Oh Dear What Can the Matter Be? One Middle-Aged Lady is Stuck in the Lavatory

looI’m  not sure if the original version  of the ditty is 3 ladies got stuck in the lavatory or whether it was 7  – either way, I think I know why there were so many of them in there. As someone who has been stuck in the lavatory on at least 2 occasions, I have some experience.  My tale isn’t especially comic, but it does make for a mildly amusing post.

The first time was when I was at college.  It was the day of my final exams.  I took the sensible precautionary measure of going to the loo beforehand.  Unfortunately, it was at that precise moment that the door lock decided to fail and I couldn’t get out!  There were various attempts by friends to free me from the outside, but to no avail. My friends, understandably, didn’t want to wait about and get a late mark against them, but given that this wasn’t the era of mobile phones, they did agree to alert the caretaker.  I’d like to say I spent the time calmly revising, but I spent most of the time stood on the loo seat panicking about how I would get out and how late I was going to be for my exams. I considered various escape ploys, including getting through the tiny window and shimmying down the drainpipe to safety, but I didn’t rate my chances.

Thankfully the caretaker arrived swiftly.  I wasn’t standing on the toilet seat at that point, but he advised me to do so, and get back as far as I could.  In a space approximately 6 foot by 4 foot, that is not a long way back.  No harm came to me as he broke through the door to release me.  I daren’t tell him that the stress made me feel like I needed the loo again, and there was certainly no way I was going to risk it!

I’ve had a variety of near misses since then: stuck locks, difficult to shove bolts, stuck doors etc., but the second time I was locked in a toilet for real was last October, whilst on holiday in Lanzarotte.  I was on a coach trip of the island and we’d stopped at the aloe vera farm.  Not being sure how far we were from our next stop, I decided a visit to the loo might be a good option.  This particular convenience was situated about 150 metres away from the shop where the tour guide, staff and other visitors were congregated.  It was essentially a concrete hut at the end of a field.

Initially I was disconcerted that there appeared to be no bolt or visible lock, but it became clear that there was a Yale lock, with the key hung by the mirror, with directions for use.  The instructions weren’t especially complicated: ‘please use the key, not the handle to exit.  Turn key to the left.’, or some such wording. Suitably relieved, I tried to exit the building.  Try being the operative word.  The key turned to the left, but the door failed to open.  I tried it several times, with increasing concern.  I tried turning it to the right, nothing doing.  The key actually managed to turn 360 degrees without the door lock opening at all.  I tried pushing the door, turning the knob, in fact anything I could think of to secure my release.  When all of the options failed I tried panic.  It didn’t really help.  I smashed my knuckles banging on the door and was losing my voice shouting. It’s surprising how tiring panicking is in 26 degrees of heat.

I stopped banging the door and assessed the window option.  Why is it that toilet windows are always small and high and difficult to get to?  With one foot in the sink and a knee resting on the tiny ledge I decided it wasn’t a viable option, so I shouted from the opening instead.  Given it was facing a field of aloe vera and the mountains, it was a fairly futile attempt.

I did have a mobile phone on me this time, but who was I going to call?  I was on the trip alone and my sister was sunning herself on the resort beach.  I did call her mobile, but knew it would be futile as she doesn’t take her phone to the beach with her.  What’s the number for emergency services or directory enquiries in the Canary Islands?  I had no idea.  I was getting hot and thirsty by now.  I’d been in there for at least 30 minutes, although it seemed like a lot longer.  It was at this point of desperation that I noticed a large rock at the base of the sink, possibly for propping open the door.  I decided I could employ it as a battering tool to try and break the door down.  So, shouting and banging I tried once more to effect my escape.  It was at that point I heard the voices:  ‘We’re going to get you out’.  Boy was I relieved (no pun intended).

The shop staff had been informed I was missing by the tour guide.  Not that the tour guide had notice I was missing!  A passenger on the coach alerted the tour guide to the space where I should have been and she got the coach driver to come back for me.  It still took them a while to come and check the toilet, but eventually I was freed.  The news that the toilets were being replaced was of little consolation.  I was hot, emotional, and voiceless.  I survived the experience, obviously, and live to tell you this cautionary tale.  So, whenever you’re out an about try and make sure you take at least one friend to the loo with you .  It could save you a lot of pain. Literally.

Any (clean) long loo tales welcome!

