When I decided what I wanted to write about this week I did stop and pause to ask myself, can one really talk about eyebrows for 1,000 words? Ok that’s not really the issue, I could write 1,000 words on just about any topic under the sun, the question was whether I could possibly keep you, my lovely reader, awake by the end of it.

I think eyebrows are fantastic. No other part of your body has transformative power to rival them. Nothing makes you look dishevelled quite like scruffy eyebrows and few things can make you look more polished than freshly shaped ones. I once realised I was deaf to what a girl at Estee Lauder was saying because her eyebrows were in terrible shape (not Aimee, the angel who works in the concession in Gloucesters Debenhams I hasten to add, she always looks immaculate). I just can’t take seriously anyone trying to comment on my appearance if their eyebrows are a mess.

I’m a DIY kind of girl. Much as I love my spa visits I am not fabulously wealthy and they are a treat. As such I dye my own hair, do most of my own facials and all of my manicures and pedicures. I don’t have my hair cut every two months, I leave it three. I’d love a monthly day devoted to treatments but I’d probably get less pleasure from it than I do from my once or twice a year treats. Yet there is one thing that I see as a vital necessity; while I tidy them myself with tweezers a regular hot wax eyebrow shape is something I’ll always find money for.

I get a lot of compliments on my eyes (personally I struggle to spot them above the bags and only tend to like the photos of myself where I’m wearing huge sunglasses) but I think my eyebrows are to thank. Eyebrows are to eyes like bras to breasts. They sculpt, shape and most importantly, lift. I don’t know why they sometimes get abandoned.

But the worst was yet to come. Veet has launched a new product: Veet High Precision Facial Wax. It comes with a little applicator tip and fabric strips. I’m flinching just thinking about the mess that so many inept hands are going to cause. And I just don’t get it. This product costs £8.49, more than an eyebrow wax at most salons!

Ok so there are horror stories. Having found Vicky (who I consider to be an artist) to care for my brows I can avoid the risk of a ham fisted waxer and instead lie back confident of being made more attractive but how hard is it to find a Vicky? Head out into your high street and look for the well polished women and ask them where they go. Seriously it’s not that hard; I once went up to a woman in a bar to ask where she shopped because I loved her dress. She was glad to point me in the direction of Principles, a shop I previously hadn’t ventured into because I thought it only catered to older women. She also said I’d made her day.

It’s important for boys as well. I remember once hearing my father complaining from my parents’ room and saw through the open door, my mother sitting on his chest to groom him. The fiancé gets his eyebrows trimmed by his barbour but I’m quick to pluck rogue hairs when he’s unsuspecting (incidentally ladies this is a game with endless possibility). For some reason the man grows the occasional thick and wiry hair which I call “eyebrow pubes” (usually in a loud voice) that prevent me taking him at all seriously while it hovers there somewhat perplexed at the amount of daylight it’s experiencing.

Trimming eyebrow pubes is a nice idea but I can still see them and they are always destined for removal by plucking.

Sadly there are no shortcuts with eyebrows. I still shudder at the memory of a girl I went to school with who shaved the underside of hers and subsequently often had stubble. Worse are those who lose parts of their eyebrows. The trend in the Far East used to be (it may still be but I’ve not been back for a few years) for eyebrows that were shorter than the width of the eye. I knew a number of expat women who got caught out and had the anguish of waiting for the hairs to slowly grow back.

A key reason for me for keeping my eyebrows neat is a desire to render them unnoticeable as my eyebrows are what threaten to give me away. I have naturally pale skin with a tendency to flush (I like the description of an English rose colouring but it’s rarely so pretty) and green eyes. My complexion and irises sit happily alongside the brown hair I dye ginger and I’ve even had a hairdresser fooled that I was a natural redhead. But too much eyebrow and like accusing caterpillars, the reality of my brunette roots would be shouting out from my face. Slim and gently arched, there isn’t enough hair to make a case. It’s not that I want to keep that I’m a fake a secret; I just don’t want it revealed through shoddy grooming.

I think that’s pretty much all I have to say. I could comment on those tiny eyebrow combs but I’m not sure what they’re for. Similarly I don’t understand eyebrow pencils (are they just for crazy old ladies with no eyebrows who draw them on or should I have one and be doing something with it?). By the time I complete this sentence that I’m writing I shall have written the grand sum of 988 words on the topic of eyebrows and that, I think, shall suffice. For this week at least.

