Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Dear Books

Dear Books,

I feel like you're disappearing. Slowly but surely I can see you fading from the world around me and it makes my heart break. When my parents were young, and then when I was little, you'd get on a bus or a train or stand at the bus stop and people would be there, waiting, travelling...reading. Newspapers, books, autobiographies, novels. You name it, it was being read. Now? Now, you get on that bus or that train or walk to that bus shelter and what are people doing? Staring at their phones. They're playing 'Candy Crush' or scrolling aimlessly through Facebook.


Hang on...

Stop the press.

Is that?

No! It can't be!

Is that a paperback someone has in their hand! What do they think they're doing? Reading! On a train. Someone fetch me a camera! Call the newspapers. Don't leave out a single detail...

Books from my childhood <3
It's heartbreaking.

You are something that I have loved since before a time that I can properly remember. If it wasn't mum or dad reading to me before the lights went out, putting on all the character voices and taking me into a whole new world, then it was me, snuggled up under my duvet, my audience of teddy bears, reading to myself. It was me, coming home from school, and putting my homework aside for a little while to relax with a book or me, desperate for a bath just so I could spend that extra half an hour or so, soaking in bubbles, cup of tea on the side, a book in hand. I honestly don't know what I'd do without you. I don't understand what people do do with without you...but they do.

My reading pile so far!
I grew up with a mix of friends. Some read and some couldn't stand the idea. Library lessons would take place once a week, our English class marching up to that heavenly room and spending an entire 50 or so minutes just reading. Grab a book, pick a beanbag, and curl up, away from the textbooks and the spelling tests. Away from the world. That's what I'd try to do anyway. Meanwhile, most of the class would likely be, picking a book..."no, 'Hello' magazine doesn't count"...finding a beanbag and putting the book down. They'd be talking, giggling, doodling. Dear God!


Some might even grab a book, stand it upright in front of themselves and get out their phone. Playing whatsitcalled on a device that is almost the size of the book they could be reading instead.

Now I'm not saying I don't appreciate technology. I do. I have a smart phone and I'm writing on a laptop as I speak. But there's a time and a place. There's a whole world of writing out there. Stories that someone has written to share with us: me and you. Stories about their lives, or the lives of people they know. Stories about this world, another world, our country, theirs. Reality, fantasy, fiction or fact. It's not like a one size fits all type situation. As my dad would say:

'You can't say you don't like cheese! There's so many different types! Different flavours, textures, there isn't just one cheese!'

There isn't just one of you. I'm not a great fan of fantasy. I much prefer reading about real people or fiction based in a world that I could imagine, or even visit, if I wanted to. Real people, real lives, realistic events. At a stretch, I'll read about an alternate world. Something futuristic but where the people feel real. Where I could imagine that this scenario really could happen!

You're an insight into a whole other place. An escape route away from the world and life we're living. That's why I couldn't deal with studying English Literature at University. Why, as soon as my first lecture was over, I knew I'd made a mistake. For me, books are a way of relaxing. They're a de-stress when I'm distressed. I can empty my mind of the troubles I'm feeling in my own world and go and enter someone elses. No need to ask questions, or guess their meaning. Forget my life and live someone elses for a little while...what could be better?

Dad's Penguin Collection
No, seriously. That's an honest question because I really do struggle with comprehending the answer. I get that there's tv and films, there's theatre (which I love) - all escapes from reality. But how many of those are so accessible, You don't need to know anything else apart from the ability to read. You don't have to be able to use that complicated remote thingimigig or pay lots of money for a seat...although if you've got a ticket going spare......all you need is you, a comfy bed or sofa, armchair or even the floor, a cup of tea (if you're me) and a good book! Join the library and the book is free! Free! That's £0 and 0p....$0 if you're american...0 Euros if you're European. Free! Zilch! Nothing! Nada! I can get as many books as I like for the rest of my lifetime...assuming libraries still exist...and never pay a penny.

But that's the fear. The biggest of all. As Amazon continue throwing out kindles, making them even fancier, turning them into ipads with the occasional ability to read a book on them...other companies will follow. Books will be slowly flattened until the pages no longer exist. Until you can hold it in one hand and control the television with the other. Until instead of the smell of a new book as you open the first page, you'll get the smell of...overheating wires as you charge your electrical devices...or the smell of more money as these big cooperation's get richer and richer and bookshops and libraries fade into dust.

We live in a world now where my 7 year old niece would rather play on my phone than read with me. Where 10 year olds are getting the latest iphone for their birthday and have never set foot inside a library.