 

A bit of Friday Excitement

 

wp_20170203_003I get excited whenever Friday comes around.  Not, as you might expect, because it’s the weekend.  I don’t dislike my week days and see each new day as an opportunity.  No, it’s because on a Friday I get to drink tea.  Loose leaf Assam Tippy Golden Pekoe to be precise, although it’s not the type of tea that’s important.  It’s simply that after a week of abstinence I get to drink something I love.  That’s the cause for the celebration.

When I had to give up caffeine and alcohol as a result of a bladder disorder, I was gutted.  How would I manage to live without these ‘necessities’?  Well, it turns out you can.  I can. Human beings have an amazing capacity to adapt to most things, with both positive and negative results.  As it turns out, I don’t miss alcohol at all (well, maybe the odd glass of red…) but I do miss tea.  A lot.  Given that caffeine is one of the substances that causes inflammation in my bladder (which lacks a proper lining) I’m not supposed to drink it at all, but I find that one small cup once a week is fine if I don’t already have a flare up.  So, Friday is the day.  I have an engagement with the teapot around 3pm and I do get very excited about it!

It occurs to me that we would all appreciate a lot of things a whole heap more if we weren’t swamped with them day in day out.  There’s an article in the news today about a shortage of Iceberg lettuce in the shops.  This made me laugh and despair in equal measure.  Salad belongs with summer, and if we ate more seasonally we’d appreciate our food, especially fruit and vegetables, a whole lot more.  That ripe strawberry, and many other food stuffs, become delicacies when eaten during their short periods of availability; think wild garlic, asparagus, artichokes, soft fruit.

Whilst you may conclude that my life must be lacking in excitement if I can get worked up about a cup of tea, I might equally speculate that we would value things more, not only food, if we weren’t able to get anything we wanted any hour of the day or night.  At some point in the not too distant future, that theory may well be tested.

In the meantime, happy Friday, and cheers!

Some New Nails – and a New Perspective

nails-2

Before you switch off, presuming that this is some girly blog about beauty products, stop right there.  Check out the rest of my blog.  I’m about as likely to write about makeup as I am about horror movies.  I have nothing against either, per se, they’re just not my ‘thing’.  Boys may still want to look away now though.

I had my nails done before Christmas to see how I would get on with them.  I’m getting married in June and wanted to trial them before having them done for the big day. It’s probably the only time in your life that your hands have photographs taken of them. (Although my hands have appeared in a DSS training video!)

My history with nail art is a tempestuous one.  I’ve always been hopeless with nail varnish.  Apart from the fact that my nails shred at will, if they are ever long enough to paint, the finished article lasts approximately 5 minutes.  I get impatient waiting for them to dry and you can guarantee by the time they’re done they’re ruined in short order: smudged and chipped by having my hands variously in pastry, dough, mud, paint or water. My one dalliance with false nails was equally disastrous.  Within a few minutes of having them on I’d laddered my stockings and dropped 2 of them down the loo.  I managed to replace them and continued on my evening out without further incident.  When I got home I had to take them all off.  I couldn’t work out how to remove my contact lenses with them on, and after 3 attempts and multiple pokes in the eye, I gave up.  I’ve not tried them since, until – rewind to the start of the paragraph – December.  Amazingly the gel nails looked OK on my ‘not long’ nails and they lasted really well.  My nails grew.  No chips, no smudges, no cracks.  I was impressed.

The more interesting thing about having my nails done was that it made me think about looking after myself.  It made me put some time aside to care.  I can scrub up with the best of them, but have a lackadaisical approach to my appearance – depends on my mood and energy levels.  You can guarantee I’m clean, for the most part, but very rarely styled and made-up.  I wear what takes my fancy – comfort is paramount – combined with ease of going to the loo (I have to go a lot). I’m allergic to most make up, especially mascara, and rarely bother to wear the organic versions I have.  It always seems like a waste of time, spending hours on hair and make-up and clothes selection.  I mean who’s going to see me?  Who’s going to care?  Well, I am going to.  A little bit more anyway.  Not because it matters, not because I care a great deal about how I present myself to the world, but because investing time in self-care is not really wasted.  I pay a great deal of attention to the food I eat and try and exercise when I can, and perhaps this is an extension of that.  I’m not saying you need to have painted nails and coiffured locks to look after yourself, not at all, simply that for me it’s been a bit of a revelation.  When you lack energy and suffer from health issues it’s easy to give up caring about your appearance and that can have knock-on effects.  Having my nails painted isn’t going to make me better, but as an occasional indulgence, it might make me feel a little bit better about myself.

