I was struck by this analogy this week and it has stayed with me – life at the moment feels like being handed the menu at a Hungry Horse pub.

You know when you go into a super fancy restaurant and they present you with a menu on one sheet of thick, cream A4 paper? There are four options for the main course – probably pork, chicken, fish, and something for the vegetarians. The prices are given just as whole numbers – a solitary 17 – because this place is too fancy for pound signs or pence.

It feels special doesn’t it? You feel like those four options are all going to be delicious, that someone has taken care over them, put thought into them.

And then you go to a Hungry Horse.

They take you to your table, your feet sticking a little to the carpet along the way, and they present you with the menu. There are about 47,000 choices, everything comes with a side of chips and garlic bread and somehow everything is £3.49, even the steak.

(Nobody ever needs chips and garlic bread. Especially not when the main dish is already pasta.)

If you compare the menus, the Hungry Horse gives you more choice. The multiple dinner options should give you a sense of freedom surely? Apparently not. Something I’ve learned, just in the last few months really, is that choice doesn’t equal freedom. In the case of the Hungry Horse menu, choice makes everything feel less.

The Hungry Horse feels like life feels to me since the easing of lockdown – overwhelming, cheap and way too heavy on the carbs.

This sounds like I’m just being terribly snobby, possibly I was a little with the sticky carpet comment, but it’s not really about price, it’s more just supply and demand I guess – basic economics. While options have been limited in the big wide world it’s given the choices that are available more significance and made them feel more valuable. Going out for a walk on a Saturday morning and finding a vintage truck selling coffee and teacakes in a garden centre car park feels so much more magical then walking down a busy High Street, cafés either side of you. With choice, it feels to me, comes the cheapening of individual options.

I know that in theory I should be able to hold onto that magic and to see those special moments regardless of the noise around them, but it’s hard. Imagine a tiny farm shop selling freshly baked bread, milk, apples, and local cheese. Then imagine Tesco. Those things exist within Tesco but it’s not the same – they’re harder to find and you feel less connected to them when you do.

I guess we just have to try to hold those simple pleasures close, to seek them out and to cherish them when we find them. How you do that as the noise of life and of choice starts to build I don’t know, but I do know that chips and garlic bread is never the answer.

too much choice

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I had a boyfriend once who used the phrase ‘a waste’ to describe the times when we saw each other and didn’t have sex.

It was a sunny afternoon when he said it. We’d just been for a walk along the beach and were sat on the grass with coffee and ice creams. I was lying with my head on his thigh, watching the clouds, the sun warm on my face. His comment ruined the vibe to be honest.

We weren’t living together and we both had other things in our lives, like work and families and friends, so sometimes we might spend the night together, sometimes I’d go to his house during the day, other times we’d go on what I thought were lovely outings – an opportunity to spend some time together and do nice things like lie on the grass and eat ice creams.

He tried to justify it, and talked about ’emotional connection’ and other things that to me felt like him just digging a bigger hole. It stuck with me. It hurt if I’m honest. Was that what it came down to for him? Was simply spending time with me not enough? If we stayed together would I always feel the pressure to perform, even years down the line?

Now I’m not saying that I was looking to put in a solid year and then never have sex again, but I appreciate that sex evolves over the course of a long term relationship, and in very different ways for different couples as well as the individuals within the couple. But how important exactly is sex in a long term relationship?

When I talk to friends about their sex lives, the message is, as you might expect, mixed.

Some friends barely do it at all but claim to be completely happy with that – they say it’s just not an important part of their relationship anymore. Others might make the effort on birthdays or holidays. A couple of married people I know haven’t had sex in over a decade.

I decided to do some research. (Research being the technical term for ‘nosing about into other people’s sex lives’.)

I started with some Twitter polls. Not exactly SCIENCE, but I thought it would be a good place to start to get an overview of exactly how important sex is to people in a long term relationship. I appreciate that it’s a bit of a self-selecting survey, and the people doing it once a year might not be the most willing to take part, but hey ho.

Here’s what I found:

How often do people have sex View Post

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A little while ago I bought myself these cards that ask you questions, designed to make you think about yourself. I have a tendency with things like this to like the ‘idea’ more than the actual thinking. I knew that my instinct would be to flick through them all, thinking ‘oh yes, that’s a good question’, without taking proper time to actually answer it.

I promised myself that I would only turn one card over at a time, and that I wouldn’t turn over another until I had properly thought about the question. The first card I had was ‘What do I love most about myself?’ and the second was this one – ‘How do I show myself love?’ It’s been sat on my desk for over three weeks now, which shows I was right not to trust myself to get around to the thinking part very quickly.

How do I show love to myself?

I thought it was interesting that both of the first questions were about self-love. I don’t imagine the rest of pack is as generous, so it feels like the cards might be encouraging me to lay some good foundations.

I’ve thought about this question a lot over the last few weeks. I started off with answers like ‘I go for a walk’ or ‘I take time to read’, but they felt lame to be honest. I thought about the times when I’ve helped Belle with school work, encouraging her to go deeper, always telling her to ask ‘and what else?’ We can take the first answer that comes into our head, sure, or we can let that sit a little bit and then take another step in our thinking – and what else? Why do we do that? How does that mean that we are showing ourselves love?

I unpicked and unpicked in my head.

