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The Month of Meh, and how to lighten the dark.

​How many of you reading this are feeling fed up of February? 

I genuinely think its been one of the coldest and wettest February’s for a while in recent years.

Its “meh”. I feel “meh”.

I’m fed up of leaving my house at 8.15am so wrapped up I could easily be mistaken for an abominable snowman. Or a Yeti. Layer upon layer of warm clothes to walk to work in, leaving arms sticking out uncomfortably from your sides as you struggle to do anything while wearing the essential gloves needed to protect hands from the bitter cold. My skin is dry from being out in the cold, then into an artificially heated building. February is not kind to me. February is not selfie month.

And don’t even get me started on the rainy days. And the wind. Add those two elements into the mix and you’ve got the perfect recipe for my worst mood ever. Starting work with bedraggled, wind blown hair, ice reddened face, chapped and dry lips, mud splattered boots and trousers is a look I’m keen to see the back of. I’m longing for the days where I can breeze into work wearing a flowing dress, light jacket, if any at all, and the only redness gracing my cheeks with be the happy, healthy glow of fresh skin, all “Marc Jacobs, Daisy” ad campaign. 
On top of all that, I’m tired. Physically and mentally. I’ve not had a week off work since the third week of October. Retail management means we don’t get time off for Christmas.

I look terrible.

I am shattered.

I’m starting to hate every item of clothing in my winter wardrobe.

It’s too cold to go out and do what I want.

I’m too skint to go out and do what I want.
I should be bloody miserable. I’m not. Sure, I have my moments.

I’m the Queen of Paranoia.

The essence of Self Doubt.

A Gold Medalist in Worrying.

Champion of letting what others think, get to me. 

Ultimately though,  I’m happy.  More so recently than ever before.

And, there is a reason. I think.  A theory I’ve been toying with and inadvertently applying to my own life. I’ve made changes. To myself and around others. 


Fountains
and Drains
I came across this saying/reference when I stumbled upon the blog posts of James Wittering. www.witteringon.org.  I found his blogs fascinating, and binge read his posts so far. He’s a guy, who has been through some break ups, coming to terms with the implications and just trying to get through life positively and without majorly fucking up. I could relate to that. It was actually refreshing to read about these issues from the male point of view. He talked about how he struggled to watch programmes that he and his ex used to watch together. I too have spoke in the past about how my ex and I used to watch certain things together, yet near the end of the marriage they began to fill up Sky Planner as he was never around and how I have never revisited them since. He seemed of similar mind. I then read his blog about fountains and drains. At the time, I couldn’t really relate it to any part of my life, so I read it, enjoyed it and didn’t give it much thought after that.

 Until early this year. 
I was mulling a problem over and over in my head. Like I do, scared that if I told anyone about it, it would make the problem bigger, more real. I didn’t want to talk about it. I wanted to think. To procrastinate. To work it out on my own. Eventually, I did. I made peace with the problem in my head and managed to put a positive spin on it. Then I told a friend about it.  That friend then made a single comment that started with “but”… and everything I’d just reasoned to be true was thrown precariously back into doubt again with one fail swoop. This is when I remembered about the fountains and drains. 
Let me explain..

FOUNTAINS.

Think of your close circle of friends. The people you turn to with good news and bad. When sharing good news with a ” fountain”, they will drink in your every word, then gush with pride and appreciation and shower you with compliments and exclamations of how happy they are for you. They turn your one stream of excitement into a flurry. When faced with your bad news, they will try and put a positive spin on it, try all they can to help you see it as an opportunity. They will give your problem more life ,making it turn from a negative weight on your shoulders, into a fresh bunch of small bite sized issues that they will help you deal with. They are bright, sunny and positive people themselves. They have a positive outlook on life. They also care enough to ask the uncomfortable questions when they think you’re heading down the wrong track. They’ll want to get you back on the right one. Fountains are happy people who see the best even in bad situations. They don’t need other peoples constant approval.  

DRAINS. 

