A Night With Roy Wood

When my sister and I were small, Mum and Dad would occasionally leave us with grandparents and go to concerts. At seven, all I knew of these events was that they were a long distance away, a singer performed songs to people there, and I was never allowed to go. That last part really stung. I remember my parents returning from a Belinda Carlisle concert, effervescent with excitement, blue tacking a large poster to our bedroom wall. The poster was pretty cool, but not as good as being there.

At last, when we were around ten years old, they took us to our very first concert. Debbie Harry. I loved Blondie! It was going to be great! Sadly, it turned out to be a huge disappointment. My sister fell asleep after the first half an hour and by the interval, much of the audience had walked out. I had lost my concert virginity and in the cold light of day, it hadn’t been worth it.

I’m pleased to say my experiences after that were generally better. I’m ruling out the Blue concert my sister dragged me to. Definitely NOT my shot of tequila! Eventually, I found my ‘thing’ – singers from the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s. My parents had the good sense to raise me on the best kinds of music from years gone by, everything from punk to rock ‘n roll to country to glam rock. These were the years where musicians were artists, writing the words and music, collaborating with each other, playing instruments, chasing the muse rather than the celebrity.

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to see some brilliant performances, but I’m always wanting more, so when I heard the exceptional Roy Wood was coming to Bournemouth, I absolutely had to go. I was through the roof excited. This is the man behind more songs than you might know, as he was not only the lead singer of Wizzard (the band who brought you ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day) and The Move, but he was also one of the founding members of the great Electric Light Orchestra (ELO). I couldn’t wait!!

The concert itself was fantastic. Roy Wood’s on-stage presence is so relaxed and natural you almost forget about the hundreds of other people in the audience – it’s more akin to being in the company of a favourite uncle. Uncle Wood. Aww! His voice is virtually unchanged since his days of ‘Flowers in the Rain’, and is perfectly supported by his gutsy backup singer and his band – four saxophonists, one drummer and a keyboard player, all of whom are immensely talented and well chosen. On that stage together they are all either having a brilliant time or they’re very drunk. Either way it was an entertaining show and a lot of fun!

Now, all through my childhood, I endured my parents’ taunts of ‘Ooh, I’ve met him!’ whenever an actor/actress/singer appeared on the screen. Okay, it wasn’t every time but it was often enough. And they hadn’t just met them. They’d dated them, played football with them, shared a pint with them. I wished I could have similar experiences. So, when the concert ended, I marched, parents in tow, to the stage door and waited. It was very cold and as time passed, a crowd gathered, then grew. After 45 minutes I was debating leaving when one of the saxophonists approached the barrier and invited Mum and me for a drink!

THIS NEVER HAPPENS TO ME!!!!!!

Well, we sat with the band at a picnic bench outside the theatre, me getting pleasantly drunk on wine (two glasses, I’m a cheap date), provided by Boysey, the aforementioned musician. They were some of the nicest guys you could hope to meet, with the filthiest sense of humour and I loved them all immediately. We talked for quite some time and when Roy Wood himself came out, they kindly made sure we got photos and his autograph before they zoomed off in the direction of Birmingham.

It was one of the best concerts I’ve been to and it was definitely one of the most fun nights out I’ve had in a long time, so thank you so much to Roy Wood, Boysey, and the rest of the lads. You’re a lovely bunch!

roy-wood

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A Night With Roy Wood

Overcoming Embarrassment

Do you embarrass easily?

I remember the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to me. When I turned 12 my parents arranged a surprise birthday sleepover with all my friends from school. It was everything a pre-teen sleepover should be, complete with ‘light as a feather, stiff as a board’, funny movies, snack foods, and secret-sharing. That last part turned out to be a big mistake. Caught up in the excitement, I told everyone about my giant crush on a boy in our class. Well, take a tip from my experiences and be careful who you tell your secrets to because by Monday afternoon the whole class was gossiping away. I was in a Home Ec class, writing some notes when said Boy Crush walked over to me, with everyone around us giggling and watching, and said ‘Do you like me?’ Now, I could have said ‘Yes, actually. Who told you?’ but what I really did was cover my flaming red cheeks under my hair, stare down at my work and mumble ‘No. Of course not.’

