The hottest man in the room’m a little ashamed to say this, but like any teenage girl I’m not averse to looking up hot men on Google, especially if they happen to be tall talented A-list actors.

That’s how I know that one of the top searches which invariably comes up as you start typing the name of a male celebrity is “wife”. (That’s also how I know I’m not the only one looking).

You can try this at home now, pick three high profile British actors, say Tom Hiddleston, Eddie Redmayne, Benedict Cumberbatch, or pick your own favourites, and you’ll see “wife” come if not first, at least second of the searches.

Why anyone would check this up is beyond me – just in case they’re not married and you still have a chance?? – but it got me thinking, especially as I looked up a famous motivational speaker earlier today.

I was looking up Sean Stephenson , because I’m a huge fan of motivational videos and as I watched him speak on YouTube over breakfast this morning, he struck me as one lovely person. As I listened to him talk about how we can all overcome our excuses to make your life truly special, he positively radiated kindness and intelligence.

Yet if this man’s looks immediately set him apart from the crowd it’s not because of his pretty face; actually quite the contrary. Due to being born with brittle bone syndrome, Sean is three feet tall and he’s spent all his life in a wheelchair. He’s not obvious A-list material and still he’s a charismatic, perfectly charming guy.

So yes, guess what came up when I typed Sean Stephenson on Google?

“Sean Stephenson wife”

That’s right ladies – the hottest man in the room isn’t always who you think he is.

Click here to see Sean in action in a cool video and on that note, enjoy the rest of your day!


What goes on outside the frame

The other day as I was walking on the Greenwich riverside, I saw a bunch of guys shooting a film. It was only a small group: two young men behind a lightweight camera and three actors in 1940s costume, maybe doing a student production. They didn’t have any gear aside from a few props, so most people walked past without even noticing.

I sat on a bench for a while, listening to the waves coming onto the beach below. I could barely hear the actors in the background. Between each take a handful of tourists went by; next to me a young couple was making phone reservations. Down below the tide was coming in, gently depositing bits of wood and the odd plastic bottle on the sand. Life went on as usual.

As a self-confessed addict to TV series, I’m the first one to get sucked into what goes on inside the frame, as if my life depended on it. I hate to think that the characters I’ve come to see as friends are actually actors who may have nothing at all to do with each other off screen. I don’t like that whole worlds are just a set – or worst, special effects. I’m still a bit upset from when I found out the entire pirates show Black Sails was shot on green screen (as if it wasn’t bad enough they’re not real pirates!).

So seeing this simple film being made – which to its viewers, will look like the life of real people in 1940s London – brought home the true meaning of that old expression “you need to reframe the problem”: that is, you need to look beyond what’s in the frame, because whatever you’re focusing on isn’t the whole picture. It may not even be real, and just like my actors working on the riverside, life goes on around it regardless.

In the TV show of my life at the moment – the one where I’m the writer, director and main character all rolled in one – the main plot this season is about financial security, and the ups and downs of being jobless.

In one sub-plot, my character is scared of what will happen when her ex-partner stops supporting her financially. It’s not the main story, but one you know is there somewhere in the background, waiting to reappear and create chaos. Will she be broke, will she need to move out, will she be homeless? In the latest episode, it finally happened: the support stopped without any warning. One day she gets a call from the estate agents saying that half the rent wasn’t paid. *Gasp*. The ex-partner isn’t answering anyone’s calls or emails: not the agents’, not hers.  It’s not explicitly said, but the viewer understands they will probably never speak to each other again.

In actual life, this is how the plot unfolded: precisely nothing happened. Nothing at all changed other than I stressed out for half a day, after which I decided a bit more debt or a bit less wouldn’t make a huge difference, and I went on to have lunch with a friend, who kindly invited me on her expenses account (bless her employer).

It was a good reminder that my own personal drama, probably like yours, only ever happens if I’m so sucked into my own story in the small “frame” in front of me that I forget there’s a whole life around it. If I reframe, I always know that nothing is that disastrous. More often than not, rigorously nothing is really at stake.

As my former boss used to say in rare instances of major disasters: “oh well, nobody died”. And anyway as we all know, even when someone does, life will go on regardless. The only show we really shouldn’t get addicted to is our own.



