out those good summery vibes a bit longer? Run away! Escape. Pack it all in. No wait, you have a job, and a treadmill, and financial dependents. Instead, read a copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and feel the sun on the pages. Spend several centuries, a few generations, and one hundred years, in the company of the Buendía family. ‘Time was not passing… it was turning in a circle’. Hot light, damp earth, begonias infiltrating a falling-down family home, and mad people who do things like crash landing their plane so they can take the opportunity to ‘make love in a field of violets’. It’s a holiday. It’s a hoot.

Get Involved in Politics

If you’re not yet overly involved with politics, but you dabble, how about making more of a commitment? There is no better place to start than this: If you see any slightly harassed, 70-something man with a fluff of cottony white hair and spectacles, stop dead in the street and then run at him: ‘Bernie Sanders? Oh my god WELCOME TO THE UK! Bernie Sanders 2016 woo woo!’ Most of the time they like it. Then you can tick that box – you just did some politics.

Current Affairs

What is both current, in that it took place last year, and ‘an affair’, in that it was something that happened in the world, is this scintillating news: Some Swedish people launched a doughnut into space!

Swedish people. Launched a doughnut. Into space.

I just love these guys.

For me, I think the funniest bit of that is the word ‘launched’. It carries such gravitas. Although I would like to suggest ‘Swedish people flung a doughnut into space’ as marginally better, overall, and more accurate.

DIY, reading, politics, current affairs – that’s basically what being an adult is about. Ah no, just kidding. In this day and age, in this particular cultural milieu, being an adult is basically whatever you want it to be.

I chose from the following list this week:

Wrapping myself up in a furry blanket and falling asleep on the floor half-way through doing some DIY; eating noodles from a dinky little paper box (it’s what I want, ok. Leave me alone); marvelling at the energy and enthusiasm of members of the Green party, while remaining on the sidelines and not doing anything, just marvelling unhelpfully; getting very close to tears with the nice man who works in IKEA while we talked about sofas (sorry Stephen); and binge-reading comics on the internet, like this and this . I did not say I was proud of this list.

I hope your sunny week was full of silly things, adventures and endeavours, marvels and watermelon, and, if you care for it, perhaps even a spontaneous crash-landing in a violet field. Happy Friday!



On Rejection, Failure, Holding your Nerve, and Eating a Whole Baked Camembert


When I’m not painstakingly crafting sub-standard jokes or stealing something funny I heard someone say one time a while ago, and then wrapping it all up into a bundle so I can post it on this blog with a title that mentions cheese somehow – I spend my other spare time writing fiction.

Ok, I spend my other spare time eating pasta, petting cats, and complaining.

But if I have any spare time left over from those activities, I write fiction.  I write short stories, and I’ve also been labouring since about 2008 on a ‘novel’, of which I have churned out about eight drafts, none of which limped beyond 30,000 words. This is my secret. My festering little secret. I have soaring creative ambition and rather epic delusions about the quality of my creative output. This is a combination I believe is rife amongst people who make awful grammar puns. Like me. (No, I don’t mean, ‘people like me’, I just mean… like me. Please like me.)

When I say ‘soaring creative ambition’, I mean that I have grand ideas, which are routinely met with polite, indifferent rejection. It has been an endeavour of almost unblemished failure.

Yes indeed, I am feeling very self-pitying right now. I had two more pieces of writing rejected, in quick succession, this month, which makes the pile of rejections I’ve had over the last 2 years into a veritable heap.

With that last rejecty email, I decided it was time to consider things. I dwelled. I wallowed. I retired to my bed with a whole baked camembert and a baguette, and ate all of that. Then I binge-watched House of Cards and Sons of Anarchy, but neither was quite murdery enough to cheer me up.

I considered writing a blog post called ‘What Rejection Taught Me!’ that would be full of earnest, puppyish optimism and a few bullet-points about how much my ‘craft’ has improved, and it would definitely include the word humble.

I started writing it, but it kept taking a wrong turn. It went like so: ‘Rejection isn’t all bad, though. The good part? [Takes a wrong turn] NOTHING. Nothing. Nothing. Actually nothing’ [stops writing to begin crying].

My optimism was clearly broken. I scrapped that draft.

I’ve come back to it again though. I’ve had some thoughts that eventually cheered me up, and I thought I would share them here, just because good feelings always deserve to be taken out for a whirl.

