Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Patience...

Our new house (but not our car!)
... is a virtue. Sadly, it's a virtue that I struggle with. Over the summer Mr B and I moved into a new house in a pretty little village called 'Bunny' (I kid you not, it's really called Bunny!) We've been hunting high and low for a family house for a while now, only half seriously, but when this one came on the market we knew we had to have it. At the time it didn't really feel real, and even on moving day I'm not sure I was prepared for the fact that we were ACTUALLY moving from our little new build townhouse into this; our 1930s, family, 'forever' home. In fact, even 3 months later, I still feel like I'm settling in and the pangs of homesickness(?) I feel when I pass our old house are only just starting to diminish.

The thing is, now we actually live there (here?!) the enormity of the task that lies ahead is just beginning to dawn on us. Moving into a house that's as old as this one (ok, it's not old old but it's certainly not new build) means we have got lots to do. At the weekend we sat down and wrote down a whole list of things that we either need, or would like to do to get the house ship shape and exactly how we want it. It's enormous: Everything from painting to double glazing, from insulating to buying a new cooker (that's a story for another time) - but obviously all of this requires money. Money that, given we have just moved and taken on a bigger mortgage, we simply don't have. Little by little I'm sure we will get there, and perhaps, as Take That would say we just need to 'have a little patience' - it's perhaps not a very modern attitude, but it's certainly one that I could do to take heed of - and one that I think the new house is intent on teaching me.

Monday, 5 November 2012

The magic of John Lewis

When I was at university I remember a friend saying to me, "If I could, I would live in John Lewis" - and I was, at the time, totally perplexed, but over the last few years I've really come round to her way of thinking. If ever there was a shop that epitomised the life I aspire to (ok, call me a snob)  it would be John Lewis.

John Lewis, for the uninitiated, is a UK high street department store that trades on the tagline Never Knowingly Undersold. There's something incredibly British about the whole shop; it's understated rather than flashy, and sells a range of products and brands from the upper-middle end of the British high street. From typical 'yummy mummy' brands such as White Stuff and Joules to impeccably designed white bedlinen and crockery by Emma Bridgwater or Vera Wang right through to wallpaper, furniture and white goods (they give a free 2 year guarantee with everything!) We had our wedding list at John Lewis, and oh, what fun it was to go round the store with one of their magical list-making scanning machines. There's just something about the whole experience that makes you feel like you're incredibly safe and special.

But, aside from all of that, over the last few years, John Lewis has cornered the market in the MOST amazing adverts. Adverts that don't really sell a product but that capitalise on this very British yearning to be part of their brand story. Many other brands have followed suit but none do it quite as emotionally 'on key' as John Lewis. I won't wax too lyrical, but the first of these (check it out) had me in tears on several occasions, using, as it did Billy Joel's 'She's always a woman to me' to track the life of a woman from birth through to old age. Who really cared that the whole advert was full of anachronisms? Because in so many ways it was utterly, perfectly timeless. Apparently JL's sales soared by 40% in the months following the release of this advert, and I don't know a woman who didn't fall totally in love with the whole concept.Take a look at their most recent advert if you don't believe me that they must have geniuses of epic proportions working on their perfectly targeted campaigns:

So, call it clever marketing (well done 'Adam and Eve'/DDB ad agencies) but I'm right there. I want that John Lewis life, and, well, failing that, can I just have a copy of the tracks used in their last 5 adverts - they, like everything else about the brand, epitomise good taste!


Saturday, 3 November 2012

In search of a fairy godmother

I wonder if the lilac fairy would step up to the plate?
Ok, ok, I know it's rude to ask for things, or to seem wantonly materialistic, but the thing I is made a big mistake. BIG mistake. I accidentally tried on (well, sort of accidentally - I blame my mum for this one!)  this beautiful coat from Reiss in John Lewis and, well, I now can't stop thinking about it...

It fitted perfectly (not an easy task, I promise you) and flattered my colouring and figure and, well [sigh] I really, really wish I could afford it. Sadly, I think I'm going to have to wait until the January sales or until I've saved up enough since even Santa isn't £265 generous (and nor, honestly, would I expect him to be.) I'm kind of hoping that I find out that I have a generous, and as yet unknown, fairy godmother, who will flutter down and grant me this one purchase, but I don't think such miracles exist. 

A girl can dream though, can't she?! 

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Dancing in the rain

I was recently given a card with these words on it. It's not the first time I've heard the expression (in fact it's one my husband will often quote) but it is, perhaps the first time I've really understood the meaning. Life isn't always easy. That's a platitude, I know, and one I've churned out myself, but it's true. It's not always easy. Being alive isn't just about the good bits. We can only really appreciate the good if we've known the bad, but granted, most of us would rather not experience the bad if we had a choice. But that's life: The good, the bad and the ugly. And I suppose these words were never truer: If we waited for all of life's storms to pass, or for the sun to always shine we'd miss out on all the opportunities for real life; the opportunities to dance every type of dance and not just the joyous ones; the chance to really live, because that's what makes us human, and that's what makes us interesting, varied creatures with stories to tell and experiences to regale. From a purely practical point of view, let's face it, I live in England: if I never went outside in inclement weather, I'd spend well over half of my life stuck indoors, missing out!



Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Being positive

Some of you may have gathered that I'm not always or naturally the most positive person. I try, really I do, but sometimes I lose my way and, well, it just gets harder and harder to be positive, especially with myself. Especially with my job. Somewhere along the line I confused the compliment, "you're a really reflective practitioner" with a tendency to over-criticise everything I do. To the point where I can no longer see the good in what I do. Only the problem with that is that the more critical of myself I become, the harder it is to enjoy what I do, and if I don't enjoy what I do, I'm more likely to pick out the negatives, and, well, as you can see, it's a bit of a downward spiral.