Same scenario with a drain. Tell them some good news, they will let you flood them with your enthusiasm, swill it around a bit, effectively filling them up with your own positive thoughts before they pull the plug with the simplest of statements such as “but” or “what if”, instantly draining your mood. They don’t necessarily mean to, these drains can still be friends, they just don’t know how to be happy if you are. Its their mindset, not yours. They don’t want to see you set yourself up for a fall, so they throw doubt in there to keep your feet on the ground. On the flip side, with bad news, they offer no solution. If you are trying to see light at the end of the tunnel, they will unintentionally flush away any hope of sorting things out, pulling you further down the drain with them. They want to be there for you but can offer no more than ” oh no”, “oh dear” or, if a good thing has gone bad, drains are the ones likely to say “I told you so”. They are often the ones whose own lives are full of drama and they can’t help but drag you in and down with them. They are impossible to please. Never happy.  Drains almost always self deprecate for no reason too. Try on new clothes and say they look fat when they don’t. Stand onstage to perform, and then rip their own performance apart. They aren’t able to say, you know what, I think it suits me. Or, I really enjoyed that, I gave it my all. They do need approval, someone to say don’t be silly you look/did great. 

We all do have both types of friends. Sure, we have drains in our lives that are intentionally trying to bring us down too, but I’ve long learnt to not let them effect my mood. (Or at very least I know about them, I’m aware of their motive, and I’m TRYING not to let them get to me!).

Since remembering about the fountains and drains blog I read, I’ve made a conscious effort to be selective about who I share my news with. Stepping back from the drains, they will only get edited highlights, be included in general chit chat, generic group conversation. Whereas, when I need to share news, good or bad that has effected me, I’ll turn to the fountains, the ones that will lift me up when I’m down and push me higher when I’m already flying high. I’ve put it to the test. I’ve stopped myself confiding in the ones that don’t seem to really listen, or don’t offer any advice. The ones that, after talking to, I only seemed to feel worse about a situation than I did before. You know, I live in my own head a lot of the time anyway, only admitting I struggle sometimes in these blogs, so its hard for me to talk about issues at the best of times. What I was finding was that interactions with drains weren’t helpful. I couldn’t move on. Their doubt was adding to my own. Made me wish I hadn’t said anything after all. Back to square one. Since taking that step back, the only negative thoughts I have to deal with are my own, as my fountain friends will only offer solutions, shine positive lights. I’m just battling my own demons and NOT the drains too.

My other half is a fountain. He sees everything in a positive light, makes the mundane, routine, every day stuff we experience in our lives seem exciting, different. He questions everything, makes me think, challenges my perception of what is “ordinary”. I share my thoughts on a bad day at work with him and he’ll talk about the good that’s happened, point out something I’d overlooked. He doesn’t even do it consciously, its just his natural persona. Upbeat, positive, despite having good excuses to be miserable himself. These are the kind of people I want to be around.
I’m not for a minute saying that I’m wanting to cut the drains out completely. No, not at all. There’s no light without dark. Everyone in our lives adds value in some way. I’m just saying I’m being more selective about how much access I give them to the inner workings of my mind. 

Another lesson I’ve learnt since working over this whole fountains and drains thing is that I too, want to be a fountain. We all know someone who, no matter what you’re talking about, they will have been through the same thing only ten times better, or ten times worse. Both making your own experience seem somewhat less significant. It could’ve been better. Or, oh no, at least it wasn’t as bad as theirs. Really looking into this I wonder if I’ve been a bit of a drain myself. True, the drama that surrounds me is NOT of my own doing, but it does seem I’ve always got something to say. Some big deal to talk about. Have I been neglecting the people that want to confide in me because I’ve been feeling a little miserable myself? I hate that thought. Have I been bringing others down because I always seem to have something to moan and worry about to the point where people who were once good friends have given up on me?

Shit…

So, with my new positive mindset and surroundings, I reached out to some people, friends, that I feel have slipped away from me recently. I’ve tried hard not to talk about my own issues unless they’ve asked, purely focusing on them. I’m not saying I stop caring what they are going through when I’ve got my own stuff to deal with, I’m just saying that I’m acutely aware that I disappear up my own arse. In life, like in these blogs, I tend to go on a bit, repeat myself, go off on tangents, bore people. So I isolate myself from talking about any and all problems until a very small window where I want to vent and get it all off my chest and share it with someone. If the person I want to share with is busy when the window is open, then I’ll slam it shut again, to fester and gather dust until I’m ready again. Its noones fault but my own. But because my head is full of my own unaired issues, I’ve struggled to take on anyone else’s. 

