Isolation Projects Part 2

Me on a beautiful spring walk in the sunshine.

Welcome to my blog! I used to put out content every Wednesday, but since we got into the thick of lockdown, my routine has been so screwed up that I’ve found it difficult to blog at all.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t been up to this and that, however – I’m as creative as ever, and probably more so, with all this time to fill. I’ve been working at home and I’m one of the very fortunate people who can collect their full paycheck every month, with no need for the furlough or to claim universal credit. I’m hugely thankful for that, and I’m thankful for the fact that my family, my partner (who is 180 miles away) and my loved ones are happy, safe, and healthy. I’m also thankful that it appears all the third parties I’m in contact with for work are still ticking along as essential services, which means I can continue my job like normal without any bumps in the road.

As you can see from the photo above, I’ve been enjoying the sunshine! Mostly in the garden, mind you, with my family and my darling little dog – but on this occasion I took a walk to the local park and enjoyed the pond and the blossoms.

I also “celebrated” my birthday recently, which was a beautiful day with presents, wine, food, cake – what more could I honestly ask for? (My boyfriend is the answer, but it was still a great day). At the time of writing, I am 29 years old. I find that pretty depressing and difficult to deal with, but I’m trying to see the beauty in ageing. Hey, at least I’m here.

Writing

My children’s novel is ticking away nicely! I’ve made a lot of progress on my current project, but I’m usually very well-disciplined and so far I haven’t had too many snags. I’ve just been enjoying the process of creation, as I always do. If anything comes of it by the finish, I’ll let you know.

Reading

I’m currently working my way through the old children’s classics. I fall in love with every book I read, especially if it’s a children’s classic, because they just had a knack for capturing a certain magic that I find so rarely in fiction today. Currently I’m reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, who I was amazed to see also wrote A Little Princess, which is on my to-read list and was a huge favourite film of mine as a child. TSG parallels the maturation of emotionally and physically stunted children with the growth of flowers, against a backdrop of adults who have cast the ‘gardens’ of their lives, and their offspring, into the shadows of their own grief. I’m enjoying this enormously in ways that I couldn’t enjoy The Fireman by Joe Hill, which I recently started. Getting 200 pages in was like wading through treacle and about as fun, which is such a shame – there was a time when I described him as one of my favourite authors. Given that it’s an 800 page book, you can see why I’ve put it to one side for now. Much like his father, I do fear that the publishers simply aren’t cutting his work down to size, perhaps to justify the price or the hype.

Watercolour challenge

Here’s a cute idea; great for children and adults. If you can’t think what to draw, but you feel like being creative, then try this out: simply blob on a load of watercolours, any you like, and let them run and play on the page. Once they’ve dried (you can use paper towel to soak up excess and a hairdryer to dry it off if it’s too soggy), you can perform a sort of inkblot test on yourself. Hold it up at different angles: what shapes emerge? What can you see? Once you see something emerging, get a pen and start drawing. As you can see from my two pictures above, I saw a snail slithering over some twigs and leaves. Nifty idea, hm?

Other than that, I did some baking today: I chucked some cupboard ingredients together with a few spotty bananas and made a delicious, springy, *moist* (god I hate that word) coffee, chocolate and banana loaf cake. I sat in my dad’s little art workshop in the garden, listened to music and painted while my cake baked in the kitchen on a beautiful warm spring day. I even had my faithful companion by my side, snoozing in the sunlight.

Times may be very difficult right now, and very frightening – but you can still see some beauty in the world.

Keep indoors, keep social distancing, and keep safe, folks – I wish you all the good health in the world.

Best wishes,
Ashleigh

My handsome little boy, Sputnik.

Isolation Projects During Lockdown

Happy Wednesday in isolation!

I hope you aren’t fretting too much. It’s difficult not to. The BBC News will be the death of me, if anything – the constant death toll updates and news of famous musicians passing at scarily young ages makes me genuinely terrified for my parents; my dad in particular, who has asthma.

Of course, I’m supposed to be in St Bart’s hospital today having interventional radiology to attempt to fix a problem with my right kidney and some of the veins feeding into it. At the time of writing, I’m still scheduled to have the op – but I don’t much fancy going into a hospital which could be (for all I know) riddled with covid-19. I am tempted to cancel it myself, but equally, I may not get this opportunity for another year if I do. It’s a difficult call to make, especially when they seem to be happy for me to continue to have the procedure.

In the meantime, I’ve just returned from Bristol (I was there when the lockdown happened) after a lovely week working at home with my partner. I’m now at home with my family, awaiting my operation – and tomorrow is my mum’s birthday, which will include whatever I could buy at Asda, of all places! (Of course, shopping 2 metres apart). Are birthday cakes essential? I would say yes.

Projects

I’ve been keeping busy with my own creative projects. Some of these opportunities are personal, and others have passed (such as These Are the Hands and Interconnected for example), but the Dickens one may be of interest to you if you enjoy character-building, and the deadline is not until June.

