Well, we never saw this coming for 2020, did we? A global pandemic that put our most vulnerable people in critical danger and left us all in turmoil.
You may or may not know that I work in comms for a wonderful national charity to do with gastrointestinal health.
Just today I was in a conference call, excitedly discussing hashtag campaigns and possibilities with our PR manager and our social media managers, when it hit me that we were dancing merrily around some pretty serious stuff here. How could we start a #justoneholidaytip when travel has been halted? How could we start a #travelingwithmystoma campaign if people weren’t boarding planes to sunny locations?
Our discussions pretty quickly changed to buddying schemes, encouraging our members to look after their old and more vulnerable friends in their local groups. We came up with campaigns about staying indoors, getting exercise at home, or how patients can make the most of their garden or window-box. Conversations soon meandered once more to mental health campaigns and how to deal with anxiety in such uncertain times.
Just today, only 3 of us were working in the office. By 10.00am we were down to just 2, when one of our staff decided it was too risky to come in to work. I’ve been feeling unwell myself for a few days, though I don’t believe I’m symptomatic of coronavirus. Still, I did attempt to buy a thermometer and found that the pharmacies in my area had all run out.
I have a surgery booked at St Bart’s Hospital, London, for April 1 – this will no doubt be cancelled. I have tickets booked for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at the O2, and Shortparis at The Lanes in Bristol. My parents are supposed to be going to Amsterdam next month. All will probably be cancelled or delayed.
My boyfriend and I are in the midst of selling his house and buying a new one together. We may end up having to cancel the open-house viewings and put all this on hold, depending on whether we have to go into proper lockdown. Living hundreds of miles apart, it’s already tough to get to each other.
These measures are necessary but it really, really sucks.
My thoughts are with the sick, vulnerable, and older people who are most at risk during this terrible outbreak. A flu virus that spreads on this scale and is said to be twice as deadly as ordinary flu can be fatal to people with compromised health, and I can only imagine their families are terrified. My dad has asthma and that’s enough to put a knot in my belly.
I wish everybody the best of health and I hope and pray that this terrible virus disappears soon.
So how has this affected me and the arts? Well, the exciting book launch for the phenomenal NHS anthology These Are the Hands had to be cancelled or postponed until further notice. I was nervous about attending this, but now that it’s been cancelled, I realise how much I was looking forward to being part of such an enormous achievement and the celebration of the work we’d done together.
The book is still being released and can be purchased on 21 March and can be pre-ordered now online. The anthology will be available on Amazon, and in all book stores including Waterstones and even your local indie bookshop. The poems inside are absolutely beautiful and include contributions from some famous poets, including Michael Rosen, of course, who provided the foreword and was to be attending the event.
Lemn Sissay MBE is also a contributing poet, and he was also filmed reading some key poems from the anthology, which will be released after the launch. (A little birdy told me that he read one of my poems, but I will wait and see! The thought of that is far too exciting).
Here he is reading his own poem, titled ‘Making a Difference’.
Knowing that I played a part in this inspiring anthology makes me proud beyond belief. Please do buy a copy – all proceeds go towards NHS Charities Together. With the strain on NHS services and the extra burden of the coronavirus outbreak, they could use every penny they get. Your purchase would be contributing towards the most important cause in the UK right now: our NHS.
In other poetry and writing-related news, I will once again be appearing at the amazing feminism-centric online magazine, Mookychick! Recently their non-fiction editor accepted my submission of an article about one of my favourite thriller novels/movies: Jaws by Peter Benchley/Steven Spielberg.
It’s a rambling piece about differences between the film and the novel, because I just had to tell the world how much I loved Jaws. Amity, as you know, means friendship.
When I know more about when that will be released, you’ll be the first to know, for I shall share it all here.
I also submitted my poem, entitled The Wild Women, for their amazing upcoming multi-arts anthology called The Medusa Project. Fingers crossed! This anthology will be released online as an ebook, free of charge, to share all the amazing work they’ve collected about, and by, women. Submissions are still open until early-mid April I believe, so please go ahead and send in your contributions!
