My week…without social media

First published in Guernsey Now – March 2017

Confession time:  I’m a social media addict.  I love Facebook.  Absolutely love it.  I know that the accepted thing these days is to say you hate it, or complain that it saps your concentration, or do a ‘friend cull’, curating your friendship list down to the bare minimum of people, but not me.  I will keep anyone on my friendship list forever, just in case I might want to speak to them again one day, despite having met them once at a festival, for an hour, three years ago.  I love seeing what other people are up to.  I live for the likes.  I’m a big Instagram fan, and I’ll browse through Twitter on occasion.  As for Snapchat, I’m too old to understand why you’d want to post lots of selfies in bunny ears, but I’m open to persuasion.  However, since I’ve gone freelance and work from home, without the structure of an office, I’ve realised that my social media addiction has got out of hand.    

The crunch point came when I realised I couldn’t read a full article in a magazine without stopping to look at my phone.  Something would spark a memory – need to buy a new saucepan/check my gas bill/look up facts about llamas – and then I’d automatically click through to Facebook and spend ten minutes scrolling through the newsfeed before realising that I’d forgotten to buy the saucepan, look at the bill or find out that llama’s ears are shaped like bananas. 

I was completely unable to watch TV without falling into an Instagram trap and missed half the plot of Sherlock because I was too busy wondering how to make avocado toast look more appetising (Juno and adjust the brightness, if you’re interested).  In the absence of a local ‘Social Media Anonymous’ meeting, I decided it was time to give it up – but only for a week. 

I asked one of my best friends, Rose, to change my passwords, which she duly did.  My social media blackout had begun…

Day 1

The morning begins with a nagging feeling, like I’ve left the oven on.  What if all sorts of exciting things are happening on social media without me?  This is the digital version of the time I was fourteen and grounded on New Year’s Eve.  Fortunately, I have a lot of work to get on with, so I crack on, with noble thoughts about increased productivity and concentration.  Scientists from the University of Copenhagen have recently concluded that social media ‘lurking’ – spending time on the sites without connecting with anyone – can make you irritable, and given that my emails have crashed twice today and I’ve broken my favourite mug, I don’t need any more reason to be irritated. 

Half an hour in, I finish writing an email and automatically reach for my phone, my fingers clicking through to Facebook before I realise what I’m doing.  Obviously, I’m locked out.  I put my phone down and make a cup of tea instead, realising that under ordinary circumstances I would have lost at least ten minutes to the newsfeed.  But I’m losing ten minutes to making a cup of tea – is there any difference? 

Day 2

I’m due to attend a Brighton female entrepreneurs session, which has been organised on Facebook.  Automatically, I go to the event page to check the location – and realise that I can’t access it.  I don’t know anyone else who’s going.  All I can remember is that it’s in an organic juice bar.  As this is Brighton, there are more organic juice bars than there are seagulls, so I end up ringing around all the juice bars I can find on Google to ask if any of them are hosting a women’s event today, and after several confusing exchanges, including one with someone who appears to think I’m trying to sell him a woman, I track it down, and arrive 15 minutes late.  This would never have happened with Facebook.

Day 3

There is an amazing sunset over Brighton pier that’s just begging to be photographed (#sunset #lovebrighton), my dad sends me a photo of me and my mum that I know would be perfect for Facebook and then when I go to the off-licence to drown my sorrows, I see a new beer called Yeastie Boys, just begging for a Twitter joke.  I go home and sulk, planning multiple updates when I get out of Facebook jail next week, before realising that I’ve watched an entire hour of TV without looking at my phone once. 

yeastie

Day 4

I realise that now that I don’t spend time checking my social media channels first thing in the morning, I am at my desk and ready to work earlier.  This is the first indication that not using social media is making me more productive.  I feel instantly smug and consider swapping my morning coffee for hot water with lemon in the morning, doing some meditation and talking about my chakras, whatever they are. 

Days 5 – 7

I go for a long weekend snowboarding in Andorra with a group of friends, where photo opportunities abound.  Initially, I snap every snowflake in sight, before realising I can’t post the photos anywhere.  If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?  If a photo of Andorran hot chocolate is taken and there’s no one around to like it, does it still exist? 

Due to lack of signal in the mountains, the use of phones on this holiday is low.  I realise that I am not feeling the usual pressure to document every moment and post it immediately, then check for reactions and comments, and consequently, I feel more relaxed and able to enjoy the weekend. 

snow pic1

When I return, Rose gives me my passwords and I find when I log into Facebook, very little has happened – or if it has, I’m not that interested.  My immediate feeling is of irritation when I start scrolling through the Trump updates and Brexit rage, and I start wishing I’d signed up for a fortnight of Facebook ban instead. 

