Sunday, 16 January 2022

Sunday Summary // I hardly recognise myself, it's such a strange thing / to find another woman walking in my blue jeans

Dear FOQ

Yes, this is a fortnightly endeavour now and no, I can’t see a still-fairly-limited post-lockdown lifestyle lending itself to anything more regular. It’s just where we are, now, people, it is what it is! 

I write this draft from the cosy bowels of my local branch of Costa, a place that has seen me churn out my earnest writings for a good fifteen years, I’d say, give or take. There’s a sort of irony in me doing this, though, given the subject matter of this fortnight’s – what I’m calling – Sunday Sermon (the ranty/waffly/Beffly part that comes before my considered cultural critiques). Another warning for you... I’m leaning into alliteration a lot today. 

But before we start getting heavy 


this fortnight, I have been mostly...

Sketching


This January, and last, when inertia forbade me to do anything too creative, I took on the 30-Day Sketchbook Challenge run by one of my authors, Susan Yeates; last year, just to see if I could, and this year because I knew I could. 

The Challenge is a way to get you cultivating a daily sketching habit, which in turn provides all manner of benefits such as increased skills in scribbling, mindfulness, a strong basis in habit-forming, and is – ultimately – a lot of fun. I love checking my emails at 7am for the day’s theme or prompt; sometimes inspiration strikes like a wet kipper around the chops, at other times I’m still puzzling on a subject until the minutes before my Digital Wellness settings kick in and my social media turns a whiter shade of grey and locks me out for the night (at which point it gets tricky to share the day’s etchings with the group on Instagram or the Face Book.

I’m under no illusion that what I’m producing is of any cop (although I have been encouraged and reassured that actually my sketches are not too shabs) but I persevere nonetheless. When one has succumbed to a life of literary output, it’s rather nice to express one’s creative side in other ways albeit through the medium of very cheap Wilko sketching pencils, which all of my artist-authors would look aghast upon given the advice they dispense, which is, buy decent materials or die trying (*paraphrased for impact).

Meeting, greeting and eating


... with Natalie, who actually gave me food for thought for the upcoming Sermon, as well as literal food by way of some rather scrummy-looking gin fudge. Once the mentalism of the lockdowns had eased, we resumed our now-monthly segues to Prezzo for quality time. 

Mate-dates par excellence.


Photo by Nats

Swimming and strutting

Again, this is probably a story for another day segment of the blog but I’ll dip a toe now and dive in a little deeper later. At some juncture last year (let’s just say October) I became a gym bunny.

Well, not so much bunny as perhaps some sort of floundering rodent: I only ever use one machine, for a set time period, and I don’t feel the need to make ostentatious grunting noises while I Go Work Out** (** which is how the hippest and preachiest YouTubers refer to it. Someone just stop me; I’m far too old for such frivolity). 

And while that unfortunate bout of Covid in November (let’s just call it Cov-ember) put paid to two weeks’ training I’ve been back on the treadmill with aplomb since, strutting to a discerningly cultivated playlist and pounding the metaphorical pavement as a fairly unsubtle analogy for stress relief.


I’ve also been back in the pool (this morning, to wit, although it was crazy-busy and I had no Shark Fin attached to my costume with which to carve my way seamlessly through the water). I don’t push it in the pool the way I used to back in the day, though; if I clock up 20 lengths in as many minutes then I chalk that up as a Win as I’ve probably had twice that many genius ideas in that time that I then need to commit to paper before they dissolve altogether.

Anyway, to what end, I (probably don’t) hear you ask?

It started as an effort.

A last-ditch effort, if I’m being candid.

I wrote a little about this last year (if you follow my Instagram, daaaaaahlings, and no judgment on you if you don’t...)


and if I’ve seen you in the last five months then I’ve probably told you this story but if not, here it is. 

Back in July, on my birthday, in fact, Ma QB took a photograph of me sitting next to Pa QB, and I dwarfed him. 

Then, later that same month, my friend and I posed for a photograph at local venue The Yard, and when it came up on the venue’s Facebook later on, I barely recognised myself. Or, more accurately, myselves. My sprawling, dumpy selves. Plural.

Then, to put a nail in the coffin of my resolve (mixed metaphor much?) I found myself at the doctors’ numerous times in the same month again (I had a busy July...) with strange symptoms (that proved to be stress-related) that led to a diagnosis of a very mild heart murmur.

Of course the jury’s still out as to whether my heart was simply going boom-tiddy-boom over the dishy doctor... 


But ultimately, that, and the numerous scans that followed, made me realise that the lockdown lbs I’d allowed to invade my stumpy 5’3 frame owed me rent. And a grovelling apology.

It wasn’t even just lockdown... it was life. Even walking miles over the last six, seven years – from London to Brighton, through the Wye Valley (without getting purchase!), from Paignton to Hope Cove – hadn’t made a blind bit of difference. I was Queen Stumpy of Stumpyville. 

