Lesson 19: celebrating festivals

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Festivals have different rules to reality.

At festivals, I wear gold Lycra. I fall over in the mud and genuinely don’t care that it’s in my hair. I wee in strange places. I talk to strangers. I survive on warm cider and cereal bars. I’m drunk as a skunk at 11am. I dance with my eyes closed like no-one is watching. I’m covered in glitter. Glittery mud. I’m on a permanent high from hearing my favourite songs. With my favourite people.Feeling so much love as a collective. I’m part of a group. Part of an atmosphere. Utter contentment.

Festivals aren’t for everyone, but for me they are the epitomy of the Great British Summer. The anticipation, the planning, the unpredictability – all shrouded with hope and excitement. We unite in a mission to make this year the best-year ever. It’s addictive, infectious and something to focus on. There is nothing I enjoy more than packing up four outrageous outfits and heading for the fields with a crate in my arms, breaking away from the monotony of everyday life, if only to learn how to fully appreciate flushing toilets again.

I love festivals for exposing a part of me that remains hidden for most of the year. The part that doesn’t worry over the tiniest problems, like chipped nail varnish, or hoovering, or holes in my tights. For a few magical days, the most important things in the world are who’s on stage and who’s on next. And beer. And burgers. And more beer.

Some of the most memorable moments in my life have taken place at a festival. I sparked up an instant friendship with my now long-term boyfriend, bumping into him as I emerged bleary eyed from a porta-loo. I cried to Elton John singing Rocket Man on my birthday, while dressed as Elton John.  I danced for 12 hours straight and forgot to eat, covered in sequins and wearing a blue wig. There is something magical about being with a huge group of friends and knowing, just for a minute, you are all thinking and feeling the exact same thing. You’re all detached from real life but not from each other, and the bond you already shared is eternally stronger.

There is no hiding at a camping festival. Everyone sees you in all your glory. For someone who never leaves the house without makeup on, this is both incredibly scary and profoundly liberating. You remember that it’s ok not to care sometimes, and to take yourself a little less seriously. Suddenly there are more important things in life than deadlines, work and money. For four – maybe more – blissful days, having fun becomes your sole occupation. You’re a teenager again. The beauty of it being that you eventually crave the routine and cleanliness of your old life, ready to return to your bed and dry clothes.

Anything that encourages creativity is to be commended. To ensure people learn to let go, dance, have fun with their friends and listen to amazing music. Life really is too short not to. If you haven’t already planned to go, to treat yourself to a few precious carefree days this Summer, I can’t stress enough how much you should.

 

Lesson 18: feeling normal

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Growing up can be a lonely experience. Gradually, it becomes more and more inappropriate to share our weird and wonderful traits with people the way we might have at school or uni. We become more proper and more private with age. Having touched on mental health issues and with it being Mental Health Awareness week, I’ve been thinking about the things that put us at ease, starting with confession. After I posted about my anxiety, I received so many lovely, reassuring messages from people simply saying ‘hey, I feel like that too sometimes’. So not only was confessing to receiving CBT a way of unloading my issues, it seemed to benefit other people just as much to hear it. One of the most heart-warming things we can experience is a collective emotion. Connecting with people about a negative experience often equates to a positive outcome. For this reason, I’ve decided to list all the ‘abnormal’ things I do but wouldn’t usually talk about. Chances are I’m not alone in doing them, and it might make you feel less lonely too.

