25 at 25

As I may have mentioned just once or twice, I turned 25 at the turn of the New Year. It’s an odd sort of age. You move up an age category, into the 25 and overs, so everyone younger than you thinks you’re completely ancient, while everyone older claws at your face in empty horror and yells about how you’re still just a teeny tiny little baby. Regardless of whether you think I’m utterly over the hill or basically a jumped up toddler (both true, if I’m being totally honest), I’ve now been on the earth for a quarter of a century. And during that time, I like to think I’ve learned a couple of things.

People who are older and wiser than me, feel free to turn away now. Everyone else, here are 25 extremely important things I’ve learned in my 25 years.

  1. Girls are brilliant. Seriously, really brilliant. I spent a long, long time as one of those girls who was only friends with boys because there was, like, so much less drama. Now that I have a girl gang, I literally don’t know how I got by without them. Turns out, boys are just as dramatic as girls. It’s just that girls are socialised to see each other as competition. Bust that cycle. Lift each other up. Who runs the world? Girls.
  2. Don’t use those spot pad things on your face. Your skin will never forgive you, even if you spend ten years treating it like a god damn princess.
  3. Everything you are wearing and doing right now is going to make you cringe in ten years, especially the stuff that you think is super cool, so wear what you want. Those folks laughing at you will be cringing just as hard as you in 2027.
  4. It’s important to know when you’re standing up for yourself and when you’re picking a fight just to be a dick. I will deny this vehemently if confronted but about 80% of the arguments I start are entirely me being a needless dick because I’m in a bad mood/have hurt feelings about a totally different issue/am tired/hungry/cold. Learning to swallow that impulse to lash out has made every single relationship in my life better.
  5. Most things can be made better with a kitchen danceathon, a long bath, a cup of tea, some Sudocrem or a really good red lipstick.
  6. The best, scariest things in your life often take only ten seconds of mad, terrifying courage. Take a deep breath, summon your courage and do the thing.
  7. Food has no moral value. Eating only green things is not a substitute for a personality. Nor is always being game to finish a packet of biscuits. Cake is not naughty. It’s a basic human right.
  8. Sleeping naked on clean sheets is the second best thing you can do in a bed.
  9. Don’t save your best things. You deserve them now. Use them now.
  10. Say “I love you” when it’s true. Say it often.
  11. Sometimes “self care” means planting yourself in a squishy chair and bingeing 8 hours of TV. Sometimes it means getting off your arse and doing your damn dishes. Be honest with yourself about what you really need.
  12. If the dress is pinching a little at 7am, you’ll be dying in it by noon. See also: shoes that hurt just a little when you put them on.
  13. The best love is about warmth just as much as it is about heat. There is nothing more underrated on this green earth than someone who makes you feel safe, someone who makes you feel cherished.
  14. You will never regret taking that photo. Even if you think your hair is a mess, even if you’ve worried people will think you’re a bore or laugh at you posing. You’ll never regret having it.
  15. Conversely, THERE IS NO REASON TO VIDEO GIGS ON YOUR PHONE. Your video will be dreadful and your tiny, grainy screen is in the way of everyone trying to actually see the stage.
  16. Having savings is a really good idea.
  17. Never apologise for taking joy in things. Disney movies, corny pop music, obscure metal bands, foreign literature…surround yourself with things that lift your soul.
  18. Taking a really long walk is the best way to get to know someone.
  19. Having travel plans go horribly awry is also a good way to get to know someone, but in a less awesome way.
  20. Asking for help almost always goes better than you think it will.
  21. People have the boundless ability to surprise you, sometimes with their cruelty but more often, with their kindness.
  22. Time taken to hang out with people you love, read books, cuddle animals or stare at large bodies of water is not ever wasted time.
  23. Don’t let this big, weird world turn you hard and cold. Cynicism is just a way for people to pretend that they’re clever, without actually putting in the work to be clever. Stay soft, stay kind. If anyone gives you shit for this, set them on fire.*
  24. It’s okay to have no idea what you want.
  25. It’s okay to change your mind.

*Please do not set anyone on fire.

The New Year

And that’s it over. The champagne has been drunk, the kisses exchanged, the confetti swept up. The new year is upon us and it’s fat and glorious with possibility.

