Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Before 30 - Update

So, how's my before 30 bucket list progressing?

These are the things I've finished:

4. Do MindMapping for one month.

I'm glad I did this, and I really learned a lot from it. Some of it was really simple stuff, like realising that my energy and mood would drop if I hadn't had enough water to drink or food to eat. Or allegedly simple, as I'd often find myself feeling below par late afternoon and then realise I'd had one glass of water all day.

I definitely credit using one of Liz Miller's methods with my success at clearing out and organising my room after years of being unhappy with it. And I'd put up with being unhappy with it because I'd avoided thinking too carefully about how unhappy it made me, settling for postponing the much needed sort out indefinitely. But I couldn't avoid thinking about it when it was a category on a 'rate how happy you are with these life elements' exercise. That trigger, not more than a minute or so, was enough to get me started thinking about the reasons I didn't do anything about it. And now the cats are vexed that I've given away their favourite sun lounger, the piano stool.

(I would highly recommend Liz Miller's book, MoodMapping, as one of the two self help books I've read that don't completely suck, and trust me, I've read more than I want to admit to.)

5) Get a decent haircut.

Done! This might seem like a silly, everyday thing to put on a bucket list, but apart from having my hair cut twice in China (and how, how have I not posted about getting my hair cut in China?!), I hadn't had a proper haircut since I was 21. Even when the state of my hair was causing me daily vexation and I could afford a decent hair cut I didn't do anything about it. Even in China, where one haircut cost the equivalent of £1.50 (I'm avoiding converting that into dollars as it's too depressing at the moment) and one was a barter with some hairdressing students who were going to live in Australia, the only reason I got through the door was because my friends were going too.

So I got in done, and might even post a photo sometime (I keep meaning to take some photos of myself but never get round to it). It even brought up some issues about 'why do I feel I can't spend money on myself' and 'why do I have trouble tending to my physical appearance?'. And after all, I am all about the issues.

Goodness only knows what's going to happen when I finally get around to going ice skating. Although seeing as I'm rambling all over the place already, I might as well throw in that I tried to persuade an ex-boyfriend to go ice skating at the Tower of London or Somerset House and he refused because he was afraid he was going to fall over and get the tips of his fingers sliced off. (This sort of thing may well be why I'm not so devastated about being single.)

37. Organise clothes and shoes
38. Organise paperwork
39. Organise books
40. Sort out other possessions

I know I've blogged about this more than once, and written about it already this post (hey, I've got to make the most of my material), so I'll just say I cannot believe how much better I feel for having done this. Not only do I feel so much lighter, my bedroom seems to have grown by several feet and I have the toasty-happiness of having helped several charities.

I was going to give updates on the endeavours that I'd started but I've written way more than I thought I would about these. Not to mention that it's edging towards eight here, and I feel I deserve a New Year's Eve Eve glass of wine.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Looking Back...and Forwards...

I've spent most of the last week hibernating. It wasn't what I'd intended to do, but it was what I seemed to need, so I let myself run with it. During my hibernation, I wrote two long lists, one of everything I was happy about in the past year, and one that I was unhappy about. I am definitely doing this, or something like it, every year from now on.

The list of things that I was happy with, proud of doing, successes, things I'd learnt, went on for four A4 pages, whilst the negative list covered only one. And yet, predictably, I've probably spent more time dwelling on those. Just by writing this out I shifted my perspective, from 'argh I can't believe the failure' to 'Ok, there's been some fail, but there's been way more good stuff, and you've actually learnt stuff from the fail, so surely that's not entirely a fail then?' Which has been pretty sweet.

These are my most important lessons of 2009. Seeing as they're more 'woah, cosmos' type lessons, I'm going to be trying to live them in 2010.

Trust my intuition. Trust the feeling inside that tells me what is and isn't possible, the feeling that says 'this looks interesting' or 'get me out of here'. Learning to ask myself questions and not censor the answers.

Permission. Permission to trust myself and my intuition. Permission to invest in myself. Permission to feel things like anxiety and fear without beating myself up about feeling them. Permission to dream, and then to work out how to make these dreams real, and to risk doing it. Permission to risk failing.

Control. Believing that I control my own life. Not allowing other people to control how I feel about myself, by measuring myself as a success or failure against someone's else's yardstick, and then accepting that judgement.

Now, I'm off to hibernate some more....

Monday, 21 December 2009

Snow + Beach + Sunset

Yes, more snow/beach photos. I know I’m probably going a little overboard on this, but I have never seen the beach look so beautiful, and who wants to restrain themselves from sharing something beautiful? (Obviously this is where my inner cynic gets all fluffed up and starts muttering about people who consider faeces and other-bodily-substances-that-will-not-be-mentioned in art to be beautiful, where yes, I do wish they would restrain themselves. Anyways, back to the winter snow beach thing…)

I keep being greedy to look at these photos, and my homily for the week is that, whilst I would still rather live somewhere warmer, and I’m totally not enjoying nearly breaking my neck on the iced over pavement every time I leave the house, winter does have its good points, its beauty.

I’ve appreciated the clear blue skies and sunlight, the stunning sunsets and crisp air, too. I’ve appreciated having some moisture in the air, after last winter in Shijiazhuang where the air was so dry that walking down the street made me feel like it was assaulting me [the air, not the street].

