Monday, 21 July 2014

The top 7 things I learnt at Blogcademy

I spent this weekend in Shoreditch. There's a sentence I haven't written before.

Yes, I left the house and the sofa and the lure of the Coronation Street omnibus (which I am very much looking forward to devouring later) to head out to blog school - AKA The Blogcademy - to learn how to make this little website of mine better.

I started this blog because I wanted somewhere to write and be creative (and to make fun of my other half for being DREADFUL at basic domestic duties. It's a wonder it hasn't torn us apart, to be honest). And now that it's been going for a while and I've figured out how I like to write and that there are even some people out there who want to read it, it's time to turn it into a more coherent, focused blog, rather than just a place where I come to have thoughts. I've basically been treating it like the bath until now.

So I went along to hang out with 40 or so fellow bloggers and to learn from the very impressive Shauna Haider, Kat Williams (of Rock n Roll Bride fame), and Gala Darling - team Blogcademy (pictured below with me. Like my ears?)

And I learnt a lot; I mean A LOT. My hand hurts from writing so many notes, my brain hurts from spending two whole days paying attention, and my stomach hurts in advance of all the chocolate I'm inevitably going to eat whilst trying to get my blog up to scratch.

I could write a post 100 points long to share all the tips I picked up, but that would go against everything we learnt about the importance of being interesting and succinct. So instead I'll just share the top seven things I've taken away from the weekend - and then I'll have no excuse not to get cracking with putting it all in place...

1. Define your blog's purpose.
This is something I have been dodging for a long time. If you've ever had a conversation with me about what this blog is about you'll know that I am unable to express it quickly, if at all - or certainly not without flapping my arms a lot and saying "Well, it's sort of meant to be funny - HAHAHA" in the hope that you'll change the subject. This needs to change. When I actually sat down and thought about it (and strapped my arms to my sides to prevent the inevitable flapping) I decided that overall this blog is probably about relationships, what they realistically entail and laughing at and celebrating the mundane. As much as it might seem like it's just about me taking every opportunity possible to mention how much I like Pringles, there is more to it than that, I promise.

2. Always write with a very specific reader in mind.
Of course! It's so obvious! But how many of us actually do it? Not me. One of the most useful things Kat said is that your ideal reader might be you five years ago - i.e. somebody who can learn from you. In my case, five years ago, my husband and I had just moved in together and were learning how to cope with our differing habits (mine: complaining when the bin hasn't been taken out; his: relentlessly failing to take the bin out). That girl might have liked what I write. Having said that, I know that a lot of the people who read this are either at similar stages in life to me or a little further on so perhaps it's one of them I should keep in mind. My mum is also a big fan but there's a chance she's a little biased (not towards me, just towards the posts that mention her.) Either way, I think some market research is in order.
Drawings by the amazing @charlotteart (P.S I WANT those knickers)
3. People are interested in what you can do for them. Be helpful.
I'm sure you will agree I am currently nailing this one, sharing all my new found wisdom like this. But again - of course! This makes total sense, particularly when I think about my own posts which have been most popular. Relationships: Six ways to help keep things interesting remains my most read, shared and liked post of all time. And I think it might be because it was in some way useful; if only to remind people that there is somebody else out there who believes that Boots Advantage Card points are a reasonable topic of conversation. This has made me think a lot too about what we really mean by 'helpful'. You don't necessarily have to teach somebody something really profound (though I think you'll agree my suggestion about serving snacks in nice bowls was pretty out there), you can just write something which people can relate to; that enables them to see a side of themselves represented. In short, I will admit that people leaving lights switched on in rooms they're not in is annoying, so you don't have to.

4. Come up with some regular features.
You have probably noticed that I blog once a week. This has kept me going until now but I need to do more. And the way to do this, I now know, is to come up with some regular features I can share on other days of the week. I'm not quite sure what they're going to be yet (Marshmallow Monday sounds cool but what would it really be about?) but I think they're an ace idea so I am going to give it a go. Perhaps an interview with other couples to see what their lives together are really like, or an attempt at a funny take on those often ridiculous relationship Q&As you get in newspapers? I think I could have quite a lot of fun with that.