If you spend so much time working and looking after your family that you don’t have much ‘you time’ getting you hair or nails done, or having a massage, may be just the thing to put something back into the well-being bank account.  You may not be suffering from self-neglect, which is a completely different proposition, but like me, maybe an occasional dose of self-indulgence will do you the world of good.  Although having my nails done will never really be my ‘thing’ it’s been a useful reminder that I owe it to myself to care a bit more.

A month of un-doing

hppy-shopperSo I’m a month in, give or take a day or two and you want to know how it’s going, this ‘not buying anything’ thing, don’t you?  OK, so maybe it wasn’t top of your need to know list for today, but it’s risen to the top of my need to ‘fess list.  I could say it’s going really well.  It wouldn’t be a lie, maybe just not the whole truth.

Since the start of the year I’ve been stuck in bed a few days between colds and migraines, and I’ve only managed to get to anywhere with shops a few times. My shopping opportunities have been limited.  My resources are limited too because I’m not earning any money at the moment: automatic BIG restriction.  It’s like giving up chocolate for Lent when you don’t even like it – not much of a sacrifice.  The thing is, deciding not to buy anything new has made me more aware of how much I actually buy, full stop.  My plastic gets hit routinely, not for anything superfluous or extravagant, simply ‘everyday stuff’: the groceries, the toiletries, the consumables, those odd bits and pieces which you actually ‘need’. I ran out of parcel tape and genuinely couldn’t think of how else to get packages wrapped and sent.  Perhaps I lack imagination, but I’m probably like lots of other people, trying to do the best they can; caring and failing.

I avoided the sales.  Anyone who sent me discount emails and tried to convince me that I really needed new clothes or kitchenware or books, or whatever, has been solemnly unsubscribed from.  Despite the bombardment, I did not succumb.  It’s amazing how much of an offensive there actually is to prise our hard-earned cash from us.

I suppose a lot of us are immune by now, but why subject yourself to such attacks on your good intentions.  As everyone who is addicted to something knows, you need to remove yourself from the environment where you’re likely to encounter temptation, and whilst that might not be wholly possible 100% of the time it is do-able a lot of the time.

I’ve not been able to avoid being on line.  It’s where I hang out with people.  It’s where I engage when I’m stuck in my ‘remote and isolated hamlet’.  So I run the gauntlet of Facebook advertising and pop-ups and articles that pretend to be news, but are actually trying to sell you something.  I’m relatively savvy, although not entirely immune. We were going to make our own favours for the wedding.  Really.  It was all planned.  And then a sneaky little link came from I-know-not-where and hooked me.  So now we’ve bought our favours instead.  It’s all very kosher – a donation to a charity we believe in, a gift that can do good from the purchaser to the recipient – but still unplanned, and in many ways unnecessary. (If you think I’m being obscure here, you’re right. I don’t want any guests to know what we’re planning!)  I’m not beating myself up.  We have a budget for the wedding and I’m not including it in my ‘buy nothing new’ challenge as I don’t need any additional headaches.  As I’ve said before, lots of things are being done by friends and many would-be purchases have been avoided by borrowing, buying second-hand and making.  My point is that I’ve purchased something I didn’t have to.  Nice as it is, beneficial as it may be, it was something I didn’t need to buy.  And that’s how it happens I suppose.  We know what advertisers are like and we brush them off with a laugh, but then something good and worthy and in-line with our values pops up and we’re suckered in.

No, I’m not being overly hard on myself, but neither am I patting myself on the back.  I could definitely ‘do better’.  I might not ‘technically’ be buying anything new – the book I needed for my course was definitely second-hand – but I still have a ‘buying stuff’ wire in my head somewhere that won’t unplug.  I didn’t think this challenge would be easy, a walk-in-the-park of challenges, but I didn’t expect it to tax me greatly, given my disposition and ethics.  Taxing me is exactly what it is doing, however, as I’m thinking more about things, questioning motive, need, intent; questioning myself. I suppose that’s a good thing.  I’ve re-read my original blog, which outlined the whys and wherefores of this challenge and even after a month I think it sounds rather sanctimonious.  That’s life I suppose.  We do literally live and learn.

I’m sure there will be lots more insights over the next 11 months and I will endeavour to share some of them without being censorious or smug.  I probably don’t do ‘humble’ but I’m aiming for ‘real’ at the very least.

Feel free to comment and share your own travels in un-shopping.