But perhaps what I appreciated most was the moments of stillness, of tranquillity, that I experienced on the beach. Moments to keep safe, and bring out the next time I have to call a bank.
What other wintery worlds are out there?

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Snow + Beach

We've had the unusual occurance of snow that hasn't melted as soon as it lands this week.

So, for the first time in my life, I've seen a snowy beach.

I couldn't resist taking photos until my fingers were too cold to work the dials of my camera.

And there's more to come later in the week...

Friday, 18 December 2009

The Sky Saves The Day (Again)

Yes, I know we've only just had Skywatch, but I couldn't wait until next week to post these photos. I had yet another super frustrating day. You know the type, when you think, aha, this will take ten, maybe fifteen minutes, and you're still wrestling with it four hours later? Yep, one of those.

So again, it was 'take some deep breaths and look out the window time'.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

On applying for a Career Development Loan

The snug, smug feeling of 'all's right with the world' that I woke up with this morning was clearly hubris. Or perhaps I should have just realised by now that any dealings with those providing educational finance in this country is fated to induce a serious need for wine in the unfortunate person coming up against systems that must've been designed by someone who took as a model some of Kafka's more nightmarish writings. But, at least it's good to know that it's not just Chinese banks that reduce me to a froth mouthed frustration.

And how stupid I was to think that, just because I had account with a bank for thirteen years or half my entire life, that they would actually have my details correctly. After a short verbal battle with the Indian call centre, where the fact that I had to ask the person to repeat themselves when they were asking 'what's your address' made me wonder about the definition of 'fluent English speaker' that the bank was using, I was told me the information I'd given them was wrong. But they couldn't tell me which bit of information was wrong.

So I had to walk walk the mile and half or so into town, to go and sort it out with my branch, whilst trying to suppress a mini meltdown that someone of nefarious intent had somehow hacked into my account and my overdraft was probably buying them a new plasma screen TV. The only thing 'wrong' with my information was that my home telephone number wasn't there, but as the rather astonished young man who talked to me said, they shouldn't ask you security questions about data that doesn't exist. (Why on earth no-one has put this on the system in the last thirteen years is another matter entirely.)

But, the system is mightier than mere mortal common sense.

Walking back home it started to snow. My boots started to leak. Just a little bit, but that's just a little bit more freezing water than I like inside my boots. It was one of those moments when you just want to be, like, universe are you KIDDING me?, and then feel a bit guilty because, after all, this is hardly a major disaster.

So then I phoned them back, and everything went OK, but frankly, by the end of the call I was past caring whether or not I get approved for the loan, I just want to never have to call them up again.

So then I confirmed to national stereotypes and make myself a cup of tea, confirmed to gender stereotypes and ate some chocolate, and looked out of my window at the beautiful winter sky, took some deep breaths and attempted to relax. And it's sort of worked. A glass of wine when I'm watching Supernatural later might not go amiss though.

*CDL loans are how most people finance postgraduate study, and as only two banks offer them, they can pretty much treat you as shoddily as they like.

View more relaxing skies at Skywatch Friday.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009


Yes, I'm still on the throwing out theme. You may possibly have underestimated the scale of the clear out, like the people at the charity bookshop, who obviously didn't believe me when I said I had over a hundred books to bring in, and then were all like, 'Oh you do have a lot of books, don't you?', looking all surprised when I turned up with them. And I stifled an urge to retort, 'well, if I said I had over a hundred books, maybe that's because I have over a hundred books!' but I refrained and just smiled nicely instead.

Yesterday, was tip and book charity shop day. Today was give furniture away day. I found a great local charity that comes to pick up furniture and divested myself of:

  • A bureau that is incredibly uncomfortable to work at. I've hardly ever used it, except to do a few holiday university assignments, and I remember more about how pissed off I was about how uncomfortable I was, than anything about the essays themselves.

  • A wardrobe that I can't actually hang my clothes up in. It's a man's wardrobe, and, the last time I checked, I was definitely not a man. (I hung dresses and stuff on my bookshelves. Obviously.)

  • A double piano stool. This provenance of this piece puzzles me, as I've never lived in a house with a piano. I doubt if anyone in my family can even play the piano. Yet I had a piano stool in my bedroom. Strangely enough, it didn't get much use.

So I've established that these furniture items were neither well used, nor particularly well-loved. And yet, whilst I was waiting for the removal guys to pick them up and take them away I had a strange clenching feeling of 'omg I can't believe I'm getting rid of these', and it was only at that point I realised how strong the security bond of familiar things is.

But they were carried off to be renovated and resold. And instead of having any pangs of remorse, I felt fantastic. Like ripping off a scab (this is meant to be a good thing). Like the glee in throwing the monstrously hideous dressing table mirror (the dressing table that went with it was coated in white, pink and brown patterned padded vinyl, which mercifully vanished years ago), that I'd tried to improve my painting the white and gold frame deep purple and sticking virgin Mary medals to, into the rubbish pile at the tip and hearing the glass smash.

I almost can't believe the amount of stuff I've got rid of over the last five days, probably half or more of everything I own. The trouble is I think it might be addictive. I'm now finding myself looking around at my life (not to mention the three items in my room that haven't been dejunked yet) and wondering what else, that I live with, that I might even be attached to through familiarity, I would be glad to get rid of...

