Friday, 17 April 2015

Fitness plan 2015: week 6 round-up

I wouldn't usually do this till Sunday, but I was so happy with this week's result that I wanted to share it tonight :)

I've been very good this week, lots of home-made soup, fruit salads, lots of water and ridiculous amounts of exercise = 4lbs weight loss.  In one week!  That's not usually the kind of thing which happens to me, as even when I was doing a structured 'diet' I struggled to lose any more than 2lbs a week.  I know this isn't going to be a regular occurrence, but I'm just going to toast my success tonight with a (non-diet) glass of wine :))

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Fitness plan 2015: week 5 round-up

After the binge-eating disaster of the previous two weeks (and the reappearance of "the chins"), there was worse to come. At the beginning of this plan I decided not to weigh myself, however curiosity got the better of me and I was faced with the shock news that I had gained five pounds.  After coming to terms with this, it was enough to motivate me back into my healthy eating and exercise routine, and back in the dieting mindset again - water, home made soup and fruit have been my best friends this week!  I've been a very good girl. *polishes halo*

One change is that I've reluctantly decided to bring back my Friday weigh-ins which I used to do on WeightWatchers. So I nervously stepped on the scales yesterday to discover that I'd lost 2lbs this week.  I'm extremely happy with this result as I hadn't done any aerobics this week and only focused on walking and the exercise bike (needed to get the leg fitness back) so in the coming week I'm back to doing my aerobics again in addition to everything else, and hoping to lose another 2lbs.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Fitness plan 2015: week 4 round-up

As predicted last week it was inevitable that I wouldn't have a very successful week - but not only that, I've only gone and spectacularly undone all my good work of the first 2 weeks (and mediocre attempts of the 3rd week).

So it's back to square one yet again from tomorrow, only this time I'm going to add some seriously healthy eating into the equation from now on.  I'm banking on the (previously successful) golden trilogy of home-made soup for lunch, after-work aerobics, and gallons of water to help me back on the path to fitness.

Not going to beat myself up over it - let's draw a line under the past week and move right on...!

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Fitness plan 2015: week 3 round-up

...oh don't even ask :(

I will hold my hands up and admit that I just couldn't be bothered this past week.  No other reasons.  I will try my best over the next few days, although the temptations of Easter and that long holiday weekend are approaching, therefore I'm expecting progress to be very limited in the coming week!

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Fitness plan 2015: Week 2 round-up

Two weeks into my fitness regime and it's going very well indeed.  I am even beginning to lose inches, and clothes which haven't fitted me in ages are now beginning to fit.

My general fitness is gradually improving.  As with last week, I had some intensive aerobic and toning work at the beginning of the week, but I avoided last week's leg exercises which left me unable to walk for a couple of days!

All is not so good on the healthy eating front though....oh well there's always next week I suppose :)

My mood is slowly improving, although there are still some puzzling aspects of life which continue to confuse me and make me sad.  But I have decided to stop focusing on bad situations which are only pulling me down.

So it's onwards into week 3 of my fitness plan.  This week I'm going to build on what I've achieved so far.  I bought a new pair of running shoes yesterday ....

....but no, I won't be taking up running (!) however as I do a lot of walking, then I hope these are going to help my little feet happy while I'm out there pounding the pavements.

I'll be back next Sunday with another update.

Friday, 20 March 2015


(above picture courtesy of the European Space Agency)

You would have to reside on Mars not to have known that this morning, there was a total or partial solar eclipse going on, depending on which part of Northern Europe you were either (a) residing in or (b) spent wads of cash to go on holiday to sleep in a tent in the snow.  Svalbard and the Faroe Islands were seemingly the place to be; however there was to be disappointment in some parts of the UK due to cloudy skies.  

Up here in Scotland meantime, the skies darkened in more of a dusky rather than a 'totality' kind of way, despite Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" apparently trending on Twitter - she hasn't had this much attention since her Eurovision appearance! - and the whole experience turned out to be a bit of a damp squib, mainly due to the unavailability of those all-important glasses.  Despite a few enthusiastic colleagues trying to jolly us all into going outside for the big event, I decided to give it a miss this time round.  Getting in touch with my 'health and safety' side (a rarity!!) I didn't think it was worth the risk to look up at the sky!

Of course it was probably the missed opportunity of missed opportunities, as there won't be another one for another 75 years and we'll all be long gone by then. 

Meanwhile I am quite happy to keep my memories of the last solar eclipse which took place in 1999. We had only been in our new office for a few months when the big event took place.  In those more carefree times it was also easier to get your hands on the eclipse glasses, as magazines and newspapers were giving them away more readily in those days.  So I was well equipped for the eclipse on that August morning, and it didn't disappoint.  There are very few people left in my office who were there on that fateful day, and even less who remember it.  But I do, and that memory will be sufficient for me.  

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Blogging for life

Last Wednesday, my first born blog EuropeCrazy celebrated its 8th birthday.

I could never have imagined all those years ago where blogging would take me: that through it I would find new friends who share my interests, something which is virtually impossible in the 'real' world; that it would give me confidence to write about the things I loved; and that I would end up going on to produce three blogs and meet my all-time favourite singer twice.

The last 8 years of my blogging life have also been an accurate reflection of my real life: the glory days from 2007 to 2010, and the downward spiral from 2011 onwards.  With little exceptions (relationships, holidays and Eurovision) it would be fair to say that since the end of 2010, life has been pretty crap.  I get frustrated at not having the time or energy to blog more. I'm 8 years older, the demands of day to day life are often overwhelming, everything has just become tougher to deal with, and my time is more limited than ever.    

Yet the alternate-reality of blogging has always provided an escape from the 'real world'.  That was why I initially started EuropeCrazy, to give myself an outlet to write about my interests, about all the things which no-one else in my daily life knew or cared about.  Perhaps now, more than ever, I need that again.

The one thing I am sure of is that blogging is now such a part of my life that I cannot imagine it not being there.  It has not just become a fad or a temporary hobby - it's as much a part of me as everything else in my life and therefore I can't see it as anything other than a lifetime commitment. And for those who think blogging belongs to the past with the rise of Twitter, Facebook, vlogs, Instagram etc, then there is still a lot of life left in the blogging hobby all over the world if these statistics are anything to go by:

So I'm in it for the long haul! :)

Fitness plan 2015: week 1 round-up

So the first really serious week of my new 9 week fitness regime has gone pretty well, although it inevitably plummeted thanks to last night's drinks and snacks which accompanied the final chapter of 2015's Eurovision national finals season.  As I previously said, I have a lot of posts on the various national finals to write up and publish over the next few weeks, and really need to get on with these!  

I had seriously considered taking up a gym membership but quickly reconsidered due to the hefty monthly fees.  And besides, what's the point of joining a gym if I have an exercise bike, a mini stepper, hand weights and numerous other fitness items at home?  The money which I'd have spent on that gym membership can now go straight into the holiday fund.  Talking of which, we are taking our spring city break in Brussels this year, and are pretty excited about that too!

Therefore I decided that I'm getting fit at home, for free.  The week started with some pretty intensive aerobics, which I used to do regularly.  Surprisingly I coped pretty well, although some of the leg exercises seemed to have the opposite effect and proved just how unfit I am.  Yet on the other hand, I felt as if my general fitness levels had increased dramatically after just 3 days, and it also had a very positive impact on my mood too, towards the end of the week.  

The one thing I've decided not to do is to weigh myself until the end of the 9 weeks: my main focus is on losing inches, toning up and improving my physical and mental fitness, rather than becoming too focused on what the scales say.  

Onwards to week 2!

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Taking stock

Beginning the third month of the first quarter of 2015, and only three weeks away from the start of British Summer Time - yes! - although that feels like a long way off, as it's just been bitterly cold for weeks, and thanks to that very chilly wind it feels even colder than it was at the beginning of the year.  I guess that's nothing though, compared to the outrageously cold winter weather which affects many countries at this time of year.  

My last post on here was pretty hopeful: I'm settled into my part-time working routine and making it count as I'm continuing to tackle the decluttering and neglected jobs at home, and even found myself in the garden yesterday!  

Unfortunately my fitness regime crashed after about a week: I pulled a muscle in my back/shoulder area after carrying some very heavy shopping and was in a lot of pain for a while.  And then a lot of other stuff in my life just spiralled out of control over the last fortnight, with the result that the fitness plan was replaced by binge/emotional eating yet again to cope with it all. I don't really want to write about all that stuff, suffice to say that the strain of the past couple of weeks has left me feeling upset and exhausted and I just want to get my life back on track again.

Anyway, some good news as faithful travelling companion and I are now planning our spring holiday (expect an announcement in the next couple of weeks) so this will be my target to get fit and shed a few pounds.  What I am most looking forward to is improving my walking fitness, and not feeling so tired/lethargic all the time.  I have a mountain of draft blog posts to finish/post but have been too tired lately, so I will get round to posting them eventually :)

In the meantime, there's an exercise bike calling my name....

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

So that was January...