I wrote last new year about why I think new year’s resolutions should be about becoming, rather than changing. A fresh start should be something exciting, a time to be celebrated, not something to beat yourself over the head with. I promise, no matter how much growing you have to do, you did fine last year. You did great, in fact.

When I sit down to write my goals for new year, I try to think about what parts of me I want to make bigger, rather than the parts I want to make smaller.

This year, I’m going to take scalding hot showers, even though they’re bad for my skin, because they make me feel alive. I’m going to read dusty old classics and trashy crime novels and appreciate that both of them feed my soul in different ways.

I’m going to wear lipstick in a wild rainbow of colours and learn to walk in those shoes that make me look a million dollars. I’m not going to go running, because I hate it. I’m going to stretch because I want to take care of my body, not because I want to change it. I’m going to dance in my living room until my heart pounds.

I’m going to eat my vegetables and I’m going to have seconds of pudding because both of those things are nourishing if you allow them to be. I’m going to bake outrageous cakes, even if the boy and I are the only ones who ever see them. I’m going to stop splurging on makeup only to scrimp on skincare. Goddammit, I’m going to moisturise.

I’m going to call home more and take more photographs. I’m going to laugh louder and sing when I cook. I’m going to seek out adventure, whether that’s halfway across the world or in the park at the end of my road. I’m going to pet more dogs. I’m going to climb more trees and take picnics and go paddling in the sea. I’m going to practise my German until the rust falls off.

I’m going to wear pretty dresses and slouchy jumpers and flirt with my boyfriend and kiss as much as I can. I’m going to think more and smile more. I’m going to be grateful. I’m going to be brave. I’m going to get involved in my community and speak up against the things I think are wrong. I’m going to write write write.

Whatever you choose to do with your 2017, I hope it is spectacular. I hope that your year is filled with love and laughter that makes your sides hurt. I hope you catch sight of yourself in the mirror and think, hey there, awesome. I hope you have the courage to be the most yourself that you can possibly be. Happy new year, darlings. Happy, happy new year.

2016

Well, pals. It’s been a year, hasn’t it. How hopeful I was at the opening of this brand new year, and how strangely it all turned out.

As the whole world perches on the edge of a new year that promises to be even stranger than the one we’ve just had, I find myself teetering on the edge of a brand new year of my own. You see, tomorrow, the 31st of December 2016, will be my 25th birthday.

I wrote a little last year about that peculiar, particular type of magic that cuts through a Scottish new year, about the sense of bittersweet change that shivers through you as the bells chime midnight and the lonely bagpipes are drowned by a chorus of yelling and singing and wishing. About that quiver of possibility that curls in the pit of your stomach, the tiny voice that whispers maybe this year, maybe this year. As the calendar flicks from one year to the next, my life flicks to the next page along with it. This has always appealed to my aforementioned love of whimsical order.

This neat turning of the page tends to turn me reflective and while there are parts of this year I wouldn’t relive for the world, it deserves to be reflected on as much as any other year I’ve lived through.

I know that this year has been world-changingly difficult for many and that even worse times loom not too far ahead of us. I promise that I will continue to stand with those who are less lucky than I am and to use my voice for good wherever I can. I hope that reflecting on the ways that I have been lucky this year doesn’t trivialise the genuine pain suffered by so many.

It’s been a funny old year, folks, and I’m so grateful to have shared it with you. Take my hand, we’ll go together.

The Oslo Whirlwind

oslo korketrekkeren sledging

This year kicked off in an adventurous fashion, with the boy and I bagging a pair of £2 flights to Oslo in a freak Ryanair sale. Sleds, snowdrifts and air so cold it literally sparkled made for a genuinely magical 24 hours.

The Daffodils

I was in a bad mood, so Niall kept adding bunches of daffodils to the shopping basket until I laughed.

A photo posted by Fiona Longmuir (@fiona_clicks) on

The Doggy

This is Milo. Milo is my Borrow my Doggy doggy. I decided I was fed up pining after my dog in London, so signed up to walk someone else’s. This little furball was responsible for most of my 2016 exercise and lots of the laughs.

The Ultimate Diva

This year, Sunset Boulevard came back to London, starring *hyperventilates* Glenn Close. Yes, it was incredible. Yes, she was incredible. Yes, I cried all the way through. Yes, I’d have done that even without the bottles of wine the Escapologist and I put away before the curtain rose.

