Friday, 6 December 2013

The Inappropriate Christmas Wishlist

I was sort of an odd child. Bookish and curious. My sisters played barbies and I did wordsearches. My favourite books were the Atlas and the Argos catalogue. Is that a potential band name? I think it might be.
My Mum did loads of catalogue shopping, which she once told me was because her Mum never did catalogue shopping and so she loved it. As a fully grown person in charge of my own money I never do catalogue shopping, so I suppose I have reversed the trend. But as a child? I totally loved catalogues. I used to come home from school and read the aforementioned Argos catalogue, then the Grattan one, then the Littlewoods one, then the Freemans one. Needless to say, I was really cool and had loads of friends and all the boys fancied me.
It was a family joke that you could name any item from the Argos catalogue and I could tell you which page it was on, how much it cost, which colours it came in and the catalogue number.

Did you know that I briefly worked in Argos when I was 17? Well you do now. I did not love it as much as I loved the catalogue.
Oddly enough I don’t really remember us ordering many things from the catalogues but I loved to look at the pretty pictures of patio furniture, toasters, board games,  and women in bras while wondering if I’d ever grow breasts. I dreamed of duvet covers and video cameras and mugs and mix-and-match beachwear. As I said, I TOTALLY LOVED catalogues.
I have always been drawn to September as the start of a new academic year means fresh starts and pencil cases and notebooks and NEW CATALOGUES. This was especially good because I was then allowed to cut up the old catalogues, a task that seemed much more exciting in my head as I flicked and licked (catalogue people are pros at the art of dampening page corners for speedy perusal) my way through the pages and daydreamed of cutting and sticking dream home layouts. Hell yes I made mood-boards in the nineties, I practically invented Pinterest.
Never mind that the images weren’t to scale and the paper quality was weak and my cutting and sticking skills left a lot to be desired.
September also marked the arrival of the highly coveted Christmas catalogues. The ones with personalised dressing gowns and wallets and gumball machines and inflatable furniture. As I said, it was the nineties.
Once the Christmas catalogues arrived I used to rush home and browse the pages whilst frantically drawing up a incredibly detailed chart for my parents (and Santa). Hell yes I made hand-drawn spreadsheets in the nineties, I practically invented Excel.
A set of personalised coloured pencils, please
One column for the price.
A journal (I’ve seen American TV shows, a ‘diary’ will not suffice)
One column for the catalogue it was in.
Fluffy animal slippers (must NOT be the same as my sisters)
One column for the page number.
A manicure set
I’d finally stopped biting my nails.
A quick-dry hair towel (PINK)
I wanted everything that would transform me into the stylish woman I knew I was becoming.
Chocolate body paint
Anyone who ever seen a Christmas catalogue will know there is always a page with novelty adult gifts. Here you would find tasteful presents such as the apron with a semi-clothed man on it, penis and boobs pasta shapes and, well, chocolate body paint. It came in a jar. With a brush.
I really did love chocolate. I loved chocolate so much that Christmas Day breakfast was chocolate coins. One of my most highly anticipated gifts was a selection box. And I loved chocolate so much that I could think of nothing better than smearing my arms in the stuff and licking it off because I was clearly a child gone wild. I loved chocolate so much that the other items on this page were oblivious to me. This was THE CHOCOLATE BODY PAINT PAGE and I knew I had to have it in my life.
So onto the Christmas list it went. Every year. For four years.
I do not know what must have gone through my parents minds when they sat down to review my Christmas wishlist. I have never asked. I sincerely hope they pissed themselves and had a right good giggle at what an idiot I was.
I did not receive chocolate body paint for Christmas and I felt the frustration of this keenly. One year I do remember that I got chocolate scented bubble bath which was rank and clearly not what I had asked for so there was an incident involving a minor huff.
One year the Christmas catalogues arrived (YAY!) and I sat down to make my wishlist. As I flicked through the pages my eyes were drawn to the chocolate body paint and I was suddenly filled with the horrifying realisation that for the past four years, unbeknownst to my tweenage self, I’d been asking my parents for a sex toy for Christmas.
I did not put chocolate body paint on my Christmas list that year nor ever again.

Monday, 2 December 2013

My Top Longreads in October/November

Double bill this month, although to be fair October was so busy that I actually only managed to read about 5 articles. In November I went to Australia for two weeks (mega post about that coming up) so had plenty of time to read. It was a mixed month, some of these pieces are lovely and cheering but some are a bit of a downer so please pick and choose according to your mood!

Here are some of my favourites:

Oops, You Just Hired the Wrong Hitman - On America's secret world of undercover hitmen. Trigger warning for violence, there are some not nice people in this piece.

Women and the Internet - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4. Good collection of thoughts on online and offline violence, trolls, gender roles and feminism.

Thanksgiving in Mongolia - Ariel Levy's heartbreaking piece about travel, motherhood and loss.

The Secret Life of a Manhattan Doorman - I love stuff like this, what a fascinating job!

The Meanings of Life - Do you what a meaningful life, or a happy one? What's the difference? This piece will help you decide.

