Adulting Round-Up Quarter 4 (part 4)

Part four, the final!

Organised finances
I want to do a post entirely on my financial accountability project, but needless to say, I found it very helpful to see exactly where I spend my money and where I throw it away. Christmas came and went, expensive as it always is and I think I learnt a few lessons there. My family are not Big Ticket Item people. We tend to buy a number of small things totalling a larger number, rather than one thing at the large number. Buying One Thing seems like such a risk – what if the other person doesn’t like it? Or, if it’s something they actually want, it looks like you’ve shown no great thought by just buying what they asked for.  My family have always been like this. Most of my friends have too. We all came from well off backgrounds but with minimal money extra. As teenagers we would have a limit of ten or fifteen pounds and would try to see how many things we could get for that. As we grew older and had a little more spare cash, gifts still held that same ethos: lots of little things. The problem is that inflation rose with us and the little things are now a little bit more expensive. We’re maybe buying six bubble baths for the price of one good hardback book.

At the moment, my friends and I are all roughly at the same stage with roughly the same amount of spare cash at the end of the month, and it’s not lots. Those of us who aren’t spending hundreds of pounds on flights home for Christmas, have mortgages or are on maternity leave with babies. Or having weddings to pay for. Or have gone freelance. Or have had a career shift and suddenly need to squirrel money away for rainier days. There’s less money for buying a Good Thing and the Topper things that make up the whole gift. And we have enough money ourselves to buy the little things – the glass nail files, the cute lipbalms and the weird chocolate bars (lime and salt is not a great idea, actually, take it from me).

I took a slightly different tack this Christmas and just outright asked people what they would like as a gift. Rather than buying two things I think they’d like and then “rounding it off” with some smaller sillier things, I bought the things they asked for and things I thought they’d like. It felt VERY strange not to be wrapping a whole bundle of gifts. And, to be honest, it felt a lot less wasteful. I knew that people would definitely really like the three books I gave them, rather than like the book I gave them and wondered what to do with the bubble bath set I hoped they’d like but wasn’t sure and felt I had to buy something else to make up the budget I’d set. I’m not really explaining this very well and I’m afraid of coming across as a skinflint or buying gifts that aren’t considered – I don’t think that’s the case, but it’s interesting that I am already defensive about how I spent my money on people.

Where I fell down this year was completely missing gifts with some friends. I’d not expected to exchange gifts with them, hadn’t budgeted, then panicked and overspent. I didn’t like that. I also don’t know how to fix it. How do you break the gift-cycle? How do you say to someone, “Look, I like you and cherish our friendship, but I don’t think we need to mark it with tangible items this festive period.” It seems so harsh!

Where I did well was saving my credit card reward vouchers (from the M&S credit card) and Amazon vouchers that I’d accrued for Christmas. The M&S card actually isn’t good at all for rewards now, as they’ve changed their T&Cs and so I shall be smart and switch to something better. That was one thing I did learn from my ex who worked in finance – don’t just GIVE your credit to some bank – it’s an asset, so you should receive something in return. I’m looking at either a cashback or an airmiles card.

Speaking of airmiles, I was smart enough to book flights in the BA sale in January (although not using airmiles) and so saved myself a little there. Stupidly, I have to move one of my flights, because I hadn’t put something in the diary, but you live and learn.

Decidedly relaxed
Over Christmas I had food poisoning and had to totally relinquish planning to my sister (who managed admirably, of course) and the rest of my family. It was quite difficult for me but I didn’t really have an other option. My sister did everything wonderfully and my mum had everything organised in her own haphazard relaxed way. Everyone still had a good time, even if the plates didn’t match. There’s a lesson there, obviously.

