Ibiza

Think “Ibiza” and you think summer, parties, and drunken teenagers in neon t-shirts, right? Think again.

I went to Ibiza in March, out of season. And instead of going clubbing, I explored a necropolis and hiked to the top of the Old Town battlements.

Okay, there might have been some cocktails and sun-worshipping involved too, but I’m not apologising for that. It was glorious.

33 things I’ve learned at 33

I’m kind of obsessed with reading posts like these. And every time I see someone’s written one for a significant birthday, I think it’s an awesome idea that I’ll never be able to do because I don’t know anything. Well, fuck that. I’m doing it. I turned 33 today, and here are 33 things I know:

1. Uncomfortable shoes will ruin your whole day

I wish I was talking about towering high heels or something here, but nope. I’m six feet tall and wear size 10 shoes, heels don’t happen for me. But I’ve still fallen prey to painful shoes, and there’s basically nothing worse. In comfortable shoes, I’ll get shit done. In uncomfortable ones, I won’t wanna do anything except go home and take them off.

2. We all need to drink more water

It’s the most obvious of all tips, and everyone says it, and yet, well, it’s not fun or interesting, so it’s an easy thing to ignore. But really, drink more water. Go and drink some now. Seriously.

3. Light matters

There’s a reason everything feels scarier at night. Sunlight will sort a bad mood out and make everything seem much more doable. If you’re struggling with something, going for a walk in the sunshine will almost certainly help put it in perspective. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible, especially in the UK, which is why we should all be taking Vitamin D supplements.

4. Exercise reduces stress, for reals

On that note: EXERCISE REDUCES STRESS. As a fat kid, I was basically taught to fear and hate exercise, and that makes me furious now. Because even if it doesn’t feel great in the moment, getting regular exercise does amazing things for your mental health. I’m still working on remembering that, because it can be really intimidating to walk into a gym or run in public, but it’s definitely a thing, and one everyone ought to know.

5. You’ll forget about pain

You usually hear this one about childbirth, but I wouldn’t know about that. I do know that it’s impossible to really remember how difficult something was when you’re looking back on it. You also can’t accurately tell how much another person is struggling. So if everyone else seems to be finding something easy, don’t be discouraged. It’s not just you who’s finding it hard, and once you’ve done the thing – whether it’s a difficult workout or writing a book or whatever – you’ll forget how much you hurt, too.

6. Photographs are great but some things are best just looked at

Things you should take pictures of: yourself, your friends, your family, and cute animals. You can find virtually anything else by doing a Google image search, but it’s always worth taking pictures of people (and puppies).

7. When you find the perfect jeans, you should buy two pairs

Actually, this doesn’t just apply to jeans, but they’re a good example because it’s really hard to find good ones. Whenever you find your Holy Grail thing, whether it’s jeans, shoes, an amazing perfume, the best pen you’ve ever written with, whatever: buy a backup. Maybe two.

8. Liquid eyeliner isn’t that hard

For literally years I wanted to wear liquid eyeliner but was too scared to try it out. And then I read tutorials online that involved doing things like sticking Sellotape on your face or using a pencil to draw a guideline first, and I started experimenting… Turns out, liquid eyeliner isn’t that hard, and there’s no trick to it. You just have to practise a bit. Also, Rimmel Glam’Eyes is the best black eyeliner out there.

9. Lipstick, on the other hand, is total bullshit

While I’m on the topic of makeup, I’ve also spent ages messing with lipstick, only to come to the conclusion that it sucks. Yeah, it’s the quickest way to look like you’ve made an effort, but it is such an effort. All lipstick is uncomfortable, and it’s also always a trade-off between wearing something that’ll need re-applying multiple times over the course of a day (and every time you have a cup of tea) or wearing something that’ll stay put but make your lips feel like sandpaper. It’s nonsense.