Tuesday, 15 December 2009


Sunday, 13 December 2009


So far I have thrown out:
  • Two fake leather miniskirts
  • A purple and white tiedye top with a white sparkly eye of horus design on the front
  • A suitcase with a broken pulling handle (Rome, 1998) and a broken lock (Cornwall, 2000)
  • Two of my three copies of Wuthering Heights
  • Two cheap copies of Northanger Abbey
  • General accoutrements of dead dog including basket, water bowl and squeaky toys
  • All my school reports, which have reminded me not to take to seriously other people's judgement on how you can do, after the read my high school reports where I was given Bs, Cs and even Ds in subjects that I eventually got As or A*s in
  • My merit certificates from middle school
  • Notes for a presentation my (perhaps unsurprisingly) ex boyfriend was doing on methods of torture in the European and Near Eastern ancient world
  • Several of the same ex boyfriends socks
  • A solitary stiletto heeled black ankle boot
  • High school textile projects that are now falling apart
  • Manuals for every mobile phone I've ever owned
  • A selection of random loose change from various countries
  • The brochure of a company I went on two excursions with during my holiday to Iceland in 2006
  • Two German dictionaries and a book of German verbs
  • The booking print out from my 2008 flight to Beijing
  • The prospectus Lampeter sent me when I was first thinking of applying, and assorted accommodation bumpf
  • An assortment of mini skirts in sizes that mean I will only fit into them again if I develop a serious illness
  • Various sketch/scrap books where there was a first page and nothing else
  • Two sets of hair curlers, both used once and then discarded in disgust
  • An eclectic array of expired medications
  • A packet of expired condoms
  • Fossilised nail polish
  • Eyeliner that I'm allergic to but was saving for something (nights when I want to go out looking like I've got a contagious eye disease?)
  • Handbags that were cute when I was 16 but would now make me look like I need my medications readjusting
  • A pair of jeans whose zip has been broken for at seven years

...and I still have a little bit more to go!

This has been my world this week, go check out some others.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Not Being A Bag Lady No More

This post doesn't have a photo, because I'm sick of the sight of it's subject. (I'm also hoping that that sentence vaguely makes sense.)

Earlier in the week I moaned about not having the will to do things that I wanted to do. One of them was writing more, another was tidying what I could euphemistically describe as my living space but is actually my bedroom, because, yes, I might be limping towards thirty, but I still live with my mother.

And every morning I wake up amidst piles and boxes of detritus I've accumulated over the last twelve years and inwardly shudder and never do anything about it. Somehow it all just seemed too much.

In the normal course of events, this is followed by some internal recriminations about slovenliness and laziness, and a passing shadow of fear that I'm clearly going to become the crazy old woman who gets crushed to death by the piles of newspapers she's been hoarding for twenty years. But as part of my general scheme of navel gazing, I decided to consider why I was doing a junior bag lady at home when in China I had less possessions that any of my friends.

If perfectionism is my writing kryptonite, then guilt is why I'm living in a lumber room, because I genuinely felt guilty for throwing stuff out: if I loved something when I was six then obviously I can't throw it out now, I might not have worn something for five years but there's nothing wrong with it. (Well, unless you count the fact that I'd look like trussed mutton in a lot of my 'perfectly fine' teenage/early twentysomething outfits.) Getting rid of it would be wasteful, and being wasteful is wrong.

Once I realised that the reason why I've been living with two (yes, TWO) broken suitcases, my dead dog's bed (died ten years ago) and every calender I've had since 1997 amongst other miscellanea I've been on a bit of a mission. Throwing stuff out (or being cheap, putting it aside for a car boot) feels good! I've only dealt with a quarter of the rubbish that's been festering away for years and already I feel strangely light and relieved.

Thursday, 10 December 2009


After enduring what feels like endless weeks of whipping winds and dreary rain soaked days, today I woke to sun streaming through the curtains and a blue blue sky. Days like this, the beach calls me, and I was rewarded by one of my favourite seas – an incoming tide with ruffle waves stacked upon each other.

It was so unexpectedly clement that I took my hoodie off, and felt the gentle, winter crisp wind on my bare arms for the first time in months. And just to clarify: I was wearing a T-Shirt, it’s not like I was wandering around half undressed, as I just realised that sentence could imply.

My inner misanthrope is going to be outed: these clear winter beach days are the ones I love the most, because I get the place all to myself. Or almost, as a man walking his wilful Jack Russell Terrier crossed my path twice.

Apart from that, I was alone to try out photography angles and subjects, accidentally trailing the sleeves of my hoodie in the muddy sand in the process, contemplate the sea (reminding myself that the tide was coming in, so standing still for too long doing this was going to result in wet feet) and taking time just to feel the wind, listen to the waves and to appreciate being alive.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Endless Introspection #1

I keep meaning to do things. I want to do them. I really do. But I'm not doing them.

I'd put it down to being tired, or feeling low, but I've been recording my moods on Mood Maps, and I'm feeling good, full of positive energy.

Why aren't I doing them? Often when I find myself not doing something it's a sign of a 'should' masquerading as 'want'. But these are things I genuinely want: I want to start writing some articles before my course starts in January, I want to make a start on my own self designed blog, I want to declutter my room to make space for my own work area and to lesson the chance of being eaten by a monster that's formed itself from the soup of junk that spills out of crates and off shelves and from floor piles.

I know I'm not a lazy person – I hate feeling idle and unproductive, so this not doing is abrasive, irritant.

