I was at a networking event this afternoon and we were all sat down around a big table for a buffet lunch. (I will go anywhere a buffet goes.) I had nearly finished and was dithering over my last mouthful. I looked down at my plate – one small piece each of hard boiled egg, bread roll and butter, new potato, cucumber and tomato.

I looked up at the people sat closest to me and then down again at the plate.

‘I’m trying to create the perfect last mouthful,’ I said.

‘Oh my God yes!’ said at least two of the group.

‘I thought I was the only one who did this!’ said another.

A couple of people looked blank, as though they were surrounded by loons.

‘Um, NO,’ I said, reassuringly, ‘everyone does it surely? No one wants the last mouthful of a meal to be a crappy one do they? God, imagine eating a whole delicious sandwich and finishing with a bit of dry crust!’

I went on to expand on examples of how to create the perfect last mouthful – eating around a Big Mac until you’re left with the ultimate central bite, working your way through a roast dinner to make sure you leave yourself with one piece of potato, some stuffing, half a sprout and a good lashing of gravy, that sort of thing.

It was a bonding moment.

Some people it seemed had gone their whole lives thinking they were alone in their weirdness and the group sharing felt almost like therapy.

‘You should write a blog post about it,’ someone said.

So here it is.

I’d love to know what lengths you go to to create that perfect last mouthful. Do you always eat your pizza crusts first? Is there a magic roast dinner combination? Leave a comment and let me know.

The perfect last mouthful

Photo by Phil Hearing on Unsplash

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Sometimes I think about how my life would look as a pie chart.

I’m pretty sure everyone does this, just like I imagine most people enjoy Venn diagrams as much as I do. Everyone loves a Venn diagram right? Right.

The pie chart fantasy is a visual representation of a long held fascination with the idea that when I die I’ll be presented with some sort of searchable database, where I can access information about anything and everything I have done in my life. I don’t believe in God, but if I did, God would basically be a gigantic spreadsheet.

‘God,’ I’d ask, ‘exactly how many times in my life did I walk into the kitchen to make a cup of tea and get distracted and leave again, never having made a drink?’

‘27,429 times,’ God would say, in a robot voice.

‘God,’ I’d ask, ‘exactly how many people did I sleep with in that dubious 18 months around the time I turned 20?’

God would whirr and click for a while, smoke might come out. You get the idea.

I imagine a not insignificant slice of the pie would be taken up with time spent thinking ‘I really should do some work I suppose’ and sighing a bit, and continuing to watch Golden Girls. I swear that some days I spend more time ALMOST working than I do actually DOING the work. It’s probably the part of being self-employed that I find the hardest, the letting go of the guilt around work when you’re not doing it. I started a part-time job, still on a self-employed basis, back in November and in that whole time I’ve only had four days completely off. I was even doing Instagram stories on Christmas Day.

There is something about being self-employed that makes it hard to switch off. The pandemic has made it worse because I’ve been working at home a lot more and the boundaries have become blurred. Even after 13 years of freelancing, I still struggle to completely let myself off the hook – I’m always thinking of other things I COULD be doing, or SHOULD be doing. It’s a seemingly never ending loop of procrastination – perhaps my brain thinks that a general sense of obligation counts for something, even if I’m not actually getting stuff done?

The thing of course that’s so frustrating is that thinking about it never actually equates to DOING it – I don’t spend 14 hours a day tied to my desk or anything, I just waste a lot of time feeling like I should be. I wonder though if without the constant internal nagging, I’d ever get anything done at all?

Can you actually get things done without discipline?

In Oliver Burkeman’s latest newsletter he talks about this and references an article, written around the time I first became freelance, that is about getting stuff done by not being mean to yourself.

In it the author talks about my exact problem, that idea of spending a huge part of your life setting yourself goals, writing schedules, tormenting yourself into getting stuff done and being miserable. Half way through and I was on board. ‘This women gets it,’ I thought, ‘any minute now she’s going to reveal the secret to my eternal happiness.’

(This is another thing I tend to do – imagine that one thing is going to change everything for the better, if only I could find out what the one thing was.)