A Horrorphobe is Forced to Watch His First Scary Movie - Not a massive read but interesting thoughts about why we do and don't like horror films.

Free-drying the Dead Could Help Save the Planet - This is SO interesting to me (in case you didn't know, I studied Death and Dying) and I'm intrigued by the future of the death industry.

What Does Your Credit Card Company Know About You? - The results might not be that surprising but the way the banking industry makes predictions about you based on the results sure is.

How Companies Learn Your Secrets - Fascinating piece on one of Target's statisticians and the story stores can piece together using your data.

Queen Victoria's Stalker - One of my favourite pieces of the month, an incredible story of the man who managed to sneak into Queen Victoria's bedroom!

Embracing the Void - The remote sculptures that will change the way we look at the sky and our place in the world.

The Hair Down There - Whether you're all for it or can't bear it, this is worth a read with a mind open to challenging your perceptions.

Now We Are Five - David Sedaris' moving piece about his sister's suicide.

How I Met Your Father - Hint: He ran the strip club she worked in.

Dark Patterns: inside the interfaces designed to trick you - Bit techy but a great look at some of the most irritating design features known to man. Ever been caught out my small print? This is for you!

The Andrew Wylie Rules - Hard-ass, old-school literary agent shares his thoughts on digital publishing.

Big Sometimes Friendly Giant - A look at Roald Dahl's life. If you don't know much about his history, be warned that it was not as lovely as you might hope!

I Do. I Do. I Do. I Do. I Do. I Do. I Do. I Do. I Do. - The nine wives of John Susor.

What's Wrong With Cinderella - One Mum's struggle with Princess Power

The Science Behind What Naps Do For Your Brain - Basically, go take one now!

The Craziest OkCupid Date Ever - Not sure I'd go on a 21 day date across 8 countries wearing only the clothes on my back but these people did!

And finally, not a longread at all but still rather nice - The Man Who Invented the Calendar

Like this post? Check out my other longreads collections

Thursday, 3 October 2013

My top longreads in September

Very short collection this month! The first part of September was spent frantically finishing an essay about ethics for uni and the second part was spent frantically celebrating the fact that uni is over by seeing about a bajillion people.

Here's what I read this month. Let me know what you think!

Post Water-Cooler TV - Interviews with writers from top shows like House of Cards, Scandal and Dexter on how they create TV worth talking about

How Chris McCandless Died - Jon Krakauer follows up on his book Into The Wild. I've been interested in this story for a long time!

The Briefcase - A high school class unpick the incredible history of a man whose briefcase and contents were found in a storage room

100 Pop Culture Things That Make You a Millenial - I spent this whole article going "AWWW YEAAAH!!" every few minutes

Sexting, Shame and Suicide - I actually found some of the language used to describe women in this piece really appalling but it's a good insight into the world where assault and digital meet

Friends Without Benefits - Nancy Jo Sales (The Bling Ring) explores the impact porn culture has on young women in America

A Walker in the City - A lovely story about a 67 year old man who has walked every street in New York City. Made me want to hop on a plane instantly!

To Donate Your Kidney, Click Here - What happens to the organ donor process when you use the power of social media

The Closure-Happy 'Breaking Bad' Finale - I've followed Emily Nussbaum's writing throughout the Season 5 closing episodes and this is a great write up. Full of spoilers, obviously, so don't read this unless you've finished the show

Like this post? Check out my other longreads collections

Thursday, 12 September 2013

3 fun things I've been up to lately

1. A play

My guy and I are huge fans of the comedian Daniel Kitson and so we were really excited to hear he has written a play called Tree, starring himself and fellow funnyman Tim Key. We were even more excited to see a work in progress performance at the Battersea Arts Centre last weekend. It's hard to say much about this show without spoiling it but I think I'm OK with telling you that it's about two men, and a tree.

As it was a work in progress show, this was the tree. I quite liked it.

Daniel Kitson Tree - Work in Progress

The show was wonderful, even with a few glitches which I actually think added to the experience. Kitson is a brilliantly clever writer and the story has really stuck with me all week. If the show ends up touring in your area, just go, I can practically guarantee you'll love it and I'll pay for your ticket if you don't!

Side note: If you've never been to the Battersea Arts Centre, do find a reason to go as it's a gorgeous building!

2. Some goats

We've recently started going for long walks most weekends and this week we took the Thames Path from London Bridge to North Greenwich (TEN MILES! BOOYAAAH!!). The Thames Path is a really nice and quiet walk which changes with every mile.

Along the walk we passed Surrey Docks Farm and, being from the countryside, farm animals excite me quite a lot. We had a wander in an and discovered a huge courtyard full of goats and chickens.

This chicken made me laugh a lot because it looks like it's wearing trousers.

We bought a bag of feed for the goats who then mounted the wall to get closer to it. This spritely thing was my favourite.

Goat at Surrey Docks FarmGoat at Surrey Docks Farm

London's city farms are always a good visit and generally free so if you live here and fancy a bit of nature I recommend getting yourself to one soon!