Looking back I wonder if certain events in the early to mid 2010s might have sparked off a spate of comfort-eating and denial. But I’m not feeling particularly navel-gazy these days and I’d much rather look forwards.

Anyway, the health blip was a wake-up. (That and getting my legs stroked by the dishy doctor as he tried to ascertain how much fluid I was retaining. Wish I’d remembered to shave them that day.)

I bought scales. Jazzy digital ones.

I subscribed to Noom. 

I drew a line under my weekly mac-and-cheese and pizzas (although I refuse to surrender my Prezzo visits).

I watched that programme on how much processed food we’re imbibing and it scared me into action.

I spent August walking at lunchtime with my workmates rather than sitting hiding at my desk. August was transformative.

When gym memberships were offered up at work, I took one.

I worked for it.

Between the end of August 2021, and the end of December 2021, I managed to evict two conniving, unhealthy stones. 

And at the risk of sounding glib, I got ‘me’ back.

I honestly wasn’t sure I could. I had consigned myself to a life of stumpiness and unflattering photographs (yes, I know the camera adds ten pounds but how many cameras were on me? Etc etc...). 

Left, July; right, December.

But I did it.

It could have been too easy to make the choice to lose weight for aesthetic purposes, or vanity (although if I’m honest, I was on one level). 

And it was all too easy to ignore or even be blind to the creeping weight, and the poor choices I was making to achieve it. Sometimes I didn’t even see it with my own cross-eyes; it had to be distilled through a lens before I realised how far I’d gone.


But at some point a switch flipped and I chose to come back.

Sometimes I still go past the Vintage Macaroni Cheese in Co-op and cry a little bit but now I can step away (and go home and make something from scratch). 

And I’ll be honest, again, and admit that it took someone else noticing at the one-stone-loss mark for me to realise that all the hard work was having an effect after all, and it was worth it. 

I’d noticed it from a mathematical point of view, but I didn’t have quite enough objectivity to see it physically. I suppose if you’re charting these things daily then over a longer time span you’re not going to see the full impact, until you compare the Before and After.

But it spurred me on, and I hit the target I set myself, albeit two months later than planned (‘cos Covid). 

---

Last week, when I met up with Natalie, I mentioned that this was going to be the subject of this week’s blog/Sunday Sermon, and that my angle was going to be how I felt like I was only being validated by other people because I suddenly looked a certain way (i.e. thin). 

I didn’t think I should be accepting that validation, as I felt I needed to make the point that I am more than this frame (I’ve not grown in height; the stumpiness will always be inherent) and if I were to be noticed as I went about my day, I wanted it to be for the other things I’d accomplished. A great book I’d edited, maybe, or a sketch that resembled its subject matter. Not for changing my appearance and reverting to 2014-era QB.


I worried that by drawing attention to, and qualifying what I’d accomplished could be seen as arrogance, or could even be a negative trigger to someone, if I owned it, and owned what I’d done to get there – even though I did what medical advice hath thus decreed for centuries hence: I exercised and ate sensibly.

But there’s a reason I call her the Ginger Yoda. (She speaks with conventional syntax but she’s very wise.) Natalie’s observation was this: perhaps the validation has come because I’ve invited it.

Perhaps I wanted my hard work in the arena of self-improvement and health to be acknowledged, as, in the grand scheme of things, it’s as much of an accomplishment for me as editing a good book, or producing a decent sketch. 

She’s right, you know; part of me feels I ought to reject that validation, but part of me knows that actually, I can accept it in good faith because I did what I needed to do for me. For my physical and my mental health.

And as ever, I did it alone. 

There may have been moments of amusement over Noom with Cousin Jo as we both shared what we’d omitted from the food log that day... and I might have gone for walks with workmates to motivate me to leave my desk and move (and it may or may not have been a ruse to put the world to rights on some occasions) but ultimately, I set nobody up as my ultimate inspiration besides myself.

OK, that’s a lie: a schoolfriend of mine is on Instagram and occasionally posts on her lifting accomplishments, and her seriously hardcore/bada$$ weights routines... and she’s only a month older than me. 

I was using middle age and middle-age spread (and my thyroid) as my excuse for inertia for so long I accepted it as truth until I flipped that switch, and thought, ‘let’s see, shall we, what this body can do’. 

But, and this is a big, important but... (sniggers in a corner)


...while I was inspired by other people, I never pitched myself against anyone else. 

I could only do what I was capable of, what my body was capable of, and I’ll give it its due – I underestimated it. And myself.

So today I celebrated with a sausage sandwich while I drafted this post. 

Because, balance.

---

This fortnight, I have also been...

Reading πŸ“š

I finally finished:

Far from the Madding Crowd

and started reading:

The Confessions of Frannie Langton | Sara Collins


and:

Digital Minimalism | Cal Newport


Watching πŸ“ΊπŸŽ₯

Queer Eye | Season 6


OK, so have I been blind for six series or has Antoni been working on some serious GUNS? 