A while ago I wrote about why I quit teaching. Perhaps what I didn't acknowledge on that was how much my own personality (and, admittedly, state of mind) played in my decision to leave. That self-flagellating negativity that hollowed me out and disabled me from being able to enjoy doing the job I trained for. Having had a year out, I want to reassess my position. I want to teach. I want to enjoy the job I trained for and I want to be good at it. Heck, I trained hard enough for it. But, you see, the thing is, breaking the cycle of negativity is so difficult, and, by the time I was forced out of the classroom by illness, there was nothing of me left. But I've had time to reflect (in a positive way) and grow emotionally, and repair a little and I have, happily, found myself back in the classroom. And, whilst it's not always easy, I recently remembered something that a tutor on my teacher training course said to me. It's rare that happens. Generally they weren't that motivating, but this particular tutor caught me in a moment of distress and self-criticism and said, "You have to enjoy it. If you don't enjoy it it will never be worth it and you won't last." Nearly 7 years later, perhaps those words have finally filtered through. I can see now how imperative it is to find the enjoyment. Yes, it's a job, but it doesn't have to be a life sentence; I can enjoy the journey.

So... I have been thinking. I know it's not going to be easy, but it is perhaps essential, that I pick out the positives in every day. That I remember why I love working with children. That I remember that I am good at this job. That I have been given a real vote of confidence by my employer. That I CAN do it. So, instead of picking apart all the negatives, I've taken to writing down the positives at the end of every day (in a pink notebook entitled 'Hannah's reflection book') and it's surprising how much it helps. Recording everything: From the smile from a child who's thrilled to see me after a few days off to the sense of achievement that I feel when the children 'get it'; from the chat with colleagues at lunchtime that reminds me we are all human and sometimes it's enough to 'get by', to the pride I feel at having got through a day and still be able to find the positives therein. My modus operandi has been set for so long at 'negative', and now it's about redressing the balance; finding the little things to smile about; retraining myself to think positively and starting to enjoy this job (and life) that I have worked so hard for. It's not easy. But I do think, slowly, it's beginning to work.

How do you stay positive? Any tips or tricks? Please share them with me.

Friday, 1 June 2012

A crack in everything

Leonard Cohen's words, not mine
Sometimes it's too easy to forget that life isn't perfect, and that things don't always work out exactly according to plan. Even when things are going ok, I think it's worth remembering these words.

That is all.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

A perfect date

I've been so busy that I haven't had chance to post much recently. In fact, so busy that I forgot to mention the fact that Mr. B had bought us tickets to see Ballo Della Regina and La Sylphide at the Royal Opera House on Thursday. He had some time owing in lieu of all the international travel he's been doing, so he, very generously, chose to spend the day taking me to the ballet. 

We've always enjoyed slightly crazy 'date days' - by which I mean we don't do things by halves. Our first ever date was like 5 dates rolled into 1, and we always push what's possible within the bounds of normal 'dates': driving to the other side of the country on a whim, going out late, late at night to buy ingredients for chicken soup, or just rolling lots of things into one date. So, this wasn't exactly unusual for us; to drive to London and back (a 250 mile round trip), see a ballet, have dinner and head home, but when we're both really busy, these things often go out of the window.

So, Thursday was a perfect opportunity to spend some quality time together, and it really was quality. In fact I think it was my perfect date day.

We left Nottingham late morning, driving via Hemel Hempstead for Mr B to test drive his new car, then parked on the outskirts of London before heading towards covent garden just after lunch. The sun was shining and even though it was midweek, it felt like there were lots of people out enjoying the beautiful weather. Covent Garden, as usual, was full of tourists and street performers and had a lovely buzz. Although both Mr B and I used to live in London, there are some places that don't ever really lose their charm for us and we'll happily spend hours wandering aimlessly around Covent Garden or the South Bank, just chatting and chilling and soaking up the atmosphere. 

We weren't at the theatre until 7.30, so we wandered around the market and some of the little shops around the area. In a little silver shop, Mr B bought be a beautiful new charm for my bracelet: a hebrew 'chai.' Things have been really tough recently, and this was a particularly meaningful charm for me, as it reminds me that's what it's all about: having a life, enjoying each other's company and looking to our future family (hopefully.) I also like the fact that the charm is made up of the Hebrew letters 'Chet' (pronounced 'het') and 'Yud', and my name in Hebrew begins with a Chet, so it's sort of an alphabet charm too. 

After this, we mooched some more before having a leisurely dinner at pizza express. It was so hot we weren't that keen on doing much, but we were able to get into the theatre from just before 6. It was here that we retreated to our favourite secret spot in the West End: the rooftop terrace of the Royal Opera House. It's almost never busy, and we were able to sit and chat whilst looking out over the market - it's like sitting in an Italian Piazza, especially in hot weather.

The View From the ROH terrace
The ballet started at 7.30 and we were lucky enough to have really great seats, only about 20 feet away from the stage. It was Nehemia Kish and Marianella Nuñez in the principle roles of Ballo Della Regina, and, typical of Balanchine, the ballet was beautiful and technically perfect; fast feet and full of humour. I was a little sad that it was only 18 minutes long, as I'd happily have watched the clean lines all evening. It was particularly fascinating sitting so close to the stage, as you could see the differences in the corps much more clearly. They really do range in size - some diminutive and some really quite tall! Plus, in such a technical ballet it's a delight to be able to see the feet, although you do lose the visual effect of the formations of dancers from above. The second of the two ballets was La Sylphide, which befuddled me to begin with. It was mainly character dancing for the first half, and the scene was completely stolen by a small dancer from the Royal Ballet School who plays a very confident little girl in the group dancing scenes. I loved her chutzpah in taking a grown up man's hand and demanding he dance with her. I was fascinated by how perfectly she kept up with the adult dancers around her and suspect that she's one to watch for the future; not just for her technical aptitude, but for her comic timing and characterisation. I couldn't take my eyes off her!
The Paul Hamlyn Hall - the
most beautiful venue in the whole of London!

The final act was very much a ballet blanche, all white romantic tutus and misty forest scenes. It reminded me a lot of Giselle and was completely visually stunning to watch. Whilst at the beginning I wasn't sure what I was going to make of it, I really enjoyed both ballets. Mr B, too, came away from the theatre with a smile on his face, although he was upset that La Sylphide had a sad ending as he said "I wasn't expecting that!" We didn't get home until 1.30am, but buzzed all the way home; which may have been partly the result of the strong coffee we got from pret just before we left central London, or may have been just that we had a perfect day. It really was a day to hold on to regardless of how difficult life gets.