Until now. Now I see where I was going wrong. Focusing too much on the negative and letting other negative people bring me further down. I hate to see others upset or down, but if I was feeling the same I was  struggling to be of any use to them either. 

I’ve stopped sharing as many personal views on Facebook, as that is an obvious red flag for drains to cling onto your words and post their own opinions for you and your other friends to see. It didn’t help to vent on Facebook. My privacy settings are such that the intended targets of my rants would never see what I’d posted. I was simply being a drain on others peoples news feeds. I no longer will be. Lesson learnt. I will like and share and post the good stuff! The stuff that makes people smile. The stuff that makes people realise that no matter what life has thrown at you, you can still be happy, if you filter the people you surround yourself with as actively as you filter your Instagram posts. I genuinely want people to know that despite what’s been thrown my way, I’m good. I don’t want people to worry about me. Or feel sorry for me. And I most certainly am not the victim, as I’ve been accused of playing so many times. I want to inspire. I want to tell you about my insecurities, my issues, my problems but show you that it’ll all be OK. Because I’m OK. I want my words to be honest and helpful. I want to give you hope, not dim the light. 

So from now on, I’m re-routing the stream that is life. It will be pushed through and rationalised out through my fountains, and it’ll flow so fast past the drains that they’ll have no chance to pull the plug. 

Let me start right now. February has been shocking weather wise, but its also marking the end of winter. How glorious will it be to see the flowers of spring coming through? In only a matter of weeks the evenings will be brighter, the air will be warmer, plans can be made to do more outdoors. The bad weather won’t last forever. How much more enjoyable will the walk home from work be without battling the wind with your umbrella? Things to look forward to. To appreciate the beauty you first need to see the worst.
I want to be around fountains, I want to be a fountain.

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Its the most wonderful* time of the year..(*Difficult)

6th November 1974- 28th December 2013

Every year this is it. Since 2013, I have dreaded the run up to Christmas. A time of cheer for most people. 

6th November is when the build up starts. Almost two months of not knowing how I’m going to feel one day to the next. 

6th November 2017 was my sisters 43rd birthday. 

Except she wasn’t here to celebrate it with us. Instead, she’s permanently stuck at 39 years and a little under two months old. The age she was when she passed away on December 28th 2013. Those of you following my blog know the story. After seeing her happy and well on Christmas Day, three days later she was gone. Suddenly and without warning. This is the fourth birthday she’s not been here with us. Each year I feel the need to write something. They say that time is a healer. Time hasn’t changed the way this day makes me feel. It has however, changed the way I deal with it. 

The night before, I signed off social media for 24 hours. Not only as a mark of respect, but because I couldn’t handle seeing people post birthday wishes on my sisters timeline. I didn’t want them not to post. I’m not offended by them. Its quite the opposite. I’m proud that my sister was such a loved person, that people still want to pay their respects in such a universally accepted way. So many people, all over the country, have held my beautiful sister, and myself and our family too, in their thoughts. I did read the messages, but the following day. Not on the day. Its also not because I didn’t want to cry. I cry too easily at the best of times. I didn’t want to see them because I didn’t want to see it in black and white that so many people are hurting that she’s not here. I still question how and why she had to go. My sister was a kinder, more gentle and loving soul than me. I’m no saint, my sister was. Hated conflict, not a bad bone in her body and loved hard. Probably too much. She was selfless and never put herself first even when we told her she should. 

I took the day off work, as I have done every year since she went. This year however, was the first time the day hadn’t been planned out. I knew only one thing when I woke, and that was that at some point today I’d be seeing my parents. 

My son going off to school woke me, and after a garbled, half asleep goodbye, I lay awake in bed for at least another hour. Eyes open, staring at the ceiling. Not happy. Not sad. Nothing. Just numb. I thought about my three gorgeous nephews. I wondered if they’d be reminded of the date. Unfortunately, family politics means I don’t see those amazing boys anywhere near as much as I want to (not a situation I’ll ever cover in a blog). I do know that they are thriving, and when I do get time with them, I cherish it.  They are a credit to my sister. Grounded boys who appreciate what they have and never take anything for granted. I love them with all my heart and I wish things could be different, but I am immensely proud of them. 