Our London collection...or some of it
We live in a world where you are dying.

This chapter is ending and you, the book, are coming to your conclusion.

I want to change that ending.

Keep reading,

Monday, 14 March 2016

Dear Thoughts

Dear Thoughts,

I'm reading this book at the moment. It's called 'The Feeling Good Handbook' by David D. Burns. It's basically a self-help book that allows anyone who's struggling to try and help themselves. Providing a starting point to recovery from anxiety, depression, phobias, procrastination...Burns explains, in the simplest of terms, why we feel the way we do. Why our heart races and we feel slightly sick every time the teacher asks us to do that presentation in front of the class, why we haven't left the house by ourselves for the last ten years for fear of...life or why, no matter how hard we try, we just can't seem to feel happy.

Damn those butterflies!
No matter what we do, or what we wish would happen, the world keeps spinning and sometimes we need to pause, take a deep breath and fix ourselves before we can keep spinning with it.

Now, I'm no where near finishing this book. Over 700 pages long and filled with activities and exercises, it's not exactly the best for my bedtime reading. So instead, I keep it in my bag and I read it, and work through it, during the day. As I travel on the tube I'll move through a chapter, writing down my own thoughts and testing out the theories written before me. When I'm not working and I'm curled up indoors while the sun is still up, another chapter. The evening comes and I put it down. Near my bag. Ready for tomorrow.

So, I'm not even close to the end but I think I'm starting to get the jist. Page by page, chapter by chapter, a theme is developing, one I've been aware of for many years but has been made all the more clearer by putting it down into words. The idea is this:

Our thoughts drive our emotions and behaviors.

I know. Crazy, isn't it?

CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. A therapy I feel very close to and appreciative of as I'm currently taking part in it for the third time in around eight years. It takes the idea that any form of our suffering, our anxiety, our fears, our sadness is all based on problems in our thinking. It's not a therapy there to tell you that something is really wrong with you and that you're crazy but to say the opposite.

It's not your fault.

Although...now I think about it, I'm writing to you, my thoughts, thoughts in general, so really, it is your fault. It's not the fault of the body that you live in though. It's you, trying to take over. Everyone has you, you're a part of everyone's mind but in certain people, people like me who worry that little bit more, you're a little more troublesome.

In his book, Burns describes how people who suffer from anxiety, do so because they have distortions in their thinking. Don't worry, I'll explain what I mean. Maybe if I do, you'll stop acting the way you do.

The idea is, that there are a range of ways in which we take our thoughts and we twist  them so that a much larger mountain is made out of a very insignificant mole hill. Examples of these twists and turns that our bodies create are:

All-or-nothing thinking: where we see everything in black and white. One tiny part of your day goes wrong and suddenly the whole day is ruined and you're a failure in life...get it? All that happened was you missed the bus but suddenly you're spiraling away with the idea that: 'My whole day is ruined, my life is ruined, I'm going to end up living along with ducks' all because of that one glitch.

Jumping to conclusions: Like it says on the tin, you've taken a situation, and how you think you feel, and, without any supporting evidence, run away with an idea and hidden behind a bush. This distortion is split into Mind-reading - where you make an assumption about how people feel or what they're thinking ('I just tripped over my shoelace and now the entire street thinks I'm stupid') and Fortune-telling - where you predict how things will go ('I'm going to fail this test and all my GCSE's, I'll never get a job and then I'll end up living with a whole bunch of ducks...or something'.)

Should statements: Where you use the word should or must...in a sentence, putting pressure on yourself over something that really isn't that important ('I should have done those extra 2 days over the weekend that my boss asked me to do even though it was my Grandma's 105th Birthday and my wife went into labour....now I'm going to be fired, my wife is going to leave me and I'm going to have to move in with a whole load of ducks.')

Labeling: The use of a word, that isn't really a word, to describe yourself and make yourself feel bad or to blame someone else ('I'm such a loser, I spent the entire weekend indoors again with my pet ducks')...if you went to the dictionary...a proper one, not the urban one, 'Loser' would be defined as:

A person, team, nation etc., that loses

It's not a real word that can be used to describe a human being...A human being is a human being. That's all.

Getting the drift? There are more but I'll end up going on forever if I type each one out. The point is, these are all examples of how people take, you, thoughts, and re-mold you into a new shape. For certain people, every little thing that happens is magnified into a huge, mind-bedding, horrific, catastrophic, world-destroying, meteor-striking-earth level disaster. Someone takes the last chocolate biscuit and suddenly they're a Jerk, your whole week is ruined and you're not going to get that job you applied for. See? When you think about it, it sounds really silly, but when you're part of that world and that mind set, you can't see the thought for the distortion...or something.

