This week I got tagged in a meme by my friend Jelly (aka Mommatwo) who now gets called Elizabeth due to her being a proper grownup these days. We try but whenever we refer to her, the fiancé and I still call her Jelly. You see, once upon a time she used Jelly as a forum username and failing to find a new name (I was in a transition phase) I settled on Icecream given how we went together (naff I know!). I haven’t used that username for a long time (mostly because usernames have rather died out haven’t they?) but there are fond memories associated; such as a friend (who offered a very comprehensive benefits package) who suggested the tagline, ‘Melts on the tongue.’

If that is too much information then I suggest you look away now as these meme’s (yes I looked up the term on Google) lean towards the personal. I generally avoid these kinds of blogs but I checked with Jelly and I’m supposed to thank her (darling I adore you, you know this you demanding tart!) and link you up to her blog which blatantly I will since she asked me to guest blog. I wouldn’t call her manipulative but she sure knows how to play me! And then at the end of this I list some blogs I like and so we go on.

Yes, this is exactly the behaviour I slated last week with my criticism of those types that do the chainmaily post this or you rape baby bunnies stuff. But frankly it’s been a taxing few weeks and a blogging by numbers exercise is far to tempting to resist and so I shall commence.*

Which living person do you most admire, and why?

I admire the fiancé more than anyone. While I have huge amounts of respect for my mother, her incredible resilience was largely borne of situations thrust upon her and she saw that she could crumble or survive. The fiancé created his own situations and despite the many factors limiting him, he decided to live a different life (with me). I am guilty of being flippant about risk because I come from a family of entrepreneurs who love unconditionally and I often forget to tell him how much I admire his determination to live a life that meets our definition of fulfilling with a very different skill set borne of a very different background.

When were you happiest?

Last Sunday. We hosted Easter and after the meal (for thirteen, which was the 4th meal cooked in the new house) went perfectly and the boys had a magical Easter Egg hunt, I headed inside with my brother’s girlfriend to fetch cake and started to cry. My early twenties were rather tough and I feel utterly blessed to be where I am now. I’ve never been happier and I’m still not sure how to manage that. 

What was your most embarrassing moment?

Watching myself on TV! In 2008 I was a semi-finalist on Masterchef and participating was nothing compared to watching the footage afterwards. I watched it once and three years later am still cringing.

Aside from property, what’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought?

My car. My car. My car. I really ought to stop writing them off!

What is your most treasured possession?

My passport. Not only is it my gateway to possibility but it’s a symbol of how utterly fortunate I am. My best friend when I lived in Malaysia was a Kurdish refugee who left Iraq on a forged passport. Nothing reminds me that I am free like my passport.

Where would you like to live?

With the fiancé and my stepsons. I know I could live anywhere, I used to live in Malaysia and know I could move back easily. They live in Gloucester so I live in Gloucester.

What’s your favourite smell?

I have lots but will go with the weird one. I love the smell of the fiancé’s armpits. When we get into bed he often stretches his arms over the top of the pillows and I wriggle under and snuffle. I think he smells great.

Who would play you in the film of your life?

I’d like to say Kate Walsh because she’s the person I want to be when I grow up (she is so beautiful and seems so elegant) but as she’s older than me that makes no sense. Given I’ve so much yet to do, the most appropriate actress is probably still a baby so I’ll go with the girl in pigtails at 0.13 in this advert.

What is your favourite book?

A very difficult question given that I read so much. There are the books that changed my life, the books I consider old friends and the books I rate for the quality of their writing. Even the idea of favourite gets broken into a multitude of options. But if my house was on fire I realise that there is one book I’d save. I’d save my novel; I’d save my characters Michael and Helen. I have come to accept I’m not a natural fiction writer but one day my novel will be finished and for now, it’s the one book I couldn’t give up.

What is your most unappealing habit?

I’m arrogant enough to believe I’m always right. I try to see the other side but respect very few people who have totally opposing views to my own. I recognise that this makes me a horrible human being.
What would be your fancy dress costume of choice?