Her secret it turned out, was kind of bullshit if I’m honest. It was pleasure – doing stuff just because you want to. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for pleasure, I just don’t think it’s necessarily a valid approach to work. View Post

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I was listening to a podcast a few weeks ago, I can’t remember what it was or who was talking, but there was a bit in it that really stuck with me. They were talking about boundaries, and how we go about creating them for ourselves, and the guest posed a question:

What time do you really want to go to bed?

She explained that bedtimes are a great starting point for thinking about boundaries, because we rarely go to bed at the time we want to. I thought about it a lot and it feels so true to me.

Consider the question for a minute. If you lived alone, felt no judgement when you were out in the evenings, just listened to your body and prioritised yourself – if you were basically a cat – what time would you go to bed? How different is that from when you actually go to bed?

What time do you want to go to bed View Post

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Slummy single mummy

Remember this photoshoot we did years ago for a newspaper article I’d written? I had to bribe Bee with cash and a pair of Converse. One of the best things about being a single parent is that you can bribe them as much as you like without being judged.

 

Being a single parent is hard work, there’s no getting away from it.

It can feel relentless, both in a practical ‘seriously, I have to make dinner AGAIN? But I already did it 27,928 times?’ kind of way and emotionally too. Having to be responsible for all of the family decision making, without someone to compare notes with, can feel like a huge amount of pressure, and let’s not even start on the fact that you always have to be the one to take out the bins.

Like most situations in life though, being a single parent is essentially what you make it. Yes it can be lonely sometimes, and a bit sad when you get home and literally no one, apart from the cats*, cares about how your day went, but if you pack all that away at the back of your head, there are actually quite a lot of benefits to being the sole parent.

I’ve thought back over my actual years and years as a single parent and pulled out some of the best bits about being a single parent to give lone mums and dads with younger children some encouragement. What’s great is that a lot of these get even better as your kids get older –  they generally don’t want to get in your bed as much, you can go out and leave them in the house alone and they get their own bowls of cereal.

(*The cats only care if you do voices for them, which may or may not be okay.) View Post

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Over the last few weeks, two buckets have appeared, separately, in my front garden.

The first was a rather fancy Avengers bucket. The second, a couple of weeks later, was more of a traditional seaside style – a castle shape in a jaunty blue, set off with a contrasting yellow handle. Neither belonged to me and neither have been claimed.

lost bucket

What I really want to understand is the HOW and the WHY of this bucket situation.

I’m a good 20 miles away from the nearest beach, and I don’t live near a park or sandpit, so what is a bucket doing near my front garden in the first place? How does a bucket arrive in a quiet, residential cul-de-sac unless it is brought there by a specific person for a specific purpose?

With this in mind, at what point do you LOSE your bucket in said quiet residential cul-de-sac and NOT NOTICE? Would you be walking along, carrying a bucket, drop it on the floor and not realise? Or perhaps you DO realise, but you can’t be bothered to pick it up?

‘Ah well,’ you think to yourself, sighing heavily, ‘that was a nice bucket while it lasted, but it’s not worth bending down for.’ View Post

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I’m still going through massive emotional lockdown ups and downs. Occasionally I do something really annoyingly motivated, like when I signed up recently to start that interior design degree*, but most of the time, as you can see from the frequency of my blog posts, I’m just sort of semi-reclined, reading Poirot books and eating bags of Maryland mini cookies.

(Only 99 calories a bag you know. What do you mean ‘but you ate four bags’? How rude.)

If you DO want something to do during lockdown though, then I’ve pulled together a few ideas for you based on what it feels like a solid half of Instagram is doing right now. (Which probably means no one is actually doing it in real life.)

These are JUST IDEAS though. It’s totally okay if you prefer the Poirot/cookie scenario, or just want to kick back with a puzzle. No one is judging you. It’s a weird time for sure.

Take the couch to 5k challenge

I’m delighted to report that so far no one has tagged me in anything suggesting I run 5k for the NHS. Either these means I have no friends, or that all of my friends know me better than to suggest I run ANYWHERE. Even regular readers should know that running is definitely not my thing, as evidenced here by my own couch to 5k photo collage.