Burns takes this idea, however, and shows the reader ways of dealing with these troubles and trying to help. By writing down each thought, he shows how the distortions can be eeked out and you, dear thoughts, can be dismissed before you start creating emotions and physical symptons etc. If we let that happen, you see, that's when real crisis' occur with people believing their thoughts, their thoughts which have created anxiety, their anxiety that has increased their heart rate and is making them feel sick leaving them now believing that they're ill, possibly dying when really, dear thoughts it's just you. having a bit of a laff.

Well, we can just laugh right back because, with every little bit of psychological research, every white coat and meeting between that counselor and his or her patient, us humans (not jerks, or arseholes or idiots but humans!) are being taught, step by step how to answer you back. How to tell you that you're just a bunch of blunders, of distortions in our minds and that we're not to blame. We're not to blame for feeling fluttery and anxious or teary and sad because it's just you, trying to take control but guess what?

You don't drive this body, dear thoughts.

So we're taking back the keys.

Have a nice walk, Yours Sincerely,

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Dear Insecurities

Dear Insecurities,

So I was scrolling through YouTube the other day, as I am prone to doing, and I came across a video by one of my top favourite YouTuber's called Dodie Clark. She made a video called 'My Insecurities' where she admitted that, like many, if not most, if not all, people who are truly honest with themselves, she has many things she dislikes about her body. She then progressed to go through these from tail to top and say why she didn't like these certain parts of herself.

At the end she then explained how, the thing is, however much we choose to dislike these little parts of ourselves, or even all of ourselves, they make us who we are. Every freckle and spot, our wonky nose and oddly shaped feet; all these things are what make me, me and you you and they are all loved by so many people. So after pointing out these little faults she feels in her body, she went on to take them, one by one, and explain why she really, actually, truly loves them because, without those things, who would she be?

So what did I decide to do thanks to this wonderfully inspiring video? I decided to write a blog post doing the same thing. A letter to you and a way of reminding myself that really, if I thought about it seriously hard and didn't spend so long moping in front of the mirror, I do actually love my body and I'm very happy that I am me.

Fifteen Flaws 

1. Small feet - Pretty self-explanatory but my feet are only a size 4.5-5 in UK sizes...I think that's around a 38 but I can't say for sure. This makes it slightly tricky sometimes to find shoes that I like as well as meaning that when I forget some vital footwear and I'm going on an adventure with others, I can't just borrow a pair of theirs...not without putting on several pairs of socks first to fill them out anyway.

Odd socks...Deal with it.
2. Bruises on my Legs - So I'm one of those seriously weak human beans who can be lightly touched on any part of my body and a ginormous bluey, purpley, greeny, yellowy mark will appear within minutes. A mark that will insist on simply staying there for as long as possible from that moment on. That means when I wear any sort of short clothing: shorts, skirts, dresses and either no tights, or tan tights are required, my multi-coloured rainbow legs are on display for all to see...great.

"Where did those come from??" I hear someone ask. I'm afraid I don't know dear stranger/family member/friend. One of two places. Either someone touched me lightly with a feather or I walked into a table...again...I'm afraid we shall never know.

3. Bum - It's big and it wobbles. That's all...and yes, I've tried squats.

4. Big Hips and Podgy Tummy - What is says on the tin. It probably can be explained by the fact I don't choose to go to the gym or...do any sort of real exercise really and therefore have not properly worked out for about two years but I do sometimes wish I could feel my hip bones...or that area just generally looked a little bit...tidier. When I was younger, these were the parts of me that stopped me fitting into the low-waisted, hip clinging jeans everyone wore and I never really recovered from that.

5. Tummy Scars - So those who know me or who have read a few of my letters, the ones here about my body and all my medical history...will be aware that my tummy isn't one of those pretty blank canvases with a simple bellybutton decoration around about the middle but that, instead, I have approximately 5 scars of varying lengths, positions and designs spread across my tum. Scars that, from the age that I wanted to start wearing bikinis or tops that showed off that little bit more of my tummy, made me feel a lot more insecure and self-conscious about my body.