I recently ordered a dress pattern to make for my eldest stepbrother’s 30th Medieval themed Birthday Party in June so currently I aspire to something Jocalyn (played by the gorgeous Shannyn Sossamon) would have worn in A Knight’s Tale.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

Buying Kettle Chips and eating them all before the fiancé gets home from work.

What do you owe your parents?

I owe my parents freedom. My late stepfather once asked my mother how she was so confident and she answered that she had always been loved. I was raised as she was and although I’ve had my ups and downs I have always felt loved. Such knowledge is a liberating force that cannot be underestimated.

To whom would you most like to say sorry, and why?

I fear I have a long list. I never set out to hurt anyone but there are situations I could have handled better or would handle better today. I had a very damaged friend who was an emotional vampire at a time when I lacked vitality to sustain myself and so I ended the friendship. She was bad for me and I’m better for losing her but I still feel bad about it. Similarly, my ex husband was a bad choice for me. He isn’t a terrible person but he was bad for me and I’m better for getting rid of him but I sometimes feel bad that it took me so long to get rid of him. I don’t believe either set out to hurt me but at the time I reacted as though it was personal (as it was personal for me). I mostly accept this as a complexity of life but given the chance I’d still say sorry.

What or who is the greatest love of your life

The future. The realms of possibility will always be my greatest love. Right now I have the fiancé by my side as I look forward and I believe he will be my partner for life but for the greatest love I am merely offering him the opportunity to ride shotgun. Bring me that horizon!

What does love feel like? 

Losing. I give up things I want in my current relationship because I want “us” more than I want the things I give up. It is a major readjustment for me and please don’t misunderstand me, I get far more out of the trade off than I give up but ultimately love is compromise and I’m not very good at that. With my ex-husband it was a struggle for power and unless I relinquished every aspect of myself he wasn’t satisfied, with the fiancé it is very different but while I get to retain the essence of my being (in fact he demands that I do), there are nevertheless similar processes. Healthy loss versus unhealthy loss perhaps but ultimately I’m not someone who likes to compromise.

What was the best kiss of your life?

My first kiss with the fiancé which was not our first kiss at all! Our first real kiss was in his car pulled up on a grass verge (classy) and as the beginning of the relationship was a bit messy I said I wanted a proper first date and a proper first kiss. So we were at Alton Towers (yeah, it’s not getting any classier is it?) and he made me wait six hours! He kept giving me little hugs and pecks on the cheek but no kiss. Eventually, after riding Air three times consecutively (it’s all in the details people!) he kissed me. My knees actually gave way. Over two years on he can still have the same reaction. He saves it and doesn’t overuse it but he can still poleaxe me in an instant.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

I swear far too much. I’m sure there are words and phrases beyond that but really, the swearing is the big thing.

What is the worst job you’ve done?

The summer before I went to university (for the first time) I was a waitress. That wasn’t a bad job. Actually I really liked that job (even if my boss was pretty sleazy), it was easy and fun. I’m from North Yorkshire and wearing a frilly apron and selling toasted teacakes and ghost stories to American tourists really wasn’t tough. The main reason it wasn’t tough was the reason my boss hired me. One day he told me that he only hired girls that grew up on farms. I asked why and he asked what I did for money before he hired me... “um, my dad paid me £3 an hour to paint fences with creosote mixed with oil (because it made the creosote go further).” Any other comments on that, he asked, “it was too hot to wear long sleeves but the splatters meant I got these weird stains on my arms.” My boss smiled and said that’s why he hired farm girls. £4 per hour plus tips to toast teacakes, make coffee and smile at tourists. He had a point. I’ve never had a boss as bad as my dad. Nor did any of my fellow waitresses.

If you could change one thing from your past, what would you change?

As a rule I think our past makes us who we are and as I’m the happiest I’ve ever been I’m loath to say I have regrets. After all, it was an unhappy relationship that saw me confiding in an online friend that would one day become the fiancé. Part of me wants to go back and suggest my dad had full body scans that would’ve picked up the brain tumour before it was incurable but awful as it sounds I loved that we had those years with my stepfather. So would I stop my stepfather’s death? I’d like to say yes but something he said on his deathbed changed me forever and while I miss him like hell that last conversation paved the way for where I am now. I miss those men in ways I cannot begin to put into words but the simple fact that one necessarily followed the other makes the whole thing incomprehendible to me. So I take today, I look forward and would change nothing.

