Episode 28: Picture perfect

Want to hear a secret?

When I’m stuck in a boring meeting, long train journey, or just don’t really feel like talking, I liven things up by turning wherever I am into a casting session for a classic movie or book.

It’s surprising how easily people fall into place.

I can’t tell you how much this has improved my life.

In a previous role we were tortured with twice weekly planning meetings where the boss and his middle management minion would demand to know where the good news stories were. If I sat through these sanguinely it’s because they were secretly really C3PO, R2D2 and Jabba the Hut. Or the Folk of the Faraway Tree. Or the Von Trapp family singers. Or Disney princesses.

My favourite week was Miss Piggy, Kermit, Statler and Waldorf. I had to excuse myself to go and snigger in the bathroom.

A more inclusive office game to play is ‘what’s your dæmon’.

Well? If you were transported into Philip Pullman’s worlds, what animal would be your soul?

As with most things in life this is far easier to apply to others than yourself. I had no problem identifying the vole, cart horse or golden retriever in my office but the ones others choose for me never quite fit.

Amanda said she thought I would be something like a chamois – oh to be that elegant.  I do love mountains but am far from graceful when I’m in the hills. It’s a rare expedition that doesn’t see me tripping on some scree and falling on my arse.

I admit it, I’d like to be a tiger. Happy to stay in the shadows but not afraid to defend my view point, stronger than you’d believe and always comes back fighting. But who wouldn’t?

The answer finally struck me at about 7.40 one Wednesday evening last February.

Prickly on the outside, soft in the middle, prone to hiding, disproportionately large feet, quite snuffly…

My soul is a hedgehog.

On the bright side it made Sian and Tom’s challenge so much easier:

  • Paint a self-portrait

self portraitSo here it is. Not painted I’m afraid, instead it’s found art, made from stuff I grubbed for in the woods, photographed and then destroyed.

The hedgehog is obviously me. The butterfly represents the quest for happiness that we all seem so tied in to these days. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while and it just doesn’t work for me.

Happiness is a glorious fleeting feeling that you should enjoy when it lands on you. And it will, from time-to-time.

You can even get a lot of pleasure when it lands on someone else.

But the moment you try to grab hold of the feeling, to try and force it to stay, you’ll either kill it or scare it away.

However if you want to see more butterflies you can always go and hang out with the flowers.

If you need me you know where I’ll be.


Episode 27: Complimentary therapy

Yes, I know the year is over.

But, I’m still going.

There’s a few last challenges that came in under, around or very close to the wire and I still have to do a final review. So here we are at Amanda W’s:

  • Write down ALL the compliments you get between this birthday and the next and keep them in a jar to be read on your 40th

You can tell that she’s a mental health professional can’t you?

It’s the kind of self-esteem boosting tip you’d read in a magazine at the dentist and wonder who’d actually find the time to do it. Or perhaps have a little snigger at the self-involvement of it all.

But each of these challenges has been a license to open my mind to something new. So I thought I’d give it a go.

I didn’t succeed. It turns out that when you listen there are far more compliments out there than you’d expect.

Very few are big bold declarations but once your ears are tuned in there are small kind words all over the place. Writing them all down would have got in the way of facing up to my other challenges. So instead I just tried to appreciate them in the moment.

I did write down a few of them which can be split into the following categories:

  • being able to write good;
  • doing my job ‘n’ shit;
  • sometimes having my friends’ backs;
  • getting on with these crazy-arsed challenges;
  • enthusiasm on the dance floor;
  • generally surviving.

It feels pretty good to read them. You should give it a go.

They’d look lovely on you.


Episode 26: Sitting pretty

Almost there! It’s been a crazy roller coaster of a year. Not what I’d expected at all but not all bad.

This time 12 months ago I had no idea how badly I was doing. My back hurt, I cried most nights and was so sleep deprived I wanted to vomit. That’s depression for you.

But I pushed on. Having lit the candle at both ends I decided to melt it in the middle too. So I think Lewis and Rachel’s challenges were the most thoughtful of all:

  • Create your own spa experience: relax for two weeks. Do lovely things, hang out with your friends, socialise but no strenuous exercise
  • Learn/develop a sedentary skill-something that can quietly be done at home for those quiet moments (and when recovering from injuries!)

