Life Skills Unlocked: Proper Etiquette

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Something happened last weekend that blew my mind:

I realised that I have been eating incorrectly my entire life.

But Quinn, I hear you say, if you have been managing to successfully manoeuvre food from your plate to your mouth for the past three decades, how can you possibly say you have been eating incorrectly?

Well I’m glad you asked.

When I was a small child, mealtimes were incredibly stressful affairs. There were a few reasons for this – including the fact that I went on a self-imposed hunger-strike for about two years at the age of six for reasons unknown – but one of the main reasons was that my mother was an absolute stickler for etiquette. The rules for eating were harsh and exacting, and failure to comply led to frequent explosions of anger (on her part) and tears (on ours). Fork in left hand, knife in right. Cut your food. Swap hands. Turn the fork over and bring your food to your mouth with your right hand, tines pointing up. Do not pick up your food until you have put down your knife. Do not ever lift your fork from the plate with the tines pointing down. Hold it like a spoon when you move it from plate to mouth. I mean sure, it sounds simple now but when you’re a tiny child, all that fork-fiddling is very tricky to master.

…Skip along to last weekend, when I absent-mindedly asked Scrubs why he eats with the tines pointing down when it’s 1. wrong and 2. clearly more difficult.

He blinked at me.

“It’s proper etiquette.”

No. No, I said. You’re supposed to do this whole fork-knife-swapping rigmarole. Those are the rules.

He leaned back in his chair and tilted his head. “No, that’s wrong,” he said. “Proper etiquette dictates you eat with your fork pointing downwards.”

I grumbled, and then – as with all bones of contention – I turned to Google to assure me that I had not suffered through gruelling lessons in table manners for nothing, and this is when I learned two galling and frankly disturbing truths:

  1. There is no globally-accepted etiquette for the use of eating utensils.
  2. I have been eating incorrectly for my entire life.

For those of you thinking, “But that’s how I learned to use my knife and fork!” Well, yes. Let me explain. Back in the day, when the British were still enjoying being an empire, this was the proper way to eat using a knife and fork. Some of them sailed to America, settled there, and brought their old-timey etiquette with them to their high society functions in the New World.

Then, for reasons unknown, back in Europe etiquette changed. Someone, somewhere, decided it was too easy to scoop food up with the tines pointing upward and they were wasting too much time swapping hands, so they changed things. Suddenly the polite thing to do was to eat with your fork in your left hand at all times, tines facing down.

Bounce along a few generations, and you have my grandfather, piloting a Boeing across the ocean to New York, where he evidently picked up some new-fangled ideas about proper eating-utensil protocol and then rigorously enforced them at home, bringing us to my mother, who in turn taught us the table manners she had learned as a child.

And here I thought everyone else was just doing it wrong.

When I think about it now, it all makes sense to me. My grandfather – my Yayo – was born in a tiny village riddled with small, crooked houses on unpaved, dusty streets. When I visited as a child, the houses were still small and crooked, and the streets were still unpaved and dusty. It always seemed trapped in a time warp. Women sat outside their front doors on wooden stools dressed entirely in black, as if in mourning for a life that had passed them by. Their faces were nut-brown from the sun and deeply lined. I didn’t know this then but many of those lines were testaments to hardship. Many of those lines were evidence of unimaginable grief.

My Yayo signed up for the military as soon as he was able, and eventually worked his way up from dogsbody to mechanic to air force pilot. Later, he became a commercial pilot, at a time when flying was new and exotic. Short-haul flights became long-haul flights, and before long he was flying from Madrid to New York City.

Imagine the impression New York City’s glitziest five-star hotels must have made on a man who had come from a village in which traveling by donkey was the norm. He probably soaked up the etiquette there as gospel. After all, where would he learn more about high society than New York in the 1950s? At a time when pilots were highly admired and airline travel was considered a glamorous luxury, he learned a lot and he learned it fast. Then he traveled home, arms laden with clothes and jewellery and trinkets, and taught his growing family everything he knew.

And now here I am, with excellent training in American knife and fork etiquette.

… In Europe.

While I admire his efforts, I do wish somebody had mentioned it to me sooner. It is somewhat startling to realise that I have been eating ‘wrong’ at multiple formal occasions for my entire life so far. I suppose I should probably relearn my table manners; I imagine it will be a little easier now that I have adult levels of dexterity in my hands.

Still, after thinking about it, my foreign table manners make me feel very proud of my Yayo and his ambition for a better life. Maybe I’ll still use American etiquette every so often; a private, silent tribute to one of the greatest men I’ve ever known.

grandfather yayo airline pilot when do i get the manual

 

 

 

Thoughts On… The Ring Thing

So it turns out that when you get engaged, you wear a ring.

Who knew, right?* It’s a whole thing. There’s the proposal, and all the things that come with that (champagne… lots of champagne), and then there’s the ring. Usually a shiny ring. Usually a shiny ring with a sparkly rock perched on top so that you can blind your enemies with some carefully-angled light reflection. While I was aware of all of this in a vague, theoretical sense, I hadn’t really thought about it.

Like… ever.

Of course I’ve been around other engaged people, and I’m not completely socially inept, so I have taken part in the customary, “Congratulations! Oooh your ring is amazing!” routine. My congratulations are always sincere – I am a secret sap and melt internally during retellings of funny/sweet/charming/odd/downright peculiar proposals – but if I’m honest, my interest in the ring itself has always been extremely limited. My brain sees the new bit of jewellery and registers ‘beautiful silver-coloured ring with sparkly stone’ and literally nothing else. This may sound borderline sacriligeous, but by and large they all look the same to me. More importantly, they mean the same thing; this person (who I love) is getting married (to someone they love)… and that’s lovely!

But amigos, you have no idea.

Or rather, maybe you do have some idea, but I had NO idea.

The ring thing is an actual rabbithole. It’s Ringception. You think all you need to do is pick a ring. You think it’s simple. You think there’s only one layer… but you’re wrong. You’re so wrong. There are many layers, and once you’ve jumped in there is no Edith Piaf singing Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien to kick you back to sanity.

The first time I looked at rings, I felt the same icy panic that usually closes over me in the men’s shoe department. They all look the same. I know they’re not the same – I know there are differences – but God help me, I cannot point them out. I start to feel a strange, itemised kind of colourblindness; each ring I look at blurs into a muddy amalgamation of every ring I’ve seen before it. It turns out they are not just beautiful silver-coloured sparkly diamond rings. They are rose gold, or yellow gold, or platinum, or white gold, but if they’re white gold then they can be 14 karat, or 18 karat, and can I tell the difference?