So why do I find myself, stuck, staring out the window at the rain instead of doing what I really want to do. It's actually taken me about a day of irritated, dissatisfied reflection to realise why.

I want it to be perfect, I want myself to be perfect.

I want to write flawless articles. I don't feel I'm at that point yet. I might have a first class degree in English, I might have successfully taught English – but somehow I still feel inadequate.

A little voice says: wait till the course starts, what you do now won't be anything like what you'll do in a year. That sounds like a good argument to part of my brain – the part that can use it as an excuse to shuffle inside it's comfort zone and think – best be safe, don't make a mess, don't make a fool of yourself. Wait till you're really ready.

Unfortunately this philosophy would ultimately mean that I'd spend the rest of my life in suspended animation, constantly waiting to be good enough to start practising. I know that as soon as I'd ticked off one thing I'm waiting for that would be make me good enough, I'd find another.

So my mantra at the moment is: perfection is unobtainable, just do it; perfection is unobtainable just do it; perfection is unobtainable just do it.
Why is that so much easier to say than to act on?

Monday, 7 December 2009


OED: PALIMPSEST: noun: a manuscript or piece of writing material on which later writing has been superimposed on effaced earlier writing.
figurative: something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.

Palimpsest is one of my favourite words, and one that I don't use often enough. I was reminded of it when I was photographing these irresitable subjects: the fading and moss crept sign and coppiced plant supports.

In my current mood of introspection, inevitably I ended up thinking how most of us are our own palimpsests, layers of experiences, memories and emotions, and how often we can cede control of the writing of our lives to other people. What's exciting me most at the moment is taking back that control, choosing which parts of my life to write in bold and which ones to scrub out and replace.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Chinglish Signs: Entrance to the Shanghai Pearl Tower

I had completely forgotten I'd photographed this sign, but once rediscovered I had to share it. Personally I never leave home without my baleful biology, sword and smell of effluvium. Thank goodness we decided not to go in.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Carpe Diem

Today my leisurely email and coffee wake up was disrupted by finding out about the sudden, and unexpected, death of a fellow Samaritans volunteer, who I’d been working with since I joined earlier this year. We’d only met ten or so times – enough time for me to appreciate his kindness, desire to help others and interest in the world.

The effect has been the emotional equivalent of a sudden cold drenching and stupid surprise you can have a perfectly normal phone conversation with someone one day, and within a week they can be dead.

And I have to confess to a selfish appreciation of how lucky I am to be alive right now. I’ve been taking the second looks at the sky, the cats, the world in general and appreciating the fragile beauty of the ordinary.

Instead of getting crabby in the Post Office queue, I reminded myself that it didn’t really matter, it wasn’t worth wasting the amount of time I have getting angry, and that plenty of people would be happy to swop grievances. I felt appreciation for the human bonds that make us send Christmas cards, rather than being impatient and wondering why what seemed like everyone else had decided to post their mail at the same time I did.
My mantra for today has been carpe diem, and I’ve been thinking of all the little things that I’ve been putting off doing, waiting until a ‘perfect time’ to do them. I suddenly realised that if I do this too long I’ll waste all my tomorrows waiting for something that doesn’t exist.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Doorways: My Yard

When I was living in Shijiazhuang this door became one of the silent background elements of my life. Like every other apartment block in our area, the yard surrounding the building was edged with a rows of brick built sheds, which tended to exhibit various degrees of ‘looking like they might fall down right now’. (These are pretty much Chinese Shed Premium Edition.)

Waiting for coffee or pasta water to boil in my kitchen I would half watch fellow residents wrestling their bikes in and out of the sheds, reassured that the compulsion to keep stuff that is broken or no longer needed but might come in handy one day is cross cultural.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Mood Mapping #1

What are these mysterious maps? Charts of hidden treasure, or random doodles that I’m inflicting upon you owing to some whim? Perhaps both. They are copies of my Mood Maps for the past week.

Mood Mapping is one of those so-obvious-why-did-no-one-think-of-it-before ideas: tracking your daily moods on a simple chart, and ideas to help you control your mood. There’s so much I want to experience in life and having moods that can tend to ping between despair and elation is, well, not that helpful.

I forgot to do it on Thursday and Friday, mainly because I was so exhausted last week. If I had had any ‘should-ish’ qualms about leaving my job, following the Mood Maps and seeing my anxiety and stress levels down in black (or pink, or orange) and white, would squash them like the vermin they are.

The main thing I’ve gleaned (or rather remembered) this week is the striking obvious yet often forgotten fact that if I don’t sleep well I’m good for nothing. There are two reasons that I haven’t been sleeping well: stress and anxiety, and allergies.

The stress and anxiety came from doing a job where I had little control over what I was doing and little or no time for planning: often I’d be telling students what work they were doing at as I was reading through the sheet for the first time myself. When I went into work in the morning I had no idea what I would be doing that day, and wouldn’t know until 10 minutes before I had to be at my first class.

Compare that to the Mood Maps from the weekend! Even on Sunday, when I was lacking in energy owing to sniffles and allergy related sleep disturbance, I still felt positive and was still able to do, even if I wasn’t as productive as on Saturday.

Now I just need to work on controlling my allergies more. Seeing the impact a night of broken sleep has on my mood the next day has really motivated me to remember to take an antihistamine before bed and consider what changes I might need to make my environment.