At the end of that horrible nightmare which was 2014, I decided to throw that year in the dustbin and start 2015 with a blank sheet.  2015 already seems to be an improvement on 2014.

The best thing of all was that I started working part-time.  It immediately had a great impact on my mood, mental health and home life.  Long-neglected tasks are now being seen to at home, I'm managing my day to day work more effectively, it's all good so far.  It's my day off today, so I've had a lie-in! I'm typing this blog post and catching up with a few jobs at home. 

I guess the only down side is the financial aspect, as the pay cut has forced me to do some serious budgeting. However there comes a time when you realise that there are other important priorities, and I'm quite happy as long as I have enough to live on and save up for holidays of course!

I have had to make some big sacrifices in other areas, cutting unnecessary spending and stepping up bargain hunting to a new level.  I used to be a compulsive shopper but this habit has now been well and truly curbed!

Last year I gained just over two stones in weight in the space of 9 months.  That's a pretty frightening statistic, but I didn't feel that it was the right time to throw myself into a fitness regime until a few days ago.  Hello again to the exercise bike, weights, mini stepper and walking to and from work.  I'm beginning to feel the benefit already, although there is still a long, long way to go.  I'm not dieting but slowly reintroducing healthier eating back into my life.  The other reason why dieting isn't really happening is that one of my plans for this year was to learn to bake and my first attempt was pretty successful.  I made cupcakes on a day off in January using my brand new food mixer and it went well.  (I'll post the pictures on here later once I upload them from my phone).  Assignment no.2 turned out to be the Great Meringue Disaster.  I guess that's one for a later date.  Meringue fail aside, I'm planning the next instalment.  Be very afraid *evil laugh*.

I'm trying to throw myself into mindfulness, which appears to be working for me most of the time.  Even the below-freezing temperatures haven't got me down!  Last week we had a lot of snow which still hasn't melted.  Anyway I'm taking everything one day at a time, but I'd be a liar if I said there hadn't been dark days over the past month: there have been more good days than bad days though, and the old 'January blues' thing didn't really happen as I was actually relieved to get Christmas, and all that surrounds it, out of the way.  One very positive thing was that I managed to overcome my terrifying social anxiety to go to what turned out to be a very enjoyable evening last Friday with faithful travelling companion and his lovely friends. 

I took a month out of blogging and tweeting, although the planned internet detox didn't quite get off the ground.  (Will maybe try that again in the summer, the way I did a couple of years back).   I finally got round to getting my laptop screen fixed as well.  Just in time for throwing myself wholeheartedly into Eurovision season of course!

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Obese, apparently

The word stared out of the web page in big blue letters.


There it was, the official announcement. Your BMI (body mass index) is 32.5, and you are obese with a capital O.  Not overweight, but o-freakin-bese.  A minimum of three stones from the top end of your healthy weight range. 

Thanks for that.  Rewind to exactly one year ago, when I was two stones lighter, I decided to rejoin WeightWatchers and was going well until my mum got ill, add to that a lot of other personal stress which set in motion what you could best describe as a 'breakdown'.  With my mental and physical health shot to pieces, I ate my way to obesity and now find myself taking the "before" picture once again, frustrated that most of my favourite clothing is now out of bounds to the new, obese me, and remembering those times in what feels like the dim and distant past when I could effortlessly power-walk my way to and from work instead of taking the bus because my legs hurt so much now.

It is the beginning of a new year, but this time round I'm taking a new approach.  I am not joining a diet class or a gym; the weight gain was down to "emotional eating" so logically, I am going to lose it through "emotional weight loss".  For there will be days when I will want to eat soup, and fruit, and low-fat stuff, and drink lots of water; just as there will be days when I will want to eat sweets and crisps and drink wine.   I will not punish myself if I've gone off the rails for a day.  It will be all about moderation, and mindfulness, but will also take account of the stress and anxiety which seems to dominate my life these days.  To return to official 'dieting' would just be one more stress to add to an already long list.

So the diet bores can do what they want.  They can join their diet classes, count their points, 'Syns', checks, whatever.  I've been there, done that, but at this point in my life I've decided that's not for me any more.  I'm re-establishing my relationship with food, on my own terms.

The thing which really worked for me in the past was exercise, which is the absolute key this time round.  Why do I need to join a gym or go to classes if I have an exercise bike, a mini stepper, hand weights, a spring rowing exerciser, a powerball, a Slendertone waist belt etc etc at my disposal?  Exercise has also been shown to improve mental health and I would agree with this, given that when my own mental health has been at its lowest point, it has always been at a time when my physical fitness levels have been poor, and never more so than now. 

So I am heading into 2015 with a positive attitude and a determination to lose the weight I gained last year.  No goals, no timescales, just small steps.  And no more obesity, please. 

I am now taking a break from blogging (and the internet) for a while to go and do some "life stuff", declutter my house, find somewhere to store all the Christmas presents and sales purchases, settle into my part-time working routine...and catch up with a lot of things before Eurovision national finals season takes over my life!  Of course I will also be throwing myself into that fitness regime.  I will be back at the end of January to update on my progress!

Breaking bag (or how I learned to love my shopping trolley)

Being a non-driver who does a lot of walking, it was inevitable that I would end up injuring myself as a result of carrying shopping bags which are far too heavy.  And that's exactly what happened a few months ago, and I finally made my mind up that after years of carrying heavy bags, enough was enough.  Drastic measures were required.  

I bought a shopping trolley. 

And since that time, I haven't looked back.  It was possibly my best purchase of 2014 and has changed my life.

Something else happened since I bought the trolley. In October 2014, the Scottish Government imposed a charge of 5p for every carrier bag provided by all retailers, (where these bags used to be free).  This is to ensure that people recycle their bags, but hasn't entirely been a successful move.  For example, I previously re-used my supermarket carrier bags as bin liners, but have now ended up buying packs of bin liners, which instead of the supermarket bags are now filled with rubbish and ending up in landfill, thus defeating the purpose of the exercise. 

Since the carrier bag charge was introduced, we now gleefully take our stash of carrier bags from rival supermarkets with us, probably much to the annoyance of those stores who, although trying to boast 'green' credentials, would like nothing more than their customers walking out of the stores with 'their' bags, advertising 'their' products.

One knock-on effect of the introduction of the carrier bag charge has been a slow but noticeable increase in the number of people turning up at my local supermarkets with their shopping trolleys in tow.  Either that or I may have started a trend among my fellow shoppers!

So, forget the notion that trolleys are only for "old grannies" well that's not true.  Anyway, who cares what people think?  Don't worry what people say, get out there and wheel your trolleys with pride.  Your health matters.  Your back, shoulders and arms will thank you for it, trust me :) 

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

'Tis the season to be shopping: a Christmas song for 2014

Here is my little Christmas gift to you.  I was inspired to write this little song based on four things:

a)  The retail mania around the festive season
b)  The rise and rise of online shopping while the high street is just a parade of empty shops
c)  The popularity of pound shops
d)  The failure of certain courier companies to deliver Christmas presents on time.

So may I present: "Fair-retail of New York (or anywhere else)"
To be sung to the tune of that perennial Christmas favourite "Fairytale of New York" by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl.

It was Christmas Eve babe
In the pound shop
But the empty shop next door
Won't see another one

Cause now it's bargain time
And people queue in line
To buy the most they can
With the little that they have

The tills all go kerching
We can buy everything
But it's not so easy now
As times get harder

So happy Christmas
But who'd have seen the day
When food banks fed the starving people in this country

(Shopper) We can buy everything
Hear the tills go kerching
Yet the shops disappoint me, I can't find a thing
When I first clicked that mouse back in 1999
I knew online shopping would suit me just fine

It was easy, it was magic
High street shopping was tragic
You could buy anything
And everything you liked

While the overpriced shops
Had nothing in stock
I decided the high street
Could go take a hike

The boys of the online shopping sites
Still singing hip-hooray
That's where I bought all my stuff for Christmas Day

(Shop owner)  You're a horrible creep
You buy things cause they're cheap
Putting me out of business
And staff on the dole

(Shopper)  You rip off your prices
And now my advice is
To head for the web
In search of a good deal

The boys of the online shopping sites
Still singing hip-hooray
That's where I bought all my stuff for Christmas Day

I could have had it all
I ordered it in time
But there's no delivery van
My stuff's abandoned
They've not delivered it
So how do I explain
That Santa's overwhelmed
And couldn't bring your presents?

The boys of the online shopping sites
Still singing hip-hooray
But the presents won't arrive for Christmas Day.

I hope you all have a lovely Christmas and that Santa's good to you :)))

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Mistletoe and whine

Regular readers of this blog will be aware of my often ambivalent feelings around the festive season. One of those things which I could see far enough is the trip to Tesco for the big food shop.  Battling an extremely nasty cold (it's not the flu, thank goodness) which started last Monday, then slightly cleared up, only to reappear on Saturday night with a vengeance.  It knocked me for six and has left me with a violent cough.  So I wasn't really firing on all cylinders when I hit Tesco today.  But the big shop is done, I'm many pounds lighter (purse-wise, sadly not weight-wise) and Operation Christmas Dinner - lemon marinaded chicken with home made roast potatoes - is ON.  