These Are the Hands

I received 3 x copies of the extremely important NHS poetry anthology, These are the Hands, which feature 2 of my poems. The launches and events associated with this beautiful piece of work celebrating NHS workers (which could not be more poignant now) had to be cancelled because of the virus, but we can still do a lot of sharing online. The proceeds were all going to NHS Charities Together, but I’ve since seen that the proceeds will be going directly towards the fight against Covid-19.

That means that by purchasing a copy or pre-ordering (the stock ran out already!) from the new stocks, you will be directly donating towards the fight against Covid-19. The poetry is just an amazing bonus, once again showcasing the power and the drive of our NHS workers on the frontlines.

It’s a beautiful anthology, truly, and some of the poems (from cleaners to surgeons, from admins to speach and language therapists) brought tears to my eyes. Actually, a lot of them did.

Buy a copy here and donate to the fight against Covid-19.

Children’s novel

I’m in the early stages of writing a children’s novel! Recently I’ve reignited my passion for children’s books and I’ve been reading some amazing classics, with many more still to go. It’s been a long time since I wrote novels and I can’t say I ever saw any success with them years ago, but it feels like the time is right to explore the ideas I’ve had bubbling away.

Naturally I can’t say much about it (I’m only on chapter 6!) but it is based a little on children I’ve read about (both fiction and non-fiction) and from my own experiences. The story centres around a friendship between two little girls at Great Ormond Street Hospital. The themes include death, happiness, friendship, and the fear of moving on after illness. How do children deal with these difficult aspects of their childhood, when they should only have to care about playtime?

Throughout this crisis, I have been thinking about the kids on long-term stays in hospital. What’s the world like for them? Did they have to take extra-precautions on the wards, or are they so ill ordinarily that this is just another Tuesday to them?

Interconnected – BBC Writers Room

I sat down and drafted something that I haven’t even attempted since University about 9 or 10 years ago (and it’s frightening that it’s been that long): I wrote a short screenplay!

I saw an advert from the BBC Writers Room inviting writers to come up with a 10 minute long short film about connecting with others across digital platforms during a lockdown. This could be set in the present or in the future and could include only a couple of characters. You can see the call here, although the deadline has passed: https://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/opportunities/interconnected

My story was about a little girl bringing her dysfunctional (and shut-in) family together by watching her neighbour’s live video demonstration of pancake-making.

I’m not entirely sure I got the brief right, but I had fun regardless and I love submitting things for consideration. I never thought I’d get into the NHS anthology, but I chanced my arm and I got in – with not just one but two poems. It shows you should always give things a go, if for nothing but the experience – you never know where it might lead.

Could Self-Isolation Find the Dickens in You?

This is an exciting opportunity to submit a 300-word character description in the style of Charles Dickens! The prize is a “certificate” (of what I’m not sure) and a professional cartoonist interpretation of your character. I’ll be coming up with something to submit for this because it just sounds too exciting to pass up, and I am a fan of Charles Dickens. In fact, I only recently finished reading Oliver Twist, which was absolutely thrilling.

If you fancy writing a bit of a Dickensian character profile, then you can find out more about the competition here.

I hope the above gives you some opportunity for escapism, or inspires you to get writing. After all, you only need your laptop or a notebook and pen and you’re away. Writing is the most inexpensive hobby I can think of, actually – no wonder some of the poorest people in this world went on to become our greatest writers, and continue to do so today.

Mug design

I’ve been playing around with graphic design and more specifically cute mug designs as a hobby lately. Mostly just for myself, but hey – you never know where these things lead! My latest creation is a ‘darkwave microwave’, because I love me some cheese. I’ve also been working on a cute bat design and even a Marc Almond design, just ’cause why not? I’m very happy with how my darkwave microwave turned out – have a look for yourself!


Please stay safe, stay healthy, and stay indoors.

Best wishes,
Ashleigh

Covid-19, the arts & me

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.

Poetry

With quotes from Stephen Fry and Adam Kay, you know you’re in for an amazing read – not to mention poems by Michael Rosen, Lemn Sissay MBE, and other celebrated poets!

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.

Mookychick

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

A Bat in Tesco (Poem)

Busy, busy, busy! Work, work, work! I’ve been designing pretty things after work this week and not going to bed at a decent time, so blogging rather fell by the wayside I’m afraid.

No matter; enjoy this children’s poem I wrote some time ago. I hope you like it. 100% based on true experiences.

Best wishes,
Ashleigh

Teach Yourself Vector Graphics

I taught myself to create these creepy treats in an afternoon. Try it for yourself!

Welcome back! I put out new content every Wednesday, focusing on whatever is distracting me at the the time.

As a dedicated dabbler-in-everything, I find distraction is the best method for working towards better mental health. I dream up new hobbies I want to dabble in every day. The nice thing about having a blog is that I have somewhere to share my doodles, dabbles, and daydreams – even if I never do them again, I can at least share my progress for a fellow novice to stumble upon. I hope what such a person would get from this is to realise that if I can do it, then they can do it.

What are vector graphics?