Post-Truth, Post-Growth, Post-care?

 

growrthMuch has been talked and written about our ‘post’ society in 2016, although the Annus Horribilis descriptor maybe up for debate. It depends on your perspective.  For me 2016 had the usual mixture of good and bad.  If 2016 turns out to be a catalyst for people engaging in politics, then there’s a lot to be said for it.

I’m not a trend watcher or an economist, but I can see that we need a new economics: a paradigm shift, not only in the way we do business, but in the way we live.

The so called ‘trickle-down’ economics has turned out to be a surge-up economics where the wealth of the country ends up in the hands of an elite few – who are already very wealthy – whilst the rest of us bear the brunt of ‘Austerity’ and debt.  Politicians seem to be too scared to address the big issues and don’t have the answers or the money to tackle them anyway.  With so many people homeless, in poverty, unemployed or struggling to support their families with low paid and insecure jobs the focus of a majority is on day-to-day living – it has to be. And it should be the focus of politicians and the rest of society too.  Such inequity is unjust and unviable, and has lead in large part to the results we’ve seen in 2016 in Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.

One way to get power back into our communities is to wrest it from conglomerates and corporations: to put the pound back into our own pockets rather than the coffers of remote shareholders.  The ‘Transition Town’ model is one way of doing this.  Initially a movement bringing communities together to tackle the ‘peak oil’ crisis and Climate Change, it has proved to be an excellent model for getting things done and effecting change on a local level.  Transition Brixton has its own power company, other groups have tackled the lack of affordable fresh food and introduced local currencies that encourage people to spend money in the local economy creating social enterprise and apprenticeships.

If 2016 has taught us anything it’s that politicians cannot be relied upon to do the right thing, and are often powerless to get things done, but we have that power.  It doesn’t need legislation or Government funding – although that would be nice – it simply needs people with a common aim to come together and do something.  It’s a simple idea yet it has the power to change communities and create thriving local economies.

We may be post-growth in the traditional sense, but Transition Town initiatives are proving that sustainable growth is possible.  If we work within the boundaries of our ever-decreasing natural resources and learn new mechanisms for producing what people need (rather than an unbounded consumerism, where manufacturing is outsourced to others) we call forth creativity and cement communities.  It is not some unrealistic ideal.  It’s happening now, probably somewhere near you.  It proves that people care about each other and about the natural world and it demonstrates in a tangible way what we can achieve regardless of who’s in power.

 

‘Peak Oil’ is the point in time when the maximum rate of crude oil extraction is reached, after which the rate of extraction is expected to begin to decline

‘Climate Change’ is a large-scale, long-term shift in the planet’s weather patterns or average temperatures, caused by human activity.

Find out about the Transition network, and any projects near you here:  https://transitionnetwork.org/

Also contains resources for setting up your own Transition Town initiative.

Read Rob Hopkins ‘The Power of Just Doing Stuff – how local action can change the world‘ for a concise and uplifting look at Transition in action.

 

The Year of Nothing New

shopping

I’ve never been especially acquisitive or materialistic.  Even as a child I would draw, paint, read, make things out of cardboard and play games rather than buy whatever was the latest craze. As an adult, I’ve espoused the same values, so you would expect my home to be minimalist.  No.  It is burgeoning at the seams with ‘stuff’.

A combination of wanting to de-clutter, and not wanting to contribute, any more than is necessary, to the consumption of the world’s precious and decreasing resources, has led me to this decision: one year, nothing new.

There are caveats.  I’m getting married in June, and whilst it won’t be a hedonistic spend-fest  (most things are being made or borrowed) it is beyond my capabilities to organise an entire wedding without buying anything new. I’ve saved myself the stress and taken the easy option –the wedding is excluded.  Think of me what you will.

I have plenty of old and second hand goods in my home.  In over 35 years of independent living, it is only in the last 12 months that I’ve purchased a new dining set – in a sale last January – for practical reasons.  I feel no guilt for my lovely ethically sourced wooden dining chairs and table.

If you think with such a solid starting point the next 12 months will be easy, you’d be wrong!  For a start I’m an avid reader, and therefore book buyer. I’ve more or less exhausted my local library and their supply of new books is limited.  Sorry author friends, your sequels and new works will not be on my buying list this year – and it grieves me greatly.  Depending on how this year pans out, I may allow myself a limited number of book purchases next year, but first I need to curb my book buying habit!

