The battered rucksack

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I scrubbed my nearly-30 year old rucksack with a bowl of warm soapy water whilst sitting in the garden. It had come back from my daughter’s festival weekend looking worse for wear. As I washed the mud away I noticed the other flaws – a zip that would not open, the grey and green colours now faded dappled with dots of mould, and a missing metal back-support rod.

I tried to look at it through the eyes of someone seeing it for the first time, worn out and in need of replacing, but I couldn’t. I could only see it as my old friend, which is why I was trying so hard to clean and fix it.

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Me, age 18. At Ramsgate ferry terminal, about to tour France for 3 weeks by train with my best friend Cathy.

Every time I venture into the loft to bring down this ruck-sack, it sparks joy in me. Holding it, passing it on to my daughters as they go on their adventures, is a reminder of how it came into my life. An 18th birthday present. I remember going with my Dad to choose it, ready for a month of travelling around Europe with my friend.

That’s what this rucksack signifies to me. The start of independence. I had just finished my A levels, and spent the summer after working several jobs to save up to travel. My best friend at College, who was braver than me, was keen for us to travel round Europe. As she spoke French and German I felt safe going with her. For 3 weeks we took trains around France, border hopping into Switzerland, Germany and Monaco. Our rucksacks contained everything we needed for the trip. We had an amazing time and I have vivid and fond memories of our travels.

In the years since then any time I have an appropriate opportunity, out comes the rucksack. I trusted its ability to manage any outdoor occasion, straps for a roll-mat or sleeping bag underneath, side pockets for toiletries, hidden storage in the top flaps ideal for maps or documents. A sturdy metal frame to support the shape, and a padded waist-belt to distribute the weight evenly.

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Carmen (far right), also age 18, off to her first festival weekend with my trusted rucksack 🙂

It came with me to university, and back and forth, all those weekend train journeys throughout term-time and then when going home for the holidays. Any camping opportunities and it is the first thing I think of to get out.

My daughters have taken this on youth camps and festivals, and every time I tell them that this is the rucksack that got me round Europe, and it has some tales to tell.

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Scarlett age 16 off to a youth camp in Jersey. I was keen to demonstrate how easily she could get all her camping gear in the rucksack!

It really does need throwing away now, the faded covering and mould spots I don’t mind. Even the broken zip, but the missing metal support means it’s kind of lop-sided and not suited to carrying a heavy load. It’s now in the garage awaiting being taken to the tip. I could have put it straight in the bin but that would have been too hard, so it’s kind of in a transition place, like going to a waiting room before being disposed of, just so I can get used to the idea.  Let’s hope there will be new adventures and memories which will make a new one just as special.

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Progress

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Eeeeek. So a slightly unplanned start to the New Year threw me off-balance temporarily. A romance ended, and all of a sudden all the plans I’d had in my head had gone out the window too. Once the bruises had healed, I realised I needed something to fill the void.  

 

I like to keep myself busy, I like to have projects on the go. The sad thing is, since becoming single, I fear that this busyness is a cover-up for another issue, loneliness.  

 

I am achievement driven, I like to set goals and achieve them, but I have of recent times challenged myself on the goals I am setting.  

 

I read a book, ‘Essentialism’ – which made the point that we can be busy doing many things that may be good, but if they are not ‘essential’ to our happiness they could be damaging, as they may be stopping us achieving our true potential. Some of this felt slightly uncomfortable for me. I have so many goals and things I want to achieve and I find it impossible to prioritise them. It’s like my life has so many different categories and I have goals in each of them. So of course I did some thinking. My children and my home life came out as my top priority, so every other goal has to fit around that. Now that does not mean that I put my children’s needs above mine in a detrimental way, it just means that I want to strike that all important ever so elusive balance between fulfilling my needs whilst creating a great home environment and great memories with my family. 

 

So one of my new goals that emerged out of this thinking, was that I could have a big ‘push’ on getting my house in order. Literally. I am in a big house, and for as long as I’ve been here (10 years) it’s never been completely finished – always a room or two that needs decorating, always some clutter somewhere that needs sorting, and always a sense of I’ll never quite be able to manage to get to it – with working full-time and family demands. Also there’s the slightly daunting aspect – without someone else to bounce off, with decisions to make, things to buy, things to fix that I have no idea about – it has been easy to put it all off. 

 

Getting the house ‘in order’ and looking at its best is a goal that will help me as I now work from home a lot, and one that will help my children, so we can entertain friends and have fun with each other in a comfortable environment. (Not that we don’t do those things now – but it will help my stress levels when my children announce their friends are coming over if I don’t immediately feel embarrassed about the chipped paint/worn carpet/cluttered chaos.) 

 

So even making this decision and verbalising it to anyone that would listen was an important first step. There was/is so much to do it has felt overwhelming in the past, and I felt I could only achieve it if I tackled it as a large-scale project that would take a few months – using weekends and holidays from work.  