Firstly: it turns out my desire to keep writing is frankly irrepressible, and all the rejection in the world wouldn’t actually stop me. I’ll admit, this could be bad news – I mean, not all creative output is good. A great deal of it is objectively bad. I imagine that many people tried to stop Liberace, or at least dampen his spirits a little.


Ah no, leave him to it. He’s enjoying himself.

From the very beginning of human endeavour, I’m sure there was someone stopping Hargal from getting his hands on the ox blood when everyone was cave painting the hunting scene, because, I know, poor Hargal, but he really ruins it for everyone.

I’ve realised that I will basically keep going in the face of some very strong evidence that what I’m doing is bad. This was my first discovery as I languished in bed with camembert: the main reason I keep writing all the time is because I start to feel sad (in a general, constant, black-and-white-French-movie way) if I go for too long without writing. That’s what it all boils down to really. Even if I’m the only person who reads it – I wouldn’t ever stop. This also then led me to conclude that those who consider writing ‘torture’, and bemoan daily that they must capture their genius on paper in this tiring way (hi insufferable Martin Amis and your ilk) – maybe they should just stop. If it hurts so much. I left this line of thought with the artificial, but very heart-warming, notion that I was not an unbearable asshole about my writing. It also made me realise that rejection is not a plan-stopping, heart-hardening thing. Not at all.

Then, I also came to rest on the most obvious and wonderful part of rejection – it lights a fire under you. It certainly made me feel immediately, dementedly motivated to Be Better and Work Harder.

My next discovery was one that I especially wanted to share for anyone who feels similarly, or who can in any way relate to this situation. Up until a few years ago, there was one person who was constantly criticising my work, deriding it furiously in great detail, and physically stopping me from ever actually sending it out into the great wide world. That person was (yeah you guessed it) me.

The greatest obstacle is your own self-doubt. I make no bones about it: it will kill your dreams. It will kill them until they are DEAD. The evil twin of self-doubt is pride, and I had far too much of the stuff too, swilling around, washing over everything, eroding it all. I was so brittle and proud, in my earlier days, that I couldn’t bear the idea of anyone rejecting my writing. I would have been crushed.

It took me ages to get these two beasts under control. It took me an embarrassingly long time. Only when I was about 28 did I finally feel capable of sending my little scraps of writing out into the world, ready to accept failure, and bam, there it came, all of the failure. Luckily, I was resilient enough by then to pack each failure away in the box marked ‘Oh All the Failures’, and get on with writing. Once or twice, amazingly, some kind people took a shine to something I sent them and published it. (Que me swaggering around like I’d won the lottery). If I had continued to doubt myself so excessively, these little bits of writing would never have seen the light of day.

What I’d like to say to anyone who does anything creative, but has been hiding their light under a bushel (I love that very old fashioned phrase!) please, please don’t beat up and tear apart your creative stuff yourself. The world really will be ready to do that job. The world has got that job in hand. You don’t have to worry about that. I know more than a few people who are insanely talented, be it with words, musical notes, or tangible materials like paint or sequins or cookie dough… and I would say it’s inevitable that there would be some anonymous asshole on the internet who would rip their creative dreams to shreds, and then move on and forget about them entirely.

You’ve got to be on Team You. Defend your stuff. Enhance it, work on it, and treat it like it’s worth it. (This next bit of advice is really just from me, to myself) – retire to bed with cheese with necessary.


You, politely but firmly defending your work

Lastly, I got me a bit of perspective and dried my tears. This YouTube video, ‘Powers of 10’ from 1977, is utterly mesmerising, haunting and wonderful. It really brings home the fact that we are each just a tiny incidental living thing amongst billions of others, on the tiniest, most insignificant little spot of greenery in a vast uncaring universe.  I don’t even have the capacity to understand completely how little I matter. So whether I continue writing strange little stories or not, that’s just all for me.

I love it – that’s all there is, and it means nothing, and it feels wonderful. So I’m going to keep doing it.

When it comes to romantic rejection, I’m afraid I don’t have any advice. I have a Hall of Fame if you’d care to have a look, though. It includes that time* in my single, care-free past, when a guy clumsily shoe-horned into our conversation the fact that he had a GIRLFRIEND in capital letters, before I even started flirting with him**. I could only assume, when reflecting on the situation, that I had already started drooling a bit and was sitting inappropriately close to him.

