Sunday, 1 March 2015

Three handy phrases to live your life by

As this little gem from Miss Piggy proves, it can be helpful to have a few little go-to sayings to get you through the day. 

'All things must pass' is a favourite of mine (thanks for that, George Harrison) as it comes very much in handy when on a delayed train journey, or facing a hard day or whilst chewing a bad choice of jelly bean. Of course, I like it a lot less when I'm doing something I really enjoy, like going on holiday or eating a bar of Fruit and Nut, but one must take the rough with the smooth.

'Everything will look better in the morning' is another classic (thank you mum). And it's true, except in the case of my fringe (if that were to have a phrase it would be 'Everything will look weirdly eighties in the morning and need to be rinsed under a tap'). As somebody who loves to get angry late at night about things that a) don't really matter and b) definitely cannot be resolved when everybody is so tired they can no longer see, I know that on the few occasions when I have managed to hold off mentioning them until the next day, my feelings have diminished significantly thanks to sleep. All of a sudden the washing basket no longer looks like OUR HOUSE IS ABOUT TO BE DROWNED IN PANTS! and more like p'raps we should pop a wash on, when we've got a mo.

And the third, which has scored a new high position on my list of late, is: 'There is always more to it'. Allow me to demonstrate what this means through the use of an example:

When we were at university I rang my now-husband, then early-stage, absolutely-no-idea-what-he-was-letting-himself-in-for boyfriend, for some advice about a piece of work I was doing. Due to poor phone reception in his house, he used to have to walk down the road to talk to me (a level of effort one can only muster in the early days of a relationship) but on this occasion he didn't do that, he just let the line continue to break whilst I rambled on about my work until I eventually said "Can you please just go outside, I am struggling with this essay that I have had eight weeks to write but have not started until now!" And then in a low and patient voice he said: "I dislocated my knee tonight, so I'm sorry but I can't really walk."

Like I said, there is always more to it. (And may I also recommend asking somebody how they are when you ring them, before launching into your demands).

I realise now that this statement applies to pretty much everything. When I don't hear from a friend for a while, I am quick to wonder if perhaps they've decided that they no longer want to hang out with me, and that the joke I made last time we met up wasn't funny at all, and just proved that I am a moron. Now, this could happen (my jokes are not always that well thought through although I ALWAYS laugh) but it's more likely that people are just busy trying to deal with their lives - I know I am. If I haven't replied to your email, or suggested a date to meet up or realised that just thinking about my response to a text message is not the same as actually sending one, it's because there are other things going on that are keeping me from you, not some malicious intent to be ignorant. Who has time to incorporate that into their day?

Similarly when I'm ready to accuse my other half of purposely failing to replace the milk due to some long-held desire to deprive me of calcium, or of ignoring the pile of dishes in the kitchen because he believes I 'enjoy' cleaning up all our shite, I must remember that everything is not necessarily as it seems and that I should definitely wind my ridiculous neck in. 

As always, we have to remember that most things just aren't about us. There's always more to it, and all we can do is learn to remember that, to ask how people are, and to pause before going completely barmy about something that probably has a perfectly reasonable explanation. 

If somebody could just please remind me of that the next time it's 11pm and I've noticed that there's a toilet roll that still hasn't been changed, I'd very much appreciate it...

And if you have any other little sayings like this that you find handy, I'd love to hear them!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

10 things I have taught my husband (and 11 things he has taught me)

10 things I have taught my husband

  1. The phrase 'Softly softly catchee monkey'. I don't know if you've ever been there the first time a person hears these words, but it's a very special moment.
  2. That when I say 'It would be great if you could...' (tidy the kitchen/empty the washing machine/stop eating all the chocolate and then leaving the wrapper in the cupboard to trick me into believing that there's some left) I mean - 'I'm annoyed that you haven't already...'
  3. That although having somebody say that they love you in person is excellent, from time to time, I will need to see that in writing via a greetings card. 
  4. That what's even more impressive than offering to load the dishwasher, is actually remembering to switch it on. *twitches*
  5. That watching a woman put on tights is 100% less sexy than it first appears.
  6. That house trousers - i.e. a pantalon so comfortable that you can eat a giant roast dinner and 200g of chocolate and still not feel a pinch at your waistline - are an essential belonging (and in no way a sign that you've stopped making an effort with your appearance).
  7. That attempting to rouse a woman who has fallen asleep on the sofa late at night is a task undertaken at your own risk.
  8. That going to the supermarket (or arranging for a suitable representative to deliver their produce to your door) is something that people who like eating food HAVE. TO. DO.
  9. That washing a jumper that says 'Hand-wash only' on the label at 40 degrees comes with consequences (namely me making shite and frankly terrifying jokes for the next three months about how I'm going to keep the now tiny jumper to give to the daughter that we may one day co-produce. Though, to be fair, he has never made that mistake again.)
  10. That despite my limited physical strength, I would fight anything and anyone who ever tries to hurt him (and if they happen to pop round when I've just had a nap then GOOD LUCK TO THEM).