Monday, 16 April 2012

Busy, busy, busy

When I was little I was always told; 'bright people don't get bored - they find something to do.' The thing is, it has stuck. I can't erase it from my head. I am bright (or would like to think I am) therefore I must. not. get. bored.

So, I'm really good at filling my time. I can find umpteen different things to do with any spare moment lurking in the shadows. And if I can't squeeze what I want to do into that time, I have an innate ability to str-e- t - c - h time to fit in what I need it to fit. In fact, I would go so far as to say I am particularly talented at keeping busy.


The problem is, in equating being busy with being 'bright', I never stopped to realise that actually, sometimes, being bored is useful. Ok, perhaps not boredom exactly, but down time; time to recoup, to do little or nothing than just be and to breathe. To appreciate living and take stock, or just, literally, switch the grey matter off. It turns out I'm really not that good at stopping. In fact I'd go so far as to say I'm not at all 'bright' (or intelligent) in that area of my life. Not at all.

It's a skill I need to learn. And I think I need to accept that my skills in this area are significantly remedial, for now. But how do I temper this boredom...? It's spilling into frustration at the moment, and there's part of me that just wants to get busy; do stuff; keep my mind and body active. I mean I don't want my brain to stupefy, but there's something in me that thinks that I need to learn to do this now, or I will never master just being; I risk always being the product of my actions and the things I do.

So, I wonder - how do you cope with boredom? Do you get frustrated? What do you do if you can't just 'do something'? What's the secret to just be-ing? I think contemporary psychology calls this 'mindfulness', but whatever you call it, if you have any tips - please share!

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Half finished...

I have a confession to make. It is a shameful confession, especially for someone who studied "Eng Lit" for 3 years at Cambridge. But... I am a compulsive abandoner of books.

At present, our house is strewn with my literary detritus: by my side of the bed there are roughly half a dozen different books that I have begun and never finished. Many of them aren't even literary. Not in the true sense of the term. In fact, even when I was at university I was more predisposed to reading contemporary novels, barely considered literary in "Cambridge" circles. But now. Now, I am ashamed. If I were to tell you that the unfinished books by my bedside (in the spare room, on the bookshelf, in the magazine rack... maybe even in the kitchen) were such tomes as James Joyce's Ulysses, or even a Jane Austen or two, perhaps you (or even I) could forgive me. But they're not. In fact I daren't even tell you which books lay unread...

Let's just say that they didn't come from a library. And they didn't come from the 'canon' of English literature. In fact, they would feel entirely more at home in the book aisle of the supermarket.

AND I HAVEN'T EVEN FINISHED THEM!

What has the world come to? What is wrong with me? I spent 3 years of my life reading 'quality' prose, and now I am reduced to this? Half finished supermarket bestsellers? I hang my head in shame.

I feel that I should end this with a 'I promise to complete said books before committing to buying (or even borrowing) any new ones' but, well, I'm not sure I can do that. You see, the thing is, I like reading. But I also feel like I shouldn't have to make too much effort, or it's really not that pleasurable. I suspect it's a reaction to having to read and critique "Eng Lit" at university. And I know that sounds arrogant, but, for 3 years reading was a way of life, my raîson d'être, and now I feel like it needs to work for me, instead of me working for it. I want escapism. Good, quality, escapism. Sometimes that's trashy 'chick lit' or a best-selling thriller, sometimes it's more 'quality' literature, but whatever it is, if it doesn't hold my attention, well...

Any good book suggestions? Please let me know. I'll give anything a go, but can't promise to finish it.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Happy Mothering Sunday

From the very start, she has been there to guide me, to love me, and to pick me up when I fall down. She is my teacher, my role model and my friend. Without her I cannot imagine life as I know it. She has been there with me, next to me, through the good and the bad. Her patience and compassion at times seem limitless; she has found ways to nurture me when I have rejected it all. She has mopped up tears of frustration, and patiently listened to my fears, my hopes and dreams. She has never, ever, doubted me.

I have caused her worry and sleepless nights, as all children do. She has glowed with pride at my accomplishments, as all mothers do. We have grown to know each other as adult and child and later, as adult to adult. We can talk for hours, or sit in comfortable, knowing silence, as the best of friends do.

My nose and eyes are her nose and eyes. Her love for books is a love that I share. We both have moments when we snap, and without sleep we are [unanimously] a nightmare!

Whether teaching me to hop on my left leg, or consoling me after a failed driving test, she knows without me saying how I feel. Our bond is, like all mother-daughter bonds, unique. Without it I would not be who I am.

So this post is dedicated to my mum, my precious, wonderful, beautiful, one and only mum. Whom I couldn't love more than I do.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Coming out of hibernation

I have been reminded by a fellow blogger that spring is sprung, or indeed, in the process of springing, across the Northern hemisphere. The days are getting longer, the light is a little brighter, and all around there are signs that we're emerging from another cold winter. Daffodils and tulips are beginning to grace the buckets at the front of supermarkets and florists, and the first flowers are poking their heads through the still-cold earth, straining to share in the little sunlight we have.

I love this time of year: leaving the house in the morning, the air feels less icy, less cruel; some mornings the sun even offers some warmth. The expression March comes in like a lion, out like a lamb is bearing true in many tiny yet significant ways. Before long the gentle sound of children playing out after school will filter through the air into my tiny house, the sound of mowers will hum softly through my weekends, reminding me why, although I don't have the city-lifestyle I once thought I wanted, that I love where I live.

Spring is a time when senses reawaken, when we remember the delicate aroma of freshly cut grass or newly blossomed flowers, or the sound of the dawn chorus. But, it's also a time when, particularly in colder countries, people seem to come out of hibernation. We connect more. We stop hiding in our little boxes, and venture into the parks and streets, and we converse, we play, we communicate. It's as though, as the cold lifts, so too do our comfort blankets, and we begin to remember what it's like to be human again. Less driven by the cold we wander and meander, we look at, instead of through, one another. Relationships are kindled and rekindled in the parks and cities as people notice one another. After the harsh survival required of us by winter, Spring seems so wonderful, nurturing and full of possibility.


