Friday, 15 May 2015

5 signs that the spark has not gone from your relationship

This piece was originally published on The Huffington Post.

1. You resist the temptation to send each other passive aggressive messages
When you get home, ready to make a complex spaghetti bolognese, featuring pancetta, mince, carrots and celery (yes, celery. Nigel Slater knows what he's talking about) and you discover that the pancetta has gone from the fridge, you resist the urge to send a message to your other half to ask "Have you eaten the last of the pancetta?!" because a) If you start sending messages like that, where will it end? Will you start sending emails saying 'What do we do when we finish a toilet roll? WE REPLACE IT'or leaving hand written limericks on the fridge that read: 'There once was a man from THIS FLAT, who ate the last Muller Crunch Corner and I'm really quite ANGRY ABOUT THAT' (I didn't say it would be a good limerick)? You really don't want to be that guy. And b) because if you didn't eat it then clearly the answer to that question is yes. 

2. You struggle to throw away dating mementos
You're rooting through your bag of an evening commute, searching for a tissue like the 29-going-on-79-year-old that you are, and you stumble across the cinema ticket from the night the pair of you went to see Still Alice (and now you realise why you're struggling to find a tissue - you used up every last one whilst watching that). And in the interests of a tidy handbag and minimal cries of "OH FOR GOODNESS SAKE, WHY CAN I NEVER FIND MY KEYS IN HERE?! THIS BAG IS LIKE A RABBIT WARREN FILLED WITH OLD PAPER!" then it should go in the bin. But you pause because that was a particularly nice evening. You wore something leopard print, as you do when you're making a real effort, he was forced to admit upon tasting your main course that it was indeed spicy enough to be deemed a real curry, and not just a 'bowl of meat and creamy sauce' like he'd assumed, and the film was outstanding. Nights like that don't come around every day of the week and you find it hard to put any evidence of it in the bin, even if it does make your handbag unmanageable.

3. Sometimes, for a treat, you sit on the same sofa
When you first start dating, not only do you insist on always sitting on the same chair, you will sit as much of yourself on top of the other person as you can. But then time starts to pass and with that comes the realisation that, actually, the most comfortable way to sit is alone, and with as much room to stretch out as possible. But sometimes, perhaps if it's somebody's birthday or a bank holiday weekend, or you've got a particularly good box of chocolates that you definitely want get your whole half of; you'll sit together on the same settee. And it'll feel like a lovely, if slightly cramped, treat.

4. If they send you a text message, you don't delete it 
...not that you ever did, of course, it's just that these days, with all the other ways in which friends and family can get in touch, text messages are generally only ever received from PPI compensation people, or companies who are absolutely determined to give you £2,000 for a car accident you haven't had (you'd remember something like that, wouldn't you?) So if you do get one from your other half, it's extra exciting. Perhaps they'll ask what you'd like for your tea, or send words of encouragement to help you through a particularly trying day, or maybe they're writing to compliment you on your excellent choice of attire, regretting that they were so caught up with trying to locate their wallet/tie/other sock this morning to say so. Either way, you're very pleased to hear from them.

5. Every now and then you wear proper clothes at home
The greatest thing about a night at home is the opportunity to spend it wearing the cosiest items of clothing you can get your hands on. It may not be the kind of attire you'd wear to a pub (unless your toilet broke in the middle of the night and you were left with no other choice than to go there) but you don't care because you're just so comfortable. You've both got your own set, and wow do you each feel smug when you're wearing them. But sometimes, when an occasion calls for it, you'll both pop on an outfit you'd be happy to be seen in outside, if only to remind each other that you do indeed own clothes that don't include an elasticated waist.

Monday, 4 May 2015

4 things that happen when your name is Charlotte

A princess has been born and her parents have called her Charlotte which, in my entirely biased view, was a very strong choice.

My mum is delighted. She's always been very proud of herself for having called me Charlotte – “You have such a good name,” she says, “I did SO WELL coming up with that,” as if she was the one to have invented the name in the first place, back in (a year that was most likely earlier than 1985 and my birth) and given it as gift to new mothers. And now that it's been selected for a new member of the royal family, well, she's couldn't be happier. 