Two weeks on, and while I am still on Facebook and Instagram, I am checking them far less frequently. I often find that I forget to go online until lunchtime and I am actively Iimiting my mindless scrolling.  I feel like I’ve broken an unhealthy habit. Although I did just post a photo of my breakfast so I’m not teetotal just yet… 

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The week of ‘yes’

The last six months of chemotherapy has meant that I have had to say ‘no’ more often than I would like (although not as often as I’d feared) and so now my treatment is over and done with, and I’m starting to feel more back to normal, I decided to redress the balance and say YES to everything for a week.

This is a blatant rip off of the (excellent) Danny Wallace book, Yes Man, but instead of doing it for months and having many life and mind-altering experiences, I am doing it for a week and probably having maybe one to two lunch-altering experiences.  My friends and I once did this when we were about 21, but that mostly involved saying yes to shots and staying out far too late on a school night, so I’m hoping for a slightly more mature, less alcoholic experience this time.

I will be sticking to the same rules as Danny and saying YES to everything, bar anything illegal or immoral.  Here goes…

Day One

About ten minutes after I decide to start the week of yes (WoY), my friend Rose texts me to ask if I want to try out a new Vietnamese restaurant in Brighton next week.  YES!  I love Vietnamese and I love Rose.  This is easy!

Next, I go out at lunchtime to buy some Sichuan peppercorns from the Chinese supermarket to make a recipe I discovered while flicking through a magazine in my new WoY state of mind (‘why not cook kung pao chicken this week?’  YES) and a homeless man tries to sell me a lighter.  I gave up smoking over 18 months ago and while there seems to be some kind of gloriously dark irony in taking it back up again to celebrate a recovery from cancer, it’s not high on my list of things to do in the coming months.  But WoY demands that I must say YES to every question, so I acquiesce, and he relieves me of £1.  The lighter doesn’t work.  I ponder what I could use a dud lighter for and come up with nothing.  First casualty of WoY.

I reach the Chinese supermarket with my new and completely useless lighter in hand, and locate the Sichuan peppercorns.  There is a moment of confusion when the shop assistant asks me if he can help, and I say YES, despite having found the sole item that I need from the shop.

Him:  What are you looking for?

Me:  Sichuan peppercorns!

Him:  (Slowly, kindly, in manner of one speaking to a slightly backward child): ‘They are in your hand.’

Me:  ‘Ah, so they are.  Lovely!  Thank you.’

I depart the Chinese supermarket in a state of some embarrassment and vow to patronise somewhere else for my peppercorn needs in future.

On getting back to the office I receive an email from a job site I’m signed up with for a water treatment engineer role.  ‘Georgina, this looks like a great match for you!’  This, despite the fact that I have never knowingly treated any water and the salary is less than half of what I currently earn now.  In fact, the only attribute I have is that I live in the South West and am ‘stable.’  (I spend a brief and enjoyable ten minutes pondering this requirement, as it seems an unusual thing to specify.  Surely most jobs require a stable individual?  Maybe the water industry is full of absolute maniacs and caners, who make Keith Richards’s heyday look tame, recklessly biting the heads off bats and having a really comprehensive knowledge of water feature hygiene).

Unfortunately for me and for the recruiters of this role, there is an Apply Now button, so reluctantly, I send my CV off and look forward to being trained on ‘cooling tower shut downs, deep disinfections, re-commissioning of cooling towers and water softener installs’, and taking advantage of their excellent working conditions and service manager.

On the way home, I am asked if I can spare some change for the RNIB, by a blind man standing in the hustle and bustle of rush hour Liverpool Street station.  YES, I can spare a pound, and I hand it over.  Once past him, I am offered a free sample of chilli and lime Lurpak (YES) and a flyer for a free delivery on my first week of my Ocado shop (YES).  I never usually take flyers at stations but this time I’m glad I have – WoY is clearly looking out for me.

lurpak

Day Two

At home today.  On my way to have a morning sea swim, I pass the Brighton Buddhist Centre, which exhorts me ‘See the world afresh! The ancient teachings of Buddha revisioned for today!’  Despite the fact that I’m pretty sure ‘revisioned’ isn’t a word, I pop into the reception to find out how I can access the ancient teachings of Buddha today, and am told they have a yoga class at 1pm.  YES.

