A rainy day in the Lakes

Recently it’s felt like the world doesn’t go much further than the stretch of canal near my flat and the handful of shops/cafes I’ve been venturing into as the world begins to open up again. I’m so lucky to live somewhere where I can wander to my favourite bars, bakery and coffee shops (and to have spent the majority of lockdown elsewhere with access to a garden and lovely woods), but the city centre completely lacks the kind of green spaces that always calm me down and make me my happiest. A few weeks ago we had the dreamiest weekend away near Hardcastle Crags and this weekend whilst feeling restless and bored on a Saturday evening booked train tickets to Windermere for the next morning.

It was such a wonderful lil day trip, despite being rather busy – just to see different people boarding or leaving the train and to get that feeling of going somewhere or arriving home again made me feel so much more hopeful and content. Seeing the countryside and different towns and villages through a train window, clambering up a hill and feeling the satisfaction as you reach the top and heading out onto lake Windermere on a lil boat was all just so so lovely. We had the best ice cream at The Little Ice Cream Shop, which I’d definitely recommend making a trip to if you’re either in Windermere or Hawkshead. Windermere is a busy town and doesn’t quite have the same kind of charm as more rural areas of the Lakes (it definitely feels more like a lil holiday seaside village) so I was worried we wouldn’t be able to get any walking/exploring in but we stumbled across a route out up to Brant Fell View Point – a wonderful lil walk that wasn’t too exhausting (after months of very minimal exercise…).

I’m feeling very grateful to have been able to see more of the world again – it’s so easy to get caught up in feeling restless, especially without a car to get out exploring with but getting back to Piccadilly station feeling exhausted, in a satisfying leg achey kinda way, yesterday evening has left me feeling so much brighter!

Books For Bad Days

Hello! With grey rainy days and the mixed feelings that come with lockdown easing, I’ve seen lots of people on my timelines feeling a bit down or struggling at the minute. With this in mind, I thought that I’d quickly share a few reads that I’d recommend for those days when you need a pick-me-up, some perspective or an escape from whatever is going on in your head. Whilst they’re three quite different books, they’re all ones you can dip in and out of and (along with a sugary cup of tea) help me to feel a lot calmer on those days when your mind feels like an overwhelming place to be.

First up is Liv Purvis’ The Insecure Girls Handbook. I truly can’t recommend this book enough for those days when you’re feeling a bit shit about yourself, whether it’s to do with your career, body image or the FOMO that comes from too much time scrolling on Instagram. Liv chats with women who are doing amazing things to empower women across the globe and these varied perspectives and insights mean we can all find a bit of ourselves within this book’s pages. With a relaxed and friendly tone that never veers towards preachy, this book is one you’ll be grateful to have on your shelf on those days when you need something other than your inner critic in your head.

Next is Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. You’ve probably seen Charlie’s beautiful illustrations over on Instagram and it’s not surprising at all that this book won Waterstones Book of the Year in 2019. I can’t quite convey how lovely this book is to own – its’ pages are filled with the most beautiful drawings and it’s just so soothing to flick through and to read. The messages inside are hopeful and keep a childlike feeling of curiosity. On a difficult day, it can be just the kind of thing you need to be reminded that there are gentle and wonderful things in the world.

Finally, I’m finishing up with Emma Mitchell’s The Wild Remedy. Emma talks openly about her struggles with her mental health and beautifully conveys the ways in which nature helps to ground her and keep her going on the difficult days. Her drawings and photographs are the perfect antidote to city living, if you’re craving a bit of green space, and the little details of life on her daily walks or drives through the countryside always give me a brief but lovely escape from whatever’s going on in my own world.

If you end up picking up any/all of these books I really hope they make the rough days a little softer for you. And remember to support independent bookshops as much as possible with your purchases, as they need our support now more than ever.

My Dark Vanessa – A Review

Hello! Today I thought I’d give writing a book review a go – this isn’t the kind of post I’m used to writing but I’m mainly doing so to see if it’s something I’d enjoy – reading and writing are my favourite things to do so maybe writing about reading will end up being something I do more of!