No. No I cannot.

Then there are the diamonds (you can use any stone, but diamonds are most common); they can be round, or square, or oval, or pear, or princess, or cushion, or marquise, or emerald, or asscher, or a dozen other “cuts,” and that’s without going deeper into facet cuts and table depths and mathematical formulas for making the diamond a blinding weapon of refraction. I avoid mathematics whenever possible so as you can imagine this is not an area I am particularly interested in. When it comes to one round cut diamond or another round cut diamond, can I tell the difference?

No. No I cannot.

And then, after all that, you have the settings. Do you want it in a bezel setting? Halo setting? Tension setting? Prong setting? How many prongs? Four? Six? Square-placed or compass? Talon or rounded? Cathedral or Tiffany?

It’s endless.

When I started reading online about all of this, I kept coming across forums full of men planning to propose. There are threads out there in the wilderness of the world wide web crammed full of adorably encouraging strangers virtually psyching each other up and advising each other to “Check out her pinterest so you have an idea of what rings she likes.”

Psssh! I scoffed. Like there are people out there pinning their ideal engagement rings to their pinterest boards. Pinterest is for food! Everybody knows that!

Alas, further googling forces me to admit that I was wrong; these people exist. They are legion. There are many, many people out there who are extremely prepared for any potential proposal that might pop up. In this, as in so many other things, it turns out I am that one suddenly cramming for a test I didn’t even know I had to study for, while other people have been carefully compiling binders of detailed notes** for years.

Quelle surprise.

Still, there are a few things here that are bring me a measure of serenity when I start to feel like I am falling into a vertically-placed, asscher-cut hall of mirrors.

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You could fall in and never come out

 

  1. This is the most first world of first world problems.
  2. Parts of this process have allowed me to say shake my head vigorously and say truly outrageous things like, “NOT THOSE PRONGS!” which is not something I ever thought I would have an opinion about, let alone say out loud.
  3. I don’t really care. I mean I care in so much as I do not want to wear an uncomfortable, heart-shaped eyesore for the rest of my days, but I don’t care. I would have said yes without any ring. I would marry Scrubs with a rubber band around my finger. He is the best.***

So that’s where I’m at. I’ve read more than I ever thought I would need to know about engagement rings. I’ve made some tentative decisions (I’ve decided against heart-shaped diamonds as a general rule). I will no doubt update you when I receive the final product so you can say “Oooh your ring is amazing!” in keeping with the well-established custom.

… Even if it does just look like a beautiful silver-coloured ring with sparkly stone.

*When we got engaged there was a provisional ring (rose gold, with rose quartz and little diamonds for the curious), with the plan being to find The One Ring To Rule Them All at a later stage, together. Hence, Ringception.

**Pinterest boards.

***I realise I am biased. He is though.

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Wise Men Say…

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There is one teeny, tiny thing I neglected to mention in all of my rambling about Mexico.

I got engaged. We got engaged! There was an engagement?

Basically, what I’m saying is that there was a very happily accepted proposal, and I know that makes it sound a little like a business deal, but in actual fact it was both completely unexpected and eerily perfect, and not at all like a business deal.

More like a movie.

Or a telenovela.

I don’t talk about Scrubs much here because Scrubs is quite a private person, but we have been together for… a while. A long while. About eight years now. That sounds like a veritable eon, but it really doesn’t feel like it. The other day we were out having dinner and across the way from us a couple were sitting, sipping cocktails, having an awkward first date.

“Yeah, so I play the oboe,” the girl said.

“Oh right. That’s interesting.” Said the boy, sounding not at all interested.

“It’s quite time-consuming.” Brief pause as the boy digested this bit of information. She forged ahead. “I also play hockey.”

“Oh?” Said the boy. “Like, on grass?”

“Yeah, on astroturf. Sometimes we play on gravel though.”

Scrubs and I locked eyes over our potato wedges.

“Thank God we never had to do that whole thing,” whispered Scrubs, sounding like we narrowly avoided death by immolation or radioactive waste. I nodded in grave agreement.

It’s true that we never had that awkward first date. Timing, or kismet, or any number of factors combined to create a moment in which we simply connected like magnets. At the time that my world collided with his, I had passed through phases of singledom; I had been sad and lonely, then disappointed and bored, and (eventually) made it to the promised land of consummate enjoyment. After a rough patch of heartbreak I had finally discovered my happy place. I had found my groove, and I was making the most of it; everything was fun, and light-hearted, and there was a lot of dancing to bad music (there is still a lot of dancing to bad music but these days it’s mostly in the comfort of my own home). Then, that one night, our little world bubbles bumped into each other for no more than five minutes.

“I know you! Or … I know someone that knows you?”

“Yeah! I was on foreign exchange with someone you know!”

“I have to go, but we should meet up sometime?”

“Yeah, for sure!”

…and that was it. It sounds ridiculous and impossible even to my own ears, but I still vividly remember sitting in my taxi home, tipsily thinking about him and feeling absolutely infuriated. I remember having this clear gut instinct of, “This guy is going to be Something Serious with a capital S, and just when I was starting to have so much fun! Why did Something Serious have to come along now? Why couldn’t I have had a bit longer to enjoy my groove?”

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Just like this, except that Scrubs is younger and better looking… And I’m not a man.

Worth it, though.

We never really went on a first date. We simply met up to hang out one day and then just… were. I found a new groove, a better groove than I’d ever even dared to hope for, and we’ve continued on like that up to now.

If I’m honest, I wasn’t expecting the proposal at all. It blindsided me to such an extent that I didn’t really have a serious think about what it truly meant until afterwards. I think I was in shock for the first couple of days. It took me a minute.

One night I lay in the dark, staring at the ceiling, and thought long and hard about it. I realised that even though I’d always felt like we were in it for the long-haul, this was actually a Big Deal; this was an official, public, no-screwing-around, it’s-you-and-me-against-the-world type promise. I know that may seem obvious. It is obvious. I mean, that’s really the whole proposal question when you think about it. I needed a moment for it to sink in though. I needed a moment to turn it over in my mind and examine it from every angle. Now not only am I an adult, but I’m an adult with a fiancé! I still can’t say it out loud without turning red.