One thing I did learn while I was away, holidaying with someone else’s family, is that I need to be connected to MY people to feel relaxed. Fritz and I had a bit of a discussion where he was slightly miffed that I was on my phone when we had some time alone. Not all the time, but for about fifteen minutes. I felt bad about that until I realised that, actually, this was not mindless scrolling through Instagram or Facebook and ignoring him. He was on holiday with his family, revelling in the connection and relationships he had. While they’re lovely, they’re not my family. I was in Italy where I didn’t speak the language, where I was on someone else’s timetable and utterly cut off from My People and what was going on with them. I realised that Facebook and Instagram were giving me back a little corner of my world when I felt so alien in the real one. Skiing was tough and it was a bit lonely being in a class of strangers. While it’s great to be included in someone’s family, I wasn’t up to speed on in-jokes and I missed that. Social media gave me a moment of belonging to my people and connection. I didn’t feel quite so lost and on my own (even though I wasn’t!) – it was also great to let people know how stressful I found skiing and hear from friends who agreed, not to make me feel better, but because they had also found it difficult. I can relax around strangers when I’ve topped up my reserves of familiar people.

By the time I got back to London after skiing and generally living out of a suitcase since November, I realised that I wasn’t doing super well. I was constantly fighting off a migraine and being overwhelmed by my To Do list. And so for a week I tried to be in bed for ten pm. I shut my phone off at 9.30 so I could get ready for bed and then read for a little with a nice candle before turning out the light. It was remarkable the difference. It was also remarkable that I only lasted for three days. It was a lovely idea, but I have friends and family in different timezones and if I don’t have my phone on, then I’ll miss them and weeks can go by without us catching up. Also, a friend texted with big news at 9.28 and it would have been churlish to just cut that off after two minutes. I haven’t worked out the balance, but this is something I need to do.

Career plan
If I wanted to switch careers, I’d be in good company. Every third person I know seems to be jacking in their career of a decade and doing something utterly different and terrifying and brave. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m thinking of options. That being said, writing cover letters is the most soul destroying activity in the world, so I’m in no rush.

On the career front, I have discovered that I am not a bad manager at all. I had a very immature trainee for a little while, who had never been away from home before, took everything personally and was terribly difficult to work with. She also burst into tears at the drop of the hat, which disrupted the department and other departments! This was not ideal. The organisation I work with isn’t super at human relations or communication and the attitude was essentially “she’ll leave soon enough, let’s not make a fuss” which I didn’t think was actually that great a solution. So I sat with her on a number of occasions and had Some Difficult Conversations. Hilariously, I had to talk to her about how to be an adult in the world.

She was bright, but she wasn’t independent. She was used to being the centre of attention and not having to try very hard and now she did. She was a good kid, she’d just never had to work at anything. I had to establish how to teach her how to do the job without losing my patience or being unkind or sarcastic, but also without mollycoddling her. I also had to put the good of the team before my own personal feelings of exasperation. I also had to be firm when usually I would wuss out. In the end, she was much improved and so was I. I’ve learnt how to ask questions and speak softly, rather than charge in with a funny-but-cutting remark that will shut down the other person. Being right and having the other person know it, damn it, isn’t always the goal.

Finishes projects
The list of projects is ever increasing. Oh, so many. But slow and steady wins the race. Some I’ve timetables for later in the year, some I’ve realised felt more burdensome than rewarding and some have been chipped away at bit-by-bit.

I’m loving my Bullet Journal and also the List Book I was given for Christmas. I’m juggling a paper diary, my BuJo, the notes in my phone and at least two pieces of paper floating around, but at the moment I seem to be fairly organised. I’ve done a little Marie Kondoing, I’ve resolved to be more intentional about the blog and I’ve got plans in the wings. I’m getting there.

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Adulting Round-Up Quarter 4 (part 3)

PART THE THIRD
Art and culture
If I dive deep on Berlin and Seattle, I’ll be here for months, and then I’ll never move on. So I shall very briefly glide through those trips, both of which I was so lucky to spend with good friends. I’ve been to Berlin a thousand times for work, but never actually spent very long looking at it. Crossing the river in the morning, grabbing a shot of the Fernsehturm before spending all day locked in a conference room was about as good as it got. With the girls we managed to see the Berlin Wall (all the more poignant with Trump’s election), Check Point Charlie, check out the Reichstag (but unfortunately not go inside) and the Brandenburg Gate, we took in the Holocaust memorial which was eerie and chilling and Potsdamer Platz which has it’s own history. Berlin is a lively vibrant city and it’s hard to imagine how divided it was just a few decades before. Hard to imagine, but the traces are very evident. That a city could be split like that is striking given how shattered our society is at the moment. It feels as though we are on the cusp of an upheaval and it may well be as angrily graffitied as the wall was.

