It’s not you, it’s not even me. Its, erm, Complicated…?

I can see the headline now…“Instant Messaging Apps Fed My Paranoia”



I feel the need to apologise to everyone who currently knows me.

I’ve touched on my paranoid,over thinking mind before,and I even went as far as saying I no longer stress and worry about what people think. However that isn’t entirely true. 

When something “changes”, I assume the worst. My track record proves I’m usually right. That’s a hard feeling to shake.

I still worry. 

I’m still paranoid. 

I’ll still doubt you.  

I’ll still over analyise things. 

Its not your fault. Trust me though, its not really mine either. I wasn’t always this way. I’ve been broken, and although I’m essentially fully healed, there’s still a weak point. Certain situations balance precariously on that weak spot and, yes, it means I “have my moments”. Please, understand them and bear with me.  I am a better, stronger, more confident version of myself than I ever have been before. And, as much as I’m less tolerant of bullshit and being treated like crap, my good nature, and need to try and find the good in people and situations that really do have no good in them, still lingers. Its who I am. I care too much. Because of this, I struggle to remember not everyone is like me.

And here’s a confession for you. A blog exclusive, if you like.

I struggle to let go of things that were once so good but no longer are. My mind doesn’t accept that its often better to draw a line completely than try and salvage some of what once was, in order to cling onto a good memory. Now, this isn’t because I want things to be the same, or want someone back. Far from it. It isn’t every situation either. My marriage was so stale, and the good times were so long ago and so overshadowed by the bad times and revelations, that I successfully let go quicker than even I thought possible. And I have no problem moving on. No, the reason is because I don’t want something that was so meaningful to me to appear to mean nothing to them.

If you’ve read previous blogs of mine, you will be forgiven for jumping to conclusions and expecting me to go ” I’ve been cheated on, I don’t trust anyone “. I’m not going to. Yes. It played a part but it goes deeper than that. It goes deep into the depths of my self doubt and my own head. So, why am I saying its not me? Well, if it was me, paranoia would’ve played a part in my whole life and it hasn’t. If I was to try and pin point when it started, I’d say 2 years and 6 months ago. AFTER my marriage ended. 

When I started dating the person I ended up marrying, neither of us had mobile phones. Contact was made using an old fashioned land line, a couple of evenings a week. We both worked in town so it was easy to pop along and see each other at lunch time if we wanted to.  We got our first mobile phones together, but by that point we were living together. There was no chance to build up a routine of ” contact”.  I had no chance to start wondering “why haven’t I heard from him!”.

18 years later when I become single again, times have changed. I initially started talking to the guy I ended up dating just after my marriage broke up, G, on Facebook. Messenger has this handy little way of bobbing a persons picture down next to a message you’ve sent to show they have indeed read the message. Then it would conveniently show a wobbling “…” to indicate they were replying. Our messenger conversations had a very definate  start and finish. I wasn’t left hanging. We’d say goodnight and that would be it till one of us said “Morning”. We soon awkwardly exchanged numbers in my shop, remember G worked in the shopping centre where my workplace was located, and constant messaging commenced. I’m sure you’re all thinking my god she’s obsessive, but it genuinely was him more than me. He’d walk past my shop and wave, and by the next time I had chance to check my phone, he’d sent about five messages. I loved it. I thrived on it. In the later years of my marriage I wasn’t made to feel attractive. I actually told my then husband that I felt he would rather be anywhere but home with me and although he denied it, I knew how it was wrong that he’d come home later and later and then go straight to his ” office” in the cellar (how right was I in the end!?). I had sensed I was losing him, and despite his insistance it was all in my head, I was right. And he told me he hadn’t loved me for two years. So, he lied too. Now, I had a man texting me with things like “although my eyes are watching my boys play football, my mind is on you”. How is a girl not meant to love that!?!  After a few days of not seeing me, he’d tell me how much he missed me. Heading home after evenings at his, he’d message saying he wished I hadn’t had to go.  His favourite phrase in broken English was ” why you so lovely?”.  I got used to it. I got attached to the contact. No end or beginning to conversations, just a never ending stream of messages that only paused when we were together. I hadn’t had that kind of attention, hadn’t felt so wanted, in a very, very long time. Due to working in maintenance, he had early and late shifts to do work out of hours, but he gave me his time and made effort.

After a while together, his messaging habits changed. I’d not get a morning text if he was on an early shift. He stopped saying he missed me. Messages were ended with a “x” rather than “xxxx”. My work mates said it was normal. It couldn’t possibly keep up the way it was. My rational mind agreed, but my paranoid mind thought, and knew,better. It had changed without warning. I’m very, very intuitive. What was right..? Rational mind or paranoid mind? Two weeks after I felt things had changed, he ended things. The whole its not you, its me, routine. My paranoid mind was right. It had been fuelled with being right, so my inclination to trust my gut feeling rather than be rational dug its heels in and stands firmly by my side to this day. G adamantly promised he wanted to keep a friendship, so I tried and quickly realised it was only me making the effort. For months after, I kept a few special text messages from him locked on my phone. It was clear he didn’t treasure our time together as much as I did. That hurt. That made my paranoia look at it all differently and doubt what we had. When your paranoia is right about a feeling, its hard to ignore when it crops up again. It took me ages to delete those texts, even after I started online dating.

The good thing about texting though, was that you were never really sure if a message had been read. You know, I’ve since realised this ignorance is bliss. 

My next relationship was the alley cat musician. Meeting online meant I had no way of knowing he’d read messages until he replied. Sure, you could pay for membership to allow you to see when messages had been read, but I wasn’t quite at that stage yet! We exchanged numbers on my birthday, a week after we’d started chatting. Texts were consistent till our first date, then completely ramped up after meeting, again, on his part more than mine. When he went to Italy for three weeks he said it’d be hard to keep in touch daily, but I heard from him way more than I expected to. One particular text exchange went as follows:-

D:- I’m so excited xx

Me:- About what? Xx

D:- Us xx

How is a girl meant to respond to that? I was giddy with excitement. Remember my blog about the power of words? They need to be used wisely. You don’t use simple words like that if you have no intention of following through. Maybe I’m gullible….? I know I cling to such words. Words are my thing, remember. Use them on me and be warned, I’ll fall for it every time.

 After Italy, I got a new phone which enabled me to install WhatsApp, something he’d been asking me to do since we got numbers. Word of warning, WhatsApp is not good for a paranoid person. It was the beginning of the end for mine and Ds relationship. 

WhatsApp has 3 indicators for the status of a message.

1 grey tick- message has been received by WhatsApp server. (The recipients phone is likely off, out of signal or service is down if it remains on this for a while)

2 grey ticks- message has been sent to recipients phone but has not yet been read.

2 blue ticks- message has been read by recipient.

Added to this, you can see if someone is online. If they haven’t changed their settings, you can potentially see WHEN they were last on. You can even check what time a message was read. WhatsApp is creating stalkers! 

This is what a paranoid mind sees.

1 grey tick- the person has blocked you.

2 grey ticks- they’ve got it, why haven’t they read it? Are they ignoring me, they’ve been online since I sent it!!

2 blue ticks- they’ve seen it. They’re not typing. They are ignoring me. Its been an hour since they read it.  Oh, they are online now…. Nope, still not replying. I’ll send them another just in case… 

D would often go AWOL for whole evenings , with messages not even reaching his phone. I’d wake the next morning to find he’d read them at some ungodly hour of the morning but still not replied. Even after nights we were due to see each other. I’d send a rant. Which would get ignored.  I’d get paranoid that if I didn’t message him, he’d think I’d stopped caring and then he’d never message and I’d lose him anyway. I’d send another to be told “I’m not getting into an argument, you’re pushing me away”. The original messages long since losing their meaning. It infuriated me. When I tried the same tactics with him, he turned nasty on me! We never really broke up. I just gave up. He never explained nor apologised just kept telling me I was wrong. Maybe I was too much, but come on…. He’s meant to be coming to see me but his phone remains off all night…..?? I think I had every right to rant! I’d go on and on at him, like poking a bear hoping for a reaction. The more he didn’t reply, the more I went on. He told me on numerous occassions that I was pushing him away. Truth be told, I’d long given up on him but he kept telling me to ” give him time” and I so desperately wanted the “I’m so excited” text exchange to be real. 

Also, because I care too much, I worry unreasonably. On one particular night I was meant to be visited by D and he went AWOL, I woke up to the news that a man in his 40s had fled the scene of a car accident in the early hours of the morning, leaving his passenger who was in his 20s stuck in the wreckage. I knew that an ex band mate of Ds  was returning to his native country that day, so my worried paranoid mind convinced me that D had offered to give his mate a lift to the airport and the crash was them. Trust me, a mind like mine can go there. I felt sick as the day went on. Much later in the afternoon, he sees the messages, even ones telling him about the crash and my assumption. I guessed he was at least alive. Or dying in a ditch! He doesn’t reply. I rant. That night he messages to say he got drunk at a mates and stayed there. No acknowledgement of what he’d put me through. 