From Wiki: Vector graphics are computer graphics images that are defined in terms of 2D points, which are connected by lines and curves to form polygons and other shapes.

The main difference between vector and raster graphics is that raster graphics are composed of pixels, while vector graphics are composed of paths. A raster graphic, such as a gif or jpeg, is an array of pixels of various colors, which together form an image. Vector graphics are best for printing since it is composed of a series of mathematical curves. As a result vector graphics print crisply even when they are enlarged. (GeeksforGeeks)

Ankit Jain, GeeksforGeeks


I hope the author doesn’t mind me quoting them, but they’ve explained it so simply that even I understood it (or gained a basic overview). Please click the links to learn about them in more depth – it’s an interesting read.

For now, onto the creativity!

Doughnut, minus cute-face.

Teach Yourself Vector Artwork

Vector graphics are amazing because you can create clean, crisp, beautiful images which can be scaled up or down with ease and printed in multiple sizes without ever deteriorating in quality. You can create multi-purpose artwork to use on a variety of print or digital materials, or you can even sell your own artwork for use on other people’s products.

Once you’ve gotten used to the basics, you can create basically anything you want. If you can make it out of shapes, then you can create it.

Tools

You will need a computer fast enough to not die on you while you’re creating, and an amazing and completely free piece of graphics software called Inkscape.
There is of course Photoshop and other expensive bits of kit, but if you’re new to this then you won’t want to shell out hundreds of pounds or dollars for what could be something you merely dabble in from time to time.

Inkscape is universally acknowledged as a fantastic (free!) bit of kit which people often choose over the expensive alternatives, not just because it’s free, but because they love to use it.

You can get Inkscape here.

After that, all you need is time, eagerness, and:

Tutorials


The easiest way to get to grips with your first piece of vector artwork is to follow a step-by-step tutorial in the art style you’re hoping to go for.

I was attracted to this amazing video by Logos by Nick on Youtube.

The above doughnut was created after I followed this tutorial! That doughnut was my very first piece of vector artwork. There are hundreds of tutorials out there, but this one was fast, fluid, and easy to follow. I even felt confident enough to add my own accents, such as the eyes and mouth, to give it some character.

If you take a look at the cute-face lollipop next to it, you will see the creation I made on my own directly after creating the step-by-step doughnut. I was amazed how fast I picked it up, and I was able to give my little doughnut buddy a creepy cute-face friend.

I didn’t touch Inkscape much again for the next year (because of personal crap) but when I picked it up again, it didn’t take long for me to get used to it.

I created two characters of mine, Meloncholy & Charlotte, who I dreamed up about 10 years ago at university. They were the subjects of many hand-drawn cartoons and poems.
(Copyright Ashleigh Condon)

What I learned

Aside from the technical skills involved in developing a piece of vector artwork, there’s a lot to learn about perspectives and the way we put images together.

For example, that doughnut appears to be a ring with a whole in the middle, correct? But it isn’t. It’s a white circle on top of a beige circle. Those bites out of the side of the doughnut are simply layers of circles detracted from two other layers of circles at different intervals to reveal those layers, thus making it look like a bite.

This might sound obvious and simple, but the beauty of vector artwork is that it’s all about the illusion.

You are not drawing. You are building up layers of shapes and manipulating how those shapes appear.

This means you can create absolutely anything as long as you can imagine it as a series of shapes.

Nifty, eh?

I hate to sound like Neil Buchanan (and by hate, I mean love), but try it yourself!

Best wishes,
Ashleigh

2020 Gothic Clothing Splurge – purchases & review

Welcome back! I put up new content every Wednesday, based on whatever nonsense I’m interested in at the time.

This week I wanted to take you through some of my horrendous splurging on clothes. What’s the point of enjoying fashion if you aren’t going to show it off?

In the last year or so, I’ve been taking a new direction with my fashion choices and actually getting excited about clothes again. I’ve been veering back to my black velvet roots, especially in light of the first series of The Witcher. Yennefer has long been a style icon from the games, but the TV show put me in desperate need for a knee-high pair of lace-up boots like yesterday. Come to think of it, I get a lot of my style from film and TV.

My love of all things gothic has never, ever left me – The Addams Family and all the other spooky shows (The Worst Witch, Grizzly Tales, Are you Afraid of the Dark) imprinted on me too much as a child for that. I love all things spooky and I believe, where my heart should be, there is a little hanging bat.

Lately I’ve gone back to my love of romantic gothic clothing. I’m talking velvet and witchy sleeves paired with lace-up boots or shiny Dr Martens (like an evil pixie; everyone loves the evil pixie look), dramatic faux fur collars, long Morticia hair. I’ve gone back to a style of dress I loved years ago, back before we had quite the number of amazing gothic brands we have now. Gothic fashion has never been so accessible and I for one felt incredibly inspired to re-vamp (ha ha) my tired grunge wardrobe. I’m ready to be ~ pretty ~ now.

So what did I splurge on?