My sympathies are with the poor staff employed in the retail sector at this time of year, having to endure all the forced jollity, having to wear Christmas jumpers and listen to Christmas albums on a repeat loop.  Yet for a season which seems to be becoming more and more long and drawn-out (Christmas cards in August, anyone? No? Didn't think so) Christmas seems to evaporate very quickly indeed and before we know it, we're bombarded with ads for furniture shop sales and we're on to the year-end reviews and retrospectives etc.  

Anyway I would just like to wish all the faithful readers of this and my other blogs a very happy Christmas/holidays/whatever your particular preference - hope Santa's good to you all :)

Sunday, 21 December 2014

It's a wrap (almost)

Last week was probably the busiest week of my year.  Not only did I have a great night out at the panto (oh yes we did!) but I was also responsible for wrapping a very large number of presents for my section colleagues at work, and trying to buy some last-minute purchases and beginning the big food shop.  Busy enough so far, then throw a rotten cold into the mix which I've spent all week trying to recover from, only for it to come back last night.  So here I am blogging from my sick bed, I usually do lots of housework on Sunday morning but have allowed myself the luxury of a lie-in today!  The good news though is that I'm now on leave and not back at work till the 29th. 

There's just a few presents to be wrapped, and some overdue blog posts to be written (the 2014-50 should start making an appearance over at EuropeCrazy at some point this week!).  Today is the winter solstice, which is an appropriate metaphor for my own mood.  There are little spring-like shoots of happiness beginning to appear, and now that all the things that stress me out in the lead-up to Christmas have now come and gone, I can get on with the happy stuff - spending quality time with mum and faithful travelling companion, and enjoying the luxury of some free time at last.

Now I just wish this cold would hurry up and go away....!

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Happy life-changing things

You'll remember that rather gloomy previous post about my miserable year and how I was hoping for this life-changing thing to happen.  Well, yesterday it became official. 

In January I will join the world of the part-time workers.  Well at least for a couple of months anyway, to see how it goes.  Working 4 days a week instead of 5 should help me to achieve that much-desired "work-life balance", give me more time to deal with all my extra caring responsibilities whilst improving my focus when I'm at work.  And it won't be all work and no play either: I can take mum out for coffee, or some retail therapy during the week instead of at the weekend when the crowds can be overwhelming. 

I'm also envisaging a positive impact on my own health and fitness, and am targeting some serious weight loss and improvement in my overall wellbeing.  And you never know....I might even have time to blog more regularly.  Win-win, I think you'll agree. 

So here's to a fresh start and happier times :)

Friday, 5 December 2014

My 1000 Hours and the inspiration of Niall Breslin

If you've been a regular (or even occasional) reader of my main blog EuropeCrazy, you may remember that over recent years I have been a big fan of the Irish singer/songwriter Niall Breslin, better known as Bressie.  At the height of his fame he decided to quit his music career and focus on other projects.  As time went on we learned that Bressie had experienced anxiety and depression throughout his life.  There is so much misunderstanding and stigma around depression and mental health issues - and this is very close to home as it's something which I continue to struggle with on a daily basis - and I think it's truly inspiring that Bressie has used his fame to speak out and raise awareness.

Bressie's latest venture is a new website called My 1000 Hours
The website focuses on holistic fitness and will be one of my go-to websites in the months to come, check it out for lots of helpful tips on dealing with emotional and physical fitness.

Pulling myself back from the brink

I've been in a pretty dark place for much of the year:  balancing the unrelenting stress of day to day life and a full-time job, with being a full-time carer for my mum, who is not the same person she was before she got ill earlier this year, and the impact this had on my physical and mental health.  I never thought that at the beginning of the year that I would end 2014 at two stones heavier than I was at the start of it.  But we all have different ways to deal with stress and bad times, and binge eating was mine.  Even though I've been overweight for a number of years, I always maintained a high level of fitness but even that went this year, to a point where the pains in my legs became so debilitating that I couldn't even walk for long periods. 

Just weeks after my return from holiday, I spiralled into a deep depression, struggling with daily panic attacks, and I completely shut down.  That seemed to be the tipping point for intervention, acknowledgement and clarity.  I won't go into detail just now as there's some pending stuff which will help me to deal with it all; I don't know how it's going to go, but, well, it's worth a try.  I've also read a number of articles on the internet about being a carer, and these are helping me so much.

There is one other major thing in the pipeline (what I have called the "life-changing thing" on my Twitter feed).  It is now out of my hands, and I don't want to count my chickens, but if it happens, then life is about to get a million per cent better (ok I know there's no such thing as a million per cent, but hey...).  And if it doesn't happen, then I'll just have to deal with it.  But for the moment I'm hanging on to hope, with fingers and everything else crossed.

Before this post descends into a one-way ticket to self-pity city, there are reasons to be cheerful.  Although certain elements of the Christmas season relentlessly annoy me, regardless of how I'm feeling, I'm still looking forward to being around my loved ones and sharing happy experiences.  Two weeks from tonight, I'll finish up for a week's Christmas leave and I can't wait!  When almost every minute of your day and night is accounted for, particularly at this time of year, it's difficult to make time to make positive changes, losing weight, getting fit etc - I don't make new year resolutions, but those are definitely on the to-do list for 2015.  I also have new challenges and ambitions for the year ahead, so we'll see how far I get!

I suppose the thing I'm saddest about is that I haven't really had much time or energy to blog this year, but I can only hope that next year will be better in the blogging department.  And we are now in Eurovision season: if that's not a mood-enhancer, then I don't know what is...!

Monday, 27 October 2014

Back to the blogs

In addition to my much-increased caring commitments, it's been a mixture of laziness and bloggers' block which has kept me away from blogland over recent weeks. However, a few nice things happened recently, which have helped me turn the corner and get back into a happier place.

  • The holiday: Trogir in Croatia was brilliant, and brought me the peace and calm which I'd been searching for, for so long.
  • My birthday: I had a fabulous time thanks to the generosity of my loved ones, friends and colleagues.  It just reminded me how lucky I am to have them in my life.
  • I quit dieting: I never realised just how much pressure I was putting on myself to lose weight, and totally beat myself up about it when it never happened.  Since that time I have stayed the same and neither gained nor lost, but the main thing is that the pressure is gone.  So I have had to buy some larger clothes, but it's not the end of the world. 
  • I got mindful: yes it's a 'thing' at the moment, but I'm trying to practice mindfulness, living in the moment.  It may sound a lot of new-age-gubbins to some, but it seems to be working for me and for some other people I know.  Unfortunately there is no solution in mindfulness for time-managing your backlog of telly programmes/box sets so I'll need to work on that one :)

Sunday, 28 September 2014

18th September 2014: that independence referendum.

45% of Scottish voters said yes: I was one of them.  However, 55% of Scottish voters said no, therefore Scotland will remain in the United Kingdom. 

I was on holiday in Croatia during the week of the Scottish independence referendum, and had cast my postal vote (pictured above) in advance.  As the arguments became more heated in the run-up to voting day, I was glad to be away from it all.  What more could I say or do?  Once I had made my decision to vote yes, that was it.  There was no going back, no changing my mind.  I may be a typical indecisive Libran but once my decision is made, I will always stand by it.

Being surrounded by No voters in my working environment, coupled with the torrent of scare stories being fed to us by the mainstream media, I had an idea that No would triumph.  It was hope versus fear, and of course I understand why a lot of people just don't want to take that risk, that chance, that leap of faith into the unknown.  So, despite my own high hopes and desire for change in this country, I can understand why people would vote no.  It was their choice. 

What I wasn't prepared for was the level of disappointment which I felt on the morning of Friday 19th September.  As I woke to another bright and sunny morning in Trogir, I reached for my tablet and went online to discover the result.  In just one second it felt as if we'd been plunged into the abyss, soundtracked with the sound of a nation's bottle crashing. And my other thought: "how am I going to explain the result to that lovely Croatian girl in the hotel who couldn't understand why we would not want independence?".

Hope had been replaced with hopelessness, with only Glasgow, Dundee, North Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire daring to dream of a new future. 

"If we are going to be better together, then why are we not better together now?"

Someone asked this question during one of the televised debates and I thought it hit the nail on the head.  In the last days of the campaign, the leaders of the UK's three main political parties suddenly remembered that Scotland existed and they came north in a last-gasp bid to save the Union, and even went as far as to jointly sign a promise that Scotland would be given extra devolved powers in the event of a No vote.  This 'vow' appeared on the front of the Daily Record, and was supposed to convince the remaining don't-knows to vote No.