 

It was a few weeks in to this process, I had made a good start, a few trips to the tip from emptying out a loft, the first room painted, some items sold on e-bay, when I came across a post from a fellow blogger talking about ‘Konmari‘. Konmari, it turns out, stands for Marie Kondo, who wrote the book ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A simple, effective way to banish clutter forever’. No, the title is not a joke, nor is it tongue-in-cheek. At time’s its an irritating read, but once some of the ideas get into your head they stay there. 

 

I’ll tell you about the book and my house project in my next blog. For me, this year is about tidying up but not in the physical-space sense, but in a life-sense. But of course they both go together. After my bruising start to the year I retreated to my core – what’s important to me, my children, looking after myself, working on projects to help others, things that will make a difference. Lots of reflection and introspection, not easy, still 18 months on after losing my Dad. He and I were so similar, and I’ve decided to be braver, to embrace that, and to ‘step out’ whereas I may have held back in the past. 

 

But what I take satisfaction in, is progress. Step by step, little by little. I can look at my garden, and even though it’s not quite finished, still one corner to go, I can see the progress I’ve made by myself over the last few years. From single-handedly dismantling a trampoline, recovering a neglected lawn, adding some vibrant colour. These things can not all be done at once, but one at a time. Progress in all areas of our lives is like that. The big problems can’t be fixed all at once. We just need to know where we’re going and how we want to get there.  

Mind Games and Marathons

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venicerunHaving just watched the final 10 minutes of the Nike team’s efforts to smash the 2 hour marathon barrier I reflected on my own running experience this week.

While I’m no Olympic standard athlete – and my race of choice is the half-marathon, I learnt an interesting lesson when I used a different tactic in this week’s run. For my 5th half-marathon, I decided to ditch my standard practice of listening to music through my headphones and using the rhythm of music to spur me along, instead opting to follow one of the pacers that were provided for the race.

Pacers were provided at the Milton Keynes Half Marathon, each with their target time emblazoned across their neon running vests, holding balloons aloft, so you could find them amidst the 10,000+ runners taking part that day. I spotted the 2 hours 15 pacer, a tall lady, which appealed to me. I sidled over and made contact and stood near her while we were waiting for the race to start. My usual half marathon completion time is around 2:25 so I thought following her would be a good target for me. She was actually the slowest pacer available, so it was follow Janet and try for a faster than usual time or run my own race with headphones and a questionable outcome.

We started and the usual chaos of the opening few miles with runners all around cutting in and overtaking were made steadier as I only had one thing to focus on, keeping Janet in my peripheral vision. I enjoyed not having my headphones on, as I could take in the sounds from the crowd lining those early streets cheering us, the gospel band singing as we made it into the town centre, the music blasting out under bridges. It was clear Janet was well-known and ran for one of the running clubs as there was lots of banter and encouragement from the crowd as I and others in her posse made our way around the course.

The starting pace seemed slow and it was good to know that the usual mistake of over-exertion in those opening miles wasn’t made as the pace we started at remained constant. The early miles flew by, and the first time I was aware how far we’d run we were at 7 miles already. All the time Janet had been either in front of me, to the side, or slightly behind. I stayed close to her, rather than running further away and just keeping her in my sights. For some reason it felt reassuring. I enjoyed not having to think about my pace, not to think about anything, just keeping next to Janet. If too many people got in-between Janet and I, I would work so that I could get back in close.

The feeling that I had following Janet and keeping pace, that certainty that her pace was right, and the trust that I had in her steadiness surprised me. A slight panic would come if I drifted and got more than a couple of metres behind. What could this tell me? I thought about the role models we have in our lives, and how we all need someone to aspire to. Sometimes when we can’t think, and we can’t see the wood for the trees, we need those ‘go-to’ people that can guide us, because they know us, they know our true selves and if we are panicked, lost and under stress they can be our harbour of safety, setting us back on course and pointing the way. I also thought if we don’t have these role models, these people we aspire to learn from, to draw on, we need to seek them out, and cultivate those relationships.

I compared my race so far with my previous races, with my headphones and music pumping. I would be lost in my own world, out of tune with what was going on around me, isolated. The music could help at times, a good song, a good beat, could help step up the pace, but at other times a change in song could disrupt a running rhythm that would have otherwise continued.

As we were nearing the 9 mile marker the sun was out. It was warm, a runner’s nightmare. To my surprise Janet pulled off her neon vest and said ‘Carry on ladies’ to our little group as she slowed and then stepped out of the race – I was dumbfounded! What? My pacer had gone! OK I thought – I just need to keep going, to keep the same pace. Although now I could feel how tired I was, when I hadn’t felt it before as my only focus was on Janet. I managed another mile, wondering what had happened. All of a sudden I felt very alone, the ‘team’ that had formed around Janet had dispersed, and I was running my own race. At around 10 miles I thought maybe I should try the music, and fiddled with my headphones, dropping them, picking them up, I could feel I was losing my rhythm, my focus. A couple of good songs helped, then, as the sun was beating down heavier now, and a hill loomed in front of me, I stopped running and walked. I knew I was failing myself, but I couldn’t get past the feeling of being slightly adrift, and lost, after relying on my pacer for so long.