We remained friends for a while after, with him insisting I was one of his best friends and he trusted me, but when the ignoring continued and it was only ever me putting the effort in, I realised I had to let go. I tried telling him it was a pointless, one sided friendship and I got told I didn’t understand. That he was “sorting his life out”. Because I cared, I felt I couldn’t let him down. So he got chance after chance but nothing changed. How could a man once so ” excited about us” care so little now? I clung onto the hope he’d get sorted and a friendship would remain. It was pointless. I forced myself to let go. He begged to talk to me to explain himself, but I was done. He accused me of being “like all the others”. That hurt, because I care what people think of me. Even though I was cutting him loose, I didn’t want his parting impression of me to be negative. I battled with myself over the need to rant and justify myself to him. Truth is, he didn’t care, so I shouldn’t. Ignoring his plea to explain himself was probably the first time I ever went against my nature. I sometimes wonder what he’s doing now, but I know he’s probably putting some poor person through the same again. 

This paranoia doesn’t just haunt me in relationships, it extends to friendships and other situations too. I’m currently organising a charity fundraising gig so have been messaging venues and bands. I’m shy on the phone, I can get my point across using the written word so much better. Again, social media apps and instant messaging let’s me know if an enquiry has been read. Sure, I don’t expect immediate replies, but to not answer, EVER? Rude! My feeling is this, if you can take 5 seconds to open an app and read a message, you can surely take two more to type ” yes” “no” or “message u later”. As a result of my own paranoia, I try really really hard to not open a message and let it be seen as read until I can grant a reply. Although I realise not everyone is as obsessive about it as me! 

I’ve said before though, I’m paranoid because I care. Because the person or situation is important to me. I’m sorry. I can’t help it! Its not because I dont trust you, its because I’m scared I’ve done something wrong. I know, I know, the more I bother you, the more likely it is that I’ll end up doing exactly what I’ve been worried about doing!

So, If I’ve asked you a question and I know you’ve seen that question but haven’t answered for a few hours… My mind will go through one, some or all of the following:-

They’re ignoring me

I’ve pissed them off

Oh God they’re dead

I shouldn’t of asked that

I’ve upset them

They’re somewhere they shouldn’t be

They don’t know how to answer, it must be bad.

Paranoia is very, very real. It verges on anxiety. There are many levels. I’m not at the delusional stage. I’m not claiming I have a mental illness either, because, believe me, I know people that have and its way more than what I feel and experience. And I’m not paranoid in a negative way, not really. I’m only paranoid in those situations that are important to me. With the people I am, or have been, close to. Perhaps I have pushed people away in the past. Although my gut feeling tells me if my genuine concern and worry could push them away, maybe they don’t deserve my friendship after all and they were infact wanting to walk away from me for other reasons, just used my guilable nature and turned it against me. If I think you’ve stopped talking to me, I’m not angry at you, I’m worried I’ve done something to cause it! 

I jokingly tell the people who come into my life that I get paranoid. Truth is, its no joke.

My current partner and I don’t live together. I’m grateful he’s not a techy geek. Simple texts is all we have. No read receipts. A vague enough routine for me not to endlessly stress that I’ve said the wrong thing. 

Remember how much words mean to me.

Don’t promise me the world, and leave me waiting for the journey of a lifetime.

Don’t say you’ll get back to me, then leave me hanging.

Don’t tell me you’re excited, then show no evidence of it.
I wasn’t always like this. Maybe one day I won’t be again. If I haven’t driven you all crazy by then!

F.R.I.E.N.D.S  Who’ll be there for u? 

Let me ask you a question.

How many friends do you have? 

Now, I don’t mean how many people would join you on a drunken night out full of fun and laughter, or shopping sprees and lunches out. I could fill a room with acquaintances  with a bit of planning. I mean those that, even though you rarely speak, let alone see each other, would drop everything if you needed them at short notice. Friends that understand all the factors in your life that make you seem like an unsociable waste of time. I work full time. My son lives with me full time. I don’t have an awful lot of spare cash. I only get to see my partner once, occasionally twice a week, so no, I’m not free on the one night everyone else seems to be. I can be a boring bugger for whom the literal meaning of Netflix and chill is often what I want to do. On my own. If I was my friend, I wouldn’t put up with me.

So, real friends. What are they? What do they do to earn the title? 

I can honestly say, I can count on one hand the people that I class as those that put up with being my friend, a true friend, despite all the above. Five people, spanning my 40 years on this planet. The longest I’ve known for 23 years, the shortest I met this year. 

During school, I was quite shy. I had a very small group of friends, most are still in touch now, two of them are Godparents to my son. It was a small group, and that’s what I was comfortable with. I had classmates. People you’d walk from one lesson to the next with. I was neither bullied nor popular. I just, was. My childhood was wonderful. Easy even. Parents still married, both working, we had regular holidays. Nothing happened that needed me to think about who was there for me in a crisis. I got along with people, but noone new was added to my circle of friends. Then, as I still am today, I was happy with my lot. Never felt I needed more. 

At college, I had to become a little braver! Only one person from my school was going to Art College that I had classed as a friend, and even she was doing a completely different course to my Fine Art & Design. Lunchtimes we would seek each other out, but we had to make new friends. She was more sociable than me. If someone didn’t make an effort with me, I wouldn’t start a conversation. 

One of the first friendships I made at college was with an outgoing, chatty girl from Bangladesh. We had nothing much in common apart from drawing but she was the loud to my quiet. She helped my confidence but she soon switched courses and went to do Textiles leaving me back to square one. We’d catch up lunchtimes, but my days were looking lonely. I was left sat on a table with two guys who had become friends with each other. One of them was a deep thinking, sarcastic guy with a rather bleak outlook on life,  the other a bit more outgoing. I kind of ended up becoming the third wheel in their friendship, but grew particularly close to the deep thinker. After a while, we became inseparable. At lunchtimes we’d escape to the local park for him to have a smoke, and we’d talk and talk. People assumed we were an item. We weren’t and I didn’t see it going that way at all. I was so blooming grateful to find someone who accepted me for the way I was and was happy to just keep me company. I did a two year course at Art college, and the majority of that was spent with this guy. Until, everything changed. Valentines Day came around, and he asked my advice about telling a girl he liked her. I did the whole “you’ll never know if you don’t tell her” and “the worst she can say is no”. Supportive friend and all that. Now reading this you can probably see where this is going. I didn’t, at the time. Maybe because this guy was the first close male friend I’d ever had. I saw no attraction from him, nor did I feel any towards him, so when he replied ” in that case”, while producing a card and a rose from his backpack, I really quite honestly didn’t know what to say or do. Actually I can’t remember what I did do. Perhaps I’ve blocked it out of my mind. All I know is, even though I was keen to keep the friendship, it didn’t last. Well, not in the same way. A trip to Belgium was imminent, and I wanted to be in a room with my friend from Bangladesh. However, her new textiles friends didn’t want me in the room because, and I quote “she’s too quiet, I’d feel awkward trying to talk to her”. Even if we’d still been close, sharing with the deep thinker wouldn’t of been allowed, and I was put in with a girl I barely knew, who got drunk every night and had a fling with the barman. I vividly remember sat in a corridor while her friends comforted her one night after the barman had told he had no intention of keeping in touch after she’d returned home. Sat in the same corridor was the deep thinker. He was there regretting drunkenly sleeping with a girl in our party. We sat in silence and I hoped our friendship could be rekindled when he started telling me what had happened. We did speak a bit more again after that trip, but I’d definitely lost my best friend. I got through the rest of college with no one to really call a best friend. I was too quiet, too boring and didnt smoke nor did I drink excessively. I suppose I never really fit in. I enjoyed my college days, but I came away with very few life experiences. Today, I’m still in touch occasionally with the girl who moved to Textiles. A few others have popped up on Facebook. None of them could be counted on in a crisis.

Now I’m not saying that all of my friends wouldn’t jump in a car to be at my side in an emergency if I needed them. They would, I’m sure of it. As I would for them (if I could drive!). The majority however don’t put up with me on a regular basis. Don’t suffer my insufferable paranoia 

So, on to those that do. Those people that put up with me, put themselves out for me, still love me despite seeing me go through the highs and lows of life, let me rant on and on about the same thing so that I can get it straight in my own head, listen to me justify myself over situations that to them, I don’t need to justify myself over. Like I said, I can count them on one hand.