I sign up, and go on to have a lovely swim in the sea, enhanced by my mental images of becoming Buddha and Zen-like at 1pm.  I will always look calm and serene, I think to myself, and people will come to me for advice, which I will dispense sagely, in a low, soothing voice, dropping in obscure pearls of ancient wisdom, like, ‘the salmon of your destiny will always swim upstream if he thinks the catch is worthy of the gold at the end of the rainbow’, and people will be wowed by my amazingly perceptive counsel, only thinking, ‘what the fuck’ to themselves several hours later.

The class is actually quite dull.  I have yet to dispense any wisdom to anyone beyond, ‘that needs to come out of the oven now’ to my boyfriend.

However, it’s worth it for the teacher, who has a low and soothing voice, as expected, but is also some kind of yogic comedy genius, who delivers slightly off the wall instructions (‘bend forwards, but not so you have your head in your neighbour’s buttocks, which is disconcerting for you and for them.’  ‘Not loving this move is like not loving tiny kittens – impossible’) but in a tongue in cheek way that makes me sure he’s taking the piss.  Delightful.

I come slightly unstuck during the ‘breathing out and humming through your nose’, which makes me snort with laughter at a room full of what sounds like agitated bees, gleaning myself several disapproving looks from several of the yoga-bees, and I find the meditation at the end as stressful as ever.

A quick note about me and meditation – I have tried to do it many times, as instructed by friends, boyfriends and medical professionals, as I could probably worry at an Olympic level, if it was an Olympic sport, and I suffer from ‘busy brain’ – basically a brain that just won’t shut up, especially when trying to sleep.  Every single time I’ve tried to meditate as part of a yoga class, I sit there thinking, ‘am I doing this right?  Surely I’m supposed to feel more relaxed than this?  I swear I’m not doing it right.  God I’m so shit at things like this.  Why won’t my brain just SHUT UP.  Oh I forgot to put the washing out.  I wonder what everyone else is thinking about.  They look far more relaxed than me.  WHY am I so shit at this?  That man looks a bit like a badger’ and so on and on until I want to run out of the room and do some proper exercise that means that I don’t have to think any more.

Overall, I find the class slightly less exercise than my usual warm up before training, but this is made up for by the hilarity of the teacher, the niceness of the rest of the class (buzzy bee moment notwithstanding) and the fact that it’s probably quite good for me to attempt to just sit and breathe in and out for a bit.  I leave feeling quite positive, soothed and relaxed and the next day, my hip flexers, an area I always struggle with, are more open.  I’m going to go back and try Iyengar yoga next time, which is meant to be more challenging, so a good result for WoY here.

buddhist

Day Three

I get asked to help the PR team with the paper review at work today as someone is off sick (going through all the daily papers and noting any relevant articles for clients).  I was on the point of saying no, as I had quite a bit on that day, but remembered what week it was and said YES.  Actually really enjoyed doing it, and volunteered to help out for the rest of the month, which earned some serious gratitude.  Feel all warm and fuzzy at my own helpfulness.

No other particular yeses of note today, although I cook the kung pao chicken that had necessitated the humiliating trip to the Chinese supermarket.  Feel really pleased with myself – new experiences, new cuisines, maybe I’ll apply to Masterchef! – until my boyfriend, R, and I eat it and I realise that I haven’t crushed the Sichuan peppercorns as much as I should have, rendering it somewhat…sandy in texture.  Like eating chicken that had recently rolled around in a sandpit.  I am as crushed as the peppercorns should have been.

R eats all of his and then the rest of mine, but R would eat the hind legs of a donkey through a rusty gate if he was hungry enough, so I am not exactly doing laps of victory about this.

However, I do use the broken lighter to kill a mosquito, so that was probably worth £1.

Day Four

I have a circus act creation course with my doubles partner today (as you do), and was secretly looking forward to her look of shock as I put myself forward for the drama games that I am terrible at (seriously, you try entering a room, sitting on a chair and walking out again, completely neutrally, with no facial expressions or mannerisms, in front of a giggling audience.  It’s basically impossible, especially for someone like me, who’s mannerisms tend to lean towards the fluttery end of the Elton John scale) with an enthusiastic YES!  However, the class is small and we all get an equal go, so I don’t have the opportunity to volunteer myself to express ‘puzzled at a level of 8.’  Damnit.

That evening, R and I go to Norfolk for my cousin’s wedding.  There is red wine on the table.  I do not drink red wine because, historically, it’s never agreed with me (and I don’t really like it but I don’t tell people that for fear of them thinking I’m not a real grown up, which is clearly the actual truth).  My neighbour politely offers me the red wine.  I politely start to decline, realise what week it is and say YES, thinking that it might open up new, grown up horizons.  This is not a good idea, and the only horizon it opens is one that results in a pounding headache, churning stomach and nameless sense of dread the next day.