But as we all know, it wouldn't be the first time that a political promise turned to dust.  Just hours after the referendum result was confirmed, the debate was suddenly steered in a different, federalist direction, and the possibility of extra devolution was now buried beneath new arguments about powers for England, Wales, Northern Ireland....and a general feeling that we should all now move on and forget that the referendum ever happened.  I have never liked Alex Salmond or the SNP, but the referendum was bigger than that.  When Salmond conceded the result on 19th September, he did it with statesmanship and dignity, and then he later announced that he was stepping down as First Minister and SNP leader.  Nicola Sturgeon is very likely to be his successor, which will mean that the three main political parties in Scotland will all be led by women.  Whether you agree with their politics or not, that gives you an idea of Scotland's progressive potential.

Of course we need to move on: dwelling on the result can leave you looking like a sore loser filled with sour grapes, but moving on should mean building on what the referendum started - a feeling of democracy, empowerment and a desire for positive change.  People are doing it in different ways: whether joining the Scottish National Party, participating in the '45' movement, keeping the arguments alive online, but as a 'working-class Yes voter looking for a political home' I feel that the time is right for a new party to be established in Scotland, or some kind of new alliance to represent us.  I found this fantastic article by Cat Boyd which perfectly articulates my own views:  I can only hope that someone, somewhere steps up to fill that political void. 

Regardless of the result, I'm glad the referendum happened.  It provided a rare opportunity for empowerment and democracy, and it woke Scotland up.  The next big challenge is staying awake and keeping the momentum going.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Quitters never win, blah blah blah.

I've been fighting a weight-loss war for years.  Over my 7 years of blogging I've tried organised diets and doing my own thing.  I've seen highs and lows.  In 2011 I managed to get down to a size 14 and dropped to my lowest weight in nearly 20 years.  Since that time it's all gone horribly wrong, and I've been unable to sustain any kind of weight/inch loss.  The past year has brought the menopause, stress, anxiety, physical and mental health problems, increased caring responsibilities, increased work demands, and life has just overwhelmed me.  I've always been an "emotional eater" and used food as a response to stressful situations. 

In the past 6 months I have gained - wait for it - a stone and a half.  Even through periods of sticking to an organised diet, and eating healthily, there has been inexplicable and rampant weight gain.  Which, my menopausal friends tell me, is probably hormonal and stress-related.  Which has, in turn, completely messed with my mind.  Apart from the weight gain, the past six months have been mainly a time of complete doom and gloom, when at times things got so dark that it scared me.  For most of June, July and into August I literally couldn't function and most days I just wished that I didn't have to get out of bed, that I could just escape into sleep rather than face the world outside.

I have been taking Kalms for the past three weeks and the difference has been astounding.  My panic/anxiety attacks have been almost non-existent; I'm sleeping better, and the dark fog which has engulfed me in my daily life is now beginning to lift.  Living with depression is like a sentence hanging over you, you know that it's always going to come back sometime, but those times when you manage to chase it away is like the best feeling in the world.  I now have the clarity to make plans and major decisions about my life (more news to follow, hopefully soon) and in the immediate future I've decided to quit dieting and go back in time to when I didn't have such an oppressive, guilt-ridden relationship with food, when I didn't have so many hang-ups about points/calories, and just focus on the only thing which really works: exercise and sensible eating.  No more weekly weigh-ins, no more slavery to the scales! 

They say quitters never win, but quitting dieting is a good thing for me right now.  I've decided to draw a line under the last six months, and choose to enter the post-holiday/pre-Christmas period - always a difficult one for me - with a new, healthier attitude to life.

In the meantime though, there's the small matter of that forthcoming holiday.  Over the coming week I've scheduled a rigorous exercise regime which (a) will help me to cope with what is potentially one of the most stressful working weeks in a long time, and (b) will boost my fitness for the Croatian adventure. 

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Here, but not really here, but....oh, here anyway.

My annual August internet detox has failed miserably, so I'm going to try it again in October when I'm full of post-holiday good intentions.  Hmph.  Anyway it's soon September and I'll try and fit in as much blogging stuff as time allows.

I'm still battling anxiety and depression.  There, I said it, and I'm trying to do something about it. Whilst I am completely honest, open and upfront about what's wrong with me - something which I have struggled with for almost 15 years - why do others have such a problem with it?  Let's just sweep it under the carpet.  After all, when you have the ongoing Groundhog Day bore-a-thon of the Ice Bucket Challenge and the daily Facebook obsessions, then why bother with someone who does not share your interests and quite frankly, just doesn't give a flying f**k??  Try independence of thought sometime.  You might like it.

No offence to those who have actually done the Ice Bucket Challenge, and all the money it has raised for charity.  Some of the video clips are admittedly funny, but it's just not for me.  The most annoying thing about this well-meaning but egotistical exercise is the peer-pressure placed on those with a mind of their own, who choose not to join Facebook and/or participate in this daily nightmare without end.

"Who hasn't done it yet??"  It's like a revival of school bullying, reinvented for adult life.  If you don't do it, there must be something wrong with you.  Don't you like a laugh?  Well yes, I do as it happens, but as the saying goes, are we not at "peak bucket" yet?  And in a summer where I completely unravelled and found myself in a very dark place, getting someone to throw a bucket of water over me is the least of my worries.  Get a life, people.

It is just over two weeks until I go on holiday: now there is something which fills me with excitement.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The journey from Naw to Aye: my last word on the Scottish independence referendum

Finally, this is my last word on the subject.  (Aren't you all glad of that!)

In September 2013 I wrote a blog post on why I would be voting No in the Scottish independence referendum which takes place on 18th September.  By June 2014 the confirmed 100% No voter had become a Yes-with-reservations, as I devoured every intelligent argument (online of course - you won't find these in the Scottish press) about the reasons why Scotland should be an independent country, and a potentially successful one at that.  But I still had my doubts.

The referendum is now just over 5 weeks away.  I will be voting Yes.

So what changed my mind? Well, I have taken the time to explore all views and opinions, for and against, from all sides of the argument.  It has been a long time and a lot of work, but the research is worth it when the future of your country is at stake.  I have deliberately avoided the arguments from the SNP and Better Together, preferring to focus on rational, intelligent arguments and explanations by people who are independent (pardon the pun) of thought.  The Scottish National Party (SNP) may have facilitated the referendum, but I do not share their views and I can't stand its leader Alex Salmond.  And don't even start me on that awful TV debate last week between him and Better Together's frontman Alistair Darling: a shouting match which did neither side any favours.

I know more people who will be voting No than voting Yes.  Everyone to their own decision, but I would guess that many of those will not have taken the time or trouble to seek out all the information available, and only listened to the fear-driven arguments of much of the Scottish media.  I have chosen to take the time to make an informed decision. 

Breaking away from the UK is going to be a tough decision to make.  We have so much in common, we like a lot of the same things, we watch the same TV shows, listen to the same music, we have shared experiences.  But Scotland's political life has always been more distinctively different from the rest of the UK: we have always been more left-wing/socialist in our outlook.  There is a lot of exciting debate coming from the radical left and who knows - this could even lead to the creation of a new political force in our country.  Whilst acknowledging there are certain parts of the country which will always vote for other parties, the fact remains that in all my life Scotland has always 'been Labour' and which in the past two Scottish Parliament elections, punished the party for its swing to the right in the rest of the UK.  This brought the SNP to power and ultimately gave that party a mandate to hold this infamous referendum. 

The decision to choose independence for Scotland is purely based on our right to run our own affairs.  It's a chance for Scotland to reinvent itself, to make a fresh start as a progressive country, to create a  fair and just society where people are not punished for being poor. As the southern part of the UK dangerously spirals towards an extreme right-wing future and a potential Tory/UKIP coalition, can you blame us for not wanting to be part of that?

The forthcoming referendum has had some positive side-effects.  Political apathy took hold of this country a long time ago, so who'd have thought that so many people are getting out there to attend public meetings?  I had never been to a political meeting in my life, but recently I attended a public meeting where more relevant points and questions were raised and addressed in one night than you would ever get in a year's worth of televised debates.  Finally, people are beginning to take an interest in the future direction of our country.  However, when it comes to voting time, I just can't see the majority of my countrymen and women voting yes. 

But I have finally made my own decision.  In answer to the question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?".  I will be voting yes.  In the words of John Lennon, Citizen Smith and Molly Smitten-Downes: power to the people.

The countdown

After some rather gloomy previous posts, I thought I'd move on to a bit more positivity now.  I have this little whiteboard on my bedroom wall where I'm now doing a little daily countdown to my holiday, and writing my daily fitness goals and ticking them off.

I've been doing quite well over the past couple of weeks.  I'm still sticking to Weight Watchers, but my weight loss is very slow.  The most important thing for me is to lose a few inches, which is more important than what the scales say.  So I have returned to the aerobics routines which I remember from the twice-weekly aerobics classes which I went to at the beginning of the 90s.  OK so I may be older and heavier, but I still have the moves :)

Slight but positive changes are beginning to happen.  Of course with only a few weeks to go until my holiday, there isn't too much time left to achieve any drastic weight/inch loss - and I don't like that anyway, because in the world of dieting, slow and steady wins the race - but there is enough time to make a difference.  Onwards!