The one where we wrote to each other.

During our teenage years, my sister and I had several penpals each. Most of them had similar interests in music and football. I found writing to people so much easier than talking to them, a trait that stayed with me. I am so much better at writing than talking! Anyway, some of our penpals we were able to meet up with on big get togethers in Birmingham or London. Others were too far away. Many good friends were made in the process. Again through the wonders of Facebook I’m still in touch with many of them and its great to see marriages, kids and good times for them all. One particular penpal that I started writing to in 1994 though, we’ll call her LC, has become one of the five people that I count as a real true, message whatever time of night, friend, and the one I’ve known the longest. After a penpal advert was published in a football magazine, we started writing to each other. She lived the opposite side of the country but our letters were nothing short of epic. Most of my penpals at the time had really pretty stationery and would write a couple of sheets worth each time. LC and I would use standard A4 ruled paper and our letters would on average be about ten sheets each time, front and back!! We talked about football, boybands, crushes. Everything and anything. As with everything, life got in the way and the letters weren’t as often and eventually stopped but Facebook allowed us to keep in touch. Neither of us could drive and the journey across the country was long and expensive. We talked about meeting up, but logistically it was difficult. However, an opportunity arose in 2010 when I had to attend a course at my work place Head Office near Norwich, which was as near to LC in Ipswich that I was ever likely to get. The hotel they put me in was literally in the middle of nowhere and it was still a bit of a trek for LC, but we did it and finally met for the first time 16 years after becoming friends! Since then I was lucky enough to be able to go to her wedding and we’ve even been to a Reunion concert in Birmingham together. Distance means nothing. She picks up on my vague Facebook statuses and messages me right away, almost knowing what is going on. We don’t talk every day. We don’t need to. I know if I needed an honest unbiased opinion, LC would give it to me. I suppose that’s a good point about a long distance friendship with no real friends in common, you’ll always get an opinion that has your best interests at heart because they aren’t influenced by loyalties to the other people involved in your situation. Its good to have a friend who isn’t in your usual circle. We are determined to meet up again soon, but whether we do or not, the friendship is unbreakable. The distance makes it impossible to fall out over trivial things. I do believe very few people have a friendship like this, but, despite the miles, it works for us.

The one where we’re like sisters.

Next up is a girl I met in my very first job. In 1997, S was literally just 16 and I was 20.  Most people make friends in the workplace, and through staff nights out etc, some become closer than others. S and I were friends at work and after we went onto different jobs we kept in touch, went on memorable nights out, she came to my wedding and we grew to be good friends. She won’t mind me saying that we didn’t talk for a few years, a combination of me feeling she had let me down by not coming to something I felt was important, and work taking her away from our hometown. However, I soon reached out to her again and, after hearing her side of the story, its fair to say, since getting back in touch, we are stronger than ever. I literally love this girl to pieces. The day after my marriage broke up, she was sat in my front room, at short notice, helping me and doing all she could to uncover the truth about things I’d heard regarding the split. She is my rock. She is my concert buddy. She has got my back. She is my bodyguard. She’s first in line to sort anyone out who crosses me. She is my very very best friend. She’s as protective over my son as I am. She’s the bad influence who keeps me out all night despite my insistence it won’t be a late one. Again, work commitments and life mean we don’t talk every day, but when we do get together, its like we’ve never been apart. It doesn’t matter if we’re out on the town or sat watching a movie with take out, we have just as much fun. She’s my go to girl. My partner in crime. The person I’d talk to if I needed to know if camels sweat, or equally if my life depended on it, she’d be there. Good times and bad. This girl whisked me away for a day of pampering for my 40th birthday because she knew I needed it. 

The one where we work together.

My next job at Tiny Computers saw me working with a guy, let’s call him B. I worked here while pregnant with my son in 2003, and through B, I met his girlfriend LJ and their year old daughter. LJ would come in to see B at work, and due to the nature of the job, ie  not constantly run off your feet serving people, I got talking to LJ too. Fast forward a few years and LJ and I were enjoying the same kind of epic nights out that S and I enjoyed, long after I no longer worked with B and she no longer dated him. We’ve been in constant contact and although not out with each other all of the time, we’d still see each other around due to the close proximity of our jobs. Again, a few quieter years where work and being Mum took over for the pair of us, but fond memories of pushing each others children around in their pushchairs were shared. Then a job became available at my current workplace, and LJ was miserable to the point of illness at her job. She applied, was interviewed fairly (and she interviewed fantastically) and she got the job fair and square. Since then, she has worked her way up to become my assistant manager. We’ve both had equally bad times and we are both always rooting for each other for things to turn out for the best. Its probably LJ I feel the most sorry for as out of the 5 friends I’m talking about, she really does have to “put up” with me the most. She’s seen the tears, witnessed the paranoia face to face. The others tend to get the toned down, calmed down messaged version.. While poor LJ gets it in blasts as soon as she gets into work. But then I’ll get the same from her, and that’s why we’re so close. Rough with the smooth. Days at work can be long and slow.. working with LJ, you can add random to the list. With just one look, we know what the other is thinking, and its usually something we shouldn’t be!  On that note though.. it’d be kind of unfair not to mention my other two work girls. We may not have the same number of years friendship under our belts but my gosh have they been there for me. They have literally worked with me through my best and worst days. The lot of them have seen tears, put up with giddy squeals of happiness. Laughed with me, made coffee for me. As a small team of 4, we almost HAVE to get on, but collectively, this lot would be friends through choice now. That goes for ex employees too. Amazing ladies that I miss so much that were and still are there for me. One thing my current workplace attracts is awesome people. Team 133- you know who you are! 

The one where we can cry on each others shoulders.

Fourth on the list of friends I can turn to sort of sneeked up on me. At primary school, our sons became good buddies, and L and I would chat in the playground while waiting for them to finish on the odd occasion I was able to be there due to work commitments. We became friends on social media, which mainly involved sorting out our sons social lives. The more we talked, the more we found we had in common, and more so, how similar we were in character. Both paranoid. Both doubt ourselves. We became each others “pep talk”. Whenever one of us was feeling down, the other would build back up again. That is exactly how this friendship has continued. L is an amazingly talented woman, who shouldn’t need telling that she’s awesome. Understanding where she’s coming from though helps. L really truly came through for me when my marriage broke up. I experienced some very low lows that I hid from the world and couldn’t let my family see after all the suffering they’d already been through. L wouldn’t sugar coat things, she’d relate stories and experiences of her own that proved to me she got me. She understood me. Most importantly, she made me realise it was OK to feel everything I was feeling. I wasn’t wrong. I wasn’t over reacting. Since then, if I need a kick up the backside, I talk to L. And her, to I. We often say to each other its both a blessing and a curse to feel everything so very very deeply. L is the one that understands how I can relate songs to my life, because she does too. L is my voice of experience. She is my oracle of advice. She’s the one most likely to tell me “F#&k the lot of them”.

The one where we’ve only just met. 

The final person on my list proves that it doesn’t matter how long someone has been in your life, its how they’ve proved they are there for you in that time. I met them by chance just this year and general chit chat led to more in depth conversation, which led to feeling like I’d known them forever. There is no history to go into on this one as its so new, suffice to say, I feel they are there for me, and I, them. 

Some people come into your life and you get to know them, and you get on well, but you don’t think to tell them if something important happens until you see them again. Occasionally, very very rarely, you’ll meet someone who, with good news or bad, you’ll think to contact straight away, because their opinion on it will matter to you. 

I don’t have a crystal ball to see into the future, but going purely with my gut instinct, I reckon if I was to write this blog again in five years time, the same 5 people will be on it. 

Perhaps there’ll be more added.  I certainly won’t let it lessen without a fight. 

They will always be my friends, they know too much! 

An Evening with U2Baby

Plans had been made for Saturday 25th March. A long overdue catch up with my best friend S. Couple of bottles of wine, prosecco possibly, take out Chinese and a movie on Sky.

A couple of nights before, another friend, L,  asked me if I was still up for a night of live music. I had completely forgotten she’d mentioned it. A tribute band called U2Baby were performing at a local live music venue. My friend L was photographing the gig. U2 had never really made it onto my playlist. Sure, the singles they released were good, great even, but they had never really grabbed me by the eardrums and compelled me to buy every album in the same way my old favourites Shed Seven and The Bluetones did. I owned a Greatest Hits album. That was all.

So, going to see a tribute act was purely dependent on my best friend. If she didn’t want to go, we wouldn’t. Its fair to say she didn’t take much persuading. Drinks and take out at mine.  Then lift into town with my photographer friends husband. Evening sorted.