*Possibly happened more than once.

**Flirting: I don’t actually know what this is or how to switch it on. It would therefore be impossible for me to accurately identify whether I was ‘flirting’ or just making a stranger feel deeply uncomfortable.

The Friday Happy List – 18th March 2016

Spring has sprung, the daffodils are daffodilling with a certain daffodilly panache, and sunlight is flooding abundantly in to your whole life, every day.




Spr… Spring?

No, I’m joking. Spring has just limped into view and apologised for the state of itself.

If you are sad that you still have to wear thermal gloves to go outdoors – if you’re staring up at the grey sky trying to remember what’s missing, something big and bright and warm that was definitely there last July – this Happy List is for you. Similarly, if any of the following applies:

You’ve just had a birthday that nobody remembered

Your pet is trying to court other humans as potential owners whenever it can

You gave yourself a jaffa cake as a Special Achievement Award this week

Your Special Achievement was that you can reach everything you need (laptop, snacks, woolly jumper) without getting out of your bed


Here. This Happy List is for you. It is a veritable fondue of good, nice, funny things.

First up: someone tweeted the Paris Review to ask them ‘so is Paris any good or not?’


Secondly: over at my favourite foodie website The First Mess, the recipe for Feel-Good Tea included this news just in: a man called Lars Petrus is building an IKEA dictionary. Did you know that Isdans is the Swedish word for ice dance? Now you do! And how often does ‘ice dance’ come up in conversation? Let’s hope almost all the time. Kelig is the Swedish word for cuddly. Flort is the Swedish word for flirt. Which sounds like what I used to do when I was a teenager, chasing after some terrified English Lit student or tortured poet/barman. How to flort: deliver some sort of laboured, confusing joke about grammar; feel too nervous to balance; inexplicably fall over. Then ask the object of your affection to please leave and never speak to them again. What can I say, I couldn’t help myself. I was just a natural flort.

Also at The First Mess – the Chipotle Miso sauce in this salad recipe changed my whole world.  Unfortunately I have to live knowing that I’m the kind of person who has raw cashew butter in the kitchen cupboard. I just have to live with that now.

A library in Orkney attempted to lure JK Rowling for a visit, with cake. It worked.

Neko Atsume is a Japanese cat collecting game for your phone. At first I was like ‘What is the point of this? Why would I waste my time building a yard and leaving out sheep-shaped-pillows and plates of sashimi, so some cats called Joe DeMeowgio and Conductor Whiskers can come by to hang?’ but I had already downloaded it before I’d finished that thought.


Global poverty continued to fall last year. Grand-scale good news.

Here are the satisying right angles of old Berlin tower blocks – something to stare at while having zero thoughts. Save for that time (say, 8am on a rainy Monday) when life is awful and overwhelming.


Photos of Indian movie theatres! Check out the photos of Keralan churches too. An inkling of that elusive sunshiny joy.

Now go onward, and be happy. That is an order. I’ll stay here and cheer you on with pom poms.

Books to Read in Wintertime



I often write about what a lovely escape books make from real life. They’re full of people saying suave things, courageously rescuing their families from shipwrecks, brawling bare-knuckled with furious lions, or simply embarking on extended consensual no-pants parties with inventive lovers.

And that’s just great.

But books can do other things too. When you’re feeling emotionally bedraggled, lying on your bedroom floor staring glassily at the grey drizzle pelting the window, a book will shuffle up next to you and lie beside you staring at the window too, and then start to tell you a story. Time will pass without you even knowing it, and you realise you feel better.

   This winter, I was prepared. I ate a lot. I went ice-skating. I read books*. I made sure to sleep at acceptable sleeping times. I skipped all the festive drinking (and smoking). I held my nerve all through January. I stayed warm. And I outwitted winter. I killed it with fire.

    I wish nothing less for you. Here, for your perusal, are some of the books that have led me, over the years, through the dark winter and out the other side, blinking disbelievingly in the first sunlight of spring. It seems so hard to believe that the sun is coming back, but I guess she must love us a lot, because she always does.