I got through the day, so did my parents, like we have done every year since we lost her. We have to. We have responsibilities. I have my son. I don’t have the luxury of being able to lie in bed wallowing all day. And nor do I want to. My motto now is life is too short. It really fucking is. By taking the day off work I worry I give people the impression that that’s exactly what I do wanna do, waste the day being sad and upset. The day before I had lots of messages of well wishes on Facebook, but only a couple of people contacted me on the day. Yes, I may cry when I talk about my sister on her birthday, but its OK. Its natural. Its healthy. You don’t have to feel guilty for mentioning her. I haven’t and don’t want to forget about her. I take the day off to respect her memory in my own way. I want to laugh and I want to cry. When I laugh I don’t want to feel bad about being alive and enjoying life. When I cry I don’t want people to feel its got me down. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve. There’s no right or wrong way to celebrate someone’s life.  Just be. Whatever I did or felt on her birthday was right for me. 

I got taken out for lunch by my other half. 

My son and I visited my parents after school. 

Life carries on for those of us carrying the memories of her. 

Nothing spectacular happened. Nor was the day wasted. It was just normal. Our normal. As normal as it can be when you can’t see your sister on her birthday. 

However, as I said at the start of this post, this marks the start of the Christmas countdown. Christmas Day 2013 being the last time I saw her. And then the anniversary of her passing on 28th. These days are the hardest. These days are the ones I dread. Please also remember, just a little under a year later, my marriage broke down. My already small family was decreasing by the year. Still an act I’ll never quite forgive. Hindsight means I know the marriage was stale and no longer making me happy. However, to end it under the circumstances he did, in the run up to the year anniversary, was cowardly and nasty in equal measure. Despite that raw emotion, I know that facing and getting through that first anniversary without him showed me that the strength I had to get through losing her in the first place was all mine. He was never really there for me. I thought I needed him. I saw what I thought was support, when in reality he was already writing a story to use against me. And an accusation that I was using her death as an excuse for too long. An excuse for what, I never did find out.

Christmas day is awash with well wishers. My real emotion gets hidden by a pretty dress and perfectly applied make up. Make up that gets reapplied several times as the tears wash it off as soon as its applied. By the time I’m ready to face the world on Christmas Day, it will be blissfully unaware of the routine I’ve just put myself through. I worry that pictures I post of a happy, smiling family will be seen by the wrong people, who will snidely comment that we “look fine” and if we say otherwise, we are playing the victim again. I’m not a victim. I’m strong. And I will fight for my honour no matter how many times I’m knocked down. 

I don’t claim that my life and what I’ve been through is worse than anyone else’s. I know there are people who have, and still are, dealing with worse than me. My life is OK in comparison. I just have an overactive brain that struggles to deal with so much in a short space of time. I kinda wanna talk about it over and over yet not speak any words at the same time. Verbally I can’t find the words. I guess that’s why I write. 

Today I told a colleague that I wish I could remove my brain and rewire it to neutral before putting it back in. I sometimes wish I didn’t feel. I always wish I didn’t over think. I’ve been broken. I have my weak points. 

I guess the point of this blog is just to explain a few things. At this time of year, I may look like I’m coping. Essentially I am. I get up, go to work, cook, eat, clean (I’ve missed out sleep on purpose. Sleep is a luxury my brain never allows me to have much of). But I’m struggling too. Silently. There’s always something going on in my head. And shall I be really, really honest with you all? Sometimes, it really cripples me. I mean physically, too. My paranoia heightens when I feel like this. I want to be out enjoying myself, making the most of every single day I’m alive. For about 90% of the time I do, but it takes effort. The other 10% of the time it completey consumes me. I lack motivation from the second I wake. I’ve wasted days doing nothing. Staring at my phone.  Binge watching series on Netflix then realising I haven’t a clue what’s going on as I haven’t taken in the dialogue. I don’t want to see or speak to anyone. Yet I crave attention, a text, a message, something to remind me that I’m not burying myself in a hole to the point where noone else can see me, and they eventually forget about me and move on without me, and stop asking if I’m OK…

I get invited out to things, and I want to go, I really, really do, but sometimes the effort involved to slap on that brave face is harder than just being honest and saying “I’m not up to it”. I don’t need to lie, I’m hoping those asking understand all this anyway. When I’m feeling like this, it wouldn’t be a good idea for me to go out drinking all night. I want to feel. I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to talk about it. I just want to think. I just hope my actions don’t kill any friendships I have. Offer me coffee and cake and mindless chatter.  A movie night in. Come with me to watch a live band where conversation about how I’ve been is impossible. I don’t need you to ask how I’m doing. I just need you to be there. I can’t talk about it. All this that I’m writing doesn’t come out when I speak. You’ll only get ” yeah, you know, I’m OK”.