The wry thought crossed my mind that this is like life too, we shouldn’t rely on others so much that we can’t then stand on our own two feet. There are times when we need to. There are times when we need to be the one to set the pace. I thought about times in my life when I have stood alone, and stepped out into brave, unchartered territory, and made tough life choices. I thought about my children and how I have to be a role model for them, and the hard things they have to deal with and how important it is that they can see me leading from the front. I managed to walk/run the rest of the way dispensing with the headphones and instead using the crowd cheering us on through the final couple of miles until I passed the finish line.

My final time was 2:21, which wasn’t bad. I’m not so worried about the time achieved, but more on my own personal battle – I am cross that I lost focus when my pacer stopped, and wish I could have been more resilient to have kept pace after that. I will take that with me into the next race, as there is always a next time, and always a chance to improve, and to strengthen and train more for the physical challenge, which in turn helps to build up the mental resolve, and plan for unexpected surprises on the way.

 Note: I met up with my pacer Janet afterwards, and found she had stopped due to an asthma attack. Brave lady, she took a break for 4 minutes and then carried on the race.

A colleague and mentor remembered

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A few months ago a trusted friend and colleague passed away. Some months previously at my Dad’s funeral there was a group of his former work colleagues there, all from different employers. Some of them had worked with him over 30 years ago. They told me how my Dad had helped and mentored them early in their careers and it struck me how strong these work relationships can be when we reach out and help others. That was certainly the way I felt about how Debbie had helped me over the years.

I wanted to pay tribute to her and to capture what she meant to me which is why I penned the below:

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I knew Debbie over a period of 16 years. I was in my first role in a large organisation as the Training Manager, and she was recommended to me to deliver some of our management training. Over the years that followed I began working with Debbie more and more. In a time where I was bombarded by other consultants offering me their services, I found Debbie to always offer sensible, practical solutions backed up with real experience. She never tried a ‘hard-sell’ approach with me, and certainly never touted for business, but instead she responded to my questions of ‘do you have any suggestions of how I should go about this…’ by giving her advice. If it was something I could do myself without paying for any external help, she would say so. It was this impartiality and generosity that led me to trust Debbie and her judgement implicitly over the years, making her my first go-to person whenever I was faced with a new challenge.

Very quickly we got to know each other personally, both having a child at the same age. Our catch-up phone calls extended into catch-up lunches, where we would talk for ages about family and personal things, as well as discussing our joint work projects.

On a professional level I enjoyed working with Debbie as our skills complimented each other well. She was organised and practical, and would efficiently manage all the management development programmes she ran for me over the years. I could always trust her to be prepared, organised, and calm. She was also personal and engaging, and presented and delivered effective training, as well as introducing me to a great network of other professional trainers. She had great attention to detail, and extended her business to becoming a centre for the Chartered Management Institute when I was looking for accredited solutions.

Debbie was an excellent listener, and used her listening skills to good effect as a consultant, listening to me describe the work-place issues I was trying to resolve, and she would easily pick out and identify what they key points were and suggest a way forward.

These attributes were all part of who Debbie was, and the times that we talked on a more personal level these same listening skills were employed. By now I had moved on to a new role in a larger organisation, but was still using Debbie for all of our management and leadership development training (Other providers I had tried just did not have the same attention to detail). She was growing and developing her business too, and over time our lunch meetings developed from considering solutions to work-place problems into peer to peer chats around our own career paths, as well as the usual personal and family stuff, plus now comparing notes on our recent shared interest of running (although Debbie was much more dedicated than me!)

Earlier this year I had some thoughts about my next career steps, and Debbie was the person I wanted to share these thoughts with. She had always been encouraging and instilled confidence in me. I hadn’t even realised it but all these years Debbie had been my unofficial mentor.

I have learnt so much from Debbie. She has been my role model of what a good consultant should be like, interested and empathetic, solution focused without being over-bearing, and always extremely professional, clearly stating what she would do and by when, and always meeting any commitment. I know these attributes come from who she was as a person. She was interested in others, and a genuine and warm person who had high standards.

Spending time with her was always a pleasure, and I will miss her immensely, but I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with and to know Debbie for all those years, and for all the personal support and encouragement she most generously gave to me.

The Digital Dating Survival Guide

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Dating has undergone a wholesale change in recent years. This is thanks to the arrival of the smartphone, social media, and the dating websites and apps.  The internet dating site was once seen as the uncool territory of the over 40’s. Whereas it has now been kicked into touch by the advent of the dating apps that showcase simplicity at its finest. When even my manicurist, a vibrant young thing in her 20’s, is meeting her matches on ‘Plenty of Fish’ or ‘POF’ as she calls it, I realise there is no stigma any more to using digital tools to access a potential dating pool.