With stomachs full of food and heads full of wine, a good night was on the cards regardless. When we got to the venue, my photographer friend L was already buzzing. She’d been at the sound check and assured us we were in for a great night. She was/is a fan of U2, and I knew songs had special meanings for her, good times and bad. I’ve mentioned before about an exes love of Muse, its impossible to hear someone you know talk so passionately about a band and not get sucked into the story yourself. 

Before the gig, L introduced S and I to the lead singer. The “Bono”. Introduction was brief and a little awkward. The poor guy was presented with two slightly tipsy girls when all he wanted to do was prepare to go on stage. I have so much respect for musicians. Putting themselves out there to be looked at, judged, talked about. In my early twenties I got roped into doing three pantomimes. Leading lady. Completely out of my comfort zone. I did it. I had fun, but to say I enjoyed it is a stretch. This guy and his band mates were about to put themselves on stage, through choice, and with the raw emotion attached to music they were obviously passionate about. That’s brave.

When I go to a live gig, I like to sing along, tap my foot, know the lyrics. My biggest concern about this gig was not knowing enough songs to fully enjoy the evening. Worried that not having an emotional connection to any of the songs would somehow take away from my experience. I needn’t of worried. The opening song, ” The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” was not one I was familiar with. However, the opening seconds of the song were almost like an anthem, a chant you’d hear at festivals across the fields. It gripped me and it made me listen. Added to that, the band. They looked like U2. The singer came alive, almost unrecognisable from the guy I’d met not ten minutes before. One song in and I was no longer at a gig. I was at concert. I was at a show. The second song was “Vertigo”. A track I knew. One that I liked and could sing along to. Notes and chords alike were spot on, and I forgot I was sat in a small, local venue, instead being transported to a stadium. The sound at the venue was amazing, top quality and every word rang powerful and clear.   

https://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=XthAdHa1MA4

As the set went on, I knew the occasional song, but even those I didn’t know scratched through my surface and reached my emotions. I find meaning in songs, relevance to me and situations I’ve been put in, and the ballads especially spoke of my life. L had made me aware of the song ” Invisible “, she told me that to her, it was a song written for me. Prior to that night I’d googled the song and its lyrics and could see exactly what she meant. 

It’s like the room just cleared of smoke
I didn’t even want the heart you broke
It’s yours to keep
You just might need one

Very few people know the extent of what I’ve had to endure over the last two years. L does. S does. And hearing U2Baby perform this song, it felt as if they did too. My story, sung to a roomful of people. The vocals of lead singer Ric Peace sent shivers down my spine when he hit notes that seemed impossible while belting out poetic lyrics that had somehow passed me by the first time around. I hung on his every word.

The accompanying music was polished and professional, you could tell these guys put a lot of effort into sound quality. Every guitar strum and drumbeat resonated with me on a level I didn’t know I had. 

By the time “Where The Streets Have No Name” was played, I could no longer sit still. I dragged S onto the dancefloor, singing away. I couldn’t help but notice a couple of obvious dedicated U2 fans , centre stage on the dancefloor. Guys that knew every word to every song. And they were loving it. Testament indeed to the quality of the performance we were all being treated to. 

It wasn’t until after the show that I discovered the venue was nowhere near full capacity. My memory of the night was very different. Every single person in that room, for me at least, created the atmosphere of a huge crowd. The kind of crowd U2Baby deserve. 

L and I made it our mission to get the guys back to our hometown. As a result I’ve had the pleasure of talking to frontman Ric, and discovering that his passion to not only recreate the sound of U2, but also the look and experience, runs deep. From props, lighting and sound effects, these guys might as well be the real deal. They have their own sound engineer, Matt Rogers, who plays a critical part in getting the U2 sound down to a tee. Matt, I salute you. Job well done. 

My CD collection has grown, purely down to how they have sold songs to me. I’m converted. And our mission succeeded.

Saturday 5th May 2018.

U2Baby will return.

Stay informed and join the group.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/185569531952244/  
I should thank U2 for a new life soundtrack. I should, but I can’t. U2 weren’t there for me in the early days as I chose to lean on lyrics from my old favourites. Instead, I must thank U2Baby for introducing me to  the music of U2.  Some songs I have only heard performed by Ric, Simon, Jon and Ash.

Guys, thank you.

I fell in love that night.

http://www.theu2tributeuk.com

Photos courtesy of Lissywitch Photos

https://m.facebook.com/LissywitchPhoto/

Behind the Rose Tinted Closed Doors

I used to, albeit briefly, suffer from “relationship envy”.

Used to. Past tense.

I don’t anymore.

I met my ex husband when I was just turned 20, and married at 23. From that moment on, I mainly, though not exclusively, hung out with other “couples”. I’ve explained before that I’m a “happy with my lot” kinda girl, so I never used to look too deeply at other peoples relationships, and “being single” became a distant memory. I couldn’t “relate” to my single friends. Dating someone else was an alien concept. I was married. I was sorted for life. Or so I thought.

Sure, our friends in couples went on fancy holidays together, while I had to accept that three nights in a tent in a wet and windy Wales with my husband, son and two insane dogs was all I’d get. That was jealousy of their situation though, not of the relationship itself. At the time, I saw my relationship as no better but no worse than anyone else’s that I knew. No envy. I was content.

When I became single though, after being told I hadn’t been loved for two years prior to him leaving, everything changed. My rose tinted glasses lifted and I started seeing my own relationship for the sham it had been, and as a “side effect”, I began scrutinising everyone else’s. Wondering what really went on behind closed doors. When everything you thought was rosy in your own bubble, turns out to be grey, you question everything.

I always remember an acquaintance of mine contacting me a fair while after the split. She’d only just found out and was asking me, and my ex some rather nosey questions, especially when she’d been my friend not his, and neither of us had seen her for ages. When I pulled her up about it, she apologised and said it was because she was “shocked, we’d always seemed like the stable power couple. If we had problems what hope was there for anyone?”. A bit extreme but it got me thinking. People, from the outside looking in, thought we were a strong, stable couple. Yet as soon as we split I looked back and saw more cracks in our relationship than Humpty friggin Dumpty after a fall. There was no chance of putting that back together. I’d either been a really good actress, or I was stupid and naive. I’m still undecided after two years! What I do know is that I became synical about long term relationships, and jealous of brand new shiny relationships that “seemed” better than my own. 

If you’ve read my blogs, I did go straight into dating, despite my underlying trust, confidence, insecurity and paranoia issues. (Oh hindsight, screaming at me right there. It WAS too soon. But hey, no regrets). For three months I was in a whirlwind. Spending nights at his was perfect bliss. Just me and him. 

A friend of mine also started dating someone new. After a very short while, she was telling me how he’d met the family, they’d done this that and the other, been out with her friends and they were planning a holiday. Suddenly nights in just the two of us seemed a bit odd. Mine hadn’t met my son, my parents or my friends. We rarely went out. I wanted what she had. It wasn’t healthy. I was jealous.

 My jealousy and envy wasn’t fair on my partner and it wasn’t justified. I was deliriously happy for the first time in a long while. Why was I ruining that for myself by comparing my relationship to others? Every relationship is different and they move along at different speeds. When mine broke up after three months, I was actually glad he’d never met my son. It saved any unnecessary attachment being made. For that, I was grateful.  Nothing had gone wrong in this relationship. Now though I wonder if it was my fault we split. Had I, subconsciously and unwillingly, put so much pressure on him to conform to my idea of a “normal” relationship based purely on the relationships of those around me, that I scared him off? If I’m honest, probably. I’m too stubborn to say yes.

 While I was seeing the musical, wandering alley cat, my ex announced that he and the new girlfriend were moving in together.  By this point they’d already been abroad a few times. My friends relationship still seemed to be going from strength to strength. They all had “normal” relationships. I was struggling to find a man willing to meet my friends, let alone settle down. I felt like a secret girlfriend. What was I doing wrong? What was wrong with me? Why did no one want to commit to me, show me off to their friends? My loved up friend was asking me when I’d see mine again, had we said “I love you” yet? Had we talked about moving in together? Of course, they had. I was answering with “I don’t know” or “no”. My relationships looked odd. They felt inferior to everyone else’s. Soppy Facebook updates seemed to be the only thing on my news feed. Although I was thoroughly enjoying my relationships, I was desperate to join in with the ” meeting the parents tonight. #excited” vibe of my friends. The little things. The normal things.

When the alley cat had wandered away for longer than before and it came to a natural end, I went on to meet my Mr Amazing. At first the relationship envy was still there. Much like first guy I dated, we didn’t do much, and I still had people questioning me. I felt they were dismissing the validity of my relationship. Some even seemed to doubt his existence. I wasn’t plastering photos of the two of us all over Facebook. We were happy just taking it slow. However, this one had me hooked at “Hello”, when you know, you know. I knew. I was instantly happier and more relaxed than I’d ever felt with anyone. No pretense, no airs or graces. Just him. As he was. 