Nothing has changed. We are the same as we were before. Nothing has changed, and yet something has. Before, I knew that we loved each other and now, I KNOW it.

… But I already knew it, so what’s the difference?

I can’t tell. There is a difference but it’s something so tiny and sharp that I can barely figure out what it is. Something so miniscule it’s invisible but I can feel it, so I know it’s there.

I could write a long, long post here about Scrubs. I could write about the many reasons why I love him, and how he makes me a better person, and all the ways he makes me smile. I could write about how I still feel the same about him now as I did that night that he threw me off my groove and knocked me right into a different (and completely unexpected) lane.

I could write about all of this and more, but as I said before, he’s a private person. He would hate that.

So I didn’t write about it.

Not in so many words.

Trying To Be More Like Trump

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This is actually a caterpillar, but it resembles Trump’s hair enough to make the cut.

So today I had a mad day.

You know those mornings when you wake up tired and you basically feel like you’re playing catch-up for the rest of the day? I’ve had one of those days. Hence the late night blog post through eyes that are so bleary they feel like they might close of their own accord aaaaaaany minu-

Where was I?

Oh, right. I was talking about the day I’ve had and how tired I am. Well, yes. I just had cereal for dinner, which is a surefire sign that all is not as it should be; usually I love cooking dinner and making something – anything – that tastes good and involves vegetables of some kind so that I can pat myself on the back and tell myself I’m being healthy (potatoes count as a vegetable). And yet tonight, I had a dinner of bitesize wheaties. I’m depressing myself just typing that.

So.

Today.

Some very adult-y type things were done today.

And some not so adult-y type things (after all, balance is a necessary part of life).

I was going to write about the adult-y thing today, but then the hours of the day saw me coming and decided to make a break for it, and they completely escaped me and now here we are and it’s almost midnight.

I was sitting here feeling terrible about not having the time to write about what I want to write about, when I saw a news story about Donald Trump and thought, ‘I should be more like Donald Trump.’

No, I don’t mean I should be a sexist, bigoted moron, but in the grand tradition of believing there’s nobody you can’t learn something from, I think we can all let just a tiny pinch of Donald Trump’s self-assuredness rub off on us every once in a while.

Not a large amount. Not even a spoonful (this stuff is potent, after all).

Still, just a tiny pinch might not do any harm.

In the mind of Donald Trump, he can do no wrong. Donald Trump is the best, most accomplished man he knows. He is his own role model. There is no room for self-doubt under that badly-dyed patch of wool roving. He never even stops to consider the fact that somebody who disagrees might have a valid point; that would clearly be a waste of time since he is always right. He sticks to his beliefs, even when they diverge from the route of reality. If he wants something to be true, he simply believes that it is so. Really, if it weren’t so worrying, it would be impressive.

So here we go. Here I am, trying to look at my day through the eyes of The Donald:

Today was the BEST day. THE BEST. Everybody says so. I did not get enough sleep last night, and that was very unfair, very very unfair, but now… Look, it was the best day. We got great things done. Good things. Do you know the expression, ‘Friday feeling’? I mean, I just came up with it yesterday, so… But yeah, I had a ‘Friday feeling’ and it just meant that it was the best, most successful day.

Well.

I’m not sure that really worked. Now I just feel sort of dirty.

Maybe I’ll have a quick shower before bed…!

Thoughts on ageing when do i get the manual

Thoughts On… Ageing

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I’ve dealt with confronting ageing in the same way I deal with confrontation in other areas of my life; I’ve avoided it like the plague. I like the age I am now. I don’t want to think about getting older. I don’t want to think about my body changing. I don’t want to think about liver spots and papery skin and dentures. Instead, I live in the moment.

Or as other people might call it, ‘in denial‘.

This mindset of pretending it’s-just-not-happening-and-I’ll-have-this-same-human-body-forever-and-I-will-always-be-capable-of-solo-dance-parties-in-my-kitchen-and-I-could-climb-Kilimanjaro-but-I-just-don’t-feel-like-it-right-this-minute has served me pretty well so far for an attitude that I realise is, frankly, unsustainable in the long-term.

Up until this year, I didn’t use moisturiser with any frequency whatsoever. I also didn’t use sunscreen unless I was in 40° heat (that’s 104° for you in America). In terms of skincare or exercise, I lived a life of blissful ignorance. When it comes to spa treatments, I have never had a facial, and honestly the idea of a stranger stroking my face with gloop makes me stiffen with discomfort (I’ve heard people say that it’s relaxing, but I truly cannot fathom how that could possibly be the case). The only massages I have ever had are the painful, physiotherapeutic ones that feel like physical abuse and leave you bruised for the rest of the week.

What I’m getting at here is that although I’m grateful for my body and all that it does for me, I don’t exactly treat it like a temple. If my body must be an architectural metaphor, then it is a ramshackle treehouse on a desert island built from bits of trees and patches of moss. I need it. It’s all I’ve got. I could probably stand to make it a bit prettier, but for the moment it does the job. Yes, time is passing and I haven’t so much as given it a coat of varnish, but it still looks fine.

… And then yesterday, I found an unwelcome, uninvited squatter.

As I tried to french braid my hair in front of the mirror (and failed. Again. Seriously how do people manage those braids? They’re like wizardry! You need spatial relation skills I was never born with), I found a single, solitary strand of silver.

I KNOW!

So rude.

I looked at it accusingly. It was trying to disguise itself as blonde, trying to hide among my long dark hair. My eyes narrowed and I pulled it from my head and stared at it. Logically, I’m aware that since I’ve turned thirty I should have expected this sort of monstrous betrayal. It was only a matter of time. My hair – which in the past has been treated to such indignities as blue extensions, a quick magenta dye-job in a bathroom sink, and an extremely ill-conceived period of jet black permanent colour which took about a hundred years to grow out – could only hold out so long. AND YET.

I stood there, staring at this disloyal strand of hair and hissed, “Et tu, Brute?

Before you say it, I know that it’s just one grey hair, and I probably don’t have to run out just yet to buy a teetering stack of Nice n’ Easy Age Defy in the shade Natural Dark Brown. Still, it was an unpleasant discovery. It was an unwanted, obnoxious reminder that I am, in fact, an adult and will at some stage have to consider things such as (down the line) hair dye and (hopefully much further down the line) dentures.