  1. Very few people know this about me, but I have trichotillomania. Without meaning to or really realising, I compulsively pull out my own hair when I’m tired or nervous. It’s generally my eyelashes but often my eyebrows and the hairs from my head as well. You know that satisfying feeling of picking off clumpy old mascara? Usually, it’s just that. But when I’m a feeling a bit anxious, it leads to physical pulling. It’s no different to biting your nails or cracking your knuckles, and yet nobody really talks about it. We all have weird bodily impulses from time to time. It’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.
  1. I have a tendency to conjure up the worst-case scenario in my head. If someone is knocking at the door, it’s never the postman, it’s a burglar. I catch myself physically hiding from the postman. Which sounds funny now, but it’s not exactly ‘normal’.
  1. I have days where I hate the way I look more than anything else on Earth. I have a strong belief that 99% of people do. Everyone thinks other people are so happy and comfortable with themselves, when really we’re all intimidated by each other. People with straight hair would do anything for natural waves and people with curly hair gaze wistfully at poker-straight locks. We all want what we can’t have and we all choose to see people the way we want to. Just remember, nobody is as critical of you as you. Nobody notices the spots you obsess over, or the fact you’ve worn the same shoes every day for two weeks. People tend to focus on the things you have that they want.
  1. My boyfriend and I practically have a language of our own, speaking in weird voices with even weirder made-up words. If anyone ever overheard us they would probably mistake us for aliens. Or think we’ve been exposed to vast amounts of radiation. We also dance around the kitchen far more than is necessary.
  1. I never, ever wash my duvet cover once a week. Life is too short for that nonsense. However, anything less than once a month is nothing to be proud of. For someone with OCD tendencies, I never obsess over cleanliness. Not showering at a four-day festival is something I welcome with open arms. Gross, I know.
  1. I look back at old photos of myself on Facebook and Instagram and try to imagine them from other people’s point of view. Have I got better or worse with age? Were my eyebrows really that bad? Was I that uncool? Or that drunk? The truth is, of course, nobody cares.
  1. I sometimes convince myself that people are annoyed with me for no apparent reason. They only put one kiss at the end of a text, they forgot my birthday, they didn’t go to an event I organised. In reality, they were in a rush, forgot the date and had 10 other things to do that day.
  1. I feel anxious speaking on the phone. I’ve never really enjoyed ridiculously long phone calls and tend to let my phone go to answer phone when someone rings me out of the blue. I have to be in the right frame of mind for a phone call, whoever it is. I usually tell myself off and ring people back straight away, but my natural reaction is to ignore my phone. God knows why.
  1. I used to have a weird obsession with balancing out food groups. No carb-on-carb or meat-on-meat action for example. Rice in a wrap or a bacon AND sausage bap were literally my worst nightmare. I also know how many calories are in almost everything, even though I don’t calorie count.
  1. I can’t throw things away. My sister once asked why I’d kept one earring after I’d lost the other one, to which I replied ‘I might need it one day’. I’m overly sentimental and have boxes and boxes of ‘memories’. I’m paranoid I’ll forget or lose something import. Joe is the complete opposite. I don’t think he owns a single photograph and that panics me slightly. He says all his memories are in his head. The irony is that I’m incredibly scatty and constantly misplace everything I own. I’ve never had the same phone for longer than a year.

Although it’s important not to let your struggles become your sole identity, I hope my weird confessions encourage you to embrace what makes you you. I would love to know if you can relate to any of the above. Who wants to be normal anyway?

 

Lesson 16: taking back control

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Three years ago today, my caring, funny, inspirational Granddad passed away. Despite being diagnosed with Leukaemia and given 2 years to live, he stayed with us for 8. He simply refused to go. He didn’t want to miss out. However much pain he was in, whatever it took, he wasn’t ready to leave the party. Bi-weekly blood transfusions were the norm and yet I never saw him without a smile on his face. So grateful to be with his family, my Granddad loved life and was the absolute life and soul, right until his very last day.

One of the reasons I’m writing this is because recently, I haven’t been enjoying life the way I used to, and I know I’m not alone. As we get older, life seems to get more and more complicated. It’s hard to always see past the stresses of work and the endless bills, let alone the things that seem completely beyond our control. But are they? Are the negative things we face completely uncontrollable? Because if my brave granddad can outright refuse to die, I have means to believe we are often more powerful than we know.

For anyone struggling a bit at the moment, take a step back from your life and isolate all the things you are unhappy with. Split them into two categories and write them down; things you can change and things you can’t. Take the ‘can’t change’ category and think about each and every thing very carefully, then simply rip it up. If you honestly feel like there is nothing you can do then maybe it’s time to cast these things from your mind entirely. Letting them go will give you more energy to focus on the things you can change. Next, take your ‘can change’ list and write a positive, realistic goal next to each thing. Whether you want to travel the world, lose weight, beat depression, get the job of your dreams or find the love or your life, these things are all within your grasp if you want them badly enough. The very best things in life come from hard work and dedication – that is what makes them so great.

Some of you will know that I often have very vivid, messed-up dreams, both when I’m awake and asleep. Apparently, these ‘intrusive thoughts’ have developed as a result of an anxiety disorder. For me, this often feels like something I have absolutely zero control over. Unimaginable things come into my head when I’m walking down the street, catching the tube or lying in bed at night. They stay with me for days. They provoke panic attacks. I don’t know where they come from, but I’ve been assured that CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) will teach me how to control them.

In the last week or so, I’ve dreamed of my Granddad three times. The dreams were calm, he was smiling and I woke up feeling safe. Always remember that you are the author of your own life. Take control and never forget how lucky you are to have a voice. Whatever you think you become, it’s as simple as that.

 

Lesson 15: reading the right books

Maybe it’s an age thing, but lots of people I’ve spoken to recently seem to be going through a difficult time. Heartache, illness and hard decisions are a fundamental part of life, making them key themes in almost every book that was ever written. If you’re looking for answers and inspiration, there is honestly no better place to turn. Reading is good for the soul. It’s as simple as that.