Kind they may be. That doesn’t make them easy.

Anyone can sit down. Most of us spend far too much time doing it. Watching tv, going to the pub, going online. Sitting down is simple.

Sitting still, being quiet – that’s something else entirely.

When was the last time you stopped to inhale the scent of a flower? Really looked at a pebble? Concentrated on the taste of a square of chocolate as it melted slowly on your tongue?

Mindfulness has become a media buzzword over the past few months. The part of me that likes to look at the world through cynical eyes and is pre-programmed to distrust the latest super-fruit has struggled with this. I’ve never been herbal, I can’t even hula hoop and don’t start me on people who juggle with flames.

But really all it means is being, smelling, tasting, touching, hearing, breathing, looking. And we can all do that.

So that’s what I’m trying to do. My new skill is meditation. I’m not so good just yet, but I’ll get there. And for the past two weeks I’ve pretty much had my spa experience – no three day bike rides, no weekends at the bike park, no Alpine peaks or runs. Just seeing good friends, eating delicious food, writing and painting my toes. Ok, maybe a few kayak trips but a girl’s got to get her kicks somewhere.

So that’s two more challenges down. Plus my last one from Anna:

  • do something you’ve always wanted to do.

Finding piece of mind, now there’s a challenge to spend your life on.

But if I ever take up poi please shoot me.

Episode 25: Going swimingly

When I was about five or six my friend Bridget’s parents, for some unfathomable reason, allowed us to watch the movie Jaws.

If you want your child to be terrified of water I really can’t recommend this method highly enough.

The idea of that dark shadow in the shallows has haunted me ever since. A bit of seaweed could leave me splashing to the shore. And if you think it’s weird to be scared of sharks in an indoor swimming pool I’m not too proud to admit that there have been times when the thought of that ‘da dum, da dum’ theme tune has made me cut a bath short.

I learned to manage this phobia by the slightly extreme method of going snorkeling with sharks in the Galapagos. I found it helpful to make someone hold my hand most of the time and also tried to make sure that, wherever possible, they looked more meaty and delicious than me  – it doesn’t hurt to play the odds. Fortunately there was a selection of very attractive Australian men on board who seemed happy to oblige.

The result of all of this is that, while I can still swim after a fashion, it’s in the style of those old ladies who don’t want to get their hair wet and not enough to help me tackle the first of my three swimming challenges set both by Gareth and my sister:

  • Swim between the two piers

Yes, we all know that they intended to challenge me to swim from one pier to the other  and honestly, I did sign up for swimming lessons and everything. But that fell through for various reasons, so fortunately they failed to make this explicit.

All I have to do is get into the water, somewhere between pier A and pier B, splash around a bit. Job done.

Really just visiting this part of beach should be challenge enough – we use the piers to kettle the stag and hen parties and on a hot day the resemblance to a seal colony is uncanny.

The best way to tackle this ends up being at night, running down to the shore with four friends to rinse off the sweat of the dance floor under a blood red moon. And, since it was a skinny dip, I’m also going to cross off Beth’s challenge:

  • Get fully naked on a nudist beach. Free your body and your mind will follow!

Episode 24: Favouritism

In the first week week of my job, whilst my brain was still a whirlwind of names and faces, offices and information, I was asked to complete a ‘get to know you’ questionnaire for our internal newsletter.  Among the ‘what do you do?’, ‘where did you come from?’ and ‘what’s an unusual fact about you?’ etc. etc. there was only one which really gave me any difficulty – ‘what is your favourite food?’

I’m going to out myself right now. I don’t have one.

Sometimes I’m in the mood for spice and then curry is the best food in the world. But there are other days when I’m perhaps a bit cold or sad, and only sausages or pie and mash will hit the spot. And then there’s something wonderfully stable and solid and comforting about a jacket potato with butter.

And cabbage. I love cabbage. And runner beans. And trifle. And pavlova. And cheese. Oh and I’ve recently discovered the most amazing passion fruit cheesecake that makes me want to weep with joy.

I think you get the message. There is no way I can choose just one food. It wouldn’t be fair on the others.