And with my first name being thrust into the limelight, - the like of which us Charlottes have not experienced since E.B White decided to name a pig friendly spider after us - now feels like a good time to let the new addition to our crew know what it's like to be called Charlotte. In summary, if you don't mind spending an awful lot of your life saying "Yep, that's right, double T, E" then you'll be just fine. 

1. You have 300 different nicknames
Char, Chars, Charl, Chaz, Chazza, Chas 'n' Dave, Charlie Pants, Charlie Party, Charlie Brown, CharlieEEE HEEE! Charlotte's web, Chuck, Chucky, Lottie, Lotto... and that's just the ones I can remember. People see Charlotte as a loose starting point from which to create a nickname of their choice. And, as with all names, it's up to you whether you want to get in there first with your own nickname, waltzing into a party full of strangers and announcing yourself - Hey guys, I'm Charlotte, but you can call be C-Dawg -  or if you want to stick with the original and see what happens. Either way, it's a risky business.

2. You discover it sounds an awful lot like 'shut up'
You know when people are whispering in class when they shouldn't be and somebody notices that the teacher is eyeballing you and says "Ssssshut uuup!'" under their breath? Yeah, well, if your name is Charlotte, you will think that person is talking to you. Spoken at speed, those words sound exactly like our name. And as soon as people find this out, well, you might as well just change your name to Shutup - because how many school-age children are going to bother calling you Charlotte when they know you'll answer to that? 

3. Your French teacher may suggest you call yourself Charles 
I haven't been to school for some time, due to my age and responsibility for paying bills, but when I was there, language teachers liked to give each pupil their own ‘French’ name, i.e. the closest thing they could think of to your name that somebody in France might consider calling their child. In my case this should have been simple - Charlotte is of French origin after all - but if you've ever tried to say it in a French accent you'll know that it's rather tricky; it requires a lot of saliva. But Charles is a lot easier. It's basically just 'Charl' and you can throw in a raised eyebrow for added effect. It's more masculine than Charlotte - sure - but it does roll off the tongue nicely.

4. Your phone will assume your second name is Church 
Should you wish to use your phone to type about yourself in the third person, specify which type of potato you'd like to have for tea, or be so formal as to sign off with your name in a text message then, in these days of predictive messaging, your phone will assume that the next word you wish to type after 'Charlotte' will be 'Church', which, in my experience at least, is almost never the case. 

On balance, it's a very good name. A strong two syllables, a spelling most people can get their head around (except those individuals who think it starts with an S who, to be fair, do have a point) and, to top it all, there's a dessert called a Charlotte. And if it's good enough for a cake then it's most definitely good enough for me. 

Welcome to the club, little one.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Help make this blog better - 3 minute survey

The time has come for my dear blog to have a little face lift and for me to be brave and ask my readers what they think about what I write.

Firstly to all those of you who have been kind enough to drop in over the last few years - be it weekly or whenever there just happens to be nothing on the telly - I'd like to say a huge thank you. Knowing that these words bring any enjoyment to anybody beyond myself makes all the tired Sundays I've spent staring at a computer screen totally worthwhile. 

I would very much like to make the blog better, both for my wonderful existing readers, and for new ones who might be out there desperate to know where my husband's left his socks/pants/x-box controller this week but not knowing where to click to find out. This blog is also the best argument I have for being given freelance writing work, which I'm very keen to get more of, so I'd like to make it look and read better so that more of that fun will come my way.

I have devised a very short survey which I would love you to complete. It's anonymous in the interests of gathering honest opinions, so please do tell me what you really think. There are 5 questions and I estimate it will take about 3 minutes to fill in --->

Thank you very much in advance for your time.

The blog will be going offline temporarily whilst I attempt to make it beautiful. I will be writing for the Huffington Post in the meantime because heaven forbid the internet should be starved of my words.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

What it's NOT like to be in a relationship

Part 1: You have to ask for permission to go out alone

Here's a thing I don't understand: when people assume that being married or in a long term relationship means that you have to ask for the permission of the other person to go out without them.

