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At this time of year you can’t sit through an advert break without being invited on a holiday. Cheap Disneyland trips for young families. Luxurious tropical retreats for discerning adults. Boat trips only for old people. Many viewers, it seems, are seduced by this onslaught, desperate for a glimpse of some ‘winter sun’. For me, these adverts are like watching horror film trailers.

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Ok, not quite. But I really don’t like holidays. Don’t get me wrong – I love having a break. I’m not one of those people who never want to leave the office. But, tell me, what exactly is relaxing about travel, specifically foreign travel? Packing for a 2-week holiday (= 4 weeks worth of your wardrobe) and then hauling a suitcase equivalent to your own body weight across multiple tortuous modes of (delayed) transport. Enduring said transport – sometimes for days – until you reach a strange destination where you are, in effect, an alien. No one understands you, you don’t understand them – and in some painful cases, you don’t even try to. Having to knock around with strange Brits, many of whom are speaking especially loudly, only in English. Having to navigate unknown climes whilst simultaneously not looking like you’re navigating unknown climes so as not to draw attention to yourself and your belongings. It’s all very scary and stressful. And then you’ve got to do it all again to get home. And then you’re back at work – exhausted. Great.

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Holidays seem to bring out anxieties in me that never seem to surface in daily life – what if I get robbed / attacked? What if my house blows up / burns down / gets burgled / acquires squatters? It’s hard work going on holiday. I’ll admit, a lot of this travel aversion stems from my total fear of flying. I’ve tried it twice. Never again – because, as Ian Fleming said, you only live twice.

I went to Florida as a child, on one of aforementioned (not-so) cheap Disneyland trips with my family. I remember the two flights in full. I remember thinking my ears were going to explode during take off, and that my stomach was going to jump out of my mouth during landing. I remember a horrendous airport which seemed to be made entirely of palms, prickly and scary. But, in comparison, I don’t remember too much of the actual holiday. Then I, persuaded by a family member yet again, found myself flying to New York fifteen years later. The turbulence we experienced when (trying to) make a landing at Newark was like out of an ACTUAL DISASTER FILM. And that was my sister, easy-flyer, talking.

And that’s about as exotic as my travel experiences have extended to. I’ve been places since – just not by air. This does of course limit where you can go, unless you are a Russian oligarch with bounds of cash to splurge on speedboats. But I can’t imagine a Russian oligarch being scared of flying. Or a Russian full stop.

Do I feel like I’m missing out? Honestly? No. Well, maybe a little bit. But we all do the same thing when we get back from holiday, don’t we? We miss it for a week, then we go back to our own lives, exactly as we were before – only poorer. We’ve ticked a box – but that’s it.

Well, for most of us. I take my hat off to the people who really throw themselves into travel, without a map if you will. But I don’t want to hear about it. If I were to find myself in a room with such a traveller I would attempt to leave it immediately.

I say, before you go gallivanting off on some foreign adventure, take time to remember what we have on our own global doorstep. Some UKers have never stepped outside of London yet they’ve carted themselves off to Helsinki, Haiti and Honolulu – what about our South Coast? The Lakes? We’ve got a good thing going on here – who needs winter sun?

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Here it is upon us again. New Year’s Eve. That went fast didn’t it?

Rather than feeling daunted, I find I am quite addicted to the hopefulness of setting goals – something many of you will no doubt be torturing yourselves with today. Why must we make it such an ordeal?

Last year’s resolution was to ‘be crafty’. I’m sat here now, one year later, guiltily glancing at the Make Your Own Pompoms set that still lies untouched in a Bloomindales bag on the floor – well, at least they have enjoyed a chic 12 months.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t really have the imagination to be imaginative. I need a tour guide. It was the hardy estate-agent-cum-craftswoman, Kirstie Allsopp, who guided me into the world of pompom crafts. I couldn’t have done it alone.