That JK Rowling Thing

Remember that time that I wrote a blog about Hermione and JK Rowling retweeted it? And then I got loads of awesome Potterhead followers and scared the bejesus out of them with my angry feminism? Ah, halcyon days.

The Book

This year, I started to conceive The Book. Next year, I will write The Book. It will be set in my hometown and have witches and curses and the war and the girls of the cotton mill. This is a photo of me bravely standing on a real hidden witch’s grave in my hometown. Tis secret though, don’t tell anyone.

The Other Book

Lots of you were excellent cheerleaders during last year’s NaNoWriMo (if you’re a BNA judge, don’t click that link, it’ll give away which book is mine), during which I wrote a book I was rather proud of. And well, that book has now been longlisted in the Bath Children’s Novel Awards. I know. I KNOW. I am utterly failing to be cool about this and it’s probably the most exciting thing that’s every happened to anyone ever.

The Photoshoot

This year, after approximately a million years of fighting with myself over it, I finally bit the bullet and booked myself a photoshoot with the incredible Alex Cameron. You can check out some more of the amazing results and read about my strange relationship with my face right here.

That TV Thing

Remember that time I was on ITV talking about summer diets and the whole beach body fiasco? Mad times, y’all.

The Friends

I made some thoroughly excellent new pals this year, and fully intend to hang onto them for as long as they can stand to put up with me. It’s a funny thing, making friends when you’re an adult. I promise I’ll write about it when I’m feeling less shy. But basically, girls are brilliant. If you don’t have a girl gang, you should get one.

The Family

What can be said, really. I am my family. They shape every single bit of who I am and I don’t know how I’d survive a day without them. They really are the best people in the whole world. Have a look at this lot:




Power to the Girls

To the littlest Longmuir,

In the past day, the internet has filled up with letters from women to their daughters, sisters and granddaughters. Many of them have been written by women much wiser and more talented than me (like this one!). This one won’t be much different, except that it’s for you.

kiera

You already know that America has picked a bully for its leader. There are a lot of reasons that this happened but here’s a big one: his opponent was a woman. In more than two centuries of voting, they have never, ever picked a woman. This time, it looked like they really might. The fact that they didn’t is a big loss. It hurts. But here’s the one glimmer of hope: someday, they will. Somewhere out there is a little girl like you who will be president someday.

Here’s something you might already know, and you might not: being a girl is really hard sometimes. A lot of people will think that they know who you are and what you are like, just because you’re a girl. It can get pretty overwhelming sometimes, pretty exhausting. Sometimes, you’ll feel like giving up, making yourself smaller or quieter to escape. From my heart to yours, I’m sending you all the courage in the world and saying don’t.

I know that you know all of the words to Matilda by heart, and if she doesn’t mind, I’m going to borrow a few of them. (She’s much cleverer than me anyway!)

Even if you’re little, you can do a lot.
You mustn’t let a little thing like little stop you.
If you sit around and let them get on top
You might as well be saying you think that it’s okay.

You can do anything that you put your mind to. You can become Prime Minister. You can write a book. You can run away and join the circus. You can be a scientist, who helps cure devastating diseases. You can design incredible buildings or beautiful dresses. You can do anything. And the only thing you have to do to get there is to try. Try, try and keep trying. Put your hand up in class. Read about Violet Baudelaire and Hermione Granger and Mia Thermopolis. Write down your thoughts and trust that they are important. Know that your voice matters. Learn to believe in yourself, even when other people don’t. Watch Mulan and know that you should never learn your place. Watch Legally Blonde and know that in your life, you will come up against countless Warners and Callahans who will underestimate you right up until you take their job and do it better than them. Sing in the shower. Wear pin badges. Google Maya Angelou, Sophia Duleep Singh and Ida B Wells. When you’re old enough, vote.

You are powerful beyond measure. But, to quote a great philosopher (Spider-Man), with great power, comes great responsibility. See, another reason that the bully won is because people are poor and alone and frightened. And when people are frightened, they can become cold and hard and selfish. When you are frightened, it can be easy to see everyone else as the enemy, out to steal what you have. My gorgeous girl, I need you not to do this. The world is a strange, scary place right now and folks like me need the people growing up after us to be better than us. The world needs kindness and warmth and big, open hearts. The world is full of people of wondrous variety: girls, boys, people in between, white people, black people, Muslim people, poor people, disabled people, gay people, young people, old people, and every single one of those people deserves to live a beautiful, happy life, just like we do. We are so lucky to have what we have, and when you are as lucky we are, it is your responsibility to share it.