What is the closest you’ve come to death?

I was run off the M5 last year. A car cut me up and I swerved to avoid it. I swerved too hard and went down the embankment. Rather than fight it I decided to take that path as best I could. On the basis of what was said to the police by the first people to pull over, an air ambulance was on its way. Nobody could quite believe that aside from being a bit pissed off about driving my car off the road to avoid a collision I was absolutely fine. It was the guys that hauled my car out that said they had a 9/10 fatality on such incidents and I was the first person on that stretch to ride in the haul-out truck. I was lucky but I was also thinking quickly. The reason most people die (especially in convertibles AND I had my top down) was that they swerve back into the road, hit their wheels on the edge of the embankment and roll. I assessed the situation and doubted my ability to pull off swerving back and so focused on how to go off the road. There are two choices; fight it and die or go with it and live. Photos are here.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I’m still smiling. I’ve had my successes but without question weathering the bad times is more worthy of note than some of the more standard accomplishments which rather read like status symbols in the Game of Life if you aren’t careful.

When did you last cry, and why?

Easter Sunday, see above.

How do you relax?

Alcohol and sex. Oh sure I like hot baths with good books but I’m a busy girl and on a day to day basis it ultimately comes down to a gin and tonic and the talents of the rather talented fiancé.

What single thing would improve the quality of your life?

More faith in myself. Unfortunately I think that will be something that’ll take a lifetime.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

Nothing is as bad as you think it will be. Nothing. Ever.

Ok and so to the people I follow. This is tricky as I mostly follow industry blogs and there are people I admire (such as Simon of The RSS Feed) for what they do but who I don’t actually read (sorry honey) and those that I love to read (such as my eldest stepbrother Gez of Scene and not Herd) but who don’t really blog often enough. I’ve said in the past that I like Rachel Cotterill so really I need to list new people. I have two (although I encourage you to look out Simon, Gez and Rachel as well).

1) Very new but someone I’ve long thought should blog is Jelly’s husband who has started blogging Fart and Culture (gotta love the name). I have high expectations of one of my favourite sparring partners (and one of the few lefties I love).

2) The personal blog of someone I admire a lot professionally, A bit more of Karen is the refreshingly down to earth real life of the amazing Karen Strunks of the 4am Project which is just the most amazingly thing for amateur photographers like me.

* Is this a sell out? Possibly, but then I’m rather militant in my politics but in moving house realised my change of address on the electoral role means I probably won’t get to vote in the AV Referendum (which really ought to be this week’s topic!)  so ultimately I’m going soft anyway. Although there is a consolation in that the fiancé was intending to vote the wrong way so ultimately we’d have cancelled each other out had we been able to vote.

I thought it was going to be a challenge to turn out a decent column this week. Not that I’m stuck for topics, rather I wanted to avoid the fallback of total self-indulgence (although who am I kidding, blogging is terribly masturbatory). We got the keys to our new house last Friday you see and I’m very much in love with a number of things but most of all, the space! Anyway, I don’t want to talk about that because it’s surely boring to anyone but our family and they’re all coming for lunch on Sunday anyway.    
Fortunately I just got a link through from Sky News Politics which got me angry enough that I found energy for a bit of a rant which one friend* is sweet enough to call ‘social commentary.’ Anyway, this is the link. Maybe I lack empathy but this horrified me. I was stunned at the figures that have been on benefits for over ten years. That’s not welfare, its fostering dependence!   

A fellow blogger recently wrote a blog on PND? I wish I had the time! which brilliantly captures how those of us that just need to get on with things don’t have the luxury of giving up. Like Elizabeth, I have sympathy for those genuinely suffering but often depression seems like a way of opting out. It’s not as though the rest of us go through life without trials and tribulations.   

I’ve long hated those modern equivalents of chain letters, you know, the put this in your Facebook status or you like raping baby rabbits things. I saw one this week that said “Depression is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign that you have been trying to be strong for too long. Put this as your status if you know someone who has or has had depression. Will you do it, and leave it on your status for at least an hour? Most people won't, and 1 in 3 of us will suffer it at some point in our lives. Show your support.” Urgh!   