Thinking about it now, Seattle was a complete change of pace. I was there is the days after the election and I’d been nervous about it beforehand. Seattle is a very modern liberal city, but I was nervous that the fear would take hold. I needn’t have worried. If anything, I spent more time moved by the community pulling together. I passed a church on the way into town with strips of fabric tied to the railings outside. I went to take a closer look and found a poster tied to the fence that said:

“Dear friend,
in the aftermath of Tuesday’s Election, you may be scared, you may be tired, you may feel hopeless, you may be angry, you may be triggered, you may be oppressed.
The notes here are from our church community to you. Read them and know that we love you. We need you. We will work for justice. We believe that racism, sexism, homophobia and any form of hatred is contradictory to the good news that Jesus taught us and asks us to live.
There are more ribbons and pieces of fabric here if you wish to tie one on the bars of the church as a sign of solidarity for anyone feeling vulnerable among us.
Peace be with you.”

There were hundreds of strips tied to the railings with messages. “We walk with you” “We welcome you” “I stand with you” “you are loved”

And I am not ashamed to say that I just wept in the street. I’m choked up now as I type that out. I don’t think I can delete that photo from my phone. What strikes me now is that I have no idea what denomination of Jesus that Church was. There was no Bible quote on that poster. There was nothing that anyone could be offended or prickled by. There was no preaching. There were no conditions. There was no mention of sinners or forgiveness. It was all love and support. Whatever you believe, or don’t believe, the message was inclusive.

All across the city, that’s what I felt. You are part of us. Shop windows had stickers saying “this is a safe space” for vulnerable people. Local businesses had Stand For Women posters in the window. National businesses had adverts out standing up for equality and diversity. There were posters on lamp posts inviting everyone to a peaceful protest gathering downtown.

I visited the Yves Saint Laurent exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum and a security guard had a chat with me about the pieces and how the museum attracts all kinds of people. I went to the Chihuly Garden and Glass and a steward talked to me about how the art had travelled around the globe and how Dale Chihuly had worked in some diverse landscapes. Everyone was very cognisant of the threat to difference and how it was an essential part of this world.

I mean, I also went to Nordstrom, got a coffee from the first Starbucks in Pike Place Market and ate chicken and waffles – it wasn’t all high brow, but it was all great and life affirming and delicious and thought provoking.

Despite travelling so much in the last few months, I did shoehorn in a good amount of culture. I’m on the Time Out London newsletter and it’s been the main reason that I’ve done so much. I have a terrible tendency to see a poster on the tube for something I would love to do, then put off organising tickets for it and then it’s over. The Time Out newsletter has offers for various events and I’ve learnt to just book things on the day of the newsletter, even if the event isn’t for months. This is how I ended up booking ballet tickets six months in advance and being pleased that I had a seat when it was sold out. Sometimes in life you have to prioritise the fun things when it’s inconvenient, otherwise you miss out on too much. I live in one of the best cities in the world, I want to take advantage of that. I haven’t experienced enough in my nearly ten years here – I feel like I should really make an effort.

To that end, I booked an on-a-whim ticket to Mike Massimo’s talk at the Royal Institution in October. You guys, it was amazing. As usual, I went on my own and then panicked about where to sit. I took a seat right on the end, right at the front, which meant I was basically staring at his ear all evening. I was beside tow lovely older people who quizzed me on my dedication to astronomy and I was suitably inspired to go to a lot more talks.