10. You can’t pay off a sleep debt

Not everyone needs eight hours, but you probably know how much sleep you do need, and if you don’t get it, you’ll feel awful. It’s tempting to try to sleep in on the weekend to make up for a week’s worth of late nights, but it won’t work. You need to sleep on a more-or-less regular schedule, as boring as that sounds.

11. Drink when you’re happy, not when you’re sad

This is another one that makes me sound old and boring, but here goes. Having a drink to take the edge of a bad day is a terrible idea and will only make you feel worse. Having a drink with friends when you’re in a good mood or celebrating is great, but if you’re already sad, booze will only drag you further down. Don’t do it!

12. Get out of the house regularly or you’ll go crazy

This might not apply to most people, but I’ve been self-employed for just over six years now, so it’s completely possible for me to stay at home without human interaction for entire days. Or to go a week without speaking to anyone except my husband. This is not a good thing for my brain. Getting outside, even if it’s just to go to the supermarket or jog around the park, is vitally important if I don’t want to go a bit mad.

13. Everyone says it, but your instincts are worth listening to

Another obvious one, but yup. If something in your gut is telling you something’s wrong, it probably is. There are caveats I could put here, especially after the previous point, but I think most of the time, it makes sense to pay more attention to how you feel about something than to the way you think you’re supposed to act in a given situation. So take yourself out of difficult situations, and shut down conversations with people who creep you out.

14. It’s really not normal to be crying at work every day

Speaking of listening to your instincts: I used to have a job that made me cry on an almost daily basis. I stuck it out, because I thought it’d look bad if I quit too early, and I thought it was an opportunity I should be grabbing, but it made me so unhappy it was an actual victory to get through a workday without hiding in the toilets to cry. Was it worth it? Definitely not. I should’ve left sooner.

15. Clean your windows

This is something Ian MacKaye told me in an interview once, and it stuck with me. If you’re feeling miserable, clean your windows. You might or might not feel better afterwards, he said, but at least you’ll have clean windows. It doesn’t have to be windows, obviously; you could clean your oven or scrub your bathtub or whatever, but doing something physical that gives you visible results can often help with feeling depressed.

(He also told me that if you want to clean sticky label residue off something, you need to rub a bit of vegetable oil on it, and this also turned out to be amazing advice.)

16. You don’t have to be good at something immediately

Learning new things is hard. And sometimes that makes it tempting to give up. We all want to believe we’re competent, even talented people, and sometimes we – or, okay, I’ll be honest, I – tend to feel like if something’s difficult, then it’s not worth pursuing. If I’m rubbish at something, I want to stop before other people find out how rubbish I am. But this is really bad logic. New things are hard because they’re new, but it doesn’t mean they’ll always be hard, or that they’re not worth doing anyway. You’ve gotta push through being rubbish at things until you get better. Or just enjoy doing something for its own sake, even if you’re not the best at it.

17. You can only drive your own car

Driving was one of those things I wasn’t good at immediately, and it took me a long, long time to learn how to drive. My amazing driving instructor said this to me more than once, meaning that I should stop trying to figure out what other people were going to do and focus on my own reactions to what was going on, and it was great advice that seems pretty applicable to everything. You can’t control other people’s actions, or even always anticipate them. You can only drive your own car.

18. People drive badly when the weather changes

Something that I didn’t learn in my lessons, but soon realised once I started driving for real, is that people collectively seem to forget how to drive whenever there’s weather. Any kind of weather – it could be snow, fog, torrential rain, or even unexpected sunshine – seems to trigger a kind of mania that makes people drive more recklessly. So be careful on the roads whenever there’s a change in the weather. Something weird will probably happen.

19. Singing in the car is awesome

This is the last driving related one, I promise, but: the absolute best thing about having a car is that when you’re driving alone, you can sing. You can play whatever music you want, and sing along at the top of your voice, and it’s awesome. It’s basically my favourite thing about driving.