I hear it a lot. People asking men if they need to check with 'the missus' before they can commit to plans, others wondering how somebody's husband will 'feel' if their wife spends a weekend without them. And too often you hear those in relationships confirming this opinion, making their wives out to be like prison guards, only letting them out for their allotted amount of fresh air, or suggesting that their husbands are so helpless when left alone that there's a good chance they'll panic and accidentally eat all the furniture. 

In this house we're pretty clear about what's not allowed. The rules are:

1. Don't sleep with anybody else; and
2. Don't be a dick

That's pretty much what wedding vows say, but in prettier language. (I do of course have a number of other lower level rules of my own, such as don't wear shoes in the house, don't leave crumbs everywhere, and don't leave lights on in rooms you're not in, but unfortunately these seem to be seen more as 'loose guidelines' than rules. It's hard to enforce them without being a dick which, as discussed, is against the rules).

But beyond that, the world remains free. We can both go out, we can partake in conversations with other humans, and we can be so bold as to say that we have had fun, despite not having been side by side at the time. As long as everybody is safe and well when they return, and ideally not covered in mud or having purchased a pet tarantula, there's nothing to worry about. Because, when the above mentioned rules are observed, what harm can a little apart time do? 

Perhaps he'll go the pub with a friend, drink all of the alcohols, come home and smash open a leftover Easter bunny, devour the whole thing and then come to bed having left all the downstairs lights on (and by 'perhaps' I mean 'this is what happened on Thursday'). I'll admit, it did disrupt my plans to gain a solid seven hours sleep, as well as my intention to consume said bunny myself the following day - and you can work out for yourself how I felt about the lights situation - but it made real no difference to my life or our relationship. I just had to remember to keep my voice down the next morning, and point gently in the direction of the ibuprofen.

It's important to remember that you marry someone, you don't hire them. You don't get to decide what they do and between which hours. There's certain boundaries of course (once again, see above rules) and I do recommend a joint calendar in the interests of planning your social events, but that's quite enough. No need to clock in and clock out.

People should give themselves and each other more credit. If you'd rather stay at home than socialise then just say so - or pretend to have a migraine if you're that embarrassed - but don't blame your other half for your own desire to stay in with them eating Cheetos.

There is no need to play up to this ludicrous idea that women spend their days guiding their husbands around the world like puppets (How much spare time do you think we have, exactly? With Coronation Street, maintaining my eyebrows and hating total strangers for no apparent reason, I really can't fit anything else in), and that men expect their lady friends to remain by their side at all times in case they accidentally set themselves on fire.

If that is your situation then, well, I'm very sorry to hear it and I recommend thinking about what you can do to change it, but if you're just saying it for something to say, then don't. You're breaking rule number 2 and I'm sorry but that's just not allowed.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

What keeps you awake at night?

Let me tell you a secret. 

Most of the time when I sit down to write this blog, I have absolutely no idea what I'm going to write about until I start typing.

The basis of an idea or two will be there in the back of my brain, somewhere between the part which knows whether we've got any crisps in the house and the section dedicated to begging me to PLEASE just get up earlier, but it won't be fully formed; no more than a single word scribbled on the back of a receipt followed by a question mark.

And today is just the same as any other. We sat next to some people who were clearly on a first date a couple of nights ago in a restaurant which I thought I could write about, the differences between our approaches to each other being so hilariously different. But I don't really feel like dissecting that today, perhaps another time. We also spent this weekend in the company of many excellent friends and it's filled me up with happiness and joy at all the great people that I know, but also intrigued me about how energy sapping the idea of lots of socialising can sometimes feel after a busy week, and how you forget that the reality is entirely energising - like a good gym class but without the sweating - but that's for another day. To be honest, I'm pretty knackered.

No, the thought that is holding on most strongly in my head today is the idea of just not really having a firm idea. That in itself is worth talking about.