Oddly angled photo...lying on my back...so not the most flattering but that's just another flaw...scars!
6. Small Boobs - I may have been the first in my year to develop these wonders when I was very young (I mean I'm not saying 11 or 12 years old is late...but....) however, once they'd had a bit of time to develop into those little B-cups of theirs, they decided to stop. Meanwhile, everyone else overtook me, whether half my height or a whole head taller, they just had a much more impressive chest to carry. Not only was this sad because I was taller than most of those with the bigger boobs but it has also reduced the circle of bras that I can purchase, the most entertaining of which I feel are largely made for the bigger breasted lady.

7. Marked Arms - It's not the biggest thing but, what with many hospital visits and needles that accompany them, both my arms are now home to a wide range of puncture wounds; red dots where once, a nurse approached, gloves on, sleeves rolled up and pricked a tiny hole into my skin.

8. Flubby Neck - Something that Dodie herself mentioned about her own body, but I dislike my own podgy neck that makes me wary of any photographs taken of me unawares. My neck also makes me very aware of when people touch it. Hairdressers, Masseuses...people who might come across that part of my neck where my shunt runs down from my head and you can feel, ever so slightly, a thin tube underneath my skin...ewwwww, what's that!?

9. Spotty Face - Yes, I am human and yes, I get spots. I also have a very bad habit of finding anxiety and stress relief from picking said spots. This tends to leave my face covered in long-lasting, repeatedly picked scabby mark things. Attractive, eh?

10. Dry Lips - 'nough said...and yes I've tried vaseline. It doesn't work...also as soon as you eat or drink it comes off anyway so I really don't get it!

11. Big Nose - I have a very 'fond' memory of being on the school bus, aged about 9 and a girl, younger than me, starting to laugh and pointing ahead of me. After being asked what was so funny, she said, as I turned sideways, my shadow on the chair in front showed I had a really, really big nose. Ha...I already knew that. But thanks.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it...Pinocchio?
12. Big Ears - I'm an elf, didn't you know? No, seriously, as soon as I escaped the school I was at from the ages of 6-13, a place where my hair had to be up and out of my face at all times, I let it loose to cover my ears and haven't touched a hair-tie since...well...not quite but you know what I mean.

13. Invisible Eyebrows - I'm blonde, and I love being blonde...or 'fair' as some may argue, but it does unfortunately mean that this acts on my eyebrows too and in certain photos, when the light is particularly bright, I could carry it off quite well that I, in fact, do not own such a facial feature.

Spot the Eyebrows!
14. Big Forehead - If you look at pictures of me as a baby (see below) it's far worse than now but still, it's something I don't like.

15. Flat Hair - Not always the case but on many a day. My hair lies flat from the roots to my shoulders and it's just. not. cool.

Fifteen Fantastic Features

1. Small Feet - Brilliant because they're cute and I get complimented on how delicate they appear.

2. Bruises on my Legs - A sign that I am active. If I was choosing to spend all day lying in bed or on the sofa, it would be impossible to get such bruises. The fact that I am walking into things or being poked by any other person means I am both on my feet and I have many (quite annoying and painful but still wonderful) friends and family around.

3. Bum - It looks great in jeans and or anything that shows it off. It's big and I love it. So there!

4. Big Hips and Podgy Tummy -  A sign that I eat well and love my food. Also a sign that I developed a love for making delicious dishes from my dad and my brother and sister and that therefore I will choose a big bowl of stew or half a roast chicken over a salad or a bacon sandwich over muesli any day of the year and I'm happy to make that decision!

Once a Hippy, always a Hippy!
5. Tummy Scars - Something that no-one else has and that therefore clearly define me. No-one else has that funky Madeline scar on their right hand side or that newer line down through their belly button. They're the marks of what I've been through and what I've survived and no-one can take them away from me.

6. Small Boobs - If I was one of those crazy people who chose to go running for fun, it would be far less painful, I hear, because of the size of my bazongas. I'm also less likely to be told off in a work place or, when younger, as a pupil, for showing off too much cleavage...I could barely define such a thing let alone show you one.

7. Marked Arms - Another of those silly things that just show how far I've come. Every mark on my arm, every plaster or spot, is a sign that I've got through yet another bunch of needles, drips and painkillers and that shall always be something I feel proud of myself for.

8. Flubby Neck - It's just one of those things. It's in the genes and it's part of me, so I love it. My shunt tells a story, one of my own and anyone that is curious and wants to know, can ask. I'm happy to tell.

9. Spotty Face - A sign that I am human. Hormones, greasy skin, spots = all a sign of growing up and changing. The fact that I pick them, not the best thing and not something I'm terribly proud of, but there are much worse things I could do when scared or anxious or stressed so let's just be happy that this is what I do instead.