20. Live music is also a great way to feel amazing

Maybe there’s just something about making a loud, uninhibited noise, actually, because another thing I always find makes me feel amazing is going to see a band I love. Whether that’s a punk band playing in the back room of a pub or One Direction playing Wembley, anywhere that screaming or singing or shouting is socially acceptable is a great place to let off steam. Karaoke works, too.

21. Procrastinating is rubbish

It’s ironic that I put this on my list. I started writing this list months ago and I’m finishing it the day before my actual birthday because I kept putting it off and now there’s no time left, but procrastinating is so rubbish. It just steals your time. I’ve spent so much time just dicking around online because I didn’t have any pressing work to do, and in that time I could’ve gone for a walk or worked on a personal project or even just watched a film, but instead I did nothing. I want to work on procrastinating actively – so, if I’m not doing the thing I’m meant to be doing, at least I’m doing something else useful.

22. Superstition is nonsense but you can pick the ones that work for you

Nothing bad is actually going to happen to you or your mother if you step on a crack in the pavement. And if a black cat crosses your path, it doesn’t mean you’re going to have bad luck. Getting caught up in superstition can be really bad for you, because believing you’re going to have a bad day will probably mean you do. It’s all in your head, and not worth worrying about. But if you want to, you could make the power of belief work for you. Picking up a penny is good luck! Saluting a magpie is good luck! Seeing, I don’t know, a green car means you’re gonna have an awesome day. If you’re going to believe something, you might as well pick the ones that’ll put you in a good mood.

23. Like the things you like and you’ll find other people who like them too

I like horror movies and One Direction. Liking both of those things has meant I’ve made friends who like them too. Whatever you like, no matter how unfashionable or embarrassing it seems, there’ll be people out there who love it too. And now we’ve got the internet, it’s super easy to find them, and build communities around them. Which is brilliant.

24. But liking the same things doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get on with someone!

As a caveat, though, just liking the same things doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll like someone, and you can be friends with people who have completely different interests. When I was a teenager I think I thought I could only hang out with people who had the same interests as I did, but that is nonsense. It can be comforting to share things, but if you try to be friends with everyone who loves your favourite band, you’re gonna run into trouble. And also, it’s boring. Being friends with people who introduce you to new things is brilliant.

25. You don’t have to reply to everything immediately

I tend to try to reply to emails, texts, and even letters as soon as I can. Someone taught me about Inbox Zero about ten years ago and even now, I don’t like to have many emails hanging around that I haven’t dealt with. But actually, replying to everything immediately isn’t always necessary. It’s all about prioritising, and obviously I don’t advocate ignoring urgent messages for the sake of it, but also, some things can wait.

26. Always bring a book

I am chronically early to everything, partly because I spent a long time living somewhere with an unpredictable and unreliable train service, so I mentally add on about half an hour to every journey time, just in case. So one of the best things I’ve ever learned is to always be carrying a book. Sure, you can just mess with your phone while you’re waiting, but books are better – and their batteries never run out. Bring a book.

27. Cleaning out your wardrobe is the best

I haven’t read Marie Kondo’s book. I suspect I’d get way too into it, because I already know that clearing out your wardrobe (or cupboard, or bookshelf, or drawers, or whatever) is an amazing feeling. Inevitably, there’s stuff in there you don’t need any more. Broken things, things that don’t fit, things you’ve never used – you can get rid of all of it, and have more space. And there’s almost certainly also something great in there that you’d forgotten about, and in the process of clearing out all the crap, you get to rediscover it.

28. Book a goddamn hair cut

Another one that might just apply to me, but I will put off getting my hair cut basically forever. I’m not sure why, either. But right now, I haven’t had my hair cut for over eight months. I’m going today! It’ll instantly make me look less scruffy and feel less slobby, and I don’t know why I keep not doing it. I do know better, really.

29. Evening classes are pretty amazing

Over the last couple of years, I’ve taken classes in British Sign Language and in photography, and they were amazing. Even if I didn’t feel like going, even if I’d had a long day and felt like just getting an early night, I never regretted going out and meeting people and learning something new. I think it’s quite easy, as adults, to stop learning, but that’s fatal. There are always new things to learn, and new ways to look at the world.