3. Craft beers

On Saturday night we headed to the Meantime Brewery for a brewery tour to celebrate a friend's birthday. I've never been to a brewery before but I do like beer so it was really exciting to see the production line, sample some beers and learn about the history of the company. Meantime is a brand I'm seeing more and more often in London pubs so it was nice to meet some of the staff and see the machinery where it all comes from.

Our tour guide Alex was frankly hilarious and greeted me by bellowing "PRINCESS! I FUCKING LOVE YOUR HAAAAYUUUUR" across the room. Which is the kind of greeting that makes a person my instant best friend.

Plays, goats and beers make for a pretty good weekend it turns out!

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

My top longreads in August

This is a regular feature where I share some of the best longform articles I've read over the past month. As I approach the end of my uni course, August hasn't left much time for reading so some of these are shorter pieces than usual but I hope you'll still find them interesting! Do let me know which are your favourites either in the comments on on Twitter.

The Nando's High Five black card - the ultimate loyalty card that nobody knows how to get.

Return to the rainforest - A son's search for his Amazonian mother.

Clawback - Why we're still paying a fortune for lobster, despite abundant harvests.

The Radioactive Boy Scout - An old piece from 1998, this is a lovely piece about a boy who may have been a little too keen on science!

The Mood Graph - How our emotions are taking over the web.

The Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs - Fascinating read, how bullshit is your job?

I Want to Make Love to You Like In the Movies - Probably the most moving piece I've read all month, the ending totally gripped me.

The Grandmothers of "Gone Girl" - a look at the queens of domestic suspense (warning, this made me purchase books!)

The Trauma of Being Alive - Thoughts on love and loss.

The Poorest Rich Kids in the World - Incredible piece on heirs to a fortune whose childhood was filled with abuse and neglect. This is an incredibly important issue to me, as many still believe neglect only happens to poorer families.

How Much is a Life Worth? - Unbelievable interview with the man whose job it is to determine how victims are compensated in tragedies.

Promiscuous Reading - Oh yeah, that's definitely something I can relate to!

The Current State of Restaurant Criticism - As a regular reviewer, this struck me as a really important read. Particularly good if you rely on reviews from Yelp, Trip Advisor et al.

Jumpers - TRIGGER WARNING. This is a very detailed piece about the Golden Gate Bridge and it's tragic heritage.

How Medium is Building a New Kind of Company With no Managers - Good stuff in here on how to manage as well as be managed. Lots to learn from I think!

Be Cool or Be Cast Out - The agony of understanding your teens.

Porn: The Shocking Truth - One teacher's experience of how porn is warping teenage attitudes to sex.

How "Real" is Orange is the New Black? - Great analysis of the TV show compared with the memoir. Only read this if you've finished watching the show! Which I have, and now dearly miss.

The Pleasure of Reading Recipes - My cookbook shelf will attest to the power of this!

Yotam Ottolenghi on Being a Gay Father - This was just beautiful and so heartwarming. See also Charlie Condou's piece in the September issue of Red, which is not available online.

The Old Man at Burning Man - Wells Towers went to the infamous festival with his aging father.

The School Bus Turned Food Truck - A new way to help hungry children.

Tales from the $20 Handouts - Beautifully presented, here are the stories of five NYC recipients of $20 who were told they had to give it away.

Like this post? Check out my other longreads collections

Saturday, 31 August 2013

I am going to be 30

In 21 short months I will turn 30. I feel quite good about it, but nonetheless it is quite momentous to move into a new decade of ones life. I remember turning 10 and the fuss that was made of being 'double figures', but I don't remember much about turning 20. Presumably this is because it fell in the middle of a few year phase of hard nights, crap jobs and unrealistic expectations. Turning 30 excites me. I'm a much more reflective and self-aware person now, I think I'll look back on my twenties proudly, but with an eagerness to get stuck into the serious business of being three decades old.

I am no stranger to goal setting. When I started blogging back in 2008, lots of bloggers took part in a challenge to do 101 Things in 1001 Days (roughly 2 years and 9 months). I spent weeks coming up with ideas, only to abandon the project after a few months because my goals were either too big (read 500 books) or boringly small (sort out the kitchen cupboards), or difficult to keep track of (bake 1001 cupcakes - hard to count when you eat them as quickly as I do). So with this past failure in mind I've made sure my 30 things fit with SMART criteria, a project management framework used when setting objectives. Why yes, I am ON IT, thank you very much.

S - Specific - Each item is clear and simple, there are no vague 'get fit' or 'be happier' goals.
M - Measurable - Pass X, finish Y, do Z. Some goals have a numerical target. I like numbers. Goals like 'drink more water' or 'see my friends more often' are harder to quantify.
A - Achievable - Whilst it would be interesting, you won't see 'become a millionaire' or 'go to space' on this list. Everything I've chosen is something I could realistically do, some I could tick off tomorrow, some will take a bit longer, but everything is possible within 21 months.
R - Relevant - This list is all about me, and the things I want to do before I turn 30, rather than the things I feel like I should do, or society tells me I should do.
T - Time-bound - Well, that'll be the 21 months then. Best hop to it!

