Two Years On

It’s that special day again, folks. The Escapologist’s Daughter is two years old today!

*cue marching band, over order flowers and drinks, weep drunkenly about how fast they grow up*

This time last year, I was reflecting on my recovery from a pretty blue period of my life, which had inspired me to start a blog. In its first year, my blog encouraged me to stop being ashamed of who I am and how I’m doing. In its second year, my blog encouraged me to positively shout it from the rooftops.

The second year of my blog saw me ask myself “Well, why the hell not?” over and over again. And if the answer was “Because I’m scared to”, for the most part, I went ahead and did the thing.

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I went viral after accidentally creating the perfect storm of feminist rage and a funny idea. Dealing with going viral made me want to hide under my duvet and never come out or try to do anything ever again. Instead of doing that, with the help of my nearest and dearest, I rallied. I went on breakfast time TV. I organised an event to share the love I was feeling around. I spoke at a feminist conference. I started writing for one of my favourite online magazines. Why the hell not? Why the hell not? Why the hell not?

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As my blog gained a little more traction, I was invited to speak at a couple of blogging events. I felt like the world’s biggest fraud. I felt like they had somehow invited me by accident and when they realised their mistake, I’d be shunned forever by the Grand High Blogging Police. I took a deep breath, put on my big girl pants, painted my lisptick extra bright and went for it. People told me I was inspiring. Why. The hell. Not?

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I decided to throw my own blogger event. I had no experience. I had no budget. I had no idea what I was doing. I threw it anyway. It was a tiny little event. It lacked any kind of finesse or elegance. But you know what? It was brilliant. Everyone had a great time. There were sweary doughnuts. People stuck transfer tattoos all over their faces. Everyone drank slightly too much and we raised over £200 for Cancer Research. Why the hell not?

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I wrote a book. Something I’ve always wanted to do. For my entire life, I’ve been hiding behind the excuse “I’m too busy”, when in reality, I was just afraid that I wouldn’t be able to do it. How do you face up to the reality that you actually might not be talented enough to achieve a lifelong dream? I didn’t want to. So I just didn’t try. Then, in November, I sat myself down, gave myself a stern talking to and started to write. 28 days later, I had a draft. I’m not saying that you guys should be putting the Man Booker prize on hold just yet. In fact, it might never even see the light of day. But I wrote it, and I am world endingly proud of it. And I was able to do it for one reason: because I got out of my own damn way.

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Of course, I haven’t done this on my own. I’m lucky enough to have the most entirely brilliant boy by my side, who will no doubt be livid that I’ve even mentioned him.

Back yourself, baby, he tells me every day. No fear.

From buying the leather jacket I don’t think I can pull off or dying my hair purple, to putting myself out there and taking the big chances when they come, he’s the world’s greatest cheerleader.

But no amount of cheerleading makes a difference unless you’re willing to actually make the jump and do the thing.

Back yourself, Fiona, I’m learning to tell myself. No fear. Do the damn thing.

For the most part, the scariest thing about all of the things I did this year was the first step. The there’s-no-going-back-now moment. Putting the bikini photo on Twitter. Answering the phone when the BBC called. Stepping onto the stage, in every sense. Everything that followed was terrifying, but I was never more terrified than I had been in those few seconds where I had to decide between following through and backing out. A deep breath, a few seconds of crazy, unthinking courage, that’s all it took. To quote a great philosopher, bravery isn’t about not being scared. It’s about being scared and doing what you have to do anyway.

If you recognised that quote from the Mary Kate and Ashley film, Double Double Toil and Trouble, hit me up. We’ll get on just fine.

This year, I’m going to be brave. I’m going to back myself. And I am going to kick some arse.

A Hot Date With You

During the summer, the boyfriend headed back to Ireland to spend a weekend with his family, leaving me on my ownsome for a few days.

An artist's impression of me on my ownsome.

An artist’s impression of me on my ownsome.