It’s a bit of a gamble when you wander into Waterstones or start browsing Amazon, so here are my all-time favourite reads and what they stand for. They are all clever, thought-provoking and insightful in their own way. They do what I hoped my little blog would do – remind people that life will always throw hurdles at us, but without them we wouldn’t learn anything at all.

 1. The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood

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An old lady reflecting back on her life, Iris Chase shares not only the deepest parts of her own history, but also those of her sister, Laura. The maps, puzzles and subtle complexities within this novel address the extent to which we all manipulate the facts, giving away only what we desire, and seeing only what we wish to see in return.

 2. Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Set in 1960s Nigeria during the Nigerian civil war, Half of a Yellow Sun dramatises the effects of the war through five different people: twin sisters, a professor, an Englishman and a boy. They are all connected, but the book focuses on the disconnection caused by the horror and paranoia of the war, revealing everything to have two sides, from personalities to whole countries.

 3. Burial Rights, by Hannah Kent

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Convicted murderess Agnes Magnúsdóttir is sent to live with a peasant family during the build up to her execution. Set in 1829, Northern Iceland, Burial Rites is as much a semi-poetic memoir to true events as it is a historical novel. The story of Agnes is built around true events and serves to give her the voice she never had. Not for the faint hearted, this book took me a little while to get over. And yes, I did cry.

 4. Apple Tree Yard, by Louise Doughty

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If you’re looking for a fast-paced page turner, Apple Tree Yard isn’t your average thriller. A story of love and deceit, secrets and sexism: respectable geneticist Yvonne Carmichael finds herself tangled in a court case that comes to define her. Gripping, surprising and very clever, Louise Doughty carefully examines the frustrations of the modern career woman before illustrating the consequences of putting desire first.

 5. Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts

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Easily one of the best books I’ve ever read, and the ultimate story to keep your brain ticking while you’re travelling. The protagonist is a heroin addict, sent to prison in New Zealand. He escapes over the wall and flees to India where he lives and works as a doctor in a slum, falls in love, trades in the black market, is eventually recaptured before fighting in the war in Afghanistan. The story is based on the real life of the author, who wrote the novel while in prison where it was destroyed time and time again. This book will have you rethinking every opinion you’ve ever had. It’s inspiring, incredibly well written and heart-wrenchingly sad.

 6. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer

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This book is pretty unnerving but an important read. It takes convention and turns it on its head with some pretty disturbing images and dream-like anecdotes. The story is written largely from the point of view of a boy called Oska, who’s Dad has just died in the 9/11 terrorist attack. This book explores the impact of trauma and the extremities of both human emotion and humanity itself. We are guided through Oska’s journey to normality and meet some pretty insightful characters along the way.

 7. Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood

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I’ve recommended this book to a few people. Some people have loved it and some people have hated it, but I wrote my dissertation on it so I’m kind of emotionally attached. Snowman wakes up in a tree, he is surrounded by a new breed of humans and the world as we know it has been lost to deadly disease. Atwood’s dystopian vision combines the darkest kind of humour with a direct criticism of modern society and the way the world is going. I love her for her wit and the way she explores the tension between science, art and everything in between. The book is part of a trilogy – The Year of the Flood and Maddaddam complete the story, which just gets stranger and stranger.

 8. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

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It’s important that this book is so disturbing, because what was going on in rural Georgia in the 1930s was, quite frankly, disturbing. Celie is an African-American teenage girl who details everything about her difficult life in letters to God – you, the reader. You feel uncomfortably powerful reading this book. Gender roles are subverted over and over. If you read this book at school, read it again. It will seem different to you now.

 9. Written on the body, by Jeanette Winterson

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First things first, this book is written by a woman about a woman. It beautifully and intricately illustrates that love knows no boundaries or limitations, and also reminds us of our own prejudices. If you didn’t know any better, you’d assume the protagonist was a man. There are no overt homosexual references, just the implications of a love that is true and raw. I love Winterson’s voice in this book; she is strong, determined, arrogant and witty and yet helplessly in love. A really indulgent read that you can’t help but relate to.

 10. A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini

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“Of all the hardships a person had to face, none was more punishing than the simple act of waiting.” Proving that beauty and hope lurk in the darkest corners, this wonderful book retains so much beauty and grace for a text that directly confronts the rise of the Taliban. A Thousand Splendid Suns reminds us that some people are forced to endure more than others – the heroes in this book are rewarded with having an even greater capacity for love.

11. Beloved, by Toni Morrison

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There is a beautiful kind of healing quality that comes from reading Beloved. You hurt and bleed with the characters and live not only their world, but the world of every black family that ever suffered racial segregation. When I can’t be bothered with work, I imagine the determination and strength of pregnant Sethe when her back is split open by a whip and she carries on walking. The surreal and supernatural nature of the story aligns slavery with fiction, forcing the reader to face up to its true horror and the ghosts of our past.