Regular readers of this blog will be well aware of my ambivalent feelings about Christmas - once it actually comes, I enjoy spending it with my loved ones and of course I enjoy the week off work.

However, the lead-up always feels like someone's got their hands around your neck and squeezing tighter and tighter: the packed shops, the Christmas songs on repeat from October (I feel so sorry for those people working in retail having to suffer all that), the overpriced meals in restaurants, the Christmas lunches/nights out, the forced jollity, the Secret Santas, the pressure which builds and builds due to additional tasks at work, the general view that if you're childless by choice that Christmas is somewhat more worthless for you, need I go on?

But before all that, the first danger signs of the C word appear.  Today I read this and became extremely annoyed:

Summer is a very short season in this country.  Can we please, please be allowed to enjoy what's left of it?  It's only August.  The rain may be back, the temperatures plummeting and the nights are getting darker, but officially it is still summer.  We will be in winter soon enough.  I've been reading a lot about mindfulness and the importance of living in the moment, yet no-one told that to the retail industry.  So we have Easter Eggs and Valentine cards in January, summer clothes appearing in February, winter clothes appearing in August, and months of the pre-Christmas hell.  I wish they would stop this acceleration of the seasons.  The only exception to this is, of course, Eurovision season!  That goes on for months and months, and that's just fine by me :)

Monday, 4 August 2014

An open letter to my unwanted, unwelcome guest

NB: To male readers of this blog, you will want to ignore this post. To younger female readers, meet the Ghost of Hormonal Future.  To older female readers, some (or all) of this might just be familiar....

You hovered around for a couple of years and caused some minor havoc, before you moved into my life almost a year ago.  With your arrival, you immediately banished that other unpleasant and painful monthly visitor.  Which admittedly provided some cause for celebration, although this was brief, as you then proceeded to wreck my life in many ways with almost debilitating consequences.

Where there was once a reasonable body temperature, you brought excessive heat and sweating which recently intensified to a stage where it made almost every minute of every day unbearable.  'Hot flushes' does not begin to explain this almost permanent, unpleasant state.  Even for this social-phobic, you have made it virtually impossible for me to be in any social situation.  Purple is my favourite colour, but a purple face with water pouring out of it is so not a good look.

Where there was once sleep, there has not been a night since your arrival that I have been able to have a full night's sleep, hell no, not when I can wake up at least 5 or 6 times a night.

To a once happy, calm and pleasant person, you have brought depression, anxiety, mood swings, panic attacks, palpitations, irritability, negativity.  To a once overweight but reasonably fit and healthy person, you tipped me over the borderline into obesity - what a horrible word, but that's what my BMI is telling me - and you made it so much more difficult to lose this extra weight which was gained so quickly.  It is hard to believe now that just 3 years ago I was size 14, my perfect weight and size.  That feels like another time and place now.

It's strange now to think that I once looked forward to your arrival: that this would signal the end of one chapter and the beginning of a whole new one.  "The change of life", they called it.  Well, it was certainly a change, but not for the better.  I can't go anywhere without wondering if the temperature will be too hot.  Even the beautiful summer temperatures of recent weeks became a strain.  And in the winter, my favourite seasonal garments - scarves and jumpers - are now off limits as I can't stand the heat.  Every thing I do, every place I go, every decision I make seems to be influenced by you, piling on the misery when I am trying to make the best of life.

Now I hear you telling me that what you have brought me is not an illness, but a natural progression, the end of a hormonal cycle.  The one thing we can be sure of is that every woman will go through this.  Fine, then, but I have also read that you could be around for up to 10 years, maybe more?  How can anyone possibly stand this level of discomfort, day after day? But I'm not going to be beaten. I am a great believer in natural/herbal remedies, and am working my way through all possible options to deal with your impact, and every day I'm trying to find a new way not to let you grind me down.  I'm currently fighting you with a fitness regime which hopefully will not only get those extra pounds off, but will also give me the mental and physical strength to cope with the daily challenges you throw at me.  It will get better.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Finding my way back

After the extreme depression and alienation of recent weeks (and gloomy tweets), it is a relief to write a blog post which isn't soaked in doom and gloom.  Yes, I'm hoping that I have finally turned the corner.  I woke up on Friday morning and for the first time in weeks, the massive cloud had lifted, the fog started to fade and it was as if I had finally got myself back again.  Other little things have happened too, which will probably help me to move onwards and upwards in the coming weeks and months. 

Oh, and we have finally booked our holiday to Croatia in September!  These days of course, we can't really plan too far ahead, but fingers crossed that all is well at that time, and I finally get to fulfil one of my outstanding holiday ambitions at long last.

One thing which never changes is my continuing quest to lose weight, and have started yet again.  I've lost 3lbs in two weeks, a slow but steady start.  The unexpectedly warm weather of the past few weeks - no, I never thought I'd ever see myself writing that sentence either! - has been very nice, but it's been too warm to throw myself back into an ongoing exercise programme.  I have been back on the exercise bike though: it's a great way to exercise, although I'll need to get back to doing my aerobics if I want to get the desired results in the coming weeks. 

Friday, 11 July 2014

Wanted: daylight

So anyway, the depression has been eating away at me again, I've been in a bit of denial and haven't really acknowledged it until the past week.  I shouldn't feel this low during the summer months, but the fact remains that it is happening, and it all came to a head over the last couple of weeks.  I have my own theory on what's really behind it.  So I had put it out there, that I'm suffering from a summer variant of SAD, and I know the reason for it.  All things being well, this may be resolved by the end of this month.  Or not.  Here's hoping anyway...

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately (that's what the noise is) and after the stresses of recent months, I'm trying to find a way back to the old happy me, rather than the current unrecognisable unhappy variation.  They say that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  7 years ago, when I started blogging, I was in a bit of a dark place.  I know that it is a bit of a cliché, but blogging really rescued me and changed my life. 

Over the past couple of years I've had other priorities, other things eating into my time, and just not enough hours in the day, which has completely irritated me, and the blogs have suffered as a result.  I want to get back to that good place.  I want to start blogging again, to recapture the buzz which I once felt.  Times have changed: mainstream music is mainly crap, and I can't really connect with it any more.  But there are so many things which I still want to write about, and it's about time I got back there. 

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Here's what I made earlier

Been a long time since I did the blogging thing, so time for a catch-up!

Firstly, I've been on holiday over the past week - a welcome "staycation" with a couple of fab day trips which I'm hoping to blog about very soon (my version of 'very soon' at the moment is any time between 4 to 7 weeks...)

I finally took the plunge and bought a Galaxy SIII mini smartphone four weeks ago.  I am surprised that I have not gone bald since then, as I've been tearing my hair out over even the most simple aspects of it.  It's a good enough phone, but why are these bloody things not supplied with a manual?

Talking of hair, I have made several attempts to lighten my too-dark brown hair, and now I have some kind of half red, half brown dip-dye-in-reverse thing going on.

After weeks of outrageous weight gain, I managed to lose a few pounds by sticking to WeightWatchers Online.  Then proceeded to undo all the good work over the past 9 days.  Oh well...back to work tomorrow and back to the discipline of counting daily points.  I feel I'm in a good position to lose a few more pounds/inches for our big summer holiday, which is just 11 weeks away.   Croatia is calling - but there are so many options that I'm getting a headache just deciding where to go!

So I believe there's some football tournament on at the moment?  Yes we are in the midst of the World Cup, but if I'm honest, the first phase has pretty much passed me by - too many matches, too little time, and no prime time highlights programmes.  I'm trying to keep up with the knockout phase though. 

At long last I managed to post my Eurovision 2014 reviews over at EuropeCrazy.  Hoping to post the Copenhagen holiday diaries pretty soon too :)

Sunday, 1 June 2014

The countdown is on...but I'm still a 'don't know'.

We are now hurtling towards September 2014 and Scotland's independence referendum.  Previously I was a confirmed 'No' voter but things have changed over recent months.  I've decided to avoid the 'yes' and 'no' campaigns, both of which seem to resort to childish mudslinging at every turn.  Neither of these campaigns would convince me, so I have tried to ignore the campaigns and gather information and educate myself on all aspects of independence, both positive and negative. Heck, I've even downloaded and read the White Paper (and was even still awake at the end of it!).

Although I briefly swayed towards voting yes, I still have some major doubts about whether we could succeed on our own, for example in terms of economy and defence, so the yes camp still has a lot of convincing to do.  However, the idea of establishing a fairer society is highly appealing.  The opportunity to create a fairer benefits system, or abolishing the bedroom tax, would be a positive aspect of independence.