Despite this handicap I think it important, really important, that we let our creativity run free every once in a while – even those of us aren’t quite gifted enough to create without a kit. Or without copying someone else. I love copying. I did it religiously as a child and I do it still. But what’s wrong with that? All I’m doing is flexing a muscle. And while that muscle gets some exercise, the others in my brain can switch off. With this in mind I think my plan for 2015 will be, simply, To Play.

We forget to play as we become adults. It’s not our fault – we don’t have the time when there are so many more pressing, important and boring things to attend to. Things that absorb all of our time and head space. But this is exactly why remembering how to play is so important.

Remember the invigoration that came from childhood play? The total abandon. The thrill at discovery. This is the stuff that keeps us going. Helps to fill the hole that creeps open as we age and the fun sort of dries up, becomes very much expected.

Of course, there are those humans for whom surprise is their raison d’etre. The kind that throw themselves at challenges in far flung locations, like white water rafting in places that have… I don’t know… white water? Those who do something noble like volunteering in Africa.

But for the less adventurous and admittedly more lazier and, well, timid of us – there is play. Good old-fashioned messing about. MFI springs to mind. Yes, the furniture store. I’ve never visited an MFI as an adult, but as a child – oh! The fun my sister and I had! Allowed to roam free around the store as my parents browsed kitchen units stressfully. We acted out mini melodramas in secluded kitchens. Hid from the adults in bedroom wardrobes. Fondled the pretend fruit. Bounced on the beds when no-one was looking. Pretended to be pretend home furniture. It was such a treat, going to MFI. It is within the walls of this store only that I have imagined being a housewife.

Whenever life gets tough, or incredibly dull, I think back to those gentle MFI adventures. Go and hide in the bedroom for a while, behind the door. Play out a little story in my head.

Play must lurk like this in my subconscious somewhere, because without me even realising what I was doing for Christmas this year I got my boyfriend stuff that will enable him to make his own watch. Luckily, he does actually want to make his own watch. Now.

There he is in the corner, soldering wires together. Having a blast. Bigger projects are already emerging – a torch. More ambitiously, a light up table. Who knows where his imagination will take him.

And that’s the point isn’t it – why not wake up your inner child next year? Play up – you deserve it.

I was unexpectedly reminded of something moving and transporting the other day – the enduring power of the Christmas-number-one-single.

Not any of this new crap. Sorry One Direction, but I’m going to have to deride you again. For those who have blissfully avoided this year’s contender, let me enlighten you: “Everybody wanna steal my girl / Couple billion in the whole wide world / Find another one ’cause she belongs to me”

Hmmm.

No, I’m talking about the old crap. The kind we went to great pains to access. Simply clicking your music to your ears from the comfort of your bed / sofa? Pah! Remember the thrill of going into an actual shop and parting with actual cash to get your hands on – literally – a physical thing? Followed by gluing your ears to the radio (yes, radio) on a Sunday afternoon for the Top 40 Chart Show. Waiting breathlessly to learn if your heroes had made it to the dizzy heights of Christmas number one single. (They often did, by the way.) Choosing and buying your Christmas number one single was a real commitment. An event.

I was reminded of such festivities last week when, out of nowhere (well, ok – out of a YouTube Christmas playlist – but aren’t we all doing this now?), I was taken aback by the unmistakeable opening chimes of Westlife‘s 1999 Christmas hit ‘I Have A Dream’. Uncontrollably, I was  overwhelmed by an adrenaline rush. I actually flushed. This was obviously embarrassing – I was a little too old to be enjoying a boy band when the song first came out, never mind 15 years later. It was a genuinely weird moment because I felt so far removed from those emotions, that way of being, that time now. But it was made all the more embarrassing because I was in public at the time. Well, in front of my boyfriend who had so far been spared my reaction to Westlife.

But I couldn’t help it. That song immediately transported me back to sitting square-eyed in front of the television in my parent’s bedroom, where my sister and I would sit for hours and hours watching The Box (the channel…we’re not that old) where they aired the video on repeat for a whole hour. They did that with ‘2 Become 1’ in 1996 too.

Looking back, it was probably one of the most exciting times of my life.