Until next time, stay safe, well, and creative. Best wishes, Ashleigh
I’m afraid my family lost a dearly beloved man this week and so, out of respect, there’ll be no blog this week. I will write more when I think the time is right.
In the meantime, I urge you to call your loved ones – especially those you haven’t caught up with in a while – and spend time with them. Tell your nearest and dearest you love them. Life is so very fragile and so very short.
One’s real life is so often the life that one does not lead
Oscar Wilde, 1882, introduction to a collection of verse.
Welcome to my blog! Here I write about whatever’s on my mind or whatever fad I’ve just gotten into.
The whole New Year thing made me think about the goals people might be setting themselves for the year; specifically career goals. If you’re an anxious person or suffer profoundly from anxiety, then sorting your career out – or even finding time to prioritise it among life’s other junk – can be daunting. I’ve always had really, really shitty anxiety, so I completely understand and I had this same fear about a career myself, to the point that for a while I even convinced myself that I didn’t really want one. But what else was I going to do? Oh yeah, I know: have depression.
So, without further waffle, here is a short list of some things I learned after graduating university as an incredibly anxious person.
This blog assumes you’ve already got a degree and perhaps have a job already, but you haven’t found what you’re looking for yet because you’re scared. This blog also assumes you’ve identified what you enjoy and the field you’d like to work in.
To reiterate: I am no expert.
I just hope this might help somebody with anxiety, because I know how it feels. Blogs like this helped me when I was in the same position.
Start with a positive attitude; and if you don’t have one, force it.
It’s a bit like forcing yourself to laugh; eventually you start finding that, in and of itself, funny – and you start laughing for real. The fact is you’ll never start making plans if you begin with “I can’t…” – you need to start saying “I can”. Do not be your own bully and start believing in yourself; stop telling yourself lies about your self-worth. Make the decision to be positive and give yourself a break.
Imagine yourself in that role.
Who would you be, ideally? Who do you see yourself being when you aren’t bogged-down with self-doubt? Break up the elements of that person and use it to create your blueprint. All right, I’m not saying you can go from being a librarian to a trauma surgeon (this isn’t The Sims) if you do this, because that’s unrealistic. However, if you’re working in Job A but know you could be working in Job B if-only-this or if-only-that, then you absolutely can.
Being scared of something is no reason not to do it anyway, not if you honestly believe it’s something you’ll do well at. (If it isn’t, then that’s a problem – more on that later) Also: keep it simple. If you eventually want to be CEO of a retailer and you’ve never worked in a shop, then picture yourself working in sales first. Give yourself an achievable starting point and then work out what you need to do to get there. If you need experience first, then go get your foot in the door. What else do you have but time? At this stage, time is your friend!
Apply for lots and lots of jobs once you’ve chosen where to start.
Start at the beginning and don’t over-analyse it. Think about the skills you’ll gain rather than whether this is your dream job (of course it isn’t!) For example, you want to work in HR but have no experience: so you begin with administration roles. Yeah, yeah, you’ve got a degree: so what? We all know experience does all the talking. BUT, you do not have to already be perfect. You just need to demonstrate where you’ve built up your skill-set within that field. If you want to be analysing evidence for the Police with your chemistry degree, then you’d better start off doing the grunt work in a lab.
At the height of my anxiety, I became a little arrogant, actually. I thought people were just given chances to shine and I didn’t see all the baby steps (and baby jobs) they took to get there. Transferable skills will be your trump card, so start building them up.
For the anxious person, getting your “dream job” overnight would actually be ridiculously overwhelming. Try starting on a smaller scale (entry-level jobs within that field) and teach yourself that you can do this. Baby steps.
Before walking into your interview, tell yourself three things:
(1) These people are going to really like me, and I am going to really like them. (2) I have nothing to lose. If I don’t gain a job, I gain experience. (3) They’ve already decided I have the skills for the job; I’m just here to show them why they were right. (It’s true!)