Shoes are another problem area for me. I’m no Imelda Marcos, but I do have a minor shoe obsession, which is ironic considering I have to wear orthotics and am unable to wear heels or slip-ons!  Second hand shoes are not an option for me. In practice this means that if I see a pair of shoes I like – and can wear – I generally buy them under the guise of ‘practicality’.  This is really a thinly veiled shoe fetish.  So, this year, no new shoes (thankfully I already have my wedding shoes!)

My self-imposed moratorium will not change the world, but I’m hoping it will change me; give me enough space to examine what I buy and why, and whether there are alternatives to the things I do need to buy.

The majority of the things I do own are researched, and bought to last.  Sadly few products are made to be repaired these days, but I’m fortunate to have a fiancé who is happy to roll up his sleeves and get stuck into fixing most things.  The Swedish Government have drawn up plans that will see VAT reduced on repairs, and a new tax break introduced for the people who conduct more expensive repairs on items such as washing machines and dishwashers.  This is a direction I hope we can all head in rather than perpetuate such a disposable society.  This also necessitates building quality products that last and can be repaired, rather than having a built in redundancy.

With burgeoning amounts of waste and increasing possibilities for recycling, we also need to look seriously at using recycled materials in preference to virgin resources, and as consumers being prepared to buy recycled goods.  Legislation is sorely needed.  Our friends the Swedes are also beginning to tackle this, by introducing a “chemicals tax” on white goods and computers, which is designed to recoup costs for items that are difficult to recycle.  Until our Governments catch up, we as consumers need to be the vanguard.

I’m looking forward to the challenge of the next 12 months and hope that you will share my journey with me as I blog about it.

 

 

 

 

 

Independent Article on Swedish Government repairs legislation

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/sweden-repairs-tax-waste-reduction-plan-a7318131.html

 

 

Don’t Do it! Why I won’t be making any New Year’s Resolutions for 2017

you-are-never-too-old-cs-lewis

I like the ‘new start’, the blank sheet.  I can pick my sorry-self up and start again on my goals and objectives.  So, I’m not trashing New Year’s Resolutions (NYR’s) here.  The sad reality is that most of us will fail. If statistics are to be believed, less than 8% of us will stick to our NYR’s – not an impressive figure.

Why set yourself up for such failure and disappointment?  Your will power maybe Herculean in comparison to mine, you may not have ill-health and ‘stuff’ getting in the way of your plans, but most of us will.

Be realistic.  If you haven’t exercised in 12 months the chances are that a NYR to ‘get fit’ isn’t going to engage you beyond a few weeks.  If you’ve not been paying attention to what you eat, and working at a healthier lifestyle in the previous year, setting a NYR to ‘lose weight’ is probably unrealistic.  Be kind to yourself.  Don’t set yourself up to fail.  I’ve set enough NYR’s – and failed – to know how disempowering this can be.

Last year was different.  Last year I made no NYR’s.  I had one goal: to complete a 5k by the end of September.  I achieved this by taking 10 minutes of exercise a day.  Some days I couldn’t do anything.  As time went by, and I got fitter, I did more – a 15 minute walk, a short swim.  I didn’t beat myself up when I couldn’t exercise because of health issues.  I did what I could, when I could.  I didn’t give up.  I hadn’t failed.  I was simply doing 10 minutes exercise a day.  At the end of September I ran – and walked – the Inverness Marathon 5k in 43 minutes.  Goal achieved.

Had I set myself the NYR to run a 5k in January, I would have failed.  I would have struggled.  I would have been discouraged and given up.  Setting a realistic goal meant I could regularly achieve it, and that builds confidence and resolve.  Increment by increment, step by step, I got fitter.

We take this staged approach in work, breaking a project down into manageable steps, putting them onto a realistic timeline that means we reach our target in a measured achievable way.

As an example of a NYR, that is also about lifestyle change, let’s take ‘becoming a vegetarian’. Instead of cutting out all animals based sources of protein (meat and fish) on day one, and succumbing to a bacon butty on day three, and feeling miserable and possibly giving up, be kind to yourself; break the project down into bite sized chunks (no pun intended). Reduce your meat intake to start with whilst also increasing your vegetable input.  Broaden your vegetable recipe repertoire, stock your cupboards with protein alternatives, learn about how to supply your body’s nutritional requirement without meat.  All these positives to becoming a vegetarian (rather than a negative ‘giving up meat’) will give you a good foundation and encourage you to continue.  You might initially plan to reduce your meat intake to once a week, then once a month.  You might continue eating fish for a few months, or longer.  Whatever you decide you will get there if you plan it in stages and are realistic and honest with yourself.