This is a fascinating way of tracking and controlling your moods, and I’d highly recommend checking out the book or the website for more information. I’m continuing to track my moods this week, and will be for the rest of December. The insight into how my moods is going to be very useful when I’m juggling work and study and life in 2010.

Monday, 30 November 2009


Inspired by reading Thanksgiving posts and an exercise in Liz Miller’s Mood Mapping (more on that tomorrow) I’ve compiled a list of everything that I am grateful and thankful for:

· Being reminded of my only ‘Thanksgiving Dinner’ – a double cheeseburger at a McDonalds in Shanghai’s Old Town, which we settled on with relief after having been shouted at for asking if the baozi (dumplingey buns) at a booth were pork. My friend then bought what looked like a hotdog, only to find it was some form of candied fruit that tasted like a toffee apple which had been doing crystal meth in parking lots
· The opportunities I have to travel and work abroad, especially to work and travel freely around China
· Being born in a wealthy country, and one with free (at the point of use, anyway) schooling and health care
· Being born in a time and place where as I woman I can access education, health care, contraception and have the freedom to work, travel and choose my own path in life
· Living in the internet age
· The support and love of my family and friends
· The attention demanding antics of my felines
· Getting into the MA programme
· The three bars of Green and Black’s chocolate that are sitting by my computer
· A comfortable, warm bed to sleep in, sometimes with the addition of a ginger cat
· Being able to read and write
· Having levels of mental and physical health that allow me to look to the future with optimism
· Having some secure to live
· Knowing what I want out of life
· Having developed a robust sense of self worth

Photos are some less touristy views of the Old City area of Shanghai. I miss seeing people out on the streets or in the park playing badminton (although having to duck the occasional stray shuttlecock not so much).

For other views around the world, visit My World Tuesday.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Thank You

I got in! As of January 11th, I’m going to be an studying for an MA in Professional Writing at University College Falmouth. I am so excited to have this opportunity to learn, to meet new people, to develop myself, to become a better writer.

And I would like to thank all of you who visit my blog, follow me and leave such wonderful comments. Since I’ve started posting here, my confidence in my writing and photography have grown immeasurably – this time last year I would not have believed that people would be interested in my writing or photos. Without your interest, your support and the glimpses into different lives around the world, I wouldn’t have the confidence to follow what had become a long hidden dream.

Thank you.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Turning Off The Shoulds, And Other Lessons

Yesterday was my last day of working for the school. Although in some ways perhaps a bit of a disaster, I have learnt some lessons that, I think, made all the times I was sworn at and had things thrown at me worthwhile.

Teaching and leading v. controlling. This job wasn’t really about teaching or leading, but controlling. I don’t enjoy that. I don’t want to control people purely by fear. I don’t see having power over people as a desirable item in itself. I love teaching and I love leading. I can create environments where people know that if they step out of line there’ll be a whupping delivered, but also know that they can learn, flourish and even (whisper it) enjoy themselves. I want people in a team I’m leading to follow my directions because they respect me and know that I care about them and want them to succeed.

Relationship building. I love building relationships, and this job had little scope for that. I’d make a breakthrough with a student, but then it’d be weeks before I saw them again, meaning the whole process had to start again.

Ownership. Never being able to follow up properly on problems or questions was incredibly frustrating. I need to do something that allows me to take ownership of situations.

Ignore the ‘shoulds’. I kept thinking, I should think myself lucky to have a job at all. And then I realised: who thinks themselves lucky to do something that makes them miserable every day? It made me review what I think I deserve – do I really think that I deserve to do something I don’t really want to, do I deserve to be miserable? I realised that if I didn’t challenge the mindset that ‘I should be lucky to have a job, any job, no matter what it is and how unhappy it makes me’ that I’d probably spend most of my life stuck in similar situations. And, although it might sound harsh, it often seemed that the people shouting the message the loudest were the most miserable themselves.

In many ways finding myself in this situation has been the kick up the rear I needed to make myself reassess what it is that I want out of life and have the courage to say ‘I want and deserve better’.

I want to make a living doing what I enjoy, and I will. I want to live my life according to my own values, and I will.

Thursday, 26 November 2009


These ethereal hues were gracing the November sky for a few fragile minutes, fortuitously I happened to steal a glance out the window at the same time. I had time to get my camera out, open the door and take two photographs before the pink and blues started fading to grey.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Reasons Why I'd Rather Be A Cat In Winter

Most of the time I manage to restrain my desire to post endless pictures of my cats, demanding that you all recognize how exceptionally adorable they are. But, every time I have to leave the house and venture forth into the wind and rain, I think - 'How come I didn't decide to be a cat instead?'

Monday, 23 November 2009

Doorways: Into Qingdao

I still have so many China photos that I've never posted, including plenty of doorway photos from Qingdao, a city that was blessed with so many photogenic and inviting doorways that I'm surprised I didn't get into trouble for losing all self control and investigating what exactly was tucked away just out of view.

Here, I could only peer and imagine, but now I'm enjoying exploring doorways more metaphorical.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Horizons Shrink To Fit Expectations

One of my ‘to dos’ on my Before 30 list is to write a book. For years now, I’ve had a nebulous idea for a novel and its central character floating around inside my head, but I’ve never started writing out any of my ideas. On Saturday night I sat in bed with an old school notebook and pen and finally began to turn the main character into a person, with a voice and a history. (Yeah, I’m not sure what happened to the twentysomething rock n roll lifestyle either.)