I’m a huge space geek. I will happily watch a documentary about the Apollo programme that I’ve seen a million times. I am fascinated by space, by space travel, by the people on the ground who make it happen, by the technology that genuinely allows miracles to happen and by the heroes that are the astronauts whether they make it into space or not. If you weren’t interested in space, or didn’t really care too much about it, Mike Massimo is the guy who would develop your curiosity. He’s an American who grew up in New York when the furthest anyone he knew went was between Brooklyn and Manhattan. He wasn’t so good at school, he didn’t have the perfect eyesight NASA required, he was a totally normal guy. He just tried really hard, was practical and always gave it a shot. He’s also really really funny. This is a guy you want to share a beer with. I was totally smitten and queued to have him autograph my copy of his book afterwards. He is so incredibly patient and fun. Good times. I wish my dad had been around to hear I’d shaken the hand of an astronaut.

The ballet tickets I’d booked months ago were finally collected. I saw The Nutcracker and Giselle at the Coliseum. Both sold out performance, both fantastic, obviously. I’d never seen the Nutcracker live and, while I was enchanted by the tiny children in the audience up past their bedtimes dressed in tutus, I realised it’s not actually my favourite ballet piece. I much prefer Gisele (which I’ve seen many times now) or Coppelia or the classic Cinderella. I think next year I’ll skip it, so that someone who really wants a ticket can complete their pre-Christmas festivities. Watching The Red Shoes dvd is more my Christmas tradition.

Cinema wise, I’ve been to see Rogue One (amazing, obviously), The Girl on the Train (bit unnecessarily gory, but there we are), Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them (stunning visuals, lovely story) and remembered how much I love the cinema. I generally go on my own, late in the run on a Wednesday night when the screen will be virtually empty (there were SIX people in the screen when I saw Rogue One. It was delicious) and I treat myself to a fancy sandwich and a nice snack during the trailers and settle down under my coat for the film.

To be honest, the cinema is an expensive treat in London. You get minimal change from a twenty pound note and that’s without snacks. It’s not something you can do every week, much as you’d like to, so I am very conscious of which films I see these days. It has to be something I know I’m going to love. I’ll skip La La Land and maybe watch it on DVD some day, because Hadley Freeman’s review made me think twice. I love Emma Stone and I love Ryan Gosling, but my patience for grumpy snobby men has run thin. I’d much rather spend my money on a female led film, than another romance that underlines the patriarchy. If I’m in the cinema, I’m giving it my full attention. The patriarchy doesn’t need my full attention.

On the book front, I did me a lot of reading. I spent a lot of time on planes and in airports and just…waiting around. While commuting can be excruciating, I love the dead time it gives me. I’ve deliberately chosen not to hook up to the wifi on the underground. I don’t want to be on my phone when I travel. I don’t want an excuse to extend my work day. I use that time for reading – twenty minutes of just me and a book. Sitting or standing, it’s the best thing for taking my mind off being hot, squashed and subjected to someone else’s morning breath.

I’ve just discovered that my library record doesn’t hold my loans history for more than a few months. I’d hoped it would remind me of what I’d borrowed, but now I shall just have to summarise. Wimbledon library has a great selection of feminist writing. I don’t know how, but we seem to have the latest Lady Books just hidden on the shelves. We’re less good on fiction, so I’d have to reserve those from elsewhere to get them through the door. We have an immense cookery book section, so I pick up cookery books to flick through before I sleep, even if I know I’m never going to make the recipes. Rachel Khoo and Mary Berry are always good for this.

I’ve also made a point of stacking all my To Read books on my top shelf and slowly reading through them. I’ve been Keeping Them For Good and 2017 is off to a pretty bad start. It’s cold, Trump is here (I’ll talk more about that when I can), the world is a disgrace. So I will read Alexandra Shulman’s Inside Vogue: A diary of my 100th year and revel in it, Cary Elwes’s As You Wish and be enchanted by it, Lynn Sherr’s biography Sally Ride – America’s first woman in space and be inspired by it. I’ve been absorbing other people’s worlds to handle my own.