This morning, having internalised all of these unpalatable thoughts, I sat down at my desk and decided to start treating my body better. We’re in this together after all, body and brain. If I’m going to be a ramshackle treehouse on a desert island, let’s at least do something cool with it; swing from branches or something. I feel good about this decision. I felt a rush of energy run through me as I thought about it, and that seems like a good omen.

Although actually, now that I think about it, that might have just been the coffee.

Cooped Up in Cork, Ireland

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I’ve been living in Cork for the past few months.

I’m a Dublin girl, so I’d grown up hearing Corkonians talk about how Cork should be the capital city of Ireland, and how Dublin had robbed Cork of its rightful place as the nation’s most important city… It left me with a somewhat garbled idea of what Cork must be like. After hearing all this chatter, I imagined Cork to be a large, multicultural place on par with Dublin. You know, an actual, geographically alternative capital city.

… And then I moved here.

Cork city is tiny. If I walk so slowly I’m practically going backwards, I can walk from my apartment all the way through the city centre to the other side in twenty minutes. Not only that, but considering it’s the south-west corner of the island, I had always imagined Cork to be positively Mediterranean weather-wise. This is also not the case. In fact as I type this, I’m looking out the window at a flat, grey expanse of cloud that is so low it’s partially obscuring the rooftops of surrounding buildings. It has been raining since last night without pause, and this seems to be the usual way of things in Cork. I never realised Dublin could ever be described as “dry” until I lived here.

I realise all this may sound very negative, so let me assure you that Cork has its positives. The surrounding countryside and all of West Cork is truly beautiful, even with the constant, unrelenting rain. The pubs here are charming, the restaurants are wonderful, and the people here will happily talk your ear off if you stand still for longer than two minutes (the key is to keep moving and look busy).

It’s a city with incredible detail. You can walk down a bland, narrow passageway and look up to find beautiful stained glass, or climb up a raggedy-looking hill and come to a little castle, or drive down a bog-standard country road and find an old viaduct.

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When it comes to food and drink, Cork has you covered. For vegetarians, it has unbeatable options such as Cafe Paradiso – the only high-end vegetarian restaurant I’ve ever been to – and the Quay Co-op which has every possible vegetarian/vegan product you can imagine. For omnivores the arracy of choice is spectacular, from lunches at Orso to brunches at Liberty Grill to dinners and cocktails at Market Lane and Cask. There are coffee shops on every corner, and there are university students everywhere giving the city a young, slightly alternative vibe.

So on balance, I find Cork city… fine.

It’s fine. It’s okay. When we go out with friends it’s fun, and the rest of the time it’s raining and I’m stuck in the apartment, slowly being driven insane by whoever designed this place.

Really, the apartment is probably the crux of my issues with Cork city.

The place we’re renting here was clearly built with only optics in mind. The block was built before the recession, and is presumably now being rented out until house prices go back up and they can make their money back. Whoever designed it obviously gave a lot of thought as to how it would look in photos, but unfortunately nobody stopped to think about how it would feel to live in it.

When we first moved in, I spent valuable time and energy trying to figure out a way to make it more homely. Eventually I admitted defeat, because no amount of soft woollen throws can soften the angular white walls and black and chrome decor. The hard leather couch could probably just about accomodate half a person … as long as that half a person doesn’t mind sitting on something that gives about the same level of comfort as a window ledge. We don’t have a television, but if we did it would be smack in the centre of the room leaving no space for a dining area. The round table – that we have unceremoniously shunted into the corner – is a glass and chrome monstrosity that shows up every streak and stain on its surface. You never need to use coasters, which is nice, but there is something unsettling about seeing your legs every time you look down at your plate.

Basically, if you want to feel comfortable in this apartment, you need to feel like one of those people who isn’t home long enough to give their house a personality and so rents the furniture from a staging crew. You need half a friend, since that’s all that can be comfortably entertained at one time, and you need to be really into microwaveable meals (the microwave here is a space-age contraption the likes of which I’ve never seen before).

The apartment does come with rack space for 12 wine bottles though, so while apparently the ideal home owner will have no friends, they will have the storage space to accomodate a robust alcohol dependency.

I like my apartments to be cosy. I like the place I’m living to have lots of soft textures and warm colours and preferably a fireplace or a stove. Maybe some twinkly lights. Ideally a pet around the place to snuggle with. This apartment checks none of those boxes. It makes me sad. I hope I can shake off my discomfort for the last few weeks that I’m here and maybe venture out into the rain a bit more… I can’t have seen everything there is to see here!

Still, I doubt I’ll be too sad when it’s time to move back to Dublin.

*********************************************************************

In other news, I numbered comments on the last post from 1 – 22 (I didn’t count double comments) and then used Google’s handy dandy random number generator to pick a number and it chose:

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… which if I’m right means Lost Astronomer is the winner of this giveaway. Astroboy, send me on your address (if you’re happy to) and I’ll send you on a little box of randomness!

I’m in a bit of a mood today which is seeping into everything I do so if you can read my grumpy thoughts crawling into this post I apologise. Poor Cork, getting the short end of the stick today! I think I’m going to go bake a cake or something to lift my spirits…..

unplanned paramedicine in Paris France when do i get the manual

Unplanned Paramedicine in Paris, France

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We had just stumbled out of the Parisian bar Le Comptoir Général when it happened.

As I reached the bank of the canal to join my friends, I went to glance back at the bar and turned just in time to watch a little hatchback brake suddenly, sending a pizza delivery guy smashing straight into the back of him. The scooter and the pizzas skidded sideways across the road. The driver was flung up in the air. Everything slowed for an instant and then sped up.

He hit the ground like a sack of potatoes.

Half-drunk and without thinking, I immediately ran over to the unconscious figure sprawled across the tarmac and when I reached Pizzaman, I leaned over him with my hands on my thighs, cocked my head and said, “Hey! Are you okay?!”

Obviously, Pizzaman was not in a position to answer.

A stocky passer-by with grey hair and a glorious moustache joined us. Without a word, he bent double with an audible wheeze and started fiddling with the helmet clasp under Pizzaman’s chin. My brain, struggling to process this abrupt turn of events after having spent the past five or six hours marinating happily in vodka cocktails, slowly chugged to life. It half-heartedly scrabbled around for some useful information.

What would Sunscreen advise?

I blinked blankly before sending my brain back to look for something a little more helpful; even Sunscreen has its limitations. Emergency first aid is one of them.

What would Scrubs do?

