Adulty Acceptances

– I’ve noticed “fine lines and wrinkles” are becoming more prominent 20160201_222909around my eyes in the last few months and I’ve sort of calmed down about it. I’ve forgotten to wear eye cream for weeks and other than recoiling in horror when I see a particularly bad selfie, I’m getting used to it.
I’d be lying if I said I was happy about them and I am definitely going to up that eye cream regimen, but I’ve acknowledged they are here to stay.

– I have accepted that I don’t like Negronis. Or the currently fashionable cocktails. I like neat scotch or a sweet cocktail with an umbrella. Champagne mojitos are the best. I have accepted that aromatics are not for me. Campari is another one I can’t get behind. I’ll drink an Old Fashioned, but I’d really rather a proper scotch.

– Other than winter coats, suits and duvets, I’m done with dry cleaning. There are kits you can purchase from Lakeland, yes, but ultimately, I have never seen a sheep shrink in the rain, so I call bullshit on this namby pambying of clothes. Be gently with them, use the right detergent, obviously utilise your extensive range of lingerie bags (Ikea do a good multi-pack) and be sparing with the iron. I’ve washed jersey suit jackets (thanks very much to the bird that pooped on me outside the British Library), trench coats, wedding guest dresses and all manners of fabrics. I don’t like the smell, I hate the random costing, I don’t like the wire hangers and my clothes just aren’t that fancy. I’ll wash my cashmere jumper (stolen from an ex-boyfriend which had been given to him by a former girlfriend) and it’s always been fine.

– When I was sixteen I would put away about nine cups of real coffee a day. I’m surprised I didn’t induce a heart attack. Nowadays, I will actively choose instant coffee and pop some cold water into it (I drink it black and I’d rather not wait for half an hour until it’s at a drinkable temperature). Real coffee makes my heart race and I can do that well enough on my own, so I have to limit myself to special occasions so I can enjoy it. I’d like to get back into drinking real coffee, but it makes my stomach hurt, so for now, it’s not worth it to drink every day.

– Much as I wish I appreciated fancy chocolates, I’m over them. Give me a nice bar of Lindt any day (dark, obviously, I’m not a child). Hotel Chocolat do the fancy flavours, but I don’t crave those. Green & Blacks might be organic or whatever, but to me they taste a little to earth-y. No thanks. Give me that man in the advert wearing the oversized chef hat pouring chocolate into those nice trays. Also, I’ve only recently learned how to open the packaging like an envelope, rather than a box of cereal, so I want to keep going there.

– High street health and beauty is my bag. Any time I am in an airport, I will stalk up and down the concession stands in Duty Free and mentally compile a list of the Dior, Chanel, Lancome and Kiehl’s products I absolutely must have. I will eat up every single video from Caroline Hirons listening to her tell me to spend the same money on a serum as I would on a handbag. And yet, I just won’t do it. I’ll happily spend big cash on my mum or girlfriends for this kind of thing, but for me, the high street and the trickle down science from the big pharmaceutical houses is enough. I actually prefer to the new Nivea offerings. Neutrogena and Aveeno in North America get me excited. I have one Chanel lipstick and some fancy skincare I received as gifts or work perks and I feel somewhat intimidated by the cost and glamour of them. I feel wasteful both using them and saving them. I’ve accepted that I am happier and more confident in Boots and Superdrug knowing that Chanel technology is in Bourgeois packaging and if it doesn’t work for me, I won’t be rending my garments in shame.
That being said, if I do spot a pretty palette in the airport for less than the cost of an EasyJet flight, I will be all over that like a toddler on an unattended lipstick.

“Well, a gathering is brie, mellow song stylings; shindig, dip, less mellow song stylings, perhaps a large amount of malt beverage; and hootenanny, well, it’s chock full of hoot, just a little bit of nanny.”