Fast forward a bunch of years and I know that we would never have made a good couple as we grew up because we became very different people with precious little in common. But over the next few years I would occasionally think about how different things might have been had I overcome my embarrassment and told him I liked him, especially after I discovered he had liked me too.

Embarrassment is a funny thing. When we’re young it’s part of what helps us learn right from wrong. It’s how we learn to fit in with many societal norms and grow as people, and in that sense it can be a useful part of life.

But what about those who never learn to escape the feelings of shame? Those so fearful of humiliation they do nothing that might land them in an embarrassing situation. It is an extreme but one that is more common than you might think.   And with the proliferation of cameras in everyday life, it is difficult to let your guard down in case you end up with your face splashed across everyone’s phone and computer screens. Just ask the woman who innocently took a shower at her gym and became the subject of body shaming at the fingertips of model Dani Mathers.

This fear of shame is so ingrained that last year, George at Asda conducted a study that concluded only one in fourteen women would leave the house without make up. On a logical level we know that we live in a self-obsessed society where everyone is too busy playing Angry Birds or Pokemon Go to notice our belly fat as we run or to see the dark circles under our eyes but our fear of humiliation and shame keeps us from testing this in real life.

Bruce Springsteen wrote in ‘Dancing in the Dark’ that you can’t start a fire worrying about your little world falling apart and this is something it’s important to remember. Sometimes, the most fun we can have, the most we can achieve, the best we can live our lives is only possible once you stop fearing embarrassment. On Saturday, I was at my new job and cleaning a shelf that held dozens of bird feeders. Having stacked more than twenty of them on the floor next to me, I stood on a stool and was cleaning the shelf when I knocked something onto the floor, knocking down all the feeders like so many dominoes. It made the loudest crash I’ve heard in a long time. Was I embarrassed? Oddly, no. I nearly wet myself laughing! Because after that incident in school, faced with the boy I fancied and would never go out with, I realised my embarrassment had kept me from something I wanted. I never wanted that to happen again. And now, I am sorry to say I have no shame. I’ll sing loudly and proudly in front of anyone. I don’t fear smear tests. I don’t care about looking stupid in an exercise class.

Okay, I might look like an idiot. But hey, at least I’m doing it!

Overcoming Embarrassment

As Frankie Goes To Hollywood Said…

Relax! That was my goal for the last week. If you read last week’s post you’ll remember that I have been having stomach problems, for which part of the suggested treatment was to relax. Easier said than done, since I think the last time I was truly relaxed was on holiday in Madeira in 2012. After all, who can’t feel positively serene drinking happy hour cocktails by a gorgeous pool, in the sunshine, with restaurant staff catering to your every need? Oh sure, it’s easy to feel relaxed then, but when you’re battling health problems, work, study, errant kittens and family problems, that chilled-out feeling is a little harder to find.

So, this past week I have embarked on a quest for serenity, testing out various potential relaxation methods, and I’ll tell you up front that it wasn’t always a straight-forward process…

1. READING

I’ve been an avid reader my whole life so this seemed like a sensible place to start. I grabbed the book I’m reading at the moment (‘Storyteller – The Life of Roald Dahl’ by Donald Sturrock) and curled up in my very big, very cushy, very pink armchair. Snuggling up to the cushions, feeling cosy and comfy I felt pretty good about this idea. The only struggle was balancing two kittens and a heavy book while I sprawled. After 20 minutes or so I had a little trouble keeping my eyes open. You have to be relaxed to sleep, right?! I can’t say I felt as relaxed as I had in Madeira, and I could have done with a blanket but overall, not too bad!

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Relaxation rating: 8/10

2. MEDITATION

This is something I’ve hit upon before and it’s how I coped when I got ill with the M.E and had to manage part time work. I would get home, cry for a bit, then do one of these great meditations by The Honest Guys. A lot of people, myself included, find meditation a bit ‘new age-y’ and battle against the dreadful internal chatter that makes relaxation so difficult. The great thing about these guided meditations is that there is very little you need to do except listen and follow the instructions. Breathe in……and out……and in……and out. Easy! Except sometimes that internal chatter still creeps in and for some reason, about 15 minutes in, I seem to get an almighty surge of panic. I have no idea what causes it but it’s almost every time, making it a great choice for most people but unfortunately, not so great for me.