I’ve had my eye on ‘My Dark Vanessa’ since peach covered proofs started to hit my Twitter and Instagram feeds months ago. Exploring protagonist Vanessa Wye’s relationship with her English teacher, Jacob Strane, and its ongoing impact on her life as, many years later, accusations of sexual assault towards him and others begin to role in, it’s definitely a jarring read. Part of me was admittedly sceptical about whether the novel would bring anything new to conversations regarding abusive relationships, consent and current movements and I steered away from reading about the author or the novel’s controversies, not wanting anything to influence my initial reading. But ultimately, I found a novel that tackles issues of victimhood, consent and how this all fits into the #MeToo era in a nuanced and incredibly emotive way.

One of the things that struck me most about the novel was Vanessa’s struggle with the idea of victimhood – her painful inability to reconcile her expectations of what a victim should be with her own perceived agency and consent in her relationship with Strane. It’s something I think anyone who has ever been in abusive or toxic relationship might be able to identify with – that uncomfortable feeling that something bad has happened to you but that your own behaviour must surely negate from the validity of any resulting trauma. This, combined with Vanessa’s vulnerability during her years at private school left me feeling, in some ways, more connected with her character than I expected to.

That vulnerability and it’s complete exploitation, which Russell expresses so well, is what makes the novel truly devastating. Vanessa, like so many of us when at high school, struggles with feeling unseen and disconnected from those around her. The cruelty of the novel is that, not only is it this very human feeling that allows Strane to groom her in the first place, but it is his manipulation of this feeling; always creating the illusion that Vanessa is in control, able to consent, possessing agency, that not only results in a feeling of ‘otherness’ throughout Vanessa’s adult life, but leaves her feeling as if she is to blame – as if it is that ‘difference’ that means such a relationship could happen to her. The way this manipulation drips through the novel, happening slowly and becoming increasingly apparent as the relationship progresses, leaves you feeling all the more empathetic for Vanessa. The nervousness, the excitement, the familiarity of having a crush portrayed alongside the sinister and increasing cruel behaviour of Strane makes the situation feel truly heartbreaking.

The #MeToo movement’s involvement in the novel fit well with the overarching plot and I found the portrayals of what the movement means for different women to be really well expressed – the opportunistic journalist using awful experiences as a ticket to some sort of woke success, the victim empowered by identifying and exploring her experience, the woman just trying to get through and build her life up and away from abuse. The awful ramifications that women suffer through when they come forward were something I wish any sceptic of the #MeToo movement could read – because this novel is not just a blanket ‘believe women’, it’s an exploration of the ways in which they are failed by the institutions with a duty of care towards them and the way in which their experiences, and their coming forward, are painful and conflicting and far more complex than whether they are a victim or not, whether they are empowered or vilified.

Part of me often felt a little frustrated with Vanessa’s character, though this is no failing of the book at all – whilst it might have been easy to add in traits that would have made her more endearing or likeable, it would’ve also undermined one of the messages of the novel itself. Vanessa should not need to be a palatable character, one who is always easy to empathise with and pity (though she is often that, too) – she should be a human, just trying to understand herself, her experiences, what they mean for her and how she can go on to live a life she is content with. And the public aren’t to own victims, to lay claim to their lives.

I’ve been wondering if, after finishing My Dark Vanessa, I should re-read Lolita for the first time since high school, and how a second reading might impact my perception of both books. It still feels deeply unsettling to hear the occasional reference to Lolita as a love story, and I’d hope that a copy of My Dark Vanessa falls into the hands of any who perceive it so… Not only is it challenging, but My Dark Vanessa is thoughtful, devastating and nuanced – a brilliant sit down and devour kinda’ read.