After 4 months he met my son and I met his Mum. Another four months passed and he met my parents. Hes been to see me at work several times so has met all my work colleagues. In 18 months, thats all hes met. It doesn’t conform to “normal”.  And I don’t give a monkeys arse anymore. Who wants to be normal anyway?

So I decided to not only full on “bin” my own rose tinted glasses that had been sat gathering dust since my husband left me, but I chose to remove the second pair I must’ve been wearing whilst looking at other relationships. A friends relationship wasnt looking too good deep down, turns out there were trust issues on both sides, and he had a fairly manipulative and nasty streak. It ended badly and he’s been causing grief ever since. I’m not a bitch, I wasn’t happy to see a friend go through this, and of course I was there for her, but I was so blinded by envy I didn’t realise what went on away from Facebook status updates.

Fakebook

Another friend of mine starting unnecessarily slating her husband, who I knew was devoted to her, and I wondered if the text that made her giggle so much earlier had really been from him. A couple of friends revealed how their relationship was being tested due to financial strain. My ex and his girlfriend split, and I speculated that the same problems that I eventually uncovered in my marriage to him had maybe reared their ugly head on another unsuspecting victim.

Behind the “look how happy we are” statuses that made me envious, were cracks they didn’t want anyone to see. 

So, when people told me they saw their boyfriends four or five times a week, but they’d argued over something he had said to a friend about her, I’d be grateful for my once or, if we’re lucky, twice a week, catch ups knowing that every second was spent cuddled up, just the two of us, laughing and talking the whole time.

When someone mentions their finances are strained but their husband still goes out every weekend ignoring the problem, I’m pleased for separate bank accounts.

If disagreements take place over where to go on holiday, I feel lucky for my choice of “your place or mine?”.

Married couples, often both working parents, sometimes only cross paths in the evening, amidst the routine of cooking, cleaning, catching time with the kids, washing, making calls, paying bills. My once or twice a week with my Mr Amazing, every single second is spent focused on each other. No outside forces. No chores. Quality time. Every walk, lunch, movie- just us.

Now I’m not saying all those other relationships can’t or don’t work. Deep down I’ll always crave a settled family life. I’m just saying no relationship is the same. Who gets to decide what makes a relationship”normal”? There is no normal. Only different. Every variety of different can be right for those involved. 

Don’t compare. 

Don’t be jealous. 

Look at what you’ve got and appreciate it for all its differences.

You may not meet my Mr Amazing out on the town, partying the night away with me. We might not be discussing holidays or talking about moving in together anytime soon. But if you’re my friend and you love me, just know that he makes me happy when he takes me for fish and chips in a field, or kisses me in the pouring rain down by a muddy river bank. It works for us.

We’re not normal, but then, who is?

A rainy day with Mr Amazing. Just the two of us.


https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=qgy7vEje5-w

Retail is dead

Retail is dead. A phrase I hear over and over again. 

I was recently told by someone who has absolutely no place in telling me what to do, that although I was “bloody good at my job”, I need to get out of retail.

Once the cloud of anger settled over the cheek of this person telling me their unwanted and unvalued opinion, I thought about it. Not about quitting retail, it is, after all, all I’ve ever done. No, I got to thinking about the whole “retail is dead” thing.

Looking along the High Street, shopping centre and side streets of my local town centre, there are far less empty shop units than even just two years ago. More and more independent retailers, quirky little gift shops are popping up all over the place. True, some of them don’t last long, but is that down to retail dying or bad practise/ unrealistic goals from the business owner?

The question I want to pose in this blog post for you all to consider is this.!

Is retail dead, or has the high street consumer gotten lazy?

Now, the other day I walked past a shop in a quaint little shopping court in town. It was an independent gift shop, which has recently converted its upstairs space into a tea room. Outside, on a plaque on the wall, is the quote “Keep your shop, and your shop will keep you”. This quote could be about the shop owner. Just like you or I will “keep” our house, clean it, tidy it, stock its cupboards full to create a warm safe environment for our families, a shop owner needs to do the same at his shop, new stock, neatly displayed to entice customers to come spend their money and keep a roof over the shop keepers head. Or… it could be about YOU, the shopper. In a similar way to the quote “use it or lose it”.Shop there and they’ll be able to continue to supply you with the gifts and trinkets they have on offer.

The trouble is, these little shops rely on footfall coming through the city centre. Footfall at the moment, is considerably down. More and more people now shop online for goods they can find on their own High Street. They claim it’s more “convenient “, a phrase I will prove incorrect later. People forget what a shop can offer over and above a computer screen. Choosing to stay at home and shop in their PJs, they are missing out on the unique things their own town centre has on offer. These little unique shops can’t survive without customers. Most independent business owners work alone, seven days a week. They need you.

Don’t get me wrong, the internet is great for shopping. Personally I only use it for things I can’t get in town, personalised gifts, handmade goodies, online only companies. I don’t order anything that would be detrimental to my High Street

Trouble is, people are still brainwashed by the pressure selling culture of the late 90s. Truth is, when we say ” hello” to you in our store, and get a narky response of “I’m just looking”, we are infact, just saying Hello. The same way your computer screen says ” welcome back Sally” when you log into your account to go shopping. We are here to serve you. Find out what you want. We, essentially, are your personal search engine. It is our job. We will tell you far more politely than your husband at home when trying on your online purchases that yes madam, your bum does look big in that. We’ll also show you something to flatter your shape. We want you to look nice. The website has no opinion.

Every year we lose at least one major retailer from our High Streets. Recently we’ve seen the demise of BHS, and even Marks & Spencer have had to admit defeat and are in the process of closing down shops across the country. Whose fault is it? Its ours. The consumer.

Now let me set the scene for you.

This morning,  you woke up to cold and heavy winds. You need to get a few bits of shopping but the thought of trapsing into town or waiting for a bus is unappealing. You fire up your laptop and find everything you need online. Most offering free delivery and free returns. You think you know your rights about shopping and returning items. You mainly shop from companies you know. Brands you’ve seen on the High Street, because they are familiar and you trust them.

 Heres the reality from a High Street shops point of view. Its a cold and windy day. Your fingers are numb by the time you get to work. You don’t anticipate high sales today at your clothing store. You know people will stay at home. A target has been set by your head office based on takings last year and a percentage increase. A target you are expected to hit no matter the weather. Your initial thoughts were correct, not many shoppers around. Then someone comes in. You greet them with a warm hello. You find out they work full time and hardly have time to shop but came out early on a day off to get sorted then get back home. You ask what they are looking for. You recommend styles and colours to suit them. You treat them like they are the only person worthy of your time. You offer outstanding service and build an outfit perfect for them. They try on and are delighted with the shopping experience they’ve recieved. They make a confident, informed purchase, saving time and money getting it right first time. Chose a dress they wouldn’t of even thought of trying on by look alone, but the quality of the fabric and the fit was so perfect, they knew it was right for them. Job done correctly, sales assistant and customer happy. Within just twenty minutes, the lady had tried on six dresses in various styles and sizes and found the perfect one. The next person in has return. Dresses they ordered online. The fit wasn’t quite right and the colour looked different online. The money credited back to them comes off the shops days takings, completely wiping out the previous transaction. The shop closes its doors that day on a figure short of their target because of the web returns. Its disheartening. The dress returned from the internet is also available in store, and the lady that returned it, lived locally.

Most of you, especially if you have never worked in retail, probably thought “well, that’s the nature of the job. That’s what you get paid for.” Think again. My training includes customer service. It includes product knowledge. The only question regarding dealing with difficult customers I’ve ever been asked was in my interview. 

Now here’s the story again, more in depth, but with an explanation as to why I accused the consumer of being “lazy”, whilst also trying to get my point across on the whole ” use it or lose it” issue. 