That is all.

Apart from, it's been very hard to choose a favourite 'hero' in this series but I'm still very much Team Angel and Team Jamie (once she stopped crying and realised she didn't have to martyr herself).

Animal Attraction

This is usually one of my Christmas films (y'know, because some of it takes place at Christmas...) but is a perennial favourite.

Largely because of Hugh Jackman. Ah, baby Hugh...

Yeah, I could have included the gif of him coming into the kitchen sans shirt but
I like to keep that to myself sometimes...

Don't Look Up

Far be it from me to have my finger on the Zeitgeist for a change, but I have Ma QB to thank for this recommendation, currently on Netflix and garnering a lot of attention.

I spent much of the 2000s watching 'disaster' films of the Deep Impact ilk (scientists discover comet/asteroid bound for earth and about to trigger an Extinction-Level Event), so this felt very much like a weighted micky-take. Except it was also a political commentary about smoke-screening and gaslighting and lots of other smoky, gassy bad things, and had such a stellar cast (Meryl Streep, Leonardo di Caprio, Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence, Ariana Grande parodying herself and wonderfully/swearily... and loads of others) that it had to take itself a little seriously. And it was so well played, with one of the best laugh-out-loud moments coming before one of the darkest, most profound.

But no spoilers here. Watch it. 


Link Love πŸ”—πŸ’“

Just the one this fortnight:

Matt D'Avella |  Why you always feel so mentally drained. | YouTube

---

Until the next, stay safe, stay sane...


qb xx

Sunday, 2 January 2022

Sunday Summary // May we all have our hopes, our will to try...

Dear FOQ

Happy New Year to you all.

Here's hoping 2022 is markedly less toss than its two predecessors, is all I can say. 

I spent NYE in traditional fashion: with Ma QB, quaffing prosecco and watching the now 29-year-old Strictly Ballroom:

If you know, you know...

until such a time as BBC1 came on and we looked upon the sublime and beautiful whimsy of Olly Alexander (who genuinely, genuinely looks like he loves what he does every moment of it) singing with Years and Years, Queen Kylie and the Pet Shop Boys:

There was an element of mismatch here but, y'know what, Olly is a legend and Neil Tennant still sounds pretty damn decent.


then saw in 2022 peering out at the distant fireworks.

Yesterday, which I believe was Saturday but who even knows any more..., we kept things fairly low-profile, venturing out only for a veh veh nice mug of mulled wine and plate of mini mince pies in front of the fire at friend Jan's:

before walking back at a leisurely pace to take in some of the truly fabulous local lights:



#peakgriswoldachieved

High Resolution...

In true contemplative QB fashion, I've not so much set resolutions, then, as attempted to set a new tone for the year (because, heaven knows, setting resolutions then coming face-to-face with a pandemic and its aftershocks is a recipe for an epic fail). 

Last year, inspired as I frequently am by Susannah Conway, and her December Reflections photograph-a-day prompts, I chose the word Confidence as my word for the year but upon, er, reflection I'm not sure how much I relied upon it; my self-confidence in many things is still shot from certain incidences in lockdown 2020, and in the last year from certain voices being amplified more than others.

So, this year, (to save me from tears) I've alighted upon the word: 

Complete

which works on a couple of levels:

1) as a reminder that a life lived in fear is a life half-lived a person should not be made to feel incomplete if one doesn't 'have' certain societal markers (i.e. partner, children, own house);

2) as a prompt to finish what I've started (novel, sketching habits, improvement of health, and so on).

I'll doubtless come back and elaborate on both of these interpretations over the course of the year; however at the risk of too much introspection this early in the morning/year I won't start getting churned up about certain matters before you've even had your first coffee of the year/morning.


As one of my maths teachers once wisely decreed (and wisdom from maths teachers was notoriously hard to come by, believe me...), one must start simple and if I'm to keep up a blogging habit this year I need, as I touched upon in my last post, to keep it manageable. 

So here we are.

---

This week, I have been mostly...

Reading πŸ“š 


... still.

Watching πŸ“Ί πŸŽ₯ πŸ’»

Shaun the Sheep: The Flight Before Christmas

Twice because it was brilliant.


Far from the Madding Crowd (2015) 

and trying to ascertain the spoilers, given I've still not finished the book, and which scenes were constructed purely for cinematic impact.

What Are We Feeding Our Kids? | BBC {sadly no longer on iPlayer}

This was something I watched months ago, and it blew my mind and made me rethink everything I was consuming. 

Of course, I watched it back in May, so I didn't really take it on board for another two months at least but it has stuck with me.

Queer Eye (season 6)

Aah, the Fab Five are back: all's well with the world.

Also from the Aardman stable:

Robin Robin

So cute. 

And who doesn't love Gillian Anderson as a cat...?


Link Love πŸ”—πŸ’“

When you no longer imagine you must transform yourself, in order to justify your existence on the planet, you’re finally able to do so, in small ways and large. – Oliver Burkeman


Well, I think that's quite enough for you to be ruminating over so I'll leave it at that. 