Because – I don’t know if this is just for girls – innocently obsessing over a celebrity / band of celebrities / media personality is, for some, a way of being. It certainly was for me in a (long) period of my life. Boy bands probably made me the person I am today. No, really. I was the only one in my group of friends who did this obsessing, but where I was removed from our reality they became caught up in the grotty-ness of it. The fags, the disgusting sex, the vodka, the abortions. There is escapism, even protection in obsession. The pull of glossy media personalities in comparison to the reality of north Birmingham society is obviously irresistible. But, more importantly, the abandon, hope, fantasy, excitement, the romance (in your head) – it all keeps you going. It’s hard to get any of that from real life. Unless you’re into dangerous sports…which I’m not. Nor drugs. So, imagination it is.

Never did me any harm.

We all have embarrassing habits, don’t we? Googling yourself regularly. Slathering on antibacterial hand gel every time you touch someone for fear of their likely germs. Secretly listening to One Direction every morning (the latter not one of mine).

Is there anything worse than admitting an embarrassing habit? Yes – not noticing said habit in the first place, and carrying on doing it obliviously. Which is what I’ve been doing, subconsciously, for years. Forever. Only last week did I finally notice this particular habit – my saving grace being that at least it wasn’t pointed out to me by my boss, my mother, a member of One Direction.

I mimic people. I just can’t seem to help it. Not in a comic way – I’m no actress and, anyone will tell you, I can’t do an accent to save my life. No, it’s more of a social reflex. Something we all probably do to some extent – to demonstrate our apparent attentiveness, to make other people feel special, comfortable (or uncomfortable) – reflecting others back to themselves during conversation. Mimicking their body language, intonations of voice and facial expressions in our own body, voice and face. I know this isn’t exactly some kind of breakthrough observation; most of us are capable of doing this when we want to, or when social convention dictates we have to. But the somewhat embarrassing difference with me is that I can’t seem to control mine. I wish I could switch it off! But no, I’m mimicking in every conversation I have. If the girl at the supermarket counter happens to be from Yorkshire, my response will slip out in a Yorkshire accent without me even realising I’m doing it. The worst is crying – people are always setting me off.

I’ve talked before about my attachment to women’s magazines. Perhaps being under their influence for so long has affected me. All those articles you read about how your body language betrays your innermost feelings – about men, mainly. Mimicking a potential mate by stroking your face when he strokes his reveals that you fancy him. Cringe! It’s as if I’ve not read these articles properly and have extended this behaviour to all of society…what an indiscriminate hussy I am.

Even now that I’m aware of it, and riddled with embarrassment by it, my face-matching continues. In fact, if anything it’s stepped up it’s game. I’m watching people even more closely now, as though I’ve got my own social interaction survey going on – only no-one knows they’re being surveyed. Ethics of this survey aside, it is revealing. Because the thing is, when other people do the mimicking thing I’m noticing that they are usually incredibly insincere with it. You can see their face working in a calculated effort to get what they want out of people. Whether that’s getting them onside, extracting information, testing out difficult waters. It is embarrassing to watch. Painful, even. I really hope I am not such a ham actor.

I’m considering another little experiment, actually. Using my mimicry as a superpower for social good by tackling the everyday rudeness we all endure from total strangers in our lives, and throwing it back in their faces. A gentle Batman for polite society, if you will.

Not giving an inch on the pavement when a stubborn individual enters my path, demonstrating just what chaos will ensue should one of us not budge.

Storming, literally, through the bus queue and sending all and sundry flying like bowling balls in my wake.

Hmmm…another embarrassing habit seems to have revealed its ugly head. Getting too angry at things…

Blog post – Walking in Heels

I’ve never been able to walk in high heels. Rarely does the powerful click clack of sex and glamour resonate in my wake. I can’t even cope with a kitten.