So, here is my carefully crafted list. I'd love to hear what you think, especially if you can help with any of my goals, so do leave a comment below!

1. Pass my driving test
In all my adult life I've lived in city centres and had no need to learn to drive. I still live in a city centre but I'm starting to crave things in my life that would be easier with access to a car. I think that 21 months is enough time to learn and pass, but I'm also a bit wimpy about driving and so I know it'll be a challenge.

2. Buy property
My sister and I are hoping to buy a place together. Really early stages but it would be great to own some property by the time I turn 30.

3. Complete a 90k first draft of a book
I'm not really ready to talk about this because I think it's the height of vulgarity to bang on about writing a book when in reality you've just got a few scenes scribbled out. Finishing uni in two weeks will free up a lot of time to work on this goal. I'm not expecting to knock out a bestseller but I want to embrace the experience of writing a novel, even if nobody ever reads it.

4. Finish my patchwork quilt project
I started an ambitious patchwork quilt project over a year ago and haven't touched it in months. I'd love to see it finished and think this will be a perfect winter project.

5. Make some money from my blog
I'd like to focus some time on building a more professional blog, buying a domain, improving the design and content. It's something I've never tried before and it 's a long way off but it would be nice to get to a point where I earn a small income from it that at least covers my costs.

6. Mentor two women
I've had a lot of great support and advice in getting to where I am in my career. I'd like to support two other women to take the next steps in theirs.

7. Paint a portrait of my boyfriend
To be clear, I don't paint and I don't draw. In fact, I don't think I'm very artistic at all but we recently went to see the BP Portrait Award at the National Gallery and I loved it so much that I want to give it a go. How arrogant is that? Girl looks at portrait and thinks "I can do that!" I don't expect it to be good, but I think I'll enjoy trying. And he agreed!

8. Present publicly
I've had a few opportunities to present at events and conferences this year and I'd like to take that more seriously and develop my presenting skills.

9. Raise £1000 for charity
I work for a charity, and I know how important donations are and the difference they can make. I'm not sure what the best way to do this will be but I've got a few ideas for events that should help rack up a nice amount.

10. Run 10km
I did this once a few years ago but would love to do another one.

11. Walk 30km
My guy and I both love to walk and have recently decided to take it more seriously (as in, two weekends back we walked 19km, last weekend we walked 16km). With a bit of planning we'd like to take on a 30k walk and hopefully soon.

12. Cycle 50km
And in the vein of being active, why not throw in a cycle challenge too. This is probably the toughest of the three because I don't actually have a bike at the moment. We'll see how it goes!

13. Shoot portraits of 30 friends
I have an excellent DSLR that I don't make enough effort to use. And also I want to better document the time I spend with my far away friends.

14. Send 30 handwritten letters
I really like to write letters (and also receive them). If you are a person who might like to receive a letter at some point over the next 21 months please email [email protected]

15. Go on a trip alone
I have a wonderful friend Kate who took a solo trip to Mallorca this year. Ever since I've been thinking that that would be quite a brave and personally challenging thing to do so I'm going to give it a bash.

16. Go wild swimming
On the occasions I've done this I've felt more alive than ever so I'd like to make the effort to make it happen. Even though I am a major wimp when it comes to the sea and cold water.

17. Go tree climbing
This was a favourite childhood activity, why do we then give it up as adults? I need more tree climbing in my life.

18. Visit 5 new cocktail bars
Quite obvious this one! I do like a good cocktail and London has no shortage of places to imbibe them.

19. Visit Highgate Cemetery
I've wanted to go ever since I moved to London but still haven't made it.

20. Visit Highclere Castle
This is where Downton Abbey is filmed. No further explanation needed really.

21. Visit Bletchley Park
I am quite fascinated by code-breaking so I really want to go and visit Bletchley Park and learn about how it helped during WW2.

23. Walk 3 of the London Underground lines
When I moved to London my guy gave me Mark Mason's book, Walk The Lines and we've been meaning to do some of these routes ourselves, walking entire tube lines, overground, from start to finish. We're both quite nerdy about the tube so it would be great to do at least 3 of them over the next 20 months.

24. Bake 10 types of bread
Previous attempts at baking bread have been quite successful so I'd like to start trying more adventurous recipes.

25. Homebrew some nice wine
I've got some homemade rhubarb wine ageing at the moment but I fear it's a bit ropey and so I'd like to give it another go and produce something I'd be proud to share with friends. My guy bought me some winemaking books for my birthday so they'll come in handy for this challenge!

26. Go fruit picking
As a kid I loved going to pick-your-own strawberry farms and have wanted to go back for years. We picked wild blackberries on a recent walk and that inspired this task.

27. Learn to make Yorkshire Puddings
Despite Yorkshire puds being one of my favourite foods ever, I've never made them. I mean, who am I to doubt good old Aunt Bessie? But really, this feels like a skill I should acquire and so I hope to master it ASAP!