For me, saying those things (and telling others) took the pressure off massively. I wasn’t there to be perfect or to even get the job. I was there to like them, to be likeable, to get experience, and to add colour to what they already learned about me on my CV.
Story time: Before getting the job I have now, I was invited to an interview with a children’s cancer charity in central London (gulp). I went to it on the last day of a week-long hospital stay (and I didn’t tell them this) because I was determined to try. I wanted a new job and I was f-ing well going to get one, in spite of my previously poor health. The interview was with 2 lovely women and we got on fantastically; it was like having a fun chat. Only problem was that part of the role required fundraising/finance experience, and I was honest about being low on that front.
They took an entire week to get back to me, having said it’d be a day or so. It turns out they were conflicted over 2 candidates: someone else, and me. They wrote me a long letter (which almost sounded like an apology) saying that they really liked me, but had to go with the person who had the experience in fundraising, and hoped I would consider working with them for other roles in the future. Of course, they made the right decision! They absolutely should have hired the woman with monetary experience and I hope she’s happy there. I was so flattered by their letter that I cried and shared it with everyone I knew. I felt amazing and I didn’t even get the job!
The point is that it isn’t all doom and gloom; there are so many opportunities for learning and you’ll be so surprised about what you find.
Practice, practice, practice your interviewing skills.
The only way you’ll get over your nerves is if you normalise it. If you aren’t getting many interviews at first or feel like you’re bombing your interviews because of nerves, then contact a local organisation (Jobcentre Plus for example) and find out where you can get some roleplaying practice. It is gruelling, but your nerves will eventually subside. I know this from experience; I used to get the shakes, my throat would glue shut, and I couldn’t think straight. I practiced and now, while I still (of course) get nervous, I manage to hold my own and confidently answer questions without going blank.
Listen to what they are asking you, pause, and reply. Do not try to predict their questions and answer with a prepared script, because this will never work. It isn’t genuine and it will never give you the chance to shine just as you are. Let yourself be vulnerable and don’t try to control the interview so much. You’ll lose and they won’t get a genuine picture of all your smart, endearing qualities. This is so, so important, especially if you work in health, social care, or charity.
When I was interviewed for my current role, it was in front of a panel of 3 males who all worked in finance. I was scared! However, I decided to just be myself and talk about my experiences honestly. Once I got the job, I was told that others had more editorial experience than me, but they didn’t answer like I did and they didn’t have my personality. They just liked me and felt I’d fit in well (and I have!).
The point is that you matter. It isn’t all about what’s down on paper.
Listen to your instincts.
Equally, if something doesn’t feel right to you, then it probably isn’t. Sometimes it isn’t just about your nerves; sometimes you and the job just don’t fit and that’s okay. Did you have the interview and get a bad feeling about them? Did you start on the job, having been thrilled to get it, and find that you’re deeply unhappy? Things aren’t always what we imagine them to be, and if you have to go back to the drawing board and find something else, then do it. This is not a failure. Recognising that a role is poorly fitted to you is a skill.
Story time: I worked for my local council and one day saw an advert for a fast-track diploma to become a social worker, with the option of completing a Masters. Great! I was bored in my role and always wondered what it’d be like. I was invited to interview for 3 available places. Over 10,000 people applied nation-wide and hundreds of local people applied for those 3 roles. I was invited to interview: great! It was a day-long 3-stage process of a group interview/discussion with adults who had grown up in care, a time roleplaying session where you “answered” a call from a distressed child in front of an examiner, and a standard interview with a panel of 3 social workers. To my astonishment, I did really well and I was offered a place. I went to Cambridge to study for a couple of months, where we did dreaded roleplay (and a filmed roleplay exam) and the usual essays. This was not a good time for me personally; I was dating a horrible person and my health was spiraling down. I hadn’t long recovered from major surgery and I was incredibly fragile mentally; everything seemed too much for me and I felt I couldn’t give any more. Everyone else seemed to be dealing with the stresses of the course, and by the time the actual work placement began, I was hanging on by a thread. Then when I didn’t get along with my workplace mentor, it all just collapsed. The slightest criticism sent me to tears and I was having such severe migraines that I was vomiting all the time. It was horrible.