Day Five

Too hungover.  I feel like WoY is not my friend.  R cannot fathom why I drank red wine, and I can’t tell him it’s WoY in case he takes advantage of it and asks me to lend him a fiver or iron all his boxers, so I explain it away by saying there was nothing else available at that precise time of the evening.  He looks at me sideways and says, ‘so you’d rather drink something you know make you sick than nothing?’  YES, I say, and sadly watch him google ’12 signs your partner is an alcoholic.’

I said yes to a hog roast, but nothing of note there – who wouldn’t say yes to a hog roast?  Well, vegetarians I suppose.  And vegans.   Urgh, I might throw up.   THIS is precisely why I say no to red wine.

Day Six

I see a van advertising an ironing service that begins with, ‘do you hate ironing?’  YES, I answer, enthusiastically and truthfully, preparing myself to sign up to having my ironing collected and dropped off weekly at a cost that I definitely can’t afford when using hair straighteners on the worst of the creases has worked for me for this long (#LIFEHACK), when I realise that there’s no direct impetus to do anything apart from agree that I hate ironing.  Phew!  I carry on about my (creased, rumpled) day.

At the end of the day, I pass the work noticeboard, where people nominate their colleagues for a monthly award and see my name on it – the head of the PR team has nominated me for stepping in and giving them a hand with the paper review, with the words, ‘Georgina’s obliging attitude was so hugely appreciated’!  I am genuinely touched.  Nice one, WoY!

Day Seven

I get asked to cover reception for an hour, which clearly I have to say YES to, and spend that hour putting cold callers through to the managing director, the head of finance and the HR manager, because I have to say YES when the callers ask to speak to them. This does not endear me to my colleagues.

I also make a version of the kung pao chicken without the bastard Sichuan peppercorns and this actually works really well and is both delicious and nutritious.

Conclusion

In Yes Man, Danny Wallace gets asked to go to Singapore, Australia and Amsterdam, he finds the love of his life and an amazing new presenting job; it basically changes his entire life.  I am going to choose to think that the reason no one has asked me to go overseas or present a TV show is because I only did it for a week and not because my life is boring.  It’s merely the timeframe, that’s all.

But genuinely, red wine experience aside, WoY has been a positive time in what is a bit of a crossroads in my life at the moment.  Being only able to say YES takes away a lot of the stress of choice, and I found that quite soothing, knowing that there is only one answer to everything.  I would never have gone to that yoga class without WoY, which I really enjoyed, and I will now definitely go back for another one.  I would never have been nominated for an award at work without saying YES and I’m basically a professional stir fry creator now.  Also, the free sample of chilli and lime Lurpak was excellent and I am about to order my first Ocado shop from the flyer.  I also wouldn’t have bought a broken lighter, but those mosquitoes won’t kill themselves, I suppose.

I would encourage everyone reading this, especially if they are not sure which direction to go next, to spend a week saying YES to everything that crosses their path and seeing where it takes them, and what kind of experiences they have – I guarantee most of them will be positive, and I would love to hear about them.

(I have yet to hear back about the water treatment engineer job).

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Hair, there and everywhere (or nowhere)

After a couple of requests (and when I say ‘requests’, I mean people idly wondering if I would write another blog post again this year, which I took as immediate demands for yet more of my invaluable pearls of wisdom), I decided to write about something that has been extremely pertinent to me over the last 6 months – beauty, hair and general appearance.

When you are having chemo, there is a prevailing feeling that your body is not your own.  People come and stick needles in you and insert cannulas and weigh you every week, and talk about you like you’re not there and it’s a generally fairly invasive experience.  Therefore, I truly believe that looking good makes a huge difference to your state of mental health and outlook on life.  Here, I will go through some of my advice for someone starting out this journey (bleaugh, hate that word, most commonly used by X-Factor judges but it seemed appropriate here).

Hair

Ok, this is the main one, and the one that everyone will surreptitiously check out when they see you, because mainstream media has us all believe that people who have chemo are weakly lying in their beds, balder than a billiard balls, and in some cases, this is the truth.  BUT NOT ALL.  Some chemo will make you lose all your hair, some won’t, it’s very dependent on the person and the chemo.

I was told by my specialist, Cancer Research, all the nurses and Google that ABVD chemo would definitely make me lose all my hair, including my eyebrows and eyelashes.  This is a traumatic thing to hear, I had a panic attack, and sobbed, between choking breaths that I would ‘look EXACTLY like an egg’.  However, I have just had the last of 12 sessions yesterday and, despite thinning dramatically, my hair is still hanging on.  I don’t want to speak too soon, it could all go after this final treatment, but I have had 6 months with it, and for that I’m incredibly grateful.  So the point being, you may not lose all your hair.