Don’t let the world make you afraid of people who are different from you. Listening to people different from you is how we learn. Don’t let the world dim that wonderful, generous spirit I know that you have. Take your old toys and clothes to the charity shop, so that someone who needs them can have them. Pack a shoebox with surprises and send it to somebody who doesn’t normally get Christmas presents. Don’t be scared to tell adults that you have ideas. When I was little, I asked the people in my mum’s work to help me pack shoeboxes and ended up with a whole living room full of presents to give people. More than 70 kids got presents that year because I believed in myself. Stand up for what you think is right. Don’t join in when your friends tease that weird kid in your class. Don’t let anyone else tell you what to think – not even me. Be nice to other girls. Help them reach for their dreams and they’ll help you reach for yours. Love as openly and as massively as you can. Never stop believing in the power of kindness. And never, ever give up.

I’m going to finish with one last quote, something that I told your other sister many years ago, and something that I really, truly believe for both of you: kid, you’ll move mountains.

All my love, forever,

Fiona.

An Early Christmas Miracle

img_4622

Those of you who have never heard me speak might not know that I’m from what I fondly refer to as a shitty little town. That shitty little town was the making of me, giving me a sharp, dark sense of humour, a deep appreciation for how lucky I am and an accent, the hard edges of which no number of years in Edinburgh or London will completely smooth over.

It’s also a town that is ravaged and gutted by poverty. At the end of August, the area I grew up in was named as the most deprived area in Scotland, again. Paisley is a funny little place, years of rich culture and history barely managing to peep through an ever thicker tapestry of neglect. There are towns like this scattered all through the UK, ignored and belittled by the government, shut off and punished for the unforgivable crime of being working class. We’re lucky that the formidable Mhairi Black was elected our local MP and has spent her time in parliament shining a light on the effects of government policy on the people of my town. Change needs to happen and I couldn’t have picked a better person to fight for it than a stubborn wee Paisley lassie.

But change can be slow. And while change is happening, real people are suffering. The people of my town aren’t cute political stories or examples to be sneered at. They’re people, and they’re hurting. And so, while one of us fights for change in Westminster, the rest of us stubborn wee Paisley lassies have to step up. Enter the amazing Jodie Campbell. I went to high school with Jodie and even back then, while I was practicing snogging my pillow and insisting that I preferred being friends with boys because there was “like, so much less drama”, Jodie was making a difference. Every time I spoke to her, she was cooking up a new scheme to help someone who needed it. She is an absolute angel.

Last year, she hosted a Christmas dinner. She fed almost 200 people who were put forward by homeless charities, local food banks and housing associations and who otherwise would have been spending Christmas alone. Christmas can be an especially hard time of year for vulnerable or lonely people and I’m sure that if any of you have ever struggled, you know that the value of a kind word, a bit of company and a hot meal simply can’t be overestimated. It can literally save lives.

And this year, she’s doing it all over again! I know, I know, I hate bloggers who start talking about Christmas in October too. But organising something this big means that she needs money in advance. Please, if you have anything to spare, think about helping someone have a wonderful Christmas. I have over 4000 followers on Twitter. If every one of you donated a pound, we could make such a huge, incredible difference. Forgo a morning coffee and donate £3. Take packed lunches to work for a week and donate £10. Instead of buying that new dress, donate £20 and treat someone to a hot meal. I’m not a good enough writer to tell you how close to my heart this is, so you’ll just have to trust me when I say that I’m tearing up a little. Okay fine, I’m tearing up a lot.

If you donate, you will officially become a member of the #stubbornpaisleylassie club, which I have just made up, so that in itself is reason enough to do it. I will also send a Christmas card to everyone who donates, so be sure to give me a wave over on Twitter if you decide to make a donation. There’s nothing more Christmassy than magic. And there’s nothing more magical in this world than kindness.