I pulled at the loopy, lazy string of thoughts in my head until it pulled tight into a somewhat coherent plan:

  1. Don’t move Pizzaman.
  2. Call an ambulance.
  3. If there is a wound, apply pressure and wait for paramedics.

I made a garbled noise of indignation at the man tugging at Pizzaman’s helmet and told him to stop what he was doing, but by now Pizzaman had regained consciousness and was pushing at the helmet with weak but frantic motions. The middle-aged man with the moustache looked at me smugly as if to say, ‘You see?‘ and pulled the helmet off without so much as a second thought.

I mean, I say he looked at me smugly but he was French, so that could just have been his face.

I calmly accepted the fact that the first bulletpoint on my plan had gone to the dogs, and pulled out my phone. I dialled 112 and knelt on the ground next to Pizzaman as it rang. I asked him if he was hurt. He gave a tiny shake of his head (good sign, I thought, at least he hasn’t broken his neck) and lay there, gasping like a fish, staring straight up at the sky.

I searched his body for any sign of injuries. A remote part of my brain wondered if I would have to shimmy under a car to locate a runaway finger.

  • Head – check.
  • Torso – check.
  • Arms – check.
  • Hands – check.
  • Pelvis – check.
  • Thighs – check.

And then I realised what had been disguised by the darkness; his jeans were slick with blood, and there was a glistening whiteness jutting proudly out of his lower leg, ready for its fifteen minutes of fame.

It was a …………….. *drumroll please* ………………. surprise appearance from his tibia!

Excellent.

As my brain fumbled drunkenly from uh oh, blood! to uh oh, bone! to finally just a general UH OH! the emergency call operator finally answered the phone.

In French.

Which is when I conveniently remembered that I do not, in fact, speak French.

I looked up to find a ring of curious onlookers keeping their distance. Exasperated, I held my phone out to them as if these 2am stragglers were my personal secretaries, and waggled it impatiently in the air until someone stepped forward and took it from me.

“AM-BU-LANCE” I said, loudly and clearly. Then I thought for a second, and added, “AM-BU-LAN-CIA” just in case Spanish was somehow their second language. I watched, gimlet-eyed, as this stranger put my phone to his ear. Once I was satisfied he had understood the brief and was taking of business, I turned my attention back to Pizzaman, who still looked like he was floating through another dimension on waves of pure shock.

Having successfully checked the second bulletpoint off my list, I turned to bulletpoint three and felt the warm blood coat my bare hands as they came into contact with his leg. I tried to make the gaping hole smaller before pressing both hands over the bone and leaning heavily on his leg to stem the bleeding. I crouched there and turned to Pizzaman, who was gazing at me with glassy eyes.

“Do you speak English?”

“Little.”

“How do you feel?”

“Okay.”

His eyes rolled skyward again. I chewed the inside of my cheek. It’s hard to be conversational when you don’t speak the language and you’re casually leaning on their legbone.

“Is there anybody you want me to call?”

His eyes tracked back to my face slowly. He stared.

“Phone? Should I phone anybody? On the telephone? On the mobile?”

He stared.

My nose itched. I wondered should I try sound effects. Or sign language. Or Spanish?

The silence stretched as his brain, which had clearly been concussed into scrambled egg, deciphered my question. After a pause that felt about ten minutes long, he mumbled, “Oui, oui.” I looked up, searching for my emergency P.A. and found him standing awkwardly by, staring at my hands, my phone dangling from his fingertips. My eyes narrowed.

“YOU!” His head snapped back. “Do you speak English?”

“Yez, yez,” he said, nodding vigorously. “Yez.”

“Okay, can you find his phone and call someone please? Maybe home, or a recently dialled contact, or ‘mama’ or someone.”

“Yez, oui, of courze.” He stood dumbly for another moment.

“It’s probably in his pocket or in his bag?” I prompted.

He jumped into action then and located Pizzaman’s mobile, which had somehow managed to stay in his pocket despite his earlier aerial somersault.

Now, I am not an organised person. I am crap at delegating. I like to do things myself, and I tend to do them in such a haphazard manner that if I even tried to delegate it would be a total shambles. With this in mind, it was somewhat of a surprise to discover that the injudicious application of alcohol turns me into a tiny Miranda Priestly.

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I kept one suspicious eye on the man calling Pizzaman’s mother, and one wary eye on Pizzaman himself who was starting to look a little grey.

“Do you feel pain?” I asked.

“Non, non” he mumbled. My eyes flickered to his leg where the white of his bone was still visible between my fingers. My hands were wrist-deep in blood. I smiled at him.

“Great! Everything is fine! Just relax. The ambulance is coming.”

“Oui,” he mumbled. His head lolled.

We stayed like that for another ten minutes. I peppered the air with cheerful, meaningless phrases like, “Everything is going to be okay!” and “Don’t worry!” and “You’re going to be just fine!” Pizzaman gazed blankly at the stars while making small noises every so often to show he was at least hearing me, if not understanding me. The moustachioed meddler had disappeared, leaving the helmet on the kerb, and my emergency P.A. was absent-mindedly pacing in tight circles. He had the phone pressed against one ear as he spoke to Pizzaman’s mother, and one finger pressed against the other ear to block out the music from the club.

Finally, both the ambulance and the police arrived.

One of the paramedics tapped my elbow and gave me the nod. Relieved, I lifted my hands and watched the tibia bob back up through the blood like a skinny iceberg. The paramedic took over from me then, his large white gloves looking far more competent than my gnome-sized hands, and I stumbled to my feet as the EMTs put Pizzaman in a neckbrace.

“Is he going to be okay? Will he be okay?”

One of the EMTs looked at me and smiled reassuringly. “Yez, he will be fine. Don’t worry.”

A tall policeman crooked his finger at me and I dutifully walked over, my hands held stiffly out at my sides so as not to drip blood all over my clothes. He asked something, and I blinked at him. I looked around, searching for my P.A. who immediately appeared at my side as if by silent summons.

“He iz azking eef you saw what haz heppened?” He helpfully translated.

“Yeah, yeah!” I turned to him and explained, quickly and incoherently, everything I had seen. He obediently translated, and the policeman looked from his face to mine with a barely disguised expression of martyr-like forbearance.

Although, he was French, so again, that might just have been his face.

When he was done jotting down notes in his tiny notepad with his tiny pen, he gave us a sharp nod and walked away. I turned to my P.A. and thanked him. He gave me a shy smile, offering me my phone back, and I held up my bloody hands, looking like I’d just murdered somebody in cold blood. “Can you put it in my pocket please?”