And 11 things he has taught me...

  1. That you can grate cheese onto soup. What was my life before I knew this?
  2. That the level of rage I experience when attempting to update my iPod makes me very difficult to be around.
  3. That some people like to sit and let their food go down after dinner, rather than instantly tidying the entire kitchen - and that doing so does not mean that they do not 'respect the value of living in a clean house' but that they are full, tired, and will do it in a bit.
  4. That there is no limit to the number of rugby highlights a person can enjoy. Like, not at ALL.
  5. That really it would be better for both of us if I just went to bed when I was tired.
  6. That he is willing to lie to me about how 'truly' frightening rides are at theme parks in order to persuade me to go on them (I imagine that the people who run the automatic camera on Oblivion at Alton Towers enjoyed the moment when I found this out).
  7. That there is no more effective way to avoid an argument than simply refusing to join in and leaving the room.
  8. ....and that following a person who does this around and sighing will not alter their decision.
  9. That having an iPad means that I can watch Coronation Street in the bath. (It is possible that this lesson was 40% motivated by knowing I will enjoy my programmes in a warm setting, and 60% by the knowledge that it will free up the television for X-Box based activities).
  10. That it is possible to look at a person and wonder how on earth there was ever a time when you didn't know them. 
  11. And that I never want that time to come again.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Why you shouldn't wait until Valentine's Day to say nice things to each other

If horror films have taught us anything, it's that Friday 13th leads to nothing but trouble and, in next week's case, that trouble goes by the name of Valentine's Day.

Despite promoting many causes I support, such as flowers and greetings cards and heavy consumption of marshmallows cut into heart shapes, I'm not a massive fan of the big 14/02. I like my love a bit more subtle, a lot less red, and in no way communal. 

It's harmless of course, but also pretty unnecessary. For those without a significant other who would like their situation to be different, it's just a big pink helium filled reminder that it isn't. And for those in relationships, it means forced entry into the annual Who's More Romantic Than Who competition with the winning prize being nothing more than a few likes on Facebook and a credit card bill the size of Rome.

I have written before about how much I rate anniversaries because of the multiple excuses they give you to tell people that you like/love/can tolerate them happily for bi-annual dinner dates (delete as appropriate), and I stand by that heartfelt sentiment. 

But what's important is that what you hear from your beloved on these 'special occasions' is in keeping with the tone of the rest of your lives. In my opinion, you should apply the same rules to Valentine's Day and all of its relatives as you do to work-based appraisals - by which I mean that there shouldn't be any surprises (with the following obvious gift related exceptions: mini-breaks, puppies, food and booze goods and spa related relaxery. It's a word.)

What you hear on Valentine's Day or any similar festival should be merely the highlights of a year filled with niceness, perhaps just said over champagne or whilst wearing something velour. Don't wait for Clinton's Cards to announce that it's Official Romance Day 2015 to tell your girlfriend that you're mighty glad you met her, or to mention to your husband that despite his apparent inability to replace an empty toilet roll, you think he's the best person in the world. Say it now - right now - it's always a good time to hear that.

In my opinion, life and love are both just too damn short for fannying about. If you're holding out for a big marketing occasion to unveil that - SURPRISE - you actually are capable of expressing your feelings, then I can't help but feel that you're doing it wrong. It's also just not a cost effective way to do romance. If you need to be in the presence of champagne and oysters every time you say 'I love you' then you're going to need to take a long hard look at your finances before signing up to anything long term.

