Thank God it’s January. 2016 sucked, and as those closest to me continue to rise from the collateral of loss, illness, redundancy and break ups, I think I speak for most when I say we’re ready to put the last 12 months behind us. Of course, it had its moments – new life was created, engagements announced, opportunities snatched; so it didn’t go down without a fight, but, greedily, it took more than it gave.
I think someone wise once said you enjoy the good times and learn from the bad so, with that in mind, and in the spirit of Little Mix’s Shout Out To My Ex, I’m going to give this annus horribilis a big thank you. From now on I’m rebranding it as the year that built character; a year that taught me not to get too comfortable or take anything for granted. And while ‘expecting the unexpected’ was a strong theme (Trump, Brexit, Bowie) I won’t dwell on this too much because fearing the unknown isn’t something I need encouraging in. So, aside from definitely not freaking out over stuff that *might* happen, here’s 13 other things (and you’ll see why I’ve rounded this list up to 13 at the bottom) I learnt in 2016 that stopped it being a total write-off.
1. You can nearly always do it yourself
Give me a Pantone chart or lead me to Made.com and I’ll happily waste hours scrapbooking or mood-boarding ideas but, where muscle is required to put a house back together, I’ll leave it to the experts, thanks. At least, I did, until I [we] ripped out an old bathroom, cut back an overgrown forest to reveal a driveway, and pulled up masses of tatty carpet. I also designed and made my own website: something I’ve been needing to do for years but haven’t because the skills required weren’t ones I had in the bank. But you’ve got to start somewhere and, when I did, I discovered accomplishing things I’d previously thought out of my remit was as rewarding as the money saved in doing it yourself.
2. Heroes don’t always wear capes: worship wisely
I’ve been wracking my brain. Having spent the last decade or so writing about people of a certain profile, I can honestly say I’ve only come away from a handful of interviews with my full admiration engaged: Katie Piper, Charlotte Church, Lauren Laverne and Nicola Adams to name but a few. There’s bound to be more (my memory’s crap) and this list doesn’t include the thoroughly NICE people I’ve talked to, those I haven’t had long enough to pass proper judgement on, or even those afforded the right conditions to show their best selves. But (big BUT here) the amount that left a lasting impression for being truly amazing is disproportionate to the number I’ve sat down with. Despite this, I’ve written a lot of guff about some very average people and this rankles because unless you’ve saved a life, won an Olympic medal (or used a glitzy award ceremony to takedown a bully in presidential clothing: go Meryll!), you don’t deserve to be put on a plinth. Speaking of which, watching Team GB’s women’s hockey team win gold was a standout moment for me last summer. Actions speak louder than words, you see. Those athletes defined talent but at no point did they break the internet. After The Games I deleted the Mailonline app from my phone and erased a lot of dribble from my life.
3. Evening primrose oil has the healing properties of unicorn tears
Twenty odd years it’s taken me to figure this out, but those little, yellow, squidgy pearls work wonders when taken regularly, in high dosage. I know this because when I get lazy and stop taking them, the cramps, the moods and the insomnia go into overdrive. And because all of the above bring out the worst in me and can affect everything from my ability to write coherently to making good judgements (the Bs will concur), I should commit to whatever takes the edge off. That means 1000mg a day.
4. Decorating cakes gives you a sugar rush without the calories
One of the best 40 quids I spent in 2016 was on a cupcake decorating class at Christmas. I’m a pre-millennial cliché because I love all that baking and caking; I know it’s twee but if I honestly thought I could make money out of it, I would jump career ships in a heartbeat. But, because I’m self-taught, I’ve got holes in my skill set and, occasionally, I’ve wanted to toss everything out the window when things have gone wrong. That’s why the class I did with my sister (supported by a glass of Prosecco and a box of Beechams Cold and Flu) was invaluable. It’s funny because I often forget I have an art degree (FFS!) and just because the watercolours don’t do it for me any more doesn’t mean those creative muscles don’t need flexing. Next class? *Cliché klaxon again* upholstering.
5. Social media is the friend who will lead you astray
After writing a feature about how my incessant phone-checking was affecting my relationship with B, I stopped using it during “couple time”. It was liberating. Without constantly checking Facebook or Twitter I started following the plot-lines of films easier, slept better for not having it on my bedside table and both Bs appreciated my undivided attention for a good few months. But when I started writing a blog I went sniffing around Instagram “for inspiration” (the two work in tandem, apparently) and that’s when I fell off the wagon. I love Instagram but it’s such a bloody time vampire. My nasty little habit is back and if I don’t keep it in check, productivity will suffer.