28. Buy a watch
I haven't worn a watch for years but would like to start wearing one again. The biggest part of this challenge will be choosing one that I like and want to wear every day.

29. Learn to shuffle cards
Card games are an embarrassment as I drop the deck, send cards flying, bend the edges. I don't know how I haven't learnt this already but it's about time I nailed it.

30. Spend a night in a gorgeous country house hotel
The Secret Escapes newsletter is entirely responsible for this one because I've become obsessed with country retreats and spa weekends lately, something I normally wouldn't splash out on (plus not having a car doesn't help) but I'd really like to make this happen before I'm 30. Or perhaps this will be a final item to tick off to celebrate leaving my 20's in style.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

I need some space

I live in London. I love living in London. The people, the places, the history, the food, I love it all. (Especially the food.)

And yet, London takes something from me. Every day, I sacrifice a little bit of my energy for a life in this wonderful city.

I take a busy route to work and everyone and everything moves quickly. Now, I'm a fast walker but there's no denying that a commuting crowd is fraught, a heaving throng that you must just embrace and get stuck into lest you alternatively despair forever. People bump into you, barge past, cars drive a little too close, buses pretend you don't exist, cyclists appear out of nowhere. Lord help me if it rains for there is nothing as dangerous as a Londoner armed with an umbrella.

I can't stretch out in London.

My walk is along one of London's busiest routes and all the way along it there are disruptions. Road works, buildings being built, buildings being demolished, shops being refitted, pavements being resurfaced. It suffocates me and my fellow walking commuters, forces us all to walk in the narrow spaces they've left for us. Throw in some film crews, fundraisers and street preachers and you'll understand that getting to work has become something of an assault course for the senses.

Sometimes I get the bus and the notion of queueing (how British!) disappears entirely, the seats fill up quickly and there we are all mashed together in our shared onward journey. And yet, sometimes I don't exactly mind being mashed up against a stranger on public transport. Now let me explain, for I know that if I read that sentence written by anyone else I'd be doing some serious eyebrow raising. Rest assured, this is a far from sexual encounter, nor is it one I actively coerce.

Merely I am referring to the few seconds when two strangers (can be as many as five if you're on the tube) physically connect and for the briefest of moments I am reminded that we're all human. We're more than commuters. We're people, with feelings, and destinations and we are all on the journey together.

A brush of an arm, thighs pressed together as we're wedged in, a suited shoulder inches from my face. Were we all a little friendlier, come 5pm I'd be partial to just laying my head on that shoulder and having a wee chat about my day.

Often I get home and lie down on my floor and stretch my limbs all the way out just because I have felt so confined all the way home (and because it feels awesome). I push my belly right out because I have felt unable to take a proper deep breath (and because it feels awesome).

And yet, I don't hate the commute. I'm still thrilled to cross London Bridge each day and often I glance to my right in the morning and think of a departed friend who lived for the view of Tower Bridge. I like the grumpy businessmen in their multitudinous shades of grey, and the free paper peddlers, and the towering buildings.

But I do like to stretch out, and to be left with some energy, and for the horizon the be more than 100m away.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

A story about wallpaper and aging

Last night I shared this story on Twitter and a few people asked me to blog it. So here it is, verbatim.

I would like to tell you a little story Twitter. It's about wallpaper. And aging.

My grandparents still live in the house my Mum grew up in. They're old now and my gran has full blown alzheimers so my Mum helps out.

She looks after my grandma while granda goes bowling (bowls not ten-pin) and runs errands and helps out around the house.

Grandma used to have free reign of the house until one night she escaped and the police brought her home at 4am in her nightie.

As the alzheimers has progressed, my grandma has been confined to four rooms so she doesn't hurt herself. One of these rooms is the hallway.

Now in this hallway, for as long as I can remember, there has been this quite naff foamy print wallpaper. It must have a name. I don't know.

When I was wee I used to like standing in the hallway running my fingers over the paper, trying to make a dent but not leaving a mark.

20 something years later, my grandma has taken to doing the same thing but on a more extreme level. She picks at the paper! (Naughty)

At first it was just a few bits but then Mum arrived one day to find she'd torn a huge strip of paper off the wall.

Luckily they had spare wallpaper but it was decided that she'd do it again and so Mum stripped the lovely foamy paper and painted the walls.

However, the porch entrance now has a different wall finish (shock horror!) and so it was decided that would be stripped and painted too.

So today my Mum spent hours stripping the wall only to discover five layers of paper, all the layers from throughout her childhood.

And I just find that to be such a lovely experience. And a sad one too. Mum remembers the layers but my grandma doesn't.

They still have amazing wallpaper in the kitchen. Here's me and my sister standing in front of it.

Holly and her sister in front of the vintage wallpaper in the kitchen

Praise for my amazing jumper please.

And here is me standing in front of the same wallpaper 20 years later.

Holly in front of the vintage kitchen wallpaper

Apparently foamy wallpaper is called anaglypta. It's well nice. [Google images]

And that is my story about wallpaper and aging. Thank you for listening.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

My top longreads in July

This is a regular feature where I share some of the best longform articles I've read over the past month. Busy month!