5. Your blog is your brand. Like it or not.
Whether I am really planning for this blog to make me money I don't know but this weekend taught me that either way, I need to treat it like a business with its own brand that readers immediately recognise. Sure, you might know what my face looks like thanks to the giant picture of it at the top of the page but that's not really branding, more narcissism. So I need to do some work. And I find this part the most intimidating because I am not a designer and certainly not good at building websites (this current format took me a full day and LOTS of shouting to get in place). I need to change platform and I am also considering changing the name so that people can tell sooner what this whole thing is about. I love Nothing Good Rhymes with Charlotte but what does it tell you? (other than that I'm clearly hilarious). This is probably the hardest part so I will not be rushing into anything. And anyway, won't I miss having EVERY person who reads this remind me that Scarlett rhymes with Charlotte? Actually, now I come to mention it, no I won't.

6. Be organised.
It is so nice but so daunting to come away from an event with a to-do list the length of your house. But this is of course what you want from a course you've paid money for. So now I need to get on with it. I'm going to write down my goals, make a plan and get my sh*t together. I'm even going to tidy my desk to help make this happen. If you've seen my desk (or Post We Haven't Bothered To Open In Two Years Mountain, as I like to call it) you'll know this was no small task.

7. Ask people what they think.
Unsurprisingly the people who know that they like to read are your readers - DUH. And it's time I started asking some questions - about the blog's name, about the things I write that they like, that they don't like, about whether it's actually just me that finds jokes about bins funny... A little market research will do me and this the world of good. In fact, why not start now - if you have thoughts on what is good/great/bad/missing from/outrageously offensive about this blog, please tell me. Leave a comment, send me a tweet, leave a Facebook comment, come round to my house, sit me down and tell me how it is... whichever way you like, I would love to hear from you and to use what you think to help make this better. Just remember that if you do decide to come over, you need to bring some crisps. I've got some very fancy bowls I'd love you to see.

Thank you to team Blogcademy for a great weekend and to all the lovely blogger chums I met across the two days. I most definitely feel that I got SCHOOLED. Now the hard work really begins...

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Adulthood: Five things that happen on your birthday

1. Your parents take the opportunity to remind you what you were like as a baby.
I, of course, don't remember being a baby. I could hazard a guess that I was probably a bit pink, unpredictably tearful and partial to a nap (so not that different from now) but that's all I've got. My mum, on the other hand, has all the memories anybody interested in hearing about my life as an infant could wish for. And each year on my birthday I get a new instalment, which I very much enjoy. There's the one about how I was a lovely baby (her words), and how pleased they were that I was a girl, and the surprise they felt when it took just four hours for me to be delivered (beat that, Amazon).... It's just unfortunate that I also know that I was rather prone to tantrums and that I once threw up in her bed. Though arguably that was worse for her than me.

2. People don't ask how old you are, just if this is a 'big' birthday.
You know you're truly an adult when people are cautious about asking your age in case they offend you. They didn't used to worry. Such questions would just lead to conversations about what you were legally allowed to do now that you'd reached the latest milestone. But by the time you get to 29, all your birthdays feel pretty big. And not because you're suddenly allowed to smoke or drink or gamble; but because you're far too tired and partial to the indoors to even think about doing any of it.

3. You no longer feel the need to open your presents as soon as you wake up.
When I was a child, going to sleep the night before my birthday was as impossible as it is for me to stay awake beyond 10 o'clock now. But things are different these days. It was my alarm that woke me up on Friday and it took me a good few moments to figure out what day of the week it was, let alone that it was my birthday. With age comes the knowledge that the longer you wait to open your presents, the longer it is until all the fun is over. I think it was about 9pm on Friday when I finally started doing any unwrapping. If one of my gifts hadn't been a jar of strawberry flavour mushroom sweets it would have felt like a very mature affair. (And no you CAN'T have one.)

4. The majority of your presents could be described as 'useful'
(Well, aside from the sweets. A girl's got to eat though, you know). I can't think of a birthday in the last five years when I haven't received a cardigan or a handbag. This year I got both. And a lunchbox. These are the things I need in my life now. Glitter nail varnish and hair mascara (or whatever it is kids are into these days) are all very well but are they going to enable me to carry the recommended volume of blueberries I should eat around with me each day? Do they have a pocket that will hold my Vaseline? I don't think so.