10. Dry Lips - Mine. I have nothing else to say.

11. Big Nose - Yes, it's big but that's my nose and if it were any smaller, or cuter or pixie,,,ish, it wouldn't be. It's a conversation starter on the bus as proven and I love it.

12. Big Ears - Saves me money when I want to go dressed as the BFG or an elf to the Christmas party and they're also kinda cute.

13. Invisible Eyebrows - I do own a pair of tweezers but I don't really need to. No-one can see those tiny fair hairs anyway and I certainly don't need to start worrying about their shape. Eye-brow Pencil? What even is that?? My eyebrows are fine how they are, thank you very much.

14. Big Forehead - What do you think is behind that forehead....? Exactly! I mean, that grey matter needs a place to grow and that's where it be growin'! It's also yet another reminder of my insane ability to survive having a head full of water. Whooop!

15. Flat Hair - Gives me all the control I want over how I shape it, part it, plait it, wear it and I love it!

So there we go, insecurities! 15 things that I hate about myself and why I love those things so much!

If you'd like to reply, feel free, because everyone has these things, even......


The point is, that's ok. In fact, it's wonderful.

Lots of Love and Love Yourself,

Tuesday, 8 March 2016


So I love Spanish food. If I had to choose anywhere or any cuisine I wanted to eat at for my final meal...and if Carluccios no longer existed, it would be at a tapas restaurant somewhere. Anywhere. Tapas. I'd make sure we had Padron Peppers and Chorizo is a must. As my last meal, I'd also be allowed olives so that would be fab...and maybe a tortilla (Spanish Omlette - not the flatbread) and...Oh i don't know! Just bring me everything on the menu! And bring it fast.

You get the drift.

Anyway, the other day I was walking down Portobello Road looking at all the vegetable stalls and stocking up for the meals ahead when I spotted...A Spanish supermarket! Yes, that's right, a supermarket filled to the brim with Spanish treats. A whole charcuterie section with serano ham and chorizo, an olive bar filled with pot after pot of those delicious nibbles and many, many other tasties. Well, I couldn't exactly walk in and then leave without buying anything, could I! That would just be rude. So I bought one of those long Chorizo Sausages mostly used for cooking as well as a packet of Padron Peppers! Mmmmm.

That night I got creative.

Chickeny, Spanishy...Food?

2 Chicken Thighs
Olive Oil
Soy Sauce
Garlic Granules
1 Lemon 
Mixed Herbs
Salt + Pepper
Potatoes (for mashing)
4 Padron Peppers (optional)
A Handful of Sage Leaves
1 Vegetable Stock Cube

1. So the first step is to marinate the chicken because, as you know by now, I like to do this. Pour a generous amount of olive oil, a dash of soy sauce, a sprinkle of herbs and another sprinkle of garlic granules, a squeeze of lemon juice  and some salt and pepper into a bowl and mix the chicken thighs around. You can even squeeze the lemon over the thighs too just to ensure those juices are covering the meat. Cover up the bowl and leave while you either prepare other things or...have a bath...or...your choice.
2. Potatoes take quite a while I find so I always like to put these on early. Chop them up into smallish piece...quarters if you will and place in a pan of cold water. Put the pan on the heat with the lid on and allow to boil. You can continue with other things while they're a-cooking.
3. The only real preparation needed for the rest of the dish is chopping up your chorizo. You want your pieces reasonably small. Bitesize if you will. If you lack a Spanish shop in your local vicinity, most supermarkets will sell packets of chopped/cubed chorizo in their cold meats section, so you can always purchase these. 
4. Once the chicken has had time to marinate and abosorb those delicious flavours (nommm), heat up a little bit of oil in a deep frying pan and place the thighs, skin-side-down on the heat. Your aim is to crisp up the skin a bit but not to burn it and not to cook the chicken completely through. While they're browning, you can also  squeeze over some more lemon juice and add the two lemon halves to the pan. 
5. Now the chicken has started cooking, you can remove them from the top, place them on a tray with a splash more olive oil and some of the juices from the pan and put them in the middle of the oven at around 170-180 degrees. These will need another 30 minutes or so but keep checking them. My method for chicken is to use a knife and fork (wash with hot water after just in case) to cut into the middle of the thigh and check its colour. If any pinkness is visible, it needs more time. 
6. So, the chicken is in the oven and you have a frying pan on the heat with some lemon floating around. Now you can start dealing with other bits. Chuck into the pan your chorizo pieces and the padron peppers and give the chorizo time to release its flavours and the padron peppers time to brown and blister (looks how you would imagine) slightly on the outside. Padron peppers really need salt to make them lose their bitterness which is why I say optional...I think next time, I probably wouldn't use them but feel free to give it a go!
7. When the potatoes are ready (you'll know by poking them with a knife and feeling it go through easily), drain them, tip them back into the saucepan with a generous lump of butter, some salt and pepper and a dash of milk and get your mashing skills on. Your aim here is to have as few lumps as possibly although that's not vital as you shall seeee later.
8. Potatoes done, chicken nearly ready, pour the mash into the frying pan with the chorizo (and peppers), tip in a hefty amount of spinach leaves (because we all know how much they shrink now, don't we!), a bunch of sage leaves and give it a mix. The potatoe will absorb the juices and the flavours and become all soft and yummmmy. Make sure the spinach can reach the heat though so that it cooks properly. 
9. Now you can add some stock. I've said this before but there are two ways of doing this. Either you can make it beforehand, placing a stock cube in a cup or jug and adding boiling water, allowing it to dissolve or you can just crumble a dry stock cube into the mix. Take your pick! Both will add some delicious flavours to your meal. 
10. Now you've got your slightly soupy, potatoey, chorizoey mix thing, you can take your chicken thighs, all nicely cooked through and full of flavour and serve your dish. I made it so it was like a bed of spinach and chorizoey mashed potato with the chicken thighs served on top but go with your imagination. The most important thing is that you....