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Relaxation rating: 6/10

3. Regular Exercise

I want to find whoever suggested this and hurt them. Badly. The basic theory behind this is that you have a lot of tension in your body and cortisol rattling around in your noggin. Exercise, especially the cardio variety, helps your body release that tension and makes your brain release pleasure-inducing endorphins, giving you that super-happy feeling. On paper it makes perfect sense, so I signed up to a trampoline aerobics class – all the exercise with added bounce. And this is where I learned a vital lesson: trampoline aerobics with a bad headache is a TERRIBLE idea. Thinking the pain might be smothered by the endorphins and being too stubborn to lose the £8 I had paid, I went along, doped up on painkillers and I gave it my all. For about 25 minutes. After that I felt like I might simultaneously pass out and throw up. I stopped, sat down for most of the remainder of the class, went home and ate a gluten free caramel custard doughnut. That doughnut was the most relaxed I felt all night.

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Relaxation rating: 3/10

4. Yoga/Pilates

Clearly, cardio was NOT the way forward so I did some research. The slow, mindful movements involved in yoga and pilates, along the with careful breathing are meant to induce a state of calm. I have tried both a number of times in the past and thoroughly enjoyed the experience so I dusted off a couple of my DVDs and gave it a whirl. I must admit that when you haven’t done these moves in a while it is definitely not relaxing. Trying to focus your breathing while also moving your spine correctly from downward dog into cobra is tough and takes too much concentration to feel at peace, but afterwards you don’t just feel a little more relaxed, you also feel empowered. And who wouldn’t find their day a little easier when you feel like the female equivalent of Bruce Willis in ‘Die Hard’?

 

Relaxation rating: 7/10

5. Keeping a Diary

This might just be one of my favourites, although the subject of the day plays a big role in whether you feel calm or incredibly tense by the time you’ve finished writing your entry. I’ve kept diaries since I was 13 years old (yes, really, and I have kept them all), but over the last year or so I’ve been a prolific procrastinator, choosing an episode of ‘The Big Bang Theory’ or an extra half an hour on The Sims 3 over writing in my diary. The one exception here is while we were in Rome in August. I wrote at least 40 pages during that one nine-day stay and it was an enjoyable experience. Rather than staring blankly at television I don’t want to be watching in the first place (there were no English channels in the apartment), I kept a detailed account of what we had done, where we had been, what we had seen and what we ate. Now, when I look back on that holiday, there will be details I couldn’t possibly remember, preserved for posterity. It’s a wonderful thing. In light of this, efforts have been made in the last week to write in my diary most days and it has helped. Not only can I write about the fabulous things (great day at work, love my new job) but I can write about the stresses and strains in my life, without depending on others to listen. A great tool for everyday life and relaxation.

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Relaxation rating: 8/10

The Outcome

Of course, the ultimate goal in all this was to become more relaxed, so the question is…do I feel more relaxed? The answer right now is no, not really. I know, I know. It’s not exactly the Disney-style happy ending everyone has come to expect but I’ve come to realise that it’s simply not that easy to turn off the stress and tension when you’ve been used to them for so long. There isn’t a cure-all that can (legally) be relied upon and it takes some practise to let things go. With that in mind, I’ll be moving forward with the ideas that worked and who knows? Maybe in a year’s time I’ll be chilled out enough to rival the Dalai Lama himself. In the meantime, if you’re feeling stressed and overburdened, why not give some of these ideas a try yourself? Your nirvana could be one guided meditation away…

Tried any of these techniques and want to share how it went? Or have any suggestions on relaxation techniques? Please feel free to share with the group in the comments below.

As Frankie Goes To Hollywood Said…

The Art of Relaxation

Recently I had an appointment with an acupuncturist. I’m not a great believer in such things but after more than a month of stomach problems I was ready to try just about anything. If licking a pig’s hairy behind be the cure for acid then find me the hiney! I sat in a bright, calming room that was delightfully absent of the airy-fairy, plinky-plonky music so beloved by alternative therapists and beauty salons, and I wondered what on Earth this woman could possibly do for me.