Perfect HostBeing a particularly risk-averse person, I believe preparation is key to any new venture or adventure. Having tasked myself with hosting a gathering for my birthday, I took myself off to the library in Wimbledon and grabbed at any book that looked vaguely helpful. Unfortunately there was no “Hosting for Dummies” because I think most people don’t actually need to be told how to have people they love in their own homes, but I did find the aptly named “Perfect Host” by Felicity Cloake.

Ms Cloake writes the wonderful “how to make the perfect…” series for the Guardian wherein she methodically works through a variety of recipes for one dish, works out the pitfalls and successes of each one and then devises the perfect version. For a cook, it’s wonderful as she really gets to grips with the key elements of a recipe and for a reader it’s a delight to read about twelve different chocolate mousses.

Perfect Host was in the cookery section of the library (which, frustratingly has moved around a lot and is now cramped in by the check-out machines) as it is predominantly a cookery book for hosting occasions, but luckily for me, there are a lot of solid advice pages.

I took a lot of notes.

The other tome I turned to was an etiquette book. I love me an etiquette book. I love knowing how you are supposed to behave in any given English high-society situation, how to address a Bishop (I know how to address a bishop in English, in German is another matter. I will need to organise a few German etiquette books and see what the differences are!), how to tie a Windsor knot – all the things particularly pertinent to my actual life!

Mind Your Manners: a guide to good behaviour by Robert O’Byrne was possibly more useful than a Debrett’s. It had chapters on modern romances, work place networking and hosting.  It was published in 2006, which doesn’t feel like a decade ago, but some of the points seemed quite old-fashioned.

Using both books, I crafted list after list.

What Went Well

– Ms Cloake recommends planning ahead (a woman after my own heart), and planning the menu with regards how things go together. I didn’t do particularly well here as the majority of my “dishes” were either pastry or featured sun-dried tomatoes, and I did have a last minute panic that I had no meat on offer, so purchased some scotch eggs. They seemed to go down well though.

– She also recommends writing a shopping list for groceries and checking for special equipment you might need. I did very well on this. I had lists coming out of every pocket I had. I also calculated I would need a sizeable mixing bowl, so picked that up, plus an extra drinks jug.

– “…you should have completed most of the cooking and preparation well before your guests arrive.”
The party was on a Saturday, and I had taken the Friday off work to prep the house and get myself organised. This was a smart idea. Particularly because I took it into my head to start washing net curtains and bathmats willy nilly.
Friday saw the cake made and iced, the pastry twirls made and tested, the crudities prepped, the flat cleaned, the drinks organised, the crockery collected and assembled, leaving Saturday for making canapes, bunting hung up, everything popped into serving dishes and me to get myself ready.

– I had arranged the furniture well so that people could chat, but also mill around as they wished, I had a table for savoury dishes and another for sweet, I’d set up a drinks station, I had designated my bedroom as the cloakroom (which was unnecessary given that it was about 30°C and no one had brought a coat, although one person brought a bicycle, so it was good that I’d cleared a space!)

– Decoration wise, my lovely flatmate had bought a gorgeous bunch of flowers and some wonderful illuminated balloons, which added some much needed pizazz to the hallway. I had using up some lovely paper I had been “keeping for good” for at least four years to make a few hundred yards (slight exaggeration!) of bunting to hang around the living room and hallway. There were enough tablemats and glasses to keep the living room looking smart, so I was quite pleased at the low effort, high impact trade-off.

– Robert O’Byrne insists that the second round of drinks is also sufficiently chilled. I was ON THIS. My ex, who dabbled in wine merchantry (that’s not a word), once catered the drinks for a wedding and so we spent a good few months making ice for chilling. Seriously. We had a whole chest freezer full of blocks of ice.
I know ice. I had ice. I had cubes for drinks, I had blocks for buckets (or chilling a bath if I needed a LOT of things chilled quickly), plus frozen citrus slices for water. This was slightly pointless as I could fit all the wine in the fridge, but I felt comforted that I had these scenarios worked out in advance.

– The bathroom furnishings were immaculate. As were the net curtains. Plus the kitchen floor was efficiently washed for any unauthorised bare feet.