I need to get out more...


 
“Bollocks” I exclaimed, in what I hoped was a slightly posh totty way. I failed not so much through lack of being posh (the fiancé asserts that I am a bit) as still having dirt on my face (I noticed this after going to shop for tiles) and frankly caring far more than a posh totty bird would.

I had completely forgotten my column.

This takes a lot. I’ve failed to write of course but I’ve been ill or away and generally I post despite these things. This week nothing was wrong, although I was a touch busy.

Just before Easter we got the keys to a house the fiancé and I had fallen madly in love with. We’d seen several forgettable homes and one we now refer to as “the house of immitigable suffering and evil.”

I’m not overly superstitious but I do trust my instincts. I also like horror movies and have sworn that I’d not last five minutes in the Amityville house (despite loving those windows!). The house of immitigable suffering and evil was that to a tee; both the fiancé and I felt it.

Perhaps that was what made us so susceptible to our current home. Not only did we step over its threshold into a warm and welcoming space but we both got an intense sensation of “I AM A HAPPY HOME.”

I feel a little silly writing this but we count the house as a family member. As we sat drinking gin cocktails in the garden (reader, this is why I’m marrying him!), the fiancé remarked that he felt that we were the somewhat errant teenagers under the watchful eye of our parental home. I certainly feel cosseted and safe within these walls in a way I never have within bricks and mortar before.

So what has kept me busy? Renovations!

We worried about how the house would feel (yes yes we are insane) but I think it understands. As we uncover the lazy and cheap (plumbing), the inept (plastering) and the frankly criminal (pulling up Victorian tiles and pouring concrete through the hallway) and pour our love and finances into restoring this house, we feel ever more integrated into it.

With an old house you appreciate you are but a passerby. This house is 106 years old and could live for hundreds more. We are but one family passing through. Sure there is a sense of ownership but we also appreciate that this house will outlive us.

So humbly we asked to be long term residents.

We aren’t fixing up for resale. We are creating a dream home. Just as the fiancé and I found each other and wanted to create a life together, we set out looking for a home to house us and our family.

The boys (my stepsons) love it and tonight the fiancé and I enjoyed cocktails on the sun soaked decking before heading in to eat gammon, egg and chips (you can take the girl from the North...) in front of a recorded episode of Grand Designs. We put the fire on and the kittens blissed out in front of it as we sipped wine and postulated on budgets and timeframes.

I swear this house is magic! Despite the living room being stripped of wallpaper and painted with turquoise bond-it (think ugly turquoise paint with sand thrown at it), it feels cosy and welcoming. We like to think it understands; understands that we’re trying to restore it to its glory days and fill it with our family (large and complicated), friends (sporadic and alcoholic) and pets (inquisitive and incontinent).

We aren’t simple. We are many and noisy and still figuring things out. But we hope there’ll be a wedding soon and maybe a baby thereafter. And we promise to open windows to ventilate and to keep the pipes warm in winter.

We’re all eager to love this house and we need a steady backdrop to our lives. This is the third address the fiancé has had with his sons since leaving his wife and it’s my fourth address since moving to Gloucester in April 2009. The chickens grew up on a battery farm and the kittens are the bastard offspring of a rebellious imp rather too young for motherhood. I think we’re all ready to lay roots.

Today is the end of week two. So far all wallpaper has been stripped (seeing the plaster falling down everywhere) and two rooms replastered. I’ve been painting the walls with the gritty sealant that provides a good base for the plasterer, I’ve demolished the cupboard that housed the old boiler and had endless meetings and appointments which have seen the paint, carpet and tiles chosen. I also cleaned, tidied, cooked many meals and relocated our bedroom to the freshly plastered nursery where sandalwood burns to hide the smell.

Project managing is fun (juggling as I am around my teaching commitments) but I forget things. I sent the blinds for the kids’ rooms to our old address and bought a light for the study forgetting we have a dimmer fitted and I forgot it was Thursday until it was late. It was late and the fiancé had had a meeting at the elder stepsons school so I was babysitting (read; drinking sherry and building Ikea traintracks).