On the odd occasion when I’ve been at home, I’ve been multitasking in front of tv. I adored the Gilmore Girls on Netflix – it was perfect. The characters are crazy and flawed and ridiculous, but perfect. It was just exactly what was needed for this terrible January. It was like going home. To a home where there is coffee and pie and warmth. I caught up with Sherlock and Martin Freeman once again reminded me how lovely he is. I love so much that his partner in life is his on-screen wife and that she is a fully developed female character. She’s the delightful balance to the odd masculinity in the show. I watched Elizabeth and The Crown and my deep respect for the Royal Family and the thankless job they do with such grace in the face of the criticism they face. You could not pay me enough money to do that. Also, how draughty must Buck House be? I’d miss my sofa blanket, for one!

Adulting Round-Up: Quarter 4 (part 2)

PART THE SECOND.

Good husband
Well, I’m still not married yet, which is fine. I do have a diamond though, so I feel I’m making progress.

THIS IS A JOKE.

When I first met Fritz it was amongst two German families and we spent the first days getting to know each other surrounded by other German families living in London. One of my favourite things to do, because I am a monster, is to point out how many more diamonds UK wives have in relation to their German sisters. Traditionally in Germany the wedding band is also your engagement ring, you just wear it on your other hand, then switch it over at the wedding. Whether you want to look at this as a refusal to buy into the marketing and commercialisation of diamonds by jewellery companies or not, the very lovely German husbands I meet in my social circle tend not to buy their wives a lot of jewellery and certainly not diamonds. Diamond engagement rings are becoming more common, eternity rings are still aways off.

Personally, I’m not really bothered. I love pearls and opals and turquoise and moonstones. I think diamonds are pretty, but the ethics behind the diamond trade are dubious and disheartening. Vintage diamonds feel better to my social conscience, but come with their own problems.

For our first Christmas as a couple I was determined not to let things get out of hand. Friends of mine already know about the £200 kitchen bin I bought my ex-boyfriend because he spent a lot of money on my gifts and I’d run out of ideas after a few years. In my defence, he did love it, so I won Christmas that year (I won every year, let’s be honest). I set a budget of £50 which he forexed creatively to a higher amount of Euros. I bought him little practical things I knew he’d like that had relevance to Our Story and he bought me a tiny diamond necklace which I squealed over. And, when I discovered it was a lab diamond, I was even more delighted. It’s part of Our Story and he made a huge effort. It was lovely.

Since October we have also had to find our boundaries. Which has, inevitably, led to me being cross, our linguistic skills being questioned and a general frustration with long-distance relationships. Fritz has many many lovely friends. Many of whom have wedding or birthdays or big events they would like to celebrate with him. And now I’m included too. At the same time I also have many many lovely friends who would like me to celebrate with them. His friends are either in Germany or further abroad. My friends are either in the UK or ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE GLOBE. Realistically, I cannot go to everything. I just can’t. I haven’t the finances, nor the annual leave. Nor, if I’m honest, do I have the inclination. I know Fritz, I like Fritz. I like his friends. I don’t know the sister of his friend who is getting married in Morocco and I don’t like any of them enough to want to go back there when I really really don’t like Morocco.

We had a mini argument about how I “didn’t want to go on holiday with him” which was actually about how I want to spend time alone with him (rather than go on more holidays with his family and travel to yet more social engagements where he will be busy with an activity and I will be surrounded by strangers) and how he feels his free time and money is being dictated to by the calendars of his friends and family. It took us a long conversation to work out the subtext to that. It was interesting.

What I learnt was that I actually have to listen to what’s being said and to ask questions. Not to jump to the end of the sentence and guess what it is. That taking offence is GREAT but it doesn’t RESOLVE an issue. Where I GREW as a person, and a lady-person in a relationship, is in standing firm and saying “I like you, but I will be unhappy if I do XYZ. I do not wish to be unhappy because of XYZ. How can we make you happy with XYZ without me being there being unhappy.” Ultimately, it’s about what’s best for us as a TEAM of two, rather than a Me and a Fritz. I trust him to want me to be happy, so I know he’ll make sacrifices when he feels he should for that to happen, but I also know he will say what he needs. I have to meet him halfway and sacrifice some things for him to be happy, as long as I am not incredibly unhappy. Sacrifice is a balance, not martyrdom and that’s a new lesson.