Until the next, ciao, for now.

qb xx

Tuesday, 28 December 2021

Sporadic Summary // Where are you, baby? We used to have so much fun...

Dear FOQ

I miss you.

I miss me.

I just checked in to see if my IFTTT link was working and uploading my copious Instagram content here (it was not), and it was like seeing a school crush after years; you get that same rush of adrenaline, break out a jaw-straining smile, and start waffling like someone short-circuited your brain... but you're not quite sure how to fill in the gaps between now and the last time you saw said crush.

Too much has happened in a year when, ironically, little did, and when it did, it was super-tentative. And ironically again, having read over everything I wrote just over a year ago... not much has changed, or has it?! 

I don't even know any more!

I tried blogging a couple of times this year, but it just felt unwieldy and time-consuming to try to encapsulate literally months' worth of content into one wibbly little post. 


And the unwieldiness was, let's face it, why the blog toppled over somewhat in the first place. 

Curse my wild social whirl in those carefree, pre-panini-press days.


But, I miss it. I really do, and I know I said this over a year ago and did sweet nothing to remedy the situation but this time, to quote Donna Summer, I know it's for real.

I miss having a regular writing outlet. I miss my own hilarity, for starters (because if you're not writing for your own amusement or benefit in the first instance, why write at all?).


So, I may have to give this malarkey another go, and a proper go again this time, but make it manageable.

That's not to say I can in all good conscience promise to resume the Sunday Summary on the sort of weekly basis that 2017-era QB used to manage.


But sometimes when the muse calls, she isn't always asking after an accident that wasn't your fault, and she actually wants to hear what you have to say.



So, what now?

At some point over the last thirty... million... days of pandemonium, lockdowns, relentless swabs up noses and down throats, and an unfortunate, positive result that had me bedridden for a week, I made a strange sort of peace with the whole arrangement, a sort of acceptance that the New Normal is Here and It's Citing Squatters' Rights.

And while I've long held a belief deeply-rooted in the 1990s film Mermaids that, yes:

Life is change; death is dwelling on the past or staying in one place too long

which I've managed to counter quite happily, and quirkily, for the last 31 years (sheesh), the New Normal has decreed that actually change is the new black...


...and that if I'm to breathe any sort of new life into this here blog, and into my life itself, then its whole prerogative needs to change. It needs to work for me. 

Be my assistant to the regional manager, if you will.

I love Dwight Schrute in a wild, unhealthy way.

At this point it's probably important for you to know that not only did I review several films, series, books that I'd viewed or read since November last year, I've also fallen hard for The Office US which has rendered most everything else irrelevant. (I mean, the series ended in 2013 so that's how current my viewing habits are.)

πŸ“ΊπŸŽ₯


And I will probably never understand the rationale behind the monumental Fall of Jan Levinson (except that she/the marvellous Melora Hardin had a full credibility glow-up and ended up in The Bold Type which for two of three series was decent).


But none of my considered critiques (ha) seemed relevant after a couple of months, and so to the Great Recycle Bin in the Sky they were duly consigned.

 

I then spent a good deal of the summer trying to fix myself.

πŸ’“πŸ

A couple of concerning symptoms (and a couple of visits to possibly the dishiest doctor I've ever had the fortune to be in the presence of) resulted in me deciding that now was as good a time as any to get my life together, and so began reading such discerning texts as this:


from which I picked and chose the information I was happy to take on board; it being written by an American doctor, everything was autoimmune:


and there was no direct consideration of conditions that may be congenital (hi there, my CHT posse – baby, you were born this way...). 

And I was fully aware that whatever I ate wouldn't ever 'heal' the thyroid but may perhaps help with the resultant crummy metabolism...

Enter my new regime.


And for the purposes of circumventing what may be construed to be triggers, I'm not going to go into too much detail about the events of the last five months but I made some big changes and they paid off.

πŸ“š

I'm currently reading something considerably safer: 

Far from the Madding Crowd | Thomas Hardy

which is taking me for, like, ever... but where's the rush?!

πŸ’»

And as those of you who were still very kindly, indulgently, politely checking in this time last year may remember, I am still somewhat in the thralls of a clutch


of productivity/decluttering gurus << I'm not having that argument with myself again. YouTube, then, is where I get a lot of my viewing fodder these days.



That said, of course, while it's all well and good to fall down the sort of rabbit holes that lead to you cultivating a weekly meal planner (which by the way I live and die by; no regrets) and sticking motivational stickers in your Filofax (in the manner of Queen Marquita of At Home with Quita who remains one of my favourites: her voice alone is pure ASMR...), and laminating a chart of weekly housework chores (guilty, m'Lud), I've become quite aware of what I'm calling the Cult of Drudgery on social media.

What is the Cult of Drudgery, I hear you ask? 