If you just see Valentine's Day as the perfect excuse to say the kind of lovely things you say every day in a slightly different font or with a velvet coated box of chocolates then why not, treat yourself. But if you're holding out for Interflora to let you know that it's the right moment to start letting your other half know that you care about them then let me save you some time - every moment is the right moment to do that, whether you're standing in a heart shaped arch made of balloons or waiting for a bus in the rain.

Because, in my experience at least, the latter will definitely happen more often, so you might as well make the most of the opportunity whilst you've got it.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Relationships: 36 questions to help prevent arguments

Ever since the 36 questions to make you 'fall in love with anyone' were published, it seems like every person on the internet has had their own go at writing what they think should be on the list.

And as much as I'd like to do the same, I'm not really qualified to help other people fall in love (unless you specifically want to fall in love with either chocolate covered raisins or Popchips, in which case, I am your woman).

But as somebody who never likes to be left out, I have written a list of my own, albeit a slightly more trivial one. These questions may not make you fall in love, but they might just save you a few arguments when you get further down the line. Here are 36 questions to ask each other during that marvellous early stage of a relationship to help make sure you're actually going to get along in the long term. You're welcome, friends.

  1. In your opinion, is it OK for somebody to leave traces of toast crumbs in a tub of butter?
  2. On a scale of 1 to packing your bags and moving out, how angry does changing the bed make you?
  3. If you use up the last of a toilet roll, whose job is it replace it?
  4. Harry Potter vs. Lord of the Rings - how enraged does that statement make you?
  5. Do you respect coasters?
  6. Towels smell better when they have been left in a wet pile on the floor than when hung up nicely on a drying rack - TRUE OR FALSE?
  7. If I were to wear extremely comfortable clothes around the house, would you immediately stop finding me sexually attractive or simply admire my enjoyment of lounging?
  8. When drunk, how amusing do you think it is to go home, make yourself a sandwich and leave grated cheese absolutely everywhere?
  9. Related: if I was already asleep when you came home from a night out, do you think I would like it if you turned on the bedroom light?
  10. Do you consider openness to skiing holidays to be a deal breaker?
  11. If I were to leave my clothes anywhere in the house except in a drawer/cupboard, in the laundry basket or on my person, how would you react?
  12. Are you available at short notice to offer life-affirming pep talks?
  13. How much value do you place on hugging, cuddling and other snuggle-based activities?
  14. Public displays of affection - embarrassing and out of the question, or romantic and a cost-effective way to stay warm?
  15. What would your response be if I were to share amusing anecdotes from our life on social media?
  16. What level of conversation do you think it's reasonable to have in a cinema?
  17. How well do you respond to feedback about your domestic abilities, such as your dishwasher loading, clothes folding and bin emptying skills?
  18. Do you think there should be a limit placed on the number of leisure baths a person has per week?
  19. Are there any specific times of year when, due to a love of sport, you are entirely unavailable for social activities?
  20. Dancing's fun - isn't it?
  21. If I'm trying to say something to you but failing to find the right words, how hard will you try to work out what I mean?
  22. How would you describe your relationship with confectionery? a) Healthy. That word was so unfamiliar to me that I had to google it. b) Moderate. Who doesn't like a little hot chocolate of a winter's night? or c) Problematic. My bloodstream is now just one big strawberry lace.
  23. How many episodes of the same soap opera do you think you could tolerate in a week?
  24. How much excitement does the word SALE cause you?
  25. What about: VALENTINE'S DAY? 
  26. What is your attitude to greetings cards?
  27. Watching repeats of Friends every day for the rest of your life - a quirky habit or an unthinkable way to spend your life?
  28. At approximately what time would you expect a 'late' night out to end?
  29. How would the sight of somebody wearing shoes on your lounge carpet make you feel?
  30. Pranks - funny things to watch on TV or something you actually like to do to humans you're supposed to love?
  31. Do you know where your house keys are right now? How frequently is the answer to that question 'no'?
  32. How necessary do you consider closing the door whilst using the toilet to be?
  33. What are you most afraid of? (Watch out for key words, such as 'commitment', 'meeting other people's parents' and 'you').
  34. Do you understand what 'hand-wash only' means?
  35. How about 'remove film lid BEFORE putting in microwave'?
  36. Do you think it'd be wise for us to see other people?

