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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.

Two Years Have Passed

image

For you, Jo. I’ll always love you even though you are no longer here.

“How Long Will I Love You”
Ellie Goulding

How long will I love you?
As long as stars are above you
And longer, if I can.

How long will I need you?
As long as the seasons need to
Follow their plan.

How long will I be with you?
As long as the sea is bound to
Wash upon the sand.

How long will I want you?
As long as you want me to
And longer by far.

How long will I hold you?
As long as your father told you,
As long as you can.

How long will I give to you?
As long as I live through you
However long you say.

How long will I love you?
As long as stars are above you
And longer, if I may.