In fact I don’t think I have a favourite anything. The music I listen to, the films I watch, the books I re-read, the clothes I wear, the places I go all depend entirely on how I’m feeling at that particular moment on that particular day.

Which is why Meriel’s challenge posed a dilemma:

  • Learn how to make your favourite cocktail from scratch.

Before I could even start thinking about the task itself I’d need to pick a favourite.

And so the research began…

1267100_10153330485670061_689665074_oIn my first two trips I remembered how much I love elderflower. So refreshing but not too sweet. I tried it with bubbles – excellent. And with gin – very tasty.

Going out for cocktails was also an opportunity to wear the spectacular dress (see photo) that I bought for Meriel’s other challenge:

  • Buy a dress that makes you feel fabulous.

And it really does. It makes me feel like the Empire State Building in human form and what’s not fabulous about that?

Unfortunately all good things come to an end. I’ve never been a great drinker and it turns out that, when you’re working very hard to recover from depression, alcohol such a great idea.

So I pretty much stopped drinking and the challenge came to an end. I did meet one brilliant barman who made me the most delicious mocktail – out of ginger, elderflower and apple I think – but otherwise it’s mostly been plain juice ever since.

10494769_10154362902155061_9157302044797716847_nBut I was able to take some strawberries from the garden, froze them with quite a lot of vodka, mixed in some lime and a bit of sugar and donated strawberry dacquiries to Anna’s birthday cocktail party.

It took a little effort to get them mashed into a drinkable form, which was great stress-relief for someone who’s frustratingly sober. The point when I was stabbing the ruddy mix with a knife definitely had an air of Stephen King about it.

I had a small one, it was delicious. And I maintain played no part in Anna’s five hour vomitathon the next day…

Thank you Meriel, I enjoyed your challenges very much and you are definitely one of my favourite people.

Episode 23: The mother of invention

It is becoming increasingly apparent that I will never become Empress of the Known Universe.

I admit the fault is, at least partially, mine. I’ve been a bit slack in recruiting my army of minions and haven’t quite got round to saving up for some intergalactic battleships. To be honest, it all seems like a lot of hard work. Maybe my campaign to improve things should start smaller, such as picking up one random piece of someone else’s rubbish per day.

Fran and I were recently talking about how we could make the world a better place. It basically came down to reinventing communism but in some way that would take more account of human nature. Which made me think about her challenge:

  • Invent something… a dance move, a new word, a recipe, a mythical creature or anything you care to dream up… that you would be happy to have your name associated with (you then get to name it)

I’ve known Fran for an awfully long time. We kept each other insane ‘working’ as phone monkeys at the local water company during one holiday from university. Relieving the tedium by passing notes and escaping to play on the swings during lunch break. We’ve invented some pretty useful things over the years. The auto-ovine-defenestrator comes to mind, I admit there’s not a huge demand for assisted suicide among sheep just now but one day we’re going to be millionaires. And that’s why I’m giving away my invention below for free to anyone with the energy and inclination for world domination.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… the metric week. All of our work, free time and needs rationalised into ten days.

This is how it works:

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we’ll leave be but the new fourth day of the week will become Hobbyday – where we all get to play with art, drama, climbing, singing, kayaking, mountain biking or whatever activities our hearts desire. This is when you get to discover whether you could have been a world renowned pianist – if you’d only had the time to practice…

Thursday and Friday follow together with another new day – TLAday – an entire day dedicated to Tedious Life Admin like cleaning, going to the tip, getting your hair cut, sorting out a mortgage, going to the dentist, buying shoes, etc. etc. etc. Obviously the people who cut our hair, open the tip, sell shoes etc. will also need TLAday so these three days will be interchangeable. Some people’s week will run Thursday, Friday, TLAday. Others TLAday, Thursday, Friday and so on… I haven’t quite worked out how the diary printers will take this into account but we’ll sweat the small details later.

Saturday’s the same as ever but for Sunday we’re going old school. Everything closes. No cafes, no shops, no pubs, no churches (it’s important to be consistent). I’m not really sure how that’s going to work but hell, if you’ve got the power you could even close the internet and we can all talk to each other. Or just be quiet. Or go and swim in the sea. The main thing is that it will be peaceful.