Beyond Black


Reading is sexy. *Adjusts spectacles*. But it can be kind of perverse – why, oh why, is it so exquisitely enjoyable to read about horrible things? Beyond Black is about a medium, Alison Hart, and her side-kick/business manager, and the strange life they lead conducting shows and readings in old dancehalls and bingo-clubs around the suburbs of London. This book takes a scalpel to all our ideas about grief and death, all our fears, our ghost-stories and goosebumps. It delves in and investigates what we’re really remembering (or trying to forget) when we see apparitions and talk to the people we’ve lost.  It’s perfect for winter because the atmosphere of the book is an eternal winter: dreary greasy greyness, boredom, mild discomfort, shivers and illness; but then it finds in this thin world a whole big feast of hidden weirdness. Mantel gets right in amongst our demons and turns them all over, considering them expansively. She explores the ways we imagine things instead of remembering things; turn grief into a presence instead of an absence. It’s also very funny.  People don’t become better people once they’re dead: they can be bitchy, trivial, repetitive. As Alison morosely complains: “It’s no good trying to enlist them for any good cause you have in mind, world peace or whatever. They’ll only bugger you about’.  If you like your fiction dark, this is the book for you.

The Business


Iain Banks’ novels provide razor-sharp escapism, in fictional worlds of the very best kind – the kind you imagine you’d really succeed in. Every character is sketched with a quick deft hand, business and pleasure are conducted with panache, and men and women engage in ferocious battles of wit. I read Complicity first (a novel so much more complex and polished than even the greatest action/murder/mystery movie), and then The Business, a personal favourite because it features a heroine who is good at sums and revenge. It’s a book filled with ice and air, as the main character, the ambitious, ruthless business woman Kate, negotiates with corrupt mega-corporations and royalty, nipping here and there from the desert to an isolated Himalayan kingdom, and in and out of trouble, in a series of private jets. She’s smooth. This book can make a cold February night fly by.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie



Actual school copy! Oops

It seems a little bit strange and amazing that this book has been absorbed into the high-school curriculum; as if it was decided some time ago that schoolkids should read about prim, smart middle class girls dabbling in fascism and love-affairs with one-armed art teachers. When I was reading this as a teenager, it seemed vaguely disgraceful and exciting. Actually, I’m very glad we were made to read it when we were teenagers: if was a hint (if a hint was even needed) that English was definitely the most exciting subject. However, I’d like to rescue it from our communal schoolday memories and redeem it as an entirely excellent way to spend dark nights indoors. Winter makes me feel a bit of a shambles – sniffley, uncomfortable in too many layers of jumpers, yearning for sunlight and fresh air and all things zesty. This book is zesty – all sharp and nippy, clean and precise, and full of the most delicately organised language, and the images (pineapple having the ‘authentic taste of happiness’; exciting trips to the Science room; Miss Brodie’s demonstration of amber’s magnetic properties when applied to paper) stay with you long afterwards. It’s little, too – obviously meant for reading in the bath.

Sushi for Beginners


Or really, anything by Marian Keyes. I am yet to find anything under the dismal frilly pink ‘chick-lit’ category that comes close to Keyes. Her characters appear effortlessly believable and relatable, her dialogue is ridiculously funny, and her plot-lines hover exquisitely between predictable and suddenly, surprisingly heartbreaking. Her books are big and funny and tender, and there are a lot to choose from. Personally I’d start with Last Chance Saloon, and then go on to Rachel’s Holiday, Sushi for Beginners, Anybody Out There, and This Charming Man. I read these when I really just want to check out of life for a few hours. Slightly better than napping – and I do not make a statement like that lightly.

Touchy Subjects


The astounding Oscar-nominated film Room is currently in the cinemas – unfortunately I was not emotionally robust enough to get through it without massive amounts of public crying (there may have been complaints made about the sobbing woman in Screen 5). However, it is absolutely amazing. It’s based on the novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue, but if you require something less harrowing and more, eeehh… hilarious, than abduction and imprisonment tends to be – I recommend Touchy Subjects, her collection of short stories. Slightly outlandish stories that read like urban myths, she does a genius turn with dialogue and mishap. A relationship that breaks up over the discovery, one night, of a discrepancy in how much each partner would realistically pay in vet’s fees to keep their beloved cat alive; a couple who get trapped in an eternal, nightmarish quest for the right shade of lavender paint; a man who becomes irrationally obsessed with a hair that has sprouted on his girlfriend’s chin, and cannot reconcile his secret fixation with his modern, feminist principles. He doesn’t want it to bother him – but it totally bothers him. The general theme is: people are weirdos. It’s a hoot.