Historically, this country has always been more left-wing than its southern neighbour, and I still believe that a lot of the SNP's success in the last two Scottish elections was down to protest votes and disillusionment about Labour's failings during the Blair era.  However, in an independent Scotland, we will inevitably be led by politicians.  With all their MPs removed from Westminster, this would be a perfect opportunity for Scottish Labour to reinvent itself as a party to represent ordinary people in Scotland, who watch on in horror as the Cameron regime drags the UK further down into a climate of intolerance and hate, with seemingly no opposition in sight and the possibility of a future Tory/UKIP coalition ruling the country.  Do we really want to be part of that?  It's interesting that Salmond and Sturgeon are now targeting disaffected Labour voters like myself and trying to convince us that a Yes vote does not necessarily mean a vote for the SNP. 

I have still to be convinced however, about how independence would work in practice, in a number of areas.  Even the most simplistic matters become complicated.  Just over a week ago, I queued with my fellow passengers at border control at Edinburgh Airport, on our return from Denmark.  At that point I wondered about the differences in our national status, post-independence, as travellers from Scotland to Europe.  Would we then need to join a different queue, for 'non-EU' travellers?  As a newly independent country, Scotland would need to reapply to become an EU member.  How can we really be sure that acceptance into that 'club' would be a formality? 

There are so many unanswered questions around our national status, and the economic cost of independence from the UK.  On the one hand - yes, in an ideal world we should be an independent country.  Why not?  But the whole 'UK' thing has been around so long - give or take 500 years - that it's only natural to wonder whether we would be doing the right thing by divorcing from the UK.    How do we defend ourselves, for example?  How do we pay for all the transition, when many  'UK' businesses are already getting uncomfortable about the idea of an independent Scotland?  You can't count on oil, Mr Salmond, no matter what you say.  Just where will all the money come from?

As I said, so many unanswered questions.  Perhaps the referendum should have been extended to the whole of the UK, rather than just Scotland: that would have provided a more accurate result.  Oh, and by the way, could they make referendum voting compulsory please?  It's hard to take something seriously when only 30-odd per cent actually bother to turn up at the polling station.  This is the future of our country, after all. 

To conclude: I'm still in the 'don't know' camp. With 3 and a half months to go till the referendum, will someone please convince me one way or another?

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Onwards and upwards - now we need a Copenhagen hotel!

4 weeks on, my mum is making slow and steady progress, particularly over the past few days - dare I say she has turned a corner?

Anyway it's looking good for myself and faithful travelling companion for our planned short break to Copenhagen in just over three weeks time.  In an ideal world I would have been there for ESC week but the rip-off hotel prices would have blown our holiday budget for the year (and beyond).  It was a difficult decision to make, but eventually we decided to hit the Danish capital a couple of weeks after ESC.

The flights were booked some time ago, but now we will need to book a hotel.  After some considerable research over the past couple of weeks, I'm none the wiser.  What's the best area to stay in, for a short break to Copenhagen?  All helpful suggestions welcome :))

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Some small steps forward, some small steps back

Mum continues to amaze me with her recovery, considering how seriously ill she was two weeks ago.  For such a frail little thing, she is such a fighter.  Over the past week she has made incredible progress, however there was an unexpected setback this week which has required medical attention.  Anyway, the nurses are in every day for monitoring visits, and she continues to get the rest and relaxation which she needs.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

8 days later

After 8 days in hospital, mum is home, and I am happy.

However, it is the end of one chapter and the beginning of another: the recovery.  Which is going to take a bit of time, due to her lack of mobility and general state of health.  But on the plus side, out go the hospital visiting marathons :) Now she is home, and no-one's clock-watching and she can recover at her own pace, in her own time.

As for me, being my mum's carer is a pleasure and a privilege, so it's all good :))

Monday, 31 March 2014

Busy doing....everything

We never made it to Cyprus after all.  What began with my mum taking the common cold ended with her being admitted to hospital with pneumonia, unconscious and dangerously ill. 24 hours later, after being zapped with super-oxygen machines, she was sitting up in bed talking and joking, and I am so thankful that the hospital staff managed to save her.

Mum is still in hospital, and apart from my intensive visiting schedule, I'm reinventing myself as domestic goddess (ha!) and doing some painting, cleaning and decluttering around the house this week. 

I forgot how therapeutic (and messy!) painting can be.  You do feel some sense of reward at the end of it, seeing a room transformed into something fresh and new again.  I thought it would be a good idea to paint mum's room, to make it all fresh for her coming home, whenever that will be.  Last night, I painted for 3 hours and really enjoyed it.  Oh, and I would recommend 70s disco tunes for a painting soundtrack :)  I'm hoping to finish the room tonight after coming home from evening visiting. 

It seems no time since a couple of weeks ago when I was shortlisting my clothes for the holiday-that-never-was, when I discovered so many items of nearly new or unworn clothing in my wardrobes.  Some good stuff in there too, but it's taking up too much room and it has to go.  (Top tip: never buy clothes and say you'll slim into them later, it doesn't work).  I am an obsessive clothes-shopper and hardly a week goes by without me buying something new, so it's definitely time for another clearout and bag-filling for the local charity shops. 

And as for the cleaning, well I've invested in one of those steam mop thingies so hopefully once I get to work with that, the place will be gleaming!

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

It's getting better :)

It's been a little while since I posted on here, so let's recap.

I never lost all the weight I wanted to lose - but I lost 7lbs.
I got an exercise bike and went from crippling pain to power-walking fitness again.
Work's still tough, but it's getting easier.
Weeks of insomnia completely stopped me functioning, but I'm finally sleeping again.
I caught another very nasty cold, but I'm now trying to shake off the leftovers.
I'm still a long way from where I want to be,  but I'm getting there.

Best of all: I'm going on holiday in a few days, and that's the best feeling in the world.  Now I need to get on with the packing and preparation for our first ever trip to Cyprus :)

Of course you can expect all the usual gratuitous food photography and travel tales when I eventually publish those holiday diaries...!

Thursday, 27 February 2014

A grumpy old insomniac with an exercise bike

After the physical and mental stresses and strains of recent weeks, I finally decided last weekend that enough was enough.  I bought an exercise bike.

I've only been using it for 6 days but can tell you that it has made such a difference to my physical fitness already, and I'm able to walk again at a speed beyond crawling, after months of inactivity, weight gain and comfort eating saw my legs just virtually give up, in sympathy with the recurring left foot problem.  Although even that is beginning to subside and I'm no longer in constant pain. 

Unfortunately, I'm struggling to pull myself out of a pretty dark place just now.  Insomnia night after night can leave you struggling to function - that's just one of many things getting me down.

God this is getting to be such a depressing blog.  I want happy Laura back!

Thursday, 6 February 2014

And in other news...

It's a long story but the other week I stupidly damaged my laptop.  It's still working though, apart from a damaged screen, but now the touchpad has decided to start messing with my mind.  Today I invested in a wireless mouse.  Now I've never had one of these before but I'm quite impressed - yes I'm easily amused. 

I've decided to wait until June before having it repaired, for the sole reason that February to May is the most crucial period of the year - national finals, Eurovision, spring holiday planning, summer holiday planning - in other words it's a time not to be separated from ye olde laptop and all the worry about how long a repair will take.  And then of course when it's wired up to the telly with the HDMI cable, all is well :)

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Today's bulletin

Juggling stress, anxiety, exhaustion, depression and that whole feeling of being completely overwhelmed...and even the diet's on hold for a couple of weeks as that would just completely push me over the edge. 

There is some happy stuff coming up very soon though, so it's not all bad.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Dino's in Glasgow is closing! :(

In the overcrowded environment of Glasgow's restaurant scene, three cuisines stand tall: Italian, Chinese and Indian.  And when it comes to Italian restaurants, one stood above all others: Dino's in Sauchiehall Street. It feels like it's been there for ever - but the sad news came today that Dino's is closing down (for reasons unknown at the time of writing) and becoming a bank.  (Yeah, like Glasgow city centre needs another bank.)  Anyway I thought it would be the perfect time for a post about the legend that is Dino's!

As I said earlier, Dino's has always been there.  Sitting proudly slap bang in one of Glasgow's busiest shopping areas, not down a side street or a back alley, it was a special place.  It was, for me, "the people's restaurant", a place which was inclusive to all, and always welcoming.  Many a cold winter's day was immediately made better by a trip to the 'cafe side' and no trip to the equally legendary Glasgow Pavilion theatre was complete without a lunch or dinner at Dino's.

Step through that door and you immediately step into Italy - Italian music wafting through the speakers, waiters busily buzzing around, and the smell of pizzas, coffee and ice cream.  This restaurant has a special atmosphere which is a rarity - only the now defunct Bath Street eatery Sannino ever managed to capture that same unique atmosphere for me.  The fast-growing and impressive Tony Macaroni chain may be growing in popularity, but while it has good food and a good atmosphere, it's not the iconic Dino's, is it?

You always were guaranteed a good meal at Dino's, whether pizza or pasta or anything else on the varied menu.  And you always got a damn fine cappuccino.