It’s just bollocks isn’t it? Not that depression can’t be a genuinely debilitating condition (I hesitate to call it a genuine illness ‘cos you know, you can’t cure yourself of cancer) but it’s all too easily latched onto. I was wrongly diagnosed with depression a number of years back (it was in fact a normal after effect of severe glandular fever) and part of the problem seems to be that we can’t accept that life sometimes is hard. My GP (I should have made a complaint but hey, I was in a low place) took one look at a stressed out student and put me on antidepressants. I eventually got out of the cycle against my doctor’s wishes and pulled my life together but I don’t think victim is too strong a word to describe the way the system operates.   

When the fiancé was having a tough time recently I said I’d support him with one exception. I said I didn’t believe he had depression and was gone if he took that excuse. Hard line? Yes, I’ve never claimed to be anything but a bitch but his GP said he was depressed and his GP was wrong. The fiancé, like many people had got stuck in a career rut and was struggling to find his sense of self. When he realised he had my support for pursuing his dreams, he started making changes and would not fit anyone’s criteria of being depressed today. Thank heavens he had me to hold his hand in saying no to them messing with his brain chemistry. 

I don’t blame the doctors. Despite my one personal hiccup I think the NHS is amazing and think the majority its staff do the best job they can. But a typical appointment tends to feel like an exercise in ticking boxes. The GP I’ve seen in the last twelve months has been lovely but his time has clearly been in short supply and it has been a case of specific problem solving: you had a car accident, you hurt where, your symptoms are what, lets take a look, ok this will ease pain, this will help you sleep, I’m signing you off work for two weeks, returning to light duties.  

I have no issue with the care I received. Two weeks was about right, I slept for a few days and the painkillers worked. But it’s a system that could let you slip through the cracks. I wanted to return to work and I had a working partner willing to support my recovery back to work. He never put a time limit on it but the fiancé’s support was clearly linked to actual physical recovery with a clear end point in sight.   

Had I been single, had I not had a job I was eager to return to, had I a different mother on the end of the phone then my recovery could have been very different. Once I’d got a bit better the expectation (from the fiancé, from my mother, from my boss and mostly from myself) was that I’d take my drugs, put in a day’s work then collapse in a hot bath before repeating. Sure it was hard, I hurt a lot but what was the alternative? Like Elizabeth argued, it was too self-indulgent not to and I didn’t have the time.    

Yes, I favour cutting benefits but largely because they clearly don’t work. Sure, I had the luxury of sick pay so technically I received money to recover but significantly for a moderately serious injury I was only off work for two weeks. There is a need for financial support but people need a system that focuses on getting them off that support. I got on with things because I had goals (such as getting the mortgage that bought the house I’m writing this from) which I have my family to thank for. I don’t have all the answers but a starting point surely has to be creating incentives for people to fix their lives rather than incentives not to!   

* I even met him once... at a Tweetdrinks. AND he bought me a diet coke which if that isn’t real friendship then I don’t know what is.
Today was a nice day so when I got into my car, I unzipped the rear window, pulled up my wind guard and unlatched the roof. Ah the consolation of sunny days stuck in the office; the commute home in my convertible. My Eunos gives me no end of small pleasures such as thanking the driver who let me out in Littledean by simply sticking my hand up in the air. Giving thanks to other drivers when the top is down is so much fun. But there are compromises to be made. Setting aside such things as the inside of my windscreen freezing this winter, as I wanted to turn left onto the A48 I had the inconvenience of another driver wanting to turn right so we were pulled up alongside each other. Given that I only required a clear lane on one side I was obviously going to pull away first. Except that convertible sports cars are rather low and as I explained in a previous column, I’m somewhat on the diminutive side. Could I see the oncoming traffic? Could I hell; I couldn’t see over the bonnet of the other car! I ended up bouncing in my seat until I got a clear view and was able to pull away. But it’s worth it. I love my car to bits.   