30. Sometimes you have to get angry

Being angry is scary. It feels like a loss of control. And no-one likes people who are perpetually angry, forever stomping around and yelling. But some things are worth getting angry about, and sometimes you have to be vocally, visibly angry about them. Do it. It’s better than putting up with awful things or stewing inwardly forever.

31. Men will talk over you

Urgh, this is one I wish I hadn’t had to learn. I was always taught, growing up, that men and women were equal, and women could do anything men could do, and I think I thought sexism was a thing of the past. It isn’t. At work, in social situations, everywhere, men will talk over you and deride your contributions and steal your ideas. This is going to happen, and you’ve got to push back, because it’s bullshit. The world isn’t fair, and pretending that it is won’t help anyone.

32. Don’t tell anyone you can’t do something or they’ll believe you

Maybe this is a female thing, maybe it’s a British thing, but I find it really hard to talk about my accomplishments without playing them down. It’s physically uncomfortable to admit I’ve done anything well, or that I’m good at anything. But here’s the thing: no-one else is going to do it for me. And if I talk like I’m not sure I can do something, people will believe me. I always feel like I want someone else to believe in me, but they won’t do that if I act like I’m not worth believing in. And you know what? I’m pretty good at a lot of stuff.

33. You’ll probably figure it out

This last one is probably the most important. Impostor syndrome is real, and it’s a killer. But most of the time, things will be okay. I’ve been in so many situations where I wasn’t sure what to do, or that I could do the thing I was supposed to do, and every time, I’ve figured it out. You’ll figure it out. We’re all more resourceful than we know.

There. Thirty three things. Maybe I do know some things after all.

Au revoir, 2016

Well, uh, it’s been a year, huh?

I’ve started and stopped writing this post several times already, because what is there to say? For me, personally, 2016 has had incredible highs (getting married! Going to Eurovision!) and some crushing lows (my gran being ill, several publications I rely on for income closing down) but for the world, more generally, it’s fair to say it’s been a pretty terrible year. We’ve lost so much, from beloved celebrities to the sense that democracy meant anything, and it’s hard to look forward to 2017 without worrying what the consequences of this year’s decisions will be.

So, yeah, crushing despair and relentless catastrophising going on over here. But I’m trying to stay positive, at least for the first week of January, and also to take what I can from the wreckage of the year. For the sake of posterity, here are some of the things I wrote online this year:

As always, most of my best work (like my piece on The Conjuring 2 for Total Film, or my Agatha Raisin feature for Crime Scene!) isn’t available online. That’s frustrating for the sake of writing this post, but I guess it’s also mildly encouraging, because it means print media isn’t completely dead just yet. Let’s hope I can still say the same next year.

Hope you have a happy New Year, anyway. Maybe not everything will be terrible in the end! I can drink to that, at least.

Season’s Eatings

spoopy-pie-2

See that pie? That is a prize-winning pie.

It’s a Gizzi Erskine recipe, from her new Season’s Eatings book. My husband baked it on 30th October because Gizzi was running an Instagram competition. If you baked her spooky coq au vin pie over the Halloween weekend and posted a picture of it to Instagram, you could win two tickets to her Thanksgiving event at the Drapers Arms.

As big Gizzi fans, we obviously had to enter, and, well, the first sentence of this post was a bit of a spoiler, really. My husband’s mad baking skills and my (clearly) brilliant food photography skills won us the tickets. So despite not being American in the slightest, yesterday we went to a Thanksgiving feast.

It was a bit scary when we first arrived. The pub was set up with long dining tables, but most people had arrived in pairs. That meant there was a terribly awkward period where no-one was sure where to sit, and then people started to sit at each ends of the tables, until finally latecomers had to ask if they could sit in the middle. Argh.