Of course I tried that kind of femininity on for size for a period in my youth, as most of us do. There’s that right of passage, the first time we sneak into our mother’s wardrobe and trial our little feet in those giant, cartoonish courts. We realise right then how uncomfortable they are, but for some reason we persevere. I gave heels another go in my late teens – I’d managed to conquer a pair of sky-high bright white trainer-wedges, a la The Spice Girls, the previous year. So, I had high hopes. But of course, we all know wedges don’t count as a true heel, and my trainers were certainly not a true test of my walking ability. After wearing a pair of not-even-that-high sandals from Select for my 18th birthday jaunt to Pizza Hut, the next morning I vowed never to wear heels again.

I just can’t seem to physically master them. I read a hilarious piece in The Telegraph about a journalist – struck with the same affliction – who was sent to some terrifying woman’s class on how to walk in heels. I mean, there’s a class in everything isn’t there. This woman apparently wore high (high) heels all the time. Everywhere. Well, obviously she’s insane. And no doubt now riddled with back problems. Anyway, it made me wonder if a class of that ilk would have any impact on me. But I fear it would be futile.

In theory I should have the genetic equipment to walk in heels quite competently. My sister owns more than 200 pair of shoes. Yes, 200. They consumed our verandah in a slow painful suffocation, before spreading their chaos throughout the rest of the house. She used to go to work in them. The library. The dentist. She’d never consider going on a night out in a pair of flats. Heels are just in her psyche. And she didn’t need any pricey training sessions to show her how to walk. Here’s a flesh and blood relative who can function normally – glamorously – in a pair of stilettos. Surely I can follow in her footsteps?

But whenever I try I just look like Tina Turner gone wrong. And nothing works – plasters, gel cushions, only walking on carpets, being drunk – I’ve tried them all. Unfortunately I can’t afford to pay someone to walk around with a carpet in front of me all the time. So I have to ask myself, is it that I can’t walk in high heels? Or that I won’t?

I was reminded of this little failure of mine the other week, when I started reading a book said sister lent me: How to be Parisian. There was a line in it that touched a nerve, “What you won’t find in the Parisienne’s closet – three-inch heels. Why live life halfway?”

Well – what’s wrong with being comfortable? And not just in shoes – in your own skin?

It pains me to admit that I’m actually bothered that I can’t strut to the shops – how ridiculous, it’s just a pair of shoes after all. But that’s the thing, it’s not about the actual shoes – a heel represents much more. Sex! Power! Glamour! That’s what a pair of heels screams. Then there’s me, plodding along in my Clarkes boots and coming up short (literally). All in all it makes me feel rather inadequate, like I’m missing a major string in my bow. Killer heels are weaponry in a girl’s arsenal. -whether that’s power in attracting a mate (because that’s what heels are designed to do when it comes down to it – display your childbearing hips). Or whether it’s power in securing a high-flying job (assuming most high-flying jobs are male dominated and you’ve got to try and attract one with your childbearing hips…)

And then of course there are the rest of us, apparently not in high-flying jobs or a bearer of children, jealous spinsters unable to master the skill of walking. And we think, well actually it’s all very well looking especially lengthy-of-leg and being tall enough to look boardroom suits in the eye, but – aren’t you a bit of a slave to that shoe? That’s a friendly torture device you’re strapped into there. And you’re endorsing it. Suffering. You are in actual pain.

Of course, I’m being way too serious here (that’s flat heel wearers for you). I agree, I could accurately be accused of taking the fun right out of shoes. Because I can see that they are a bit of fun for a lot of people. They make us look good. They give us confidence, even if that confidence is based around men and hurts us in the process.

I’d much rather be comfortable. As long as I’m not getting too comfortable… Maybe I’ll sneak into my sister’s wardrobe the next time I see her, try walking in her shoes for a moment or two.

Despite myself, I seem to be crying more than one should – at the television. I’m not much of a crier away from the screen. Yet there I am, wailing at the sight of an abandoned dog in one of those harrowing fundraising adverts. Sobbing during a local news item about an elderly war veteran robbed by thugs.