The rules of this new game however, are vast, and this is intended to be an idiot’s guide for those new to the scene, highlighting some simple guidelines so that you can navigate your way through.

Think that you’re too old for tech?

For those that are wary of smartphones, social media and the digital world, the advantages can far outweigh the time needed to invest in getting up to speed. It does not have to take over your life, and you certainly don’t have to become glued to your device. It’s more about accepting that that’s how people communicate these days, and if you want to meet new people then this can open up your opportunities exponentially. So if you’re not on FB or social media, and need help getting up to speed with the protocol of messaging, have a chat with your kids….

If at first you don’t succeed…

With nearly 1 million people swiping on tinder every minute, its easy to see why the apps are working. It’s not all about tinder either, there’s a range of dating sites and apps, each appealing to slightly different demographics. So do your research, try a few, and if they don’t work for you, ditch them and move on! I came across one app called Bumble, which has the ease of use of tinder, but with one difference, only women can send the first message, meaning you won’t get inundated with messages from anyone you haven’t already identified. The main advantage of the apps over the traditional dating sites is there’s no subscription fee, unless you use the extra services, The set-up is much quicker as they use less details, and can import those from Facebook if you choose. On the traditional dating sites you can usually create a profile and search for free, but to send a message to people you have to subscribe.

This recent article gives a rundown of the latest dating sites and apps….

 It’s a numbers game

All the experts advise to date as many people as possible to help you find the ‘one’. The old style model of dating one person at a time has been replaced, it is now socially acceptable to date multiple people at once, reducing the chance of becoming emotionally invested in the ‘wrong’ person and enhancing the chances of you working out what type of person is the best match for you. Internet dating is a great way to help find your ‘pool’ of dates, something that just wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

Power of the Profile

This is the most important thing with online dating. There is an art to creating a profile, so it’s worth taking your time over. There’s lots of information online about writing a good profile, and even coming up with a profile name, so read up before you set up! One tip to focus the mind is to check out the competition and see what other males/females you are up against. Make sure you have good photos too, you can always ask a friend to take some of you, as there’s nothing worse than selfies as profile pics.

 Tips for staying safe 

The whole point of the dating sites is that they are designed to protect your anonymity until you are ready to share details and/or meet someone. You can continue messaging through the dating site even after you have met someone if you don’t want to give out your email or mobile phone number. Its strongly recommended that you use a different email address to your regular one for communicating with new dates however, and it’s a definite no-no to give out your home address to anyone whilst in the early stages of dating. In terms of meeting up for a date, take a common sense approach such as always meet in a public place, and take your own vehicle so you can leave if you want to.

Different dynamics

 Smartphones and the instant messaging culture have added a new dimension to how we interact with our dates and potential dates. It is expected to have a bit of chat via message with someone that you have first met online, so you will need to make time for that, however the 24/7 accessibility of messaging can be overwhelming, so make sure you set your own boundaries. I’ve learnt to always switch my phone off when I go to bed, so any late night messages pinging in don’t disturb me. Don’t feel you have to reply to anything straight away, just because it’s called instant messaging it doesn’t mean you have to instantly reply.

In general it’s best to move away from messaging as soon as possible, so aim to set up a time for a phone call as a good way to get to know the potential date better before you decide if you want to meet up.

A virtual relationship is not a real relationship

Beware of investing too much time on a ‘digital’ relationship without a balance of ‘real’ time spent together. Someone that may be a laugh a minute over text may not be so charismatic in person. Meeting up in person, or if a long-distance situation, having a skype call, as soon as possible, is a critical stage before you become emotionally invested.

Dating Danger zones

Beware of catfishing (someone who pretends to be someone else online). These people are very clever and will know how to play you, and if they’re after your money (or anything else), they will think nothing of investing lots of time ‘seemingly’ wanting to get to know you and feigning interest. If something doesn’t feel right it usually isn’t. Remember you are in control, you don’t owe anyone else anything, especially if someone is a ‘virtual’ contact.

Any other strange behaviour such as ‘love-bombing’ – this phrase was used chillingly in the recent case of murdered author Helen Bailey. Love-bombing can be used in any medium but lends itself well to the digital world with use of constant messaging. If you meet someone online and they seem to good to be true – they probably are. If in doubt ask a friend for a second opinion.  It may feel gratifying to receive lots of attention this way, but again common sense needs to prevail.

Pace yourself 

Just because you have access to a potential pool of dates doesn’t mean you have to become a slave to your device and spend ages messaging people you’re not really interested in.  Maybe just try out one site at a time, and realistically think about what you want to get out of the process. If you just want to meet one new person a month, then contact/respond to people accordingly. When things aren’t working out with someone and you don’t want to stay in contact with them, move on.