But then the mulled wine started to kick in, and someting strange started to happen. Everyone started talking to one another. First the people sitting immediately next to them, and then the rest of the table. When the food arrived, it arrived on huge sharing platters, and soon everyone was laughing and joking and passing plates around.

I should say at this point that the food was incredible. Gizzi served up buffalo cauliflower with blue cheese and celery to start, then a spiced roast turkey with endless side dishes and incredible roast potatoes for the main course, followed by a brown butter maple pumpkin pie. There was a cheese plate at the end, but I don’t think many people had room. It all tasted incredible – but then I’d expected it to.

I think I knew the food would be amazing, because Gizzi’s recipes seem to be reliably amazing. I think what I wasn’t expecting was for everything else to work so well. The atmosphere, the conversation – and yes, the wine – were all brilliant. I had an amazing night, and when Gizzi came out at the end to talk about her take on Thanksgiving, the applause was deafening.

If you’d asked me a month ago whether I wanted to spend Thanksgiving with a bunch of strangers, I’d’ve said… well, I wouldn’t have waited for you to finish the question before running screaming in the opposite direction. But actually, I’m really thankful that I did.

How to be married, according to horror movies

gillman wedding small

I got married! Though it’s not traditional for the bride to give a speech, I decided that was sexist nonsense, and wrote something to deliver to friends over a celebratory dinner. And, well, I thought I’d share it here, too. So here you go:

“As you’ll probably know, Craig and I watch a lot of horror movies. And actually they can teach you a lot about relationships. So, based on what I’ve learned from the movies, I’d like to promise Craig some things for our marriage, in front of you guys.

Here goes:

  • I promise I will never deliberately move us into a house where all the previous occupants were horribly murdered
  • I promise I won’t secretly join a cult and sacrifice you to Satan
  • I also promise I won’t openly join a cult and make a suicide pact with you
  • I promise I won’t use an Ouija board to invite demons into our home
  • And if we do end up with a demon in the house, I promise I’ll prioritise getting rid of it over filming it
  • I promise I won’t suggest a winter getaway to an abandoned hotel and end up chasing you around with an axe
  • I promise to never read the Latin
  • I promise I won’t scheme to murder you for the inheritance
  • If we ever have any pets, and they die, I promise not to bury them in a cursed burial ground to try to bring them back to life
  • I promise not to push you down a well
  • I promise not to insist on adopting an orphan who turns out to be a 40-year-old murderess
  • I promise not to attempt teleportation
  • Actually I promise not to attempt any kind of weird science that might result in either me turning into a monster or me building a monster in the basement
  • I promise not to turn into a leopard.

Mostly, I promise not to murder you! Let’s finish with a toast – to a totally non-horrific marriage!”

Cheers to that.

Bye, 2015!

Watford Christmas in the rain

You know what, it’s been a pretty good year for me. The last time I sat down to write one of these year-in-review type posts, I’d had one of the most stressful and difficult years of my life. 2015 was far kinder to me than 2014, on the whole. I took on new and exciting work, I started to settle into my new home, I managed to go away on holiday a couple of times, and I got engaged to my best friend in the world. So yeah, pretty nice.

Sadly, a lot of the most interesting things I’ve written aren’t available online, but I dug out some of my favourites that are, which you can read here, if you wanted:

Next year, then? So far, my plans include more Big Brother, getting married, and a trip to the Eurovision Song Contest. Should be good!

 

That was the year that was

tree

Um. I haven’t posted to this blog for a year. That’s a bit rubbish, isn’t it?

I had such good intentions at the end of last year. It’s just that life kind of got in the way. It’s been a ridiculous year in many ways, and I either haven’t wanted to or haven’t had chance to write about it. And you’d probably be bored if I went through it all now. For the sake of marking the end of 2014, though, here are my favourite things I wrote this year (or at least, my favourite things I wrote that I can find online):

This year, I’m hoping things will settle down, and I’ll get to spend more time working, with my friends, and at home without feeling like the world is falling down around me. And maybe that’ll mean I’ll have more time to write here, too. Fingers crossed!