This is where I shamelessly show off my new clothes. I’m so excited about these dresses that I can’t even. Some of these have already arrived and already been gratefully worn, but others are in the mail, waiting, waiting…

Anyway, these are my main clothes purchases over the last couple of months. Enjoy!

Kate’s Clothing/Dark in Love Haul

Dark in Love Anastasia dress: Arrived last month (Dec). Fits beautifully, couldn’t be more pleased with it. Fits rather differently than the model; I am a UK size 16 and I have 36E/34F bust, so the shape is rather different on me!
Dark in Love Lucy Black dress: Arrived last month (Dec) Again, I loved this one. Fits beautifully, though slightly tighter on the bust. The length of the arms means I’d probably wear this to an occasion, meal out, or anywhere I could show it offer properly instead of under a coat. These sleeves ain’t work-safe either!
Dark in Love Carina Dress: This one is in the post. I just fell in love with the fairy-witchyness of it and I am a sucker for crushed velvet and floaty sleeves. The collar topped it off for me – it’s those little details.
Dark in Love Amara Dress: This is still to arrive. I loved this casual style with the interesting design around the chest and neck. This one could easily be worn to work, though of course it depends how low the neckline drops. I’d wear this with flats and leggings to tone it down a little and boots for a night out.
Dark in Love Chloe Dress: Again, in the post (I bought the 3 together). I love these huge floaty sleeves! So much freedom, and yet so much elegance. The scoop in the bust concerns me regarding how potentially work-safe this dress would be, but providing I can use a modesty panel, it should be just fine.

Kinky Angel boots

Demonia Glam 240: Oh god, I adore these. The lace-up front panel makes them fully adjustable, which is essential for me. I have thick calves and after putting on weight over the last couple of years, it’s hard for me to fit into boots. Kinky Angel Clothing were immensely helpful when I had to swap another pair for these, and they even helped me pick these ones.
The lolita skull bow brings out the child in me. Subtle enough to be worn anywhere, with practically anything, but glam enough to be dressed up.

Ebay budget beauties

Killstar Under Your Spell Maiden Dress: This Ebay purchase cost a mere £24 compared to (I believe) about £40 brand new. The dress does not fit me tightly like the model – in fact, it was a size too big. The neck was therefore a little oversized and droopy, but I fixed that with a ram skull brooch and now I love it even more. Floaty, elegant, loose – a perfect dress.
Faux fur poncho: This beauty cost me a mere £4.50 on Ebay. The seller sent it so fast that it arrived just a day or two later. Both snug and glam, this cape/poncho feels like a great quality faux and has a secure braided hook at the breast to keep it closed. So snuggly.
Faux fur collar/scarf: I love these things! You can pop them on over a casual jacket and instantly feel more glamorous. £6.50 on Ebay, brand new in its packaging.

What do you think of my purchases over the last couple of months? I’ve fallen in love with clothes again and I couldn’t be happier with the appearance of my wardrobe right now. I recently turfed out all my unwanted clothes for the charity shops, so I certainly felt like I deserved an overhaul. Clothes and shoes are a vice of mine, but in this day and age, I think it’s everyone’s vice.

We all want to be pretty, and that’s okay.

I’ll leave you for now until next time – but if you’d like to hear about the other styles I’ve tried and various fads I’ve gone through over the years, read below. Did you ever go through any weird phases when you were trying out new things?

In my experience, the old styles are the best, and I think we all gravitate back to what we know and love eventually.

Best wishes,
Ashleigh

My bizarre style timeline

I love trying out new styles and, much like my music tastes, my styles have been an eclectic mix over the years. To be otherwise, to me, is dead-boring, dull, pointless – what’s the point of it all if you can’t experiment?

My music tastes vary between gothic rock, post-punk, darkwave, punk, cheesey 80s pop, techno, heavy metal, black metal, classic rock, industrial heavy metal, 90s rave, 90s pop, 50s, 60s, 70s pop for that matter, synth, country, disco, funk, grunge, reggae.

I merrily skip from The Slits to Joy Division to Siouxsie and the Banshees to Type O Negative to Placebo to Metallica to Children of Bodom to Rammstein to Prodigy to Faith No More to Jimmy Cliff. Recently I discovered Molchat Doma and I am loving that goth-darkwave mood, especially as the band themselves look like tech geeks.

I think there’s obviously a strong correlation between our musical tastes and our clothing (particularly if you consider yourself part of a subculture) but it needn’t be so strict. Even when I was experimenting with more hippy-dippy styles years ago, I still listened to my heavy metal and the like.

I like to believe I’m a subculture of one, and I magpie my tastes from everywhere. As I result, I often find I belong anywhere…and nowhere. But so be it!

Below is a timeline of my style progression/regression over the last decade and beyond. Enjoy!

Grunge/casual goth (2017-2019)

I’ve always loved experimenting with new styles – sometimes successfully, and sometimes with disastrous results. My look over the last couple of years has been a sort oafish, grunge, casual-goth look. Imagine Wednesday Addams crossed with Courtney Love (or even Kurt Cobain actually) and I don’t think you could go far wrong with my look. I wore black Dr Marten Chelsea Boots, slonky leggings, tights, long-sleeve black dresses (usually bell-sleeved, as it’s my favourite), and massive grunge cardigans. Big jewelry, bright lipstick, big earrings – think Brick Lane.