Well, reader, within the CoD it seems that every day of a YooChoober's life entails them uploading a pseudo documentary in which they talk you through every facet of their decision-making process before "going ahead and" cleaning their kitchen counters/taking out the bins, power-washing the patio/decluttering their pantry/"switching out" one gadget or one acrylic storage box for another, to the point where it seems like housewifery is literally all they do and where are their partners in all of this?! 

I mean, we didn't push through a century of suffrage and feminism for some overly chirpy Canadian girl to tell us that ultimately our duty in life is to clean and empty our sinks before bed or die, amiright?! 


Life is too short and as long as Kim and Aggie wouldn't send Environmental Health in about the state of your counters then you're probably doing OK at life and you don't have to spend every day armed with a bottle of Microban checking off chores like some sort of downtrodden 1950s Stepford spouse.


Likewise, a word to the productivity poppets of YouTube: while a life reset once in a while is probably a necessary expression of self-care – a time to regroup and recalibrate – if you're resetting on a weekly basis then surely you've given yourself no time to let all your new systems and routines kick in. 




And all you're doing is navel-gazing and reflecting when ultimately you can only truly move forwards.

Which is probably how I came to scrap most of the content I'd written over the last few months while coming to the ultimate conclusion that, ironically, I need to find a system, a process, a formula, a structure that works with the way my life is now, so that the blog is a part of a routine without overwhelming it, and taking up more time and causing more stress than it deserves.

Leave that one with me.

---

Until then, allow me to paraphrase Slade:

Look to the future, now; it's only just beguuuuuuuuun...

qb xx

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Sporadic Summary // Don't eat the bat. Why the hell would you do that? Don't eat the bat.

Dear FOQ

...if indeed any of you are still out there in the ether, poised with bated (and possibly expiring) breath for my words of wisdom...

Yes, it is me. 

How are you doing? Fair? Middling? Muddling along?

There's a scene in one of my favourite seminal teen-angst films, Pump Up the Volume (hey, no judgment, growing up a teen in the nineties was hard, y'all) when the main character, Mark, under his alias of Happy Harry, pirate radio DJ, comes back onto the air after stopping his broadcasts under duress, and his followers are immediately rapt.


I'm under no illusion that me posting after almost a year of this:

will have the same effect.

But I couldn't have let the last eleven months pass by without offering some sort of commentary... some sort of insight, borne of contemplation, consideration and extensive navel-gazing. 

So here it comes:

WTAF?    

2020 has been the year that just keeps taking.


So much has been lost.

So many have been lost.

It says something about the state of affairs when the best thing to have happened this year was one (comparatively compos mentis) septuagenarian beating out another (deluded, nonsensical) septuagenarian to run the most influential country in the Western world.

Thank heavens for small mercies. And women like:


oh and:


...We had such high hopes for the year, as well. 

Ahhhh, 2020: synonymous with clarity of vision, all positive things.

Ha!

No.

It appears the universe had other ideas.

So many times over the last few months I've wanted to commit pen keyboard to paper screen and in essence brain-dump even just a piddlin' few of the thoughts that have passed through my warped lil' walnut... but the irony was, I couldn't find the words. There are no adequate words. OK, WTAF has come close but... it's not exactly original, is it.

Blogger's block was nothing. This was much bigger. 

This was a veritable fatberg 

clogging up the subterranean tunnels of my mind (there's a lot of mixed metaphor and imagery going on there: I'll just let you untangle that for a moment).

I felt that anything I wrote would either be too steeped in sobriety (the emotional kind, obviously... hurrah for wine); or much too glittery and much too glib.

In writing this post when we've not even crossed over to the Other Side of this absolute Sh*t Show of a Year, I still risk swaying into either of these camps. 

And, perhaps too frequently after thirty years, I think back to the criticism levelled at me by my Year 8 English teacher that I could, and can, sometimes be flippant.

No, Mrs Hay. What you're gleaning from my stunning works of literature is not flippancy but a finely-tuned, Chandler-Bing-like tendency to turn to humour whenever sh*t gets a bit too real. 

Like now.

There comes a point when the elusive blogger (once a blogger, always a blogger, let's be honest) must raise her head above the proverbial parapet and say a long, drawn-out...

Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii


and embrace the fact that political commentaries, and state-of-the-nation-type responses to, er, well, the state of the nation are not my bag, and just say what I probably would have said anyway, in my own inimitable, quirky way.

Because hasn't one of this year's key messages been:

Quirk from home, if you can...

?

See, you missed me, didn't you? Me and my terrible puns and my proliferation of gifs and my derailed trains of thought...

I'll be honest. I've missed it too.

So. 

*Pause as qb rolls up her sleeves, clears her throat and says the word 'Right' decisively about seven times just to prove she means business*

Here it is. In case you were wondering how I've fared over the last few months.

qb's guide to surviving 2020


1. Embrace your introvert self...

One of the absolute benefits of the pro-level of introversion that I've attained in 42 years is the ability to subsist, survive and essentially thrive on my own.