Today Cameron gave a talk on immigration which has resulted in lots of mouth breathers in towns with high immigration populations making inane points on the radio. The problem is that such people only reinforce my attitude to immigrants. I own a house up North which I rent out to a lovely Polish couple and given the choice, would always hire an Eastern European labourer (you know, because they turn up on time and actually work). In the pikey town where I own a house, unemployment is rife and yet when they built an airport there was a necessity for immigrants because the locals were too lazy to get off their arses, give up their benefits and build it (hence the lovely couple renting my house). I appreciate that people feel frustration at those immigrants that arrive for the freebies of our inflated welfare state but frankly this stems from fear of sharing the pot by dependant personalities.   

This weekend the Dean Heritage Centre is having a WWII Weekend to launch its latest exhibition: The Foresters’ War. There are lots of things going on but two related projects got me thinking this week. There is a trail through the Centre based on rationing which requires visitors (usually children but we don’t discriminate against adults that are game for a laugh) to look out for various rations and cross them off their ration book. I have also been writing a book called Recipes for the Rationing Household which will go on sale this weekend. See here for an example of contents.   

How would the Britain of today react if rationing was brought back?   

I posed this question to the fiancé earlier in the week and he pointed out that we weren’t at war. Libya much? Or at least, weren’t in a war situation that threatened national security (sorry for being such a sarcastic cow honey). But what if? Regardless of the plausibility of the situation it is surely a valid hypothetical question regarding British society. 

People would sulk. People would complain. But maybe people would grow up?  

Britain today is saturated by people unable to take responsibility for their own lives. People will complain on the radio about having to wait four years for “their” house and immigrants getting one quickly and nobody points out the flaw in their character for passively waiting for someone else to provide for them. I’m all for housing the poor but a paid for roof over your head is a paid for roof over your head. If you want something better then maybe do something about it?   

I’m not denying we’re living in fucked up financial times (seriously, having gone through the mortgage process I get it!) but these attitudes are not new. Let us not blame the recession.  So maybe a war, with regards to rationing, would do Britain some good. Trust me, after a few wartime recipes I’ve had the fiancé wailing “When will this war ever end?” (Yes, yes I spoil him with the general standard of my cooking) and I’ve no desire to feed my family on meagre portions but should I have to, I could. Oh I’d complain about it but meals would still arrive on the table. Could I live without new clothes? Sure. Don’t get me wrong, I love my knickers and really wouldn't want to have parachute pants (can’t imagine the fiancé would be too thrilled either) but I’d cope.   How many of the mouth breathers talking on Radio 1 this evening cope?   

They wouldn’t at first but then they’d have to wouldn’t they? Maybe rationing in 2011 would allow for one party platter from Iceland per week (or 1oz of cheese from a deli for the middle classes). Actually the class comment is significant. During the Second World War people pulled together and community was strong. Rationing did away with the classes to a certain extent* and it’d be interesting to see how the dependant classes coped once they lost the excuse of the provider class having things easier.   

I’m not saying the dividing line is as clear as that. But I’m talking theoretically tonight. I’m considering a concept. After all, I can’t imagine a return to rationing. But should today’s generation be cast back in time WWII could have had a different outcome. Not because of our government but because we’ve lost the grit of society.   

Fortunately my concern for such things is transitory. I drive a convertible after all!    

* I’d argue city versus country was more significant. On my mother’s side we are town people who struggled through the war(s) but on my father’s side we’re Lancastrian farmers with stories of secretly slaughtered pigs and jam made on the sly. They were roughly equal in financial terms but the country lot had an easier time of things.
Back when I was single, or at least when I didn’t have a career as most people define it or a family as I now define it, I was curious about the kind of women that balanced everything. I’d read stories of women making mince pies at eleven at night and be perplexed (as much with the why bother as the how). Having worked forty hour weeks with eight hours a week on top of that commuting and running a home and feeding my family and doing laundry for my family and for the most part being an ok daughter, sister and friend for the last year I now find myself wondering what I did before. Because hanging laundry to dry before bed is just normal and a bath has become a luxurious treat. Making a batch of pasta sauce late at night or setting the alarm early to get a batch of laundry done before work is just how you make it work.