The first week

It’s been just over a week since I made a terrible attempt at packing (forgetting all of my makeup and most of my clothes) and left our flat in Manchester. The evening of my last blogpost, where I decided I’d write weekly about what I’m grateful for, saw the U.K go into lockdown. In the days following we’ve seen case numbers and deaths due to Covid-19 continue to rise and so many have lost both financial security and key support systems. Being away from those I care about, particularly if they’re going through a rough time, has been difficult. But I also feel so lucky that there has been so much to be grateful for mixed in – it’s both strange and reassuring that those realities can sit side by side. I know everyone who is sharing on the internet is grappling with the uncertainty of what to post – the good can feel almost insensitive right now. But, as so many have pointed out, looking for and feeling that good is all the more important when everything feels so uncertain. The celebration of the small things by others has really helped me to feel less alone in the midst of everything that’s going on – glimpses of people’s afternoon walks or the cakes they’re baking or the books they’re curled up with…

Over the last week there’s been so much to savour – there’s the obvious things, like evenings filled with bird song and wood smoke and skies that drip gold. There’s the message notifications from friends, sharing a poem they think I’d like or checking in to see how I am. There’s the way people all over my timelines have opened up and showed kindness to each other and the reassuring ways in which working from home has kept an element of the familiar, even if it’s the relief of finishing up for the weekend and staying in bed for longer on a Saturday.

There’s still the pangs for friends I won’t see for a while, moments when my chest is tight with panic and I just want to be with the people I worry about the most. There’s sadness that I’m not going to see the blossom in Didsbury Park at all this year or have the birthday party I’d hoped for or explore Amsterdam with my favourite people… But there is still so much good.

Sunday in The City – Ancoats and The Northern Quarter

Today I thought I’d finally get around to writing my first Sunday in The City post – a lil collection of lovely places to visit/things to do on a relaxed Sunday morning in some of my favourite parts of Manchester. I’m starting with Ancoats and The Northern Quarter, though there’s too many lovely spots to recommend so it’ll most likely get a second post at a later date.

All the best Sundays start with brunch and Ancoats/the NQ offer up endless options. My absolute favourite though is Pollen Bakery, who offer up the most incredible pastries and cakes (best.lemon.cake.ever.), wonderful coffee and the best brunch choices – whilst a traditional fry up isn’t on the menu there’s options for hungover days (incredible sandwiches with bacon/mushrooms/eggs heaped on sourdough) and for coffee dates (ice cream pastries!!!). The cafe itself is beautiful too, right by the water at Islington Marina and filled with sunshine on bright days. Plus, there’s extra seating outside (for optimum dog spotting – you’re never far from a French Bulldog in Ancoats…).

After brunch, head out for a Sunday stroll through Cotton Field Park and by the canal. In summer there’s space for BBQs by the water and in winter nothing helps me feel cosier than watching smoke rise up from the chimneys of long boats or stumbling across a little cottage that seems out of place right in the city centre. If you follow the path round you can wind up right back at Piccadilly Station through a much quieter, scenic route.

If you’re looking for a few bits and pieces to pick up whilst you’re out and about, head to Tib Street in the Northern Quarter for Northern Flower. This lovely lil shop has all the house plants you can dream of, along with beautiful bouquets and bundles of dried lavender. It’s super cosy inside and the staff are always really friendly and helpful too.

Armed with a pretty bouquet and ready for more wandering, if you’ve come on the right weekend (the second Sunday of every month) you’ll find the Makers Market just around the corner in Stevenson Square – the best place to do any gift shopping whilst supporting small, local businesses and creatives. A few of my favourite vendors that have been there in the past include Old Man and Magpie Candles, LucyLooDoodles and Arctic Fox & Co. With everything from tea to art and candles on offer it’s the perfect way to finish up a Sunday in The City – wandering home or for the bus with something cosy and dreams of being able to eat your earlier brunch again every day for the rest of the week…