Orange is the New Black: The New Way To See Prisoners - I've swiftly become addicted to this show on Netflix, do watch it if you aren't already hooked!

I'm Good With Myself - Fantastic interview with Orange is the New Black's Laverne Cox who plays Sofia. (Not technically a longread but I loved this and I promise that not all of these links are about OITNB!)

Suddenly We're Ubiquitous - There are thousands of photos of us that we don't know exist. What will happen when they all become public? Interesting thinking!

How Googling Unmasks Child Abuse - What web searches can tell us about crime rates. Great read for data nerds like me.

All My Exes Live In Texts - Why the social media generation never really breaks up.

Kids, the Internet and the End of Privacy - From 2007 but still utterly relevant today.

The American Male at Aged Ten - A beautiful, touching memoir.

My Mom Couldn't Cook - How one author's childhood meals shaped his attitude to food.

Difficult Women - On the downfall of Sex and the City, a show I really think would have different meaning if I watched it again now.

Marooned at the End of the World - In 1913, an Alaskan exhibition when horribly wrong when a ship carrying 31 people froze in the ice. What happened next terrified me.

Miss Teen America Find Freedom for a Day - 18 year old Eleana joins a wilderness summer camp for 'troubled' girls. This was a really sweet but sad read.

Up and then Down - This is a story about lifts (or elevators!) and what happened when a man got trapped in one for 41 hours. I will now think of this every time I get in a lift.

Learning About Humanity on Public Transportation - Life on the NYC subway can be amazing and horrific.

The Long Run - A lovely piece about the winner of a race that the locals thought he had no business entering.

The End of the Hangup - With the increase in smartphones, how can we show our outrage on the telephone? 

As Freezing Persons Recollect the Snow, First Chill, Then Stupor, Then Letting Go - The cold hard facts about freezing to death. I ski, I love mountains and so this frightened me quite a lot.

Vince Gilligan on the End of Breaking Bad - Another TV piece, the final season returns in two weeks and this gave some great insights into how the show is written.

Like this post? Check out my other longreads collections

Monday, 29 July 2013

My evolving identity

I wear a lot of hats. Metaphorical, not literal, of course. I’ve got a slightly weird head shape that doesn’t suit anything more than a beanie so you’re unlikely to see me stomping the streets of London in a cloche, beret or panama any time soon. I’m going to Australia in 3 months and already feeling anxious about how I’m going to protect my scalp in the baking heat without looking like a total tourist.

What I mean is that I play many roles in the story of my life. I’m a digital producer, a blogger and a writer (are they the same thing? I tend to separate them in my head.) I’m a student, an (ex-) volunteer and charity supporter. I’m a daughter, a sister and a girlfriend. I’m a consumer, an influencer and a 30 Day Shred championess (official title).

All of these different bits of me make up my identity. I am the sum of these parts (and many, many more). This is who I am. I love that I am a person who is many varied things. There are bits that I am super proud of, the bits I can brag about that make me feel like a great person. There are bits I am mildly embarrassed about, the parts of my identity that are made up of eating Ben & Jerry’s in bed and crying at the new Robinson’s advert (separate activities).

My life has changed a lot in the past few years. I’ve lived in three cities, had four jobs, learnt new skills, made new friends, lost track of some old ones and all of this means that my identity has constantly been evolving.

Late last year I quit my volunteer job after three and a half years supporting children and young people. I was doing too much, missing too many shifts because of diary conflicts and I knew that pulling back was the right thing to do. I don’t regret it for a moment because the young people I supported needed more than I could offer at that time. But the thing that surprised me the most about quitting is how sad I felt about losing the ‘volunteer’ part of my identity. It was one of my proudest hats and I never wanted to take it off.

Now my identity is set to change again. Ask me who I am in 7 weeks time and I won’t be able to say “I am a student”. Since 2010 I’ve been studying part time with The Open University. I knew I wanted to work for the charity I volunteered for and that my chances would improve if I had a qualification that related to children and young people (previously I’d studied communications then TV production). I worked shifts, had plenty of free time and needed to make my brain work hard. I missed education, wanted a challenge and so The OU was perfect.

Four years later I’m about to finish the third of seven modules it will take me to complete a degree. I’ve studied health and social care systems, working with children, young people and families and this year I’ve studied death and dying. And I’m ready to stop.

My efforts paid off and I now work full time for the charity I volunteered for in a role that is brilliant and varied and excites me every day. It definitely fits my dream job criteria! Studying part time requires around 8-16 hours a week, on top of work. I only see my guy at weekends so I cram my studies into evenings Monday to Thursday. More recently I’ve taken to studying every lunchtime while my colleagues soak up the sun. Throw in the time I need to eat, see my friends, catch up with my family, read, write and exercise and frankly, I am exhausted.

Uni has become the part of my identity I dislike the most. The direction my course is heading in is interesting, but different from the path my career is heading in. There’s a lot to learn in the digital world and lately I’ve felt like uni absorbs the time I could be using to get better at my job, better at writing, better at networking and better at helping others.