I loved this look and it’s actually helped me through a difficult few years, because at times I felt like I’d given up on my appearance. The whole grunge look made it look just a teency-bit-more deliberate. When you’ve given up, this is your go-to look.

But still, try not to give up – or if you do, get back up again.

Corporate Tart Look (2015-2017)

Before that, I had a boring corporate look (around the time I started getting serious about starting a proper career path), where I wore 40s style dresses and pencil skirts, Vivienne Westwood/Melissa heels (Ebay is your friend), and wouldn’t dream of going out under-dressed. This was largely because I worked in large open-plan offices and felt pressured. My style icons at the time were the entire cast of MadMen, so forgive me – but it was an awesome look.

It was also because I was trying to pretend I was someone else.

Hippy-dippy (2010 – 2015)

Before that, around the time I became a vegetarian (though now-days I’m trying out fish, so I suppose I’m currently a pescetarian – it’s a long story, but when you’re anemic you’ll understand) I discovered reggae-punk bands like The Slits and started watching Six Feet Under, a show I fell in love with (pre-Sopranos).

The character Claire resonated with me so much that I had a sort of pseudo-hippy vibe going on for years. I grew out my long reddish-brown hair and wore a shocking amount of harem pants.

The platform goth years ( – 2010)

These were my teen years, where I did a lot of experimentation with my appearance. I did the whole dreadlocks/velvet/platforms/black hair ubergoth image, and listened to a lot of black metal, heavy metal, industrial, darkwave, gothic rock – my image was a jumble of all of this, but a wonderful jumble of the kind that only a teenager could get away with. I look fondly back on those years.

I even still have my platform New Rock Boots with the springs; maybe one day I’ll pass them on to my own little goth children, or if nothing else, give them a relic to look in awe at. Who knows, I may even wear them again – though being an adult with a job (and lots of stairs to climb) mightn’t make that quite so practical.

I’d love to know about your styles over the years. Let me know!

Best wishes,
Ashleigh

Childhood Crushes of a 90s Girl

Weclome back to my blog! I put up new posts every Wednesday, about literally anything that interests me.

My last few posts have been about surgery and anxiety, so I thought I’d lighten things up a little with a pictorial tour of my childhood crushes.
Many of these will absolutely not surprise you. Many people blogging today are adults who grew up in the 90s (I was born in 1991), therefore we’ll all have crushed on the same people – especially if you were an oddball child of the alternative persuasion.

However, I do believe we need to keep this stuff alive for posterity’s sake, and at the very least to re-live the things we loved.
I’ve kept this to the highlights because (believe me) I’d need 100 blog posts to comb over absolutely every icon I had a crush on. I mean it – I was a horn-dog and I fell in love with everyone. So while these people stuck out for obvious reasons, rest assured that there were many, many more.

Some of these will make you roll your eyes. Who didn’t love Jareth the Goblin King and (though he isn’t listed) Brandon Lee of The Crow? Literally every kid in the goth or alternative scene idolised them.

So alas, this will read like a Buzzfeed article (and indeed, many of these will have been covered by the very same website), but you’ll enjoy it anyway – because let’s face it, Buzzfeed is a guilty-fucking-pleasure and its simplicity is, at times, the easiest escapism to access.

These are the characters and people I loved before I even knew what love was. Enjoy!

Joel from Addams Family Values

Addams Family Values (1993)

He was weird, he had asthma, and he didn’t fit in – what’s not to fall in love with when you’re a fellow kid? As a girl who identified completely with Wednesday Addams, it was obvious why Joel become her little summer camp romance. I believe he is to blame for my affection for Jewish Italian American men, or those with that aesthetic. I’ve had an affection for dark hair and big eyebrows ever since.

Casper & Thackery Binx

These two get listed together ~ because ~ unbeknownst to me, this was an actual thing: these two ghosty-boys were the heartthrobs of the 90s. This E News article (which made me chuckle) thinks Casper wins, and I’d have to agree: “Can I keep You?” brings a tear to the eye all these years later. Interestingly, neither actor actually voiced their ghostly/cursed counterparts.
I independently fell in love with the both of them. They’re both winners to me.

Atreyu from The Neverending Story

He’s a little fictional warrior with the fate of the world at his hands, and he loves his horsey, Artex (as in…the stuff on the ceiling?). Do not even talk to me about that scene with the horse. Just don’t. Anyway, with his other-worldliness, strength, courage, and adorable floppy hair, I stood no chance against Atreyu.

Bernard from The Santa Clause

Bernard from The Santa Clause. Hold the phone! Is that…yes it is. It’s Joel from The Addams Family (it took me a shocking amount of time as a kid to realise they’re the same person). He’s grown up a little and he’s got a massive arsey attitude (which I totally loved, har har), a cool outfit, and dreadlocks peaking under a velvet hat. He was elfing before it was cool. It was a 10/10 swoon from me.