5. All you really want for your birthday is to hear from people you love.
Aside from a good book, a strong drink and the promise of a meal we don't have to cook ourselves, all we grown-ups really want for our birthday is a little correspondence; the odd bit of post that isn't a bill or a takeaway menu or yet another reminder that the local estate agent would just LOVE to sell our house if only we'd have the decency to move out. A card or a text message from a chum to wish us an enjoyable day is enough to make it almost worth adding yet another year to our total. Birthdays are an excuse to get in touch and say hello and remind somebody that you're glad that they were born, which is always nice to hear.

The only dilemma such contact presents for me is whether to tell those asking how I celebrated my birthday the truth (i.e. that I was home, in my pyjamas and drinking a smoothie by 9 o'clock) or whether to lie and say I was on the tiles until the early hours. I think that by the time they've heard about the lunchbox, they'll be able to figure that answer out for themselves.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

29 things I've learnt in 29 years

I found a grey hair.

That's weird, I thought, I've never had any blond hairs grow from the root before, I've always had to dye those in. It's a summertime miracle!

But then I looked closer and saw that both the light and my deluded brain were playing tricks on me. The strand before me was quite clearly grey.

And it's not all that surprising. On Friday of this week I will turn 29. That big serious age that comes right before 30 when I'll have to stop spending Friday nights chomping through cheese puffs and start acting like a proper person.

But thankfully my years have not been completely wasted; I have at least learnt a thing or two. So this week, with my birthday on the horizon and the dawn of my thirtieth year just around the corner (WHY GOD, WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?), I thought I would share the top 29 of those things - one for every year of my existence. Feel free to thank me for my wisdom on Friday with cake.

1. Pants-wise, there comes a time when only full knickers will do. That time is now.

2. A house without cheese is like a purse the day before payday. Empty and hopeless.

3. One should buy the amount of chocolate one intends to eat. You will not save the other half until tomorrow, you are lying.

4. If a man cannot find you attractive in a pair of pyjamas, your relationship is not going to last. He'll see you in those bad boys much more frequently than anything else.

5. Aggressive people are always much crosser with themselves than they are with you. (Though mentioning that will probably not help.)

6. Pumps are not shoes, they are outdoor slippers. If it hasn't got a strap and a solid sole, I'm not wearing it.

7. Mascara is the greatest invention of all time.

8. ...closely followed by dry shampoo.

9. My mum was right; you really shouldn't walk around whilst cleaning your teeth. That sh*t gets everywhere.

10. She also said that everything will look better in the morning. And she was right. (Except my face. After six hours crushed into a pillow, that looks MUCH worse. See points 7 and 8 for the solution).

11. The person who gets out of the shower or bath always feels much better than the person who got in (unless the hot water is broken. A quick heat test beforehand will help avoid disappointment).

12. You have rarely truly lost a pair of earrings; they are just waiting for you in a handbag you've forgotten you own.

13. Life is too short to drink 'from concentrate' fruit juice.

14. Under no circumstances should a working person be expected to go out on a Monday night.

15. Your relationship with your other half should be the easiest of all. The rest of the world will bring you plenty of drama to help keep things interesting.

16. Two-ply tissues aren't worth anybody's time or money.

17. It is never worth spending lots of money on an umbrella, sunglasses or gloves. It's like they want you to lose them.

18. However much a pair of heels are hurting your feet, don't take them off until you get home. Putting them back on again to travel will bring more pain than any human should endure.

19. If you want an adult to sleep anywhere other than their own bed, you need to make it seriously worth their while.

20. If you're lucky, your siblings will become friends who just happen to have the same parents as you (for whom the memory of your older brother pushing a poached egg into your face will always remain embarrassingly clear).

21. Regardless of the circumstances, from the moment a woman decides that she's going to bed, she is always at least half an hour from laying her head on the pillow.

22. If you have to chase somebody just to keep them in your life, it's probably not worth the effort. (Unless that person is driving an ice cream van in which case RUN!)

23. There is no greater feeling on earth than getting into a freshly changed bed with newly shaved legs. (Whether they're your own or someone else's.)