Another heated discussion we had was about wanting-versus-needing someone. He made some off-hand comment about how I needed him and I was indignant that this was not the case. I’d be incredibly sad if we broke up, but I wouldn’t be destroyed. My life is not dependent on him. I function stunningly well on my own. I don’t want to talk to him and text him and visit him because I need him. That can’t be who I am now. I find a lot of my knee-jerk reactions now have developed since my ex-boyfriend and I broke up. A lot of my responses are reactions that I should have had to him. He was moody and I felt unsafe and I felt trapped, so now I do my very best to be stable, to be independent, to be free. Better late than never, I guess. That being said, it’s totally unfair on Fritz. I respond vigorously to things to Make A Point that I won’t stand for things, that this won’t be a pattern we fall into, that I won’t end up on a holiday in France clutching my passport desperately wishing I was at home, but instead suffering through another two days with someone so irrationally angry at me for not being psychic and knowing that when he said he wanted to leave at 11am, he had later changed his mind to 10.30am and not mentioned it. So now I have to learn how to have an immediate response, take a breath and see if it’s proportional to the situation. It very rarely is.

Everyone has baggage, it’s just whether you drag it behind you with a broken wheel and the insides bursting out, or whether you buy a new case and carry on with your journey, smoother and more efficiently. I guess I’m in the store choosing between a soft case and a hard shell.

Braver
You guys, I went to Seattle on my own and I loved it. To be clear, I went to visit my gorgeous friend and her husband and to spend Thanksgiving with her family of origin in Oregon. You guys, I love the grid system. I got lost at least 15% less than usual. I went places by myself, I gave directions (what?!) and I hung out with my friend’s lovely friends and adorable family and did not embarrass myself socially. I even spoke to a Trump Supporter and didn’t have a meltdown and ruin Thanksgiving for everyone.

Everyone go to Seattle. It is lovely. Don’t go now. Let’s all wait four years and if the Hunger Games aren’t still on over there, we’ll have a group trip.

Other BRAVE things I did last quarter include going to a wedding where Fritz was the best man, the Bride and her family were Chinese (with minimal English) and the entire wedding totalled 24 people. And was partly on a river boat on the Thames. Despite knowing NO ONE, I threw myself into the role of usher (there were not enough people for there to be ushers!), I powdered the groom’s father’s face for photos, I popped champagne for the first toast after the church wedding and I kept the marriage certificate safe for the whole day. EVEN WHEN I FOUND OUT THE GROOM’S FATHER VOTED BREXIT.

Possibly the bravest thing I did was go on a skiing holiday with Fritz’s entire (German, skiing for decades)  family, despite declaring I would never ski in my life, despite having the coordination of a beanbag, despite not knowing his family or really wanting to bunk up all together for a week sharing a bathroom, despite being mortally afraid of dying on a ski slope. This is obviously a whole story on its own, but let the record state that I went, and I tried, and it was painful and scary and minimal fun and stressful. But I went. And I tried. And in the end I was marginally better than the fourteen year old Croatian girl in the group who couldn’t speak German, even though she fell down a lot less than I did and I still have bruises a month later.

Healthy Mind & Body
Well, I still have a mind and a body, so that’s a plus. I’m still going to the podiatrist once a month and still having her [GROSS ALERT] scrape my feet and paint them with silver nitrate. And I’m still, once a month, apologising to her for having to touch my gross feet while she reassures me there are really a lot worse things that she sees. I’m upping my vitamin intake and virtually inhaling mushrooms (the cooking, not hallucinogenic, kind!) for the vitamin D which is important for the immune system.

I’ve also kept up all my dental and medical appointments and am flossing like a mo-fo. I love flossing. It’s so good. It’s so rewarding. I feel like such a responsible adult. I have an electric toothbrush, interdental brushes, floss and a mouthguard. It takes HOURS for me to be ready for bed in the evening, but my teeth are GOOD. Also, there is nothing quite like a new toothbrush head. I discovered this the other night.