12. Tender is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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If the Great Gatsby thrilled you, then you’ll fall hard for Tender is the Night. Fitzgerald continues to expose 1920’s America, only this time he places his characters in the French Riviera. The story centres around Dick and Nicole and the microcosmic world they’ve created. Madness, deceit, identity and lust collide over and over in a haze of glamorous drunken scenarios – each character as doomed as the next. The book has inspired Liza Klaussman’s new read, Villa America – the next one on my list!

 13. Room, by Emma Donoghue

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If you haven’t come across this book before and don’t know what the twist is, go and read it immediately. Room is written from the point of view of five-year-old Jack, who has never been outside. This moving, chilling story reminds us what the human race is capable of, both in the best and worst-possible ways. Donoghue captures Jack’s voice brilliantly, too.

14. A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams

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Please watch the original production of this after you’ve read the play; it has Marlon Brando in it and that’s all you need to know. A Streetcar Named Desire dramatises the extent which to we are obsessed with the appearance of things. The play focuses on lust, insanity, power struggles and class, and every character is beautifully flawed.

15. How to Build a Girl, by Caitlin Moran

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This book is completely different to anything you’ve read before. Moran goes one step further than anyone has ever dared. HTBAG is so rude and ridiculous that you can’t help but love it. It’s so real it’s unreal, and so silly it’s clever. Feminism, the class system, identity and society defined, quite rightly, by a painfully honest teenage girl from Wolverhampton.

 

I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on any of these books, or just any books in general. Comments always welcome below.

 

 

 

Lesson 14: looking forward

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About six weeks ago, I wrote about the damaging effects of mobile phones in relation to properly communicating with the people you care about – the lesson being one about balance. We have become so heavily dependent on mobile phones that they trick us into thinking we’ve spent quality time with people, when in reality they prevent us from acknowledging the people right in front of us. Anyway, ironically, my phone was STOLEN the day after I posted this. One minute it was in my bag, then *poof* it was gone. And, for once in my life, I wasn’t even drunk when it happened.

We’ve probably all experienced that feeling by now – suddenly being cut off from the world, unfairly, without warning. Panic sets in, and then the sheer inconvenience of it becomes a reality. It’s horrible to think that being separated from a piece of technology can make us feel so sub-human.

No matter how many times you do it, losing a phone takes you on a little journey of self-discovery. At first you are beside yourself with grief and within a day or so you feel liberated. I went phoneless for a week and I came out the other side feeling even more convinced that we should all take a tiny break from our phones every now and again. It really, really doesn’t hurt. In the time it has taken for my insurance to kick in, I’ve been borrowing my sister’s boyfriend’s old phone. At first it felt clunky and alien, and now I love it like it was one of my own. We are very adjustable creatures when we have to be.

After countless phone calls and emails, I have finally received a lovely cheque for £479 from my insurance company. A few weeks ago, when my phone first got nicked, I would have given all my belongings for a replacement, let alone this money. Now I find myself wondering whether I ever needed an iPhone 5S in the first place. So, not only have I gained a greater perspective from this incident, I’ve potentially earned myself a couple of quid. It goes back to the same mantra I’ve mentioned before – who knows what’s good or bad?

Apply this little lesson to any hurdles life throws at you and you’ll be surprised what a difference it can make. Time and hindsight change everything, and bad luck gives us the opportunity to learn how to overcome something new. If you feel like the world isn’t on your side right now, give things a chance to unfurl and always look for the light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how long and twisted it may seem.

I’m not saying that everything happens for a reason, merely, that we can only learn to trust the world around us when we give it time to prove us wrong. We have no choice but to believe in the order of things; there is simply no other option.

Never be afraid to look back at what you’ve learned from something, and always believe that positive things are right around the corner. Positivity spreads positivity – the perfect excuse to remain in a constant, blissful state of hope.

Lesson 13: getting drunk

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When we’re blessed with not one, but TWO bank holidays, this often only means one crucial thing – lots of time to drink lots of alcohol. We’ve all been there, going out on that particular Thursday purely because we can get horrendously and unashamedly drunk without the worry of dragging ourselves to work the next day. My issue isn’t with our excited urge to embrace some well-deserved time off, it’s with the fact that so many of us do so by getting so very drunk. We live in a culture where that’s ok. More than ok, it’s completely and utterly the normal thing to do. Anyone who doesn’t drink is deemed a bit weird. But why?