Sally has got a wedding to go to in 3 weeks time. She works full time so finds it hard to find time to shop for an outfit. Its her day off today but its very cold. She doesn’t want to pay the £1 for parking either, its always £1 on a Sunday. An incentive put on by the local shopping centre to encourage people in. Anyway, she goes online. She goes to the website of a shop she’s seen in town. She’s bought a couple of things there before. Likes the clothes but knows the sizes vary a bit. After seeing three dresses she likes, she orders all three in two different sizes. SIx items. She only intends on keeping one, and her order comes to £240. As she knows there is a shop in town, she doesn’t bother to read the returns policy. Delivery is free and will arrive between 3 and 5 working days. On the fourth day, when the parcel is delivered, Sally is at work, in the town centre, less than five minutes from the shop that she’d ordered online from, and there is no one home to receive the parcel. She collects it from the post office sorting office two days later on her next day off, which is a very wet and windy day, and Sally gets soaked running across the car park. By the time Sally has the dresses, she has been to the town centre 3 times. Out of the three dresses, one looked a different colour and didnt match a jacket she had, she wasnt keen on the fabric of the second and the third is the one she likes the most. Two weeks later, she goes to the wedding, and gets lots of compliments on her dress. However, she notices when wearing the dress that the hem line is hanging ever so slightly lower on one side. Anyway, Sally read that she had 30 days to return unwanted items to the local shop. The following weekend, Sally takes the five unwanted garments, and the slightly faulty one that she wore, back to the local store, in the town centre where she works. As she’s at work at 10am, she gets to the store just after it opens at 9am. Its another wet and windy day. The sales assistant is serving someone else so Sally stands at the till looking at her watch, huffing and puffing, hoping this will hurry the tardy assistant up. The assistant says goodbye to her customer and greets Sally with a smile and a hello. After explaining the situation, she is offered an exchange or credit note on the unwanted items, as clearly stated in the returns policy online, but which Sally didn’t read because she “knows her rights”, and a refund or exchange on the faulty dress. Sally shouts at the staff for not being entitled to a full refund on all the items, even though the policy is clear on her paperwork. She could send it back to the online shop for a refund, but Sally doesn’t want to pay postage and doesn’t have the time. The post office is also in town. Sally then complains about the faulty dress. The staff are able to show her the exact same dress in store without a fault, but Sally doesn’t want to exchange it as she’s already been to the wedding, and the faulty dress ruined the day for her. Sally felt the need to point that out and be angry at the sales assistant, even though this is the first time shes dealt with her. When Sally eventually agrees to take the credit note for £200 and a refund for £40, after shouting some more at the staff who have had no chance to assist Sally in her purchase, she then asks if the credit note could be spent online. It can. Sally leaves with the credit note threatening to complain to head office. The store starts the day on minus £200 after only being open thirty minutes.

Next time Sally shopped online, she was unable to return the items to her local store because her local store had closed down. It wasn’t taking enough money to keep open. Sally  complains to head office about the inconvenience of having to travel 20 miles to the next nearest store. 

Had Sally paid £1 for parking that Sunday, she would’ve saved on petrol travelling to the post office which was a twenty minute journey away.

Had Sally visited the store on that cold but dry day, she wouldn’t of gotten soaked running to and from her car to the post office.

Had Sally bought the dress in store, she wouldnt of ended up with a faulty one in error.

Had Sally visited the shop, the trained sales assistant would’ve bought her a choice of different dresses for her to try on for size, feel the fabric and match up accessories in around 20 minutes, saving Sally the 40 minute round trip to the post office on one of her rare days off.

Had Sally shopped in store, four members of staff, who, for five days a week, braved the elements to get to work to help and assist ladies just like Sally, to find perfect outfits, would still have jobs.

Many shoppers would argue that the money all goes to the same company so why does it matter if they spend online or in store. The scenario outlined above is why it matters. Although extreme, it absolutely could, and does happen.  I have been made redundant three times, only for the brand to continue successfully online. No business can afford to light, heat, power and staff a retail unit that makes no profit for them. If you don’t use the shops, they will disappear. If you love the brand, USE THE SHOPS. A customer like Sally would ultimately have saved time and money just going into store instead. Shops competing with their own online division are ultimately becoming return centres. You can find us to return stuff to, but not to make your initial purchase? Being the “face” of a company has it’s highs and lows. We have the elation of helping customers chose the right product for them, assisting them and advising them through the whole process and seeing them walk out of the store grateful for your help and happy with their purchases. Then you get shouted at. Generally by people you’ve had no dealing with yourself up until this point but they plant the blame firmly at your feet. These people are usually the ones that tell you their rights as a consumer. Tell you what they are “entitled”* to. They are right, you are wrong. 

*It’s important to note here that shop staff are aware of the law. We’ve been taught it. We know, OK? We’re right and you, ” Sally”, are wrong. For example, did you know that you are not actually legally entitled to a refund if you have simply changed your mind on a purchase, and any company that does offer such refund does it as a goodwill gesture only, not because its the law? Or that if you return something without a valid, in date receipt I’m not legally obliged to do anything at all. If I offer a current till value exchange, its because I’m nice. I don’t HAVE to. And you won’t get a credit note from me, as that will take my days takings down and I have targets to hit. Remember, I don’t HAVE to do anything. Take it or leave it, but don’t shout at me about it!

Here’s one last story for you.

Kelly is a full time store manager. Five days a week, she is up just gone 7am to feed dogs, get son ready for school, wash and dress and get herself ready for work. On days like today, she can hear the rain beating against her window, the snooze button on the alarm gets hit two times more than usual. Kelly is never late. Ever. She gets to the shop, gets everything ready to open, then attempts to dry her hair and reapply her make up after the wind and the rain made her look like a stand in for The Joker. If she wasn’t at work today, she wouldn’t want to be out in this. However, Kelly loves her job. She loves helping people, loves seeing people happy, and loves the feeling when the customer is genuinely grateful for her help and advice. Its what she’s paid to do. Kelly pops to the toilet just before 9am as she is working on her own till 11.30am so won’t be able to go again. Looking at the weather, she fears it may be a long quiet morning. Shortly after opening, Kelly got to help a lady on a mission. She tried on several dresses and, with Kelly’s help, chose the perfect one. Everything Kelly loved about the job. As Kelly was processing the £40 sale, another lady, visably hassled, came and stood by the till. Kelly cheerily told her she wouldn’t be a moment but she was ignored. Instead the lady huffed and checked her watch.

 After bidding goodbye to her customer, Kelly turned her attention to the other lady. Kelly listened politely as the lady explained about six dresses she’d bought online. Kelly professionally told the lady what she could do in store for her, but the lady didn’t like the answer so shouted quite aggressively at Kelly. Although calm, Kelly felt a little threatened as she was lone working. She ended up taking a return of £240 worth of stock leaving her on minus £200 within half an hour of being open. The lady left threatening to complain to head office. Kelly knows that Head Office can hide behind a phone or a computer monitor, or pass the complaint higher. Kelly couldn’t.  The next day Kelly had a disheartening phonecall from her area manager because she missed target by £180. Kelly knew she had taken the money but the website return wiped it out. She goes home worried about her job stability.

So, retail is not dead. People will always need clothes, want technology, have babies. Its the traditional shopper that’s died, and they are the first people to moan when they walk down the High Street to rows of empty shops. Nothing beats the shopping experience. Get together with friends and discover the delights of your town centre again. You can have lunch, go for a coffee. Get all the bits you need, as well as some things you didn’t know you needed. Keep your High Street and your High Street will keep you.
I hear people say they shop online for “convenience”, however its not so convenient when what you’ve ordered online doesn’t look,feel or work the way you expected it to. All things you could see instantly if you had popped to your local store and made your purchase with them. It’s more convenient to take your faulty, too small, too short, too blue item back to the store to return it rather than post it back, stand in a queue, isn’t it? Why not start there?

Do yourself, and me, favour.

The Big 4-0h No….

Rum. Drink lots of Mount Gay Rum you wont feel like youre forty😈

– Jackie, 2017

The first forty years of life give us the text: the next thirty supply the commentary. – Arthur Schopenhauer

We don’t understand life any better at forty than at twenty, but we know it and admit it. – Jules Renard


In around 4 months time, I will be hitting the grand age of 40. Essentially, I’m now “mid-life”. A quick Google at life expectancy in women puts it at around 83, so its fair to say I’m almost halfway through my life, all being well. My sister never made it to 40. She passed away at 39 and a little under 2 months. I’m officially older than my older sister. For that very reason, I’m not scared of turning 40. No siree. I will grab it with both hands. Its a milestone my beloved sister never reached so I plan to not only reach that milestone, but to travel as far past it as possible. I vowed to make the year leading up to my 40th birthday as good as I possibly could. Despite external forces trying to bring me down, I’d say I am pretty pleased with the way its turned out. So far anyway.

Just lately though, my body and physical appearance have been trying to stop me in my tracks in my war of taking on 40 and winning.

I feel 40.

I look 40.

How, and more importantly, WHEN, did this happen?