I’m eating fewer carbs and cooking for meals because it’s good for my body. I am still eating sugar and drinking whisky because it’s good for my soul. I’m using the good moisturiser, drinking the nice hot chocolate, not eating the sweets I don’t like just because they’re there. I’m trying to turn off my phone at ten pm so I can sleep better, I’m reading the good books I was gifted so my brain has something to be happy about, I’m wearing the cosy jumpers so I feel better and warm. I’m burning the expensive candles so I feel worthy of good things.

Adulting Round-Up: Quarter 4 (part 1)

Oh good grief. It’s February. Nearly halfway through February by the time I finish this post. I don’t know that I can go back and do Round Ups from October, so I shall not let Perfect Be The Enemy of the Good and I’ll just charge ahead.

I’ll Round Up the last quarter with January in stages and then move on to new material.

Delightful living conditions
Over the last few months I have made a real effort to stay on top of housework and keeping the place nice. I’m a big fan of descaling (shout out to white vinegar!) and general bleaching (shout-out to Domestos!) and, I’m happy to announce, that the bottle of Zalo (“one drop is enough”) washing up liquid from Norway is finally finished. I sued more than a drop, because that is what cleanliness requires. We’re onto the ever reassuring Green Fairy with the red top for the moment. I use that on everything. I’m not one for single-use cleaners. There’s not much you can’t do with bleach, Fairy up liquid and white vinegar.

I also excelled at replacing weird lightbulbs, looking up things on youtube and making small repairs to things that weren’t worth getting a handyman out for.

When Advent rolled around, I busted out the Christmas decorations and festooned everything in tinsel and corralled the many many angel decorations my mother has given to me through the years into a sort of display above a radiator. I made a point of pulling out the festive-but-not-cloying candles and having the place smell of incense and fir. It was quite lovely. In keeping with tradition, and to ward off bad luck for the rest of the year, I had all the decorations down by the sixth of January. It struck me then that I have two boxes of decorations, back from when I had a three storey house to decorate and, actually, some of this tinsel is getting a bit ratty. Before I put it all away, I went through and had a good old cull of dead tinsel and brown (why?) glass teardrop baubles that never stay in the box. It was nice to have a proper look at everything again before wrapping it up safely: the fancy fragile glass baubles I bought on sale after Christmas one year in John Lewis for decidedly less than the original fortune they would have cost; the little yellow wooden horse that was on the tree when I was a tiny girl; the thick bruise coloured tinsel that goes with nothing, but I can’t bear to part with and the wide variety of angels my mother has sent – the tiny smiley ones with neon orange hair and a harp that reminds me of my sister , the delicate glass one from the fancy shop in Belfast, the clunky ceramic one with a sparkly halo, the wire silver one that sheds glitter all over the house.

Fabulous friend
Reassuringly, I have seen a lot of people since the end of September. I’ve had dinners with people, afternoon tea with people and spontaneous (for me) visits to people’s homes. I made a real effort in the last months of the year, despite the fact I was travelling so much. To be honest, there were moments when it seemed a bit too much. But, when I came home after every evening out when faced with the pile of laundry growing by the day, or the epic stack of paperwork winking at me on the floor, I wouldn’t have traded that time with my friends for organising or sleeping.

What I have found, in the months following Brexit and Trump, is that I have now very firm boundaries in my head for what’s acceptable. Life is short, my free time is precious and the time I do have to spend with people I want to spend it with people I enjoy, and who enjoy me. An old friend who I loved very dearly took me out to the ballet and a fancy meal and while it was a delight to see him and catch up, I was horrified at what he thought was okay. He thinks Brexit is better for him (as a white middle class man in middle England), but not the country, so voted to leave the EU and didn’t think much of Hilary and claims Trump will actually make America great again. I was so shocked I actually cried.

This was someone I held very dear, with views I find abhorrent. He’s not a terrible person and I know why he thinks the way he thinks, but the evening had a melancholy, final air to it after that. I knew it would be the last time we spent any meaningful time together. It’s not that I don’t think we should engage with people who see things differently from us, but that sometimes, it is better to let someone go than be hurt by who they are now. My opinions, and the fervour with which I hold them, won’t change his mind.