I like to think of myself as kind of a Badass Woman but here’s a secret: when Niall goes anywhere for more than a couple of days, I tend to get a bit pathetic. Not full on sitting by the window in a crinoline, waving my handkerchief, but definitely a bit sad and mopey. This is combined with the novelty of having the flat to myself, having lived with Niall for five solid years. This combination of factors means that when he’s away, I’m generally to be found in my pyjamas, eating slices of cheese, surrounded by dirty plates, watching the worst movie available on Netflix. And that’s an awesome way to spend a day! But after a whole weekend of not seeing the outside world, I tend to feel a bit less awesome. So this time, I decided I wasn’t going to do that. I decided that instead, I would go on some super hot dates…with myself.

I washed my hair and painted my nails and put on my brightest lipstick and wore my fancypants patterned tights. And you know what? I looked hot. I would totally date me. Dressing up for yourself is kind of great.

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The coolest thing about your significant other being away is that you can relish doing things that they totally hate. So, I headed for Leicester Square, marched up to the half price ticket hut and bought myself a ticket to see Wicked that evening. £40 lighter and deliriously excited, I skipped off for what turned into a very boozy lunch in the sunshine with my friend Suzanne. I guess this is technically cheating on my spending-time-with-me plan but hours of girl talk is one of the things that I so deeply miss about sharing a flat with a load of people, so I’m totally counting it. After lunch, I wandered slowly along the Southbank, pausing every five steps or so to gaze at the river and share a romantic moment with myself. It was glorious. I arrived at Wicked, literally bouncing with excitement. At first, it felt pretty weird being by myself and I was sure that everyone was staring and pointing and such, but that evaporated as soon as the lights went down. I bawled and beamed my way through the entire show without once having to worry about whether my date was bored…I knew she was loving every second.

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The next evening, I did something even scarier: I took myself out for pizza, wine and a movie. There’s a little Italian in Stoke Newington called Trattoria Sapori that does pizza, a drink and a movie for £12. Every day, I walk past it and every day, I peer wistfully in the windows. So this day, I decided I’d go. I booked my ticket, confirmed that it was just for one, took my seat, confirmed that it was just for one, confirmed with the couple who came in after me that I wasn’t saving a seat, it was just for one, confirmed with the waiter that I was by myself…turns out that people aren’t used to seeing a gal out on the town by herself. Again, it felt pretty weird to start with but I was starting to quite like my own company. I struck up a conversation with the couple beside me, ate an entire pizza all to myself, didn’t stop to check whether my companion wanted to head home or whether I could order another glass of wine.

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Of course, when my boy came back, I threw my arms around him and didn’t let go again for about three days. But if you’re not used to spending time with yourself, I’d absolutely recommend it. I’m big on being comfortable in your own skin, so it was pretty strange how not comfortable I felt hanging out with myself at first. I’m so used to having other people to bounce off of and chat to that I wasn’t sure me, myself and I would have much to talk about. A lot of the time when we talk about love, we talk about someone else completing us. And that sounds nice in theory but in practice, it’s much nicer to be a whole person and have someone else compliment that. In fact, when you’re a whole person, there’s a whole lot more of you for them to love. I know, I know that’s a little long to fit on an inspirational quote instagram. I’m working on it.

Snowflakes That Stay On My Nose

As the plane dipped lower into the clouds veiling our destination, thin, spidery tendrils of ice started to climb the windows. The water droplets that had knitted together to form the cloud were frozen solid. The air sparkled. I decided I was going to like Norway very much.