Even at the March wedding we went to there were
signs of summer on their way
For me this year, Spring feels more momentous than usual because, despite the relatively mild UK winter, it feels like I'm emerging from nearly a year in the deep freeze. Slowly but steadily, there have been tiny shifts in my perspective, some of which I'm barely even aware of, but they are there none the less. The metaphor of the winter thaw is prosaic but true: I feel like I'm moving slowly from icy brittleness to a gentler, warmer place: there's the occasional ground frost still to contend with, but generally, I'm happier to embrace the new season and build connections, poke my head out of from beneath my blanket and feel both the warmth of the sun and the dampness of the rain. Just like the season, Spring, it's not all sunshine and roses, but on the days that the sun shines and her warmth penetrates our being, it reminds me of the promise that lies ahead. And I intend to make the most of it.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Helsinki

Mr B and I have just returned from a lovely break to Helsinki. It was cold. Freezing cold. But it was lovely. The city is compact and beautiful and has, to me, more the feeling of a Southern European city than one of the most Northern capital cities in the world.

Although it was cold, it didn't bother me as much as the cold damp in the UK; the Finns really know how to make the most of existing in such a cold climate. So there's snow everywhere? Everyone wears snow boots - even those attending posh, society weddings at Helsinki cathedral (no kidding, we saw a whole family in finery and snow boots!) The streets are slippery, so the Finns don their cross country skis and ski poles and adapt. The transport doesn't grind to a halt and even the fact that it's dark for so much of the day doesn't darken the mood of the people in the city: there are twinkly fairy lights everywhere, and unlike the English who like to cocoon themselves in tiny, dark rooms as a way of keeping warm, the Finns epitomise Ikea living - wide open, light spaces, filled with as much light (natural and artificial) as possible. Instead of feeling constrained by the cold and depressed by the dark, I felt uplifted by the lightness and like I wanted to go outside and make the most of the crisp and beautiful snow.
The view from our hotel room over the frozen sea!

The strangest thing was that from our lovely, bright, light and open hotel room, the panoramic window looked out over one of the many coastal inlets of the Baltic sea. But this was like no sea I have ever seen before. It was entirely frozen over. Not just fragments of ice floating on the waves, but TOTALLY frozen over. So frozen over that it was difficult to see where the sea ended and the land began. So frozen over that we were able to walk on it and not fall in. So frozen over that there was at least a foot of snow compacted on top of the ice. People were cross country skiing and ski-sailing across it. It was breath taking! And so beautiful. And oh so strange.
That's Mr. B 'on the beach' - really!

One day I'd love to go back to Finland. I loved the humour of the people, the family-friendliness of the city and its surroundings, but most of all how the people seemed to embrace the great outdoors with gusto!

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Labyrinthitis

A very young Jennifer Connoly & a strangely attractive
David Bowie in that great 80's classic Labyrinth

Nope, sadly this doesn't mean that I'm obsessed with watching that AMAZING 80's film Labyrinth (although I am slightly obsessed with that film!) but rather than I have a virus in my inner ear that's making me really dizzy all the time. Literally, ALL the time - it is NOT nice.

Apparently it will pass, but right now it's making me feel pretty grotty. So for all of my plans to do something new and exciting with my February 29th, it's all gone by the way-side as I sit here feeling sorry for myself. There's not even much that I can do for it, just wait for it to work its way out of my system.

Mr B. and I are going to Helsinki tomorrow for the weekend, so I'm hoping a good night's sleep and some rest will help me to feel much better, as we've got tickets to see the Finnish National Ballet's Coppelia on Friday night... How exciting!

Monday, 27 February 2012

A bonus day

In the UK, radio 4's PM programme are championing something called 'leap for PM' - basically, the 29th February is a bonus day, it's something we only get once every 4 years. So, it's a chance to do something you've never done before, or challenge yourself to something that would normally be out of your comfort zone.
This is the only leap I can think of at the moment! (pretty cool though!?)

After all the jumping out of a plane shenanigans, it's difficult to think what 'leap' I could make on this leap day, but I've got a couple of days to think it through. If you feel like challenging me to something, please do, meanwhile, let me know what you plan to do with your extra day!

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Learning to ride my bike

Before the month of February is out, I should mention one of my main birthday presents - my, amazingly PINK new bike:



I've not had a new bike since I was 15, so I felt that, at 30, I should start the year as I mean to go on - aboard a bright new two wheeled vehicle, thus this was my present from my dad. Since I know how to ride a bike, and have done so recently on my 15 year old Raleigh Max 15 speed mountain bike, I didn't think that riding my new bike would be such a challenge. However, I wasn't at all prepared for the difference between the two bikes. Where I'm used to being able to build speed by pulling forward on my handlebars and pushing down on the pedals, my new bike is more reclined, and I am forced into an upright seated position. No matter how hard I try I can't lever myself forwards using my arms, I just end up wobbling all over the place. Same goes for trying to round corners. The handlebars are so far back, that I just can't get my head round how much (or little) I need to turn the handlebars. Believe me, watching me is a sight for sore eyes!

So when I took my lovely bike for its inaugural ride, I only went from one side of the village to the other but I think I caused more havoc than the village has seen in quite some time. I love everything about my bike, especially its vivid pink-ness, but perhaps I need to practise a little more before I earn myself a reputation as the crazy woman on the pink bike (who literally fell off every two minutes). That, and buy a helmet to safeguard against my own clutziness!

Whoever said it's like riding a bike (you never forget) obviously never appreciated how difficult it is to learn to ride a new bike at the not-so-tender age of 30!

Monday, 20 February 2012

Life Is Short

I mentioned in my last post Baz Luhrmann's 'wear sunscreen' track. I think whoever created this (Holstee - an American Brand I think) definitely took inspiration from the lyrics of that track, but I really liked this video. It's full of amazing advice for living and beautifully shot.