King Jareth (obviously)

I was scarily young when I fell in love with the Goblin King. I have very fond memories of asking mum to rent this from Starburst Video in Shoeburyness (now defunct, of course) over and over again, until she bought it for me on VHS. I watched it hundreds of times. I also remember freaking out when my dad told me we could email David Bowie’s fan email address on our snazzy new home computer, and I remember him helping me type out a message. That’s how young I was – I wasn’t even old enough to type yet.
That hair, that makeup, that riding crop (and that bulge, yikes – seeing that years later had me in stitches) – he is responsible for my love of dramatic, incredibly ~ extra ~ men. We all wished and dreamed we could be Sarah, dancing with him at the masquerade ball. But alas. This was no gift, for an ordinary girl, who takes care of a screeeaming baby.
“Do you want it?” sent shivers where there should not have been shivers, and I think we can all relate to that.

Harvey from Sabrina the Teenage Witch

Oh, Harvey. He was adorable, he was sweet, and he loved Sabrina just the way she was. I seem to remember him discovering her witchcraft in one episode and saying, “I always knew there was something magical about you”, and oh golly – who doesn’t want to hear that?

Drop Dead Fred

Another from my early childhood. He was irritating, he was hilarious, and he was there for Elizabeth when she felt all alone against her wicked mother. I desperately wished I had an imaginary friend like him, but thanks to Rik, we all did – in the movie. Unnecessary kiss at the end, sure – but nobody was complaining. If you ask me, he was Elizabeth’s true love – not Mickey from next door. Stupid spaghetti boy.

Duckie from Pretty in Pink

Alas, another lost soul, another hopeless romantic. Why oh why would Andy pick Blaine when she had Duckie all along?! Nobody could watch him come sliding into the record shop to Try a Little Tenderness and not adore him for his moves and total lack of self-awareness (or lack of caring). He was hopelessly in love with Andy but, as her daddy explained, “You can love her, but it doesn’t mean she’ll love you back”.
I loved you, Duckie. I will remain, as always…a Duck Man.

Edward Scissorhands

This gothic masterpiece by Tim Burton set my little goth soul aflame. We all felt like that girl trapped in boring, ordinary suburbia, just waiting for our oddball counterpart to mysteriously appear in our lives. No, it doesn’t all go to plan, and poor Edward ended up back in his creepy mansion all alone, where he can’t be misunderstood, but he lived on in my heart. Who among us doesn’t think of Edward carving an ice sculpture of Kim whenever it snows? Personally, I would have happily lived up in the castle with Edward, away from it all. /siiigh.

Axl Rose

Who wears their own band T?

Oh, Axl. One of my first loves. To this day, I still have an active email address under the name of ‘Mrs Axl Rose’, which I believe I activated when I was 12 or 13, and used up until I needed something a little more grown-up. Guns ‘n’ Roses was one of my first loves when I started discovering alternative music as a young teenager. I was utterly in love with Axl and was convinced that, one day, when I was all grown up, I’d run off to California, meet Axl Rose, and we’d somehow run off into the sunset together. The details didn’t matter: I was Mrs Axl Rose, his biggest fan.

I read biographies about him, straightened my still-auburn hair (I was to later dye it black), and wore a Guns ‘n’ Roses bandanna and baseball cap, just like Axl. So not only was I “soooo in love” with him, but I wanted to be him as well. I remember the joys of discovering his name was allegedly an anagram, and that his real name was (*snort*) Billy Bailey.

‘Don’t Cry’ was my favourite song, along with ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, ‘You could be Mine’, ‘Rocket Queen’, and ‘My Michelle’. Actually, you know what? They were all my favourites. I still love Guns ‘n’ Roses to this day, even long after discovering new bands. Great music never dies.

I remember searching the streets near where I live for ages, trying to find my Guns ‘n’ Roses bandanna. Alas, it must have blown away on the wind.

Peter Steele

Oh, golly. Peter Steele. The ultimate fantasy goth boyfriend. I remember getting into Type O Negative around the age of 15 after purchasing an album at Golden Disc (or was it MVC? Aka ‘McVitties’) and listening to it on my desktop at home. It wasn’t until I saw those infamous appearances on Jerry Springer and Ricky Lake that I realise – holy fuck – this man is a god sent to earth. At 6″8, built like Conan the Barbarian and with a voice like Brooklyn’s answer to Dracula, he was my absolute dream. Not only that, but his beautiful (and sometimes very funny) music opened up a whole new world for me, after years of listening to heavy metal. Here was Peter Steele, a man chiseled out of marble with princess hair and a voice that made the hairs on my arms stand up. I’m willing to bet he was many a girl’s “awakening”, shall we say, when we stopped having mere girl crushes. It gets serious when you discover Peter Steele.

Remember how “Love You to Death” and “Christian Woman” made you feel the first time you heard them? I do. “Am I good enough…for you?” still brings tears to my eyes and “She needs…Corpus Christi” still makes my heart do somersaults.