And a poem

Short stories are great if you have Winter Sads that tend to affect your concentration span – even better, poems. They are the literary equivalent of tiny delicious French pastries. So tiny! So lovely. Frankly, I say, eat as many tiny delicious poems as your conscience will allow. I worry that poems have a bad reputation as being overly serious and impossible to make sense of (imagine me staying awake at night worrying about that), but sometimes, they really are just for fun – for the sheer pleasure of linking some good, funny words together.

Like this one. This one is wonderful:

The Case of the Distracted Postman – by Connie Bensley

The postman is in love
and all of us are bearing the brunt.

My newsletter from the Secular Society 
went to the Vicar. The Vicar’s bank statement

arrived at Number 33, who steamed it open 
then put something extra in the collection

on Sunday. Coarse seaside postcards
have caused offense to Lavinia, who was

in mourning, and I personally was expecting
a love letter rather than

the Bus Timetable, copies of which 
I keep receiving, day after day.

We are getting together to offer him
counseling. Every day he is seen

Staring into the pond, his disordered letter-sack
trembling on the brink.

*alright some books. Alright alright, one book. I read one book. As I admitted to my aunty not that long ago (hello Katie if you’re reading), I actually hardly ever finish a whole book. I read the first five pages and if it hasn’t included bloodthirsty revenge or a technically baffling sex scene, I just get bored and move on to something else. This makes me a terrible person, I know. The above is compiled from years of reading. Years of reading very, very slowly.


New Year Feelings

dorothy lamour twitter

So, New Year. Uuugh. Now that all the festivities are but dying embers… maybe you could think about cutting back on the doughnuts?

Just kidding, this is a nice place. Come closer, I’ll ‘fess up: I hate Hogmanay. It’s such a high-maintenance celebration. Christmas lulls us into feeling safe and cosy. Pyjamas, overeating, gifts, hugs: these are nice things. Nice when it’s horrible outside. Then New Year comes along, and it’s all about scratchy sequined clothing, going outside when it’s horrible outside, getting stuck to crowds of strangers in packed pubs (it’s all the sequins, see – like velcro) and getting drunk to distract ourselves from the inescapable march of time. Everyone is frantic about having the best time ever… except the people who are maudlin and crying. Added bonus: on the first day of January, you can get a great start on the next chapter of your life by waking up at 4pm with toast stuck to your face (me, last year). Cheers!

Then again, for all it’s bullshit, there is a little jewel of good feeling about Hogmanay. On reflection, it is a very, very good thing that time moves forward. The good things you can keep with you always – those little spots of time in which you felt incomparably happy, tucked away in memory. The bad things fade and go. It seems amazing, but wounds really do heal, words lose their sting, life changes.

Like all Big Feelings, there is a poem to help with this:

poem for that

From a poetry book given to me on my birthday by the wonderful Gemma🙂

There are other less serious reasons to be glad, very glad indeed, that time moves forward.

Here are some of the eye-wateringly terrible crimes that humanity inflicted upon humanity in 2015. The other eye-wateringly terrible crimes that humanity inflicted upon humanity, I mean. (Since this blog is never knowingly solemn about anything). Then we can give thanks to be well out of that mess, and talk resolutions for 2016. Resolutions like eat more doughnuts.

The Atrocities of 2015:



Leggings for men. Meggings!

Unless we’re talking David Bowie in Labrynth (once you have seen, you cannot unsee), I’m not pleased.

(Although as my mum pointed out, why shouldn’t they wear leggings? I knew there would be one downside to equality.)

Remembering Minty

My mint plant, Minty, sadly passed away. I bought him for 19p in Waitrose. I took him home, gave him a haircut, repotted him, fed him, talked to him about the things he’d been though. I tried to make him big on the internet by posting pictures of him with the hashtag #mintspiration.

It wasn’t enough.

Technically, this is not everyone’s sad thing, this is just my sad thing. The world just isn’t ready for a celebrity mint plant, I guess.



Continuing the fashion/beauty/painting category: contouring. That’s when you draw a different face over your own face using shimmery beige. I’ll admit, it sort of works for Kim Kardashian, because her whole thing is Being Unnerving. Hopefully people will shimmer less in 2016, and have cheekbones in the right place, and eyebrows that don’t make you doubt yourself.