Our drinking culture says as much about modern society as it does our individual personalities. It defines us more than we care to realise. We are judged not only on how often we drink, but also by what we drink. From age to class to gender to sexual orientation, stereotypes are rife: Malibu and WKD for teens, cider and VKs for students, pints of beer for the manly men and the women who like a drink, G&Ts for those who like to think they’re sophisticated, Whiskey and ginger for the hipsters, rum and coke for the cool kids, vodka for the all-rounder, rosé wine for the dolled-up blondes, white wine for the classy brunettes, red wine for the grown-up couples, cocktails for the attention seeker, champagne for the ballers. You get the gist.

I fall into four categories: beer, gin, red wine and champagne, which means that I like a drink, I like to feel sophisticated and I’ll always take the fanciest thing going.  There is a conflict going on here: my urge to drink more than I probably should and my desire to look good doing it. I’ve accidentally set myself an impossible task, which is probably why, nine times out of ten, I wake up feeling like my night didn’t quite go to plan.

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If you list everything you associate with a big night, you’ll find that, initially, most things are fairly negative:

Falling over and waking up with mysterious bruises

Losing your phone/wallet/keys/dignity

Ruining your shoes/dress/chances of getting lucky

Not remembering your favourite DJ/band playing

Kissing someone you definitely shouldn’t

Throwing up/passing out/falling asleep at the table

Eating terrible food and undoing all your hard work

Oversleeping the next day/calling in sick to work

Incriminating photos being taken/arguments with friends

Generally embarrassing yourself and being an idiot

A lot of the time we wake up the next day feeling sick, guilty and annoyed with ourselves, and yet we keep on doing it. When you think about all the positive things however, it’s easy to see why:

Relieving stress and being less uptight

Taking your mind off things

Laughing so much you cry

Bonding with work friends

Reuniting with old friends

Making some of your happiest memories

Having fun and pretending you’re younger than you are

Feeling carefree for a few precious hours

Having the confidence to do things you wouldn’t usually do

Hearing your favourite song and just being in that moment

Dancing like nothing else in the world matters

Simply forgetting all the bad stuff

When we get it right, the good things far outweigh the bad. A night out can be an uplifting, positive, memorable thing. The stuff that dreams are made of. The thing that reminds us that it’s ok not to take ourselves too seriously. That moment when you actually don’t care and are just laughing and dancing and hugging your mates. The only thing is; we all seem to think that practice makes perfect, and have dedicated our social lives to mastering the unattainable task of having the best time, every time, doing it more and more and more, until we’re well and truly addicted to the gamble.

Alcohol is addictive. Plain and simple. From the post-work glass of wine to the tenth Jager bomb of the night. As well as the fact it helps us define the sort of people we are, we are addicted to how it makes us feel, the fun we associate it with and the contextual markers it gives us: cocktail says ‘I’m on holiday’, champagne says ‘let’s celebrate’, mulled wine says ‘it’s Christmas’, tequila says ‘let’s party’. As a nation, we are incredibly dependant on these markers and definitions. Ignoring them by not drinking is like ignoring the rules. It’s ingrained. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – these unwritten rules remind us of what’s acceptable. For example, when we see someone drinking whisky in the morning we don’t think ‘LAD!’ We think, how fucking awful.

The two most important things to think about are a) the reasons why you drink and b) whether drinking brings out the best in you. Only you know your individual relationship with alcohol. Take some time to assess it and the role it plays in your life. Weigh up the good and bad and if you find some sort of imbalance, take the time to address it.

It’s ok to love going to raves, festivals, gigs, clubs, bars, pubs. I know I do. Some of my funniest, most incredible memories belong there, and that’s the most important thing: drinking to remember, not to forget. I met the love of my life at a party and was too drunk to even talk to him. Luckily for me, our paths crossed a year later, we bumped into each other at a festival and clicked instantly. It’s simple really – quite often, the more you drink, the higher the chance of ruining your night (and your chances of something amazing happening). I know it’s hard when you’re in the moment, or if you’re having a hard time, but if you can control how much you drink then you’re one step closer to being the best version of yourself you can be.

Have fun this Easter – go wild, let go and be the life and soul of the party – just try to do it without being too drunk to remember how great it was…

 

Lesson 11: visiting Lisbon

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At approximately this time of year, every year, I feel the desperate urge to go on holiday. Nobody appreciates warm weather like us Brits. The tiniest bit of sunshine peeps through the windows at work and I’m done. In March 2014, Joe and I got a great last-minute deal and skipped off to Egypt for a week of guaranteed sun. It was just what we needed, but I’m not sure I’m an all-inclusive kind-of girl. I like to stumble across unexpected new places to eat, drink and explore. This year, we decided to cast our urges for 30-degree heat to one side and opt for something a bit closer to home. We chose Lisbon, and here’s why you should go too.