Although my identity is changing, I am ok with not being a student anymore. University is just one way to learn, and I’m looking forward to being able to use this extra time in a productive way. I’m looking forward to guilt free no-plans evenings without the constant feeling of “I need to read this chapter” and “I need to write 1500 words on psychological theories of grief”. I miss cooking and want to spend more time trying new recipes. Last year I started making a patchwork quilt which I haven’t touched in months so I can’t wait to pick up that project again. I'm excited to invest more time in my blog and my writing and my friendships.

Who knows, I might even put my volunteer hat back on, because that is one part of my identity I really do miss.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

My Snapchat addiction

Now if you've come here thinking "Oooh that Holly June, she's a right sexter!" then I will hazard two guesses: 1) You've seen some media coverage about Snapchat and 2) You've never used it.

Snapchat is a photo and video sharing app that lets you decide how long your photo/video will be visible for, up to a maximum of 10 seconds. After that, it disappears. The press have hailed the app as a 'safe' way to send sexy snaps because once the image is gone, it's gone and they can't be shared. In fact, I've yet to see an article about Snapchat that doesn't mention sexting.

I work with young people, so I'm fully aware of the risks involved with  sexting. I'm also pretty digitally savvy, so I know that anything posted online; tweets, photos, videos etc. can never really truly be deleted from the internet. The data always exists somewhere. The same is true for Snapchat photos, they don't disappear and they're still stored somewhere on your phone albeit hidden away, not taking up space in your gallery.

In my line of work, if kids use something then I want to know everything there is to know about it, so a few months ago I downloaded Snapchat to get a better understanding of how it works. At first I just sent the odd snap here and there to a colleague and since then my friends list has grown to a whopping 5 people. But here's the thing, I now send multiple snaps every day.

In the past week I've sent my guy more Snapchats than texts and it's played a key part in my blossoming friendship with Amy, who recently made me burst out laughing with a picture of her and her boyfriend wearing polystyrene packaging on their heads. She also sent a video of herself dancing when I got a new job. THAT is what Snapchat is perfect for.

You see, it's all about being silly. The types of things I send I would never bother to text, email or tweet at someone. I know the photos will be viewed for a few fleeting moments and so I don't care if I'm not wearing make-up or my face is stupid (I am often pulling faces) or if it's something as dull as a banana with a face on it. The weirder the Snap, the better.

This isn't about creating lasting memories, it's about a tiny moment in your day, sharing something that will make someone smile. There's none of the artistic pressure you might feel with an app like Instagram though don't let that boundary your creative side (hello MS Paint style effects!) I get the same endorphin rush when I get a Snapchat alert that I did when I was 15 and texting boys for the first time and because I know I've only got a few seconds to see it, they command my full attention. When a message arrives, I often have to sit down and take a deep breath to mentally prepare myself for it.

For me, Snapchat is perfect for a small group of people that you have a great connection with. I don't think I could handle having hundreds of friends, nor would I want to receive images from randomly added strangers.

There are some great games you could play with this app. I read an  article about a family in the US who were separated over Christmas and used Snapchat to share photos of the various dishes they were eating with competing levels of delicious. I'll show you my mince pies if you'll show me yours, if you will. What a BRILLIANT idea!

With infinite opportunities for creativity and childishness, my Snapchat addiction shows no sign of waning, and there's yet to be a nipple in sight! (Edit: Just realised this is a lie, I did once get sent a photo of a knitted boob)

It's also really good for expressing your feelings about Game of Thrones.

Monday, 1 July 2013

My top longreads in June

Sometime around last Christmas, I discovered the joyous world of long-form reading. A world where news is delivered in more (far more) than 140 characters, where words demand more than 30 seconds of my attention, where mysteries are solved, solutions to world problems are sought and my horizons are infinitely broadened.

Internet, long-form reading has changed my life. I am reading more often, learning about a variety of topics, subjects I never thought I'd find so compelling, and with it I'm developing a greater appreciation for journalism.

When something sparks intrigue I share it to my Readability app and then take myself off somewhere quiet a few times a week to devour as many pieces as possible. I sometimes share these on Twitter, sometimes in a G+ community I'm in, and I thought it would be good to share a selection with you every month.

Here are some of my favourite pieces I read in June 2013:

Scrubbed - The murky world of black-ops reputation management

Flick Chicks - I'm getting a big kick out of anything Mindy Kaling related at the moment so her piece on female stereotypes was a good revisit

Overfed An A Mother's Affection - The Modern Love section of the New York Times is an endless source of heartwarming reads

Say It Out Loud - How David Sedaris improves his writing by reading to crowds

I Made $570k Last Year, But I Don't Feel Rich - The Billfold has consistently good interviews that reveal how money affects us differently

The Suspects Wore Louboutins - The true story behind the film The Bling Ring which I really want to see

Private Ceremonies - A counsellor in an abortion clinic shares her own personal experience

Saturday, 29 June 2013

The Impossible Task of Accepting Compliments Graciously

I woke up early this morning with, miraculously, no hangover (last night involved cocktails and Meat Mission), and an overwhelming urge to bake. This used to happen a lot. I'd spring out of bed on weekends, pootle about in the kitchen and magic up some bread or breakfast muffins or MORE PLEASE brownies before anyone else in the house had even considered opening their eyes.