The title phrase was one that appeared about half way through my writing session, and whilst it perfectly describes the conundrum my character has found herself in, as soon as I wrote it I realised that is a problem I see every day, in myself and people around me.

Why has it taken me years to even start sketching out preliminary ideas about characters? Because my expectations, had, over the years been shrunk by the drip-drip effect of people saying that there was no point pursuing writing, as there was no way I’d ever be able to make a living out of it, or get published. It’s too hard, impossible, a fantasy. And I made the mistake of allowing other people to control my expectations, to fix my horizons.

Perhaps this haze of characters and ideas will never become a finished novel. Perhaps it will and it will never be published. Perhaps it will just be, well, rubbish. But at least I will have tried, overcome the most debilitating hurdle of thinking that you can’t do something and set my expectations of myself MYSELF.

I saw the same problem in most of my Chinese students. The real problem was not that they were incapable of decent spoken English, but that they had convinced themselves that it was too hard, that I would laugh at them, that it would excruciatingly embarrassing, that they JUST COULDN’T DO IT.

This wasn’t only the case with my high school students, where it took the entire first semester working on mainly overcoming the ‘I can’t do it’ block before we could really start working on their speaking itself, but even with the IELTS* classes I taught. These students had some of the best understanding of English I came across in Shijiazhuang, and were capable of formulating and expressing very sophisticated ideas in English, but stumbled because of their self-doubt and the ingrained belief that Chinese people are no good at oral English.

I could tell when a student, or even a class, had started to overcome their own externally imposed sense of limitations – suddenly there were smiles, an eagerness to talk to me outside of class, students volunteering to take part rather than having to be (almost literally in the first few weeks of class) dragged to their feet, a mischievousness and sense of fun in answers, even answers and opinions shouted out. To watch and to help this was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my life, and has not only inspired me to overcome my own ‘I can’ts’ but made me aware that they exist in the first place.

What are your ‘I can’ts’, how have you overcome them, was it worth it?

*IELTS is an exam that non-English speakers need to take before being admitted to universities in English speaking countries. Most of my students were aiming for postgraduate study in Australia or the UK, where the requirement of gaining an average of 6.5 across writing, reading, speaking and listening requires skills beyond those developed at university, with speaking being the area that often dragged down the average mark.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Bucket List - Before 30

A while ago, I wrote a personal life wish list. It was pretty helpful in focusing me on where I want to be going with my life, but I still need to set myself some goals to get me to the place I want to be. I know that with these things it's kind of traditional to have 100 or 101 things, but I feel that these 40 something things will keep me busy for the next three years or so, espcially as a lot of them are going to be comprised of many mini goals.
Also, I hope this is going to kick me into not only doing the obvious things I need to do, but the more boring but equally essential things. You'll notice that there's a whole 'living space' section tacked on the end, which I have to confess, is how I think of my living space - a rather neglected appendix to the rest of my life. But how on earth can I expect to achieve when I'm living in disorganised sty, let alone study writing and make a living from writing when I don't have my own table to work on, let alone a functional computer of my own.
Writing this reminded me, sometimes cliches are cliches because well, they're true, and sometimes you really do need to start at the beginning.


1. Create some versions of my favourite Chinese dishes
2. Take an art/drawing class
3. Go ice-skating
4. Do MindMapping for a month
5. Get a decent haircut
6. Design and sell a T-Shirt


7. Write a short story
8. Enter a writing competition
9. Complete MA
10. Publish a non-fiction article
11. Write a book
12. Research non-fiction freelancing writing markets


13. Gain LRPS
14. Sell a photograph
15. Publish a photograph
16. Photograph a wedding
17. Do a portrait session


18. Complete recruitment campaign
19. Compile an database of organisations who will display our information
20. Do a radio interview
21. Do a walkabout awareness raising session
22. Take part in creating a major publicity event


23. Go on the London Eye
23-28. Visit 5 new places.
29. Return to China.
30. Visit Wales.


31. Finish web design course
32. Design my own blog
33. Design a blog for someone else
34. Be active on twitter


35. Go to the ballet
36. Go to the V+A Museum

My Living Space

37. Organise clothes and shoes
38. Organise paperwork
39. Organise books
40. Sort out other possessions

41. Redecorate/theme
42. Put in a desk, chair and working space area
grey = unstarted blue = in progress purple = nearly done orange = finished

Thursday, 19 November 2009

November You Say?

I took this on Sunday, about twenty minutes before the overwhelming blueness, which was featured earlier in the week. I was struck by the unusual silhouettes of the palm trees, but it was difficult to find a shot that reflected how dramatically incongruous they seemed on a windswept November promenade. It wasn’t until I started tweaking in Photoshop that the photo really came alive, and gave me a chance to pretend this wasn’t really northern Europe in winter – perhaps I’d slipped away to a balmy tropical island for the afternoon instead.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Snowy Shiz

One of my friends just emailed me this picture from Shijiazhuang. Last week they had two feet of snowfall and the school was closed for four days, which no doubt came as a welcome break for my former students, whose night classes (after a 7.45 am start to lessons) are now finishing at 10pm.
I'm hoping this picture is going to make me feel warmer in comparison!

Monday, 16 November 2009

Sometimes Reality Is Stranger

I promise I did not edit this in Photoshop (well, apart from to crop some shingle from the bottom). Walking along the beach at dusk yesterday, the muddy sand, sea and sky were all this intense blue colour. I've lived by the sea almost all my life, and never seen this light effect before. And to think I nearly didn't take my camera!