Have you had any experiences you want to share? Let us know!! It’s only through sharing our stories that we can help each other, and I’ve a few more things to share on this topic…

My other blogs on dating:

The seven deadly fears of a 40-something singleton…

Things I’ve learnt about dating the second time around

In Demand: the importance of post-divorce dating

Take your broken heart, make it into art

Mentoring: a formal arrangement or an informal conversation?

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While formal mentoring schemes have been shown to deliver great results, quite often we can benefit greatly from those ‘informal’ mentoring conversations. Here’s my top tips on how to maximise informal mentoring opportunities:

1. Recognise those ‘informal’ relationships. For me it took the death of someone I had worked with for 14 years to realise that they had been my ‘go to’ person in the early part of my career, my unofficial mentor that I had taken my professional questions and challenges to. Over catch-up lunches to review work projects we always spilled over into the personal aspects of our lives, including careers and problems faced, offering honest, objective and challenging advice.

 2. Cutting both ways. A reciprocal arrangement can benefit both parties. This can work informally with peers also, and I recognise my conversations with my late friend benefited her as much as they did me, as I had strengths in areas she didn’t. She would help me as a sounding board, with questions related to my role where I benefited from an external perspective, and I helped her, drawing on my more creative approach when it came to developing her marketing plan for her business.

The current fad for ‘reverse mentoring’ plays on this reciprocity, and seeks to capitalise on filling knowledge gaps that executives may have with new technology, for example, by pairing with mentees that can pass their knowledge upwards.

In general, any mentoring within the same company is going to have benefits for both parties. The mentee may receive direct assistance, but the mentor may pick up on useful information on what’s going on ‘on the ground’ in the organisation, as well as greater commitment from colleagues and a sense of fulfilment and pride.

3. Look for opportunities. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, in her book ‘Lean In’ suggests that grabbing a moment after a meeting or in the hall to ask advice from a respected and busy senior person can work. It need not be any more that a casual and quick exchange. After taking any advice, it would be appropriate for any would-be mentee to follow up to offer thanks and then to use that opportunity to ask for more guidance. Without even realising it, the senior person becomes involved and interested in the junior person’s career. The word ‘mentor’ never needs to be uttered. The relationship is more than the label.

 4. Go where there’s a real connection. There is a place for being given a mentor, as typically happens through a formal mentoring programme. However, if seeking your own, be wary of asking a virtual stranger ‘will you be my mentor?’ The strongest relationships spring out of a real and often earned connection felt by both sides. If those connections don’t exist, then networking and cultivating those relationships needs to be the priority.

After a few long conversations with a potential supplier I recognised they possessed a knowledge and experience base that was useful for me, and as we had established a good rapport, it wasn’t scary to ask if they could meet with me a couple of times to have a mentoring conversation.

5. Use your peer network. Sandberg also talks about how peers can mentor and sponsor one another: ‘Friends at the same stage of their careers may actually provide more current and useful counsel’. Taking time out of the working day to do things like go to lunch with a colleague provides a perfect way to give time for these discussions.

 6. Preparation, preparation, preparation. Whether a formal or informal conversation, preparation is key. A senior executive will respect an approach or a request for their time if the mentee has done their homework. Asking specific insightful questions of someone that has ‘been there, done that’ may yield greater results than just asking for a portion of their time to ‘pick their brains’. Your problem or needs as a mentee is not their problem, so make sure you are not asking for things you could find out on your own.

Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg

Other blogs of mine you may like:

Placement Student meets the Prime Minister

Having your cake and eating it…

 

 

Take your broken heart, make it into art

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Meryl Streep’s closing line at the Golden Globes was given to her by her friend, Princess Leia, aka the late Carrie Fisher.

It resonated with me, as many times I have wanted to take all the emotion that is in my person and to create something with it. As for art, well, I’m probably still wanting in that department.

So if I can’t create my own, I can use other people’s… and there was born the idea for my Top Ten Heartbreak playlist. Well, top 13, actually, as there were some I just couldn’t leave out. And 13 seemed quite apt. Unlucky for some, most definitely unlucky in love for me…

Music has been my best friend in recent years. Music to lift my mood and elevate me just at the right moment. I remember one difficult day hearing Nina Simone’s ‘Here comes the Sun’ come over the car radio waves and how it raised my spirits to a hopeful optimism. The full orchestral scores from ‘Friday Night is music night’ on Radio 2 have often turned a routine Friday night washing the dishes into something magical. In the same way sometimes a heart-searing ballad is just what you need to let it all out.

With that in mind, here’s a run-down of my Top 13 Heart-breakers:

1. All Cried Out – Alison Moyet – Alison captures all that pent up emotion, resentment and frustration in this perfectly executed break-up ballad that is one you can blast out in unison with.

2. You Don’t Own Me – The Blow Monkeys – there have been lots of covers of this since the original by Lesley Gore in 1963, however I love this one from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. Its Dr. Robert’s sardonic delivery and the lyric ‘don’t tell me what to do, don’t tell me what to say…’ that was a perfect fit for one of my break-ups.