I sat and asked myself: Ashleigh, is this actually want you want? Is this really for you? Even if it was, would it be worth it with your health in such a state?
No, none of it was worth it. Sadly, I left the course, but I was instantly relieved. I was hospitalised many times in the year that followed for a week at a time (which would have forced me to leave the course anyway), so things happen for a reason. It led me to where I am.
I felt guilty that I’d taken the place of someone who potentially would have flourished where I didn’t, but I couldn’t predict that my health (mental and physical) would have nose-dived the way it did.
You have got to look after yourself. Fuck anyone who thinks that’s wrong of you. It isn’t. YOU MATTER.
Overall, my advice is to take baby steps and be kind to yourself.
You know the phrase: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! Yes, making the first leap into something new and unknown is terrifiyng, and like me, you might discover that it’s not right for you.
This is all good. It’s part of the learning experience. How dull must a person be if they never try, never fail, and never collect these experiences, both good and bad?
Sometimes the path of least-resistance only feels easier because, you know what? You’re good at it. That’s your path. That’s your thing. Don’t spend your whole life battling against who you are. You are an anxious (likely introverted, like me) person with a heart and you are not made of stone. You don’t need to work anywhere where you have to pretend to be.
Perhaps one never seems so much at one’s ease as when one has to play a part.
It’s the roaring 2020s. My god, let this be a better decade for me and for everyone. Don’t you think this planet has had enough grief for the foreseeable?
Normal service will resume next week, along with my work (and blog!) routine and what I hope will be a better year ahead. The last few years for me have been utterly disastrous, both in my personal life and my health. My new year starts off with an appointment to review some MRI results, which I’m nervous about. MRI scans are standard for me; I’ve had many, many scans. This one is to determine if a little lump near my pancreas/bowel is anything scary to worry about. Please keep me in your good thoughts and I’m sure, in some way, the universe will send me your well-wishes.
From me, I wish you a very Happy New Year and a great decade ahead. May you be happy in life and love, may your health be rosy, and may your creativity blossom like daffodils in May (and may your clichés be as strong as mine, especially).
I hope to do a lot more writing and reading this year; my Christmas book haul of children’s classics, which I wanted to catch up on, will be a fantastic start. I’ve made it my mission to read all the amazing classics that I never read as a child, because I was too busy swatting up on Jacqueline Wilson and Darren Shan, who were all the rage and deservedly so.
So Happy New Year everyone! I’ll be back next Wednesday as usual to share whatever quirky bits and bobs I want to talk about next. I never started a blog for anything other than to keep a regular hobby, and to force me to show off any creative successes. Towards the end of 2019, I was accepted into an NHS poetry anthology by Michael Rosen and invited to their book launch, which is an amazing start. I hope this is a sign of more creative conquests to come!
Welcome back! I put out new blogs every Wednesday.
Continuing our Christmas crafting (or baking!) seeing as it ’tis the season, I give you: the lazygirl chocolate yule log. I just made that up, but it works.
My boyfriend and I desperately wanted to bake something last Sunday evening, but only the little express stores were open and it was raining, so we dug about in the cupboards, hoping that we’d had ingredients for yule log. And we did! The only thing we were worried about missing was a bar of chocolate, and lo and behold, he found some vegan chocolate he’d bought to try ages ago, having never bothered to eat it. Happy days!
This was so quick to make that you could definitely do this in an hour if you have all your ingredients ready. The only delay is the cooling, but with such a thin sponge, it took hardly any time at all (and you can of course shove it in the freezer for 10 minutes – trust me, it gets the job done)
Combine your ingredients with a spatula and whip with an electric whisk if you have one, before transferring it into a 33cm x 23cm dish lined with grease proof paper. This will create an inch thick rectangle of sponge. Bake at 200C for 20 minutes.