24. If you notice that a person has food or pen on their face, it is your duty to let them know.

25. Cooking rice is 100% easier if you read the instructions on the packet. Who knew?

26. The original Percy Pig sweet will always be the strongest of the franchise. The rest of his pals can jog/trot on.

27. If you can leave a job having made just two good friends, that is a major achievement.

28. A sandwich served without crisps is like a day without sunshine. Just a massive waste of everybody's time. 

29. There is never just one grey hair.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Six ways to tell that you're no longer newlyweds

1. People no longer congratulate you for getting married
The world has moved on. If people say congratulations to you now it's because they're astounded that you've managed to show up on time, or they like your choice of cardigan or because you've managed to clean your teeth without spilling any on your clothes (an achievement very much deserving of applause). And if they do congratulate you for having a spouse, it's not for marrying them in the first place, but the fact that - in spite of your passive aggressive approach to deciding whose turn it is to take the bin out - you've managed to keep hold of them for a whole nine months since.

2. You haven't been given a new piece of crockery for months 
When you first get married you can't move for plates, vases and ramekins laced with kind wishes for your future happiness from your nearest and dearest (as well as, in the latter item's case, a legitimate excuse to eat nothing but chocolate mousse until your first anniversary). But the gifts have to stop some time. How many snack bowls can one couple realistically own? And when they do, you realise that you're now going to responsible for replacing each and every one after you inevitably overfill the dishwasher and break them. It's just a matter of time.

3. Remembering your new surname is now just another piece of admin
When you first get married, you can't say your new surname without giggling. Every poor bastard who has the misfortune to serve you in a bank or a takeaway has to endure the "Oh sorry, it's just I got married recently and I can't seem to remember who I am!" banter that you think is hilarious but that they think is tedious. (Though, to be fair, you'd think the people at the takeaway would be on first name terms with me by now. I guess they must just call me: Number 6, 54 and a sticky rice.) But now that you've got used to it, your main concern is just getting people to spell it correctly. When my surname was Reeve I'd say: "It's Reeve like Superman!" And now that I'm Buxton I say: "It's Buxton like the water!" Because even though I'm married, I am still FUN.

4. The honeymoon period is over
As I said in this post, when you've been together for more than eight years, it's not realistic to expect the honeymoon period to last any longer than the honeymoon itself. You're under no illusions about what you've signed up to - he knows you consume an unhealthy level of processed cheese, you know that he consumes an unhealthy level of ball-based sport - so there are few surprises that married life can bring. And so once you've returned from the honeymoon, finished the last of the champagne and changed your name on Facebook, it's not long before you're back to discussing whether there's room for a toilet roll holder in the downstairs bathroom. (Unfortunately the answer is no but I think our marriage is strong enough to get through this.)

5. Millions of other people have got married since you did 
Despite what you might believe when you're planning the wedding and swearing you're the first person in the entire world to ask your guests to place the cards they've kindly written for you into a vintage birdcage (even though you saw the idea on Pinterest), you are not the only person to have come up with the idea of getting married. And though it might be tempting to show up at other people's weddings wearing your own gown, just to prove that it still fits, please don't. Paying to have that thing dry-cleaned twice would be madness.

6. People have even stopped asking when you're going to have children
When you first get married, people feel a strange compulsion to ask when you're going to start a family. Heaven forbid you should just enjoy the first few months of married life in front of the television with a bag of cheese puffs - no, you must start creating miniature versions of yourself, post-haste! But after a few months, they stop asking. And it's either because they realise that the inner workings of your marital affairs is actually quite a personal subject, or everybody's just got distracted by the World Cup. Either way, enjoy the silence while it lasts and get tucking into those cheesy snacks. Something tells me you've got just the bowl for them.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

When dear friends get married: Why I always cry at weddings

When you get to our age, you find yourself going to a lot of weddings.

It's how people in their late twenties/early thirties spend their weekends - we go to weddings, we go to hen and stag dos and we have conversations about how much worse our hangovers are now that we're old. We're a lot of fun.

And it's very easy to feel cynical about all these nuptials. Weddings are tiring, our feet weren't made for wearing high heels for 12 hours straight (particularly the boys), and our stomachs takes days to forgive us for eating our meals at funny times of the day.

But that stuff is all just logistics. The real reason we go to weddings is well worth getting a few blisters and a confused tummy for.