I know everyone says that after a while you start to get a buzz from running, but after completing the whole programme and I can say with absolutely certainty that at no point did I enjoy it at all in any way. The entire time I was ‘running’ my internal monologue was basically ‘this is hell, make it stop, why are you doing this, it’s awful, surely I’ve been going for 20 minutes by now, let’s check the app because surely it should have beeped by now and maybe it’s broken, oh no it’s only been four minutes, this is awful, please save me, help.’

But sure, have a go if that’s your thing. View Post

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During the last couple of weeks, while I’ve swung between a melancholic questioning of the meaning of life, looking nervously each way before getting out of the car at Tesco incase there are zombies lurking in the trolley park and, at my best, feeling a mild sense of calm as I sit quietly in a chair reading murder mysteries, there is one thing in which I have found solace – the words of Gwyneth Paltrow.

Ha!

Have I buggery.

The woman is an absolute nightmare. Not content with trying to have us all believe that what we definitely need in our bathroom cabinets is some of her psychic vampire repellent protection mist or pubic hair fur oil, (both actual things), now she’s offering up her wisdom when it comes to dealing with coronavirus and social isolation. According to Gwyneth we’re just looking at this whole global pandemic all wrong. Rather than worrying about the potential deaths of millions of the people, the pressure on the NHS, the safety of our loved ones, or generally our own sanity, we should be seeing this time as an opportunity.

Of course! An opportunity! Why didn’t I see that? Perhaps it was hidden behind the mass grief, who knows.

Gwyneth reckons we should be using our time to ‘write a book, learn an instrument or a language or learn to code online, draw or paint.’

Okay, fine, I get that it’s a good thing if you can perhaps distract yourself a little from the myriad unknowns and crippling loneliness, but personally I’m finding that the easiest way to do this right now is by listening to old episodes of Just a Minute at a discreet volume, whilst eating Wotsits and staring out of the window. I’m working up to a jigsaw, but I’m not quite there yet.

This may change of course, I’m sure I’ll adjust to living under lockdown, but right now if I felt like I was expected to casually pick up a French horn for an hour or so every day then it might just to me over the edge.

coronavirus Gwyneth Paltrow View Post

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New year, new decade and all that, so this morning I indulged in some typical new year activities i.e. looking back through social media pictures over the years and being drawn into my own story, where I always look so much younger and healthier and like I’ve spent every single day doing interesting things with interesting people or having interesting thoughts.

I spent a few minutes sighing wistfully and wondering what happened to the me that hired a jukebox for the weekend just to have a Grease themed party, and then I looked through the pictures on my phone rather than the carefully curated ones and remembered that most of the time I was actually just eating beans on toast and watching First Dates on catch up.

I’m not sure which is worse really – sighing over a life that was mostly imagined or realising you’ve probably been quite boring all along.

While I was in my phone pictures I found this, which I saved from a book I read in March 2018 and have been meaning to do something with ever since. March 2018 was a few weeks before I turned 40 and clearly I was feeling it.

It made me realise that although I didn’t put my midlife unravelling into words until over a year later in this post from June last year, and even wrote then that I felt taken by surprise, the first loose threads were already there back in that March, which is nearly two years ago now.

I read the unravelling post back to myself before I wrote this and felt that same twist of recognition in my chest, which makes you wonder doesn’t it, how long is it meant to last? View Post

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It’s 10 years ago now since I gave up the nine to five and became self-employed.

Bee and Belle were fourteen and seven at the time and I made the decision for a variety of reasons. Firstly, I may have been drunk. Secondly I was sick of wasting my time for not much money – it felt like I was spending hours at my desk and often accomplishing very little. Not (always) because I was being slack, but because there’s always so much down time, waiting on decisions, waiting on management.

There has been a lot of research in fact into the amount of actual WORK that people get done on the average working day and most of it, like this study, concludes than in the average eight hour day at the office, most people do less than three hours of work.

It’s ridiculous isn’t it?

I hated the rigidity of it, having to turn up and be at your desk between set hours, just because that’s what everybody does. It felt so pointless, especially when, as a single parent, I was having to do things like forgo school performances and pay for extra childcare. I spent five years after Belle was born stressing myself out, working badly paid, part-time jobs for which I was generally over-qualified, driving from one job to another on my lunch break, scoffing a sandwich in the car. It wasn’t much fun and I didn’t make much money.