– O’Byrne recommends handling pre-party nerves by asking some good friends to come around early and give a hand with the last minute preparations. Obviously, all of the people I had invited were good friends, but I was particularly pleased when Pix, a friend from Oxford, arrived a little early and we could have a chat whilst assembling canapes. It reassured me that people would actually turn up and that I wouldn’t be a complete disaster. To be fair, given that my flatmate was in attendance, there was always going to be at least two people and we could easily have tidied away all the food.

– Having Pix there at the start sorting my Ritz-cracker-Philadelphia-caviar canapes and chatting to my flatmate meant that I was better equipped to actually greet people and, hopefully, make them feel welcome, rather than throwing them into the living room to fend for themselves. This isn’t exactly an achievement on my part, but it was something I didn’t do wrong, so I’m counting that. This is what went wrong in previous attempts – I didn’t know whether to do introductions, take coats or fix drinks that I ended up doing all of them badly and hiding in the kitchen. Poor show.

– One of my main objectives of the afternoon was to affix a name badge to everyone. Names can be very tricky in a group setting, while I did fine on introductions – it was a little presenting-someone-at-court as I ran down our friendship CV at times – sometimes it’s nice not to have to worry about remembering names. Some of us actually had a very British-European conversation about how acceptable it is or isn’t to keep asking someone’s name. As a person with an awkward name, I will easily go by a completely different name if it helps the other person not feel awkward. My flatmate, who is Norwegian, didn’t agree and did in fact clarify a name later in the evening with nary a regard to the name badge. I feel confident that the British were keen on the name badges. They were also enthusiastic about decorating them with stickers, so that pleased me. It was a nice icebreaker, in a way, talking about googly-eyed foxes and golden silhouette flowers, rather than “What do you do?”

– Refreshment wise, I felt I also did quite well. As recommended by O’Byrne, I had multiple bottles of the same white wine and prosecco, rather than variations, and plenty of water and apple juice. I calculated the drinks quite well (by estimating a bottle per two people and then add one further to the total) and there was definitely enough food. I had also been sure to have plenty of reserves, should anything run out (or if there had suddenly been a second wave of unexpected guests)

What Didn’t Go So Well

– Ms Cloake makes a very valid point which I somehow missed: It’s important to reserve the A-Team before the rival invitations come in. Having a birthday in the summer is always a risk. At school, my birthday always fell during exam time. Nowadays my birthday falls during holiday season. Throw in a weekend event and your numbers are sure to drop. Also, I felt slightly that my birthday was an imposition, and so left mentioning it until a month before, knowing full well that my friends are usually booked up well in advance.
That being said, I did have a delightful mix of friends (no one knew anyone but me – ordinarily a horrifying prospect, but I’m coming round to the fact that there my personality is multi-faceted but not clashing, and it’s actually lovely to have people I care about talk together) who were able to make it and the numbers (seven) were totally manageable and not terrifyingly overwhelming.

– I did not have an ice bucket, but I was able to borrow one from a proper grown up. Sometimes I forget that I do not live with my ex in a well stocked household. And I stocked that household, so it had everything. We had dessert forks, ice buckets, cloth napkins, a selection of milk/sauce jugs, a tarte tatin pan… Then at the last minute I realise that I left it all behind in Surrey. I was particularly annoyed about the ice bucket and the dessert forks this time, but it’s better to be without them than still with him [cue: laughter]. Plus, Carrie’s ice bucket was a fancy champagne house bucket, so that was a decided upgrade.

– I did fuss quite a bit. I fussed a bit about everyone having something on their plate and that everyone had something to drink at all times, which perhaps wasn’t quite the relaxing atmosphere I was going for, but that could be the Irish Mother in me coming out. I did simmer down a bit and then put serving dishes on the coffee table, so people could help themselves without actively Going To Fetch nibbles, as sometimes you don’t want to break up conversation to refill your plate. I should remember that for next time.
As O’Byrne says, “When preparing your order of the night, do allow enough time for drinks. Guest should be given around half an hour to chat and get to know one another before being ushered to the table. Don’t rush them there; it implies panic on your part and that’s disconcerting for everyone else.”