It didn't take long to decide what to make. I've been dreaming about Amy from She Cooks She Eats' Peach and White Chocolate Blondies ever since I ate one (ok, three) at an AWOT meet-up last month. I had almost all of the ingredients except white chocolate, kind of an essential in this recipe! There's a shop across the road so I threw on my jeans and tried to dash out without waking my guy (unsuccessful).

"GOOD MORNING" I bellowed at the woman behind the counter because this is a thing I do. I like to have a bit of chit-chat with shop assistants to make up for the hoards of insufferable miserablites they have to deal with all week. Saving the world one cheery interaction at a time, y'know? As I was paying she said "Oh I just love your hair colour" which was a delightful thing to hear and made me beam and feel like a superhero.

And yet for some stupid reason I replied "Oh thank you, it's not my natural colour so the upkeep is a right pain in the arse".


Am I so graceless that I can't accept a compliment without responding with a LOOK AT MY FLAWS comment? Apparently so. It usually goes something like this:

Complimenter: "Oh your dress is gorgeous"
Me: "IT'S FROM PRIMARK!!!!!" or worse, "Cheers, it's got a hole in the armpit!" *shows everyone the hole*

Complimenter: "I haven't seen you wear lipstick before, it looks great"
Me (external voice): "Thank you!"

Complimenter: "New haircut? Really suits you!"
Me: "Thanks, it was long overdue, I hadn't had it cut in 8 months and it was a right state."

Thankfully, I am concious enough about my woeful attempts to accept compliments that I don't veer into the territory of "Oh this? I bought it in a tiny boutique in Paris ten years ago which has now sadly closed. And it still fits like a dream." SUBTEXT - HA! In your face! You will NEVER be able to buy this and I still have the body of a seventeen year old, fatty.

I've been trying to get better at accepting compliments by responding with a simple thank-you-very-much and a pleasant smile. Yet there seems to be a sort of dance to partake in, caused by Britishness I think, whereby you must elaborate and provide background information on your purchase history and decision making. On the occasions I've tried the thanks and smile approach, I've been met with blank stares having brought the interaction to a sudden close. I should start carrying a bit of tumbleweed.

I wrote last month about paying killer compliments and the importance of finding non-material ways to praise, but clearly I've got a little bit of work to do when on the receiving end.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

5 things I learned from Blog Every Day In May

It's now a week since Blog Every Day In May challenge ended and in the non-blogging parts of my life, that week has been manic. I've had numerous social events, lots of uni work, a big work thing to prepare for and my Mum has come to visit for a week. Blogging has been quite low in my list of priorities.

May was GREAT though and Elizabeth timed this challenge perfectly, it was just what I needed to kick start a new blog after a two year break. I loved the various themes and had plenty to write about, although I did fail a bit towards the end when days just ran away with me and there wasn't time to post. So what did I learn?

1. Blogging is really exciting!
I missed it a lot! It feels great to have my own space to write again and the more I post, the more I feel like I have to say. I'll definitely be sticking around!

2. I am not as good at writing as I want to be
Some of the themes I found a bit difficult to interpret. I'd love to be the kind of person who could be given any word or theme or phrase and go "BAM! Here's 500 words for ya!" I'm not that person though and, although the themes were really inspiring and varied, one or two of them really stumped me and there were a few posts that I probably wouldn't have published were it not for the challenge. I hate to lose a challenge.

3. People actually care what I have to say
There's always a worry that nobody will read your posts, so it was genuinely heart-warming to see how well my return to blogging was received. Lots of people shared my posts on Twitter and commented. In fact, in one month my blog had 7000 views which I think is pretty fantastic and has definitely given me the inspiration to keep going!

4. I am a crap commenter
Blogging isn't just about pumping out content, it's about nurturing your little bit of the internet, interacting with people, taking the time to get to know the people who comment, read their blogs and leave a comment back. I feel quite guilty that I read comments but kept forgetting to reply and I barely had any time to read many of the other brilliant blogs taking part. When I started this blog I almost thought about disabling comments, simply because I know how much time they can take up. If someone tweeted me about a post, they always got a response. It's a dilemma I'm still pondering.

5. My technical skills have grown a lot
Through my day job I've developed lots of technical knowledge that will help me with running a blog, like writing, SEO and analytics. It's great to be able to put these to use here and try out some things I wouldn't be able to do at work. I'm looking forward to tinkering about with it and making it a blog I'm really proud of!

Thank you so much to everyone who read my posts over the past month. Please do stick around for more! I also hear that there might be a Blog Every Day in November challenge later in the year. I don't think I'll be able to take part as I'll be in Australia for half the month but it's definitely a challenge I'd recommend.