What To Do When a Cold is Kicking Your Ass

As many of you know, I work in a university admissions office, because nobody is yet willing to pay me for bingeing Netflix and being sarcastic on the internet. Come October, that means one thing: Freshers flu. A combination of working too much during enrolment period, dealing with thousands of germy Freshers, handling passports from all over the world and hotdesking in a draughty tent means that as soon as October hits, my entire office is taken down by a vicious strain of the lurgy.

img_4645

The change of season seems to see a lot of people getting ill. Whether it’s getting caught in a rainstorm wearing flip flops, being sneezed on on the tube or your kids bringing it home from school, it’s somewhat inevitable that everyone ends up poorly round this time. Here’s how to deal:

The Spa Day

I am significantly too poor to go for an actual spa day – although if you’re not, you should totally do that. But nothing soothes shivery, achy bones like a scalding hot shower. Splash a little Olbas oil onto your shower tiles and crank the temperature up. This creates a lovely little steam room in your shower and can help you get a glorious amount of junk out of your nose. I know, I know, I’m irresistible.

While we’re on the subject of pampering yourself, buy actual soft tissues with that nice balsam stuff. If you use toilet roll or *shudder* kitchen roll, you’re just going to scratch all the skin off your nose and make yourself miserable. You are awesome. You deserve luxury tissues.

Leaking liquid constantly out of your face has a nasty habit of drying everything else out, so stick a nice moisturiser and a lip balm in your handbag/pocket/desk drawer. Being ill is rubbish enough without your face crumbling and falling off, which will totally happen if you don’t moisturise.

The Tea

Full disclosure, I have no idea whether this tea actually helps get rid of a cold. But it always makes me feel better. Honey is great on a scratchy throat and the combination of steam and spices helps clear groggy heads and blocked noses. Cut a lemon into quarters and squeeze the juice from one quarter into a mug. Drop the squeezed quarter into the mug – this helps get more lemony goodness and also makes me feel fancy. Grate about a teaspoon of ginger into mug and fill with hot water. Sprinkle over a little turmeric and stir in a few teaspoons of honey. Enjoy.

The Soup

This soup is the greatest. I have yet to find a better cure for a runny nose, a drizzly evening or a shitty day than this creamy, carby, spicy bowl of goodness. Stick an onion, a couple of handfuls of mushrooms and two or three red chillies into a pot with about 500ml of stock and a big tablespoon of lazy lemongrass. Throw whatever other veg you have in the fridge in there as well. Carrots and peppers are particularly good. After that’s been bubbling away for a little while, add half a can of coconut milk, two tablespoons of fish sauce and a decent chunk of grated ginger. Let that simmer for ten minutes or so and then whizz it up in your blender. Squeeze in the juice of one lime, stir in a dollop of chilli sauce and add a packet of noodles. Cook your noodles in a separate pot first or it’ll make your soup taste weird. Next time you’re feeling rubbish, try this soup. I promise it’ll change your life.

Last but not least, just take care of yourself. Wrap up warm, wear really comfy socks, get lots of sleep. Most of the time, colds are as much about tiredness as they are about actual illness, so take your foot off the pedal a little. Drag your duvet through to the sofa and watch TV all evening. Eat delicious, comforting food. Say no to plans you don’t feel like making. And remember to wash your bedsheets once you’re feeling better.

I Want It All

fiona

This month, I’ve been asking people to nominate me for a Cosmo Lifestyle Influencer Award. I’ve asked people for nominations like this before and normally, it goes something like this:

*shy wave* Oh, hello, I was thinking, er, maybe, if you’re not too busy, you might nominate me for this little thing. *runs away*

I cocoon myself in relatable, cutesy self deprecation because god forbid I own up to actually wanting things, or worse, thinking I deserve things. Writing is a bit of a funny thing. It’s something I do for fun because I like to be creative and it helps me to work through my thoughts and figure out how I really feel about things. When I write, mostly I’m writing for me. But it would be an absolute barefaced lie for me to say that I don’t care if anyone reads my stuff. Because when I write, I’m also writing for you. I write because I feel like I have something worthwhile to say. I write because I think that maybe my words will make someone feel less alone, less weird, less hopeless. I write because I want to make people feel things. But when I admit that, I’m also admitting that I think I have the talent to do that.