This makes it sound like I have somehow grown to have reserves grace. I have not. Once I left him (and his very young used-to-be-his-intern girlfriend), I immediately texted a former girlfriend of his to confirm that she had dodged a bullet of epic proportions.

In other, better, friend-being activities, my best friend from home got engaged to her lovely man just before Christmas. The very night she told me, I went home and ordered two wedding planning books to be delivered to her. Not because she needed to GET ON IT, but because I knew she would be overwhelmed with questions from well meaning people and lists of things she “had” to get organised and these two publications would be perfect at calming her nerves, giving her space to feel her way and provide practical lists as well as published evidence that she didn’t actually need to organise chair covers if she didn’t want to. Finally, my years of reading wedding blogs at lunch have paid off. Plus, I am going to be a bridesmaid now at age 33 and I feel I may just ace that. I’ve studied for this test. I’m ready.

If I’m your friend, here’s what I bring to the table: constant chat, a wild accent, care packages, unnecessary post, undeclineable snacks, a willingness to clean your house when you can’t, a wicked enthusiasm for culling, the ability to justify any decision you make and well-meaning but misplaced comic lines.

Great hostess
On the hostessing front, I wouldn’t say I have upped my game, but I have become slightly more relaxed. Fritz has been to stay a few times and hasn’t starved while he’s been here. I call that a win. I’ve had a few low-key mid-week suppers with Carrie and not stressed that everything is perfect. I’ve had the girls round for Book Coven (book group had a re-branding!) and stopped quizzing them every five seconds on whether they need everything.

Granted, so far I haven’t made anything that has had multiple elements that needed to be ready at the same time. I tend to do things in one roasting tin (as my ex-boyfriend once disparagingly remarked. True, it’s in one pan, but it’s never contained floating bones or surprise gristle, so I’d wager that’s preferable) or two saucepans. I’m never doing anything with gravy or a carving fork. It’s rare that anything I make can be burned. But that’s something I can think about.

Confident in the kitchen
Quarter four was when I rediscovered bacon. I don’t quite know how that came to be, but suddenly I was eating a packet of bacon a week and frying it in butter and putting it in everything. My god, bacon is delicious. It may have been around the time I realised I don’t eat enough protein and that bacon adds more to a dish than just meat- it’s salty flavoursome goodness. Not that I want to start on the bacon bandwagon. There will be no bacon jam or bacon soap in this house, thank you very much. One of my favourite things is to mash an avocado (and I used to hate them!) with salt and chilli flakes, stir in some chopped baby plum tomatoes, throw in some chopped fried bacon and smear it atop a slice of sourdough bread that had been heated in the buttery-bacon-fat frying pan. It is, without a doubt or a caveat, delicious.

Quarter four was also when I ramped up hiding vegetables in my food like I was feeding a fussy toddler. The reason for this was to up my vitamin goodness and also to be able to cut back on the other things I usually make a meal with. More vegetables means less room for cheese. Or, at least, that’s a theory that a person could have.

Just before Christmas I got food poisoning, which obviously ruined Christmas. It also left me a little afraid of food, because everything I ate made me so stunningly sick. Then I went skiing (“skiing”) in Südtirol, where every meal was CHEESE and FRIED SOMETHING and WINE (sure, we’ll just work out how to get down the mountain LATER with these things strapped to our feet). When I finally returned to London I was craving vegetables like I never thought possible. The days are long, I have very little time and I’m loathe to buy ready meals any more – with the exception of soup. For me, making soup is the most boring thing in the kitchen. Plus, you have to clean the blender afterwards and I oddly resent that. I resent cleaning machines. I am furious that even when you take them apart, they always feel like you could have cleaned them a wee bit better.

Anyway, frozen peas are now my go to. There’s very little I won’t throw a frozen pea into. Frozen peas, baby plum tomatoes, frozen spinach. They were actually all the ingredients of a frittata [sidebar: I cannot remember the word frittata. My brain has to go throw a rotation of tortilla-tostada-paella-burrito before I reach frittata. It’s ridiculous and irritates me every time] I made last week. It was good. Oh! And eggs. Eggs are my new emergency protein.