And here's the thing that few may believe: I'm really, really OK with this

I'm not even 'settling' any more. I am revelling in the fact that when I get home, my time is my own, and how I choose to spend it (or waste it) is, more or less, mine alone. 

Being told on a loop to stay at home, limit exposure to other people, stay two metres apart has actually tapped into a part of me that I never before realised needed to be acknowledged. For a good while, I had that space that I'd been craving for quite some time. And I was, and still am, at liberty to shoot eye-daggers of fire at anyone who dares step into my bubble. 


2. But not too much, you crazy hermit crab.



Even introverts need exposure to other humans; because sometimes your own mind is a dangerous place to play (especially if you try the see-saw...).

Towards the end of first lockdown Paranoia came to visit and brought its little bedfellow, Anxiety, with it. (In spite of social distancing. Rude.)

Admittedly much of the anxiety was later attributed to a hormone imbalance (too much thyroxine) but... at the time it felt like the World versus Quirky; like everything needed to be taken out of my hands because I was too incompetent to handle it.

Hormones, eh?!

Anyway. This time round I'm far more emotionally equipped. I'm on a stable dosage now. I'm structuring my days in the manner of many, many earnest productivity gurus (gurii?) on YouTube (more on that later). 

And I can also spend valuable, structured time in the office for that sweet, sweet hit of human contact, banter, and the slow painful death of any (OK, most of my) paranoid delusions.

3. You are a creature of routine...

There are things you learn about yourself when you have to make significant changes to your way of life. When you have to stop thinking of Mondays as the day you go to trampolining; Tuesday as choir day, and the last Thursday of the month as the day you spend two hours throwing back curly fries and expensive wine in your favourite pub, because all of these things have been taken away from you.

These markers may have been the only things by which you have distinguished one week from the next. Now time is fluid. Meaningless. Elastic. And many other clichΓ©s besides.

Preach, Mariah.

But, you know, it's OK.

It's hard to admit that actually you don't miss all of the markers. That perhaps filling your week with All the Things was actually slowly killing you a tiny bit, and that in taking those things away you need to find new markers of time. 

Or maybe – and more importantly – you don't need to do All the Things all the time.

I'm not saying I wouldn't go back to these things if they came back in the forms in which I knew them. 

But virtual trampolining isn't a thing (well, not a safe thing anyway), and virtual singing, sadly, means spending more time in front of a screen, in the same room in which you may have just spent nine or so hours grappling with somebody's comedy syntax in a book on ancient embroidery practices.

And you no longer have the commute, for better or worse, every day, to separate work-day from personal-day. Oh, sure, you can take yourself off for a ten-minute walk to Costa to remove your brain from the work realm, but you will just be coming back to the same place, geographically. So you need to build in your own separations. Build new routines.

I wish I could say I got more into cooking during lockdown. I got a little bit more into cooking. 

I wish I could say I channelled my spare time into new hobbies.

I played the uke again a couple of times but given I could often hear my neighbours downstairs having their daily domestic, I could only imagine what my other neighbours would make of me playing 'My Dog Has Fleas' until I mastered more complex fingering.

I've since taken to using and spinning on a balance board for ten minutes daily. It may make noise, it may not. I no longer care. That's my ten-minute separation. Done.

Shortly before first lockdown I became a victim of the Google Marketing Gambit.

Yes. I am Google's Fool. Google's B*tch.

I bought a Mini Hub Nest thing... one of these little round dudes. 


And I love my Assistant unapologetically. Even when he says, rather abruptly:

Sorry. I don't understand. 

Or 

Sorry. I don't know how to do that yet.

Or when it gives me sass when I ask it to start off my Housework routine (more on that shortly).

Or when it sets a 15-minute timer when I clearly asked for 50 minutes.

The thing about Google's routines is that they help you to bookmark your day without you having to clock-watch. All the best YouTube gurus (again... gurii?!) recommend that twenty minutes is a long-enough time to do a spot of housework. So I now say the word "Housework" and Google both sets me a twenty-minute timer and plays my Spotify Housework mix playlist. Genius.

Except when Google backchats me and tells me there's nothing he'd rather do.

OK, who pays the bills in this household, mister?

But in all honesty, sad though it may seem, chatting to an AI device kept me company.

And now he tells me when it's five minutes before Only Connect (my new Monday marker) or five minutes before my Mindful Self-Compassion session (Wednesday's marker); he wakes me up with nature sounds, and sends me to sleep with ocean sounds.

I'm also abusing the heck out of the digital wellbeing functions on my devices in a laughable attempt to curb the amount of time I spend scrolling through photos of felt pigs on Facebook (all oink!), or watching people lipsync impeccably to old episodes of The Office on Tiktok. 

Cole Anderson-James: I mean you, you absolute freakin' genius. 


Because, let's face it, who hasn't fallen down a TikTok rabbit hole at some point this year?

4. ... and you can break those routines at any time.