Now, I wouldn’t say I was a vain woman. I like to, or at least try to, look nice. Back in my twenties, a night of very little sleep had no effect on my appearance the next day. My youthful skin looked fresh no matter what I did, or didn’t do. I’ve never been one for lotions and potions. I get drawn in by pretty packaging and floral scents, use them for a few days and then get fed up of the routine. The older I get, the more likely I am to hit that darn snooze button instead of getting up to cleanse, tone and moisturise. As I said, in my twenties, it seemed it didn’t matter. However, have I shot myself in the foot approaching 40 by not keeping the routine through my younger years? As the lotions and potions of days gone by gather dust on the bathroom window sill, a night of very little sleep now leaves me waking up looking like an extra in The Walking Dead. My skin, at best, looks grey. The furrows in my brow, if filled with water, could quench an entire continent during a drought. When I smile, the corners of my eyes no longer crinkle cutely to give expression, they fold. They fold up like rows of jumpers on a display shelf in Primark. One on top of the other. The reflection staring back at me from the mirror no longer represents the twenty something young woman I often still think that I am.

Therein lies another issue. Thinking. My mind. Its going, you know. Often first thing in the morning or later into an evening, I get words wrong, sometimes forgetting them all together. Its frustrating. Is it my age? Or is it just because I’m tired and in desperate need of a holiday? I don’t know. I do know it scares me. My spritely 13 year old son finds great amusement in correcting me when I call his iPad a laptop. Or the TV remote, the DooDah. I do remember eventually, but not quick enough to include it in the sentence I’m using. There’s nothing wrong with my memory, as such, I remember what I did when, appointments etc. Every blissful second spent with Mr Amazing is etched into my mind. My son tells me he needs £3 for something or other at school in two weeks time though, nah, its gone. I have to be reminded, constantly. Then disappointment and annoyance sets in when, on the morning in question, my son asks for the £3 and I don’t have it. I have sent him in with pockets full of silver and copper before now. Again, is this age, or just another side effect of my over active, over thinking paranoid mind not being able to hold onto more than one thought at a time? I don’t know. All I do know is, its getting worse. 

Then we move onto the physical side of things. Three years ago I was a size 16-18. I’m now a size 10… ish. Post Christmas I’ve edged up very slightly to a 12, but that’ll change. Trust me, I’m a lot happier to be going into 40 as a size 10-12 than I would’ve been at a 16-18. That is not at all to do with vanity, it really is from a health perspective. My walk home from work is all up hill. When I was bigger but younger, it was a struggle. When my size changed it felt easier. Hell, it was easier. The scales have tipped again though as age has crept up on me. The perfect combination to tackle the hill of doom is a healthy weight and youth. Not a healthy weight and age. The steepest bank on my journey home really takes it out of me. I don’t get out of breath but each footstep is a struggle. Luckily my son has his own key as he often beats me home when we’ve been to town together. I’ve never been a big exerciser. My weight loss was down to a lifestyle change, not a healthy eating programme teamed with a rigorous exercise regime. My job isn’t overly physical, but I am on my feet for around 8½ hours a day. Radox Muscle Soak and a Heat Lotion are becoming my legs best friends.

Something else that’s been playing on my mind as I try to slam on the breaks at the cusp of turning 40- Fashion. How do I dress? Do I suddenly rush to the hairdressers and get a sensible short grown-up cut, or can I keep my past the shoulder mousy brown unruly mop? Turning grey doesn’t bother me. So far, the only grey hair I’ve spotted is a reoccurring wiry thing in my right eyebrow, but he’s easy enough to say sayonara to. Pluck and go. I am accutely aware that turning grey will potentially change what colours suit me, but essentially grey goes with everything. More choice isn’t a bad thing. No, grey hair doesn’t scare me. Mr Amazing wears the salt and pepper George Clooney look very well. I’d be happy to join him. Clothing however…I’m lost. When I lost weight, I was able to wear shapes, colours and styles my size 16 frame would never of even considered. I used to get fashion so wrong. In my job before my current one, I was not only manager, but the oldest one out of a team of 5/6,  even more at Christmas. With youth comes the ability to wear whatever you want and not look too dressy or too casual. The girls were in vest tops, jeans and heels but looked dressed up enough for a night clubbing. If I put on the same ensemble, I looked as if I was nipping to the shop to get a loaf of bread. So, I’d often chose a dress, something plain, subdued, but still I looked as if I’d got bored of the wedding party I was at and gatecrashed an 18th birthday party. I never got it right. 

Now working in a ladies clothes shop, essentially aimed at more “age appropriate” clientele, I think I’ve got it just about right. I can wear a dress and not feel too dressy. I can wear jeans with some kick ass boots and not look like I’m going for a walk with the dogs. I got it. But that’s at 39….will things change at 40? I know I sound unreasonable, but having been wrong and right in the past, I don’t trust myself to get it right. 

Being 40 doesn’t scare me.

Its just the side effects of 40 are coming along far too quickly for my liking.

So, what can I do? What can I change? 

FOOD/DIET

Feeding a 13 year old boy seven nights a week, its very easy to fall into the trap of cooking a meal that he will enjoy and I tolerate. I don’t feed him junk food every night, but on the occasion he does deserve his favourite battered chicken and chips, I often do myself the same, just for ease and to save time. Not ideal. Neither of us are big vegetable lovers and although I try and include it in our diet, I struggle to find something we both enjoy. After researching foods I should be eating, I’ve made a conscious effort to improve my diet. Now, when cooking fresh meats for my son and I, when he has chips and peas, I’ll have stir fried noodles and peppers/onions. Takes minutes in a wok. In my quest for discovering the best foods to eat, I read a lot about “superfoods”. Now they were big in the early 2000s and I dismissed them as being bland, tasteless rabbit food favoured by size 0 celebrities. However, I came across Quinoa. 

“Pronounced “keen-wah,” this protein-packed grain contains every amino acid, and is particularly rich in lysine, which promotes healthy tissue growth throughout the body. Quinoa is also a good source of iron, magnesium, vitamin E, potassium, and fiber.”

I figured it was worth giving it a go. I got a pack of the red and black variety, which was apparently was “ready to eat”, or could be cooked in a similar way to couscous. Straight from the packet, it did absolutely nothing for my curious tastebuds. However, that night I made a stir fry with Quorn chicken and straight to wok wholemeal noodles. I threw a handful of Quinoa in just before serving, and thoroughly enjoyed the slight nutty taste that came through. I’ve not yet tried it cooked on its own, but at least I’ve found a way to throw a bit of goodness into my meals!

SKIN

Most people tell me to drink more water, that will help my skin. I hear them. I try. I just don’t enjoy it. Anyone that watches The Gilmore Girls, just think of Lorelai Gilmore. Coffee. Coffee is my one vice. I drink decaf at home, have done ever since being pregnant. I can’t give it up. I’m addicted. I sleep so little at night with or without it, I’ve given up trying to cut down. (I tried, with zero effect on my erratic sleep pattern). 

So, my only other choice, along with the healthier foods, is making a resolution to stick to a skin care regime. Again I turn to my trusted friend Google. I wanted affordable but effective. Several reviews led me to http://www.nipandfab.com . With product ranges called Vipers Venom and Dragons Blood, along with claims of being the best skin care products around £10, I was drawn in. The “Frown Fix” was what I went in search for. Adding that to my basket I noticed an offer of free night cream when you purchased the blurring fix serum. Oops, how ever did they end up in my basket too?

I have been using the products for a week and I can honestly say, my skin feels smoother. Visible results apparently show after 4 weeks. So as long as I keep up the routine and try not to frown while inspecting my frown, I should be fine. Time will tell.

Of course, along with the negative eventualities of getting older, there are also a few silver linings. I now know I don’t have to like everyone I meet, and I’m OK with not everyone liking me. I have a wealth of knowledge and experiences to pass onto my son. The people in my life now are the people that I want there. I’ve learnt, the hard way admittedly, what true love should feel like. I already know my tolerance levels of alcohol.  And Bulls*#t. 

I’m feistier.

I don’t settle for any less than I deserve.

Finally, I know what I’m worth. Someone has made me realise that I, just the way I am, am perfect for them. After years of never feeling good enough, knowing the impact I can have on someone else’s life just by being me, is priceless. 

And worth the 40 year wait.

Christmas Misses and New Year Kisses

Christmas. A time of cheer. Eat, drink and be merry. Spending time with your loved ones-the very people you work your butt off for so that you can do wonderful things with when you get some much needed time off. Precious time.

Unless you work in retail. Then its a case of “what time?”.

OK, just to summarise, I have always work in retail. In every job I’ve had, I’ve ended up in a management roll. I’m used to working every Saturday. I essentially enjoy the job, the team spirit, the customer interaction. Never though, have I ever HAD to work both Christmas eve AND Boxing Day. 

Until this year.