He flushed, nodded, and hurriedly tucked it into the pocket of my jeans. I thanked him again and he muttered, “No problem,” before turning on his heel and disappearing into the dark.

After washing my hands in the bar’s unisex bathroom (and completely clearing it out in the process), I rejoined my friends and spent the next two hours wandering from crêperie to crêperie, explaining that we should get free crêpes because I was practically a national hero. It was 3am so most places were shut, but we did manage to score at least one free crêpe, and one place that had closed the kitchen decided we had earned ourselves multiple shots of alcohol and unlimited crêpe toppings, which we (perhaps unwisely) took them up on.

After clearing them out of their stash of mini Smarties, we stumbled home through the Paris streets, keeping a watchful eye out for unpredictable hatchbacks.

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Hello! Just a note to say if anybody wants to enter the giveaway, all you need to do is leave a comment below. Giveaway entry closes when I publish a new post on Monday, and if you win you’ll have to be okay with e-mailing me your address! I promise not to show up on your doorstep. It’s open internationally, and I’ll just number the comments and use one of those random number generators to pick a winner. Don’t get too excited, I’m not giving away any iPads, but it will be a fun little box of stuff so if you’re interested, you know what to do!

NOTE: I’m only joking about French people – they’re lovely. Especially that guy with the crêpe stall on that street that let me make my own crêpe that one time. He’s especially lovely and his crêpes are delicious.

Travel Review: Sensimar, Riviera Maya

Sensimar Seaside Suites
Credit: Tripadvisor

When Scrubs and I walked out of Cancun airport, we were completely unprepared for the heat. I was wearing a thick grey woollen jumper and jeans and immediately started panting like a fat King Charles Spaniel. In hindsight it would have made a lot of sense to have changed into something summery on the plane. However, I’m basically myopic when it comes to looking ahead so instead I took off my jumper, stuffed it under my arm, and greedily gulped at the bottle of water I’d been carrying ever since we left Manchester. Looking up, I snapped a photo of the palm tree overhead and felt a deep calm wash over me.

Heat.

Sunshine.

Palm trees.

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Yes, I liked Mexico already.

A smiling man with our names on a sheet of paper led us to a large taxi, where a driver was waiting to take us to our hotel. Located just outside of Tulum, it took an hour to reach the resort from the airport. I spent most of that hour in an exhausted but excited stupor, staring out the window at the tropical flora that lined the motorway. Every once in a while the giant gates of a resort would loom out of the greenery, looking like cheesy Disneyfied versions of Maya architecture, before receding back into thick jungle for another few kilometres.

Our resort had – thankfully – no giant fake huts or Mayan pyramids adorning the gate. A large stone arch led down a narrow, tree-lined road down to a pavilion, where our friendly driver dropped off our bags and we got our first look at where we were staying. Our hotel, the Sensimar Seaside Suites, turned out to be part of a complex housing three  different (but connected) adult-only hotels.

Sensimar, to the right, was a complex full of little condos. It housed about six restaurants, had multiple swimming pools with swim-up bars, a few thatched cocktail bars, and a long expanse of beach. It was also populated almost exclusively by European tourists.

To the left lay El Dorado, the hotel that catered to American tourists. El Dorado was one large rectangular hotel block, with its own swimming pool and restaurant but not much of a beach. The people staying at this hotel could – and often did – spend their days and nights roaming Sensimar where they had more options, more food, and actual sand.

… And then, tucked away neatly in the middle behind a large white wall with a wooden door, was Hidden Beach, a small, boutique, nude resort. According to the googling I did about this place, it’s one of the nicest nudist hotels in Mexico, so. You know, if you’re looking for a place to get a tan where you don’t need to worry about tan lines…! I didn’t venture in, mostly because I read some reviews by grumpy nudists giving out about people popping in to have a look IN THEIR SWIMSUITS. THE VERY NERVE! I wasn’t prepared to strip down again just to have a nosy, so I decided to leave the wooden door unopened.

On arrival, we were presented with glasses of prosecco, which was nice, although really all I needed at that stage was a change of clothes and about five gallons of water. We were given a mercifully brief explanation of the facilities available, and told that there would be a more extensive talk at 9am the next morning with our personal concierge. At this, Scrubs and I immediately shot each other the universal look for ‘No way in hell are we doing that,’ and then we smiled at the nice man as he gave us our key and directions to our suite.

Our suite was lovely.

We stayed in a premium suite, so we had one of those bathrooms with two washbasins, a jacuzzi, and separate little rooms for our shower and toilet. Whenever I see a bathroom with two washbasins I always wonder who are these desperately busy people that can’t stand waiting to use the sink while the other person brushes their teeth? I’m really not convinced there’s ever truly a need for two sinks in one bathroom, but I do concede that it gives me a lot of counter space on which I can spread every unnecessary item I own, so I’m not complaining.

We also had robes and slippers in the room, which I love … even though for some reason all robes seem sized for giants so I always look like I’m being kidnapped by an expanse of white cotton.

After setting down our stuff and changing into clothes that didn’t feel like thermal underwear, we unpacked the essentials (Scrubs unpacked suncream and sandals, I unpacked my inflatable donut and snorkel) and set out to explore the place. It was a bit cloudy that evening, but after picking up a cocktail from the bar we watched the sunset and agreed that it was a beautiful place.

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The resort is really spectacular. It never felt crowded, each little path was hidden between large patches of leafy vegetation, and it’s all-inclusive so as you can imagine there were many, many cocktails consumed.

Here is a hideously unflattering photo of me fresh out of the sea doing just that:

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No make-up, no shame…Great cocktail! (Electric Lemonade)

The Sensimar has hammocks strung up around the place where you can read or worry about the coconuts overhead, a beach volleyball area, a ping pong table, and also a giant chess set for the less athletically inclined (me). We spent most of our days on the beach, because I am a sea baby through and through and God knows we don’t see much of the sun back in Ireland.

Also, it was hard to tear ourselves away from the beach when it looked like this:

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Seriously. Look at that sand.

On our second day, when we returned to our room, I found a towel animal on the bed. I can’t fully express my excitement at finding this towel animal, except to say that I made a noise that sounded not dissimilar to what I imagine a surprised chimp might sound like. I took a photo of it and then very carefully lifted it off the bed and moved it to the table in the corner of the room.

I then wrote a note for housekeeping asking them to please not remove Towelephant, because I loved him. I mean, just look at him. He’s adorable!