I for one intend to take much on board, and I may even get out on my (new pink!) bike and make some of it happen. Watch out for some photos once I have learned to ride it (that's a story for a whole 'nother blog post...!)

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Reflections on 17 (happy birthday Katie)


It's my friend Katie's birthday today. Or Ballerina Katie as I think of her. She turns 17 and amongst other things will be having her first driving lesson today. An extremely talented dancer, she has (I'm sure) a sparkling future on the stage - she's determined enough, that's for sure!

Her birthday made me think about when I was 17. It's a strange old (young) age really; you're in that odd twilight between being a child and being an adult - whilst at 17 you can go and get a job, get married (with your parents' permission), you can smoke (if you want to), you can learn to drive and you can choose whether or not you want to go to school or college. Yet you're not old enough to vote, and in the eyes of the [British] law system, you're still a minor in many ways. Whilst you feel grown up, most 17 year olds (hey, most 21 year olds) rely on their parents for clothes, food, washing etc. so even though you'd like to be independent, perhaps you're not as independent as you'd like to be.

But it's full of great stuff too - Sixth form here (the equivalent of senior high in the States) is when you make all sorts of exciting decisions about your future, about where you will go for university and, to some extent, the kind of career you are likely to follow post-education. Certainly for me, it was the place and time that I made some of my closest friends and shaped many of my views of the world I inhabit. Adults (real adults that is) tend to take you more seriously, and being let loose at the wheel of a REAL car is incredibly exciting (and slightly terrifying) - and a signifier of the independence that awaits you once you've passed your test (especially, if, like me, you come from somewhere where the transport links are rubbish and having a car enables you to actually choose where you want to go - even if, like me, it does take you 18 months and 3 instructors to eventually pass your test!)

I have said many times that you couldn't pay me to go back to being a teenager, as it can be such a brutal time as you work out who you are, what you think and who to stick with, but if I were to go back and meet my 17 year old self I would tell her to be less afraid, to enjoy the freedom to make mistakes, to worry less about the future and to enjoy the present more - people expect you to trip up on the path to discovering who you are - that's part of the fun! I would advise her to think about what kind of career she really wants, because it's the decisions you make now that can really alter the paths that lie open to you, but ultimately to enjoy making those decisions because life is too short to stress-out about those things, and not knowing is just as valid an option as knowing . Be thankful, for the friends you do have and don't worry about the people who appear to not like you - in the grand scheme of things those people will have little bearing on your life. But, above all, enjoy being relatively carefree: 17 can feel like the weight of expectation of adulthood is bearing heavy on your shoulders, but you're not quite there yet. You will spend enough time as an adult, so enjoy being a child, and enjoy being 17, whatever that means to you!

Fab advice from Baz Luhrmann
It's all been said before, and in fact, I probably couldn't put it better than Baz Luhrmann's 'wear sunscreen' (hear the track at this link) But whatever I think, and whatever reflections I have on 17, I hope Katie makes it her own and has an amazing birthday today - because that's all part of the fun!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Ballerina break

After all the madness of launching myself out of an aeroplane, coating the entire house in icing sugar and the wonders of a hosting vintage-styled-tea-party with my friends, Mr. B decided to treat us both to a relaxing break away from it all. So, on Monday, after putting the house into some semblance of order (only semblance, mind!) we battled through snow drifts and icy roads to get to North Norfolk and a little hotel called Titchwell Manor.


Now, neither of us is particularly skilled in the art of stopping. But, probably for the first time ever, we just about stopped and managed to relax. As in we arrived and Mr. B said "shall we go to Burnham market?" (a little town nearby) and I said; "you know what, can we just watch a film?" - so that's exactly what we did, in our luxury bathrobes with Puppy Ballerina by our feet, we stopped and watched a film.  And it felt incredibly indulgent, but like we were ACTUALLY on holiday. We spent some time on the beach (I shall post photos soon, when Mr. B has edited them), wandered around Wells and Burnham Market, but in the end, not doing very much at all was all the break we needed and wanted.

We certainly came home feeling rested. I shan't mention the fact that Mr. B locked his keys in his car boot on the final day, or that as a result, we delayed our departure by a few hours waiting for the breakdown man to arrive, as it really didn't do anything to detract from a wonderful break. In fact, in lots of ways because it slowed us down, we were about to luxuriate some more in the comfort of the lounge area whilst waiting to be rescued.  After all, it wouldn't be a ballerina holiday without some mis-hap, and I was pleased that it was this, rather than anything else!

All in all, it was the perfect end to a perfect birthday. I haven't known 30 for very long, but I am confident it is going to be a good year.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

A few birthday photos


I believe I can fly..!
Cool as a cucumber (almost literally)
I love how I look like an astronaut in this pic
Just LOOK how enormous the guy I jumped with was.
He was a full foot taller than me (and possibly a little bit too)

A much more civilised celebration
I actually iced the pink cake.
And the smarties one! V proud of myself.



Saturday, 4 February 2012

I did it!

After what can only be deemed a dreadful night's sleep, the day I've been anticipating finally arrived. No, not the big 3 - 0 -, but the day I promised to complete a tandem skydive in aid of the UK eating disorders charity, BEAT  (If you're new to my blog, you can find out why I chose to do this here.) With forecasts of snow for pretty much the whole of the UK, I was really quite concerned that it may be postponed, and thus all the psyching myself up I've been doing would have been in vain. But, fortunately, as you can see from my photos, the sky was as blue as blue could be, and although the temperature on the ground was hovering just below zero (degrees celcius), it was a crisp and beautiful morning, and nothing was going to stop the jump going ahead.

I was scheduled to arrive at the airfield at 8.30am, but was warned that I could be there until sunset if the centre was busy. Fortunately, it being the middle of winter, most people were still wrapped up warm in bed on a freezing cold Saturday morning, so it was very quiet and I was booked onto the first jump of the day - something of a relief since I think the longer I waited around the more nervous I would have become.

By 9.30 I'd met my tandem diver, (Dave - none other than the world record holder for the highest landing of any skydive - he apparently landed on top of a hot air balloon. Don't believe me? You-tube it!) I'd had my safety drill and was strapped tightly to Dave in a tiny plane that was swiftly ascending to 12 thousand feet with 7 or 8 other novice and experienced skydivers. 