For most people, Christmas is a time for all those things I mentioned above. For my family, its about those of us that are still here, being together. If you’ve followed my blog, you’ll know that we lost my sister just after Christmas 2013. Then just before Christmas 2014 my husband left me. By a long stretch I know there are people out there who have even more upset associated with Christmas than us, but we have had it pretty tough. If I am able to have two days together to get through Christmas, and the day we lost my sister, I can go into work, do my job and not let it affect me. That was taken away from me this year. The greedy, greedy world of retail took over and I was powerless to respond.

December was looming and I was mentally having to prepare for being forced, by the company I had previously worked four successful christmasses for, to work both Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. Something I have never ever had to do in my whole working life. Now I accept that retail over Christmas is unsociable, however at Christmas, having two days off together has always been assumed, a given. Leaving my very capable Assistant Manager in charge in my absense, a job she does all year round on my two days off a week and to cover my holidays, has always been the obvious choice, and a proven success on the day I don’t work. For four years, it worked. Why change this year? We never really got an answer. 

Throughout December , my well practised “brave face” went on. My existing assistant manager handed her notice in for reasons heavily influenced by the Christmas working conditions. Issues in my private life unfortunately reared their very ugly head again, threatening to ruin the little free time I was getting over the “festive” season. The thought of someone else spending more time over Christmas with the son I’d been looking after practically full time since the summer, was killing me.Trying to get on with my life after everything myself and my very small family have been through, was seeming impossible without the interference of people who, quite frankly, gave up their own right to interfere. I’ve since realised that its  very hard to let go off something that doesn’t seem to realise you’ve long given up the grip you ever had. Drama I neither wanted nor created followed me around all month, when all I wanted to do was spend the time I had away from work with those I love and love me back. I made a very big stand, and handed the baton of responsibility that I had somehow unwillingly ended up holding, onto those who should be stepping up and taking control of someone that should mean more to them than that someone now means to me. The past is the past for a reason. 

For probably only the second time ever, I let a customer reduce me to tears. No, its not very professional of me as a store manager, but yes, I’m only human. She was a vile human being who threw my goodwill back in my face leaving me wishing I’d just stuck to the law and “company” procedure and sent her on her way. Its not like the company valued me going over and above to offer customer satisfaction, and she certainly didn’t. I dealt with the whole situation whilst wearing a Christmas hat. The hat did not remain on my head after wishing her a Merry Christmas and leaving the shop floor. 

I felt compelled to say sorry to my staff that witnessed my upset.They, of course, thought nothing of it. They knew what I was going through.  Hey, they were going to see more of me this Christmas than my own family. As part of our job, we are expected to greet every customer within a minute of them entering the store. When it is busy, and there are only a couple of us working due to hours allowed, its hard, but we manage. When I say “greet”, I just mean a simple ” hello”. My already fragile mood would get even more delicate every time our “hello” was responded to with “I’m just looking” and a roll of the eyes as if we were pressure selling! The amount of times I had to stop myself from saying “and I’m just saying Hello”……

When returns from the website and other stores kept bringing my till figure down and we were on the receiving end of the grief and anger caused by the reason for the return which wasn’t our fault, my brave face struggled to stay put. It did, but it was a struggle. It was easy to identify those had never worked in retail in their lives…. there anger was personal towards whichever unsuspecting member of staff was polite enough to greet them when they entered the store. The phrase ” I don’t get paid enough for this” went round in my head so many times.

I was suffering. I struggled to stay “upbeat”.

I clung to the days off with my son and the occasional evening with my Mr Amazing as if they were as precious as the first and last moments on earth. Both were my rays of sunshine. They were like my own personal bookends, holding me together from either side.

Days off flew by and days at work dragged along. I started to dread the 7.15am alarm call. Each morning  I got closer to Christmas, I hit the snooze button one more time. Each morning leaving the house a few minutes later, to start the cold twenty minute walk to work. I didn’t want to go. It felt unfair. One day off for Christmas. Well meaning friends would shrug, say that’s harsh but put it down to ” being retail”, until I pointed out that I’ve worked in retail 21 years and have never had to do both before. My other half told me he was only working three days the week up to Christmas, leaving me silently reeling about the missed opportunities to spend time with him. He works at a supermarket, an area of retail way busier than mine at Christmas, and he was getting reasonable time off! He was my angel, a true life Godsend, taking me into town on my last day off before the big day so I could buy all my families Christmas cards, because the half hour lunch breaks I’m allowed at work were not enough time to face the card shop madness. Then on top of that was my annual “accidentally end up in front of the Sister cards in the shop because noone would move and then have to leave that shop and go to another before I burst into tears that I no longer need to buy a sister card” scenario. It never gets easier. 

Christmas eve arrived,along with instructions to open all day and stay after closing to launch the “SALE”. I was dreading it. I wanted to be at home with my son and my other half who was finishing at midday. I struggled to find something to wear as I’d been reluctant to spend my evenings doing mundane housework and washing in between 9 hour days at the shop, so I cobbled together an outfit that was sold by my company but wasn’t technically current stock, or therefore ” accepted uniform requirements “, but I had no other choice. Passing Costa on my way into work , I grabbed myself some brain fuel and headed for the shop. I would be working the whole day with my newly appointed Assistant Manager, a member of my team who was a friend of mine long before she joined my team as a part timer. 

We planned out our day, and my wonderful friend and colleague managed to make me smile all day long despite my absolute adamence that I didn’t want to be there. We were busy, we had a good day. Did the manager HAVE to be there? No. Nothing out of the ordinary happened that needed my presence over my assistant manager.

I couldn’t sleep Christmas eve night. Not in a ” I’m so excited” kind of way. More a “I only have one day off for Christmas, and that’s going to be a busy day so if I can’t sleep tonight I’m going to be shattered Boxing Day and I can’t even get drunk” kind of way.

At 7am on Christmas morning, I was up putting the turkey on. I didn’t even have to. My son was still fast asleep. Retail ruined me. I couldn’t even have a lie in as my internal body clock was screaming at me to get up like every morning of the week leading up to this one day. I was not rested. I was not relaxed. Truth be told, I wasn’t feeling Christmassy at all. If I didn’t have places to go and people to see, I would’ve spent the day like any other day off. Pottering round the house, housework, listening to music. Noone wants to do housework on Christmas day, and this year I was working so much that I was having to keep working when I got home to get the house “Christmas ready”. The money grabbing fat cats don’t think of that. When are us lowly retail staff meant to do the normal mundane stuff? Days off were the only chance I had to shop. Evenings were spent cleaning, tidying, sorting. I was physically burning the proverbial candle at both ends. And even round the sides. I’ve said in a previous blog that there’s no shame in letting the people around you help you, be it emotionally or practically, and I am blessed with people in my life that want to make me happy. So, for them, I plodded on.

And BECAUSE of them, I had the most wonderful Christmas day in a while. The morning was spent with my son, my parents and my nephews. Then just my boy and I had a perfect dinner together. The afternoon I was able to put my feet up for a couple of hours while Mr Amazing and my son battled it out on Lego Dimensions, and the evening, although sober and short, was quality time just my boy and I. Although I couldn’t, and didn’t, forget that I was back at work the next day, every single person I saw and interacted with made my “One Day Christmas” the best it could’ve been. From seeing the gratitude and appreciation on my boys face when he opened his gifts, to the thoughtfulness behind every single present Mr Amazing got me, and the clear plates at dinner time.  

Boxing Day at work was achieved with the company of my two part timers who had both had Christmas eve off, so were relaxed and raring to go. Their enthusiasm got me through again.  Another busy day, but again, nothing that needed the managers input. 

My next day off after Christmas was the anniversary of when we lost my sister. My feet hadn’t touched the ground and I wanted, and deserved to sit and do nothing all day. However, lunch with my son and parents was on the agenda, and rightly so, to remember her. 

New Years Eve we managed to close an hour early. My colleagues went for a drink to celebrate. I went home, to make the most of an extra hour with my son. 

2017 was seen in the only way I wanted to,  with my boy and Mr Amazing watching movies.

New Years Day, the shop was closed. I happily spent the whole day at home and didn’t do a thing. A full on no make up day. The washing was piled up around me. The plates from the previous nights tea still in the sink. But I had nowhere to go and I fully intended to benefit from it.

So, remember, when you have the luxury of a day off in the run up to Christmas, and can browse the shops at leisure and clean your house in between knowing that you have at least two days off together to enjoy all your hard work, there will be staff out there that don’t have any choice. 

Don’t shout at them. Don’t be rude to them. They are doing their job so that your Christmas with your family goes as smoothly as it can. Yet all they desperately want is the time with their family that you have. Its not about the presents. Its not about the food and drink. Its about the precious moments with friends, family and loved ones.

This year, I’m so very grateful that my work colleagues fall in those categories. Without those girls, more tears would’ve been shed.