3. Go Ahead and Break My Heart – Blake Shelton featuring Gwen Stefani – This song is a happy/sad song – happy as they’re telling their own love story of how they met whilst nursing broken hearts, while obviously still bruised, and daring each other to ‘go ahead and break my heart’. I love this, as a huge Gwen fan, and Blake’s country twang is endearing. A good reminder that by putting your heart out there we’re all taking a risk, right?

4. Forget You -Ceelo Green – a great tune for kitchen dancing and for getting back in the mindset that you’re ok and better off without a certain person…

5. Boys Don’t Cry – The Cure – another timeless classic with a great chorus, with lyrics capturing the stoic pretense: ‘I try and laugh about it hiding the tears in my eyes’.

6. Don’t Speak – No Doubt – Gwen again at her best, capturing real emotion and putting it into a song. Of course as a Gwen fan-girl I have to give a mention to her song ‘Used to Love you’ which if you haven’t seen the video is a must. Written at the end of her marriage to Gavin Rossdale she takes her broken heart and lays it out for all to see.

7. A New England – Kirsty MacColl – this may not be an obvious choice but I love her Englishness that comes through on the lyrics ‘I loved the words you wrote to me but that was b***** yesterday’

8. Heartbreak Hotel – Elvis Presley – we may as well get cheesy with a bit of ol’ Elvis – another good one to rock around the kitchen with.

9. Only Love Can Hurt Like This – Paloma Faith – As I’ve had mostly ‘oldies’ so far I need to put this one in for balance – one of the best heartbreak songs in recent times. She gets the emotion in on this one with her searing vocals.

10. Wicked Game – Chris Isaak- the deep melancholia of this tune and the accusatory ‘what a wicked thing to do, to make me fall in love with you’ captures something quite unique.

11. A Little Time – The Beautiful South – I love the Beautiful South as they weave clever lyrics that tell a story into upbeat ditties. This one is a classic two-part story, the guy wanting ‘a little time’, and once he’s had said time the girl realises she doesn’t want him ‘the freedom that you wanted bad, is yours for good, I hope you’re glad’.

12. Strong Enough – Sheryl Crow – I love the daring of this song ‘are you strong enough to be my man’ but also the contradiction ‘Lie to me, I promise I’ll believe’.

13.Linger – The Cranberries – I’d never thought of this as a break-up song before, but Dolores heart-felt delivery is there and every word tells a tale ‘I’m in so deep, you know I’m such a fool for you’. What a great way to let it all out, to sing along to Dolores!

 

Right, before I die

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706f43f6-2f7a-45e8-a59d-94b7eb314df6Last year whilst on a trip to Bruges looking at all the usual historic sites, I kept seeing a little poster advert. It was entitled, ‘Right, before I die’ and suggested it was a photographic exhibition. The picture on the poster of an elderly lady along with the juxtaposition of the comma in the title had caught my attention and I was keen to see where this exhibition was. Finally on the last day, after we had visited an 11th century hospital building, the last historic site that our schedule allowed, I spotted the poster at the foot of a winding staircase. My curiosity led me up the stairs into a large attic room, where this exhibit stretched before us. Along the walls of this space was a series of 20 photographs, all taken of an individual that knew they were facing impending death. Accompanying each photograph was a narrative based on interviews with each person, reflecting on their thoughts about their life, and death, and dying, showing also their own handwritten notes. Given that a couple of months prior I had found out that my own Dad, so active and vital and full of health, was too facing a terminal diagnosis, I was intrigued to read every single account from every person that stretched across this main wall.

There was a very quiet, almost reverential feeling in this room as I took in these people, their faces, looking right into my eyes. I read about their lives, their hopes and fears realised, and tried to make some sense from it all.

I learnt later that this 2 year project was created by photographer and American artist Andrew George who spent time in a hospice to capture the pictures and stories. He summed it up best with his words:

‘I believe it takes real courage to accept that everything we see as so vital and integral to our lives will vanish. Some of us will have the fortitude to go beyond the fear of our mortality and confront this unknown journey bravely.’

For me I was struck by the themes of love that came through from their words, and for some regrets, for not loving enough. One lady, Sara, said:

‘I think growing up with love makes people give love back. And you have to give love to receive love, you have to be good, without expecting anything in return. You do it because it comes from within you to do it. I like to help people who are in need – if I see a person who needs help, I will do so even if I don’t know them, because I know they have a need I don’t….and they do. I don’t know if it’s right or wrong,’

What I took from this is that all we will remember is love.

In Demand – the importance of post-divorce dating

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There is a song I like from Texas, called ‘In Demand’ – the video featuring Sharleen Spiteri and the late Alan Rickman, being chauffeur driven in a convertible through the night. He plays the role of the demonstrative lover, holding and cosseting a playful Sharleen. The lyrics tell a slightly more complicated story, the song is to her ex ‘you never had our love written in your plans’ to ‘but now I’m in demand’. The real story is about coming out of a relationship, and finding out what it’s really like to be ‘in demand’. 