The views from the plane were utterly breathtaking and, whilst I have never been particularly afraid of flying, it made me wonder why anyone would find this anything other than awe-inspiring. I was completely grateful for Dave's experience though, as it was a relief to feel that I was in safe hands as we made the final preparations for the jump. Instead of panicking about what might happen, I felt confident that I was well looked after and that I could (try to) concentrate on enjoying the experience. 
photo copyright Richard Wheatley, British Parachute Schools
Once at the desired altitude (about 12 thousand feet), there was no time to think, just a few last minute checks, and we were out of the plane. With no parachute and only Dave and gravity as my friend, I thought I would find it hard to concentrate on anything other than the fear of hitting the ground, but I found it surprisingly exhilarating. We fell free-fall for about a minute before the parachute was released, and I enjoyed every last second (as you can probably tell from the silly smile (no, that wasn't just  g-force, honestly) on my face in the picture above!)
photo copyright Richard Wheatley, British Parachute Schools
When the parachute was finally released, I was amazed by how serene it felt to be floating through the air: my sister had raved about this after parascending in Turkey, but I think it's got to be experienced to be believed. From way up in the sky, it's easy to believe that you're the only person alive, and that you are merely surveying the land laid out before you.
photo copyright Richard Wheatley, British Parachute Schools
I can't imagine a better way to usher in a new decade of my life. I know it's cliched but it was completely empowering: the adrenaline rush of the skydive, followed by the calm serenity of the parachute to earth was a perfect reflection of how I hope to embrace life in the future.

Here's to 30 years on earth. And here's to the next 30 being even better than the first!


(oh, and just in case you're feeling flush, and would like to donate to an EXTREMELY worthy cause, my charity sponsorship page is online for just a few more days at www.doitforcharity.com/hannahj - please consider it if you can)

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Blonde or brunette?

For years and years I've harboured a secret desire to be brunette. I was born blonde, and although my hair has become darker the older I've got, my 'virgin' hair colour has never been anything darker than a dark golden blonde, but I've always thought that I would love to try dark hair - it looks so chic and sophisticated to me. 

But. And this is a big but: Whenever I have suggested going darker to a hairdresser, they generally recoil in horror and say "you're so blonde, it wouldn't suit your complexion." So, when a new hairdresser was cutting my hair last week and suggested that a semi-permanent colour would make my hair shinier, I assumed that she would be of the same mind-set. Hence, I booked myself in for a colour, and happily skipped along to the salon yesterday evening.

As soon as I sat down I felt that something wasn't quite right. The colours she thought were close to my natural colour were chocolatey and definitely brunette, and no matter how much I tried to convey what I thought my natural hair colour was, she was having none of it. Agreed, my highlights were quite a lot paler than my natural hair colour, but I think that was making my root colour seem darker than it actually is when it grows out. And I always feel like I'm trying to tell the hairdresser that my hair is nicer than it actually is, and she thinks I'm a fantasist or something.

But, y' know, you trust the hairdresser, so I went with the flow. I knew it was going to be darker than I think my natural colour is, but the result was quite alarming:
Now, I'm not saying it's not nice. But I'm not entirely sure it's me. It's SO dark. My hair has NEVER been this dark. Ever. 

So now I'm not entirely sure what to do. I have always wanted darker hair, but I wanted it on my terms. I didn't choose this colour. I thought I was going back to my 'natural' colour: dark golden blonde. And this just isn't that... Watch this space; it may yet change!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Dear 30...

I can't believe it's the first of February already. This can only mean 2 things: 1) it's 4 days until I parachute my way to my 30th birthday & 2) in five days time I actually turn 30!

A long time ago, when I was little, I used to think that anything over 18 was grown up. When I turned 18, I felt younger than I did when I turned 15, so that milestone moved to 21. When I turned 21, half way through my degree, I still didn't feel like a proper grown up, after all, I went home to live with my mum every time there was a university break. So, every year since, I've expected to feel more grown up, and every year since, there's been a reason why I just don't feel grown up at all. Despite a mortgage and a ring on my finger and a career, and a job after that career, I still keep wondering when I will ever feel like a proper grown up.
Will I ever feel grown up?
But this is it: I have decided. 30 is the new 21 is the new 18! I am ready to tackle adulthood head-on now. Really I am. There's not even a tiny part of me that wants to run away and hide in childhood, REALLY! Ok, so maybe there is a part of me that will always feel like a child, but I am going to make a wild statement and say I am willing to embrace my 30s with the intention of making it my best decade yet.

The potential is enormous, but I'm going to leave it there. I don't want to tempt fate, but I just want to make this little address, in advance:

Dear 30s, 
I am so looking forward to finally meeting you on Sunday. I am sure we're going to become best of friends and share all sorts of adventures together! 
Until Sunday, all my love, Hannah x

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

A very English take on a very French engagement

I don't know why I haven't posted this story before, but as I provided a tiny taster of it in my answers the other day, I suppose I better finish the whole story. I'd like to say it's a romantic story of epic proportions, but as will become clear, it has a slightly quirky twist that I'm sure Mr. B didn't plan.

Rewind to December 2007, my first year of being a qualified teacher, and I was fortunate to work in a school that gave us an extra week off before Christmas. Thus, Mr. B and I planned a romantic mini-break to Paris, taking advantage of the out-of-term-time cheap air fares. The weather was beautiful - cold, crisp and clear, and a steady minus 5 degrees celcius for the whole time we were there. Having been to Paris before, Mr. B and I happily spent our time wandering around the Marais (the Jewish quarter - Mr. B loves his falafel!) and winding our way through the narrow streets of the Latin Quarter and the left bank, stopping for coffee and chocolat-chaud from the amazing 'Paul' bakeries around the city. 