6. Remember, it’s good to talk
Being freelance, I work from home and spend a lot of time alone. Too much time in my own head probably. Problem is, on more than one occasion in the last 12 months I have allowed my thoughts to run away with me, making assumptions and jumping to wrong conclusions. Not good. And while I enjoy my own company, some days I can go six whole hours without having a conversation. Six! The thing is, I never saw this as a bad thing. I even *whisper it* like the silence so much, sometimes I don’t even put the radio on. But it turns out that this is neither normal nor healthy. And if I talked more instead of internalising, life, would have at times, been less complicated.
7. When, baby, it’s cold outside, ditch the trainers and keep your slippers on
Eight years ago I got a place in the London marathon. Running has since been by endorphin-booster of choice. Except, right now, I’m on hiatus. I HATE running in the cold. ‘Once you get out you’ll be fine,’ B often says to help me out the door. ‘No-one’s ever regretted going for a run, only NOT going.’ Well, this is categorically untrue, as I discovered on the coldest, wettest day of December, got a stitch at my most furthest point and had to walk back. So loaded with regret was I that I never wanted to put my trainers on again. Now I’m on a self-imposed break. Rather than locking myself in a state of constant dread, I’m writing myself out of the game until Spring. Anything I do in-between is a bonus.
8. Cleansing, toning and moisturising is what other people do
Wet-wipe, shower, face cream: done. I do not have a skin care routine – despite what the legions of half-used products cluttering my cupboards might suggest. All those exfoliating potions and miracle lotions just taunt me, so now I’m chucking the lot in the bin. As long as my teeth are cleaned and I’m in good supply of concealer, I’m going to stop buying products I don’t need and spend the money saved on the odd facial.
9. Contentment beats perfection
If you only knew how many blog posts I’ve written and not published. Both a control freak and a perfectionist, I am my own worst critic. But I’m starting to let go — and I like it. At the local ceramics cafe where me and Little B have spent many a rainy day, I’ve often found myself taking the cup or the bowl she’s painting and, y’know, tidying the edges. But what is she learning from that? Her work isn’t good enough? Aren’t those splashes and blotches part of the charm? The first time I let her decorate a pup without taking a brush to it was a big day for me. After that, I gave her carte blanche on the Easter biscuits and they tasted twice as good. Next Christmas I might not even rearrange the baubles on the tree when she goes to bed.
10. A fussy eater will not be moved
What was I saying about control? In 2016, one thing I accepted I couldn’t influence was what my daughter was willing to eat. Cheese sandwiches, pizza, grapes and Gregg’s sausage rolls (I know, judge me) pretty much sums up her diet. Not that I took it lightly; consultants were approached, scores of books on the subject read: it’s been the source of many a lost night’s sleep. The thing is, she wants to overcome her phobias. And I know it’s a phobia rather than fussiness because when she tries to eat anything from a pasta shell to a roast potato (because I’ve wrongly issued a reward) it’s like watching a bushtucker trial. The professionals say curiosity will bring her around eventually and any extra pressure from me will only set her back, so I’m stumped. It’s out of my hands: checkmate.
11. There is always something new to discover on your doorstep
When I moved to London over 18 years ago I saw it as a city of infinite possibilities. Yet, I’ve probably only seen half it has to offer. This summer a friend introduced us to the lido on Parliament Hill (perfect for the hottest day of the year) and on New Year’s Day we went to the Mayor’s parade: another first. There is so much to do and see here, much of it free. You just have to put yourself out there and find it. No excuse for being bored.
12. Don’t bite off more than you can chew
As someone with a tendency to self-doubt, I have an strange knack of over-estimating how much I can achieve in any given time frame. Writing, packing, putting my makeup on, whatever: I always assume I’m quicker than I am and it always ends in disappointment (or a mad rush) when I don’t meet my own [unrealistic] expectations. Because time-management and procrastination are things I need to work on, I’m hoping my shiny new Passion Planner, which is a diary with a difference, will put me on track. It’s the ultimate personal organiser. Getting inside your head as well as your calendar, it makes jobs and goals (personal and professional) more achievable by breaking them down into manageable chunks. The most effect things-to-do list I’ve ever used: Linda Carter, eat my dust.
13. Superstitions are a load of bullsh*t
What kind of individual with no respect for the laws of fate rounds a list up to 13? Does it make you feel uneasy? Why? It’s only a number. And according to Little B it’s the best number on the whole numeral scale. I actually felt guilty about giving birth on February 13; it made me feel as uncomfortable as I do seeing only one magpie. But not any more because, without being influenced by ridiculous, outdated folklore, 13, to my four-year-old, is like any other number except better. And it’s taught me there’s only one downside to having a birthday on February 13, and that’s sharing it with Katie Hopkins. Don’t we have enough to worry about without meaningless myths and customs putting the willies up us? From now on I’m going to break mirrors, turn horseshoes upside down, cheer the single magpie and walk under ladders, because when you think about it, none of these things were responsible for the shit that went down in 2016, were they.