There’s a blogger who I’ve followed for a long time, who has just landed a regular column in Grazia magazine. In part, this happened because she is wildly talented. But mainly, it happened because she spent three full days putting together a proposal for her column, including three sample columns, so that the editors would get a feel for her voice. She spent three days putting together a package that said “I want this. I deserve this. And here’s why you absolutely can’t disagree.” She completely, unabashedly backed herself. And it paid off.

I spent my first year in London working as a temp. I interviewed for a whole bunch of permanent jobs and got turned down for every one of them. Do you know why? Because I prized my likeability over my ability to do the job and saw the two as totally incompatible. After a year of wondering whether I’d still have a job next month, I got angry. I was invited to interview for the job I was doing on a permanent basis for the third time and this time, I went in with the attitude of “Here’s why you absolutely cannot afford not to hire me.” One of the interview questions was “If your team mates were to describe you in one word, what would it be?” The first time, I answered “enthusiastic”. This time, I answered “competent”. They offered me the job on the spot.

I sometimes wonder how much earlier I could have gotten the job if I’d been less embarrassed about owning my shit and admitting that I actually thought I was up to it. Because here’s the thing: self deprecation is all well and good on Twitter or with your friends but if you’re going for a job, pitching an article or asking folks to nominate you for an award, people have no reason not to believe you if you tell them that you’re mediocre. It takes balls to ask for the things you think you deserve. It takes balls to commit to working hard for something. It takes balls to take yourself seriously. Because sometimes, you do all that and it still doesn’t pan out. But really, what else is there? So here we are. I’m owning up. I want people to read my words, and I think I’m talented enough to achieve that. I want to be published in lots of different places, and I think I’m talented enough to achieve that. I want to write an amazing book, and I think I’m talented enough to achieve that. It’s scary, admitting that you have the ability to do something, because then you have no excuse not to work your ass off and do it. But I’m over getting in my own damn way. I’m finally convinced that I deserve the things I want.

Now, to work on convincing everybody else.

The Numbers Game

I don’t know where my love of numbers came from. It certainly didn’t come from a love of maths. As a kid, I was good at maths but as the result of a long, hard slog. It never came naturally and even now, mental maths sends me into a mild panic. But counting things? That came so naturally that I barely noticed it happening.

bullet journal

I know how many steps I’ve taken today. I know how many books I’ve read this year. I know how many years it will take me to pay off my student loan.

All good things to know.

I also know that if I get to my bus stop by 5:15, I’ll probably get home by 6. I know that if the traffic is heavy and the bus doesn’t round a certain corner by 5:30, I probably won’t. Sometimes, if it’s close and I’m not sure whether the bus will make the corner, my heart starts to pound. I panic, just a little. That two minute space between “before 6” and “after 6” becomes huge and important.

I know how much money I’d need to retire right now and how many years it would take me to save it at my current rate – about 300.

Sometimes I find myself counting steps or seconds, just because.

If Niall goes back to Ireland to stay with his family, it’s more than likely that I know how many hours it’ll be before he walks back through the door. I refresh the airport arrivals page, I check train times, I memorize bus routes. I miss him when he’s gone, of course, but more than that, I just want to know.

Whether I’m working on a manuscript for National Novel Writing Month or watching my fundraising total for Race for Life rise, monitoring graphs, hitting targets and working out averages fills me with utter glee. And I don’t think I’m the only one. People are using Fitbits to count their steps and track their sleep. They’re downloading apps which log how much water they’ve drunk and sprout cartoon flowers accordingly. An iPhone is an information lover’s dream, crunching the random strings of numbers that make up our day to day lives and spitting out graphs and charts that we peer at, hoping they’ll reveal some larger truth to us.

Because that’s what it’s all about, really. If I can count things, if I can quantify them, then I can understand them. And if I can understand them, maybe I can control them. I remember my maths teacher taking great delight in my love for Sudoku puzzles but puzzles aren’t really about numbers at all. They’re about order. They’re about logical, discernible patterns. The knowledge that if you follow the rightt steps, you will reach a neat, satisfying, correct conclusion.