We are talking about real change here, and it doesn’t have to start on the 1st January, with the implication that there might be an end date too.  Your brain will latch onto that and hijack your resolve by winding down towards the end of the year!  Look at it this way: every day is a new beginning. If you do something you didn’t want to do, or don’t do something you did, start again tomorrow.  Chill out.  You’ll always have another day.  You haven’t ‘failed’ – your ultimate goal is still intact – you have more than 365 days to achieve it.

The important part is the commitment.  Make that decision of the will.  If you want to change something you can.  You will. It really is as simple as taking one step after another until you get to where you want to be.  Use the new year as an opportunity by all means, a kick start to running your first 5k, eating healthier, or whatever your own particular objective is, but think big and act small.  There are 365 days to achieve your goal, and another 365 after that.  Whatever it is, you can do it.  I’m proof!

 

John Lewis Vs Donald Trump

dt

John Lewis thought that I would be delighted that they had emailed me their new Christmas Advert and friends are sharing it over on Facebook to cheer people up.  I may be a party-pooper, but there is something fundamentally depressing about a supermarket advertising Christmas in November, and something that gives me equal disquiet when people think that this will make everything OK again, after the horrors of the USA elections.

I know I’m being over-critical and over-cynical, but part of me wants to shout out that we don’t need diversions and distractions.  We need to face head on what is happening in the world.  We need to be eyes-wide-open to confront the fear and shock and revulsion.

I don’t know what we can do about things – students have been protesting, social media is buzzing – but there will be something.  We have to work out what went wrong.  We have to find radical solutions to deliver political engagement and power to the 50% of people who feel side-lined by our elitist institutions.  We have to.  It is not optional.

Maybe people are too raw to lick their wounds and get back into the battle-field; maybe we didn’t realise that the values we’ve held dear are under siege and we’re needing to fight. Perhaps a bit of saccharine sweetness, a bit of humour, a bit of respite is what we need for now.  But we mustn’t let it become an avoidance behaviour: something that diverts us from the difficult things that need to be done.  Ultimately that will cause more stress, worry and fear. We need to talk about our fears and address them.  This is the only way to move forwards positively.

Once the shock has worn off a bit, and we have got ourselves together, we will do what we always do: pick up the pieces and carry on.  We will find love and hope and purpose all over again.

And maybe I’ll watch the John Lewis ad’.  But not until December!

 

“Born to Sing: No Plan B”

 

van-the-manI’m a life-long Van – ‘The Man’ – Morrison fan, and his current album, due for release on October 1st, doesn’t look like changing that, with its classy mix of Soul/R&B/Jazz.  What first caught my attention, before I heard a single track, was the title.

George Ivan Morrison, now OBE for services to music, was bought his first guitar at 11 and by 12 was performing in groups.  At 14 he persuaded his dad to buy him a sax and started taking lessons in that and how to read music.  Although he took a job as a window cleaner, on leaving school – largely because it was ‘expected’- he was still playing in bands, and at 17 toured Europe with the International Monarchs.  After the group disbanded he was hired as a blues singer with The Wheels. From there a steady gig at The Maritime Hotel with the Gamblers led to the formation of Them, and the rest as they say is history.  Definitely ‘Born to Sing: no plan B’!

For us mere mortals ‘No Plan B’ can seem like a reckless concept: we school our children to have  ‘back-up’; we encourage them to have not only ‘Plan B’s’ but often Plan C’s as well.  We ditch on their dreams before they’ve even got started.  This often happens with the creative industries where jobs are few and competition stiff, but it happens with other choices as well: the young girl who wants to be an astronaut, the children who want to be pilots or politicians.

Thankfully there are plenty of parents who encourage their children to do exactly what they want to in life.  They support them as they follow their passions and improve their skills.  I have friends whose son wanted to be an actor.  I’m sure they had plenty of chats about how hard a profession it can be, but that wasn’t their focus.  They did everything to encourage and support him in his aspirations.  Darryl is a fine young man, and also a professional actor.  He’s living his dream.  I have other friends who have raised talented and artistic young people, and they too are supporting them to follow their dreams, currently with places on art, music and drama courses, and in dancing.