Time is running out to enjoy the Dino's experience, as the restaurant is due to close on March 16th.  Get in there while you can and show your support.  I doubt if anyone will be as enthusiastic about the Halifax bank which will replace it :(

(pictures courtesy of

Saturday, 25 January 2014

My winter shutdown

I started 2014, not with New Year resolutions doomed to fail, but with realistic, clear-headed goals. One thing was for sure: I didn't want a repeat of 2013, which despite its high points (mostly holiday-related) will be remembered for unprecedented levels of stress and anxiety which led to comfort eating, weight gain and ill health.

So, with January almost over, I'm taking stock.  6 lbs lighter than I was at the start of 2014, feeling considerably fitter, the foot injury's gone from crippling to manageable.  I've had a new mattress for exactly two weeks which has improved my sleep immensely, and the other health problem I've had since September is finally being kept in check.  There has been a lot of decluttering at EuropeCrazy HQ, so I'm not going to end up on one of those 'world's biggest hoarder' documentaries after all, and the local charity shops have been the beneficiaries of some rather fab brand-new-but-doesn't-fit-me-anymore clothing.  So, it's all good.

However, it would appear that in my day-to-day life that I seem to have reached a level of social detachment of Saga Noren-type proportions, which has raised some concern that I might be depressed again, when in fact I'm not. I may have 'shut down' for the winter but I'm just in the zone.  I'm focused.  Just trying to get stuff done.  You know how they always say on a flight that you should fit your own oxygen mask first?  Well, that's what I'm doing....getting my own life in order so that I can deal with all the challenges ahead, including forthcoming changes in my working environment.  The next few weeks will be very trying, but there are also good personal things happening which might just balance the trepidation which change brings.

So, all in all, I'm getting organised.  Blogging, as ever, has been a casualty of 'other stuff' but I'll try and fit a few posts in here and there when I can :))

Saturday, 18 January 2014

The other side of the story

We didn't know him, yet over the past couple of days he became "our" child.  And now we mourn. 

When little Mikaeel Kular was reported missing from his home in Edinburgh a couple of days ago, he immediately went from being just an ordinary three year old child to being the centre of attention in all our lives.  The little boy had been put to bed by his mother on Wednesday evening, and the next morning he was gone, seemingly having disappeared overnight.  Fuelled by non-stop news coverage, he was the main topic of conversation.  Where could he be? How could he have got out of the family flat on his own?  Who could have taken him when there was no evidence of forced entry?  We all hoped and prayed for his safety, but this morning the country woke to the devastating news that Mikaeel's body has been found in Fife, the home of a relative is being searched, and that his mother has been detained.  That's all we know just now. 

I can't find the words right now to describe how angry, hurt and horrified I feel about this.  But plenty of others can, because Twitter court is in session.  We don't know the full story as yet, but one thing is for sure:  Twitter court is already passing sentence and is ruling that it's all social work's fault. 

Yes, yet again a child dies and the social services are to blame.  Just sit back now and watch the media outcry, as the usual indignant suspects take to their laptops.  They will say that Mikaeel died because social work was not doing its job. 

They will not say that social services budgets have been cut to ribbons, a caring profession brutally undermined by the most uncaring government since the Thatcher inexperienced social workers with unacceptably high caseloads, face burnout almost from the minute they're qualified.  Social work staff are doing the best that they can do, with the minimum of resources, to help families exist and survive amid a timebomb of mental health issues, drug and alcohol misuse and real poverty - the DWP's got to meet its benefit sanctions target, remember - and in these sick and sad times, it's harder than ever to improve the quality of people's lives when they are being eroded by the day.

Never mind that the high profile murders of children in recent years were, in many cases, an act of unforgivable evil by a parent, a relative, or a mother's partner who was not the child's natural father.  All services involved with children, not just social work, have a role to monitor children but they can't do this 24/7.  Short of having someone live-in with every family 'known to social work', or CCTV cameras in every home, this is an impossible task. 

There will of course, be an inquiry.  But the strange thing is that at the time of every inquiry into why a child was murdered, we don't hear the government of the day stepping in to increase the funding for social services, for increased free nursery provision, for mental health support/counselling, for services to empower women, for better education, for valuable services such as the Citizens' Advice Bureau or Women's Aid.  We don't hear anyone banning those hideous payday loan providers or those high street shops which will sell anyone a sofa or a large-screen TV as long as they're willing to pay it back at 50% interest.  We don't hear anyone taking steps to reform the buy-to-let housing market which has led to people living in unacceptable housing conditions whilst the landlords make big money - the sections of the media which demonise people on housing benefit always forget to mention that this goes to those landlords.  And we don't hear anyone attempting to improve the quality of vulnerable people's lives.  Who would have thought in this day and age that we would need food banks?

None of this, of course, may have had anything to do with Mikaeel's death.  It was, as I said earlier, an act of unforgivable evil.  Yet in such a dark time there was one positive factor - the way the local community in Edinburgh came together to search for him, in the hope that he would be found.  In a time when 'community spirit' is a thing of the past - how many of you even know your next-door neighbour's name? - it was inspiring the way everyone came together.  It's just a shame that it had to be in such dark circumstances. 

Rest in peace, Mikaeel.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Hello 2014!

Since my last (rather gloomy) post on here, some things have changed.

I have a new moose, which I bought at the Edinburgh Christmas market last month.  That was a pretty fab day, despite the torrential rain which has been pretty much a daily occurrence over the last few weeks.

The Christmas and New Year break was pretty fabulous, thanks to the most simple pleasures in life - lots of rest and relaxation and quality time spent with my two favourite people, lots of lovely gifts, a Christmas dinner triumph and ....happiness.

We have now arrived in 2014 and it finds me in a much more calm, upbeat mood.  Things haven't really changed that much, but I've entered the new year with a more upbeat attitude and a determination that it's not going to get me down.

After the stress and weight gain of recent months, I decided to rejoin WeightWatchers Online between Christmas and New Year, and have very positive news to report.  I have lost 5lbs in the past two weeks, and am pretty delighted about it.  A combination of hard work, determination and being very focused on mini-goals rather than less achievable targets.  Unfortunately I'm still struggling with the (inexplicable) foot injury/cramp, which has slowed me down to power-limping rather than power-walking :(

Nevertheless, onwards and upwards!  Better times ahead, and hopefully some holiday news soon!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Tis the season to be grumpy

Apologies for this being a rather long ranting post but I need to get it out of my system.  As I get older I am becoming increasingly more grumpy and intolerant, and I seem to be firing on all grumpy cylinders at the moment. 

And nothing raises my grumpy levels more than this time of year.  Not Christmas itself - I actually love Christmas and if it didn't exist they would have to invent it to brighten up these cold, dark winter days.  However, the irony hasn't escaped me that for what is supposed to be a happy, hopeful and peaceful time, it's anything but.

The torrent of Christmas TV ads with dreary slow songs (a.k.a. "the John Lewis effect") all urging you to spend spend spend, as if that will really make a difference to your life.  TV shows and ads building up an unrealistic expectation of what Christmas should be like, rather than the reality. 

Particularly in these times of economic gloom, Christmas overspending is not only wrong, it's offensive and obscene.  Cash-strapped families are being placed under further stress and resorting to vile moneylenders in the respectable guise of 'payday loans' so that their children won't be bullied at school for having the wrong type of presents.  

Our parents, growing up during and after the war years, literally had nothing.  This period, when all you got in your stocking was a piece of fruit and an annual, or a doll if you were lucky, is often mocked by comedians.  Yet when you speak to those who lived through that time, they have only happy and fond memories of their childhood Christmas. 

Now, people buy televisions for two year old children - WHAT???? - and it seems that your love can only be measured by how many multiples of £100 you spend on someone.  WRONG.  Will they love you any more?  No.  They'll just wait for you to top that, next year. While there are people in the world who don't know where their next meal is coming from.

Then there is the  'I must buy a present for...' syndrome.  Why must you buy a present for some obscure nephew or other?  I'm with the money saving guru Martin Lewis on this one: 'ban unnecessary Christmas presents'.  Give the money to charity instead. 

(Oh and whilst I'm on a rant, if you're clearing out good stuff, give it to a charity shop, rather than one of those places which give you about 50p for 10 kilos or whatever.  I once saw someone I know, who is so well-off she only needs to work part-time, going into one of those 'we buy your clothes for cash' places with bags and bags of stuff.  Is there no limit to some people's greed?)

Then there are the subtle reminders that your Christmas experience is never going to be worth as much as theirs...

"of course you don't have many people to buy for, do you?"
I am regularly reminded that you-are-not-a-parent-therefore-Christmas-is-immediately-devalued.  The "Christmas is for the children" brigade.  There seems to be this notion that Christmas is irrelevant if you live in a child-free world.  Well, it's not.  It's better. 

"of course you're not having a big dinner, are you?"
The subtle reminders that you-don't-have-a-big-family-therefore-Christmas-dinner-is immediately-devalued.  I'm not the person slaving over a hot turkey for hours on end!  (We have never had turkey for Christmas dinner).

The Christmas Card list

As almost all of our closest family relatives are no longer with us, the 'family' is more a group noun for various cousins and second cousins whom you never see from one year to the next.  In fact, they only get in touch with you when there's a family funeral.  Funny how they never get in touch when there's good news! 