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If you are looking for a semi-cheap getaway with the promise of sunshine, shopping, good food, great wine, history and character, Lisbon is the way to go. It’s all very compact, so in four days we managed to squeeze in four amazing dinners, a zoo, a castle, numerous churches, an art gallery, picnics by the sea, a couple of late-night bars and a few rounds of Zara and H&M (which are cheaper out there, FYI). We walked about 12 miles a day – which is a lot anyway, let alone when you’re tackling cobbles and hills. So, if you do go, be sure to take decent shoes. Also, we got an amazing deal with BA – £230 each for flights and 4 nights with breakfast in a 5* hotel – so be sure to shop around, or Airbnb it. If you haven’t used Airbnb before, then you are seriously missing a trick. It’s so cheap, and often it’s so much nicer to stay in an apartment than a hotel, especially if you’re going in a group. On this occasion, however, we stayed at the Corinthia Hotel and it was lovely.

I am one of those annoying people who takes 100s of holiday photos and posts them ALL on Facebook. So, pretty much the whole world knows the ins and outs of my trip. A couple of people have asked me for recommendations (much more useful), so I thought I’d share them with you on here.

1. PLACES TO EAT

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After landing in Lisbon quite late on a Sunday night in March, we weren’t really expecting big things. We did the customary stroll around our new surroundings and quickly discovered two things: 1) Lisbon is never really quiet, and 2) if you pay just a little bit extra, your evening goes from average touristy restaurant with a mediocre menu to bohemian haven with incredible food and wine. After wandering up to Bairro Alto, we came across a place called Grapes & Bites. The restaurant had a single guitarist playing in the corner – which was somehow un-cheesy – and was completely packed out. The manager promised we would have a table within 30 minutes and gave us a complementary glass of local wine while we waited on the cobbles out the front. After too many olives, the world’s biggest bread basket, pig cheeks and salt cod, we were too full for desert, but the couple next to us ordered the lemon meringue pie and quickly ordered another when they discovered it was too good to share.

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Other great restaurants with a similar vibe:

Chapitô – Stunning views and steak with a lively jazz bar below

Louro & Sal – Small, romantic and contemporary with great food and wine

Alfândega  – Simply chic decor, friendly staff and amazing Portuguese tapas

2. BARS TO EXPLORE

We went to Lisbon to relax so I didn’t venture into any big clubs for once in my life. Judging by the number of characters advertising certain substances on street corners I can imagine there is a pretty lively party scene. The bars we tried were small but pretty cool. Think cabbages for lampshades, wall-to-wall balloons, and Bali-themed beach bars (nowhere near the beach) with hammocks and surfboards. If you wander down the narrow streets of Bairro Alto you’ll be sure to find the kind of bar you’re after. Ranging from loud and cheesy Cuban dance fests to low-key live music.

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3. SITES TO SEE

The Castle

Lisbon is really pretty, so try and get up to the Castelo de São Jorge for the best views of the city. It’s also just a really nice place to walk around and a great chance to learn a bit more about Lisbon’s origins.

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The Zoo

I’m not ashamed to say how much we enjoyed the zoo. Baby rhinos, dolphins, lions, tigers, elephants, gorillas, giraffes, you name it. Just as good as London Zoo and just as clean and modern.

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The Monastery

The sheer size of the Jerónimos Monastery is good enough reason to go visit it. Breaking up the day with interjections of majestic architecture can only be a good thing.

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The Modern Art Museum

Poor Joe, I dragged him around the Berardo Museum and then the shops. If I can look at Andy Warhol and then browse a cheaper version of Zara then he really didn’t stand a chance.

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I hope this post inspires you to treat yourself to a long weekend in Lisbon. Please feel free to comment below if you’d like more info on any of the places I’ve touched on.

Lesson 10: appreciating mums

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When I was seven, my nan was in a pretty horrific car accident. She swerved on ice in the pitch black, crashing into a tree that quickly crushed her car. By complete chance, two kind men found her in the dark and saved her life. She had reconstructive surgery around her eye. I can still see it now. I drew pictures of her because her poor broken face scared me so much. I remember, quite clearly, climbing into bed with my mum and sobbing with her when we heard of the accident. For the first time in my short life, it dawned on me that this person, Nanny, was my mum’s mum. And for the first time, my mum was no different to me. We were just kids together. She was vulnerable and scared. I wanted to protect her the way she protected me. I felt like it was my duty because suddenly, we were the same.