All in all, I would give the afternoon a solid seven out of ten. Loss of points for fussing,  issuing invitations late and not having an ice bucket. but points for managing to remain civil to everyone whilst carrying out tasks, not commandeering the conversation too often and keeping drinks topped up.

On the back of how fun it was, I decided to create a book group as a reason for more get-togethers. There will be no designated book to read to a deadline, but rather anyone who is available can get together to talk about a book they liked without judgement. It’s a lot lower key and gives me a good reason to practice again.

The next step up is to have people over for an actual meal, but I feel that’s quite a ways away at this point. Baby steps! I do still need to organise an ice bucket, after all! Let’s not run, before we can walk.

Kitchening

I’m 33 now and not a complete disaster in the kitchen. I’ve watched a lot of How to Eat Incookery programmes and have acquired some basic knowledge. I need Delia, but want to be a Nigella.

I don’t remember ever being taught to cook. We had Home Economics in school until third year, when It Was Decided that I should do Business Studies, rather than Home Ec for GCSE – a fact I am still actually rather irritated about, despite working in business. Until fourth year, then, we were taught sewing in the classroom under the stage or cooking in the huge kitchen under the art room by two sisters one skinny, one plump, and my entire memories of our cooking class was making bran muffins (a disaster) and making a dish from home (I made Chinese salad, which is essentially prawns, red peppers, chopped tinned pineapple and celery stirred into Philadelphia cheese and served with rice. Quite what made it “Chinese” is beyond me). I do not recall my mother ever teaching me anything at the stove, nor my grandmother. They must have though. My mother spent YEARS teaching me to iron tea towels before I was allowed to graduate to any other garment. I still have never quite managed to iron trousers properly and I find shirts a pain.

If I Were In Charge, the school curriculum or the lessons at home would have taught me how to deal with basic ingredients, create meals from them and work out how to feed a family. As it is, I left home with the ability to cook spaghetti bolognaise (but including mushrooms and peppers) for five (wherein the entire 500g bag of pasta is cooked regardless of how many people there are or how hungry they are) and make sandwiches out of chicken Supernoodles.

As it was, I left home and went to catered halls in Oxford, where I skipped breakfast for a year, had a Boots Meal deal for lunch and had hall food for dinner. Supper was the occasional Medhi’s kebab (“no chilli sauce, no chilli sauce!”). Then I went back home for a year to lick my wounds and worked in a coffee-shop-cum-restaurant and learnt how to make salads (the dressing is important. I still never dress a salad) and a good cappuccino. Then I went to Nottingham, where one of my housemates microwaved bacon and I apparently lived off tuna pasta bake and couscous for a good few years. In my final year it stuck me that I could eat whatever I actually liked, so mainly survived on microwaved frozen raspberries on soured cream, Coco Pops, chocolate Angel Delight (for the calcium! I was very concerned about osteoporosis that year, for some unfounded reason) and the aforementioned spaghetti bolognaise.

When I lived with my ex, he cooked and I cleaned. He didn’t like either mushrooms or sweetcorn, so that was every dish I had gone out the window. At one point, late in the dying days of our relationship, he complained that I never cooked and I was furious because I felt he never let me. He was very much a MEAT man and I felt, and still feel, quite uncomfortable around meat. It’s expensive and it seems to easy to ruin. I don’t want to ruin food. I like something with a good amount of wiggle room.

Now that I’ve lived on my own for three years, I do have a bit of a repertoire (obviously still quite mushroom heavy, because they are delicious) and, while I would never have starved, I do have some “dishes” under my belt.

Baking has never been a problem for me. Baking is chemistry. Follow the instructions, correct for discrepancies, job’s a good’un. Cooking? Cooking’s an art. Cooking’s like an interpretive dance. You have to FEEL cooking and that is not what I am good at.