My World Tuesday.

Sunday, 15 November 2009


Working in schools for most of the last year has made me very aware of what we think of as ‘smart’, as in booksmart, and the things that is assumed go with it: good behaviour, roughly equal talents across the board, ability to spell, social skills. But, a confession. I always did well at school, and was placed in top sets, yet I did (and still do) have difficulties with things that would have made a nonsense of early years National Curriculum Targets*, and still befuddle people I meet today.

I cannot tell my left from my right. And please, don’t tell me that my left hand makes an L-shape. It doesn’t help. It’s a bit like telling people who don’t read mandarin characters that they are pictograms: yeah, I can see how the character for ren (people) looks sort of like a human, but please tell me how that works with bei, the character for north.

It’s not that I can’t remember which is left and right, I just don’t understand the concept at all. How can left and right swop places when you turn around? How can your right and left be different if you’re standing opposite me? I just don’t get it.

People tend to react disbelievingly, as if it’s against the laws of the universe that an intelligent person can’t understand something so (allegedly) simple. I hate having to give directions to people I don’t know very well, especially when in a car, as despite my warning, people inevitably get frustrated. A few weeks ago I even had someone who was giving a left screaming at me. Strangely enough, screaming does not magically make me realise my left from my right.

I always thought that I was alone in this, until I learnt to drive two years ago. One reason that I didn’t pass my driving test until I was 25 was that my previous instructors had just become angry when they’d said right and I’d gone left, meaning that I went through each lesson in a perpetual state of nervous tension. And, being a teenager, I’d just taken it instead of telling themselves where to go.

My last driving instructor was the first person to tell me that, actually, there are a lot of adults who can’t tell their right from their left but that people are too embarrassed by not being able to do such a ‘simple’ thing that they don’t tell anybody. Now, I’m much more confident about telling people that, actually, when they say ‘go left’ there’s a reasonable chance that I’ll go the other way, and that if people scream at me when I’m doing my best then it’s their problem, not mine.

Incidentally, I’m a fantastic map reader and have an excellent sense of direction, and despite going the wrong way on my driving test, I still passed.

Other ‘dumb’ moments:

· I can’t remember not being able to read, but I can remember not knowing the order of the alphabet until well into primary school. I mean, why is c after b? Why?

· I also remember my dance teacher being horrified that at seven years old I couldn’t tie my own shoelaces. I remember a lot of practice. Knots still aren’t my thing. I still prefer slip on or buckle shoes.

· I was really good at maths in primary school, but I couldn’t tell the time using a regular clock. When I was 8, I persuaded my teacher to let me skip the time telling section in maths, telling her I already knew how to do because I was too embarrassed to admit that I didn’t understand it. I didn’t buy an non-digital watch until I was WELL into my twenties.

Anyone else out there have any similar confessions?

* For non-Brits, these are government educational targets that say each child should be able to do such-and-such by a certain age. I would’ve been judged both advanced and remedial at the same time!

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Rain, rain, go away

This has been my weekend view. A wild wind that shrieks through the letterbox like there’s a demented spirit stuck in it, accessorized with rainy squalls and darkness before five, has announced that autumn has gone and winter is most definitely here.

Some people start to rhapsodize about snuggling indoors, hot drinks, fires, snow, big woolly jumpers, Christmas preparations, and all sorts of wintery goodness at this time of year. I, however, seem to turn into a cold toed Grinch railing against the weather, the crowds, the darkness and Christmas music.

I am literally not designed for Northern European winters – even the mild ones of Southern England. One doctor once told me that the best thing for my health would be to live in the Bahamas, although sadly one way tickets to the Caribbean and Bahamian residence permits don’t fall under the remit of the NHS.

Apart from daydreaming about sunshine, and wishing I was a cat able to spend all day snuggled up on the sofa, I’ve decided to try and find things about winter that I enjoy. Let’s see if I come up with anything by February!

Thursday, 12 November 2009


Today I trudged through the rain and the last of the skimpy November daylight to post my application form for the MA course I want to do. If I think about it, I get a little butterfly sensation in my stomach, because I want it to work out so much, but I had a bit of a life disaster with my last postgraduate application, where I managed to get into a course I never thought I would but the funding all went horribly awry, which meant I couldn’t do it.

Sometimes I have to remind myself that after I certain point, there’s nothing I can do, and that worrying about is a waste of my life. So I’m going to try and channel the mellow serenity of this photograph and concentrate my mind on the beauty and good in the here and now, rather than something that might go wrong in the future.

Did I just sound too much like a self help book? Maybe. As a reward for my form filling and getting wet feet on the way to the post office, I’m going to contemplate the beauty and good in a some brie and grapes and a bottle of cider.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009


Worthing’s war memorial is both ugly and nondescript, a by-numbers marble pillar topped with a forgettable statue. It’s so forgettable that, although I’ve lived in this town for most of my 27 years, I cannot actually tell you what it depicts. I’ve often thought that the young men who died deserve something more likely to make you stop and remember.

Next to the memorial is a raised grass area, edged by marbleish looking slabs, normally attractive yet blank space. Not now though. Now it is studded with smallish wooden crosses, each one representing a battalion or military unit. In front of these stand clusters of smaller crosses, each one decorate with a poppy and a name, written in plain black capitals.