The first thing she did was talk to me. She asked me about my health, what I do with my time, what my relationships are like and what medication I was on. After ten minutes she summed me up, somewhat unflatteringly, as a ball of tightly-wound nervous energy that I was trying to conceal behind a facade of calm. And apparently I wasn’t doing a good job of it. At first I felt a little taken aback. I didn’t really feel that way. Did I? Then she asked me what I did to relax.

Relax!?

While I pondered this question, she issued a prescription: every day I should take some time out to do something I enjoy and find relaxing. I was distracted for a while after that with the whole needle thing so it was a day or two later before I really thought about it again. In between doing the washing, studying and prepping for my new job, I remembered I was meant to relax. But how? How?

A quick mental list of activities. I couldn’t easily go out for a walk every day. A couple of attempted sexual assaults in the area recently meant my family have all banned me from walking alone. I could get really drunk, but that’s probably not what the acupuncturist meant. Cooking and baking is great fun for me but it’s hard to feel relaxed while you’re doing the washing up. Was there nothing that relaxes me? The realisation came as a bit of a shock. Since relaxation helps reduce levels of the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol (good in small doses but a constant stream can lead to a heap of health problems), it’s something we should all be doing plenty of, every day. Yet here I was, stressing about my inability to do it!

As of this moment, I have yet to resolve this situation and I’m sure that it’s something many of you can relate to, so I have a cunning plan! Over the next week, I will be on a quest for calm. I will be testing a bunch of relaxation techniques and in next week’s post I will report back with what I tried, as well as a success rating.

If you have any suggestions in the meantime, feel free to comment below. As long as it’s legal, I’m very open to suggestions.

Until next time, serenity seekers!

The Art of Relaxation

The Problem with Perfectionism

‘My weakness, I suppose, is that I’m too much of a perfectionist’.

This is the trite response my school suggested offering as a ‘weakness’ if asked to name our biggest failing during a job interviewe. It’s the sort of answer that thinly veils a strength so that you don’t leave the interviewer with a negative memory of you (and so you don’t tell them your biggest weakness is that fifth shot of tequila on a night out). Of course, these days it’s used as an example of what you should avoid ever saying to an interviewer – an answer so clearly rehearsed that it prevents the interviewer from seeing the real candidate.

However, perfectionism is a very real thing for many people and while it can be a strength that helps you push yourself further, work harder, live better, there are those for whom the desire for perfection is a real problem. Their idea of ‘perfection’ may be so unrealistic that it takes a dangerous toll on both physical and mental health.

2010 report stated that perfectionists are more likely to suffer from conditions like post-natal depression and OCD. It can even increase your risk of early death. The impact it can have on your health is something to which I am no stranger. By 2010, when I first experienced symptoms of M.E, I was so focused on doing my job, not just well but better than anyone else could possibly do it, I was under immense stress. I maintain it is a key reason I developed the condition, and the multiple studies in recent years that conclude ‘Type A’ personalities (those who are driven, focused and perfectionists) are the most commonly affected by M.E and Fybromyalgia seem to support this.

But is it always a bad thing? After all, the desire for perfection is behind many healthy habits such as the #cleaneating movement. It is a major reason athletes work so hard – not for mere accolades but to prove they are the best. If you do exceptionally well at work and are promoted, it is likely you would not have achieved such dizzying heights had you not worked so hard. A study published earlier this year on perfectionism and its effects on flourishing found that while ‘perfectionism can undermine flourishing and stand in the way of emotional, psychological and social well-being’ (Stoeber, J and Corr, P.J, 2016), this effect was often limited to those who viewed the need for perfection as a social requirement. On the other hand, it concluded that those who see perfection as important personally ‘feel that their life is more fulfilled, purposeful and socially related’.

This finding is particularly interesting. When I was striving for perfection in the workplace, I was very aware of how other people saw me, and I distinctly recall feeling that I was not good enough. On some bizarre level, I believed that working harder would change their opinion of me (‘they don’t like me but if I’m a hard worker and do everything right, they’ll have to change their opinion’). This plan was flawed from the start; nobody likes the brown-nosing kid that always puts their hand up when the teacher asks a question, but clearly, my need for perfection here was rooted in social requirements.