Sometimes I find that I reach a bit of a wall. Like that feeling when you're standing in the supermarket feeling anything but hungry, trying to decide what to buy for dinner. You just wander around aimlessly, hoping that a meal will walk into your basket and solve all your problems. And that it will involve cheese. I mean, obviously you know that you want cheese.

It causes you to stop - if (hopefully) just for a short time - and wonder what will happen next to get you back on track. Perhaps all will become clear once you've had a little sleep, or a good conversation will get you the clarity that you need, or maybe just sitting down and making a good list will be the answer to all your problems. I do like a good list.

Take this blog, for example. Where is it going? When am I finally going to give it the makeover it needs? And when I do, what else will come with it? What's my big plan here? And then there's other things - I have two books in my head (yes it does hurt and yes you are funny!) and bits of them have made their way onto paper, but there's so much more to do. What's going on with them? Which one do I want to focus on? Are they definitely good ideas? How does anybody ever know the answer to that question?

Sometimes I know all of the answers to these questions and sometimes I have absolutely no idea whatsoever - it's like you're asking me for the very first time. And I'm sure it happens to everybody. People on the internet can appear so polished, so sorted. But that can't always be the case; everybody must hit a wall or two sometimes. I'm pretty sure it's not just a running thing.

I think that what helps get your focus back in these situations is knowing at your core that you want to do the thing - whatever it might be - even if you're not precisely sure how you're going to go about it. When I wake up in the middle of the night, once I'm done worrying about whether everybody I know and love is safe and well, and wondering whether I need the toilet or if I've remembered to lock the front door, it's writing that I think about. What I'm going to do next, whether that idea about first dates is good (or just evidence that I'm jealous of people who are younger than me...) and just how I can find more time to get more and more words into the right order. 

And that is more than enough to keep me going.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Life advice: How to take a compliment

If you're lucky then from time to time compliments will happen.

Somebody might say they like your dress, or your new lunchbox or your selection of scented deodorant, and it'll all be very nice for everybody involved.

But for those who have - at some stage in their lives - experienced some of the more unfortunate types of comments that can be made about a person's appearance or existence, compliments can be a hard thing to comprehend.

When you've taught yourself to be permanently on guard, ready to play verbal karate against anybody who happens to dislike your shoes or your hair or some other crucial life choice apparently open to public scrutiny, a genuine compliment can take you by surprise. And, as a result, you are constantly at risk of taking a chop at any innocent dude who tells you that they think you have good taste in nail varnish or trainer socks, because you automatically assume they're out to get you.

On my list of strengths you would see: a keen eye for pun opportunities; ability to remember everybody in the world's birthday and thus make them think that I am a stalker/identity thief; and a permanent, unfaltering openness to dessert. And on the weaknesses list, among many others, would be: extremely limited willingness to participate in sporting activities (AKA laziness), heavy dependency on crisps; and an inability to accept a compliment without making (often sh*t) jokes. It's like an illness, for which the cure is just to stop it. 

So here's how I intend to do that:

Step one: Remember that compliments are not traps
Contrary to popular school playground opinion, life is not actually a race to see who can say the nastiest thing about another person the quickest. And compliments don't just exist to lure you into a false sense of security before hitting you hard in the face with the fact that actually, no, your eye make-up doesn't look exceptionally even today, it looks like you put your mascara wand into the mouth of a dog and told it to poke you in the eye.

But this can be hard to remember, so those of us in verbal karate mode are always ready with an insult for ourselves just in case, such as these:

Hey Charlotte, I like the new fringe!
Ah yes, whatever takes the focus off my face, eh?! (*This one doesn't even work. A fringe does the precise opposite, FYI.)

Very strong handbag choice, lady! 
Oh this? It was so cheap they basically paid me to take it off the premises! 

Ooh have you caught the sun?
Nah, I think I kept my face in the oven too long when I was poking at some salmon I'd accidentally cremated last night - woops!
...whilst the other person looks on, wondering if you've either gone mad, or perhaps you just didn't hear them properly when they said they liked your hair/bag/face/voice and maybe they should write it down for you next time to be sure.