So that’s it, free manifesto fodder. Yours for the taking. If you’re grateful you could think about naming Hobbyday Joday instead but that’s up to you entirely.

Good luck with the whole power thing. I’m off to pick up some litter.

Episode 22: Woefully unprepared

I like Gareth but I think he might be trying to kill me.

This thought is in my head more than once as I attempt to complete his challenge:

  • Mountain bike along the 100 mile South Downs Way

Sometimes I imagine writing a sitcom or play about my friendships with Gareth and Kat and the strange bubble it exists in.

The first time we shared a car into work Gareth confessed that the day before he’d gone all the way to London for a conference only to find that he was 24 hours early. I like people who can own up to their mistakes with humour. Kat meanwhile is someone way cooler than I’d ever be friends with in real life. I often find myself envying the ease with which she flirts with the world and the way the world loves her back.

Over the past eighteen months we’ve probably driven the two-hour return journey to work and back at least once a week, which I think means we’ve spent more than 150 odd hours in the car together, along with Adam, talking about life, the universe and everything.

Gareth’s friends exist in my life like characters in a soap opera. Recently I finally cracked and ‘friended’ him virtually. BIG mistake! It was like seeing the cast line up for the movie adaptation of a much-loved novel and finding they’ve used completely the wrong actors.

In return he’s patiently listened through my near-breakdown, massive anxiety and descent into depression. He probably knows as much about my life as anyone.

If he ever takes up blackmail I’m screwed.

Here are a few of the other things that ran through my mind before, during and after I attempted this ride – which by the way includes a total ascent of 3,800 m.


I am too tired, there’s no way I should be doing this. If I cancelled I could just spend my bank holiday hiding under the duvet. Would Suzi understand if I dropped out?

Is my bag too heavy? What can I lose? What if it’s cold. Will I need my thermals. I should take them just in case. And that sweater.

Bloody hell it’s early [5.50am] what do I need to do. Relax, there’s loads of time. Waterbottle, don’t forget waterproof. Won’t fit. COME ON. Try bigger backpack. Phew. Hope it’s ok to cycle in. LATE.

“Come on, come on, please let me through, I’ve got a ticket.” FUCK the barrier’s closed on me, “Please help, my bikes trapped!” FUCK, FUCK, FUCK, Suzie’s never going to forgive me. RUN, RUN, RUN. “Hold the door!”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

Did I miss anything when I swapped bags, was there something left on the bed. I think there was something left on the bed.

SHIT, no pump.

Google bike shops in Winchester. Can’t believe I’m going to to have to buy a fourth pump. No one needs four bike pumps.

DAY ONE, 47 miles – Suzi and me:

How do we get out of Winchester?

Starting selfie

Starting selfie

Starting selfie

I remember this bit. I don’t remember this bit. Right, no left. Mmmm blackberries.

Wow, look at that house. Do people really live like that? First hill. I can do this. Yes!

I’m so glad I came. The world is beautiful. I am thirsty.

Where did all my water go? This pub should have a tap, where is the tap?

Are those the pylons on Butser Hill? They are SO far away.


Five quid for two cups of tea! Ooooh brownie!

I don’t remember my saddle hurting before. Maybe I should have gone back for those new shorts.

Hill, hill, Winchester Hill. PRETZEL STOP!

Why are we going north? The pylons are east. Why are we going south? FLAPJACK!

Wheeeeee! Pooeeee fly! 

Wheeeeeee! Bleugh fly!

Wheeeee! Jesus where are all these flies coming from?

Maybe if I stopped grinning I wouldn’t swallow so many damn flies.

My saddle really hurts. That’s not good. Why isn’t Butser getting any closer? I really should have gone back for the new shorts.

Bikes should be prescribed on the NHS. I hurt in a million places but my head isn’t one!

Granny gear. Hill, hill, steep hill. I remember this hill. I have to stop. I’m not stopping. I can do this. I’m doing this. Chest hurts. Peddle! Nope. Walking.

Urk! That gravel’s dangerous.

Where’s Suzi? 

That’s a lot of blood! Why didn’t I bring the big bandages. Clean water. Anti-septic wipes. Savlon. Bandages.

“Shall we sit down for a bit?”