It’s nice. I’m now in the position where the fiancé says he has a school meeting and not that his mum is having them as he’s busy. I love my life. I love my house and my job and my man and my kids (step and feline). But Christ it’s tough sometimes. I’m happy and enjoying it but I think I’ve lost my brain. Last night the eldest stepson was ill and I was managing the calls to NHS and then the out of hours GP and nearly cried when I couldn’t remember his date of birth. At one point someone asked “I’m sorry, what is your relationship to the child?” and I blurted out “I’m um, about to marry his dad. Is that ok?” (They laughed and said it was perfectly ok, they just needed to put something in the box).

This house is our big box with people and chickens and kittens and hopes and dreams and carpet samples and fabric samples and paint charts and my furniture and his guitars and mini weetabix with chocolate chips and Ted Ted and Woofy and Alan the stretchy man that cost like 50p at the weekend and Danny wanted a bouncy ball and Billy wanted Alan and now they fight over him and why has Satriani (the black kitten) gone up the chimney?

Can I put an alarm in my iPhone that says “It’s Thursday Kathryn”? 


 
My Birthday falls on a Thursday this year which means I need to get my column written pronto so that I can be ready for lunch and shopping with my mum before cake with the stepkids then cocktails to warm us up for a shoulder of pork that will have roasted for 24 hours.

I woke up with a smile on my face which is very different from six years ago. I hated turning 23. I felt like was passing me by and I had no idea how to change it. Now I’m looking forward to the final year of my twenties with my milestone 30th next year. Of course I’m suddenly aware that I’ve a great number of items left to do before then.

Since June last year when I published my 30-before-30  list, I have only ticked a few things off. I got a tattoo and have bought a corset (that I’m wearing right now), I have been to the Opera and I have lit a proper fire and cooked over it. That leaves 11 items still to do which is roughly one a month. It’s doable and I’m determined to complete my list, not least because then I can start one for by the time I’m 40. My next list will (I think to think) be a more mature list than the one created for my twenties, less focused on things to boast about and more rooted in authenticity.

Well that and no doubt a target to tightlace down to! What’s interesting about corsetry is that immediately you have two waist measurements, what you are naturally and what you can lace down to. My natural waist is currently 30 inches and I’m laced down to 28. I want to wear my corset all day and as I’m still pretty new to it I thought I’d not take it too tight but I’ve been down to 27.

I absolutely love it. Not only is it like a tight hug, I feel so much more ladylike. Already I’ve had to move from the sofa to the dining table to write as I absolutely can’t slouch. My posture alone takes inches off even before you start with the steel and satin.

I like lists at the best of times but what’s best about lists such as these are that you move out of your comfort zone. Getting my tattoo is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’m glad I waited and got a design so perfect and personal but I also needed a push to make it happen. Similarly with the Opera; I liked the idea of going but probably wouldn’t have done anything about it had I not committed the idea to my list.

Now I’m left with just twelve months, I’d better get organised. I think I know what September’s tick will be; Take a photo worth framing on a large canvas and hang it in my home. I took some (I think) lovely photos on my recent trip to Turkey and rather than procrastinate forever, will get one blown up. My issue is doubt at the standard of my work but I can always change it if/when I get better. Nothing is set in stone.

But for now I’m just going to enjoy my day.

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I used to see myself as a pretty serious tea drinker. Admittedly it was white with an artificial sweetener which I’m sure will disgust purists but I experienced true joy at the offer of a cuppa.

As a brief aside, the waitress of the hotel’s bar just took a break for a coffee and what is essentially a Panini with yellow cheese (there are just two types of cheese in Turkey; the white is like feta* and the yellow like cheddar) chipotle sauce and a local meat with the texture of spam. I’ve so far avoided them as they look vile but she came to give me some (it gets sliced into little fingers). Aside from the loveliness of the gesture it tasted awesome.

Anyway, tea is a big deal in Turkey. When the guidebooks say everyone drinks it, they fail to capture the role it plays in society. You pop into a travel agency to buy a bus ticket but first you must sit, take some tea, be calm. Where are you from, where are you going, why not go to this place instead?

When I first arrived I hated it. I avoided going into shops because I felt obliged to make a purchase if I drank their tea. Furthermore I didn’t know what I might want to buy, couldn’t I just look around?

For several days I was a hot cross Westerner. I walked quickly with sunglasses on and head down to avoid the masses that seemed to desperate to separate me from my lira.