I knew that if I worked for myself I could get the flexibility I needed to prioritise my children. I also knew that I was smart and could work quickly and would probably end up working far fewer hours for the same money, if not more.

I was right.

Fast forward 10 years then to last week, when I was listening to a presentation about business growth.

“Put your hand up,” said the speaker, “if you would like to grow your business.” He smiled and kind of chuckled, as though that was an obvious question. Who wouldn’t want to grow their business? Dur.

I kept my hand down. View Post

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I had a press release land in my inbox last week that I’ve been mulling over for a while now. It was based on a survey of a few thousand people*, asking them whether or not they snoop on their partner via phones or other devices, and if they’ve ever deleted content so that their partner doesn’t see it.

It also asked people whether or not they trusted their partner.

Just that, straight up, do they trust them.

Now you’d hope that this figure would be pretty high – you wouldn’t be in a relationship with someone you didn’t trust would you?

Apparently you would. While 67% of men said they trusted their partners, which honestly felt bad enough to me already, only 28% of women agreed.

TWENTY EIGHT PERCENT!

Really? Do only just over a quarter of us trust our partners?? I can only pray for a skewed sample otherwise I despair of humanity.

Is my partner checking my phone? View Post

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We are in Ireland this week, partly for a gig that Belle went to last night and partly for Halloween. We were over for Halloween last year and discovered that Ireland goes in for Halloween in a big way. When we went over to friends of my sister’s for trick or treating we found an estate positively FESTOONED in spooky garlands, fake cobwebs and garish pumpkin themed decorations.

Inside the house was even more spooky. Rather than an unenthusiastic clump of parents sulking in the corner while the kids went door to door threatening the neighbours and gathering Halloween themed Haribo there was a full on party – every adult seemed to be wearing an intricate, well thought out costume and the whole matter was taken very seriously. One dad was even dressed up as Banksy’s shredded painting.

Fine. I’m okay with that.

What I’m not okay with is the trend for all women’s Halloween costumes to essentially be that of ‘sexy prostitute’.

We had a look around the shops today to try and pick something out for me, as I hadn’t had any space in my suitcase to bring something with me, and honestly I was just blown away by the women’s Halloween costumes. It was hard to remember sometimes that I was in a fancy dress shop and not some kind of low rate backstreet porn shop.

You can’t apparently just be a pirate, you have to be a ‘sexy pirate’ tottering about on deck in high heels, a mini skirt and suspenders, which is hardly practical is it? Fancy dressing up as a mummy? Nope, no full length bandages for you – you can be a ‘sexy mummy’ though if you like, which is probably just a scrap or two of sheet strategically draped so as not to be completely illegal. ‘Sexy school girl’ always feels like the most disturbing, especially for children’s parties.

My absolute favourite in the shop we went in today was this one:

women's halloween costumes

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I’ve not been interested in dating at all now for a good six months. It’s actually the most chill I’ve ever felt relationship wise and I’m really enjoying doing my own thing, pottering about and basically not caring much about anything.

I’ve painted a wall in my bedroom a really dark greeny teal colour (there’s a picture on my Facebook page) and rearranged the furniture so that my bed is now in a corner and can only be accessed from one side. If that isn’t a statement of intent then I don’t know what is. I even went to an evening class and learned how to make prints in a dark room. Menopause here I come.

A few days ago though I had a bit of a moment – curiosity more than anything I think – and I redownloaded Tinder, just to see. Obviously the first thing I saw was a man holding a big fish, and then another looking incredibly sad and like dating might tip him over the edge, (two ticks on my Tinder bingo card), and so it served as a welcome reminder of why cats are better than boyfriends.

(I also saw that the man who called me a liar was still there. Not sure why he hasn’t been snapped up.)

I did have a cheeky swipe though, just to check that the evening course hadn’t crushed all of my desirability, and I got a few matches back. Fine. In my experience barely anyone ever actually bothers to message once they known that they could if they wanted to, so I didn’t feel under pressure.

And then this morning I got this lovely message and felt it my duty to reply:

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