I was incredibly upset when I learned he’d died in 2010, before I’d even had a chance to see Type O play live. Initially, people thought it was the inevitable result of years of drink and drugs, but sadly it was sepsis after a perfectly common gut problem. He was taken from us so early and it is such a horrible shame, because by all accounts he was as beautiful inside as he was out, and a truly gentle giant.

I hope you enjoyed that little glimpse into my love-addled teenage and childhood brain. Who did you fall in love with as a kid? I’d love to know – leave a comment.

Best wishes,
Ashleigh

A Tough Week; no blog

We lost someone very special this week

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.

🖤

How to Get Through Major Surgery

Welcome to my blog! I put out new posts every Wednesday on topics ranging from careers to crafts, and poetry to health.

The following is supposed to be genuinely helpful for people about to go through major surgery to the abdomen like I did in 2017.

It’s also an opportunity to show off my massive tumour and pat myself on the back for being a big, brave girl. 😉

Regardless, I do genuinely believe that sharing our experiences can help one another (providing we aren’t scare-mongering or sharing untruthful information) because it’s only through sharing that we feel less alone.

Backstory

In Spring of 2017, I had a funny feeling in my right-side when I laid down, so I went to the doctor and told him I thought something was up with my kidney. Being a good lad, he booked me for an ultrasound scan. I got a phone call at work to say they’d found a “shadow”, which scared the shit out of me, and they wanted to do an MRI.
I could tell by the looks on their faces after they’d scanned me that they’d seen something, but I had an agonising weeks-long wait before I was called in to discuss it. I caved and phoned in, to be told that there was “nothing to worry about”, but that the doctor would still like to see me.
(This appointment and what followed changed my life forever, but I guess worrying wouldn’t have helped much)

My MRI abdomen showing my 20cm Phaeochromocytoma
(And yes, I am showing off!)



I went to my appointment and was shown a strange image of a giant mushroom.
Eventually I realised that this was in fact my MRI scan, and that “mushroom” was in me. They said it was a 20cm long mass, and they (mistakenly) thought it was a Hepatic Adenoma, which is a tumor arising from being on “the pill”. They would soon find out they were wrong, but it wasn’t an unreasonable diagnosis based on the scan.
They were very certain, just by looking, that it wasn’t cancer. Happy days. But it was absolutely huge and it was going to cause me problems for the rest of my life, so I was referred for surgery at the Royal London Hospital.

It was only when they opened me up that they realised this was not a hepatic adenoma. In fact, they had no idea what it was. I was put out via an epidural and the surgery took about 8 hours. The tumor bled profusely and I lost a scary amount of blood, so I had several tansfusions when I was moved to the ICU, where I began my slow, arduous, sticky, sweaty recovery, with tubes seemingly coming out of every available vein.

Three weeks post-surgery, I received a call to say they’d tested the tumour and found it to be a Pheochromocytoma, caused by a mutation of the SDH-B gene, which is a tumor suppressant.
The surgery killed off my kidney, but left a small blood supply (they think) which has since caused me to have ridiculously high blood pressure. I’m on several pills to calm this down, and unfortunately a further surgery (awake, I might add, on beautiful drugs) for interventional radiology did not fix my kidney problem.

So alas, I am still suffering in a way, and my gene mutation means I’ll be monitored for life (as will my family), which has its good and bad points. I’m here though, and I survived the giant tumor, so there is that.

I’m not going to talk about SDH-B or the pheo, because I wanted to make a practical post for people about to face major surgery. You could say I learned a thing or two.

So if you’re facing major surgery, I hope this is helpful advice for your recovery. If you have any questions or just want to talk things out, get in touch with me.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. I’m an experienced medical patient but I have no medical knowledge at all. All of the below is based on my experiences only and is not to be taken as medical advice.
If you need medical advice, ask a healthcare professional such as a GP, nurse, or surgeon.

Don’t do it alone

First and foremost: when you know you’re going in for major surgery, surround yourself with those who love and care about you. You need them to look after you. You’ll be struggling to walk upright for a while after abdominal surgery and you’ll need help just to get out of your seat. Not just in hospital, but at home too. This is going to last a while. Don’t despair; you are loved and you will spend this time feeling beyond grateful for the existence of these people in your life.

If you live alone and have contact with your family (and hopefully a good relationship), I strongly advise that you organise someone to stay with you, or for you to stay with them.

If you are estranged from family and don’t have friends who can help, then you need to arrange for carers to help you in the home. Your hospital will arrange for your aftercare if you do not have support at home. They will establish this prior to surgery in their questioning, so be honest.

Let people look after you. You’re going to be irritable, angry and in pain, even in spite of the pain relief. This is a tough time. Try to be patient with people and let them care for you. You’ll be grateful when you’re ‘you’ again.