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Oslo in winter has more than a touch of the fantastical about it. The cold is the first thing you notice; prickling at the base of your neck, twitching in your fingertips, sweeping the tiredness from your lungs. Oslo is so cold that even time seems to freeze. Snowflakes hang static in the air, clinging like feathers to scarves and lips and eyelashes. The pale sun barely scrapes above the horizon, bathing everything in perpetual milky twilight, which clashes incongruously with the violent blue of the sky. The light comes from the carpet of snow as much as from the sun. Strings of fairy lights hang on every surface, glinting with impossibly huge, comic book icicles. The fjords which plunge into the city are vast, moving sheets of ice; cold fairy tale mirrors. Looking around at the sharp beauty of the ice and the gloom lurking beneath the snow-laden pine trees, it’s easy to see why Roald Dahl chose Norway as the home of his Witches.

Arriving somewhere so strange and impossible is disorientating. Niall and I wandered through the streets, joints creaking in protest at the dipping temperature, breath hitching in our throats. We faltered as we walked, the desire to stop and stare at the beauty around us fighting a losing fight against the call of a warm hotel bed. Stepping into the lobby of the hotel, I felt like I was physically thawing, like I’d been wrapped in a film sheet of frost that was cracking and melting around me. A fire dominated the reception area, even in the middle of the Witching Hour. Warm gold and wooden furnishings wrapped us up tight after our frigid walk. When I booked the room, I had asked if we could have one with a pretty view and they delivered on that in abundance. A huge window stretched the full length of one wall, showing the city of Oslo below and the fjords shining in the distance.

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We fell asleep almost immediately and didn’t wake again until the morning light started to tap on our windows at around 9am. We were only in Oslo for one full day, so we had decided not to put any pressure on ourselves to visit everything, instead opting to just wander and see whatever we’d see. Having spent a grand total of 25 minutes in the cold the previous night, we knew we’d need all of our strength to survive a full day outdoors. I prepared by eating 43 chocolate croissants and squeezing myself into five layers, including a toasty thermal layer.

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Oh yeah. I’m bringing sexy back. I believe this is what the Daily Mail is talking about when they refer to “pouring your curves”. Fiona pours her curves into snuggly thermal longjohns. Form an orderly queue, admirers. (And take thermals if you are going to Oslo. You might actually freeze if you don’t.)

Bundled up in so much clothing that the two of us resembled the Michelin Man, we left the hotel and headed round the corner to the square which houses the city’s impressive parliament building on one end and the national theatre on the other.

Confession: Oslo has a great number of very beautiful buildings and I don’t have photos of any of them because I was too busy gambolling around in the snow with the grace and poise of a newborn calf, so Niall took photos of that instead.

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The parliament building is like an enormous fairy tale castle looming over the square. The circular central building is guarded on either side by its curving sisters. Wrought in pale stone, she looks especially beautiful covered in snow. The theatre is the gigantic classical theatre of my dreams. Adorned with Roman pillars, watching statues, a huge dome and the names of Norway’s famous playwrights, it looks like an illustration that has fallen off the page. I took great pleasure in walking up to each statue and declaring knowledgeably “Oh, this must be Ibsen” until I eventually landed upon the right one. Between these two buildings, the square was filled with skeletal trees and an ice rink, on which a trio of ice dancers were practising. This walked that fine, gorgeous line between being utterly beautiful and slightly comical that synchronised swimmers do, so we stood and watched them a while.

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I am somewhat obsessed with water. Seriously, if I am ever feeling down and you don’t know what to do with me, take me to stare at some water for a while. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a duck pond, a trickling burn or the sea, it invariably makes me feel better. So we left the square in search of the fjord that had winked at us from our hotel room. When we came upon it, I literally gasped. The water was utterly still and half frozen, crackling sheets of ice spread underneath snowy ships. The Oslo town hall stretched high above us, looking eerily like what I’d always pictured the Ministry of Love to look like. The Akershus fortress ran along one side of the dock, watching disapprovingly as I confidently stepped into a snowdrift and promptly got stuck.