Love thy neighbour (even if he plays the accordeon)



In case my life didn’t feel like enough of a circus at the moment, some Romanian guy is now playing accordion 7 days a week right under my windows.

Probably not with the sole purpose to annoy me (I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt). I live on a busy street, and I imagine he’s getting a fair bit of audience; though Deptford being Deptford, God knows he’s not about to grow rich.

Anyway, it’s not even too loud or too repetitive (he’s got at least 3 songs in the repertoire) but it does go on all day, and it’s fair to say he doesn’t exactly put his heart or soul into it – as you probably wouldn’t if you had to play on the street for about 8 hours straight. Or come to think of it, as you probably don’t in your day job.

Altogether it’s not a fantastic addition to my working life, which currently consists mostly of sending out CVs and the odd dull application form (why some companies feel the need to have you copy/paste the entire content of your CV in their own ill-formatted Word table is beyond me).

So when I woke up this sunny Sunday morning with a fair bit of hangover, and the first thing I heard before I’d even had my first cup of tea was this freaking guy and his stupid accordion, is when it really started to p*ss me off.

I mean, the ONE DAY of the week when there’s no traffic, no market vans being unloaded, no crowds, no loud train announcements blasting from the station, there has to be this BLOODY IDIOT at it already. Who’s even going to be listening on a Sunday morning?!!

I dislike getting angry even more than I getting drunk (last night was a bit of a glitch), so just as I was vociferously asking myself in my own head “Who the f*ck would want to be out playing accordion on this street, all day, every day that God makes?!”… it thankfully hit me.

Who indeed?

I sure as hell wouldn’t. And I’m beginning to think this guy doesn’t either.

I mean, I don’t know much about his personal circumstances, but it’s bloody cold out, half the residents of this fair neighborhood are as broke as he is, and it’s not like anyone is stopping to listen anyway.

In fact, I passed him by only yesterday on my way to the shops, doing my best to pretend he wasn’t even there, but he still flashed a polite, if sheepish smile.

I’m guessing he sensed a hostile.

I promise to be nicer tomorrow.


Be more seagull

Seagulls just bide their time...They say cats are the greatest spiritual teachers, but I’d personally go with seagulls.

It’s true that by all accounts, cats are master of being “in the now” and doing their own thing. You don’t see them being too encumbered with what people will think , or ahem, want them to do.

They also look curiously at every tiny thing everyday as though they were seeing it for the first time, though in my opinion this has more to do with the fact that they’re very near-sighted.

One of my favourite things these days is to walk alongside the river, and looking at how seagulls play with the wind: gracefully going up when the wind goes up, down when it goes down. (Incidentally, I used to do that in my old job too: we were on the 9th floor.)

Unlike us humans, you don’t see seagulls manically trying to go against the wind, or crashing to the ground when there is none. That’s because when there is no wind, or too much, they just sit tight (usually among friends) and bide their time until the right wind blows again – because they know it always will.

This speaks to me volumes at a time when I’m between jobs, between homes and hopefully between relationships. Most days quite frankly feel like I’m in the tumble dryer, not entirely sure where is up or down, with wind coming in gusts from all directions.

So I try and learn from the seagulls, and bide my time gracefully, and wait for the right wind.

On another note, have you seen the phone ad campaign with the slogan BE MORE DOG“Walking: amazing! Chasing cars: amazing! Sticks: amazing! CARPE DIEM, which means ‘grab the frisbee’ “… Being that excited about everything is something we can all aspire to, but it’s a pretty tall order.

So on days when life’s looking less than tail-waggingly fun (maybe you’ve lost your squeaky toy or you’re in the dog house again) rather than be more dog I say BE MORE SEAGULL, and you’ll do just fine.



Books that will change you life: “Transitions – making sense of life’s changes”

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“People change and they forget to tell each other” – Lillian Hellman



The book

I can’t remember how or why I came across it in the first place, and I don’t know much about the author, but I’ve personally found it very helpful in the last few weeks as I’m going through rather a lot of change at the moment.

“Transitions” is not specifically about careers, more about all the big changes that make an impact on our lives. It was first published in 1980 and it has since been revised several times… so one can only assume it’s helped a number of people since.

Have you already had periods in your life when you’re no longer the “old you” and whatever you enjoyed previously (your old friends, your job, your city, whatever) suddenly no longer satisfies you? Or times when you felt empty or depressed for “no reason”? That’s the signs of transition, baby.