I experienced a lot of thinning, which was upsetting – great clumps of hair coming out in the brush and the shower is unpleasant.  However, I found that with a simple tied headscarf, I could pin my hair to cover the bald bits and looked quite normal to everyone else, and even a little bit like I was making a retro fashion statement.  So I would recommend spending some time looking up ‘how to tie vintage headscarves and turbans’ on youtube and pinterest, and go from there.  I also have a little velvet skull cap, which is very twenties.  I don’t love the longer scarves tied behind the head and down the back, because I feel they are a little bit ‘cancer-y’, but my  friend who’s going through a similar experience assure me that waiters find her tables in restaurants faster, so that’s a bonus.  Here I am, wearing a couple of turban-style headscarves, one on Brighton beach and one holding a lamb who wishes he could wear one too, were he not destined for a more mint-sauce-based future.

I did also get a wig, custom-dyed from Etsy, but have yet to wear it as I find it quite hot and uncomfortable.  If the wig route is for you, then go for it  – there are tons of companies who will provide a discreet, professional service, and they are all listed on the Cancer Research website.  I wend to Trendco in Notting Hill for a fitting, and they were lovely, discreet and sensitive.

In addition to buying a wig, Toni & Guy run a charity called Strength Through Style, where for the price of a blowdry, one of their trained wig-specialists will cut and style your wig, and use lots of tricks to make it look more natural, like removing the height and volume from the top.  Definitely worth a visit if you want a more natural look – it’s offered in most salons but you do need to make an appointment.

Everyone, bar everyone, will tell you to shave your head.  In some ways, this can be a good way of regaining control, but I would hold off until you know it’s definitely all going to go.

I would, however, recommend having it cut short to start off with.  I went to the amazing Rita at Pimps & Pinups in Shoreditch, my usual hairdresser, and explained the situation, and she gave me an amazing short style with an undercut, so there was less hair to lose.  It was absolutely terrifying going there, but I listened to Rebel Rebel on repeat and told myself that David Bowie, a man who rocked an orange mullet, wouldn’t be scared of a measly haircut.  Find yourself an excellent hairdresser – not only did Rita do a great job on my hair, she was also sensitive and sympathetic, but not shocked, and turned what could have been a traumatic experience into a great one, so I will be returning to her for my future haircuts until the end of time.  Here I am with my new hair:

 

A word to friends of people going through chemo, the most annoying four words you can use are ‘it will grow back.’  Like, yes, Doris, hopefully it will, but this doesn’t help the person staring down the barrel of months of coot-like existence.  In this situation, what one should do is reach over and quickly shave off one of Doris’s eyebrow and then say, ‘but it will grow back, Doris!’ and see how she feels about that then.

A second word to friends of a chemo patient – offering to shave your hair in solidarity is AMAZING.  I have one friend who was basically famous for his long curly locks, who shaved them off entirely and raised £2,000 for lymphona research and I have another one who cut 6 inches off her hair and donated them to the Little Princess Trust – a gesture so generous and thoughtful, it nearly made me cry.  So if you can brave doing one of those things, do it – it’s a friendship gesture that will never be forgotten.

Moving onto eyebrows, mine did thin a significant amount.  However, this is much easier to sort out than hair.  I had them tattooed on prior to the start of my treatment, and now, if there is any thinning, you simply see the tattooed line, which looks like hairs, and voila, my dear – you can rival Cara Delevigne.  You can also get, as I did, a lashline on your top lid, which creates darkness if you lose your eyelashes.  A note about this process:

  1. Do not, do not DO NOT scrimp on this.  My eyebrows cost me £400, which I was happy to pay because the artist was top class, well-respected and counts Victoria Beckham amongst her clients.  She is called Jemma Upton, and she has fab, swishy offices in Harley Street.  Do NOT get a deal off Groupon and end up with a 16 year old trainee from Scunthorpe holding a tattoo needle near your eyes and you coming out looking like Frida Kahlo meets the cast of TOWIE 2006.  This will NOT improve your mood.
  2. It does hurt.  I swanned in there, tattooed from rib to sternum to backbone, expecting it to be a piece of cake.  10 minutes in, I was practically begging for mercy (but in a British ‘when does the anaesthetic cream kick in’ sort of way).  But worth it when you want to raise an eyebrow knowingly at someone and you know you’re playing with the full deck, as it were.

I also used eyebrow pencils to fill in any missing gaps – we currently live in an era of eyebrow obsession so there’s no shortage of products to choose from.  If you’re not sure, read reviews on makeupalley.com or go into a department store and have a wander round their make up stands – the ladies there will be able to advise.