Why is it that I am so ready to open the floodgates in front of strangers I neither know nor care about on the television, but run a mile at the thought of exhibiting an uncomfortable emotion, admitting a vulnerability, to the actual people in my life? Well of course, I’m certainly not unique in this unhealthy behaviour, the roots of which aren’t exactly rocket science. It’s dramatically less hassle unleashing your inner emotions via some (seemingly) unrelated incident involving a small child and a rare disease on the news, rather than admitting your fears directly to a loved one. This is why counselling is so effective. Well, that and counsellors are trained professionals… your tv isn’t exactly going to pipe up with some coping techniques to offer you.

At home, the tv is always on. Critiquing what we’re watching takes on a real importance and, as the years go on, I find I’m over-relating with tv in general. It’s like I actually know the characters in The Big Bang Theory, that they really exist. I’ll have full-blown conversations about them – sometimes, when I visit my parents, we will speak more about what’s happened on the tv than we do about events in our own lives. And with real seriousness.

I consider myself a member of a generation for whom it is still considered a little anti-social, embarrassing – downright ridiculous – to talk so much about something as trivial as the television. It’s an admission that you don’t have enough to say for yourself, about yourself. Times have obviously changed – look at the Gogglebox phenomenon. And while I maintain that too much tv is prone to make us lazy and insular I would also argue that, contrarily, tv does have a valid role to play in today’s society – encouraging connections in its own, very modern, way.

When an episode of The Apprentice finishes, and we all rush to Twitter to de-brief, we’re brought together as part of a (weird) virtual community. And when we say nothing to our partner/parent/sibling in a whole evening other than ‘what did you think of Eastenders?’, well – it might seem to sad to the older generation (and to me, a bit), but at least it is keeping some lines of communication open!

So really, tv is a way of building bridges that perhaps wouldn’t otherwise be crossed, virtual ones and actual ones. Just as it’s easier to cry about something you see on the telly when it reminds you of something you hold quietly inside you, it’s easier for some people to talk to others in those displaced terms too – an easy, ready-made medium to communicate through, in which we can all contribute. Something we can all use to relate to each other with because, come on, who doesn’t watch the tv? (Well, I do know two people who don’t have one…) I can’t see the situation changing either – judging by the constant chatter of the young people that come into my workplace, it’s apparent that tv – well, YouTube actually – is the focus of their days.

I Googled before writing this post and – surprise, surprise – too much television is resoundedly considered bad.

It can shorten your life.

It can change the structure of a child’s brain (?!)

It means DEATH!

Apparently sitting sedentary in front of a screen for more than two hours a day doubles (yes, doubles) your chance of a premature death. a) I feel genuinely anxious about this alarming statistic. Should i alert my GP? I think I’d need to join a queue, and b) if this is in fact the case, work is definitely killing me.

Of course, there’s distinctions to be made between the kind of tv where you sit glass eyed unquestionably watching pointless drivel for three hours straight, the content of which is seemingly made up of repeating what’s just happened because, presumably, it assumes its viewers have been rendered stupid by merely watching it. (Perhaps death is preferable here…) But it seems unfair with so many screens in our lives now to blame the biggest, oldest one. Surely some idiot glued to their mobile phone screen whilst driving is much more deadly.

We edit ourselves as we go about life, don’t we? Not in the wholly condemnable Photoshop way employed by magazines etc, but we do present ourselves differently depending on the situation. Sometimes we choose to. Other times, we have to.

Now with this in mind, I am about to tiptoe into semi-dangerous territory as I essentially attempt to dole out advice on what people – well, women – should and should not wear. To work. Yes, I am mad.

We (most of us) do, of course, have the right to dress in whatever bloody way we like. Feminism is about the right to choose, after all. But for God’s sake ladies – pull it together when you are at work.

Just as we can’t be as gobby as we perhaps are in our personal lives, we can’t really be as loud with the clothes we wear in the workplace also. There is a time and a place, as they say. Being greeted by a crop top and leather leggings makes me uncomfortable at, say, the doctor’s surgery reception. Everywhere else – fine.

I am aware I am coming across as a ragingly conservative anti-feminist, but hear me out. Like it or not, you cannot get away from the fact that how you dress does project an image, a message to others. And at work, the only thing you want to show off is your professionalism.