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Housekeeping not only honoured my wish, but the next day when they did up the room they left me another towel animal! I’ll leave my disproportionate levels of enthusiasm to your imagination. I carefully scooped up Towel Rabbit and placed him on the table next to Towelephant.

This continued for each day that we were there. Not only did housekeeping not say anything about my growing menagerie of Towel Animals, they actively encouraged it by making me a different animal every day. On the last day I made a little conga line on the floor and photographed them, so here the rest of them are for your viewing pleasure:

We tried most of the restaurants. They all had decent food, although the one night we had booked for the fancy asian fusion place I was feeling pretty rough thanks to serious dehydration, so I didn’t get to enjoy the food there as much as I would have liked. The buffet breakfasts were my favourite though. There are few things better than hotel breakfasts; you can get first breakfast (cereal), then second breakfast (yogurt and waffles with maple syrup … or fruit, I suppose, if you’re so inclined), then third breakfast (custom omelette and toast), and just keep going until you have to roll yourself out to the Balinese beds to digest under the sun.

Ideal.

I loved the wildlife around the place – iguanas, Fiddler crabs, geckos, coati, agouti – they could all be spotted around the resort. One of the days they even had some casual hawks just… around the place, chilling on their perches, looking very disgruntled (although I think that’s just their usual expression).

The swimming pools were also incredible, although we didn’t actually use any of them.

… Sea baby, like I told you.

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Even when it was cloudy, like it was on the day we were leaving, it was still a beautiful place.

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What else is there to say about Sensimar… The location is great; Tulum ruins and town centre are only a $4 colectivo away. If you want to eat at either of the two restaurants that take bookings, try to make the booking as soon as you arrive (or even before) because they seem to book out about four days in advance. Definitely drop by the personal concierge because they will swap out your pillows (if you prefer them softer or firmer or whatever you’re into yourself), and they will also change the contents of your minibar if you want less beer or more juice or extra packets of crisps. They’re really nice. Actually that goes for everyone who works there; the staff were amazing, and I don’t just mean housekeeping. They are the loveliest people and their curiosity about you is genuine.

Also, and this is more of a general Mexico rule, if you do go, don’t bother bringing a hair straightener. I’d straighten my hair, and five minutes later it looked like this:

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That’s after just eating breakfast! Three hours later I looked like a Springer Spaniel.

If all-inclusive is your thing, I would definitely recommend this place. It’s beautiful, it’s spotless, the drinks are delicious, there’s plenty to do, and – obviously – towel animals. We got a great deal on flights and the hotel with TUI and I think these deals come around pretty often, so could be worth checking. That was my first time at an all-inclusive place and I have to say that, going forward, I’m not sure it’s for me. I felt it really limited us in terms of exploring, since anytime we thought about going for a drink or a bite to eat in Tulum we would think, ‘OR we could just stay here and have it for free‘ which is what we would inevitably end up doing.

The other thing is that they had these (very lovely) reps going around every morning trying to recruit you for group activities like beach volleyball, or table-tennis tournaments, which made me feel like I was in a modern version of Kellerman’s from Dirty Dancing. I am not about group activities. I am not even really about activity in general. I think I prefer hotels in which I have to actively seek out things to do rather than feeling like I’m being conscripted into some sort of cheerful chain gang.

Still, it was a beautiful place to spend a few days. I had a brilliant time! I ate myself silly, I tried almost every cocktail on the menu, I got pretty close to petting an iguana, and I successfully avoided participating in any group activities.

Sensimar gets two thumbs up from me!

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I reached 1000 followers!

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I hate being asked to retweet/regram/re-whatever accounts when I want to enter a giveaway so I’ve decided I’m not doing that, but I did make a facebook page (I know, look at me and my notions) for my blog, so I’d really appreciate it if you’d hit the ‘like’ button! I haven’t decided how I’m going to do the giveaway, although I’m toying with just entering anyone who comments on my Friday post… What do you guys think? On one hand I run the risk of leaving out lurkers, but on the other hand, I’d like whoever wins the giveaway to be someone who engages with me because then I can tailor the little package a bit, you know?

Has anyone else done a giveaway? How did you do it?

But Trust Me On The Sunscreen…

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Remember those What Would Jesus Do? bracelets that were popular a few years ago? The rubber ones that came in different colours for every cause, and looked a bit like cheap, Made in China, knock-off anti-nausea bands? Lance Armstrong had a yellow one before Lance Armstrong turned out to be the poster boy for sociopaths everywhere, and for a time they seemed to be on every wrist in the first world. At first they proclaimed our devotion to different charities, and then, later, reminded us in stamped technicolour to ask ourselves what Jesus would do in any given situation.

I mean to start with, I doubt Jesus would have bought a rubber wristband that takes at least 50 years to decompose, but I digress…

I never really fell into this fad – mostly because I have tiny wrists and the rubber bands only ever seemed to come in one size (HUGE) – so I didn’t own a WWJD bracelet, but in my life, whenever I reach crossroads of intent, I often ask myself something that boils down to more or less the same thing:

What would Baz Luhrmann’s Sunscreen advise?

There are few problems in life that aren’t addressed by The Sunscreen Song. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, in 1999 Baz Luhrmann – yes, the film director – took a hypothetical commencement speech written by Mary Schmich, found a voice actor (Lee Perry) to narrate it, and set it to mellow background music. If you’re not familiar with it, I’ll add the lyrics at the bottom of the post so that you too can have a song as a role model.

The other day a friend asked me if I would be interested in running an 8km with her later in the year. Naturally my instinctive, gut reaction was to say, ‘Hell no!’ and do the usual full-body shudder that tends to accompany any thought of running on purpose for no good reason.* After all, I can’t even run to the bottom of my road without wanting to vomit, so 8km seems like an impossible distance. You might as well ask me to climb K2 in my unicorn slippers with nothing but a Capri Sun for sustenance.

Before the immediate no left my lips however, I thought, ‘What would Baz Luhrmann’s Sunscreen advise?’

If you are familiar with the song at all, then the answer is obviously:

‘Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it, or what other people think of it. It is the greatest instrument you will ever own.’

If my body is an instrument, it is an out-of-tune cello, but I have to say Sunscreen has a point. My body in its current configuration exists solely to propel me from place to place, from the armchair, to the fridge, to the desk, to the nearest pet-able animal… This instrument doesn’t really play. This instrument is the guitar lying forgotten under the bed ever since dreams of being in a band faded with adolescence. This instrument needs a tune-up; it’s long overdue some attention.