The big idea

According to the author, since Western society has evolved over the centuries to be primarily focused on productivity/ efficiency, we’ve had a tendency to view humans as “mechanical”. People are seen to evolve like on a production line: they are born, grow to their adult size while being equipped via education, and at the age of 21 they are fully-formed adults who do not change until the end of their lives… except for the fact they get old.

Yet we all know from experience that it’s not really true – I personally don’t feel like the same person I was 15 years ago, do you? Not only do our external circumstances change but we also evolve with regard to our identities, who we think we are, and what we want for ourselves.

Understanding the psychological transition that goes on around major external changes can help us figure out why we sometimes react in inexplicable ways… especially when we find ourselves getting depressed “for no reason”, or following a positive external change like a big promotion at work or the birth of a child.

“Change is situational. Transition, on the other hand, is psychological. It is not those events, but rather the inner reorientation and self-redefinition that you have to go through in order to incorporate any of those changes into your life. Without a transition, a change is just a rearrangement of the furniture.”

Ending before beginning

In ancient societies, people didn’t have smart phones but they were more in touch with their internal lives than we are, and they had rites of passage to help individuals go through major life changes.

Whatever form they took, those rites usually involved a “dramatic ending” to the old familiar situation, followed by time spent in a “neutral zone”, and finally a “new beginning” when the person returns with a new identity. (You might have heard of such rituals in tribes when boys were sent to spend time on their own in the wilderness, as a symbolic rite of passage in order to become men? If not they’re copiously described in the book, alongside ancient Greeks myths and the life of Jesus and other spiritual figures).

Crucially, the “new beginning” comes right at the end of the process; it won’t happen until the person has A/ fully accepted that he/she can never go back to the old situation (which may cause considerable grief) and B/ spent the appropriate time in the neutral zone doing some soul-searching.

Why it will change your life

We’ve all heard about the mid-life crisis (and the red sports car clichés), but it’s not true that all of us will go on a major identity crisis at 40 – rather, our identities evolve constantly in our own time, and we may well go through several such transitions depending on our circumstances.

Each of us will be faced with several periods of “floating” and readjustment which may be extremely painful, especially if we have no clue what is going on… so understanding the process can help us navigate it more easily and gracefully.


When you don’t know what to do, do nothing

What is required is actively doing nothing... 2
As mentioned previously, I recently quit my job of 7 years.

This had been a long time coming, since although I liked it there (at least most days), I’d become desperate for some time off, and it felt as though a long break was overdue.

As decisions go, it wasn’t very rational – reason would have dictated that I don’t quit my job without having a new one lined up. But since every cell in my body told me otherwise, I opted to check out and give myself time to basically unplug, stare at the wall a bit, then surround myself with nice things and nice people, and figure out what to do next.

If you’ve already made a decision on instinct rather than reason, you may be familiar with that feeling of floating – accompanied by a slight panic – that comes when you know you’ve made the right decision, but you still don’t know what to do next. Like you’re still expecting the rest of the guidelines.

Imagine following a trail of pebbles in the forest – you probably don’t see the end destination, and you may go through long periods of not finding the next pebble. At this point you’re better off slowing down until you find the next step.

This is rather what it feels right now.

To use another hackneyed metaphor: when a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, it doesn’t just loses its tiny legs and grows a pair of wings. No, what happens is that every cell of the caterpillar dissolves inside the cocoon to form some sort of goo; which will in turn become a new being.

I currently feel in the goo phase. It’s a bit of a bummer, but rather than freaking out I’ve decided to make the most of it; if that’s how it works, then so be it.

Embracing nothingness is harder than you’d think – for me it means repeated efforts not to run around like a headless chicken, checking job listings all day (tempting), or binge-watching Netflix series (even more so).

It turns out for it to work, what is actually required is actively doing nothing – vacating yourself and your thoughts through whichever ways are available to you, meditating, walking, singing, whatever. That’s the only way you might hear answers from the tiny voice within.

For me what works is a long walk or dancing around my flat (though don’t tell anyone); baking or boxing or playing with your dog may do the trick for you. If you don’t know what does it for you, trying to figure it out will be time well spent.

At the moment though, I’m still looking for the next pebble.

I’ll keep you posted.