I feel (relatively) passionate about this subject. On my commute to work I see a lot of other people on their way to work. A lot of young women. And there are times when when I involuntarily tut out loud as I watch one of them topple into an office in Spice Girls-eqsue trainer wedges. Cringe as a I catch a glimpse of the pants of another under a too-short skirt. Too much denim. Sports wear (literally, like they are going to the gym). A lot of skimpy, downright uncomfortable looking outfits that just seem plain incongruous with the workplace.

Maybe I’ve just been brainwashed by decades of fashion magazines – you know what I mean, those hilarious work wear sections that I’m sure most of us just flick through, yawning. Forever  dispensing the same advice, the same rules. It’s all pencils, body-con, shirts, cardigans – basically stuff that makes you look like a sensible grown up in the day, but will let it’s hair down with you as you ‘transition’ into a raucous evening. Stuff that says you’re ‘serious’, ‘strong’ but still ‘feminine’. The language is silly but it does ring true. This style of dressing gives us the flexibility, that armour we need.

And far as I’m concerned, flashing the flesh hasn’t really got much to do with empowerment, other than that you have freely chosen to flash it. But, more importantly, what you have almost certainly chosen is to mark your card as someone who can mis-read a situation.

Look, I’m not deranged – I can see how in some workplaces a relaxed dress code, a controversial one even, is accepted. Welcomed, even. Hairdressers spring to mind (the kind where people have beards and piercings, tattoos a-plenty… not Nicky Clarke). Bars, too. Trendy shops. Some PR companies maybe? I don’t know.

But take my place of work, for example – a creative small business founded by an artist who went around for three years in her twenties wearing the same boiler suit everyday. So you can imagine the atmosphere is a little loose – we can pretty much wear whatever we like. However, we are also a training provider, working with vulnerable school children. So, whilst we are not exactly your typical school, we do have a duty to be good role models for the kids. We also have a responsible image to project to our partners in the schools. Plus, there are times we have to look even more grown up for the local authority.

We are also, coincidentally, an all-female team. Each one of us has to re-edit ourselves a bit, depending on who we’ve got coming in – we constantly have to meet other people’s expectations. And, as a tiny company competing with the ‘big boys’, we have to push even harder to be taken seriously. How we dress plays a part in this. It shouldn’t have to be that way, but it is. It’s obviously especially true for women, but men do have the same standards and expectations to meet also – a man coming into a meeting in a vest and shorts wouldn’t be tolerated in most workplaces.

It would be nice to think we could all just go about life true to our own code, the whole time. But this is not a reality for anyone (well, maybe Kate Moss). Perhaps this is a good thing, anyhow – I imagine we would turn out to be a pretty selfish race if we all did exactly what we wanted to, all of the time.

This mini-rant is brought on by something that happened this week, at work. One of our female students came in wearing a sheer lace corset dress and stiletto heels.

Now, we have a policy where our students are treated as fellow staff members. They are ambassadors for the company. Plus, this girl is just 14 years old. It was genuinely frightening that she had thought it was acceptable to come in dressed in the way she was – that she even owns such clothes. After a frank talking-to about self-worth and choice (my boss actually likened the get-up to that of a prostitute’s…not the most pc of strategies but I could see where she was coming from…) we had to send her home.

It can be difficult enough being taken seriously at work as it is. At the end of the day, inappropriate clothes make you look out of place. Not in a ‘I’m asserting my individuality’ way. But in an ‘I’ve judged it wrong’ way. And this does nothing for selling your skills.

I feel quite uncomfortable writing this post. I know it will rankle people. I would probably find myself a little rankled if I wasn’t the writer. But I do maintain that you can stay true to yourself as you present different versions of this self to the world. It’s not about conforming, or changing yourself. It’s about making considered decisions.

I genuinely hope that, sooner rather than later, we get to the point where men and women are finally considered as equal in the workplace, and in society in general. In such a society I imagine men will be able to choose to come into work in a skirt and feel no shame or recrimination. Women could choose to come in wearing an embellished bin liner.

But I still wouldn’t get my hair cut there.

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