These days my drive for perfection is rooted more securely in my sense of self. Much like an athlete-in-training, I look at the previous day’s diet, last week’s exercise and my recent writing attempts and try to do better next time. Except this is the interesting part: I don’t feel any better about it. I still berate myself for my failings. I still feel bitterly frustrated when I am unable to do something, or when I am late, or make a mistake. I am not alone in this. Many of my friends battle an overwhelming need for perfection (one in particular – you know who you are) and the inability to achieve it in everything, creating a constant and undue sense of failure.

At some point we will all need to learn that perfection is not always attainable, and when it isn’t then good enough MUST be good enough. We have to learn to be okay with doing our best, especially when it falls short of our screwy ideals. Maybe if we can get the hang of it we can learn to appreciate ourselves for being perfectly imperfect. It might just save our health.

 

The Problem with Perfectionism

It’s a Good News Week

We may be seeing the last rays of the summer sun and the school runs may be back but this week I am all about the good news. And it is because of this news that I delayed this week’s blog post. Why?

Let me explain.

In August, as you know, Husband and I had a holiday in Rome, filled with blissful (and large quantities of) food, drink and a large amount of sight-seeing. Although much of the enjoyment was down to the edible delights in the land of food and adventure, what really helped me was seeing how much I can really do now. I could walk for miles, I could cycle, I could appear to everyone as a perfectly normal, healthy young(ish) woman and I loved that.

Now, if you’re a friend on Facebook (hi! Thanks for reading) you’ll probably already be aware I did the Glow in the Park 6k fun run at Longleat last Saturday. If you’re not a Facebook friend (hi! Thanks for reading), here’s a pic that captures the fun a little:


This was a HUGE achievement for me. Even 6 months ago I couldn’t have imagine I’d be able to do something like this by the end of the year and okay, I didn’t run for more than about a kilometer but the point is I DID IT. Five years after my M.E diagnosis and I’m still working hard to prove I can have a great, fun-filled life. And it’s given me a hunger to do more, so my friends and I are signing up for the Run for Chocolate in February. It’s slightly less entertaining than Glow in the Park, which involved a thick covering of UV gunge, a foam party and lots of UV stuff but you do get a chocolate goody bag and a luxury hot chocolate at the end.

But there’s more good news!

When Husband and I got back from Italy, I decided maybe I was well enough to return to the world of gainful employment. This is easier said than done, since I need something that I can do part-time, leaving space and energy for working towards my degree, volunteering at the RSPCA and helping my friend run his pub quiz. Also – and this part is crucial – I need a job I can love.

And would you believe it? We’d been back less than a week when I came across something that fit perfectly. Pets Corner, close to my home, was looking for part time staff. I love this place. Not only do they have reptiles (I’ve adored snakes and lizards since I was very young), they are also the most ethical, animal-and-customer friendly pet shop in the UK. They sell high quality products and if they don’t meet their exacting standards, they don’t sell it. I fell on the application like a dying man in the desert falls on an oasis. I filled it out and then made myself forget all about it.

Roughly two weeks later I was invited for an interview, my first in almost 14 years (yikes), and I had fewer nerves on my wedding day! It was quite a fun interview in the end but afterwards, I had no idea how it had gone. Worse, there was a young lad applying for the same job…and it seemed there was nothing he didn’t know about animals. AND he was built like a quarterback. And I couldn’t even resent him because he was genuinely lovely. I found myself almost hoping he got the job!

Well, yesterday, I received an email offering me a job at Pets Corner. It’s not quite what I had gone for, as it will be five hours on Saturdays, but I don’t mind at all. It’s a foot in the door and who knows? Maybe I’ll be great and they’ll let me increase my hours at some point. I emailed back immediately to accept the position and now I’m holding my breath (figuratively because that would be stupid) to find out more about when I can start. Of course, in the meantime, while there’s radio silence I am torturing myself with thoughts that maybe they emailed me in error. Maybe they’re trying to work out how to tell me they’ve changed their minds. But that aside, I’m SO excited!