I started off with a Charlotte Tilbury one, which I promptly lost and so started using Wunderbrow, which is also excellent.  In fact, occasionally I get carried away and give myself eyebrows so heavy that when my boyfriend sees me, he gasps, and I have to ask if it’s the eyebrows and he says, ‘oh, THAT’S what it is’ and I have to go back to the mirror and de-caterpillar myself, so I don’t look like Ming the Merciless.  So, have no fear, excellent eyebrows and hairstyles are easily attainable with just a bit of research.

Next time:  Beauty and skincare.

 

 

 

A love letter to London

Dear London,

I love you but you’re bringing me down. Six long years together have shown me your cracks and your flaws, and you’re going back on your vows.  Your rents have made you richer and me poorer, you’ve been there in sickness and in health but now you’re worse and I want to be better.

When we were first together, your sodium-lit, open-24-hours, we-never-close, more-better, walk-faster-don’t-slow-down electricity of the city swept through my veins and I loved you.  From the gunshots and police tape of Hackney to the to the refined corners of Highgate, via the warehouse communities of Manor House and the pulsing street beat of Brixton, I’ve lived in nearly every corner of you.  Working in Soho, walking down Charlotte Street at lunchtimes, wandering around the bookish corners of Bloomsbury, I know your streets better than you know yourself.

We shared lazy summer Sundays, drinking ourselves into a stupor on cider in London Fields, eating picnics and people-watching, rounding the evening off sprawling over tables in Pub on the Park as the sun set, ignoring the Monday looming over our shoulders, falling into bed with too much sunshine on our faces and too much laughter in our hearts.  We walked up Parliament Hill in the brisk autumn wind and looked over your cityscape from the top, we spent afternoons cosy in the warm glow of your best pubs while the rain glazed the window-pane and we lost raucous Saturday nights staggering around your Hackney streets. London, you used to be a city of infinite possibility, where anything could, and did, happen and I used to walk your streets, ride your tube trains, electric with excitement, pinching myself with the realisation that I actually lived here!  In London!  I lived here and I could do anything I wanted!

But London, you’ve changed.  I feel like I don’t even know you any more.  My darling Camden, once home of new bands and raw, exciting music, where I once went to a party with Carl Barat because someone called down from a balcony and invited us up, where you could arrive at the Hawley Arms alone and leave with your new best friends, is full of overpriced restaurants and ‘new building developments’.  You didn’t even rebuild the market when it burned down, just left it to rot away – a sign of what’s to come.  Even the punks don’t go there any more.  Dirty Dalston, where we used to dance all night in the Alibi, is full of ‘affordable housing’ starting at £1 million, and in Clapton, I sighted a pair of red trousers.  We all know what that means.

You’ve taken away the Astoria and the Mean Fiddler to put in Crossrail, and then you let Network Rail take Cable and The Intrepid Fox.  No more drag cabaret nights at Madame JoJo’s and the Black Cap, no more character or music or weird nights out or endless possibility – just Wetherspoons and a wine bar, blankly churning out Rihanna videos to an audience of braindead morons.

London, I feel like you’ve been spending too much time with that soulless temptress, Dubai, and it shows in your gleaming, billion pound glass high-rises, your unaffordable house prices and your empty property, owned by Russian millionaires and lived in twice a year.  Don’t let her tempt you away from your roots – you’re supposed to be scruffier and funnier and sharper and better than that.

Anyway, London, I have a confession to make.  All those weekends I spent with Brighton have turned into something more.  Brighton seems to have the character and the wit that you once had, the people walk more slowly and everyone smiles more.  I can go out on a Tuesday night and see a band and not pay £5 for a pint.  I can talk to a stranger in the street without one of us thinking the other is an escaped lunatic.  Brighton and I have decided to make it serious – we’re moving in together.

I gave you a chance to change, but you just okayed a second Crossrail development, escalated the property prices and kicked out all the market traders so you left me with no choice.

I’m leaving you.  London, I’m sorry, it’s not me, it’s you.

brighton_2472753b

A love letter to London

Dear London,

I love you but you’re bringing me down. Six long years together have shown me your cracks and your flaws, and you’re going back on your vows.  Your rents have made you richer and me poorer, you’ve been there in sickness and in health but now you’re worse and I want to be better.

When we were first together, your sodium-lit, open-24-hours, we-never-close, more-better, walk-faster-don’t-slow-down electricity of the city swept through my veins and I loved you.  From the gunshots and police tape of Hackney to the to the refined corners of Highgate, via the warehouse communities of Manor House and the pulsing street beat of Brixton, I’ve lived in nearly every corner of you.  Working in Soho, walking down Charlotte Street at lunchtimes, wandering around the bookish corners of Bloomsbury, I know your streets better than you know yourself.