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This is the strangest thing about Oslo: it is a city of amazing contrast. The buildings veer wildly between romantic, fairytale architecture and stark, imposing fortresses. The terrifying town hall is filled with the most beautiful bells which, on the stroke of the hour, played John Lennon’s Imagine. The fortress looks over a promenade dotted with statues of beautiful naked women, adorned with wrinkles and folds and rolls. If you look carefully at the freezing sky in my photographs, you can see that a tiny rainbow hung over the spire of the castle within Akershus.

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At the base of one of the statues, we found a headless snowman, which Niall proudly rescued.

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We entered the fort and climbed to the highest point, to get a proper look at the docks slumbering below.

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It was very romantic, so Niall threw a handful of snow at me and then we took this photo.

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By this point, we only had a few more hours before the sun slunk behind the horizon again, so we jumped on the Metro to go do the only thing I refused to leave Oslo without doing: the Korketrekkeren sledge run. This would be worth doing even just for the train ride there, which takes you through the forests and mountains that surround Oslo, past endless rows of picture perfect winter lodges and silvery treetops. After about 45 minutes of pressing my nose against the train window like a child, we arrived at the top of Korketrekkeren. The sledge run is two kilometers long and drops 255 metres in that time. A non stop ride takes about 10 minutes and then you can catch the Metro right back to the top.

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Because we were there on a Saturday afternoon, the queue for sledge rental was so long that we almost gave up but I am SO GLAD that we didn’t. Flying down the track at a frankly unsafe speed as the setting sun stained the trees around me burnt, rusty orange is one of the best things I’ve ever done.

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By the time we reached the bottom of the sledge run, we’d been out in a temperature of -11 for about seven hours and my fingertips were starting to feel like they had a touch of frostbite to them. We headed back to the hotel with the intention of warming up, grabbing dinner and heading back out to see the square at night time.

Reader, we didn’t even get out from under the duvet for another two hours. I’m sure that Oslo at night is very beautiful but after a day of wandering in the cold, we were content to snuggle under the duvet with a bottle of Baileys that we picked up in duty free and watching it through our window. This, by the way, is a great tip if you’re thinking of visiting Oslo. Everything is massively expensive but I especially noticed it with the alcohol prices. Grab a little bottle of something on your way through the airport. All too soon, our day had come to an end and we returned to London to find that the temperature here had also plummeted into minus figures. Oslo is an amazing, confusing, contradictory dream. Go.

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We stayed in the Radisson Blu Scandinavia hotel and I can’t recommend them enough. This post isn’t sponsored or affiliated with them in any way, they were just aces enough to deserve a shoutout. 

The Happiness Project: New Year Edition

Happy New Year, wonderful readers!

In my experience, those words are never more heartfelt than when they come from the lips of a Scot. Maybe it’s my own bias talking but I don’t think anyone does New Years like the Scots do it. For me, New Years isn’t about clubbing somewhere glamorous or going to the gym five times a week the second the bells have rung or promising to swap out all your bread for lettuce (although fair play to you if that is what it’s about for you, different strokes, different folks). New Years is about being with the people that I love, about reflecting on how quickly time passes, on how much has changed. That bitter pang when you notice a face is missing from last year’s celebrations. The sweetness when the clock strikes midnight, heralding a moment of glorious, infinite possibility. It’s about becoming, rather than changing. About grabbing your loved ones close during the madness of Auld Lang Syne, drunk on happiness and strawberry daquiris from your mum’s blender. About getting the first kiss of the New Year from your grandpa, rather than from a handsome stranger. This is about as spiritual as the Scots get so of course, it comes with whisky and dancing.

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For me, it also holds a special significance: New Year’s Eve is my birthday. I was due in February, but even before I was born, I guess the lure of those bells was too much to resist. This means that every year, on January first, I start a brand new year, a brand new age, a brand new blank page to be written.

It might be for this reason that I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I know a lot of people don’t make resolutions because they don’t see New Year as being a very big deal, they can make changes any day of the year. For me, it’s sort of the opposite. I feel like this new start, this fresh chapter is too important to waste with promises of joining a spin class or eating more greens (again, I don’t mean to suggest that these things aren’t both great ideas). I make goals instead. I’m not saying that my goals are particularly noble or life changing, but for me, they represent some of the things that I’ve always wanted to do but never had the excuse. Or never had the time. Or never been brave enough to attempt.