Whatever way you choose to look at it, our lives form complete circles. We start by being completely dependent on our parents, before our parents eventually and rightfully often become heavily dependent on us. From start to finish, we are connected by a beautiful bond as old as humanity itself. So, whatever my mum has given to me, I vow to give to her. Maybe this is why I feel I can tell her everything? Or maybe that’s just because she is so patient and understanding. When my mum goes to cross the road, I reach out to take her hand. I open the marmalade lid for her, I help her choose an outfit for a night out, I do her hair, I take her to fun new places, I tell her how beautiful she is, I laugh with her when she says something ridiculous, and I do these things because my mum has dedicated her life to doing them for me. I say ‘do’. I don’t actually live at home anymore, so these things have become planned events rather than everyday occurrences. Can you imagine how it must feel to bring someone into the world, someone that is entirely yours, and then one day have to let them go? Well, my mum did. And to me, that’s the most amazing thing of all. The purest act of selflessness; something nobody will fully understand until it happens to them.

My mum gave us the best childhood. My strongest memories consist of weekends spent eating packets of crisps on park benches, chasing chickens around farms, making sandcastles, constructing elaborate dens, painting pictures, nursing dolls back to health, sleepovers with friends and family, 100s of presents on Christmas day, birthday parties, zoos, ice cream, bouncy castles, dance classes, books and games. I wasn’t spoilt, but I was given everything a child needs to have the very best start in life. My parents didn’t have a great deal of money when my sister and I were young. When my mum was my age, she did a lady’s shopping for £5 a week, walking for miles into town and back again, pushing me in the buggy. My mum quite literally went the extra mile.

It’s weird and difficult to say this, but growing up, my family unit was so close I thought nothing could change it. Not ever. How privileged we were to be able to depend on something so much. Some people never have that. Recently, I’ve come to appreciate two major things: one being just how much my mum has sacrificed for us, and the other being that my parents, like all parents, are human. My mum has just turned 50 (sorry Mum) and more than anything, I want her to start doing things just for her. She is free, for the first time in 25 years, to do whatever makes her happy. I can categorically say that without my mum, I would be nothing like the person I am. Not in the slightest. Everything good in me is because of her, which makes her kind of magical. If she has the power to do that, she can do anything. Only when she feels that powerful will I have come close to giving her everything she gives to me.

Lesson number 10 is completely and utterly dedicated to my mum, because near-enough every lesson I’ve ever learnt has been shaped by her. So, when you think about it, not only is the motherly bond an eternal one, every individual mum kind of lives forever in some beautifully unique way too.

I would love to hear about the lessons you’ve learnt from your mum… Please feel free to comment below.

Lesson 9: living in the moment

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It’s a strange time of year, March. We are so well and truly over Winter. A ping of excitement surges through me when I leave work in daylight, my once-loved jumpers, boots and coats are starting to look a bit tired and I find myself scrolling through all the festival line ups, daring to imagine how it feels to dance in a field with mud in my hair. The thing is though, and I hate to put a downer on it, Summer is quite far away. We have an entire season to get through first, and it’s a temperamental one at that. I’ve decided that this year I’m not going to spend every day from now counting down to the sunshine, because it’s not a healthy attitude to have in general. Yes, it’s great to have things to look forward to, but what about today? The journey to the destination is sometimes the most significant part. A bit like when you go round someone’s house to pre-drink before the main event – quite often this is more fun than the place you end up.

The main reason I’m adopting this frame of mind is because for a while now, I’ve been looking forward to just being in the future. It’s a dangerous wish, to fast forward time – like that film, ‘Click’. I’ve become so preoccupied with dreams of owning a home, having a more senior job, travelling the world, that I’ve started to lose sight of all the positive things in my life right now. Looking back at me three years ago, I thought all I needed to be happy was to live and work in London, rent my own place and write with a purpose. I have all of those things now and I’m ashamed to say that I no longer appreciate them. The same way we often don’t notice how beautiful or fun Spring can be because we’re too focussed on the fact it’s not quite Summer. If we are forever chasing more, how will we ever feel satisfied?

Yesterday I moaned to Joe about our flat not having a bath. I never have baths, but at that precise moment I wanted one and felt hard-done by. I then complained that the sofa wasn’t big enough before staring miserably into our tiny excuse for a garden. Joe completely shot me down. As he quite rightly reminded me, I moaned about not having a place of our own when we were living with his parents last year. In a house, I might add, that had a bath I never used and a huge garden I didn’t always appreciate. I know I’m not alone in this. Ok, sometimes we’re just venting our anger or frustrations at house-hold objects rather than people, but that doesn’t make it ok to constantly want more than what we have.

I do it with clothes all the time. I tell myself that if I just had one more pair of trainers, or one more jacket, or one more bag, my wardrobe would be complete and I would be happy. Then I see something looking amazing on someone else and instantly assume that a) their life must be wonderful, and b) if I buy it I will be happier. Obviously, I’m wrong. We are often so preoccupied with chasing the dream that we don’t even acknowledge the feeling of that dream coming true – we’ve already moved on to the next hole in our lives that needs filling.