 

Dating is so important post-divorce, or at the end of any long-term relationship. This is a time when confidence can be at an all-time low and may need slowly rebuilding. Loss of identity can occur whilst in a difficult relationship and dating can be a great way to recover this, a time to have fun, to rediscover your hopes and aspirations and what makes you happy to be alive. Fundamentally dating is important in helping someone believe that there can be a light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. 

 

As in real life though we soon see that things aren’t all they were quite idealised to be, the older romantic lover has to go back to his regular life, and Sharleen is left looking quite bereft. This was not meant to be a happy ever after. Experience tells us this is quite often the way, we have all heard about ‘rebound’ dating. But while it may be a cliché it is also necessary, we all need that first post-break up experience to get us back in practice, back to experiencing what it is like to feel ‘in demand’, amazingly good for one’s self-esteem and an important part of the journey to finding yourself again. 

 

My Edinburgh Festival Fringe Experience

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A Tuesday morning and Carmen my 20 year old daughter and I set off for Gatwick at 5am to catch an early flight to Edinburgh.

Everything was effortless on landing – I grabbed a street map off a stall at the airport, we jumped straight onto a tram which took us through the city centre to the last stop, where we had an easy 10 minute walk to our airbnb apartment.

With a quick turnaround we were heading into the city centre – in the sunshine – yes, sunshine, with our events for the day pre-booked using the Edfest app.

So here’s a bit about the fringe taken from the website:

‘Every year thousands of performers take to hundreds of stages all over Edinburgh to present shows for every taste.

From big names in the world of entertainment to unknown artists looking to build their careers, the festival caters for everyone and includes theatre, comedy, dance, physical theatre, circus, cabaret, children’s shows, musicals, opera, music, spoken word, exhibitions and events.

In 2015 there were 50,459 performances of 3,314 shows in 313 venues, making it the largest ever arts festival in the world.’

Our tram ride through the city had given us a glimpse – a giant ferris wheel amidst the Edinburgh spires, crowds of people creating a huge buzz.

We walked up to the Royal Mile – the epicentre of fringe activity, and found the street teeming with people and performers, mini stages dotted up the mile with ‘tasters’ of the main shows being showcased.

The first find we stumbled across were some seriously handsome guys singing accapella., They had a certain ‘je ne sais quo’ – that swag, confidence, that meant you couldn’t take your eyes off them. We took a flier and made a mental note to see them the next day. We walked literally two steps and there was yet another male accappella group – it seemed to be the thing this year.

All the while fliers were being thrust into our faces, with heart-rending pleas form actors, playwrights as to why we should see their show and why it was the best thing at the fringe – we started listening, and collecting.

Then to our first performance I had pre-booked – the picture in the advert and the promotional story caught my eye, called ‘Angel’ – the description as below:

‘Kobane, 2014: there’s a siege as fierce as Stalingrad. ISIS, having steam-rollered through Iraq, expect to take the town easily. But the citizens have found a heroine: a crackshot sniper, with 100 kills to her name. And she appears indestructible. She’s the Angel of Kobane.’

We sat in a small dark theatre, with probably 10 rows of seats, and were gripped from the outset as the one woman show took us to a different place. The story began in her childhood, and using her voice and the voice of her father, she acted out how a young girl being raised on a farm ends up becoming a crack sniper fighting ISIS. Her childhood innocence destroyed when her village is taken, she is caught and escapes. Her father taught her to use a gun, she didn’t know why at the time, but his foresight and preparation is what enables her to survive. Finally finding an all-female group of fighters, she has to face up to the realities of survival. Persuaded to fight with the speech from a comrade, ‘If you don’t fight back you facilitate. If you facilitate you collaborate’.

This superb piece of compelling writing was delivered with intensity and was a fantastic start to our fringe experience.

Our second show was of a contrasting nature, a traditionally set production of The Great Gatsby, featuring 4 actors playing all the parts. Using music and dance to convey the mood, and a lit screen at the rear of the stage where shadow silhouettes acted out the darker scenes, this was a stylish piece.

Our early start was catching up with this at this point, so we headed for the burger place to refuel. I was literally so tired I could have put my head on the table and slept, but opted instead to load up with carbs, so huge burger and sweet potato fries it was.

We went back to our airbnb for a chance to meet our hosts and a nap before we ventured out for our ‘late’ show – this one was booked on recommendation from my cousin. A cheeky piece (literally, with bottoms frequently on display), the description read thus: ‘Peter and Bambi Heaven, Australia’s most deluded dancing magicians, and they’re about to explode into Edinburgh. Imagine if David Copperfield and Claudia Schiffer were from Australia’s Gold Coast, now roll them in sequins, set them on fire and you’re almost there.’