I don’t want drunken nights out where you can’t even remember how you wasted £30. I want to make sober, new memories doing things I love with people I love. And absolutely not talk about me.

A phrase I hear a lot these days is “It’s OK to not be OK”. Mental health issues are understood a lot more these days than ever before. Again, as previously mentioned, I don’t claim to have depression or a mental health concern, but I can relate to the quote above in regards to it. We all deal with things in our own way. There is no right or wrong. After the initial numbness of the morning of 6th November, I remember laughing to the point of tears at lunchtime. That doesn’t mean I was “over” it by lunchtime. It wasn’t disrespectful to my sisters memory to laugh on that day. Anyone who saw me laughing could be mistaken for not believing that I carry such weight on my mind 24/7. My pain isn’t physical. Search and you’ll find no scar. Ask me any day of the year if I have any siblings and I will always tell you I had an older sister. “Had”. The hardest word to speak. It will never sit right with me that now, at the age of 40, and every birthday I celebrate from now on, I will be older than my older sister. That’s not something you can explain to a stranger, anyone you meet for the first time when they innocently ask. Human nature means most people feel guilt when asking a question about a partner/relative/friend to find out they are no longer with us. The automatic response is ” I’m sorry”. Don’t be sorry. I’m not sorry I had a sister. You weren’t to know when you asked. I don’t mind talking about her. I just can’t talk about how I still feel years after losing her. 

So, again, my yearly reminder. You can talk to me about anything you want. I can hear you, I just may not feel very chatty with my response. Be patient with me. I’ll come for that drink when I’m up to it. There’s no need to ask me if I’m OK, I’ll only tell you that I am whether I am or not. I deal with things in my head. I just need to know you’ll still be there when my brain takes a break. I don’t need you to try and fix me. I just need you. Be there on the rare occasion I do talk, but more importantly, be there when I say nothing at all. 

Finally… To all the people I’ll encounter in my job over what’s meant to be the happy, festive season:- you don’t know me. I don’t know you. I am just doing my job. Shout at me and I’ll be civil and polite and professional back to you. Just rest assured, if you push my buttons on a day where necessity means I have to slap on that brave face when I really want to be in bed staring at a screen, on one of those “10%” days, I’ll be crying in the office after. 

You’ll never see it. You’ll never know. 

Be kind.

Always.

Pass the script, I’ve lost the plot.

Its time to set the record straight.

Dear strangers,

Whatever you’ve heard about me is not true.

From me.

Unfortunately, the straightening of said record will never reach its target audience. And I’ll have to live with that. My blogs have been nothing but honest. Nothing but my feelings and experiences. There are two sides to every story, and I believe its about time a bit more of mine was told.

Trust me. I don’t ask for drama. I just want to get on with a quiet, happy life! 

I had four odd holiday days to use up and wanted to take two of them this side of Christmas, and the other two after. I randomly chose 15th and 16th September, and took Sunday 17th as a day off, giving myself a rare weekend off. This was a week where noone else had any holiday booked. As good a week as any.

I don’t think my choice was as random as I first thought it was. I think it was my subconscious telling me to take stock of what’s going on and to take back some control. 

Saturday 16th September 2017 would’ve been my 17th wedding anniversary. Would’ve been, if the man I married in 2000 hadn’t told me in December 2014 that he no longer loved me, and hadn’t for two years. 

Of course, I hadn’t forgotten this date. It was weird in 2015, it barely registered in 2016, so 2017 should’ve been almost insignificant, right?

Wrong.