That being said, I have picked up enough tips (I’m not calling them “life hacks” because that is bullshit) to make it a bit easier on myself.

They would include:

– You can freeze cheese. I don’t know how GOOD an idea this is, but it’s doable. Grate it, freeze it in a zip lock bag and scatter when necessary. This cuts down on mouldy cheese waste and it defrosts fairly quickly.
– You can also freeze chopped onions. This is ideal for me because I hate onions and am angry about having to go out and purchase an onion for one particular thing, when really I only want to use a third of an onion.
– You can generally substitute cream for Greek yoghurt, but you have to be very very careful about it splitting when it’s over heated.
Sundried tomatoes improve everything.
– When baking a sheet of puff pastry, the baking tray needs to be hot before you put the pastry on it, or else you will have a sad soggy bottom.
Garlic salt works if you don’t have actual garlic to hand.
– Using three times the amount of tomato paste stipulated doesn’t seem to do any harm.
– If you have a loaf of fresh crusty bread, you can slice and freeze it, then bring out one or two slices as required to defrost for twenty minutes – good as new!
– Popping mushrooms in a baking tray works a lot better than popping them in a pan for making a mushroomy sauce. They don’t turn watery and split the sauce, but you do need to watch they don’t frizzle away. If they do, you can reconstitute them with a tiny bit of water but you have to be careful not to overdo it.
– When you microwave potatoes, you have to turn them half way through the time slot otherwise they become a hardened rock of carbon. And there is nothing sadder than a ruined potato.
– You can microwave baking potatoes for ten minutes and then pop them in the oven to crisp them up, halving the cooking time.
Chorizo takes a battering, but take the weird papery skin off it first.
– The oil from sundried tomatoes in oil is excellent for cooking with.
– The jars of sundried of tomatoes in oil cannot be topped up with any old olive oil. I have no idea what oil it is, but I tried this and it basically turned into sludge. Yes, it’s fine for roasting vegetables in, but is somewhat terrifying to look at.
You really do need to pay attention when you’re in the kitchen and not try and do four things at once.

Granted, these are not earth shattering tips, but they are things that have helped me make fewer mistakes. Paying attention is the main one. My mum never follows a recipe (which is how tuna and sweetcorn pasta bake became salmon and pasta mush) and is always trying to do the ironing, talk on the phone, re-tile the roof, wash her hair and re-pot some begonias while boiling rice. The rice always loses.

I need to dedicate myself to one thing at a time and put FOOD at the top of the priority list rather than putting on a wash, cleansing my face, making my lunch AND boiling some pasta. Because soggy pasta is too sad, even if you do have a clean face.

Adulting: June Roundup

Shamefully, July is nearly over and I haven’t blogged in so long. Another casualty of Brexit.

Delightful living conditions
The freezer was defrosted due to necessity. To be honest, it’s been on my list for a long time, but defrosting is always such a hassle, especially when you have a fridge freezer and even more so when there are two people sharing a fridge-freezer combo.

Hilariously, once my flatmate had put her ice cream in the icebox of our backup fridge (it’s all very complicated, I can’t explain it, because I don’t understand it!) and put a teatowel on the floor, she felt things were handled.

This was not my first rodeo, so I took over. Tea towel, begone with your lack of absorbency! Hello kitchen hand towels which were due a wash anyway! They went on the floor and so began the exchange of hot water trays.

Should you ever need to defrost a freezer in a hurry (a few hours, rather than all day. Let’s be real here, this is a CAVE OF ICE), I would suggest removing the drawers, rotating a selection of oven trays filled with hot water on the shelves with the door closed, a plastic spatula (NEVER A KNIFE!) for chipping and a good deal of patience.

The trays should be half filled with hot water. This will melt the ice. The melt water will collect in the trays and in the bottom of the freezer where you have placed rolled up towels. On the floor in front and under the freezer, you will have placed more towels to collect runoff. All these are important. Every twenty minutes, empty the oven trays, wring out the towels, see if you can chip off any big chunks of ice, replace the hot water oven trays and towels, close the door, walk away.