We shared lazy summer Sundays, drinking ourselves into a stupor on cider in London Fields, eating picnics and people-watching, rounding the evening off sprawling over tables in Pub on the Park as the sun set, ignoring the Monday looming over our shoulders, falling into bed with too much sunshine on our faces and too much laughter in our hearts.  We walked up Parliament Hill in the brisk autumn wind and looked over your cityscape from the top, we spent afternoons cosy in the warm glow of your best pubs while the rain glazed the window-pane and we lost raucous Saturday nights staggering around your Hackney streets. London, you used to be a city of infinite possibility, where anything could, and did, happen and I used to walk your streets, ride your tube trains, electric with excitement, pinching myself with the realisation that I actually lived here!  In London!  I lived here and I could do anything I wanted!

But London, you’ve changed.  I feel like I don’t even know you any more.  My darling Camden, once home of new bands and raw, exciting music, where I once went to a party with Carl Barat because someone called down from a balcony and invited us up, where you could arrive at the Hawley Arms alone and leave with your new best friends, is full of overpriced restaurants and ‘new building developments’.  You didn’t even rebuild the market when it burned down, just left it to rot away – a sign of what’s to come.  Even the punks don’t go there any more.  Dirty Dalston, where we used to dance all night in the Alibi, is full of ‘affordable housing’ starting at £1 million, and in Clapton, I sighted a pair of red trousers.  We all know what that means.

You’ve taken away the Astoria and the Mean Fiddler to put in Crossrail, and then you let Network Rail take Cable and The Intrepid Fox.  No more drag cabaret nights at Madame JoJo’s and the Black Cap, no more character or music or weird nights out or endless possibility – just Wetherspoons and a wine bar, blankly churning out Rihanna videos to an audience of braindead morons.

London, I feel like you’ve been spending too much time with that soulless temptress, Dubai, and it shows in your gleaming, billion pound glass high-rises, your unaffordable house prices and your empty property, owned by Russian millionaires and lived in twice a year.  Don’t let her tempt you away from your roots – you’re supposed to be scruffier and funnier and sharper and better than that.

Anyway, London, I have a confession to make.  All those weekends I spent with Brighton have turned into something more.  Brighton seems to have the character and the wit that you once had, the people walk more slowly and everyone smiles more.  I can go out on a Tuesday night and see a band and not pay £5 for a pint.  I can talk to a stranger in the street without one of us thinking the other is an escaped lunatic.  Brighton and I have decided to make it serious – we’re moving in together.

I gave you a chance to change, but you just okayed a second Crossrail development, escalated the property prices and kicked out all the market traders so you left me with no choice.

I’m leaving you.  London, I’m sorry, it’s not me, it’s you.

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Here are a few of my favourite things

Make no mistake, going through chemotherapy is monumentally shit, which got me thinking the other day about how small things (as in, small elements of life, not, say, Kylie Minogue or dwarves) can become far more important than before.

For example, I was battling my way home on the tube last week, hair gently shedding onto my collar, and thinking that when Samuel Johnson said that when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life, he clearly never tried to get somewhere on the Northern line at 5pm with a carriage full of people who were apparently trying to break the world record for how much of my personal space they could personally take up, when I remembered that it was Friday and that’s when the Evening Standard magazine comes out.  (For non-Londoners, the Evening Standard, or ES, is a free weekly magazine that you get at tube stations every Friday).

I love the Evening Standard magazine.  The ‘out and about’ section of C-list celebrities eating canapes in various London locations, Grace Dent’s restaurant review, the ‘My London’ section at the back, the articles about east being the new west – I love it all.  My only complaint is that sometimes it’s too short.  Anyway, I remembered that it was Friday and it totally cheered my spirits, which made me think about other things that are getting me through this often bleak and apparently endless time.  So, in no particular order, here they are…

6 Music

Cerys Matthews!  Jarvis Cocker!  Huey from the Fun Lovin’ Criminals!  If you look at these names and think ’90s pop stars’ instead of ‘6 Music presenters’ you need to find yourself a digital radio now and tune in to 6 Music forthwith.  Yes, admittedly the music choices can go a little leftfield from time to time (the Postman Pat theme tune played on the steel drums, while Cerys enthuses wildly about ‘the cutting edge of world music’ can be a step too far) but it’s worth it for the sheer quality of the presenters and their music knowledge.  I am also obsessed with John Cooper-Clark, gravelly-voiced Northern punk poet and as soon as you hear him intone ‘I married a monster from outer space’, you will be too.  Whenever I feel low, I put on 6 Music and the general background chatter makes me feel better.  God love the BBC.