Wearing your vulnerabilities on your sleeve

I didn’t get around to blogging yesterday, but I did have a post published on one of my favourite websites (!!!!) – it’s talking about something I’d originally written about on this blog – hair loss. I was so proud of myself for opening up about something that’s really impacted my self esteem over the years (you can read the piece here), particularly because when I last tried to talk about on this blog I’d really struggled to fully be open about my experience/feelings – it’s hard to open up about the most vulnerable parts of yourself and put them out there for the world to see.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer – I’ve just always written for as long as I can remember and I struggle to express things properly in conversation, am pretty introverted and just can’t quite see myself doing anything else and being truly content. And I’ve always been as open and honest as possible in my writing, whether that made the writing seem lazy or overdramatic or angsty as hell. But when I started sharing stuff online I suddenly became self conscious of that. In some ways, this is definitely something I need to work on – it comes with wanting to be a writer to put yourself out there, expose yourself and your insecurities and your emotions to others. But I also think there’s this sense on the internet that you must bear your soul when expressing opinions and I struggle with it – it can be so emotionally draining and I don’t always have the energy to share my perspective on issues because the place that that perspective comes from is so deeply personal. It’s something I’m trying to get more comfortable with and figure out my boundaries surrounding and I hope I’ll get there in the end. But until then, I’ll try and keep reminding myself that I don’t have to expose the rawest, most vulnerable moments in a quick tweet responding to the news of the day. I don’t have to share anything I’m not comfortable with. And that doesn’t mean that I don’t care or that I’m not honest or that I’m less of a writer.

Blue Skies Are Calling

Today I braved the cold and sat outside on a bench in the winter sunshine whilst I ate my lunch. I watched the steam rise up from my chamomile tea, rifled through a book bathed in natural light, forced myself to tune out the traffic a street away and listened to the birds flitting around in the branches above. I also received a lovely message from a friend, a message that reminded me how far I’ve come and how much I’ve achieved that my younger self would be proud of, a message that also reassured me that there’s other people out there in the world treasuring these glimpses of the end of winter, these snatches of sunlight. Later on in the day the sunset felt longer, the sky more molten and then more pink and I felt so much relief at the visible signs of the days elongating.

It’s been a strange day. A strange day with some beautiful moments.

Between

I didn’t end up blogging yesterday, but I think that’s ok when it’s because my evening was instead filled with lovely people and pizza and watching one of my favourite films (Pride!!! If you haven’t watched it you must). Today I thought I’d talk a little about ‘Between’, a collection of my poetry published in a zine by The Horsfall Gallery and 42nd Street Mcr. It also features cover art by the lovely Maddie Ismael.

It meant so much to be able to put this collection together, particularly as any money raised from people buying a copy go straight to finding the work that 42nd Street do. They do such amazing work and as an organisation mean so much to me – their support has helped shape the person I am today and I’m not sure where I’d be without them.

Whilst some of the pieces in the collection are also featured in The Trapped Mermaid, they all explore feeling kind of on the edge of things or between people and places and selves. It’s a collection of work written when I was trying to reconcile and figure out so much of myself and how I’ve changed. Pieces explore everything from falling in love with a city to how I feel about class and my relationship with myself and others. Some pieces were written before I’d ever shared any of my writing with anyone (and never quite expected to, as much as I wanted to) and it’s strange to see them end up in print for people to read – more so than when I self-published The Trapped Mermaid.

There’s the critical part of me that feels uncomfortable even briefly talking about creative projects and I think it’s a shame – I don’t know if I’ll ever quite feel like I deserve to take up creative space and I quietly let The Trapped Mermaid go out into the world without making a big deal out of it, despite the fact that it’s a collection that means so much to me. So this is a tentative little acknowledgement that I made a thing and that is something I should celebrate in itself.

If you’d like to pick up a copy, you can either message me or they’re on sale at The Horsfall Gallery in Ancoats.

Self-care for the sake of kindness.

Yesterday I found myself in a situation where my anxiety, which had been building up for a long time, became unmanageable at the worst possible moment. One of my initial reactions was to be frustrated with myself for not having taken time out during the day to mentally prep, for not having been able to focus much on self care over the past few days so that I could be in a positive state of mind for the evening. And as I wrote yesterday’s blogpost, it got me thinking about all the ways in which we see self care and whether we perceive it in a positive, helpful way.