The internet pulling at our heartstrings

I’m super proud of our Communal Brain The Internet, for making life easier and getting conversations going, for allowing us all to share our sense of the world’s ironies, tell stories, and play around in each other’s imaginations. And particularly for making it so easy to mock authoritative figures, which is the vital lifeblood of existence, and also, stops whole societies from going mad. Plus, just this morning I watched two loose llamas evade capture for ages, via helicopter: it’s the Great Llama Chase of 2015.

The only thing that bugs me is the relentless posts about terrible sad things that have happened, and how we must share this information, distribute it earnestly amongst our facebook friends, so that they too can feel sad. I don’t mean the big things that were in the news.

I mean the dog with ham on it’s face.

Anyone who took this seriously: stop internetting for a while maybe. The people who came up with this are awful human beings, and you just rewarded them.

Shia Lebeouf’s Motivational Video

just do it

I love it when celebrities go full Art, as Shia most certainly has done. I watched this video and was mesmerized (10pm – 2am is internet faffing time for me, yes I know, this is why I’m decrepit). Then I watched all the magnificent remixes. Unfortunately I now find it hard to achieve anything at all without a little Shia raging away, encouraging me to take action, flailing his arms around. It does not feel like progress.

And now we’ve washed our hands of all that… resolutions!

To say all sayings slightly wrong.

‘With friends like that, who needs anemones!’ you chortle in the pub, and then take a long drink of your pint. ‘I made a 360 degree change to my life’. ‘I’m feeling creative. The amuse is upon me’. Well-meaning people will try to correct you. Never back down, never give up.

Publish my first book: 365 Onion Recipes

Chopping onions can make your eyes water, but so do my feelings, all of the time. When you’re cooking onions, it doesn’t matter if there are people around. Nobody really knows what those tears are about. This book is about freedom.

Read banned books

In order to see how monumentally uptight everyone was until about 1963. When we left the past behind, we had to leave bonnets and courting. However, nowadays, we have safe places where we can talk, write, read and daydream in peace, without judgement, about butts. Progress.

banned books

To start getting all fashion/beauty/painting

I won’t be drawing on my eyebrows for that ‘boxy and menacing’ look, but there is one Trendicle of 2015 that I can get behind. The ‘I woke up like this’ trend. (According to Cosmopolitan mag, this was a real trend that did happen). Ofcourse, like natural make-up, it probably took the Fashion People a few adjustments in the morning before they were ready to look Like They Woke Up Like This. For a more normal approach, you could just wake up and get dressed. Here’s how I did it:

big hair

No regrets.

Start planning Hogmanay 2016

On the first of January this year, I stayed in bed all morning drinking coffee and writing, while a storm raged outside. From the window I watched seagulls footering about up in the sky, blown this way and that. Huge dark grey clouds rolled over the island. I had a hot water bottle. It was great.

In case you’re wondering, I was awake in the morning because I was without a hangover, having spent Hogmanay watching hours of bad BBC Scotland ‘comedy’ (as twee and tartan-splattered as you like) and then bringing in the bells with Jackie Bird, as per tradition. I was with my parents and my grandmother, we had a big fire on the go, and it was the best New Year I’ve had in… years.

My real resolution this year is to add as much fun to life as I can. On top of it all, like icing. Any opportunity for skating and glitterfication will be taken. And when bad, awful, annoying, sad things happen, I’ll try and remember that time moves forward.

I hope to never get involved with Hogmanay again, except in pyjamas, overeating, with some hugs, and good people around.

heddy lamarr

Having fun in a fabulous outfit – Hedy Lamarr

Be the Bear, and Other Mantras to Get You Through Winter


If you could hibernate through winter, would you? Find a nice cave, fill it with biscuits, put on a jumper, and sleep? Sleep lavishly. Slumber in an absolutely unreachable state.

I know I would.

I’ve written before about my annual sad feelings which always come around just in time for Christmas, and the things that get me through the murky depths of midwinter: craft projects, story-telling and the video for Last Christmas by Wham! (which makes a compelling link between massive 1980s hairstyles and festive romance). It is all much silliness, but no I won’t take off this tinsel crown, because silliness is exactly the point.

I wholeheartedly believe in the lighter side of life, the sunnier side of the street, the blackcurrant wine-gums, and every single schmaltzy Christmas movie out there.