But they should know how to spell your surname.  Or at least write the name of the town you live in on the envelope.  Oh, and it would be nice if they told us that they had a new partner so we could include their name on the card.  And one more thing, can they please tell us when they've moved house before we sent their card to the old address?  These are not just hypothetical gripes, they're all true and have all happened to us over the past couple of years.  (Before you suggest 'e-cards', my mum's in charge of the card sending and she'll have none of that). 

The forced jollity

This one's mainly in relation to office night outs. I know it's the season of goodwill and all that, apart from the people you like (who happen to be all the people in my section - yes I'm very lucky) would you really want to be stuck at a table with someone you can't stand?  And what's the point of getting yourself glammed up to go to a night out to eat mass-produced substandard food followed by dancing to the musical equivalent of Guantanamo Bay?  Doesn't sound so appealing now, does it?

Let's get the deccies up!

Last week, the office Christmas decorations were going up and I couldn't even raise a smile, never mind any enthusiasm.  Which is a shame really, as the more enthusiastic and festive members of the team put in a lot of effort and did a great job.  I'm just too stressed, anxious and agitated at the moment to care.  The lead-up to Christmas in my office is always a stressful one, and this year is more stressful than most.  It's been the busiest year I can ever remember, and some of us will still be feeling the fall-out of it for a while to come... :(

Shop till you drop

I've bought most of my presents online this year.  It's the best way to go if you want to avoid the 'joys' of the traditional town/city shopping experience, bad-tempered parents, screaming children and Bing Crosby singing 'Happy Holiday'.  Oh and if you need to go to Primark, you'd better be prepared to queue just to make your way from one end of the shop to the other!

All these rants aside, I do love Christmas.  Because the best Christmas is what you make it, the one that makes you happy, the one that is on your own terms, not the one that people think you should have.  Now, I'm off to wrap a few (necessary) presents!

Sunday, 24 November 2013

What part of 'I'm not interested' don't you understand?

Cold calling is a menace these days.  As if all the usual PPI/double glazing/conservatory nonsense isn't bad enough, it's even worse when you're being constantly harassed by a company which you receive a service from. My ISP in this instance.

Persistent calling about the same thing.  "You receive this service from us, but did you know that you could save blah blah blah per cent if you switch your phone/TV etc....".

Now times are hard these days and everyone's out to save money wherever they can, but do we really need reminding 3 or 4 times a day that "if you switch....."?  I know from talking to some other people that they've had some negative experiences when they switched phone/internet/TV services.

Even though you tell the caller that you're not interested in changing at this time and you will contact them should you change your mind, that's not enough for them.  They will call and call and call until they break you down.  But I've got news for them - this is just making me more and more determined not to take what they're offering.  I've even made a complaint to the ISP about it.  Which is presumably going straight to Deleted Items. 

Strangely, since I made that complaint there has been a noticeable drop in my internet connection speed....

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Welcome to October / BMI, baby!

It's been a long week.  Although it was my birthday last Monday, it was overshadowed by the triple threat of:
  • returning to work after 2 weeks off
  • The-Virus-Which-Refuses-To-Die despite antibiotics and every lozenge and decongestant imaginable;
  • the impending doom of jury service.
So as you can imagine, I've had better birthdays, although the lovely presents and cards certainly softened the blow of another year on the slippery slope towards The-Next-Big-Landmark-Birthday....

Work wasn't that bad after all. I'm trying to adopt a more positive attitude to avoid the stress and anxiety of the past few months repeating itself.  

The virus still refuses to die, although the cough is no longer coming at millisecond intervals.  Could do without my voice breaking up in mid-phone-call at work though; I start speaking as myself and end the sentence as Barry White.  

Oh and the jury service....along with a couple of hundred other people, I attended court but wasn't selected. It turned out to be a very unsettling week for this couple of hundred people, as we had to phone court daily - twice daily some days - to find out if we were required.  Happily it was all resolved by Friday and we can all get on with our lives as normal for another couple of years or so before the dreaded citation envelope drops through the letterbox once again. 

I ended the week with a sense of triumph and a delicious birthday dinner with faithful travelling companion at our favourite local Indian restaurant.  

Talk of food brings me onto one of this blog's regular topics....I've tried lots of different ways to lose weight, but one thing is clear.  It has to go. 

My health's not as great as it used to be, and the doctor told me my blood pressure is "slightly high" which after the stress of the last few months, doesn't surprise me in the least.  I've been reading a lot about BMI - no, not the now-defunct airline, although I wouldn't mind another holiday! - body mass index, which defines whether you are 'normal', 'overweight' or 'obese'. 

Obese starts at 30, and my current BMI is 29.  So major alarm bells are ringing all over the place.  I've decided not to go for any quick fixes, but focus my next weight loss and fitness plan over the next 12 months, between now and my next birthday.  To get my BMI down from 29 (overweight/borderline obese) to 25 (overweight/borderline normal) will actually involve losing 24lbs which is a big ask.  But over 12 months that just works out at losing 2lbs per month, which sounds so much easier and 'do-able'.  Here goes....

Tuesday, 24 September 2013


Holidays excepted, the last 11 days have been pretty horrendous thanks to what started as a cold and turned into a horrible throat infection, leaving me with one of the worst, prolonged, forceful, painful coughs and sinus infections ever.  Every decongestant, pastille, lozenge and the always-reliable Olbas Oil (pictured above) was tried but only turned out to provide short-term relief.  Finally, I admit defeat.  I give up.  The doctor's appointment is made - bring on the antibiotics and whatever else they want to prescribe!

Hopefully whatever I'm prescribed tomorrow will help to salvage the last days of my fortnight off...

Yes? No? None of the above?

One year from now we will know whether or not Scotland has voted for independence from the UK.  The independence referendum takes place on 18th September 2014

The question, of course, is "Should Scotland be an independent country?".  Well yes of course in an ideal world it probably should be, but we are a country already.  We have our own flag, national education system, justice system, parliament, banknotes, national football team, etc etc. 

But it is not an ideal world. 

Scotland has not recovered from the destruction brought by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s as a brutal punishment from our traditionally left-wing country not voting for her party.  Unemployment, child poverty, declining living standards, lack of housing have all been major issues in this country, even in the 'boom years' before the banking crash hit in 2008.  There are particular cultural issues in this country which remain unresolved - sectarianism, anti-social behaviour, alcohol and drug use.  Would independence change any of these issues?  I very much doubt it.  Scotland needs fixed before it can even consider going down the independence route.  Slap bang in the middle of a worldwide economic recession is the worst possible time to even think about the financial costs of independence for example. 

The SNP's win at the last Scottish parliament elections gave them a mandate to run an independence referendum.  After all these years in power, I'm still not sure what the SNP stands for apart from independence, and the cult of personality around its leader Alex Salmond and sidekick Nicola Sturgeon.  I'll say one thing for them - their management of the media is fantastic.  Not a night goes by without them being on the Scottish news on TV.  Do they ever take a day off?  Probably not.  But they are also supposed to be running this country.  Yet they remain a one-issue party, only occasionally throwing out crumbs to all the disillusioned socialists, myself included, but always coming back to " an independent Scotland..." and so it goes on. 

Salmond has been very smart in his choice of 18th September 2014: coming off the back of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games which I guess he's hoping has the same national-pride effect as London 2012 had on the UK as a whole.

My disinterest in the independence cause could probably be traced back to my own non-Scottish ancestry which has always given me a more international outlook.  But regardless of our origins and ancestry, apathy is in our blood - just look at the turnout for local/European elections, for example, and most people you speak to are more concerned about trying to find enough money to feed themselves or to pay bills, and couldn't give a hoot about the whole boring political circus.  (Contrary to TV anchorman 'I'm John MacKay' on the STV News at Six who seems to think everything revolves around the tedious independence debate).

I'm no patriotic flag-waving Brit either though: the 'English-as-British' dominance of our media and day-to-day life can be a major pain, especially around the time of the football World Cup/European Championships/royal weddings/Queen's various jubilees etc.  Those times suddenly make you proud to be Scottish! There's a lot of things wrong with being ruled by a UK government - especially one with David Cameron in charge.  Where there is poverty, recession and hopelessness, may we bring more poverty, recession and hopelessness....every blow administered by Cameron is further fuel for the Yes camp to boost their campaign. 

It's a shame they didn't give us the option to vote on 'devo max' - a more appealing option which would allow Scotland to remain part of the UK whilst being given extra autonomy on issues like taxes, welfare benefits etc.  This option could also be offered to the other countries within the UK, thus keeping everyone happy.  That may be a simplistic view, but I'd have voted for it as I'm sure would many others - unlike the straightforward 'yes/no' option - the result of which, regardless of whatever it will be, will only bring an unsatisfactory conclusion.  Except, presumably for John MacKay, who will have more newsroom fodder to bang on about for a long time to come.  In the immortal words of Avicii: "wake me up when it's all over"!!