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Relationships: Why it's OK to admit that you don't like saying goodbye

My husband went away this week and I must admit that I was relieved when he'd gone.

And as much as I'd love to be writing a post about that being because I was glad to have the house to myself, that I got a week off picking pants and socks off the floor, and that I spent the entire time listening to Magic FM, watching Coronation Street and surviving on a diet of crunchy peanut butter, hot chocolate and marshmallows, I'm afraid that's not what's on the cards (although, for the record, I did enjoy all of that very much).

No, it's because I hate saying goodbye. In fact, it makes me feel sick.

I've always been the same and not just with him. When I'm with my family at Christmas and we all eventually have to go our separate ways, when my best friend comes to stay and then she has to leave to go back to a whole different city, and when sport takes over ITV and makes me miss out on my favourite soap. I really don't like separation.

Absence does make the heart grow fonder, which doesn't do anybody any harm, but it also makes us vulnerable. It makes us admit that we miss people, that we wish we could be with them more, and that we have to be able to fend for ourselves without them (which, after having assessed my food choices, you're probably questioning whether I'm capable of doing).

You think you're done with being vulnerable when the early stages of a relationship are out of the way. You've been through the awkward parts, the nervous parts, the parts where you tell an anecdote about your brother finding you so annoying that he pushed a warm poached egg into your face and wonder whether they're ever going to call again. And then you settle into it and though you obviously have to keep making an effort, you're not afraid any more, you know where you stand (which, in my case, is absolutely nowhere near a cooked breakfast).

But then when one of you goes away, all your vulnerabilities come to pay you a visit. You stop caring so much about how terrible they are at turning the lights off in rooms they're no longer in (like, SO terrible), and how much better life would be if they could please remember to take one of your Bags for Life with them to Tesco instead of relentlessly bringing extra plastic ones home (AM I RIGHT, LADIES) and you just hope very much that they will come home safely and carry on their life with you. It gives you a little perspective.

I have written a lot before about how important it is to have time apart and I stand by that - it's very good for your collective health - but the bit when one of you actually has to leave is still hard. It suddenly makes you realise that the two of you are a little unit and that when one of you goes away, that unit becomes a little lop-sided. Of course you'll be fine - as discussed last week, you've got to have enough confidence to survive as a stand-alone human - but you're still allowed to acknowledge that farewells are not your favourite thing.

Sometimes you forget what a risk you take by investing everything in another person. You don't think about the power you have to shatter each other. But it's always there and goodbyes, even short term ones, can't help but remind you.

All you can do is crack on with your life and look forward to the next time you'll be together. The next family gathering, the next spa weekend with a chum, and the next opportunity to ask your other half whether he really thinks the bathroom floor is a suitable resting place for his undergarments.

Because, in your heart of hearts, you know you'd never want to say goodbye to that.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Where does your confidence come from?

So much of our confidence is informed by evidence. 

Every success, failure, romance, heartbreak, deliciously baked cake and inexplicably burnt fish finger contributes to our perception of our right to be deemed a worthwhile human being. 

But we're an unreliable witness to our own lives. It's very hard for us to see the bigger picture - that, actually, on balance, we're doing alright. OK, we're not nailing it in the removing-a-cake-from-the-tin-without-it-breaking-in-two department, and our sewing skills leave a lot to be desired, but we have friends and they don't care. A cake is still a cake, and they would very much like to eat it.

Our confidence is boosted and knocked down relentlessly - though often unintentionally - by all the people we interact with - friends, family, colleagues, that lady at the station who sometimes says she likes my hair and sometimes doesn't. On a daily basis we can leap from thinking we're the coolest kid on the block to the world's biggest moron as many times as we go to the bathroom (which in my case is quite a lot. It's important to keep hydrated). 

What we need more than evidence is belief; belief in ourselves as people that are worthy of good things - of kind treatment, nice times, and a second chance at proving that we can remember to grease the cake tin first. We need that base level of confidence so that if somebody does question our choice of jeans or job or fails to laugh at our joke in which we hilariously replaced the word 'awkward' with 'orchid', we know we're still alright. It needn't shake us too hard.