This was comedy cabaret at its finest, but not for the faint hearted, and certainly nerve-wracking when you’re sat on the front row…. I’ll say no more on this one as I think you had to be there to get it….

Our next day (after a much-needed lie-in’) we used our app to book more shows for the day based on the fliers we’d been given the day before.

We were able to enjoy breakfast in the sunshine at a fabulous café just 5 minutes from our accommodation, and fuelled up for the day.

First off we saw ‘Playback: Impro’ – one of the free fringe shows. In a bar underneath a pub around 20 of us watched a group of 5 actors act out on the spot improvisations based on audience suggestions. Clever and funny. Carmen was first off to share an anecdote from her year in France (playing wink murder in lectures), another story involved a shark and a speedboat. The finale consisted of a combination of all the stories, coupled with the genre of religious epic to add to the hilarity.

Next up was Techtonics – one of the acapella groups we’d seen on the Royal Mile the day before. This group of 10 guys just blew us away with their spectacular vocals and effortless choreography. Old classics such as ‘I love you baby’ and ‘I saw her standing there’ were punctuated with modern hits like ‘Bang, bang’ (the Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj hit) and Sam Smith’s ‘Lay Me Down’.

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Our first sighting of ‘Techtonics’

When the good-looking lads revealed they were all students at London’s Imperial College, and that they had just won the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA’s) in the US we were even more in awe.

We came out buzzing, and then had to settle down for a sudden change in mood, watching Tennessee William’s 27 Wagons Full of Cotton. The small set allowed for an audience of around 40, and yet again we were on the front row, feet on the small stage, with actors touching distance. The set consisted of a porch swing chair, a few crates and gasoline cans. The 3 actors conveyed the oppressive humidity of 1930s Mississippi – a place where normal rules didn’t apply. As the programme summary said of the piece ‘A dysfunctional relationship centres this disturbing look at abuse and how one woman may find a silver lining in a desperate situation. This play deals with the social and economic climate of a country coming out of recession, and transcends this with the still relevant issues of mental health, domestic abuse and rape.’

Our evening slot was booked with our first comedy act of the fringe, courtesy of Loyis Gola, with his show ‘Dude, where’s my lion?’. As there were only around a dozen of us in the audience, this felt more like a laid-back chat. Loyis drew on his experience growing up in post-apartheid South Africa, and covered racism, poverty, Islamaphobia, terrorism, travel, Brexit and the Olympics in subject matter. Part-comedy, part political and social commentary, this was a great thought-provoking hour spent with a genuinely nice guy.

As it was our last evening we wandered up the Royal Mile taking in the sights, the Royal Tattoo was taking place at the Castle at the top. On the Mile you only had to walk a few paces to see a completely different act – and our highlights that night were a young lad called Morf who was beatboxing and vocal looping – basically creating a full whole sound just using a little black box to record his vocals. He took an audience request and created Bastille’s ‘Close Your Eyes’ which sounded amazing. Further along was a fire-eater. I watched him swallow a 2 foot long balloon, and then breathe flames 20 foot high in the air. I’m still wondering what happened to the balloon – it didn’t reappear…

So – to Friday. Our last day started with a breakfast of note at Café Marlayne – and then we made our only error of the whole trip – we didn’t get to our next event early enough. It was a free comedy show entitled ’10 things I hate about UKIP’. It was popular and we didn’t make it in….so we then tried ‘ Electile dysfunction’ and had the same problem. It seems political comedy is very popular….

Fortunately we ended the day on a high note – with a pre-booked comedy show by Samantha Baines (of ‘Call the Midwife’ fame) entitled ‘1 Woman, 1 Dwarf Planet and 2 Cox’. This was a heart-warming show which used her childhood curiosity about science (and fascination with Professor Brian Cox) as a back-drop for exploring the role of women in science (or lack of them – did you know more dogs than women have gone into space?). The narrative worked well and had us all hooked – serious points were made in a not-so-serious way, but left us all feeling inspired.

Between shows we wandered round the many sights, taking in the market stalls, sampling street food and enjoying the Edinburgh sunshine.

We had our own comedy moment when I spotted 2 of the guys from the Techtonics giving out fliers, including the incredibly tall handsome one that could move and sing like nothing you’ve ever seen – Carmen was doing her ‘no mum, we can’t go and ask them for a picture – that would be SO embarrassing’ routine, when a nearby actor overheard her and amplified….with ‘OH MUM YOU’RE SO EMBARRASSING…’  so everyone nearby heard – we did laugh…..

Carmen’s other comedy moment came at the airport when like the seasoned traveller she is she perched onto her pull along suitcase whilst we were in the queue. Only for it to slip out from under her so she landed flat on her backside in front of everyone…..more laughs.

So all in all an amazing couple of days – I can fully recommend the fringe to anyone – and if you want to check out Techtonics look here 😉