We all want to support our young people to get out there in ‘the big wide world’, yet sometimes this means we actively discourage them from doing what they love, what they are passionate about and good at.  We force them into a ‘Plan B’, where they struggle with the skill set and the enthusiasm, without ever having had a shot at ‘Plan A’.  It’s a sure recipe for disillusionment at worse, and boredom at best.

I always wanted to be a writer, from as far back as I can remember.  For my working-class parents ‘writer’ wasn’t a ‘real job’.  It’s not that they discouraged me as such, they simply didn’t support me to follow my dreams and desires.  I am grateful that they contributed to my higher education, but find it sad that there was no belief or encouragement.  My dad is an immigrant to this country.  He left school at 14 and took a job as a tailor with Burtons so he could pay his way.  He became a professional footballer, a master colour matcher, a trade unionist and a manager.  I suspect his dream was to be a pro’ footballer and the fact is he achieved that; he lived the dream, albeit for a short time, due to injury.

Don’t misunderstand me.  I’m not saying our young people don’t need the skills to follow a multiplicity of options – they do; and the more rounded they are, the more equipped they will be in a world where no job is for life and they will probably end up with at least three of four major jobs in their working lives.  What I am saying is there’s plenty of time for ‘Plan B’.  Life will have enough knocks and disappointments along the way.  We need to build passion and resilience in our young people, so that they keep pressing on, in spite of the knock backs; so that they aim for that which they aspire to.

I’ve talked a lot about the creative industries, but it could be anything.  Young people’s dreams are as varied as they are.  Your daughter may want to be an army commander or a scientist, your young person may want to be a farmer or a hairdresser, it doesn’t matter.  There are always avenues to pursue that will take them closer to their goals.  We need people in this world that are passionate about what they do, whatever that may be.

And how about you?  If you’re like me, you’re probably on ‘Plan F’ by now, never mind, ‘Plan B’.  Maybe there’s no plan at all and you’re drifting through life, or you could be steaming along, head down, energies focused on earning a living.  In our society money is king, and it can be hard to get off the treadmill of a job we hate, but that pays the bills: hard, yes; impossible, no.  Due to difficult circumstances my life was turned upside down.  I took the opportunity to get out of a well-paid, but ultimately unfulfilling job, and re-train.  I’ve spent over a decade in the voluntary sector doing jobs I’ve loved.  In a way it was still a kind of ‘Plan B’, but a move to a remote location and a glimpse of how short life can be motivated me to shift track and try for my original ‘Plan A’, being a writer.  I’m not making a living from my writing.  Other income streams and a the kind indulgence of my partner, are what’s keeping the wheels in motion, but the point is that I’ve made a conscious decision to write and am following that particular passion.  It’s ‘Plan A’ in process, and it’s taken me 30 years to have the confidence and self-belief to follow that path.

‘Plan A’ will never be easy, but that’s not a good reason not to ‘go for it’.  Life can be pretty tough whatever course we take.  Isn’t it better to aim high, to dream, to follow our passions rather than consign ourselves and others to automatic second options, ‘Plan B’s and Plan C’s?  You will fail.  Your children will fail.  That’s a given.  In my view ‘failing’ trying to do something you love is better than succeeding at something you hate.

Whether it’s a job, or some other aspect of your life, remove the safety net and start flying high.  You might be surprised how achievable it can be if you believe in yourself and put your efforts into something you feel passionate about.  Don’t regret ‘Plan B, but it’s never too late to re-discover your original dream.

I’m glad Van pursued his musical career rather than his windowing cleaning one – image what the world would have missed out on. So, be a ‘Plan A’ kind of person and pursue your obsession: no ‘Plan B’.

The Great British Breakfast

wp_20160319_001Or not.  At its best a morning repast in the UK can be something sublime.  At its worse, well, it’s a disgrace quite frankly.  I’ve stayed in B&B’s up and down the UK and generally have some great experiences.  My preference is to stay in a B&B rather than a hotel as you generally get better service, ‘vfm’, and the personal touch that is lacking in many larger establishments.  Travelling in Scotland over the last 30 years I’ve had some fab breakfasts – and some dreadful ones.

Let’s do a bit of myth busting: no 1.  The price you pay is no indication of the quality of the breakfast you will receive.  I’ve stayed in some fairly pricey places and had mediocre meals.  The converse is also true.  No 2. Just because someone is serving ‘local produce’ does not mean that they can cook it!  I’ve had some lovely fresh local food with exceptional provenance which was ruined by careless cooking.  You know the sort of thing – bouncy eggs, burnt sausages, dried out beans.