Being in a relationship can do wonders for your confidence. Regardless of the story you told them almost knocking yourself out on the way to a McFly concert because you were just SO. EXCITED, or using an aerosol can instead of a hammer to construct a bedside table, they think you're interesting enough to sometimes justify turning off the X-Box mid-game. And that feels good (though discovering that there's actually just been a power cut feels less good).

But the risk is that, if you'd not yet managed to come to the conclusion by yourself that you were a worthwhile human being before they came along and told you so, you might forget to make sure you actually believe it. You might let yourself think that it's that person who justifies you, instead of you.

Having somebody who loves you gives you some marvellous evidence to add to the case for your confidence - I recommend that you pin it to the wall and point at it daily. And you each have a huge role to play in giving the other a much needed boost every now and then (as discussed last week in my chat about the importance of pep talks), but for that to stick, you've got to have your own firm layer of confidence to start from. Otherwise, what are you going to do when they're out? Or when you socialise without them? Or when you're telling your orchid joke for the fifteenth time and people are STILL not laughing?

Oh yes, be buoyed, be supported, be delighted by their belief in you - hell, have a bloody massive grin about it for it is the greatest thing - but be sure to make time to take a strong dose of it for yourself too.

Because otherwise, in a fight between you and a broken cake or a burnt fish finger, it's going to be them that wins. And we both know that that you deserve better than that. 

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Relationships: How to give a good pep talk

Relationships don't generally come with a job description - and that is for the best as that would be weird. 

But in some ways one would be useful, to help you prepare for the unexpected tasks that'll come your way. Participation in daily games of 'have you seen my keys/phone/wallet?' is one example, as is negotiating Sock Mountain which mysteriously forms at the end of the bed each week, despite the ready availability and easy-to-lift lid of the laundry basket.

And another is always being available to give a pep talk.

Now, if you hold the same level of contempt for sport as I do (it's high, it's very high) then you won't have paid much attention to the pep talk element of films before. It's that bit where the coach tells the sports people that they're all champions whether they win or lose but *spoiler* they always then win because that's what happens when everybody wears matching jackets and makes speeches set to music, apparently.

But when you're in a relationship - your own personal team which you very much want to do well - it's you that has to give the motivational speeches. Because, as I've said before, you're in charge of holding each other up against whatever might happen to come your way. Jobs will be hard, people will be tricky and sometimes Tesco will run out of chocolate covered raisins and you're going to have to help each other through it.

Sometimes a person is just going to come right out and ask for one - they're going to say, hey, I'm struggling and I need you to talk me down. But that will only come from somebody who knows what they need which, in my case, took about five years to learn. In the run up to such knowledge came many tantrums, throwing around of the arms and expressions of "I AM VERY UPSET AND I DON'T KNOW WHY!" My arms were constantly flailing from approx 2005 - 10, FYI.

But then there are the other kind - the more common genre - the kind that you have to force upon a person, which will come about more regularly. You will notice that the other person is in need of a boost, probably before they've realised themselves. Perhaps confidence is lacking, or they're trying to conquer an age-old demon (fear of absolutely everybody in the world thinking I'm a total dickhead is a favourite of mine), or maybe they're just overtired and need to be reminded that everything will look much better in the morning.

And in any of these cases, what you need to do, is take it upon yourself to hit that person hard with the truth. Perhaps they are being over-sensitive but you understand why, or maybe they've taken on too much and they're getting stressed out, or perhaps their view of the world is being hampered by the poor performance of some rugby team they care an unhealthy amount about. Whatever it is, you've got to break it to them; it's your duty.

And after that come the niceties, the compliments, the reminders that they are in fact a super swell person who you have gone so far as to marry/move in with/go on a date with more than once. You get to tell them that they are actually a very decent/reasonable/rational human really, they just needed to be reminded. It's really a very nice part of the job.

In fact, it's one of the best parts - not just in marriage, but in other relationships too, with friends or family - it's a privilege to know somebody well enough to be able to have a conversation that makes them feel better, to reassure them that they're not doing life wrong. Because sometimes it's just very hard to tell, isn't it.

This is just another part of relationships that nobody warns you about and that nobody sees, but that actually quietly defines you.

Thankfully the same cannot be said for discussions about Sock Mountain.