What I think is important however, is that in my day to day life I don’t bang on about it. This week my boss made a comment in front of a women I’ve worked with on a daily basis with (but not in the same office) for nine months and she said she hadn’t realised I had kids. Today I read a tweet by Dan Martin quoting Katie Hopkins at today’s Comment Conference (aka #eienterprise) as saying "I do have children but I don't talk about it because it's not relevant to my business."

I don’t watch The Apprentice because, well, I don’t know how to work our TV but on the basis of a single comment, I was warming to Katie Hopkins. Now, in my job having (step)kids is actually relevant because a significant target audience of the visitor attraction I’m the marketing manager for is families and as a thirty something, a twenty something and two under four foot somethings, my household constitutes exactly that. When it comes to creating and marketing events and activities, I have insights that would be foolish to ignore. But aside from casual conversations with the staff I consider to be friends as well as colleagues, I generally avoid talking about the kids. Just as I don’t mention the fiancé to every sales rep putting on the charm!

It’s a bit of a bugbear of mine how quickly women seem to define themselves by their offspring. Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to have a child one day and I’m sure I’ll be utterly tedious about it but as soon as I’m back in a work environment I’ll surely switch off. Tonight we read Professor Pufendorf’s Secret Potions yet again (if you ever need to buy a book for 2-6 yr olds buy this!) and I had a conversation about Thunderbird 2 and refused to get drawn into an argument between the kids (and later expressed how I felt rather guilty over this to the fiancé) but tomorrow I’ll get dressed and think about the marketing budget and the onsite publicity for our next event and respond to emails. At no point will the fact the baby monitor will crackle and disturb my sleep tonight and that I’ll get weetabix (mini, with chocolate chips, and milk on the side) crumbs stuck to my socks and itching on the inside of my boots actually change how I go about my day.

I mean, you’d never catch a man doing it would you? Sure, of course surveys demonstrate that women do more in the home regardless of whether they work but I get the feeling that that is martyrdom in some working women. I knew the fiancé back when he was with his wife and idle chat on messenger was punctuated by stacking the dishwasher and other such activity. His ex may have done more childcare but he did a fair whack of housework. In our relationship today we’re pretty equal.

Take tonight. I got in first and opened the mail, reading through some legal papers for our new house and began dinner. The fiancé got in with the boys and we had a brief catch up before he took them for their bath. I popped out to the corner shop for bread and picked up a food magazine. I got back in time for their bedtime story then finished dinner (simultaneously reading the magazine) while the fiancé read the legal papers. We ate and then planned the menu (from the magazine) for Easter weekend which we’re hosting and signed the papers. He is now working on a new work plan while I write my column. I’ll probably cook tomorrow night while he makes the shopping list for Easter and empties the dishwasher. I could take it all on myself but what would that achieve beyond being able to join in the lazy bloke chats that women are so fond of?

Somewhere along the line women got it wrong. Katie Hopkins has ruffled feathers with her views that female-specific business support 'stifles economic growth' but I think she makes a good point. When you get women focusing on inspiring other women, I tend to see what they’re doing as highlighting inadequacy. After all, the women who just get on with it and are successful don’t need encouraging and inspiring by some female orientated nurturefest.  

From a personal perspective, I am inspired by anyone achieving what I’d like to achieve. As such while there are women I admire professionally (such as my boss and my elder stepbrother’s girlfriend), I also admire and take advice from lots of men. To be frank, if I’m competing in a man’s world (which I don’t actually think it is) then surely I’m better off looking to men than trying to carve out a uniquely female path to their status?   For me, evidence that Hopkins has a point comes in the affront of various groups (take the word ‘mum’ and merge with a word like ‘entrepreneur’ to create a fluffy sounding support group where they joke about caffeine consumption and talk about support and fighting) at her audacity.   

 I’d do more to fight Hopkins’ cause but you know, the kitchen needs cleaning and I’ve reports to write tomorrow. Much as I could do some research and befriend some women that could sponsor my spiritual growth and all that, I’ve a job and a family to take care of. I’ll keep my research to industry trends and market analysis for now.