Last year, around this time, I published a little sample of some of these goals. I’m not going to pretend I did all of them, but I’m not going to beat myself up about that either. Here’s some cool stuff I did in 2015:

Go somewhere I’ve never been.

Nailed it. Totally smashed this one. Not only did I go to lots of new places, I had the chance to experience some genuine bucket list level stuff.

From seeing the Northern Lights and drinking wine in a geothermal pool in Iceland…

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…to sipping vanilla hot chocolate and watching the golden leaves fall in Krakow…

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…to stumbling into a dog festival in Guernsey. Yes, a dog festival is entirely worthy of being on your bucket list.

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I’ll be crossing this one of this year’s list next week, when I’m jetting off for an adventure in Oslo! I’ll keep you posted.

Do something terrifying.

Man, oh man, past Fiona. If you could see us now. This year, I did probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done. Having protested against the heinous SludgeDrinks adverts, I suddenly found myself going viral. I was quite unprepared for this to happen, but decided to just go with it and see where it took me. I ended up being on breakfast TV twice (this was so terrifying that I was genuinely concerned I might hurl on Eamonn Holmes), having my arse photographed by the Daily Mail (not on purpose) and organising a big assed body positive party with the help of my utterly divine partner in crime, Tara.

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Once the craziness had died down, the terrifyingness kept right on going. I started writing for one of my absolute favourite websites and was invited to speak at a bunch of different events. Tara and I were even named in Stylist magazine’s fearless feminists of the year list! Well let me tell you, I wasn’t fearless. I promised to do something terrifying and I really, really did. It’s amazing what can come of taking a deep breath, squaring your shoulders and saying “why the hell not?”.

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Eat baked alaska.

This is obviously very important. I’d never eaten baked alaska. Always wanted to. So on the list it went. This one, I ticked off while cruising from Southampton to Guernsey in a fabulous fashion with my mum.

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Most excellent. Tick.

So what does this year have in store?

More of the same. Big things, little things, but all important things to me.

Get an agent for my book.

This is probably my biggest, scariest, most pie in the sky one. As I’m sure you guys noticed (because I wouldn’t shut up about it), I wrote a book as part of National Novel Writing Month in November.

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This in itself was a lifelong dream. I can’t describe how it felt to print that out and have something that I’m so proud of just sitting on my table like it aint no thing. But I’m hoping that it’s just the first step in a journey. So on the list an agent goes.

Make one new cocktail a month

I have so many fabulous cocktail books lying around the flat and I never make any cocktails because I don’t have ingredients. This year, I’m saying no to that and I’ll be trialling one new cocktail a week. These will undoubtedly be catalogued on Instagram, so go hang out with me there. Life is short, buy the Chambord. That’s my motto.

Make chocolate eclairs

This is one in a similar vein to eating baked alaska. I love chocolate eclairs. I haven’t the foggiest idea how to make them. I like to bake. So I’m gonna make chocolate eclairs. If you have a failsafe recipe, do tweet it to me or leave it in the comments!

Go to a museum late

I have wanted to do this FOREVER. The National Museum of Scotland used to do these when I lived in Edinburgh and I always meant to go. But I didn’t. And now I’m in London and I have no doubt that these swanky museum parties are going on all the time all over the city. But I still haven’t been. So I’ve written it down. I’m not totally sure why but writing things down seems to really work for me. I’m much less likely to avoid doing something if I’ve written it on a to do list.

2015 was a hell of a year. I’m hoping that 2016 is going to be even better. My lovely, gorgeous readers, I wish you a very, very happy New Year.

Now here’s a haun’ my trusty friend, and gies a haun’ o’ thine.