Whether we choose to admit it or not, there are people in the world who have very little. There are people with no friends, no family, no education, no source of income, no health, no home. In our quest for leading perfect, possession-filled lives, we’re starting to lose sight of the things that really matter, the things some people would do anything to have.  There is nothing wrong with being optimistic about the future, so long as it doesn’t cast a big shadow over everything you’re doing right now. It’s ok to let the future take care of itself sometimes. It’s not going anywhere, unlike today – tomorrow, today will be gone. ‘Look after the pennies’, my nan always says. If you appreciate the small things, the big things will fall into place.

The next time you feel hard-up, take a moment to note down all the good things in your life. Think twice about whether your job is really that bad, or your wardrobe really needs updating, or your life really sucks. Chances are that it doesn’t. It’s just some cruel trick of the mind that’s inherent to human nature telling you it does.Whatever the future holds, just be glad that you made the most of today. That’s all we can ever do.

Lesson 8: controlling anxiety

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Everyone feels self-conscious. It’s the price we pay for being intelligent human beings. We’re acutely aware of what we look like, what we say, how we feel, who we are and how we interact with everything around us. The challenge arises when this awareness becomes overly critical, obsessive, worried, controlling. How many of us worry on a daily basis about something we just said, something we used to wear, that hair cut we once had, whether someone likes us or not, whether you’re supposed to like something or not? Like many of us, over-thinking and over-analysing everything has always been a part of my personality. I’m as self-conscious as they come.

I’m going to put something out there that you might not agree with. For me, self-consciousness is not a weakness. In some ways, self-consciousness is one of my greatest strengths. Confused? I’m going to explain how it’s possible to turn anxiety into something positive, rather than something that gnaws away at your soul. Anxiety is a difficult thing to live with, and it’s more common than you might think. I’m not going to define what anxiety is or feels like in this post. It’s incredibly complicated and everyone is very different. For now, let’s just think of it in the context of feeling self-conscious, which is something we can all relate to.

Somebody once said to me:

‘You’ve gone downhill.’

Meaning, I’ve let myself go, I’ve reached my peak, I will forever be less attractive than I once was. This is both one of the most upsetting and prominent things that was said to me in my late teens – a direct insult to both my appearance and my ability to recognise my apparent deterioration. Not only did I feel ugly, I felt stupid for not realising how ugly I was. It didn’t matter that this was simply one person’s unwarranted opinion, all that mattered at that moment was that someone thought that about me. The bitter and honest truth was that although there will never be any justification for someone saying something so cruel, I was forced to face the fact that I had stopped making an effort with my appearance. I had done strange things to my hair, I had stopped eating healthily, and I was partying a lot. I was the least self-conscious I have ever been, but I didn’t feel much like me at all. I hated that person for saying that to me, and for years those words ate away at my confidence, causing me to second guess how attractive I was and how well I understood myself. It’s not healthy to obsess about the way you look, but before this comment I had started to go the other way. I had started to not care that much at all. And that’s just not the sort of person I am. These horrible words reminded me of that. In a kind of messed-up way, they did me a massive favour.

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You can argue that the reason I started taking better care of myself was to prove that person wrong, letting them define me, but I simply wanted to look and feel like myself again. I am the sort of person who wears makeup every single day. It isn’t because I feel societal pressures to do so, I just enjoy the act of getting ready, of being polished, of being well-dressed. There’s a quote you’ve probably heard: ‘being well-dressed is a beautiful form of politeness’, and I really believe that. If I don’t make an effort I end up feeling lazy, and subsequently end up being lazy. If I felt comfortable going barefaced and wearing any old thing (and I do sometimes envy people who are), it would be a different story all together, but that’s just not me.

Negative comments are always difficult to digest, especially when there is an element of truth in them. These comments don’t have to come from someone you know, it could be that you talk yourself down on a daily basis. The secret to rising above it? Be the best person you can be. Challenge yourself to that. Anything negative that comes your way can simply do one, because if you are yourself and you are trying your hardest in life, nobody is allowed to critique that, not even you. And I don’t mean the best looking, either.  I am critical of myself, but I use that feeling to try and do good things. When I have achieved something, I leave myself alone. If I wake up with a huge spot in the middle of my face (something I’m often confronted with), my natural reaction is to hide in a dark room and cry a little bit. Then I think about all the inspiring people in the world who would do anything to actually be able to SEE their own faces, to have the gift of sight. I really believe you can draw on the energy anxiety can give you and turn it into positive rather than negative energy – which is exactly what this blog post is a product of.

I hope talking a bit about anxiety allows you to confront your insecurities. Feeling constantly self-conscious is nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s very hard to control, but it can be controlled. Just remember that self-worth and confidence aren’t gifts from other people, they come from within. And similarly, other people can’t take them from you. They might get damaged, but that merely allows you to build something bigger and better each and every time they do.