Ouch! Stupid saddle. Why isn’t Butser getting any closer. Jesus are those the pylons on Bignor. FUCK, we are never going to get there. I hate this!


I love this. I love my bike.

Ouch! I hate my saddle.

Zip through Queen Elizabeth Country Park, no need to stop.

I am so tired. I can’t do this. I could sleep in that wood shed. Maybe just a quick nap.

Hill, hill, up the hill. Hill, hill, up the hill. Hill, hill, up the hill.

Thirsty. Where’s the nearest tap. SHIT Queen Elizabeth Country Park. THIRSTY. Not going back.

Jesus, my arse hurts. Hill, hill, up the hill. Wheeee! Ouch.

Thirsty. Tired. I can’t do this. I hate Gareth. What would the most offensive thing I could text him?

Ooooh blackberries!

Nice view. Mmmm pretzels. Thirsty.

Up, up, down, down, up up, down down. Gently undulating my arse! 

When was I last on a bike? Three weeks, is it three weeks? Maybe I could have trained a bit better for this.

Is that a bull? Shall we push through this field?

What kind of dinosaur rides the South Downs Way? A megasaurus (mega-sore-arse)!

YES! We missed going past the turn to Cocking. Only seven miles to go. We can do this!

Ouch, ouch, ouch. It’s entirely possible that I will never be able to have sex again.

Fuck, that’s the turn off to Cocking. There’s still eight miles to go. Water, water, water. TAP! Drink, drink, drink.

Woefully unprepared. I am woefully unprepared for this challenge. I like that expression. I should start using the word woeful more often. I am full of woe. Well, I’m not full of woe but my arse is full of woe.

Oooh, sunflowers. Glorious.

I need a wee. There’s a good place to hide. AIEEEEEE! It burns. Ouch fuck ouch!

What the fuck are we doing?

Up, down, up, down, up, down. 

Those pylons are still so far away.

Ouch, ouch, OUCH! 

Evening light’s so beautiful.

Oooh deer! Lots of deer. The sky is beautiful. Wonder how long until sunset.

I wonder if I texted my mum if she’d come and pick up our sleeping bags from Amberley tomorrow morning.

10 minutes until the sun drops behind those trees.

I will never buy bike lights from Lidl again.

Pylons! We’re saved.

Wheeeee! This place is lovely. Dinner.

On the bright side the more savlon I put on the sores the less I’ll have to carry tomorrow.

This plastic mattress in a barn with a door that won’t close is the most comfortable place I’ve ever zzzzzzzz…

DAY TWO, 33.5 miles – Lou, Suzi and me:

Mmmm sunshine. Tea, seeds, flap jack and cliff bar. A perfect breakfast. Hello beautiful world, you are glorious and I’m glad I live in you.

Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch. I cannot get on this saddle. It’s ok to push up the first hill, it’s not actually on the route.


GET OUT MY WAY STUPID PHEASANTS! Suzi’s right, they’re mini dinosaurs straight out of Jurassic Park. I’m a T.rex, hunting down a veloceraptor for my breakfast. GROOOARRRRR!


Hello cafe, hello river. Hello Mum. Hello Lou. I love  coffee, I love bacon, I love sausage. Goodbye sleeping bag. I love my mum.

Hill, hill, up the hill. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. I’m like the train from Dumbo.

I can go forever. Nope, walking.

Chanctonbury Ring, home turf.

Chanctonbury Ring, home turf.

Home turf. Great views. So much pain. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Hill, hill, up the hill. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. Bloody hell, I did it! 

This is what the word glorious was invented for. Chanctonbury Ring already. The world is very golden.

I love this. I want to do this forever. Look at the sea, the sky, the autumn shades. FLAPJACK!


Annington Hill. My nemesis. Hill, hill, up the hill. Hill, hill, up the hill. [pause to rescitate lungs] Hill, hill, up the hill. Hill, hill, up the hill. [pause, chest heaves] I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. 

Recovery from Truleigh Hill

Recovery from Truleigh Hill

BLOODY HELL, I MADE IT. Man this grass is comfortable. This is the most comfortable place I’ve ever lain. I’m just going to stay hear until I can’t hear my heart any more.