The steps that ascend to the sacre-coeur
from rue du Mont Cenis - slightly off the beaten track
On the second day, however, Mr. B seemed to be a little more direct in his wandering and persuaded me (not that I needed a great deal of persuading) to accompany him via the Champs Elysees and the Jardin Tuilleries to the Montmartre area of the city. Once there, yet again, he was very insistent that we find the beautiful and slightly out of the way steps that ascend the hill to the right of the Sacre-Coeur (as you look at it), citing a desire to take photos as the reason for the slightly longer treck. As we reached the summit we paused to catch our breath, Mr B sat down on a wall overlooking the staircase and beckoned me to join him. Bearing in mind the temperature and the relatively thin coat I had on, I declined and said "I can't sit there,  it's far too cold, I'll get piles" thus ruining the very moment Mr B chose to pull a tiny, vintage styled ring box from his pocket. Fractions of a second too late I realised what was going on, Mr. B managed to salvage the mood by pulling me towards him and sitting me on his knee before popping the question. 
The Sacre-Coeur, looking out over Paris
So, in the middle of the possibly the most romantic city in Europe, atop the steps to one of the prettiest quarters of the city, on a perfect day in the middle of winter, I managed to nearly completely ruin my now-husband's carefully orchestrated and very romantic proposal. Needless to say I said yes immediately but it didn't stop Mr. B repeating the story in his wedding speech and thus never letting me live it down, much to the amusement of our wedding guests, several of whom thought it may have been dare and therefore a fictional way for Mr. B to weave the (wholly inappropriate) word 'piles' into his speech! Sadly it was not, but I guess it is uniquely unforgettable - and still romantic in its own way too!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Stories from the 1001 nights

Have you ever felt inexplicably drawn to a culture or place, or felt that you belonged somewhere other than where you lived? For me, I can't quite explain it, but that place is the Middle East.

I think I mentioned before that, as a child, I loved the stories from the 1001 nights. And the story of the Persian rug weavers that my mum used to tell me captivated me completely. Despite being blonde haired and blue eyed, the Disney Princess I have always most associated with wasn't Aurora or Cinderella, but Jasmine. Even at the not-so tender age of 17,  I genuinely could not have been more thrilled when I got to play Princess Scheherezade in the musical 'Tin Pan Ali': finally I got to be a real princess, if only for a few nights. It all seemed so, so romantic and steeped in the kind of history and ancient tradition that only the most epic of stories are made of.
So I guess it's no surprise then that in choosing a spouse, I chose my very own Persian prince, the lovely Mr. B, who has a vast middle-Eastern heritage! He can trace his (birth) family back, via London and India, to Persia and Iraq. I feel so lucky that I have somehow appropriated some of this heritage by being married to him and certainly, all things being well, our children will one day share in the genetic lineage that I can only stake a marital link to. In fact, it feels like such an integral part of my identity, that even the food is some of my favourite international cuisine - I'd happily choose a tagine or humous and pitta over an English roast any day!
I find everything about the literature and culture
of the middle East enthralling
I think it's so sad that the issue of land and religion in this area of the world is so contentious that it makes it almost impossible to visit for fear of war and terrorism, but one day I vow to visit all of the beautiful places that I have read about. Maybe then I will understand why I feel so incredibly drawn to this area of the world.


Friday, 13 January 2012

Tag, I'm it!

Thanks to Hannah J. Holmes, I have been tagged, and now must (ok, I'm not exactly being pressured, it seemed like fun!) answer her 11 questions. These are my responses:

A trial cake,
but not perfect yet.

  • Let us begin with the most important matter: Do you like cake? Why or why not?
I love cake. Most of the time, honestly, I do! Well, let's be brutally honest, I have a love-hate relationship with cake, but I'm working on loving it more each day, really I am. What I *really* love about cake is making and decorating cake. In fact, this was my first attempt at making a mini version of the graduated pink layer cake that I would like as the centre piece at my birthday:







  • Have you ever been to Paris? If you have, tell me about it. If you have not, would you like to go someday?
I have a story about the
step at the top...
I can't believe I've never told this story on my blog, but I actually got engaged in Paris. I shall withold all details and promise to post about this soon. Needless to say I *adore* Paris. Or should I say "Paris, Je T'aime"

  • Given the choice, would you rather go out to eat at a fancy restaurant or stay home and order takeout?
It all depends. If going to a fancy restaurant gives me an opportunity to dress up really prettily, then definitely the restaurant, but I am seriously rubbish at ordering. As soon as I order I want something different. I get major envy of everyone else's food and end up not enjoying mine as a result!

  • Similarly, would you rather go out dancing or or stay home with a warm blanket and a good movie? 
This is easy: warm blanket and a good movie wins hands down each time. Nothing (NOTHING) beats curling up on the sofa with Mr. B (or my mum and sisters) and watching a great movie. Especially in winter when it's so cosy inside.
  • What's your opinion of Ugg boots: cute and comfy or too ugly to meet the sun?
I love these SO much more
than my UGGs
Comfy and useful, but not pretty at all. In fact I recently replaced mine with some minus 25 Timberland boots that are not only fleece lined, but have deep pink laces! That's right, deep pink laces! Not just functional but pretty too. And *great* for walking the dog when it's wet (nothing worse than soggy uggs and in the UK, soggy is pretty much de-rigeur for 9 months of the year - not good!)
  • Now onto the second-most controversial shoe known to man: What is your take on Crocs?
If I was 5 and crabbing in rock-pools, I reckon they'd be spot on. But I'm nearly 30 and don't live anywhere near the coast, so I think they're a)ugly and b)kind of useless!



  • Do you sing in the shower? The car? The opera house?
Everywhere. And really, really badly, but only when no one's listening! Being the oldest of 3 girls, I used to get possessive about singing and thought that my sisters couldn't possibly know the words to the songs. Sadly Kate, my middle sister, surpassed my own talents in singing and is a fantastic mimic of everything from Beyonce to Aretha Franklin (only NEVER EVER tell her I said that, it'll go straight to her head!) so now I don't even bother in her presence. But definitely in the car. And occasionally in the shower before Mr. B laughs at me and comes in and tells me I'm 'cute'! Which is usually NOT the label I'd like as a singer.