Things changed when I left Istanbul. I took a train and when I arrived at my destination and asked the ticket office for directions to the bus station (after going out, looking and giving up) the only guy there shut up the office and took me to the station. He asked which hotel I was going to and told it to the driver so that I could be dropped off outside. He shook my hand in both of his and wished me a wonderful holiday.

I checked into my hotel and after showering, headed to the bar where a tour seller introduced himself. I said I was interested and he took me over the road; to a restaurant. He bought me dinner as I looked tired and hungry and only then could we go to his office. I got to know the sales team and they looked after me well. When I agreed to buying tours for the next leg of my journey they spent some of their commission buying me drinks.

But always always, we would be drinking tea. When could I go for my mud bath? Sit, drink some tea, we’ll go soon. The many small delays included new busloads of tourists to sell to but many were simply about slowing down. We arrived at the hilltop spa with its mud baths but first I was bought a pomegranate juice. Relax after the journey (8km), why hurry to the mud?

It prepared me well for the last 36 hours.

My bus was to leave Pamukkale for Sepςuk at 5am. At 4.30 Oskar was knocking on my door saying the bus was leaving! A mix of fury at Süleyman for telling me the wrong time and stomach turning fear was forced to the background of my mind as I packed and was out my door in five minutes. Nevertheless the bus was gone and I was dispatched in a car to chase it. Upon that failing I was taken to the train station to catch the 5.45 which would get me there at 8.55, a full 35 minutes before my tour started. So why the bloody hell wasn’t I offered the train in the first place? Of course the tour company weren’t there (assuming I’d be on the bus) but another kindly train station ticket officer made a call and a rep came to get me.

Compared to when I was doing everything myself I felt helplessly out of control. But the tour was great for a trip that would be tricky to do any other way and I was this time safely deposited on my overnight bus. We set off ok but it broke down and we spent four hours on the side of the road while they fixed it. Annoying in itself but also meaning I’d miss my trip in Cappedocia. Again, a sense of helplessness but the Turks seemed nonplussed and I realised the stress was all my own making and I resolved that upon my arrival I would drink tea as a solution.

While I was stuck in rural Turkey a tour rep stopped at my hotel to discover me missing. He called Süleyman who confirmed my exit from Pamukkale and between them my journey was traced to a late bus. Shortly after checking in (after the bus company stopped for directions in order to deliver me to my door) I met the hotel owner who offered me tea. So we sat and drank tea. The Turks drink it strong, black and with lots of sugar (apple tea is just for tourists and is pretty vile). I was happy. I had calmed myself on the bus and was ready to discover solutions.

It didn’t really surprise me the owner knew half the story and I filled the gaps about the broken bus. He lent me his phone to call Süleyman who promptly offered a full refund of my missed tour. I said I had a spare day and could we reschedule? Absolutely, call the tour company and he’d call to confirm. I relayed this to the hotel owner who proffered more tea. You know, because phone calls like this are taxing.

Yes! Yes they are. I hate these kind of calls. So does just about everyone I know. So why do we endlessly force ourselves to always push on?

I called the tour company and everything was arranged. No problem and so so sorry for your terrible journey. Do you feel ok?

It’s not just pandering. People here really take their time. Life is full of inconveniences (in Turkey perhaps more than elsewhere) but they are acknowledged, just as feelings of frustration are acknowledged. Responsibility is taken by those responsible but you must also play your part. Stay calm, drink your tea and be thankful when things are solved. And ultimately everything is solved.

This is the art of drinking tea. My endless bubble of complaints don’t build up here as they do at home and furthermore I don’t feel like an impatient person. I’m endlessly told that this must be frustrating but thank you for your patience. Back home we have a stiff upper lip and because I carry my heart on my sleeve more than most (a nice way of playing I lack diplomacy), I often feel grumpy and difficult.

Tea is the answer. It doesn’t take long but it feeds the soul, recognises the petulant child within and placates it with sugar while pain killing caffeine in shot glass form makes the adult step back from the situation. My life in the UK was an endless stream of words. Turkey has given me back full stops. And lots of little stops make for a far easier to digest paragraph.

* Never call it feta. Feta is Greek. It staggers me how many tourists seem to think Greece and Turkey are interchangeable. Has Eurovision completely passed them by?