I’ve always liked to know things. I’m sure my parents still have traumatic flashbacks of that trademark children’s refrain – But why? I’ve never liked being unsure. Being twenty-four years old and not really knowing what I’m supposed to be doing with my life, in a time where it feels like the world is spiraling ever further out of control, I think I crave that comforting sense of completion that comes at the end of a riddle. Of course I know that there’s no blueprint to life, no magic formula that leads to happiness. Logically, I know this. But still I crunch my little numbers, hoping that if I think hard enough or look at them in a certain way, the pattern will reveal itself. The world is vast and pregnant with possibilities, every one more unpredictable than the last. Sometimes things happen for no reason at all. Sometimes things are bitterly unfair. Sometimes you try your very hardest and it doesn’t work out anyway. I’m not religious, but I understand why many people are. Religion is a pattern of its own, assuring people that somewhere, someone has a larger plan. That it’ll all be okay. That people will get what they deserve, good or bad, in the end. Some people have God. I have numbers.

Apple Therapie

Do you remember that scene in Bruce Almighty where everything gets really out of control, so Bruce goes and mops a load of floors? I think about that a lot. I realise that an old Jim Carrey movie might be a slightly odd place to look for life lessons but inspiration comes in many forms.

Sometimes I feel really overwhelmed, often for no reason at all. One of the worst things about having a powerful imagination is that you spend a lot of time powerfully imagining that everything is going wrong. Some days, out of nowhere, I’ll feel as though someone has yanked the rug out from underneath me and I’m struggling, teetering, trying not to fall. When that happens, all I can do is press reset. And pressing reset usually involves doing something simple, something methodical, something that forces you to slow down and take your time. For some people, it might involve mopping a whole lot of floors. It might be alphabetising your bookshelf or colouring in or writing a letter. For me, it’s baking a pie.

20160811-DSCF3991

I measure out 260g of plain flour. I use a cup to measure, so I’m never sure how close to 260g I actually am. It doesn’t matter. This doesn’t have to be precise. I add 150g of hard butter, cut into cubes. Using my fingertips, I gently rub the flour into the butter cubes until I’m left with a mixture that looks like fine breadcrumbs. Don’t squash your mixture. Take your time, I tell myself. There’s no rush. I close my eyes and take a deep breath and I feel the soft flour and the cold butter in my hands. I feel the puffs of powder that escape from my bowl and coat the kitchen worktop. Inevitably, I end up with a smudge of flour on my nose. That is fine.

I add cold water, tiny bit by tiny bit, mixing with a knife until a dough starts to form. Every time, I’m sure my mix isn’t going to come together. Every time, it does. I think about that a lot. I get my hands in and knead it a little until it forms a smooth ball. I wrap the ball in clingfilm and put it in my fridge while I prepare my apples.

I use between 3 and 5 green apples, depending on how big they are. Bramley apples are best, but any tart green apple will work. I promise, it’ll still be delicious. I peel each apple in one huge, snaking twist and drop the rind on the counter like my Auntie Kathleen taught me, to see the initial of the person I’m going to marry. I wonder if I know anyone whose name begins with an “O”. I chop my apples. If you like a chunky pie, chop large pieces. If you like it smoother, chop little ones. Both are delicious.

I put my apples in a big pot with a splash of water and I sprinkle over a few tablespoons of soft brown sugar. I turn the heat on very, very low and put on the lid. Every so often, I take off the lid to stir and watch the sugar turn to caramel and let the drunken smell of sharp stewing apples fill my tiny kitchen. You can add cinnamon if you want to. I don’t. After about 15/20 minutes, I turn off the heat and let my apples cool down a little.

I push everything to the side, because our kitchen is so little that there’s only really one surface. I dust the worktop with flour. I usually dust everything else in the kitchen with flour at the same time. I have a rolling pin now, like a proper grown up, but until recently, I just used a litre bottle filled with cold water. This works just the same and helps keep your pastry nice and cold. I don’t have a pie dish, so I grease a round cake tin. The best thing about making pie is that you can almost always make do with what you have. It always works out fine.

20160811-DSCF3986

I take my pastry out of the fridge and chop a third of it off. This will be the lid of the pie. I drop the bigger piece onto my floury surface and knead it into a big circle. Sometimes it breaks. Sometimes it sticks to the surface. This is okay. It can be fixed with a dab of water or a smattering of flour. I carefully place my dough circle into my cake tin and use a little blob of dough to push it into the base. I trim off the untidy outside with a sharp knife. I pour in my apple mix. It’s almost always too hot. It always, always smells divine. I roll out my pie top and press it over the apples, using a fork to crimp the edges. This makes it look like a cartoon pie. This makes me smile. I roll out my trimmed edges and slice and press them into beautiful patterns. I make enormous flowers and pretty, lined leaves. I place my decorations on top of the pie and brush the whole thing with a beaten egg. If you have a pastry brush, use that. I dab it on with kitchen roll.