Enjoyyyyy!...Buen Provecho!

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Dear Mummy

Dear Mummy,

You may have seen (well...you have seen because I watched you read it) I wrote a letter to Daddy not too long ago, a matter of days in fact. In it, I thanked him for being so wonderful and doing so much for everyone: Felix, Polly, Matt, the grandchildren, the in-laws, me. Now, it's your turn.

As I write this, you're upstairs at home, sleeping. On Mother's day. You're not feeling your best but you've got to rest and sleep it off because tomorrow you're going away for a well-deserved break to Lisbon with Dad. Whether your body or immune system feels happy with this idea is besides the point. You're getting on that plane no matter what. Because you deserve to.

This year hasn't been the best for you, or even the last two. What with car accidents, hospitalizations - for both you and me - operations, holidays booked and cancelled and, earlier this year, the loss of my lovely Grandpa, your wonderful dad, you've been through the whatsitmacalled and back again. Yet you've still gone and done it all. Even when the anxiety has been eating away at you and you haven't slept properly for days, you've always been there for me, for Felix, for Dad, for friends and for Grandma. Today, despite feeling poorly and probably needing to stay in bed with endless cups of tea and a regularly re-filled hot water bottle, you dragged yourself out and went to visit your mum. You did it because she needs you and because you care and that's just what you're like.

On my second day at Leighton Park, Jane Ireland said those famous words 'You have a wonderful mother,' and it's true, I do. She didn't need to tell me. From the day I was born, I've put you through a lot. My body has acted up and you've spent way more time than anyone should in A&E at ungodly hours of the morning and sitting on wards in the Royal Berks, trying to distract me from my worries, even while, knowing you, you were probably worrying yourself. I put you through the traditional teenage years of hormones and crying and shouting over the b***** f****** algebra homework and my stupid, pointless geography revision...etc. the list continues. Yet you never gave up. Not even when I was panicking at uni, when I decided to leave and then I didn't know what my plan was next. You always have been, and you always are, there.

I've grown up in a world filled with mothers who are around a lot. Mothers who picked their kids up from school everyday and cooked their dinner in the evenings. As you know and read in my letter to Daddy, my childhood wasn't like that. You were always disappearing and reappearing at ridiculous hours, home from a long, hard slog at the office. I used to come and visit you there and sit reading, colouring or getting my third cup of hot chocolate from the drinks machine down the hall, while there you'd sit, typing, reading, documents, papers, phone calls, Oh I don't know! Silently I'd sit there piping up every now and then to question when we could go down to the cafeteria for lunch or when we could go shopping. I'd go and drop in on your friends who worked with you, people I'd grown up meeting and greeting and being told:

'Gosh, you've grown! You're much taller than when I last saw you!'

It's funny how time and developing works, eh?

Not only are you ridiculously clever and hard-working though, but you're also so busy! As Ruby Wax talked about both in her book 'Frazzled' and in the talk she did on the subject, we live in a world where it's important to be very busy all the time. You're one of those admirable people that manages this necessary life trait incredibly well. Always with a theatre ticket or three in your handbag or a restaurant booking on your brain, you've always got places to go, people to see. This is one of the first times in my life that I can recall there not being some huge holiday booked for sometime in the near future. Every year since Felix and I were very small, our holidays have been filled chocablock with new destinations and adventures. We've done safaris, India, the USA, Egypt, Oman, Tunisia, Turkey, France, Italy, Sweden...the list continues and you never seem to run out of ideas.