Okay, so I take the time to read because that’s something that I enjoy, it’s something that’s just for me, and it’s a way of making time for myself and prioritising myself. Better. So I show myself love by prioritising myself. What else? To prioritise myself I need to have good boundaries, I need to acknowledge that I am important, that actually I am the MOST important. Oooh… that’s a tricky one as a parent isn’t it? Can you really tell yourself you are the MOST important? You kind of have to don’t you? You can’t pour from an empty cup and all that?

So now I’m thinking about the things that get in the way of that, that make it hard for me to have boundaries, that stop me prioritising me, and do you know where I kept ending up? View Post

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What do you love most about yourself? That’s a good question isn’t it? Today I explore the idea and come up with three things which could be perceived as weaknesses, but that I consider strengths.

 

What with life being completely tedious lately, I’ve been struggling to think about things to write on my blog. I did the whole banana bread thing, then I did MINI banana breads… there’s not really anywhere to go after that is there?

‘Wow guess what guys? I sat about at home today! It was so inspiring!’

No.

Instead I thought perhaps the time had come to start thinking about STUFF. You know, STUFF. The inside bits, the big questions. My word of the year is SELF after all, and as this hasn’t been able to translate itself yet into spa days, maybe for now it needs to be a bit more introspective.

To spur me on, I bought a pack of ‘Questions to Empower‘ cards from Mål Paper. It’s 52 cards, each with a different question on it, designed to encourage self reflection. Perfect, just what I need to save me having to come up with original ideas. The cards arrived. I opened them. I gave them a shuffle and turned over the top card.

What do you love most about yourself?

‘What do I love most about myself?’

I felt relieved, like the cards were easing me in gently, because to be completely honest there are a lot of things I love about myself. I know the done thing if someone asks ‘what do you love most about yourself?’ is to point out your flaws and be secretly full of self loathing but I generally think I’m pretty great. I’m nearly 43, I’ve been a parent since I was 17, I’m kind, generous, smart, funny, modest… I’m a solid 9/10. (You have to keep something back otherwise you get lazy.)

I gave the question time to settle though, and mulled it over a bit. I wanted to think about some of the things I loved about myself that could be perceived by other people as flaws – the less obvious things that nonetheless make me who I am. Here are a few of the things that I came up with. View Post

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If you follow me on Instagram stories, you’ll know that I accidentally stayed in bed until lunchtime one day this week reading The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. I’ve read a few Matt Haig books before and I always really enjoy them. He just makes the whole thing so easy. There aren’t those difficult chapters at the beginning where you have to get to know the characters, you never say ‘it took me a while to get into but…’ you’re just THERE, in the story from page one.

The basic premise is that a woman called Nora decides to kill herself, and before she dies she finds herself in the Midnight Library. The library offers her the chance to reflect on her life and her regrets and to try different lives, lives where she’d made different choices.

When I started reading The Midnight Library I figured I knew exactly what was coming – it’s a lesson in living life with no regrets, of not always wishing the grass was greener or imagining what your life might be like if only…

And yes, it is about that – the plot isn’t surprising in that sense – but it’s about something else too, which I’m not sure I had expected or appreciated quite as much.

One of the pivotal moments in the book happens when, in one of her parallel lives, Nora is confronted by a polar bear.

The Midnight Library polar bear

I don’t think polar bears look this chummy in real life

As you might expect, she’s terrified – properly beside herself with fear – but this moment is also the first moment where she realises that she doesn’t want to die, that life might be worth living after all. It’s no coincidence that this strong emotion triggers such a powerful feeling in her, but I’m just not sure I’ve given this enough thought lately. View Post

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A little while ago I found myself having drinks with a friend. The subject got onto men, as it often does, and specifically my apparent lack of skill when it comes to identifying good ones.

Belle was there too, and she’s always happy to feed into a conversation about my failings, so the stage was set.

We were talking about an ex partner of mine, and I was revealing something they had done early in the relationship which, when it happened, I had chosen to ignore.

‘What the FUCK dude?’ said the friend. ‘Why didn’t you tell me that at the time?? I’d have made you leave him.’

I sighed.

‘Seriously,’ she said, ‘you can’t ignore things like that!’

I can’t remember what it was exactly – it may have felt insignificant at the time – but it was an excellent example of why I end up in these odd and unsatisfying relationships. It’s because I choose to ignore the relationship red flags.

I like the see the best in people, I empathise, I understand. I think to myself ‘okay so that’s not ideal, but I can totally see why their experiences as a child/low self-esteem/borderline personality disorder etc etc might make them behave like that, and so it’s really not their fault and I have to let that go.’

WRONG. View Post

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Do you have a word for 2021?

It might feel a bit of a naff idea, but choosing a word for the year isn’t just about making a Pinterest board of inspirational quotes, or getting your word made into vinyl wall art, it’s about the intention behind the word.

My word for 2021 is SELF.

SELF as a word is not as selfish as it might first seem. (And is it actually a bad thing to be selfish? That’s for another blog post maybe.) SELF to me is about investing in yourself, understanding yourself, and in doing so becoming the best version of yourself that you can be. Doing this is just about the least selfish thing you can do if you think about it, because it’s only when you are at your best that you can be the best friend, parent, employee, and all of those other roles which we assign ourselves.

On the same day that I decided on SELF as my word of the year, my Dad sent me a picture. It was a picture of me, which my Uncle John had only just had developed from a (very) old roll of film.

Word of the year 2021

If that’s not the universe saying ‘great choice with your word Joey’ then I don’t know what kind of sign I should be waiting for. View Post

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