 
I used to enjoy writing the essays my English teacher set us at school. She often encouraged us to put ourselves in the shoes of a character we were studying and she always praised creative interpretations of the topic. The most memorable title she set was the somewhat obscure ‘What does it mean to be a writer?’ It was unlike anything she had set us before and most of the class wanted expansion and clarification but for me it raised the question of what it wasn’t.

I knew I wanted to write and I felt certain that I would be a writer. I wanted to create and build. As a small child I had planned cities in Lego but when I tried to draw my ideas they lacked the complexity that I saw in my imagination. But I could describe them. So if I couldn’t design I’d be a storyteller and build my castles in the sky of my thoughts. To write seemed a big and momentous thing. Nevertheless, I struggled to put that into the words of my essay. The closest I came was the creation of new ways of understanding language, citing Poe coining ‘nevermore’ (as a single word). Years later while I still have the image in my head, I still wonder how to capture the essence of creation that I consider to be the meaning of writing.

A couple of years ago I attended a writing group where the teacher posed the question of how she felt about being a writer to a woman who had finished her first novel, was some way through the second and starting to think about editing with a hope to publishing. The woman replied that she didn’t feel like a writer. While our teacher kindly tried to push the point that she surely was, I wonder whether this woman had got caught up in the mythology of writing and struggled to identify herself alongside such great characters as writers.

For that has certainly been my experience. As I prepared for my A Level’s I had a degree of hero worship for those that attended prestigious academic institutions and was desperate to join their ranks in what I now see as a misguided hope that this would end my self doubt as it would surely ‘prove’ my worth. What happened was that once installed at the university of my choice I would swing between feeling let down by the institution (if it had let me in then it obviously wasn’t so great) and feeling like a fraud for being there. Ultimately, I saw academia as a special pursuit for special people and I simply couldn’t elevate myself in my mind to feel as though I belonged.

I now have a PhD and still feel this way much of the time and I’m sure that the woman from my writing group could get published and still not feel part of the establishment she respects so much. Yet writing is so much more a verb than a noun. I think perhaps rather than consider what it means to be a writer, we ought to consider what it means to write; instead of considering the end product, look to its creation.

If you visualise a chef, you tend to see the process. Whites or an apron, floury hands or maybe wrangling a lobster. You might see a look of intense concentration as a dessert is exquisitely piped or the skilful stirring of the contents of a pot. You probably wouldn’t imagine a plate of food without at least the presence of its creator. And yet with authors we tend to see names on book covers or ivory towers. Authors aren’t interesting to watch, they tend to be scribbling or tapping into a keyboard. The product doesn’t grow before you like a dish. Until there is a book, it can be hard to see what has been done.

Much of my writing has been academic. To a certain extent I could talk of word numbers but for the vast majority of people 80,000 words seems incomprehensible. Most of the people I know write but they write emails, press releases and reports. Rarely do any go over 1,000 words so they lack a benchmark for seeing change. At least they do in comparison to my cooking; a platter of carrot cupcakes with piped topping is something they understand very well. To my Grandad in particular, the question was when my PhD would be finished. He appreciated the journey but wanted to see the product; wants the photo of me in a silly outfit that he can frame. My words are not tangible in themselves, there needs to be something else. And so with writing, whether it’s a blog or a book, the url or ISBN provides a place that places words in a geographical context.

I think that undercuts the desire to publish, to share. My ego that would like a glossy tome on the shelves of Waterstones sits apart from the need to have my words on the internet. Self-publishing via my website is the evidence that I have created something real, that there is a result from my labours. When I cook, there is food. When I work in the garden, there is beauty and order. When I write I need more than a filename. I cook to feed people, I garden to create a home and I write in order to be read. I absolutely write for myself just as I dress to please myself but there is still a need to be seen.

I love validation, of course I do. So reading the comments and messages I get sent is hugely gratifying and buoys my esteem enormously. I love it when I’m able to make people think or laugh. But without it I’d still be writing. Even if only one person visited my site, it’d be worth it because their eyes prove I’ve made something.

I write this from Istanbul where I’m spending a fortnight away from life in order to get the backbone of my book on nihilism written. While I have a clear objective (to write and publish a book), I’m focusing less on being a writer than to simply write, to worry less about the end product and the audience I hope will consume it than about the process. For now, the book is my activity not my end point.

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