After spending over a week down south, I returned home for a few days and then travelled up north to Manchester.
The main purpose of the trip was to catch up with a group of friends that I have known for nearly 25 years. It has been two years since I last saw them – they were the last social event I had before the pandemic hit the UK in March 2020, so I was looking forward to it.
I was staying with my mum for the weekend and we had a bunch of things planned around it. I was feeling quite smug when I left the house initially due to being somewhat organised for once, only to discover when I arrived that I had forgotten a whole bunch of stuff including socks, make-up and a phone charger. Who forgets to pack socks???
Socks quickly acquired, we went for a meal at our favourite Chinese restaurant on the Friday night. We’ve been going there for decades – I remember having my 18th birthday celebration there, I turned 40 last year and I couldn’t count how many meals our family has had there in between. I was delighted to see that one of the staff members, George, who greeted us during our earliest visits, was still there. There is one particular dish – a sharing platter for two – that both mum and I are obsessed with, so instead of ordering a starter and selection of mains we decided to treat ourselves and had one each without mains. It was fabulous – I couldn’t help but laugh with sheer excitement as they were brought out – but I was so full by the end I thought someone would have to roll me to the car afterwards.
Yesterday was a little strange. Not that it was bad in any way, but it took me a while to settle in.
I’m currently dog-sitting at my friend’s house. It isn’t the first time I have done this, so I was already familiar with the area and the dog’s routine and we immediately got back into it. Admittedly, I was feeling a bit tired as her barking had woken me up at 1am when the neighbours returned home, and then again at 2am when she vomited on the floor. (While I miss having the cats, I don’t miss waking up to the sound of retching in the early hours of the morning). We walked, had breakfast, I did some work while she snoozed, we walked again etc. It was a fairly relaxed and peaceful day with glorious weather…
I suddenly realised yesterday evening just how quiet it was.
Yesterday was my nine year blogging anniversary. I received a notification at 6.30am as I was sitting in a very cold train station.
The reason why I was travelling yesterday is because of a friend who I met through the blog 2015. In fact, she was one of the first blog friends who became a social media client. Since then we’ve been to events, a writers retreat and on holiday to Dubrovnik together, and yesterday I travelled down to her house to look after her dog while she and her family are on holiday.
I started February with the best of intentions. I had just completed a No Spend Challenge over January and was feeling a massive sense of achievement, so set myself a whole series of goals over February. One of them was to blog at least twice a week… and now it’s March and to say I failed spectacularly would be an understatement.
However, despite the storms and constant rain, February was fast-paced and pretty exciting at times with lots of both short and long-term unexpected opportunities.
Ever heard the analogy about waiting for a bus for ages and then three all arrive at once?
January is the quietest month in terms of birthdays and events
I needed something to kickstart a frugal mindset that I hope will carry me through the rest of the year.
I set myself some rules for the month:
Money can (and should!) be spent on rent, bills and essentials like groceries, toiletries and petrol.
Money can be spent on parking should an activity be free. The reason why I am including this is that we have several press reviews at the theatre coming up over January, and while the tickets are complimentary we pay a few pounds for parking.
Should I need to go somewhere, I am allowed to spend money on bus fare, but not on a taxi unless it is an emergency (Note: I never learned to drive, hence why I am including this).
I am not allowed to spend money on non-essential items, including new clothes, books, takeaways, snacks, meals out, taxis, drinks at the pub etc.
Before I started I was unsure of how much I spent each week. I don’t really buy much online except for the birthday and Christmas presents. Fashion isn’t my thing – I have a few nice outfits for when I go out but my wardrobe generally consists of hoodies and sweats. I do love my makeup but my last big purchase was a Pat McGrath palette a few months ago which will last me quite a while, and replacements of eyeliner and mascara were bought for me as Christmas presents. What on earth was I going to do a no spend challenge if it didn’t appear that I spent much money?
It turns out, I had very little idea about my spending habits.
New Year’s Eve was both a good and sad day. The Bloke and I had a buffet of party food and watched The Proposal, only to see the announcement a few hours later that Betty White had passed away. I was genuinely gutted about it – I think the reason why we watched the film was because I had seen Ryan Reynold’s tweet a few days before and we realised we hadn’t watched the film in ages, and it was a genuine shock when we checked our social media afterwards. Such a sad loss and an incredible woman.
The Bloke asked me the other day of my opinions of the last twelve months. Admittedly, my initial thought was to respond with “dumpster fire.” On a general day to day basis it has been tough. Working from home sometimes means that it is difficult not to get into your own head and can feel like you’re spending 24/7 within the same four walls, and during moments of extreme stress there is little escape. However, amidst the lows there have been a number of highs.
The start of 2021 was indeed a dumpster fire of epic proportions. Within the first month The Bloke got covid (this was before the vaccinations were available) and was incredibly ill for weeks while being quarantined upstairs, two family members had heart attacks (both are thankfully doing okay), the roof in the kitchen started caving in after five years of asking the landlord to fix it and when I lost my temper he put our rent up in retaliation. A few weeks later I had to have a tooth removed – a small filling fell out just before covid hit in 2020 and dentists were closed for months – and after a year the tooth became so damaged the only option was to take it out.
It’s that point between Christmas and New Year where many of us feel like we are in Chrimbo Limbo. Christmas is over but it’s not quite time to take down the decorations yet (although I do know a few people who have), and there are still a few days until the new year. I’ve seen quite a few social media memes about not knowing what time of day it is or what is happening, and I can relate.
For the first time in almost a year I took a period of annual leave that was more than just a few days. After working so hard for such a long time and experiencing high levels of stress over the last few months I found it disorienting and difficult to relax at first – even when I was in my jammies and watching Christmas films I felt a little agitated, like I should be doing something and it took a few days to be able to get into the it’s ok to have a rest mindset. I think I needed to decompress. It has made me think about the importance of regularly taking some time for myself next year – the mental state that I was in before Christmas wasn’t an entirely healthy one and despite the fact that I enjoy my job, I need to start setting some very clear boundaries when it comes to workload and client demands and expectations.
Earlier in December I took my Mum to York for her birthday. This was something we had been planning for a while – neither of us had visited before and it was a great opportunity to spend some time together as we hadn’t seen each other in person since June.
Part of the trip was to explore Castle Howard. Mum had wanted to visit since watching the Brideshead Revisited series in the 80s which was filmed there (in fact, it has been used as the location in many movies and TV shows, most recently serving as the family home of the Duke of Hastings in Bridgerton), and I discovered that there was a Christmas in Narnia event taking place at the time we wanted to go. Perfect. I booked us a hotel in the centre of York so that we could also explore the city.
I look forward to Christmas every year. Since we got married (can you believe that was over four years ago already??!) The Bloke and I spend Christmas at home, visiting family and friends in the weeks before (although last year we weren’t able to do that). We have developed a bit of a routine and traditions – when we buy presents and send cards, when and how we decorate, when we go food shopping etc. Usually by now everything would be done and ready to go well in advance – the cupboards would be full, presents would be wrapped, our Christmas watchlist would have been planned to the nth degree to avoid missing any of the Christmas specials, The Bloke would have braved Marks and Spencer to grab a pre-rolled turkey and stuffing (there’s only two of us and there’s no way I’m spending half my Christmas Day cooking a massive frozen turkey that will go to waste) and I would have posted on the blog several times about how drunk the tree looks etc.