Even if we don't go too far afield, there's a cottage booked in Cornwall or in some distant part of the UK, near a beach or in a little village. Your band of friends is forever expanding joined by ladies who share a fascinating interest in the card game Bridge, couples who share yours and dad's need to flee the country and go and explore and those crazy bunch of fools who chose to follow a career path into law. All of these people as lovely, and interesting and big-hearted as you. Thank God, or else how would I have ever achieved having such a wonderful collection of Godparents. A combination of your friends, dad's, Polly's and I am supported on all sides by a fabulous bunch of (slightly mad but always loveable) ladies and gentlemen.

You're a family girl. The big sister of the bunch and over the last few months, more than ever, I've watched you and your younger siblings grow closer and closer. Some of my favourite occasions are when you and your sisters and Darryl are placed in a room together and you start to converse. It is rare that a conversation involving any combination of the four of you does not end in someone crying with laughter. It's in the genes so it's a good thing we're the same size...!? ...genes... like...jeans...geddit? God, I'm a card.

'A card'. A Warnford-Davis/Mandy phrase that no one in the real world understands. One of many. I'm a card, Felix is a card...but God forbid anyone else is a card because they'd probably assume they'd been insulted and flounce away. This runs alongside lines such as 'Good plan, Batman' in response to the communication of a...good plan and possibly...nidgel...or something like that...it means small but I'm not sure if it's a real word or not. There are others, I know but for the moment, that's all I've got. Basically, you have your own vocabulary and I think that's pretty cool.

Pretty cool when you add it to your intriguing, unique fashion sense. Both you and dad always manage to achieve the prize of best dressed at all the parties and no one could ever describe your outfits as dull. If I manage to grow up half as fashionable and exotic as you in what I wear, I'll be proud.

So, you may not know where the ironing bored is or how the washing machine works, you may leave your many cups of tea until they're stone cold and show up 10 minutes late for every meal because you're either still in bed, on the computer, or on the phone but you're still my mum and I wouldn't have you any other way.

I love you to the moon and beyond...and back again...and then circling the world a couple of million times...I love you a lot.

Big hugs and thanks for being so wonderful.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Dear Daddy

Dear Daddy,

The other day I was scrolling through Facebook (as you know I like to do quite a bit) and I saw a video that a few people had shared. This One. You don't have to watch it but here's the premise. It's an advert for Ariel (the brand not the Little Mermaid) based around a father writing a letter to his daughter. In this letter, he apologises to her for giving her the wrong ideas about how life should be. The video starts with her coming into the room, home from doing the food shop, her phone rings and she answers while juggling cooking dinner, tidying the room and making a cup of tea for her husband, who sits, not even caring, in front of the telly. She unpacks the shopping, does the laundry while juggling emails and laying the table. Her father aplogises for all this, for allowing his little girl to grow up playing house and doing all the work. He says 'It's never too late to change'. He heads home to his wife, the mother of his daughter, who he allowed to do exactly what his daughter does now, and starts to unpack his bag. When his wife comes in to sort out his laundry, he stops her, he shows her he can help. They do it together. The advert ends with the simple line:

'Why is laundry only a mother's job?'

When I saw this advert, dotted around Facebook, I watched it and I couldn't help but share it too. For all my friends and the people who know me. Why?

Not because the message is relevant to me but because it isn't. I shared it because watching it makes me proud to have a dad like you and I wanted people to realise that you do exist and that what you do shouldn't be deemed as unusual or odd.

For as long as I can remember, you have been man of the house. Not in the sense that you take control and watch over the goings on while everyone around you does what needs to be done (although you do that too in your own way, when needed) but because you do everything. Ever since I was little, you have been both home and away. I would often wake up at the crack of dawn to hear you getting up, putting on your suit and heading off to London. Into the city for your day at the office. Lawyering...whatever that means. When it wasn't mum's turn to head up to town, it was yours and off you'd go. That evening, you'd come home and the cycle would continue. Yet, that wasn't your only role. Yes, you always have and still do, work incredibly hard doing whatever it is you do...20 years later and I still couldn't tell anyone. Let's just stick to Lawyering because I like that word. Even now, 10 years after you supposedly 'retired' you're still going. Up and down to the city, London, Brighton, suited and booted, on the phone and checking emails. But that's not all.