(Mary Berry’s recipe states 8-10 mins, but it wasn’t nearly done for me and needed double the time)
No butter! This mostly-egg recipe ensures that the sponge is flexible enough to roll over and yet strong enough not to crumble apart. All very clever.
Once it’s cooked, let it cool for a few minutes. Turn the cake out onto another sheet of grease proof paper and peel off the backing. Next, score a line 2.5cm in, lengthways, along one long edge of the cake. Use this to fold it over on itself in a swiss-roll shape. Pull the grease proof paper over with the first roll and let it roll inside. This will help you unfurl it later when you want to add the filling.
Leave it to cool in this rolled shape.
Next, make your icing. Start with gently combining your softened butter with the icing sugar. Add in your cocoa powder. Melt the chocolate in your preferred manner (in a bowl within a pan of boiling water, or in the microwave at 20 sec intervals) and add this to the mix, folding it all in together. The mix will start feeling a bit stiff and claggy – use the milk to smooth it out and give it some moisture.
Once your cake is cooled, you can unfurl it and start smoothing liberal amounts of buttercream inside it, coating the lot, before rolling it back up again and pasting buttercream on top. You can use a fork to create streaks like bark, add holly, whatever you like – me? I was happy to dust it with icing sugar and eat the thing.
So there you have it! The world’s laziest yule log.
Quick, easy, and definitely yummy – we scoffed this while watching Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
You could make this Vegan by using egg replacer/oil, vegan chocolate, vegan milk, and vegan butter – though if you’re vegan, you’ll have all this down already and won’t need me to advise you.
I hope you enjoyed that tasty little treat! See you next time – I put new blogs up every Wednesday about crafts, hobbies, writing, health – my life, really.
Welcome to my blog! I put up a new post every Wednesday.
Halloween falls on a Thursday this year, which doesn’t bode well for party-goers with a full-time job. I’ve heard that in London, Thursday is in fact the new Friday – so going out-out on a Thursday probably isn’t something you’re unfamiliar with if you work in the best city in the world, or if you’re used to going into work on a hangover.
I’ve been to a few Halloween parties myself, many moons ago – and I don’t particularly recall if they fell on October 31. I’d love to go out-out in full garb this year, but as a proud introvert and lazy person (and having no current desire to get blind drunk, which tends to only happen when I’ve got big problems I want to escape from), I haven’t made any plans. I also work full-time, so y’know, there is that old chestnut.
So this got me wondering: how could you low-key celebrate Halloween in the workplace?
The answer is: basically the same way you celebrate Christmas at work (if you do), but sPoOkY.
Some might say that going to work in and of itself is a terrifying thing on a daily basis, let alone on Halloween. Not me, though: as it happens, I love my job.
Below, I’ve come up with some cute ways you can get into the spirit (OooOooo!) of things in the workplace. Let me know if you can think of any others. Do you usually celebrate Halloween at work? I would love to see your photos.
As an aside: Some organisations prefer not to use anything spooky-looking to avoid upsetting anyone afraid of scary or occult-looking items. This isn’t just in the case of fundamentalist religions (if ever at all): think dementia, learning disability or types of autism, for example. These themes can trigger people and be incredibly unpleasant. In this case, you could apply an Autumnal theme to all the suggestions below instead of Halloween. You could have pumpkin and leaf-shaped cookies, pecan pies, autumnal decorations – you get the picture. Just have fun!
Subtly (or not-so-subtly) decorate your desk Do you work in an office? Great – ghosts love offices. We’ve got one upstairs with all the old boxes. If you have your own desk (as opposed to hot-desking), and if your office doesn’t have strict anti-fire rules about excessive decor (no demons allowed, in that case), then this one is for you.
Decorate a mini Halloween tree
Put out bobble-heads or spooky ornaments
Stick up some bats or ghouls around your monitor
Decorate with black, purple, green, and red tinsel
Host a Halloween bake sale for charity
There isn’t an office on this planet that doesn’t love a bake sale. These are always a huge hit, even in small offices. You try resisting a cake or cookie when it’s for a GOOD CAUSE – especially if it’s in the shape of a bat, witch, ghost, whatever. Impossible!