Good advice from wise people

IMG_0367_editOne nice thing about breaking up with your partner is that you instantly receive compassion and support from everyone around you, including some unsuspected places.

In the last few weeks I’ve relied heavily on my mum, my best mates, and supportive family members. But I’ve also received immense kindness from strangers, colleagues I don’t know that well, friends I hadn’t seen in years, and random articles from the Internet.

Breakup advice is pretty much the same everywhere: focus on yourself, take it one day at a time, don’t think of the past, don’t get obsessed, take up a new hobby. Most of it is common sense, really. But some of those powerful tips have really become helpful mantras.

“Breathe” said a friend who knows me well. In those first terrible days when I felt like the floor had disappeared under my feet and I just wanted to cry non-stop, that advice was salutary. Because it’s a fact that if you focus really hard on the feeling of your breath going in and out of your nostrils, your belly inflating and deflating, all sense of worry disappears. At least for a few minutes.

“Put your own mask first”, advised one Internet blogger, in reference of what you’re supposed to do on a plane the unlikely event of loss of cabin pressure. If ever there’s a time to focus on yourself and be a little selfish, until you feel like a “normal” human being again, it is now.

“Don’t shrink”, said another wise friend, and I found this a powerful reminder. Because it’s true that in any situation, we always have a choice between shrinking with fear, regret and self-loathing; or expanding and relaxing to fill our lives with love – even (and especially) in the places that hurt. So if shrinking leads to self-pity, fear and more hurt, I’m happy to do anything to actively avoid that.

A word of hope came from the interim guy at work, who I’d barely spoken to since he joined, even though he sat next to me. He was the first person I saw on the morning after the breakup, and I opened my heart to him like you only can to stranger. It turns out a few years back he’d been through a horrendous breakup himself. “Focus on yourself”, he said. And also: “Other doors will open”.

Last week I went for coffee in a place that sold pretty gifts and home furnishings. I spotted some light-hearted little fabric signs.

“Be Brave”, said the first one. “Be Bold”, said the second. “Be Kind”, said the third.

I couldn’t have decided on just one to buy, although if they made it into bunting with all three, I would certainly have bought one.

Letting go & moving on

There will come a time_6It’s been a funny old month.

I’d been planning for some time to leave my old job (with which I’ve had a love-hate relationship for years), and that all came to a head a few weeks ago, when I resigned without having a new one lined up.

Finally admitting that all the joy had gone (I wish I’d known where), I took the plunge and I checked out:

I needed to see what life was like outside the old office, and it felt as though it was now or never. It felt bittersweet and scary, but mostly it felt good.

Then, just as I was getting used to the idea of leaving my job, I got a lot more freedom than I bargained for:

In a rather spooky twist of symmetry, or coincidence, just as I was getting ready to move on, my partner of seven years – who unlike my work, I loved wholeheartedly – decided to call it quits on our relationship, without prior warning.

(Or to be fair, there was prior warning, I just didn’t want to see it).

Anyway, as anyone who’s had their heart broken knows, it really, really sucks. And it’s terrifying. Especially as I just let go of another major part of my life, it felt like pretty bad timing.

For the first few days it felt like in a film, like I was going to wake up and it would all be gone.

Then after a few days, and a lot of support from my friends, I was able to breathe again. I started to see beyond the fear, and getting excited at the idea of a blank new page.

So right now I’m taking it one day at a time, but I have a feeling that somehow, everything is exactly how it should be. They say life doesn’t give us what we want, it gives us what we need.

I figure so long as I focus on the excitement, the fear will take care of itself.

Life goes on.

The Waiting Wall


I recently came across a beautiful and haunting digital art project called The Waiting Wall that displays our darkest thoughts on a public board (the type of boards you have in stations and airports).

It’s well explained in this Guardian article, but basically it goes like this: anyone can go on to the project’s website and enter a personal confession, then the system displays it on the board.

It’s currently exposed in the Brighton train station, so commuters can send and view secrets in real time – but because it’s internet based, so can you.

You can go to this site and upload your secrets. You can also keep reading everyone else’s, which is what makes the project so addictive and wonderful. Here are a few that came up in the last 5 minutes:

“I’m not unhappy, but is that enough?”