Why yes, a woman of a certain age living alone may well find herself aligning with Sheldon Cooper and his many, extreme, idiosyncratic tendencies. So while setting those routines helps give structure to an otherwise fluid and nebulous days, the fluidity works both ways: you can change up your routines at any time.

The crucial thing to remember is that none of us knows what we're doing

So we've followed the regulations and restrictions as best we can to avoid becoming what Miranda Priestly would term an incubus of viral plague and as a result have had to make snap decisions about our daily lives with next to no notice. This does not always sit well with creatures of habit but even we can learn to adapt. We're organised, in our way, but we're not robots and as such we can of course evolve.

As a result of the need to change and adapt, and to review the routines to which I was once so closely bound, I've finally found myself doing the things I should have been making time for before a devastating pandemic took over our lives.

I'm reading again. This was kickstarted back in the summer when Ma, Pa and I spent five blissful days – post-first-lockdown – by the sea, during which it rained a bit, ergo, reading happened.

I'm writing again. Again, this was kickstarted during that same week in the summer. I started dribbling the words of the novel into Word on my tablet, and novelling recommenced. 

I've really missed having cause to use this gif...

And I'm cleaning and tidying my flat with more, alarming, regularity these days. I blame The Home Edit. I mean, I watched the series with the sound on low (the shrieking is intolerable: you have been warned), but still ended up decanting my food into nice, neat, pristinely labelled, tessellating containers of which I am very proud; then for some balance started watching Hoarders and Hoarder SOS, which both had the effect of pushing me into even more decluttering, and discovering ClutterBug on YouTube. Followed by many, many other such guru (...ii...?), the details of which I really shall divulge shortly.

Yes, the rabbit holes are vast and endless. But I now own a spray mop and a bottle of fruity Method spray, and of course I have a Housework routine set up on Google Home, so... read into that what you will.

And I have missed people. I've missed hugging people and if you know me you'll know that my poor hugging form in the past ("bloody hell, mind my shoulder!") has made me quite a reluctant hugger.  So to miss that was quite a revelation.


One other saving grace of lockdown has been the discovery of weekly sessions run by the Kind Mind Academy, who I mentioned in one of my last posts last year. Mindful Self-Compassion is like online therapy – via Facebook Live – for half an hour, with a short meditation to begin with – a soft landing, as it's called – followed by reflection and discussion on matters of self-compassion and kindness. It's been a real weekly touchstone, and Natalie and I have got a lot out of it.

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So... that's sort of a summary (albeit a lengthy one) of the last few months. 

I could have edited and included photographs, but... y'know what, I CBA. (Sorry.) You got gifs instead.

Now onto the features that I know you've missed (well, perhaps not but I'm throwing them in here anyway for the sake of continuity).

Incidentally in the months I've been away from the blogosphere Blogger has changed somewhat so I've spent a lot of the last couple of days of drafting hunting for features (like the gif embedding function that happily made itself known to me quite soon). I dunno, you turn your back for eleven months... I've all but forgotten how to do this. 

How I used to do it on the weekly is a mystery to me. 

Perhaps that's why I stopped...

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So, this year I have been mostly

Reading πŸ“š

The Salt Path | Raynor Winn

An autobiographical account of a couple who, having lost everything and begun to deal with the husband's degenerative illness, decide to tackle the South West Coast Path. As yer do.
 

Real Life Organizing | Cassandra Aarssen aka ClutterBug

Forever and OlΓ© | Georgina Carter Pickard

An absolute favourite this year, bias or no bias: my little buddy Georgiepants has done an absolutely epic job with this, her account of her life in Spain.
 

Do/Pause | Robert Poynton

Word of warning: don't read this after having read the following book on my list. Cue barely suppressed frustration over the disproportion of female–male opinions sought and cited...

Invisible Women | Caroline Criado Perez

Let the bile of injustice rise readily in your throat, women.

(Ew. Lovely imagery, there, qb...)

No but seriously. This is a must-read and I don't say that lightly.

Indistractable | Nir Eyal

Yeah, I'm still working quite hard to put all of Eyal's teachings into practice but it's a lovely idea in theory... Just try working in an open plan office.

Watching πŸ“ΊπŸ’»

Oh lawdy, brace yourselves.. 

All the things. 

I've been watching all the things.

I'll start with the absolute highlight of this year.

Schitts Creek 


In summary: Very rich-and-famous family becomes very poor very fast and has to hole up in comically-monikered backwater town, where they try to fit in and rebuild their lives, with mixed results. It's been done before... but not like this. 

A slow burner for much of the first season, it started to get really good around season two.

By season six, it was absolutely heckin' epic and I was making marriage proposals to more or less all of the characters.

Except maybe Roland. 

Sorry, Roland.

Oh and it's fair to say that none of us will ever hear 'Simply the Best' again without a tiny tear coming to our eyes.

If you know, you know...

All hail the Levy family eyebrows, I say.