I've seen lots of my friends get married now. Real, dear, close chums with whom I've shared various periods of my life - school, university, jobs, that time when I learnt that I don't get on with Sambuca... We've grown up together, one way or another, so when one of us gets married, it feels like a big day for all of us.

There's not much else that we get to see our friends commit to that is so significant (though the pals who witnessed my 'let's wear nothing but fuchsia pink!' phase might feel differently) so being there to witness it is a real privilege.

And for me, seeing a close friend walk down the aisle to marry the person with whom they'll spend the rest of their life is enough to bring not just a tear but a flood to my eyes. While lots of people express joy through smiling, I do it by turning my face into a waterfall. I've tried not to do it, to think of all the make-up I piled on just moments before and hold it together, but I fail every time.

And if my friend getting married cries too then I might as well just call it a day and go to bed - I'm such a mess by the time they're pronounced husband and wife that you'd think I'd been watching The Notebook. Whilst newborn babies manage to behave beautifully throughout the ceremony, it is me who needs to be carried out and wiped down.

But I actually think it's a good thing. However you express pride in your friends, whether through tears, grins or high fives, it's good to show it. One of the best things about being an adult is being able to look back on the times we've spent with our chums - the nights in eating cheese, the nights out dancing to cheese - and feel utterly amazed that somehow we're suddenly grown up enough to do something as serious as getting married. The fact that one of our parents hasn't stepped in to tell us to stop showing off and calm down still amazes me.

For all the panda eyes and weeping and resulting dehydration, weddings remain one of the best ways to spend a weekend. Seeing a friend looking happier than they ever have before (with the small exception of that time the DJ played a Five vs Blue megamix on their hen do - good luck beating that, hubby!) is just about as good as it gets.

And whether you're likely to cry during the ceremony or not, I still recommend taking a packet of tissues with you to a wedding. At our age, the hangover you get the following morning is enough to make anybody sob.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Will it be cold there? Will I get a seat? And other things grown-ups think about

Your brain changes as you get older.

You think more about the weather, the next time you'll get to sit down and how much washing you need to get done, and less about about parties and hair glitter and whether you're ready to take the dance routine you made up to Picture Of You by Boyzone to a wider audience.

And I guess it's inevitable now that we're responsible for more than just our social life and our cassette collection - there are bills to pay and gardens to weed and conversations about the benefits of online grocery shopping that just have to be had.

And this change of focus affects pretty much everything - our approach to going out, to seeing friends, to deciding what type of surface we're willing to sleep on...

And even though we're not so old that we're not still presented with some of the same opportunities as there were when we were younger - there are still parties (weddings), and gigs (YouTube) and even sleepovers (cohabitation) - when they do come up, our grown-up brains will think about things that wouldn't even have occurred to us when we were younger. Allow me to compare - though please note that, as a person who was young in the nineties and early noughties, my concept of what a young person thinks about may be slightly out of date.

Scenario 1: Going to a party/pub/wedding/on holiday/on a train/leaving the house to do anything whatsoever
Young person thoughts: Will there be booze? How do I get the booze? Will he/she be there? Is this the right occasion for me to wear my skirt-trouser?
Adult thoughts: Will I be too cold? Will I be too hot? Will water be readily available? Will I get a seat? What is the toilet situation? Is there a lot of walking involved? Will there be dickheads?

Scenario 2: Selecting a new dress
Young person thoughts: Is this something Baby Spice would wear? Do my platform trainers go with it?
Adult thoughts: Does it have a pocket that will hold a tissue? Can I wear proper pants with it? Is it dry-clean only? (Because if it is, you can forget it.)

Scenario 3: Choosing a new handbag
Young person thoughts: Is it big enough to hold this inexplicably enormous ring binder I insist on owning? And this tin pencil case I've covered with my initials written in Tipp-Ex?
Adult thoughts: Does it have a good zip? What is the pocket situation? Is it so deep that I'll never be able to find anything? Is it big enough to hold an umbrella, cardigan and Tupperware box? Does it have a good handle?

Scenario 4: Somebody coming to stay at your house
Young person thoughts: Is it a boy? Does he smell? Could I beat him at Street Fighter II?
Adult thoughts: Are they clean? Do they respect bathrooms? Will they notice that I haven't dusted the television?