If you’re paying to stay somewhere overnight and having a breakfast, then the establishment should be judged on the quality of that meal.  It’s 50% of the equation after all, yet standard tourist board ratings take no account of this.  You get points for facilities and matching furniture, but if you serve bouncy battery eggs, it doesn’t seem to have an impact.  The fact that somewhere has a hairdryer and Wi-Fi seems to carry more importance than whether they provide a decent breakfast.  Frankly if I’m staying away from home I’m interested in starting the day off with something I can actually eat.

I’ve stayed in two establishments recently, out of necessity; one was a fabulous house with a large bedroom with a balcony and many luxury features.  The host was friendly and helpful, but none of these things mitigated the fact that she couldn’t cook and was using poor ingredients.  If you’re running a B&B shouldn’t you at least be able to cook an egg?  The bread was a cheap frozen supermarket loss-leader and so dry that I couldn’t eat it.  As a semi-vegetarian I am frequently disappointed with the breakfast offerings at most accommodation and usually rely on an egg or bread to get me through, so when that fails to be edible I do get somewhat antsy.

How hard can it be to provide a creative vegetarian option?  Mushroom pancakes, stuffed mushrooms, cheesy tomatoes, would a daring huevos rancheros be too much to ask?  Clearly it is.  How about a nice loaf of homemade soda bread or some Scotch pancakes?  I could cope with that.  If there is a vegetarian option – and generally there isn’t – it consists of Quorn Sausages or their equivalent.  Now I know I’m fussy.  Some people love these sausage substitutes.  Not me.  I don’t eat sausages or bacon and don’t need something that has the flavour or texture of them on my plate in the morning as it’s likely to make me boke.  Make a Glamorgan sausage and freeze them or I’ll give you the recipe for my chestnut sausages, which cook from frozen.  These options are cheap and easy and there really is no excuse not to do something for those of us who represent between 7 and 10% of the population.

There are glimmers of light.  A recent stay in a small B&B before getting the ferry to the Western Isles delivered up a well-cooked breakfast using local ingredients, including her own hens’ eggs.  OK, there were no veggie options, but the eggs were good and the bread was a nice seedy grainy offering. I’m not asking for the world here, just a bit of thought and a bit of care about what you’re doing.

A friend of mine opened her own B&B earlier this year and has made a point of serving vegetarian and vegan options.  She kindly indulged me by asking for my recipes for various things, and by all accounts the veggie options are proving very popular.  It can be done.  It takes a bit of thought, a bit of effort, but if this is your business, your source of income, wouldn’t you want to do it well?  It can actually be a selling point, especially when there are so few places serving decent vegetarian breakfasts.

The most recent breakfast faux pas was not a B&B but a local establishment specialising in local produce and offering a Sunday breakfast until lunchtime.  My partner and I thought we’d treat ourselves whilst on an errand.  It turned out not to be too much of a treat.  Bacon so hard and melded together it was inedible, over-cooked eggs and microwaved black pudding.  All in all, not a success.  Needless to say we won’t be going back there.

The only experience I’ve had which was worse was in a B&B in the Lakes which offered ‘speciality breakfasts’.  I’m still not sure what the ‘speciality’ was, possibly how terrible the breakfasts were. The breakfast room was locked and guests were only allowed in at the appointed hour.  The ‘speciality’ changed every day.  One the first day it was oatcakes and on the second day it was boiled eggs.  Hard.  Without toast.  There were no options; you got what you were given.  I was so outraged I actually complained to the tourist board.  As the business was being sold on they felt disinclined to do anything.  Maybe the owners were disillusioned with the B&B business.  I was certainly disillusioned with my Cumbrian breakfast.

I’ve not ‘named and shamed’ here, but I confess I am sorely tempted.

I suppose there should be some balance. I’ve had some great breakfast in some great places: a lady in Shetland that makes her own yoghurt and muesli, a couple of guys on Skye who make their own bread and jam, and serve generous well-cooked portions of local salmon, eggs, sausages and bacon.  It can be done.  It should be done.

Breakfast can be a fantastic meal, so here’s a plea to all the B&B owners in the UK to put the ‘Great’ back into the British breakfast.  Please.

 

 

Bracarina House is run by the lovely Heather and Robert Forbes.  They pride themselves on the quality of their home and serve delicious vegan and veggie breakfast.

Vatersay House is run by amazing hosts Brian and Andy.  The breakfasts, which include many homemade elements, are fantastic.