Remember to take out and clean the ice tray at the top of the freezer.

When everything is empty, be sure to clean the inside of the freezer and the drawers properly and also the seal of the freezer door (ideally a whitening toothpaste on an old toothbrush to really clean it out effectively). Leave it for a bit to cool down before you replace the drawers and switch it back on.

 Fabulous friend
To be honest, I can’t quite remember any fabulosity coming from me, but I did see people. I connected with some former friends of my ex-boyfriend and travelled to Guildford to see them. I had been quite nervous about it, but it was actually fine! People are generally lovely.

I met with the boyfriend of a former colleague (who is now a friend of mine) and his nephew on the day of Brexit and, aside from some spectacular cursing and some light despairing, I did a good job of showing them around the area and being welcoming. The pressure of leaving Europe had begun. I wanted these Americans to like the UK, damnit, even if we are overrun with racists. Plus, we saw some unexpected peacocks, so that was also great. I very much pretended this was a regular occurrence and that I had anticipated their existence. And I taught the boys how to get nibbled by koi fish.

Great hostess
I didn’t do any hosting at all, but I did show my mum and some friends of friends around London without anyone getting lost or bored.

Confident in the kitchen
Somehow in June there was a screw up with our freezer. I think one of us left the door open. Anyway, everything thawed and, rather than panic, I defrosted the freezer (see above), determined what could not be rescued (various meats, sadly) and then spent an evening in the kitchen making things with what had to be used.

It wasn’t until afterwards that it struck me that I knew what I was doing. My flatmate doesn’t love the kitchen, so she only had to eat a tub of icecream and throw out some bread. She watched me make a bread and butter pudding (I keep the ends of bread for this exact reason), whip up a petit-pois-heavy macaroni and cheese, create actual meals from frozen spinach and, other than sweating over the oven on a hot evening, I didn’t stress about it. I just did it.

Okay, none of the things I made were gourmet and yes, my dinner that night was an inadvisable three kippers and a LOT of peas (note to self: don’t have more than one bag of peas on the go at a time), but I managed to make things that I could restock the freezer with and I didn’t unnecessarily waste food. Pretty good result.

Good husband
I did not find a husband this month. What I did do was “get good” with being single again. There was a point, and I’m not proud of it, where I was pushed up against a man on the tube and I may have leaned on him longer than was necessary. That was when I thought I might need to stop being single immediately before someone reports me to London Transport Police. I may also have sniffed him. I miss the smell of aftershave and the weight of a person next to me. A man person. Most of my girl friends are tiny birds compared to me (actual quote from a friend “wow, you do not look this heavy!”) and if I leant on them, they would be squished.

That being said, I am well aware of the danger of longing for a man just to tick some boxes. I read a few articles which really spoke to me. I often feel I am “too much” for the men I meet or that maybe I should just “get past” that weird thing that annoys me and stop being quite so picky. This month I decided that actually, no, I should still just hang on a bit longer for someone who fits better.

In active developments, I went speed dating twice. Once with my flatmate in Richmond for an older crowd (I lied about my age to get in. I did then have a fabulous chat with a man about spa treatments, off the back of his “you look very young, you must look after yourself” comment) and once in a cool bar in Soho.

I’ll probably do a separate post about those evenings, but ultimately I didn’t meet anyone special. I met nearly 40 men and had an amusing time with most of them.

Brave (braver)
This month I met nearly 40 strange men, stood up to difficult colleagues at work and went to a fancy work event where I had to network. That felt like enough.

Healthy Mind & Body
I had a good few evenings in where I went to sleep and I had a good few evenings where I phoned friends rather than felt miserable. I also did quite well at drawing boundaries at work on contentious issues, rather than become embroiled in drama.