Step two: Remember that accepting a compliment doesn't make you horrendously full of yourself
People don't compliment you so that they can be outraged at your acceptance of their words. They don't say "Well, aren't you good at making a casserole!" so that they can then bitch amongst chums later about how arrogant it was of you to believe that they did indeed enjoy the way that you merged meat with vegetables and [whatever the liquid that goes into a casserole is] for their enjoyment. That would be a very strange way to live your life. Now, of course, it is possible to overdo it - don't stop them mid-sentence to call and tell your mum, or to change your twitter handle to @COOKOFTHECENTURY - but beyond that you are allowed to just believe nice words when they're said to you.

Step three: Just say thank you and carry on with your day
Yep. That's it. Simple, eh?

Learning to accept compliments - and that the whole world isn't trying to bring you down, one joke about your taste in necklaces at a time - is all part of our journey to becoming a truly confident human. Being an adult means having the freedom to - as much as possible - only spend time with people who bring us joy so, rather than constantly having to keep our arms up to fend off nastiness, we can let them rest by our sides, only raising up for a hug or a high five or take a well-earned slice of cake.

And it leaves our marvellously quick minds free for more useful activities, like playing along with Countdown or spotting opportunities to make a good pun.

Because life's far too short to miss out on too many of those.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Why you should stop giving social media so much control over your feelings

It's very easy in this world of constant digital access to other people's lives and photos and boasts to feel that every single one serves as a direct comparison to your own life:

Have you had a delicious homemade brunch today, Charlotte? Hmm, well, @someoneyouwillprobablynevermeet has. Why is your morning time consumption so inadequate? Did you even think about taking a picture of your food before you put it in your face? Where are your priorities? 

Hey, Charlotte, have YOU just landed yourself a sweet book/magazine/film/four-album deal? Hmm, well, @somedudeyoudontevenknow has. Why do you even bother conditioning your hair for this world if you're not going to take it seriously?

And this all feels so much more personal because we're having these words and pictures delivered straight to our phone and laptop screens whilst we sit at home watching old episodes of Not Going Out and eating, well, everything. It's like these people have come round to our houses to tell us directly how well things are going for them, had a scathing glance at our peeling wallpaper and overflowing bin and then danced off down the street with their 300,000 followers trailing behind them. I mean, who does that?

But, of course, that isn't what's happening. Firstly, you opened the door. In fact, you invited them round to stay for as long as you've been following them which, if you joined Facebook back in 2005 like all the cool kids, is a chuffing long time. And you know that you could have them off your screen in a micro-second if you wanted to but that isn't the point. It's you that you need to feel OK with - your life, your achievements, your consumption of photograph-worthy brunches and cocktails - and then none of this will touch you. You'll just give 'em a little 'like' or a 'favourite' and be on your way, rather than adding them to your personal file called 'Reasons to believe I am fundamentally failing at life' which, if nothing else, is a very long name for a file.

It's easy to forget that people rarely use social media to acknowledge the baby steps it takes to make real progress towards realising your goals. You don't get many updates that say "Sent a few emails out last week. Got a couple of replies saying no and one maybe, so we'll see what happens" because that would be a) pretty boring b) who is going to retweet that? and c) nobody likes to admit just how much hard work goes into getting things done.

The loyal readers among you (Hi mum!) may remember that in January I wrote this post about my intentions to spend 2015 being much less afraid. And it is this very thought process that made me realise that I haven't been doing so well at it. But now I think I know why.

Because I forgot that other people's lives and successes have no bearing whatsoever on our own. And because I forgot that if you want to do something difficult - like get your teeth fixed (no, I still haven't been to the dentist), or get more writing work, or attempt to do anything else which means making you vulnerable - it is going to feel a bit scary but that can't be a reason not to do it. In fact, it should be all the more reason to go and bloody give it a try - because imagine how good it'll feel when it turns out to be completely worth your while.

And if nothing else, any success you do get will make for some excellent social media posts. But remember not to be fooled - it'll only ever be half the story.