Pain relief medicine is your best friend

Do yourself a favour and don’t attempt to go through hell just so you can be the hero. You will lose this fight, so you might as well trust your doctors and take the prescribed pain relief.
If you find that the pain relief isn’t working well enough, this may well be for your own safety; you’re going to be given heavy drugs and they might be restrictive with the doses.
What’s more is that the drugs can become addictive (and no, taking your prescription will not make you an addict overnight) and so they might be going softly-softly at first before upping the dose when required.

Some medicines affect people differently than others. Tramadol, for example, made me sweaty, twitchy, and I came down with nightmares. I communicated my issues and they changed me to something more agreeable.
I was on a constant stream of both morphine and Tramadol while in hospital. The morphine was administered first through my epidural (I believe), and later, once this was removed, I took Oramorph (morphine which you administer yourself via a syringe to the mouth). I couldn’t even turn my body to see the clock on the wall, and one nurse joked that she wasn’t going to tell me because I’d be watching the clock for my next dose.

As time goes by, your pain will ease up. My stitches (see above) pulled relentlessly for a long time, but I found pain relief and bio oil helped. You’re on a journey here. Do yourself a favour and use the tools you are given to recover as comfortably as you can

Nursing & physio

In my experience – and as far as I’m concerned – the staff at the Royal London Hospital (and at St Bart’s for that matter) were angels sent to earth. I’ve never felt so well looked after before and I’ve felt so very, very grateful for the care I received.
When I was in the high dependency unit, I would often find myself waking up during the night to find my own nurse waiting right there for me. They’d smile, whisper and ask if I’m okay, and tend to my every need. Whenever I woke up, there they were.
I know you hear some bad stories out there, but please don’t be afraid. My experience of NHS staff has been amazing and I honestly shed tears when I think of them. You are in excellent hands.

Of course, if you are worried about your care or the way you’ve been treated, then communicate this to other members of staff or escalate the issue to the appropriate body. Whilst my experience could not be faulted, I accept that not everybody has had such good fortune.

Physiotherapy begins the very next day after your surgery. When my physio team arrived, I looked at them as if to say “Are you f-ing serious? You think I can get up?!”
There is a very good reason for why they insist on attempting to get you out of bed so soon, and it’s because the body starts healing itself much faster the sooner you get started.
When I first tried to walk, I had a catheter, a drip stand, a tube in my neck, and a tube draining fluid out my right side. I was held upright by two people who helped me walk from one end of the corridor to the other. I was hunched over like an old lady (you will find it hard to stand upright after abdominal surgery) and I was sweating, dizzy, and faint.

However, with their help, I did it. I even went up and down a small flight of stairs at the end.

Sure, I conked out the second I got back into bed and went off into fairyland, but your body is fragile at this point. Your achievements will be little but often, and that’s just fine.

Keep in contact with the ward

When you go home, it’s a good idea to be monitoring your blood pressure and your temperature daily, especially within the first couple of weeks. Sepsis is not likely to occur if you’ve gone home, because they will have been monitoring you for this in hospital, but it’s worth knowing the signs.

However, secondary infections can occur, especially if you’re particularly vulnerable, and in my experience these present themselves via your body temperature. Paracetamol and other medications can mask this by bringing your temperature down, so just try your best to be observant.

If you have any issues at all, your ward will want to know. Do not be afraid to call them for advice. You’ll be on a recovery pathway and it’s their duty to continue with your care even after you go home, so do not go thinking you’re making a fuss or wasting their time. You are what they’re working for.

Recovering at home

I was signed off for 3 months to recover from surgery, and I ended up taking 2 weeks more.

I was one of those dear, sweet fools who thought they’d come bouncing back after just a couple of weeks. Nah. It did not happen like that.

Get things straight with your workplace and make sure they understand that this is absolutely crucial and non-negotiable. No reputable employer would question this recovery period – not if they don’t want to be liable for your health and any injuries incurred if you come back too early.

Recovering at home is actually the hardest part. You are at home, you are grumpy, and you are in pain. You might even be surrounded by well-meaning people who are getting on your nerves.

Try to use this time to rest. I myself got into some pretty interesting hobbies during my time off! I built a snail terrarium in a big green bottle, I bought a big fish tank and bought myself a lovely goldfish, and I practised watercolour painting, amongst many other fads and creative pursuits. This is your time to recover and it’s up to you how you use it.

I found that going on slow walks in nature helped me to get used to my new body while it healed.
I also found that my appetite changed for quite some time and I dropped a lot of weight. Don’t be alarmed; you will be back to your old self in no time and, sadly, you’ll put that weight back on once your appetite returns!

To conclude

I hope this post might be useful for someone who has a phaeochromocytoma or anybody who is facing surgery to the abdomen. I did a lot of internet searching before I had surgery and it helped me to read about other people’s experiences.

Remember that recovery is a physical process, but how you deal with it emotionally is all in the mind.

Be kind to yourself, pace yourself, and give your body the time it needs to heal. Your body puts up with a lot throughout its lifetime and it’s done you proud, so cut the poor thing a break. You, in the meantime, should take up a hobby.

All the best until next time,
Ashleigh