Simply advertise it to your staff in an everyone-email well ahead of time and, of course, ask permission first from whomever needs informing. You could ask people to bake from home or bring in Halloween-themed goodies from the supermarket. Make sure everyone is agreed on the charity of choice and that you’ve ordered the appropriate buckets/branded collection tins from that charity, or at least make them aware that you are fundraising for them. If you work for a charity, then you could fundraise for your own cause by taking the bake sale out of house or encouraging volunteers to host bake sales on your behalf.
Eat a spooktastic lunch
So many things to eat, and so little gut-room. Here are some suggestions:
Pumpkin or butternut squash soup
Homemade stew! (you can pretend it’s a witch’s brew)
A spooky cookie from your local bakery (they all have them)
Brain sandwich (somebody must be doing it)
Halloween candy (Not the most nutritious choice)
If you can’t be bothered with anything else: have a spooky desktop background It’s simple. It’s classic. It’s a nod to the season. How 90s is this, though – actually changing your desktop background.
Remember those 3d animated shapes that could mesmerise you for hours way-back-when? Or those neon-headache-inducing scrolling bars that said ‘HAPPY 60th BIRTHDAY JEN!!!’ over and over until time stood still?
Well, now you can have one for Halloween! The constant spooky reminder will make you feel like you’re part of the event without any real effort at all.
If you work in shops or hospitality
Then great, you can access customers easier and extract their souls face-to-face instead of by email, or perhaps both. You could:
Wear spooky socks. Nobody will know… but you will.
Wear cutesy Halloween earrings or a headband (I’ve seen checkout workers do this and it always makes me smile)
Put Halloween music on over the speakers. Monster Mash on repeat, anyone?
Spend an inordinate amount of time in the Halloween aisle, if you work in a shop. Who wouldn’t?
Buy all the Halloween-themed baking equipment when it goes on sale. Who’s winning at life now? You are.
Cave-in and go for a cocktail after work
All right, all right – they twisted your arm. If you’re of-age and want to celebrate Halloween in style, then you may want a quiet cocktail after all.
My favourite place in my home of Southend-on-sea is an underground (literally) Absinthe bar called Dr Legba’s Emporium of Cocktails and Curiosities. The Absinthe-green decor is beyond dreamy, and it’s usually a quiet and intimate place to sip a flaming Zombie: your own spooky little cave. Cocktails were £9 each last time I went. Even if you sip a Coke, the atmosphere, decor, and sophistication are worth being there for. It is gorgeous. Fun fact: this place used to be a goth club called Club Krash, which me and my friends went to under-age more than a few times. It cost £1 to get in, and those stairs were a nightmare in platforms – it is a miracle I am still alive.
I hope you enjoyed that, and that it gave you some spooky or autumnal ideas for the workplace.
Please subscribe to my blog if you would like to see more! I put out new posts every Wednesday.
Welcome to my blog, where I hope to document my thoughts, my fads and projects, and anything that creeps into my mind.
I live in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, where I’m trying my best to carve a safe little corner of the world for myself. I have a wonderful job as Journal Editor for a national charity who support people with a particular medical condition, and I’m in love with my work. I’m a film enthusiast with a penchant for kitchen sink dramas, documentaries, and the old black ‘n’ white movies. I read for pleasure as well as for education; currently I’m all about memoirs, particularly medical ones, and not just for the gory details (though they are jolly-good fun).
There have been many, many troubles in my life so far, but I’ve been very fortunate to have a loving family and some faithful friends. I also have a gorgeous Scottish Terrier called Sputnik, who let’s me give him a squish when I need one. These things keep me going, and though I’ve tripped many times and gone careering quite ungracefully into a den of nettles (or an old-fashioned puddle of mud), I’ve always clawed my way out of it. I hope to tell you about some of those times as we go on, subject to bravery.
Any wisdom I think I have to impart can be shared here. If nothing else, there will be crafts. Oh yes. There will be crafts.