I realise I’ve forgotten to preheat my oven. I roll my eyes, but I don’t beat myself up. I’m feeling gentle. I’m feeling like being kind to myself. I set the oven to 200C and put the pie in straight away. I’m dimly aware that this probably isn’t the right thing to do but it doesn’t seem to matter. I leave the pie in the oven for half an hour while I clean the flour from every nook of the tiny kitchen.

After half an hour, the pie is golden and crisp. If it isn’t, I stick it back in the oven and put the kettle on. Once it’s ready, I pop it out of the cake tin and put it on a plate. I take a photo. I give myself a second to congratulate myself on making something so pretty. I put a little icing sugar in a sieve and sprinkle it over the top of the pie. I feel like a fancy chef when I do this. I cut a slice straight away, even though it hasn’t cooled and the hot apple oozes out. I pour double cream on mine, much more than is really reasonable. You can put ice cream or custard on yours if you like. I make myself a cup of tea. I sit in my comfiest seat, take a deep breath and eat an enormous forkful.

It’s never perfect. It’s usually messy. It tastes wonderful. Always.

20160811-DSCF3988

Being Brave, Being Vain, Being Fiona

I have a complicated relationship with beautiful. I’ve always been more likely to be called “striking” or “interesting” than “beautiful”, and always more likely to be called “funny” or “smart” than either of those. In my heart, I know that is an absolute strength. If I had to choose between funny and beautiful, I’d pick funny every single time, no questions asked. I know that I’m so much more than beautiful, that a beautiful face pales in comparison with a kind heart, a strong mind, a creative soul. And yet. And yet.

Like many girls, my “interesting” beauty became a battleground when I was a teenager. The frizzy hair, the generous nose, the chest so flat you could build an airport on it, they all became markers for how different I was. And I spent an unholy amount of my teenagedom wishing that I could just be the same.

F6

It’s exhausting being at war with your own face, you guys. Eventually, there came a point where I was too tired to keep hating myself, so I decided I was going have to love myself instead. I spent time getting to know my body, because it’s impossible to love something that’s a stranger to you. I started to notice my details. The smattering of chocolate drop freckles. The cupid’s bow you could cut yourself on. The stretch marks curving around my hips like silver lightning strikes. I dyed my hair red. I started to wear the brightest lipstick I could get my hands on. I started to upload selfies with gay abandon. When I felt ugly, I wanted to make myself smaller. After so many years of that, feeling beautiful feels like a brave, tiny rebellion.

F2

It’s also terrifying. See, women are supposed to be pretty but we’re absolutely not supposed to notice that we’re pretty. And we’re certainly not supposed to take any pleasure from it. We’re not to know we’re beautiful. That’s what makes us beautiful.

*One Direction dance break, because even though the message of that song is trash, it’s still an absolute tune*

There’s a photographer called Alex Cameron, who takes the most wonderful photographs. The first time I saw her photos, I thought “I want pictures of me that are that beautiful”. I was immediately ashamed that I wanted that. How trivial. How frivolous. How vain. For two years, I watched her photos pop up on my Twitter timeline and every time I saw them, I turned the idea over in my head. I’d justify and argue with myself and agonise because I was still embarrassed to admit that I wanted to look at myself and love how I looked.

F5Last week, I got on a train with a backpack full of my most favourite dresses and I asked Alex to make me gorgeous. I twirled and giggled and wrapped myself in leaves and flowers. I gleefully agreed when Alex complimented my bright hair, my green eyes. I loudly exclaimed “I FEEL LIKE A FAIRY PRINCESS” about seventeen times.

F4

F3

When she started to send me the photographs, my mouth fell open. She hadn’t changed me or airbrushed me. She hadn’t smoothed my personality over. My flyaway hair, my crooked nose, my goofy smile spilled from every single picture. All of my details, my gorgeous imperfections laid bare. I looked undoubtedly, unabashedly like me. Like no one else. I looked striking. I looked interesting. And I looked so, so beautiful.

F1