“Self doubt is a constant plague”

“I’m terrified my daughter’s cancer will come back, and I won’t be able to save her”

“I don’t have a purpose and I don’t know what to do about it”

“I don’t want to live anymore”

“My Dad is dying. All the time I tell people I’m fine, but I’m not”

The confessions are dark but they’re universal. They talk of love, death, our loved ones, finding meaning. Some are weird, most make you want to hug whoever wrote it, and tell them they’re going to be okay. Except you don’t know who it is. It could be someone in a different country, just like it could be the person next to you on the bus.

Liz Gilbert, who used to work as bartender, says that everybody has a story that would stop your heart, and sure enough everybody wants to tell you about it. It certainly sounds true looking at the wall.

But what strikes me most is how many of the personal struggles are so familiar, as though our deepest, darkest fears, are in fact our most common denominator. 

I had a go at writing on the wall what seems to be my motto these days: “kindness is underrated”. I wish I’d seen it up on the board but I didn’t, I guess it takes a while to put the thoughts through (there must be some kind of filtering) or perhaps it didn’t get on at all.

Either way, it doesn’t matter. I’ll keep reading.

The lies we tell ourselves

I recently read the following, in my favourite Martha Beck book:

“Years ago, when I was doing research on addiction, I found that all my interview subjects, regardless of the nature of their addictions, had one thing in common: they lied to themselves. Obviously, they lied about their addictive behaviour, but they hadn’t become liars because they were addicts; on the contrary, they’d turned to addiction because they’d been telling themselves lies, often since childhood. You may have some of those tricky little truth loopholes in your own belief system: ‘Of course Mum loved us, she just expressed it by cursing and pelting us with cigarette butts’…”

The thought made me shudder. “This sounds really tragic” I said to myself, imagining little children being raised by monster parents. “I must remember never to complain about Mum again. Thank God I’m not an addict!”

A few days later, I found myself wondering how on Earth I managed to put on a stone over the past year. I mostly eat healthy meals, usually in small portions; I rarely drink and I do exercise a bit. This had been bugging me lately, especially since I turned 35 in the spring and I started contemplating a doom scenario of expanding waistline and early middle age.

The only think I could think of is I snack at odd times, but then some dietitians do advise to do small meals often. I often joke that I’m addicted to biscuits, but it’s only a joke… right?

Come to think of it I get cravings all the time. I usually crave chocolate or crisps when I’m bored at home or frustrated at work. I’ve always done it, but lately they’re become increasingly out of control, and it’s beginning to drive me crazy.

The typical scenario goes like this:

I’m doing something I’d rather not be doing, and suddenly the idea of a naughty snack pops into my head seemingly out of nowhere. It’s only a whisper first, but the more I try to ignore it, the most I lose my concentration, as my brain continually shouts “crisps!-crisps!-crisps!-crisps!” You’d think it’s a matter of life or death. Attempts to fight it usually have no results, and I mostly give in after a few minutes. The weirdest thing is, once I start eating I don’t particularly enjoy it. I often eat it mindlessly, consuming the entire thing in record time, and I often have no memory of it afterwards, when I contemplate the empty packet on my desk.

Let me put this in perspective – we’re not talking family-sized snacks here, more like 4-biscuit wrappers or small packed of crisps. I’m not obese, only slightly overweight for my taste. Which is basically why I’ve been able to avoid the issue for so long.

But the problem isn’t so much that my clothes are too tight, it’s that I’m beginning to feel like a crazy person.

“It’s all fine”, I’ve been telling myself as I reached for my favourite treat “I’m only eating snacks to compensate because I’m annoyed/ unhappy/ bored”.

This sounded perfectly rational, until I read the Martha Beck addict story.

“Hang on a minute”, I thought, “at what point did it become fine to eat myself through frustration or boredom, at the expense of my waistline and self-esteem?” I’m not sure at what point in my life this became a good option, but surely it would be healthier trying to sort the situation that’s causing it.”

I appreciate compulsive snacking is probably my brain’s (stupid but effective) way to keep me in line, instead of say, punching a colleague or throwing stuff out of window. But as lies go, this is a seemingly innocuous line, with big consequences on my everyday life.

Since I made the connection, I’m glad to report I’m now getting my diet back on track.

But this was never really about food. Addicts lie to themselves I tell you, and it doesn’t just happen to other people. What have you been lying to yourself about recently? Maybe worth giving it a second thought.