Plenty of people have talked about how self care isn’t all face masks and bubble baths and it’s definitely true – self care isn’t always pretty. It can be tedious and exhausting and hard work. But last night I ended up thinking about how even when self care isn’t just about things like skin care and candles, there’s still some underlying issues in a lot of what I see online.

A lot of people talk about self care as doing what makes you happy and quitting things that no longer serve you. There’s the obvious limitations that crop up when confronted with these ideas – having to pay rent or bills or look after your family etc. But there’s also this idea that self care is always about maintaining “happiness” and “positive energy” which I think can be unhealthy – we can’t self care ourselves to happiness and constant happiness isn’t sustainable. This idea of using self care as a way to achieve a life devoid of negative people and thoughts and feelings is toxic in itself. Self care shouldn’t just be a fix for the bad stuff, it should be a tool to help you through it.

Sometimes that means self care works in more subtle ways – accepting that you didn’t have time to be mindful or go for a walk during the day and that maybe things didn’t go as planned, but learning from it and being kind to yourself rather than critical and frustrated. Taking the stairs rather than the lift because you don’t need to anxiously stare at the same ‘flaw’ that you’ve already checked several times that morning in your bedroom mirror. On a day to day basis, these aren’t necessarily ways in which I feel like I’m practicing self care. But they stack up and they’re important. And in many ways they’re more successful than the times that I go for a walk with the sole aim of feeling better – I’m looking out for myself without trying to self care away my feelings.

The ideas I’ve talked about are often expressed in lovely Instagram posts and quotes that we see on a daily basis. I get that, for the most part, they’re about making sure you prioritise your self and your wellbeing in a world that can be cruel and exhausting. But seeing these quotes day after day can slowly, in my experience, make you feel like the goal in taking care of yourself is to be constantly happy and in the past it’s left me feeling frustrated when I’ve not been able to fix my sadness with the right self care.

When it comes down to it, I think I’ve realised self care isn’t about happiness. It’s about kindness. It’s about making the world a little softer for yourself, especially on the days when you feel like crap. It’s not about doing what makes you happy, it’s about loving yourself enough so that when the happiness comes around, you’re able to let it in.

Making my mind a kinder place to be.

Today I had an interview, not for a job, but for something else that I really cared about. I also had a day where waves of anxiety made me feel lightheaded and nauseous. And those waves got worse and worse whilst I waited to enter the room, heart pounding and slightly shaking and wishing I could think a little clearer. It didn’t go well – I felt like I rambled aimlessly, struggled to answer questions and didn’t get my points across well or ask any of the questions I’d been hoping to ask. I left and felt embarrassed and frustrated with my anxiety and sad that it constantly impacts my life, even when the rational part of my brain is telling me that I’m safe. If I’d just been able to slow my brain down a little, things probably would’ve been okay.

I arrived back home and felt defeated and sad and very much done with the week. And I tried to accept that it’s not the only opportunity out there to do the things I care about, that I’m still capable and will get there eventually. But it can be really hard to struggle so much with a mental health issue that sometimes feels impossible to control. I think I find it particularly difficult because up until recently I didn’t realise how much of an impact anxiety had on my life, how much it’s snatched away from me and tainted. Whilst I’ve made so much progress with other areas of my mental health, I’m suddenly hyper-aware of how much anxiety is deeply rooted into how I approach and experience life…

Hopefully I’ll be starting more therapy soon – I’m nervous to have a different therapist and to begin to tackle some of the work that I so desperately need to do. But I’m hoping that it’ll feel good to start being more proactive with my mental health again. And until then I just need to learn to accept that I’m living with something that makes things harder but that doesn’t mean I’m a failure or wrong in any way – I just need to prepare for it, learn from it and continue to prioritise looking after myself and my mind as much as is possible. And I’m also going to try and balance every negative thought I have about myself with another, more positive one (or at least more neutral) in the hopes of making my mind a kinder place to be.

Tomorrow’s post will lead on from this one a little – it’s going to be about approaching self care in a realistic and healthy way, rather than adhering to mantras that don’t take into account the obligations, limitations and nuances of people’s lives.