I woke up Saturday morning thinking maybe I shouldn’t have booked off this weekend. Its fair to say a lot of emotions rushed through me. I felt a bit of a failure, what had I done wrong, why did he stop loving me? Of course I’ve since realised that the “love” stopped when my tolerance and naivety about his behaviour did. I then felt anger. Angry that I’d “wasted” the best part of 1997 through to 2014 with the wrong person. The anger soon dispersed when I heard my 14 year old son clattering around in his room. He is the reason it was all worth it. However, I did too feel stupid. Stupid for sticking with it for so long and not ending it myself. I wasn’t happy. I spent the last few years feeling unloved, lonely, unattractive and I’d started to become suspicious and lies were unfolding. That quickly turned to pride. I made marriage vows that I intended to keep. Good times and bad. I was also proud of how I had handled myself since the split. I didn’t talk about any of this for over a year after he left, despite a very active smear campaign against my character on his part. I only talk about it now because there are only so many straws a camels back can take. I didn’t need to resort to lies. I knew the truth, and at the time I had to trust that everyone else would see it soon enough too. The things I heard about myself were dramatic enough to make an EastEnders script. I stayed silent. 

Perhaps the only emotion I didn’t feel on Saturday morning was sorrow. I wasn’t sad. I didn’t miss it. I didn’t want it back. The time off gave me time to think, and reflect upon exactly what I’ve put up with and how far I’ve come. To finally prove to myself that it really shouldn’t matter what strangers thought of me..

However, I’ve mentioned before how hard it is to not care what people, mostly those strangers, believe about you. They’ve been painted a picture of you from one persons twisted mind and that’s the only picture they’ll ever get to see. To try and get you to see how it feels, I have a task for you. 

Go grab a gossip magazine. You know the type I mean. 

Chat. Take a Break. Woman’s Own. 

Now I want you to read all the “real life” stories. Also the readers letters. Perhaps even the Dear Deirdre page. Next, substitute the name of the main negative character/the villian-if you like, in these articles with your own name. Imagine that there are enough similarities and factual occourances in these articles that even you start to wonder if the stories are, in actual fact, about you.

Then, you realise that hundreds, thousands of people that you don’t know,  are reading these articles that refer to you, and they are believing them. Even though they don’t know you, this will now be what they think of you, and you’ll never, ever have the opportunity to correct them, or change their mind. 

Welcome to my life.

Its being written for me.

Believe it all and you’ll think I live my life like a soap opera. The only place where the ridiculous stories I hear about myself actually take place on a regular basis. I wonder if Adam Woodyatt forgets how to be Adam when someone else is writing a life for him as Ian Beale.

You know the saying “you couldn’t make it up”? Well, my  script writer has been there, done that and proudly wears the T-shirt.

I’ve read so many stories centred round my life, that my reality seems mundane and boring! 

The soap opera scripts don’t stop there. I also suffer hang ups over things people have said about me to me. When my relationship ended with alley cat, we tried to remain friends. In a previous blog I’ve mentioned how one sided it was and I made the choice to let it go. Along with finding out some truths about him stringing several women along and attempting to get money out of them, I sent him a message saying “I’ve been told what’s going on, that’s it, I want no part of it” and he promptly accused me as “being the same as all the others”. In fact I was branded a back stabber. It hurt. I hadn’t got involved with what was being said about him. I gave him chance after chance despite him taking me for granted and walking all over me. He had wronged me , yet I was being made out to be the bad one. 

Why does it keep happening to me?

Am I guliable? Easy to manipulate? Still so unwilling to see anything but good in people? Stay quiet for too long when not happy that I end up just putting up with things so as not to rock the boat?

My friends tell me that those that matter know the truth. That karma will come around! Well, maybe I’m done waiting because, even though I know they’re right, I still worry about what complete strangers think is true about me. Its fucking hard.

So, back to that anniversary weekend.

Fresh from hearing a little story that told how I apparently have ” no ambition”, I was faced with a weekend off with nothing to do. My son had plans. My partner was working. 

The same weekend, my home town was hosting a music festival. Live music at various venues across the city centre. My friend L was photographing the event, but she was having to cover as many bands as possible so if I bumped into her it would be more down to chance than planning. So, I decided to go on my own on the Saturday and Sunday.

Armed with just my compact digital camera and my best “I don’t give a shit” attitude, I decided where I was going to go and for the first time ever, I walked into a pub on my own where I had no intention of meeting someone for a drink, and stood and watched the whole set performed by one of the artists at the festival. 

On my own. 

Little, unambitious, lazy, unstable, thieving, selfish, bitch faced me*

 *(if you believe the stories!) 

Setting the record straight, I am none of those things. 

I took a few photos, I went to a few more venues, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Noone around me knew me, noone had read or heard anything about me. And it felt good. I was just me. And that was OK.