Art and culture
SO MUCH ART AND CULTURE IN JUNE. Firstly, I went to a talk at the Fashion & Textile Museum which was hosting a series of talks to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday. “Creating The Queen’s Style” was presented by Michael Pick and focused on Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies, the main designers who helped Her Majesty create a powerful and fashionable image in the early years of her reign. It was fascinating to have someone so knowledgeable explain the details behind the outfits, how the Queen Mother was quite creative and flamboyant, whereas the Queen couldn’t follow fashion, but needed to still be of the fashion of the times. Princess Margaret had all the fun, as one could imagine.

The Fashion & Textile museum also had an exhibition on Missoni at the same time, which I highly recommend. It focuses on the influences from a range of artists and the productions of Missoni’s pieces. They’re so colourful that you can’t help but be amused.

Less amusing this month was the Call Me By My Name exhibition in the Migration Museum in Shoreditch dedicated to the refugee “jungle camp” in Calais. A friend from book club was part of the team and a group of us made an excursion to see it. I had anticipated being moved, and that was definitely the case, but I hadn’t expected to experience such hopefulness. The camp has it’s own mini-economy and recording studio and people have done what people always do: get on with life. That being said, one of the first pieces was a collection of counterfeit life jackets which refugees had paid a small fortune for and which would never have saved a life, had they fallen in the water. They were often just polystyrene blocks inside a fabric jacket with branding on top. That was difficult to look at.

I went a bit mad and treated myself to a ticket to the ballet on a random Saturday afternoon. I sat with an Australian woman who had just run a marathon and left her 5 month old baby with her partner for the afternoon. My achievements that day were breakfast and a shower. It was nice to chat to someone who had an idea about ballet, because while I enjoy it, I don’t necessarily understand it. The afternoon in question was the Royal Ballet’s Trio: Obsidian Tear / The Invitation / Within the Golden Hour, the first one of which was very modern and predominantly male dancers. Very impressive.

Organised finances
June was when I kicked some arse at work. The UK has changed it’s regulations with pensions and the government is rolling out a scheme which will see every (eligible) employee enrolled in a workplace pension scheme. Previously, you had to opt-in to a scheme, your workplace just had to provide one but didn’t have to pay in and a lot of people just…didn’t. Now everyone will be automatically enrolled in a pension scheme, your workplace will pay into it as well and if, for some reason, you don’t want to, you will have to opt out and in three years you will be re-enrolled and have to opt-out again in the future.

The idea is to make it easier and more attractive for people to save for their future.

After a huge row with my ex-boyfriend, I got on our pension scheme at work. It was terrible. Work didn’t pay in anything, but at least I was putting away some money.

Then we were given our auto-enrolment staging date. Without going into details, the whole management of the system was a shambles. The HR/finance colleague who was dealing with this just chose not to. We were given incorrect information and discouraged from asking questions. As it approached our staging date (1 July) the few colleagues who had pensions with the company already were having more and more frustrated conversations. I decided, as the native speaker of the group, that I would write to HR/Finance and get this sorted out. We talked about it, strategized and came up with a plan. We played to our strengths. I can write a good email. Another colleague actually knows about pensions. The other colleague is good at research. Together we made a good team.

This was lucky, because it turned into a fiasco. There was even some yelling (not from us, thank goodness). The end resolution was that our colleague who was supposed to sort this out, just…stopped. She escalated everything to our Director and he suggested we have a quick meeting. I prepared a five page questionnaire and refused to leave until all the points were covered.

I learnt a lot that month about pensions, fees, projections and investments. I also had to work out my own contributions and get myself organised. This was a Good Thing, albeit terrifying to a certain extent.

Decidedly relaxed
In June I went to Brighton to see one of my best friends, eat ice cream and watch The OC. It was bliss. We walked along the beach, (I) ate far too many sweet potato fries and it was an absolute delight.

Career plan
I continue to struggle with this. Mainly because I don’t know what I want to do or what I should be doing and it’s easier to give priority to other activities.

Finishes projects
I have been called by the Bullet Journal and I think it may well assist here.