Scenario 5: Going away for the weekend
Young person thoughts: Will there be a TV? Can I watch Gladiators?
Adult thoughts: Will I be back earlier enough on Sunday to do my washing? Will there be dickheads?

Yes, we think very differently now.

I don't remember when things changed; when antibacterial hand wash started mattering more to me than my mobile phone, or when I first wanted to bail on a trip to the cinema on the off-chance that somebody might sniff during the film... but now that we're here there's no turning back.

But thankfully it doesn't mean we can't still have fun, we're just a little more prescriptive. If you can find us a wedding party with comfortable chairs, a steady supply of H2O, sparklingly clean toilets and with a minimal number of dickheads on the guest list, then you're in for quite the party.

And if there happens to be some Boyzone on the playlist then that's even better. I've been working on a little something I think you'll enjoy...

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Relationships: Is this a test?

People use a lot of different words to describe relationships: a journey, an adventure, a one way ticket to Smug Town... And whilst they're all true (and the weather here in Smug Town really is wonderful at this time of year), they're not the first words I would use. I would say that relationships are a test.

But, unlike school or university or learning to operate a car, this test doesn't have an end point. There's no exam or results day or dude willing to give you a licence if you just promise to start using your rear-view mirror. This test goes on indefinitely. As long as you're together, you'll be tested every minute of every day for the rest of your life. Sounds good, huh?

And though I realise that could sound like a bad thing - who wants to take A-level French every day? Non merci! In my experience, relationship tests are a lot more fun. Though now I think about it, they do involve a lot of the same modules...

1. Listening and interpretation 
The most valuable lesson you will learn is the difference between hearing what somebody has said and listening to what they meant. It's a tough one to nail though, believe me. Let's have a go now.

If I say "The bin needs changing" do I mean:
a) I love how full our bin is! Let's keep it exactly as it is.
b) Let's build Rubbish Mountain! Pass me those broken egg shells, will you?
c) It's your turn to take the bin out. Please do it immediately.

Did you get it right? I hope so because if you went for anything other than c) then life is going to involve a lot more arguments than you might want.

Let's try another one. If your husband says: "I'm at the pub. I'm just going to have one more drink and I'll be home in an hour," does he mean:
a) I'm actually already one my way home - I'm going to get back early and surprise you!
b) I'm being held here against my will. Please send help.
c) You might as well go to bed, I could be some time.

Unfortunately, the correct answer is c.

2. Speaking
There is a very close link between this module and the one above. If you want somebody to understand what it is that you're really trying to say then you need to learn how to say it. Let me give you an example.

I used to think that if my other half asked me what was wrong and I just sighed and said "Nothing" then he would be able to use telepathy to figure out what was really going on. To me it was perfectly obvious that 'nothing' meant I was irritated that he'd left the bathroom light on AGAIN, that he finished all the milk before establishing my calcium levels, and that he kept picking holes in Coronation Street story lines. Or at least I did until I realised that he thought 'nothing' meant just that. I was sat there brimming with anger and he was just carrying on with his life like nothing was wrong. If I was ever going to get my point across, I was going to have to start using actual words.

I recommend that you do the same.

3. Writing 
In this modern world, relationships are lived out on email, text message, social media... which presents a constant test of your ability to write the right thing down. It's crucial you establish ground rules to help avoid a word-based catastrophe.

What is your approach to texting each other? Do you include one kiss, three or 12? What is your standpoint on acronyms and trendy word shortenings? And greeting cards - what occasions warrant such a note? Are ready-printed poems acceptable or do you expect your own personalised verse?

If you don't work this stuff out early doors then somewhere down the line one of you is going to get in big trouble. You'll be sat innocently reading the paper on the fourth anniversary of the first time you went food shopping together and all of a sudden you'll be presented with a card with a photograph of the two of you selecting bananas on the front and you'll have nothing to offer in return. Don't be that guy.

But don't worry, the longer you're together, the easier the tests will become.

You'll learn how to ensure that an empty bin doesn't mark the start of a rubbish fuelled quarrel, and that the sound of you exhaling isn't enough to make your other half run for the door. Before you know it you'll be texting sweet nothings and writing them limericks just to celebrate the fact that it's Monday.

Just make sure you always check your spelling and grammar. Mistakes like that will lose you precious marks.