I was back writing my own story.

But as always, it was short lived. 

I started this blog wondering, what do they gain from spreading lies about me? They don’t even get to witness the impact of what they say as I very rarely retaliate unless my sons involved.

Nothing. They just can’t help it. Its a game to them. For them to feel good, feel big, they must bring down those around them.

My own life has enough natural ups and downs that I really don’t feel the need to embellish it to make it, or me, seem more exciting. I also don’t feel the need to lie about someone else to try and make their life harder for my own pleasure . I don’t imagine I have a lifestyle anyone would be envious of. I don’t need people to look up to me. The fact that someone, anyone, would need to make up lies about others and themselves screams to me that THEY are not happy. Someone has suggested that maybe they are jealous of my new life, because theirs is still based on lies. That someone also thought that maybe they’d never really gotten over me, and hated the fact I seemingly moved on so quickly. I’m not sure and I don’t want to know.

Trouble is, I’m not dealing with just a bitter, envious person. 

I’m dealing with a narcissist.

Narcissists have a need to be centre of attention, and they need people to like them, to feed them and supply them. They’ll tailor their lies to specific audiences, partners, business associates, whatever, in order to get them on side so that ultimately they can control them. Some never see through the lies, and will happily go along with the narcissist and do their bidding. I’ve learnt because trust me, I’ve done the research, these are referred to as “flying monkies”.  There are some, like me for several years,  that start to get suspicious but put up with it because they don’t want to believe none of it was ever real. These are the ones that supply the narcissist with drama. By this stage, the narc will know exactly what buttons to press to get a reaction, and can cleverly manipulate the “victim” into thinking THEY are the ones in the wrong. They have spent years learning about you, promising you the best, subconsciously moulding you in order to eventually use all they know about you, against you. They’ll convince you that its all in your head and that you are going mad if you say anything. They’ll successfully reign in their true nature for long enough to make you think it was just a blip and it’ll all be fine. Anything you do is never good enough.

 Then there are those who see the lies, can no longer take it and confront the narcissist about them. As soon as the narc thinks you’re onto them, they will drop you and start telling the world what they’d tried to convince you, that it is in fact YOU that’s the bad guy. You are mentally unstable. Even after the relationship ends with a narc, the abuse won’t. They’ll move on to their next “supply” but while things are rosy for a while with them as they build up their story, they’ll still be fishing for the drama from you. There’s no real reason for it. Dragging you down to make themselves look better is just a game. An ego boost. A power trip. They start the smear campaign to belittle you. Trying to show the flying monkies how it was you that made their life hell. They thrive on “oh how awful, poor you, you’re the better person because of it”.

 The battle to keep my dignity and pride intact is ongoing. Strange really, as I have an awesome group of friends here that can see right through it all, so that should be all that matters. But there’s still a growing number of people in a different city, and honesty, probably across the country now,that think the worst of me. It doesn’t matter to them. They’ll never meet me. 

It matters to me. I never know from one week to the next what I’ve apparently done now. Or what fictitious misdemeanor of mine has prompted a particular outburst. I guess yes, it plays a part in my paranoia, how could it not? I am so the opposite of what some strangers think I am. I’m not nasty or malicious, I don’t want to be centre of attention and I certainly don’t want everyone to know my personal business. Unfortunately, I can’t just throw away the script and start again. The script isn’t even in my own hands. What I do need to do, is being braver and writing my own spin off series. One which has a twist in the tale and exposes the truth in a clever way that leaves the viewers gasping and saying “oh I didn’t see that coming, now it all makes sense”.  Because, you see, the trouble with lies is remembering what you’ve told to who and keeping up the continuity of the story. Things will start to not add up. Doubt about the story will start to creep in, to the point where the person being told the lies starts to take whatever the storyteller says, with a pinch of salt.

It may be a long, drawn out storyline, but I’m in for the long haul now, I have no choice. I don’t want revenge, as such, I just want to clear my name. Pick it up out of the mud its been dragged through and restore it to its former glory (albeit a little rusty, hey, I’m not saying I’m perfect here!)

I’m only 40, I’m hoping I have a good few years for the story to unfold. Hey, I’m even holding out for a documentary here.. You know those “truth exposed” ones you get on random Sky channels. You never know, anything can happen in my story. And it usually bloody does!

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.