This was something that made me stop, consider the lives the crosses represented, remember that most of these men were younger than I am now. I wondered about their characters, their hopes, the people who mourned them.

I watched an elderly man, perhaps in his late seventies or early eighties, who was pausing in front of each cross-and-poppy crop. I wondered about his wartime memories, if he was thinking of brothers, cousins or friends who never came home, or someone who was in the way of a bombing raid.

It reminded me of being in the Turner exhibition at the Beijing City Art Gallery, when I was surprised by a heroic style painting of the Battle of Waterloo. Despite the Roman detailing and cherubs and general lack of mud and gore, there was a power in the painting which reminded me that these figures were real. Real men had died, and died horribly, in a battle that I was more used to contemplating as an abstract historical event to early 19th century literature.

At 11am this is what I’m going to remember: that people who’ve died in war zones aren’t just chiselled names, or flag draped coffins, or a sentence in a history book, or symbols of valour or patriotism, they were real, broken off amidst their cherished, imperfect, human-like-me lives.

Monday, 9 November 2009


sometimes things don't quite work out they way you thought they were going to...

Today was a ‘I meant to do this and then life intervened’ day. I spent a considerable part of my school day dealing with a student in distress. It’s a situation that took my mind over a bit, and I could write reams about it, but it’d be completely inappropriate to share on such a public forum.

I was meant to go to an after school meeting, but no-one was there when I turned up. As I was feeling emotionally and physically drained, in severe need of some orange juice and paracetamol, I went home after hanging around for five minutes. Which may result in some interesting consequences tomorrow…

Then I came home and called up the University of Falmouth about a course I’m interested in, their MA in Professional Writing. I had thought the start date was September, but for the distance learning option I want to do, it’s actually January, and places are still available. So cue frantic scribbling of a personal statement, and looking up finance options.

So, the MWT post that I intended to write kind of got pushed aside. Now my brain is buzzing but tired, my throat is sore and I’m going to find something to read or something low on the TV to watch…

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Weekend Fun

Today I was meant to be going to a regional publicity meeting for Samaritans, the charity that I volunteer for. Unfortunately, I’m ill. Again. Since the middle of August, I seem to have had one cold or virus after another. I’ve been left feeling completely drained and exhausted – a quick trip to the supermarket earlier left me feeling bone tired.

I had to cancel my attendance at the meeting. I felt really bad doing it, as I think it would’ve been very useful, and I’m a bit worried that it won’t give a great impression to the Regional Publicity Officer. But, I know from bitter experience that pushing too hard will only make the situation a lot worse in the long run, so I’ve spent most of my weekend snuggled up reading or watching low TV.

This afternoon though, I broke open Photoshop to design some new adverts that I’ll send out to local media. It was quite a challenge, as I had to pore over the old and new branding guidelines, to create something that can be easily read and understood by as many people as possible, even when it’s quite small.

This is my first attempt, which has been sent out to be our Christmas advert:

Friday, 6 November 2009

Miss Mentor

Every final year student in my high school is assigned a mentor, and had my first ever mentoring session today. I was torn between a ‘I hope I do this right and don’t inadvertently screw up this boy’s life’ first time nerves, and bleak amusement at the idea that me, of all people, was going to sit down and advise someone on what to do with their lives.

It went surprisingly well, and, for the first time since I started this job, I actually left the school feeling like I might have done something worthwhile. It was so good to sit down and talk to and get to know a student, reminding me of what I miss about teaching in China.

Even better was working out a plan together to help him solve a couple of problems he was having with his work, and resolving quite a major anxiety he had about one subject. His thanks at the end went straight to my heart, and I felt the powerful jolt of be recognised as and recognising a full human being rather than another fleeting, one-dimensional face.

I also realised that maybe I need to mentor myself. I know this is in serious danger of tipping into a swamp of ‘self-help’ clichés, but… I’m very good at deciding that what I want is quite ridiculous and impossible, before I’ve even admitted to myself that I want it, let alone tried to work out how I could go about getting it.

It doesn’t help that the last few months have meant that timeworn insecurities have resurfaced, knocking my confidence and faith in myself back down like a practiced prize fighter. I need to start assessing myself realistically, and stop chasing suitable chimeras – things that I will fail at, because I have no real desire or passion for them, that only reinforce the voice in my head that says ‘Don’t even think about, save yourself the disappointment, it’s not worth the time just to fail’.

As I was congratulating my student on his achievements, I realised that had these been my GCSE grades, I would’ve considered myself a complete failure. Leaving aside any differences in ability, why can’t I treat myself like I treat other people. Talking to a friend or student, I would never obsess on their weakest point, blowing it up until it eclipsed everything else. But yet I seem to find that a reasonable way to treat myself, and then I wonder why I end up frozen with self doubt.

I need to follow my own advice, and set some targets, and actually do them rather than just thinking about it, see what I can do.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Doorways: Dog Days

Ok, so there's no actual doorway seen, but this is the view through the doorway of the pier amusement arcade. It's something that I cast my eye over without really seeing, until my brain processed the unusual addition of the toy spaniel.

I wondered if he'd been selling the family valuables to fuel his addiction to the penny pushing machines, although it must be terribly difficult operating the button with paws... I hope at least the attendant provides him with some steps, and perhaps let him swop his winnings for dog chews.

I couldn't really decide whether I liked this best in b+w or colour, what do you think?