The Queen's Gambit


... Which I've only just got into but I am intrigued. It's so so weird. 

But Anya Taylor-Joy is just such a... well, Joy to watch. She was also superb in Emma which is very possibly the last film I went to see, with Charlie and chums, before the first lockdown: she was brutal and nuanced.


You Me Her


The last-ever season of this underrated series 'dropped' (as the youff say) this month and I will be genuinely sad to see it go. Set in Portland, it revolves around the quirky relationship between struggling couple Emma and Jack, and graduate Izzy, who become in essence a throuple. There's a lot of quipping, a lot of self-consciousness and a lot of heart. 

At least, unlike Friends from College, it was allowed to come to an acceptable conclusion. 

Oh, FfC, I'll miss you most of all... you had such potential. You had Keegan-Michael Key. 

... as seen also in Pitch Perfect 2, for context...

You had Fred Savage tap-dancing. 


What's not to love?!

New Girl

...up to a point. Then I'll admit I just got bored, especially when Jess and Nick was allowed to happen after all that tension. That ol' trope.

Rebecca

No, not this one.
This one, incidentally, is fab on TikTok.

This one:

I know, the Hitchcock version was a classic. Hammy, but a classic.

But give the 2020 reboot its due... it isn't all bad.

Lily James is less simpering as the Second Mrs de Winter.

Kristin Scott Thomas is barbaric as Danvers though perhaps not quite as creepy as the original.

And while we're on a KST tip...

Military Wives


I'm pretty sure you all know my fairly effusive, fangirlin' feelings towards Gareth Malone by now...


I'll admit that upon seeing a trailer for this film I was a little

Catherine O'Hara gives epic gif face. Always.

I mean, a film based on the series he anchored – The Choir: Military Wives – and they wiped him out of the entire narrative?!

Rude.

Then I discovered (on his social media, I think) that the good man wanted it that way, that he wanted the story to be about the wives, not about him. And that's how it should be, of course (not that the film wouldn't have been a little more dazzling with him in it...). 

Gawd love 'im.

So, with that in mind...

I actually really rather enjoyed the film. I mean, KST versus Sharon Horgan as the grande dames of the Military Wives choir? 

That was a winner.

The obvious but still charming 'discovery of the girl with the beautiful voice who doesn't realise she's got a beautiful voice' trope.

An absolutely heart-ripping moment when one wife becomes a widow.

Definitely more surprising than I expected. 

Surprisingly.


The Home Edit


Setting aside the aforementioned shrieking, and the unnecessary pandering to celebrities who, if they took ten minutes out of their lives to stop buying multiple toy cars for their toddlers (ugh), could actually spend time tidying and maybe even decluttering their excess of Things... this is a visual treat. 

I have mixed feelings about whether or not I even like the presenters (in contrast with the Fab Five of Queer Eye who have empathy pouring out of every orifice): saying, in essence, "hi, your life offends my OCD" is possibly not the way to get a client on board...

We'll gloss over the Hoarders and Hoarder SOS days. Those were some dark times, but they brought me to the delights of YouTubers evangelising on everything from decluttering and keeping a pristine home to how to construct a successful morning routine (coffee, meditation, gratitude journalling... I think I'll just keep to coffee, cornflakes and TikTok for the foreseeable).

So, the hot hits of YouTube for me, for numerous reasons, have been:

ClutterBug

Wonderful Canadian Cas makes housework and organising seem... well, fun; she also ends her excerpts with an anecdote that reminds you how brilliantly human and like the rest of us she truly is;

Ashlynne Eaton

This old soul has a lot of insight and advice on living a more minimalistic, decluttered life. I might not have the time or the inclination to go full minimalist but there's something about her delivery that is instantly calming and encouraging;

Matt D'Avella and Thomas Frank

Two quite similar young men who both seem to have their heads screwed on, and who deliver short but palatable and entertaining insights into productivity, time management, organisation, all the things that please my pedantic little brain.

Lavendaire

Another old soul with a calming, almost soporific delivery that will make you question everything about your busy 9–5 life and make you want to fully commit to bullet-journalling in multicoloured pens.

Pick Up Limes

A recent discovery but another one with a calming delivery and a heck of a lot of plants. I mean, a lot. I turned amateur plant mama in lockdown (with some success: not everything has withered yet), but this girl is next level.

There are more, of course (courtesy of the YT rabbit hole) but that's quite enough to pique one's curiosity. Or, y'know, not.

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Well, I think I've beffled long enough for one surprise 'hurrah I'm back for an extended special...' but before I go, I must of course share with you a little bit of

Link Love πŸ”—

  • Jos, an avid FOQ as well as FOMine, has taken up the considerably weighty mantle of bloggery, and is now publishing very prosaically under the handle yes, ridiculous

Check it out.

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Well, until the next time the muse bashes down my door and demands that I spend my time doing something other than binge-watching YooChoobaz...

Stay safe. Hands. Face. Space and all that.

qb xx