Tarmac is an amazing invention. How the hell did people used to travel on un-paved roads. Did the Elizabethans have buns of iron? No wonder those posh Georgians used to stay at each other’s houses for weeks on end. One month for their bums to heal from the coach ride and another to prepare their nerves for the return trip.

Ouch, ouch, ouch.

Oooh, LUNCH!

This is lovely. Maybe a five-minute snooze in the sun.

Up and down, up and down.

[pass sign saying ‘The cattle are grazing’ which inspires a little cycling song to the tune of Away in a Manger]

“The cattle are grazing, the slope is down hill.
The views are amazing, we’re doing quite well.
And Rachel is waiting, at the cafe we’ll pass.
The one thing I’d change is the pain in my arse.”


This is the best cup of tea I’ve ever had.

I am so comfortable right now. I’m never going to move again. Why don’t they make bike seats like toilet seats. I’m just going to sit on this loo forever. 

Push up the hill. OUCH. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Up, up, up the hill. OUCH. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Up, up, up, up, up. This is it. This is my favourite bit of the South Downs Way. The grassy sward. Sward. Sward. SWARD. I LOVE IT!

SECOND LUNCH. I am so grubby I can actually write on my skin.


This had better be the last hill of the day. 

Bugger. The football’s on. Hope we can get the bikes on the train.

So goood to streaaaaaaaaaaach!!!!

We wash too much. One shower a day. Some people take more than one. They will never know how great it feels to get clean after a few days getting  really, really filthy outdoors. I am so clean. I smell amazing.

I wonder if I’ve got time to  wash my clothes too.


DAY THREE, 25 miles – Aeneas, Lou, Suzi and me:

Last day. I might actually do this. We are going to do this!

Ouch, ouch, ouch!

This is like the opposite of ten little Indians. A new person added to the group every day. I’m the cycling Pied Piper.

I just wish they had a bit less energy.

[Lou makes comment about having tyre in wrong groove, so I sing Madonna for a bit]

Get into the groove, hey, you’ve got to prove your bike to me.
Get up off the seat, yeah push with your feet, you know what I mean.
Gonna peddle, on the South Downs Way, this doesn’t happen to people every day.
Only when I’m cycling do I feel this free, and when I reach the top I’ll be able to see the sea.

Up, up, up the hill. I can see white cliffs. Ouch!


Time for a cup of tea. Nooooooo! Closed. I can’t make it up this hill without tea.

Seriously? Period you couldn’t have waited one more day?

Up, up, nope. Up, up, NOPE. Wobbly legs. Cramps. Crap! Push, push, push up the hill. Push, push, push.

Have another go. Wobble, nope. WOBBLE! Nope. The others are so far ahead. Push. Up, up, up, up, up.

Aaaaand sit down. Peddle, peddle, stop. Peddle, peddle, sit down. SANDWICH!


CREAM TEA! Oooof, full.

Nice bridge. Out the way lady! I’ll get you. And your little dog too.

Is this the last hill? I will cycle this if it kills me. 

Urk, chalk! Up, up, up the hill. Up, up, up the hill. Breathe. Up, up, up the hill. Up, up, up the hill. BREATHE.

Not sure that cream tea was a good idea. Oh dear. Might lie down for a bit.

Up, up, up the hill. Up, up, up the hill. Breathe. Up, up, up the hill. BREATHE.

To vomit or not to vomit. THAT is the question. Up, up, up the hill. DID IT!

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand SIT! Isn’t there supposed to be a long man around here somewhere?

This is lovely. Ouch! I sort of don’t want it to end. Ow! I wonder how long I could keep going. OUCH! Before this saddle stopped hurting. ARGH!

There’s Eastbourne! Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!


When I get home I’m going to throw this saddle away.

And burn these shorts.

UP, up, up, up, up, up, UP. 



At the end

At the end

Finish photo

And we’re done.


Cup of tea. Jesus it hurts to sit down!


Bloody hell. We actually did it. Thank you Suzi for your company (and for scraping me off the kitchen floor) and Lou and Aeneas for joining us along the way. Thank you Gareth, you’ve been a good mate this year so I’ve decided to forgive you for these three days of torture.

And now I’m off to burn my cycling shorts.