Because at home, you're the man of the kitchen. Every day after school, home for the weekends once I started boarding or even when we went away, there you'd be, cooking up a delicious storm, making sure some was left for when mum eventually dragged herself away from her desk. Jealousy inducing meals that would turn friends and family green with envy. Every Sunday, no exception, a full roast dinner, be it Pork, Lamb, Chicken, Beef, Veal, Goose....the list is endless, not forgetting the roast potatoes...or is it mash this week or new ones...and a vast range of greens...and oranges...carrots, I mean. Every supper, something to look forward to, my first question on getting in the car: 'What are we having tonight?'. When it comes to pudding, you and mum share the talent. Be it, ginger puddings, crumbles or (if I'm really lucky and cross my fingers super tight) something chocolatey. You're one of two bread-winners in the family but you're head bread-maker...except the bread is never really bread, it's yummy chicken dishes or...basically anything that I can put in my tummy.

I mean...come on!
That's not all though because this advert was making even more points. It was linking women to the cleaning and the washing. The tea-,making. In our house, whenever I come home, when I wake up in the morning or when I'm just having a lazy day and on the sofa a lot, I am confronted with the simple word: tea? It's not really a question, more of a 'tea.' Full stop. The kettle is already on. You send me off to wherever I plan to go, the sofa or to my room and a few minutes later there you appear, a cuppa in hand. You're the first face I see in the morning with a steaming mug of caffeine to greet me and I shall always be eternally grateful for that. Especially these days when I'm spending many mornings having to rouse myself out of bed without one. Once I'm awake, I then wait the many hours before mum decides to greet the world at which point, she too, is provided with her morning beverage. I think both of us have said before that one day we'll do it for you...but until you start waking up at a more human hour, I think we'll have to leave that job to you.

No ponytail fortunately...just a ridiculous mustache...
Then there's the laundry. One of the first things you say before I unpack my bags is 'put any washing in the basket' and I do. That washing is then collected by you. Yes, you heard me right stereotype makers, my father collects the laundry, and you sort it, colours, darks, whites, and put them in the machine. Once they're done, you hang them up to dry, outside or over the aga and when that's complete, you set up your ironing board, and you're away. Some of my favourite evenings are those when you ask me to pick a film, something easygoing and preferably that you've seen before, so you can do the ironing while we relax in front of the fire. There you stand, one sheet, two sheet, t-shirt, knickers. Yes, that's also right, my father irons our knickers. We don't ask him to, he just does. Beat that. Into the airing cupboard they go and then it's someone's job, mine when I can, to sort them. Job done. Next basket of laundry...and so the cycle continues.

You run the house but you also run the garden. You have help but you're the one who gives the instructions. What needs to be planted where, what needs to be tidied where and what needs to be picked where and when. A daily vase of flowers appearing both on mum's bedside table and my own. I know you say that I probably couldn't navigate myself around the garden and I do know where you're coming from but I do see what you do. I do come and get you when the phone rings and I have to find you on the ground somewhere in the Kitchen Garden doing...something...and I do love the flowers in the spring and the summer. The garden is a triumph and everyone who comes over, agrees. Once again, the green tinge of envy appearing over the green of your leaves.

You see, we live in a world where even now, in 2016, it's still more 'normal' (whatever that means) for these things, these 'domestic' things, to be carried out by the women. They're at home, cooking, cleaning, looking after the kids while daddy is out at work. I grew up in a house where both my parents had full on jobs in the city but they shared the burdens of home life. Dad taking the lead, mum following close behind with her similarly yummmy concoctions and occasional use of the ironing board (if she really has to). Yet I see it everywhere. Living in Notting Hill at the moment but with many work experience weeks spent in schools both here and at home in Berkshire, it was a shock when I saw a child being dropped off or picked up by a man. If it wasn't mummy kissing their little one goodbye it was another female figure. A grandparent or a nanny, an Au Pair or a big sister. Women. The same women who would be back later to do the pick up and take them home for tea.

In my world. it's my dad who's standing at the gate at school, or waiting in the car park and it's my dad who takes me home for tea. He may have been a huge source of embarrassment when I was little when there he'd stand in his bright patterned embarrassing jumpers or, in the early days, with his hair in a ponytail with one of my hairbands. He may have led to a few questions about why my dad was collecting me...or on occasion my grandpa but...

I wouldn't have it, or him, any other way.

I love you lots Daddy, even if sometimes I'm not very good at showing it.

See you soon,