Quite aside from the winter sads, human life is dark. There are people without a home or a country of their own. Very big icebergs are vanishing. So many good things prove impossible; so few good things are possible. I think we’re extremely fragile creatures, all things considered, and ill-suited to a random and barbaric universe. We’re not good at living. We get so many things wrong. Sadness and loss just smash us apart.

It’s hard to love this world. Sometimes it’s hard to even like it.

Then comes winter, heaping blistering ice upon us. If you thought the world was bad, now you feel the sadness in your bones. This is when silliness becomes the most important thing in the world.

When it’s hardly a season for daylight (to quote Alastair Gray), put on bunny suits and cuddle. Build cloud castles.

A serious commitment to messing around, and a nice outfit with some big fluffy rabbit ears, could be what keeps you afloat until Spring. A wrecked, sinking person needs help; they can’t help anyone else. But if you can keep yourself reasonably ok, reasonably upright, then you’ll be around to do some of the important things in life, make a difference, and help others, in whatever way you do.

Having fun doesn’t mean you’ve turned your back on the world. It’s the shield that keeps you in battle.

I know now, that winter takes effort. It took years to notice that my intense sad feelings coincide with the shortest days of the year. I don’t think there’s anyone who sails through winter untroubled; even if they’re just a little bit irritated by the rain.

So I’ll keep writing blog posts detailing my devotion to the hairstyles of the 1980s and my festering crush on yodelling Goddess-amongst-us, Bjork the Icelander.

There is NOTHING wrong with any of this

There is NOTHING wrong with any of this

I will continue to attempt to introduce new turns of phrase to the English language (which is an enduring triumph of hope over reality). I take full credit for the invention of the term ‘monobrow’ (yes, it was me), and now, I would like to present a few new mantras for wintertime. Are you with me?

Be the Bear

Hibernate, unrepentantly. Build the foundation of wellbeing, with fondue, watermelon, many blankets, and Netflix. Good sleep, good food, and getting out in the daylight: this is the thermal base layer of the psyche. From here you can build up some sort of fantastic and deranged glitterball outfit. But don’t think about the glitterball outfit yet. Just make sure you’re getting good sleep.
Although I sort of hate the phrase ‘self-care’, because it seems like a gateway drug to dream journals – as much as the phrase ‘self-care’ makes my skin crawl – that’s really what I’m saying. You’ve got to prioritize sleep and eat foods that could be described as fresh and zesty. For all the stoic, stiff-upper-lip Northern-Hemisphere people reading, we’ll just pretend I didn’t mention self-care – score out self-care and we’ll say we’re Being the Bear. That’s acceptably rough and demented and adventurous. Be the bear! Nobody will know that you mean a bear who sleeps all the time.

Listen to Your Canaries

Now you have your thermal base-layer, we can add something else. This is a phrase I saw someone using over at captainawkward.com (a fantastic winter distraction). It means, listen to your gut instinct. You know that way wintertime lets sadness into our bones – our bodies are always carrying around feelings. Your body has no qualms about telling you things that your mind is furiously denying. Listen to your canaries. They’ll tell you when to stay in, when to go out, who warms you up like a radiator, who leaves you feeling drained. Your canaries will tell you what you already know: that you should NOT sleep with your handsome, mysterious, emotionally volatile Swiss roommate Giuliano. Even if it’s just the two of you in a snowstorm. Your mind is saying ‘ah now, it’ll be fine. Look at his lovely big arms: I’m going to touch those’. Your canaries are saying RUN. Rrruuuuunnnn.

Think of George Michael

So you’re gorging on sleep and fresh food and you’re staying away from Giuliano. You’re mastering this. Now you can start asking loved ones how they’re doing. It is a truth universally acknowledged that most people, most of the time, will put a brave face on it when they feel scared and miserable. It’s a sad state of affairs. Maybe nobody wants your help, but it seems like a good idea to be there in case they do.
Think of George Michael.


I can’t imagine what George Michael’s Christmas was like, the year that he came out of rehab for hair-spray, and could clearly see for the first time, what an absolute mountain of hair he had been prancing about with on his head for all of the 1980s. The shame. It must have burned. The man who gave the world Wham! AND Last Christmas by Wham! … just, I mean, he shouldn’t have had to deal with that alone.

Consensual Glitterfication

Alright NOW we can get to the fun. You’re warm, you’re happy, and so are your people. Time to paste glitter all over that.