So there is this week’s good news! I just wanted to wait until I heard back about the job before I posted, so I hope you’ll forgive me.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I should start a ‘Going Back to Rome’ fund for my wages…

It’s a Good News Week

Get Reading with Readly

If you’re anything like me, you’ll know the agonies of running out of reading material at inopportune moments – hospital appointments, on a holiday or long journey, at boring parties…This is the very basis of Readly‘s founding.

Before we get into how the app works and my own opinions, let’s learn the story of Readly.

Readly Logo

Once upon a time, in the land of Sweden, there was an entrepreneur named Joel Wikell. One day, on holiday abroad, Mr Wikell found himself in the distressing position of running out of reading material. Some surprising research led him to the discovery that there was no service that offered access to multiple magazines online, in the same way Spotify offers access to music. Being a clever sort of chap, Mr Wikell thought to himself ‘We need a Spotify for magazines!’

In 2013, Readly – the first all-you-can-read magazine subscription service – launched in Sweden, to a collective sigh of relief from the reading public, and in March 2014, it hit UK shores. Right now, it operates in over 50 countries.

Here in the UK, we have female entrepreneur Ranj Begley to thank. She built the UK business from the ground up and now, with 77 publishers offering a combined total of 618 magazine titles to date, it has become the most successful magazine app in the country. Go Ranj!

Readly is now in hyper growth (fancy business term for a very steep spike in growth). They have secured partnerships with Vodafone and Channel 4, AND they launched their first ad campaign in June.

Personally, my interest was piqued when I received an email from the good people at Hearst last week, inviting me to a free trial. Hearst are the publishing team behind magazines like the über-popular Cosmopolitan magazine, along with many others. Since I had to give up Cosmopolitan, Psychologies and my other (admittedly numerous) magazine purchases when I got ill, I jumped at the chance to try the service. The normal price per month is £7.99, which is peanuts when you consider that some of the magazines available to Readly customers cost upwards of £3.99 each in the shops. If you bought them individually, it would take a massive chunk out of your book/meals out/cocktail money and we simply can’t have that.

So, for your £7.99 a month what else do you get, aside from access to over 1,600 magazines (including back issues and international titles like Gluten Fritt and Cosmopolitan Indian!)?

  • Downloadable content so you can read your magazines anywhere without needing an internet connection.
  • Access from any electronic device – iOS, Android, Windows, Kindle Fire and the web version.
  • You can share it with your family, if you’re willing, with access for up to five devices.
  • Parental controls to protect innocent eyes.
  • Unique smart search – say you want to find something specific (Ryan Gosling? Recipes using chocolate?), you can search for a keyword across all the magazine titles AND issues.
  • Access to crosswords and puzzles, including Sudoku, all playable using the app without need for a pen.

This is just some of what Readly has to offer, so it would have been rude to turn down the offer of a free trial.

The service itself is actually very easy to use. You can scroll through the hundreds of magazine titles (or head straight to ‘New Arrivals’ if there’s something new out and you know what you want), click the star to save it as a favourite or click the magazine itself to open the issue or back issues. It is unbelievably easy to work through a year’s worth of issues. I haven’t really spoken to my husband in a few days…hmm…

I found just one flaw with the service and that was with the ‘Favourites’ function. No matter how many times I remove Elle and Men’s Health from my favourites, they always reappear the next time I open the app, and occasionally, some of the magazines I added to the list previously have inexplicably vanished. However, since I know which magazines I was reading, it’s easy enough to find them using the search function. And I can overlook the reappearance of Elle and Men’s Fitness.

So, after a week, would I be willing to pay the monthly fee for Readly? Actually, yes. I’ve always liked holding my magazines in my hands, but having access to so many titles, and the ease of that access is a real draw. If I carry a magazine with me when I leave the house, I’m stuck carrying it the whole time, whereas my phone will be with me anyway. So yes! Sign me up! Give me access to Veggie and BBC Wildlife Magazine and Psychologies and then bugger off, because I’ve got a lot of reading to do.

Interested in trying reading for yourself? Follow this URL for your own free trial, then let me know what you think in the comments below.

**Please note, I have not received anything in return for this review and my opinions are my own.

Get Reading with Readly