    I can't believe these are
    on my blog... Yuck!
  • Do you have any unusual fears or dislikes? 
I hate, hate, hate fruit squash/cordial/squash. Unfortunately, when I was a teacher, it came with the territory so I used to do an annual deal with my partner teacher. I'd deal with ANYTHING else (vomit, snot, blood, you name it) as long as he or she would sort out anything to do with squash (particularly ribena - that's the worst of all!) It always seemed like a good deal to them, but they just didn't realise quite how much distress it causes me (it's the smell, it's acrid and sticks in my throat - eurgh!)



  • Have you ever seen snow? If so, do you remember your first snow?
yep, on the central reservation!
Yes. I don't remember my first snow, but I do remember being stuck for 5 hours in static traffic in a snow drift on the motorway last winter (on the way to pick up my sister from the airport for Christmas.) It kind of lost its charm after that for me, although I did find the proliferation of snowmen built on the hard shoulder and central reservation fairly hilarious!









    bleak but somehow beautiful
  • Would you rather play in the snow or spend a day at the beach? 
Spend a day at the beach. EVERY time. In fact, even in the winter and the wind and rain, I would choose the beach. Mr B is taking me to the beach for a few days after my birthday. It will be windswept and bleak, but oh so beautiful. I also love beaches in the summer: They feel endless, just like summer's days!




  • Do you peel your banana the right way or the wrong way (meaning from the bottom or from the stem)?
I'm actually allergic to bananas so neither, but I always used to marvel at that trick where you can 'sew' a banana so when you peel it, it's already cut into bite size chunks. I never did work out how to do that, but you would earn instant kudos if you could show me that trick. I wouldn't even notice which end you started! 

Watch out over the next few days and I will continue the game of tag by setting my own 11 questions, and tagging a few of my favourite blogs. 

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Mr B's photography homework

I'm not a willing subject for any photographer, but Mr B convinced me to pose for his portraits photography homework (he's doing a course at the moment.)

These are the images I like best, not because they are of me, but because they capture something about my passion:





Oh, and the best one of all:


That's Bagel, or I suppose for this blog he should be called 'puppy ballerina' - I think this is just too cute for words! 

Sunday, 8 January 2012

A serious post about the media and body image

Way back in July, when I was still in hospital, I was invited to take part in a therapy group entitled Bodywise, 'sold' to me as an intervention that would help me to understand the impact the media has on my body image. At the time this made me really angry for lots of reasons that I won't go into. But the biggest reason this irritated me was that, as an English graduate, I pride myself on a solid grasp of, and healthy cynicism for, the media. I don't buy women's gossip magazines because it irritates me that one week they will use a photo of Victoria Beckham, labelling her emaciated; the following week they will use the same photo (usually photoshopped in some way) and call her a 'porker.' It's just *too* obvious. And too damaging if you actually believe it.

My personal understanding of eating disorders is that they aren't about body image. Not really. Not properly. They're mental illnesses that are predominantly emotional in their genesis. I'm not a teenage girl (and to be honest, even if I was a teenage girl I'd be just as insulted by the idea that a picture of a skinny model could cause me to become ill) and I don't look at models, celebrities or actors as role models unless they have done something to impress me like won a well-deserved Oscar. I'm aware that controversial images and stories of struggles (or otherwise) sell magazines, and to some extent, newspapers. So, talking to me about body image and the media generally makes me feel patronised. I think, "I'm not stupid, don't tell me things I already know!"

January 2011 Heat front cover - HOW many stories about weight and bodies?!
But January is a unique challenge. And I think I'm only just beginning to realise this. You can't open even the most academic and (small c.) conservative newspapers without being bombarded by New Year, New You rhetoric. Even the cynical approach of the most insubordinate columnist turns into panic about how to lose the post festive 'bulge'. Foods are labelled 'good' and 'bad' and indulging in these foods brands us, the reader, as either 'saints' or 'sinners.' It doesn't end with food either: January is all about restriction in some way. It's absolutely everywhere and it takes a resolve of steel not to feel that you should be taking part. Even I've resolved not to shop. And fallen off the wagon already. Therefore I'm 'bad'. It's so easy to fall into a pattern of self-loathing, and we're almost encouraged in this self-loathing. January is the cruellest month - and if that cruelty is self-directed, all the better, as it will make us better people later in the year.
Even the broadsheets have to get in on the January action! (this one's from 2007, but it pretty much the same as it is every January - Change your life!)
And this is where the media's impact is insidious. I don't believe the photos that have been photoshopped to within an inch of the celebrity's tiny frame; I know that part of being a 'celeb' is being photo ready at all times, (3 hours in the gym daily may not be healthy, but it's essential for those who rely on image in our HD culture) and I'm also aware that (shock horror!) gossip magazines are not necessarily exercises in factual journalism - quite the opposite. But what I really struggle with is the implicit suggestion from the media that a combination that these things make us good or bad people. Surely we are more than the sum of what we eat, or how much exercise we do.

Like most people, I strive to be the best person I can be. I want to be liked, I want to be kind and I want to be 'good'. So, when foods are labelled in these emotive terms, I find it so difficult. How many times a day do you hear someone say "I'm so bad, I ate 2 chocolate bars yesterday" or "I'm being good at the moment, I'll just have a salad?" - and the media feeds (excuse the pun) this loaded discourse. Why should foods be good or bad, or we saints or sinners as a result of consuming them? I have never calorie or fat counted, but I have ever-growing lists of good and bad foods in my head that have a ridiculous ability contribute to my sense of self-worth.
No wonder we're all so confused!
So, whilst I remain sceptical about gossip magazines, I think it's worth being aware of the impact of the media as a whole. Food keeps us going, it enables our brains and bodies to work (did you know your brain alone needs 500 calories a day just to function, and that's without even adding the everyday business of breathing and moving and speaking and walking - in other words living?) and yes, it is true that in our society its plentifulness leads to overindulgence and greed, but I do wish that we could be a little less emotive in our talk about food and dieting. January *is* the cruellest month, and I'm not sure I've got the answer to this conundrum, but if we could just think about food as fuel, and our bodies as machines that help us to complete the everyday task of living, perhaps we would be able to get through this difficult period without such intense self-flagellation.