Come up with some totally mad ideas and see if anyone wants to join in. When it comes down to it, this is the very essence of human existence. This is why we are here, this is what it all means. Send out invites to that thing you just invented, and make it a real thing that happens. Just three golden rules: safety comes first, consent is required, and glitter gets everywhere.

Have a Flallen

Moving on from my annoying optimistic, cheery, dictatorial tone… I’m going to be controversial and say that the key to maintaining happiness is to say no to a lot of things.

The idea that ‘getting out of the house’ and ‘saying yes to every invitation’ will cheer you up? This is dangerous advice. No. Just no. Do not say yes to everything. Do not say yes to many things at all. Part of self-care – I mean, being the bear – is to guard your time as you would guard your cubs. It’s the most precious thing you have, and there’s a finite amount of it.

If someone needs help, obviously I’ll say yes because I’m not a monster. If someone has just come up with a mad plan and they want to see if I’ll join in, I think about it, and then a bit later, if I’m free, I’ll say yes. Following this approach can lead to wonderful things. Last Christmas I managed to go 20 days in a row in which I drank at least one glass of prosecco. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

If someone comes along with an invitation to help them rehome an army of thousands of biting ants, or to listen to them describe how sophisticated and nuanced their taste in music is:

  1. Be polite – I mean, there’s never any need to be horrible, and it’s always nice to be invited to things. (I really admire your commitment to Sparkle Motion!).
  2. ‘Flallen’, you say, shrugging regretfully. ‘I have a flallen thing’. Look sad, as if you wish it wasn’t so – you wish it was anything but a flallen. But it is. So, you’re gonna be busy with that. The answer is no. Oh well.
  3. Return to your duvet. YOU WON THAT ONE.

She just said no to almost everything

And that, I hope, will get you through to the other side of Christmas.

Mentorship, Writing Skillz, Finishing Things, and a New Short Story

As I’m sure 100% of people who have ever daringly put pen to paper, or… fingertips to keyboard… will know, writing is such a wild stab in the dark with a blunt wooden spoon. Objectivity is obviously impossible. You can guess, but never really know, if what you’ve written is good, or terrible, or if it just faffs around in between good and terrible.

The only thing you can rely on is whether you enjoy it. I keep writing because I enjoy it too much to stop (like eating fried cheese sandwiches: why would you ever stop?) I keep tapping away on the laptop, having a rare old time to myself, and usually it’s great.

Sometimes, it’s not great. I keep writing away, and it’s a lonesome activity, and since I’m usually the only person who will ever read it, it all seems totally pointless. I keep writing, get annoyed, call it a load of rubbish, abandon it, throw the laptop across the bed and then walk off to look in the fridge again.

Which is why I think that getting a bit of support and advice is absolute gold dust. It opens up your mind. It makes you raise your game. It means that you can’t be lazy. You have to consider carefully, exactly what you’re doing, and why, and how. Another writer, editor, or generally excellent person, gifting you with their time (and time is the most valuable and underrated thing we have), putting in effort and thoughtfulness and care, to look at what you’ve done and help you make it better… it’s an absolute gift.

Anyway… after that intense introduction, here is a link to a short story of mine, which is up right now on the Product Magazine website. It’s called The Sugar Hotel, and it’s a creepy and gruesome tale about drinking with the devil. The story of this story is that I sent them a little, scrappy, slightly deranged piece of writing, and they got back to me and invited me on to their New Writer’s Programme. I’ve been working with the wonderful and very talented Lisa Locascio, who has helped me to buff up and fluff up this story, and led me, very thoughtfully, sensitively and encouragingly, toward new ideas and ways of doing things, all of which has  made the story a much better thing, and made me feel much more positive and happy about writing in general. Basically, this help has been priceless.

It has also made me realise the importance of taking your work seriously. I don’t mean in an absurd, ‘I am James Joyce, admire my monocle’ sort of way. I mean, making it a priority. Allowing time and space, without feeling embarrassed or weird or pretentious, to get writing done. Keeping going, ignoring the doubts, all the diatribes in popular culture about how 98% of writers are never paid, never have any success, and end up dying alone covered in cats who can’t even read… and… not giving up. Not letting up until you’re sure that you’ve done your very best.

Obviously this applies to all walks of life, not just writing. If you are lucky enough to receive someone else’s attention and time, for the work that you are doing, then perhaps wear a gold crown today, and be thankful.