There is nothing wrong with my body. It does what I ask it to do without complaint, mainly because I never ask it to do anything too strenuous. It fits into my clothes. It is perfectly capable of having a solo dance party in the kitchen. I have no aches or pains, no ailments or diseases, nothing that would impede movement or limit my activity. I have never broken bones, or undergone surgery, or had stitches put in. I can’t burp, which limits my consumption of fizzy drinks, but other than that it works pretty much the way it’s supposed to.

So I thought it over, and I warily, tentatively, somewhat reluctantly said yes; I said yes to the 8km. If this is the greatest instrument I will ever own, I might as well learn to play a tune on it, even if the tune is the physical equivalent of Three Blind Mice. I’ve downloaded C25k to get me started, and have lost myself in a sea of runner recommendations, so if anybody has any suggestions for a good pair of running shoes, please let me know.

Also, if there’s a way to stop the feeling of getting sick at the slightest hint of exercise, I would love to hear it!

*Good reasons are limited to situations in which I am escaping an axe-murderer or trying to outrun a pack of wolves.

Sunscreen

Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of ’97,

Wear sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Never mind, you will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they have faded. But trust me, in 20 years you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you, and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future… Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Sing.

Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts, don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.

Floss.

Don’t waste your time on jealousy; sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember the compliments you receive, forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.

Stretch.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees; you’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t.
Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t.
Maybe you’ll divorce at 40.
Maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary.
Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it, or what other people think of it. It is the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but in your own living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines; they will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents, you never know when they’ll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings; they are your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future. Understand that friends come and go, but for the precious few you
should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard.

Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.

Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: prices will rise, politicians will philander, you too will get old, and when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund, maybe you have a wealthy spouse, but you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair, or by the time you’re 40, it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it.
Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.

Life Skills Unlocked: Reading for Enjoyment

“One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage thr.png

When I was a child, I would read books to teleport out of my life. One moment I would be lying in bed staring at the white ceiling, anxiety clawing at my throat, and the next I would be visiting prickly Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, or laughing at Dogmatix and his fondness for trees. My introduction to reading was a steady and consistent diet of Beatrix Potter, Goscinny and Uderzo, Hergé, Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss and Enid Blyton. I read compulsively, almost obsessively.

As soon as I was able to read by myself, it became a fixation; whether we were out for a walk or it was after dark, I would have a book in my hand. I became adept at reading while also watching where I was going. I would fall asleep with my cheek pressed against the page.

My mother made us members of the public library and each week she would drive there and let me check out seven books, since that was the most that was allowed at the time. I still remember carrying my wobbly pile to the counter and watching the lady methodically stamp each one before handing them back to me with a smile. If I close my eyes I can still smell the ink and paper.

For a time, Enid Blyton was my crack; Wikipedia tells me Enid Blyton published 762 books and I’d say I’ve read the vast majority. My addiction was so intense that my mother actually forbade me to borrow any more of them. There were multiple trips to the library where I would have to engage in serious subterfuge to get my fix. I would pick out my books, wait patiently for my mother to go out of the room, and then rush the counter in a blind panic to get them stamped before she returned. I would hide them under my jumper or tuck them into the waistband of my highly fashionable corduroy trousers. I could carefully conceal two Enid Blytons (three if I was wearing a jacket). Of course, to avoid suspicion, I would have to then borrow four or five books just for show. When my mother inevitably wondered why I hadn’t checked out the usual seven, I would have to pretend I couldn’t find anything else that interested me.

In hindsight, I wonder what the librarian made of us…

After Enid Blyton I got hooked on Nina Bawden, R.L. Stine, Bill Watterson, K.A. Applegate, Philip Pullman, J.K. Rowling, Garth Nix and eventually just a broad scope of authors from all different genres. As I grew up, I continued to see books as an escape route to other worlds. Anytime I was feeling too much stress or anxiety or discomfort or worry, I would open a book and disappear into it head-first. It was like a wormhole to another life; a sort of body-swap, if you will. I would slip into the shoes of the main character and do what they were doing, feel what they were feeling. I was Sabriel learning to ring the bells, I was Lyra leaving Pantalaimon on the shore. When I finished a book I always felt bereft, like I’d been kicked out of a temporary home.

I think that all of my time spent inside stories – looking through the eyes of different characters and experiencing their adventures, loves, heartbreaks, successes and betrayals – has made me a more empathetic person. I think it taught me so much more about life than what I could ever learn from my own experiences. I won’t say reading makes someone a better person but I do think it makes them a more rounded one. Books have taught me so much more about people than I could ever have learned otherwise. It gave and still gives me insight into lives completely different to my own, motivations I could never share, and realities I could never imagine. In a way, reading other people’s blogs is an extension of that. Reading other people’s blog posts lets me share in their feelings and inhabit their world for a minute or two.

I have a clear and vivid memory of sitting on the windowsill in my 4th class classroom, reading during lunch hour, when a friend saw me and said, “Quinn, when you grow up you’re probably going to marry a book!” At the time I was upset by the comment because I wasn’t an overly sociable child and my interests were pretty much restricted to hanging upside-down from trees and reading. Sometimes I combined the two and hung upside-down from trees while reading. I remember wondering if that would be my life as an adult; just me and my books. I wondered if I would die crushed under a tower of heavy hardbacks that had just been a little too precariously placed.

Now that I am an adult, I am in a much better place. I live a happier, less stressful life. I no longer feel the need to body-swap with fictional characters. These days I read because I enjoy it, not because I need it. I no longer desperately try to make out words by the light of the moon (terrible for your eyes, by the way), or escape into stories like I’m using them as a hiding place. I’m glad to say that now that I am a bona fide grown-up, it’s not just me and my books, and my heavy hardbacks are tidily stacked on a sturdy bookcase where they pose no danger to anyone.

[Just a quick note to say that (astonishingly) I am getting closer to 1000 readers and if I do reach that number I will be doing a weird but fun little giveaway! 

… Well. Even if I don’t ever reach that number I’ll probably do the giveaway. Basically, I am planning a giveaway and writing it here so I don’t forget because although I’m excellent at compiling things I always slack on actually going to the post office! I mean, I have three things that I’ve been meaning to post out for about a month now, so might as well add this to the list. It’s happening! Don’t let me forget!]