The Saturday and Sunday Times magazines

Similar to the ES magazine (and actually published by the same people), I love the weekend supplement magazines.  I actually have a specific order that I read them in (Saturday magazine, Saturday weekend supplement, Sunday magazine, Style supplement, Culture, if you’re interested).  I don’t actually read any of the news, or anything as high brow as that, I literally just read the magazines.

Once, every newsagent in my local area ran out of the Sunday Times, which has given me a genuine fear of leaving it past lunchtime to buy one, and if it gets to 2pm on a weekend and I don’t have the papers in my possession, I get very edgy and slightly sweaty and start saying to Robbie, ‘WE MUST GET ME A PAPER NOW. WHY WON’T YOU LET ME HAVE THE PAPER’ (please note that Robbie has never once stopped me from getting the paper, and only gets very slightly irritated at the amount of space they take up in the recycling) and he usually gets me one, because he is nice and also a much calmer person that I am.  Also because it is the most effective way to get me to shut up.

Mary Berry

Can’t really explain this one quite as well to be honest, although asking anyone why they love Mary Berry is like asking why you would eat an entire tube of Pringles at once (the answer being WHY WOULD YOU NOT?)

There is something immensely comforting about Mary B, and I’m never happier than when watching Bake Off, or any of her cooking programmes, or anything to do with her, and marvelling at how good she looks for 80.  In fact, whenever I watch her, I subject whoever I’m with to constant queries as to whether they can believe that she’s an octogenarian.  And then I say, ‘I hope I’m like that at 80’ and then nod in agreement to myself.  Sometimes I even do it when I’m on my own.

Flowers

Since I’ve been having chemo, I’ve become much like Elton John (who once spent £293,000 on flowers in one year, and when questioned about it by his accountant, simply said, in what many consider to be the finest understatements of our time, ‘I like flowers’), demanding fresh flowers with menaces for my lounge.  There’s something incredibly uplifting about having flowers to look at when you’re at home, battling through a chemical fog and I highly recommend splashing out on anything that cheers the spirits.

I’m not suggesting that any of these things make up for having to go through the total shitstorm that is chemotherapy, but I do think it helps to focus on anything small that cheers you up, whether that’s chocolate, the radio or looking at pictures of cats wearing tights and embrace it, whatever it is, and take any small moments of pleasure that you can.

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Ding, ding – end of round one

I’ve been meaning to write an update of how I’m getting along before this, but I genuinely haven’t had time; having cancer is a full time job, and as I also have one of those too, it’s been pretty hectic.  A lot of people have asked me about the process of chemotherapy, so here it is…a less LOLtastic, more factual post today.  As ever, I can only speak for the kind of chemo I’m having – they vary from cancer to cancer and are all very different.

I have now completed the first of four cycles of ABVD chemotherapy – confusingly, each cycle has two treatments, so even though I’m booked in for four cycles, it’s eight sessions every other week, altogether.  My friend Emily pointed out that I’m a quarter of the way through, which is how I prefer to think of it!

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Session one was incredibly stressful – I arrived with my mum and my boyfriend, full of anxiety and worry, and when the nurse asked me how I was feeling, I burst into uncontrollable tears, which was MORTIFYING.  It’s testament to how brilliant the nurses are that they made the whole experience so much better, and less frightening than it seemed; they get the balance between being sympathetic and being overly sentimental exactly right and are incredibly reassuring and kind.  The first one is 100% the worst – although I had a pre-chemo meeting where the process was explained to me, the fear of the unknown will always be worse than the reality (if you’re a worst-case-scenario kind of person, like me – if you’re a die-hard optimist then maybe try to put some effort in and expect the worst).

The chemo itself

ABVD is a long haul chemo – it takes approximately six and a half hours, but sometimes longer.

First they have to get the cannula in, which is unpleasant, and probably the worst bit of the process for me – both times I’ve had three failed attempts before they’ve been able to hit a vein that’s big enough and it bloody hurts when they don’t; I have the bruises to prove it.

The problem is that the needle can’t go into the normal vein on the inside of your elbow, where they take blood from generally; it needs to be a large vein on a straight part of your arm, because the chemotherapy is so toxic that they can’t risk the cannula coming out when the arm is bent, because it can permanently damage the tissue around the area, which is just yet another joyful thing to worry about.  (The most recent nurse described my veins as ‘wobbly’, which I’ve just added in for my friends who are squeamish about needles because I know they’ll be retching just reading this.  Sorry.  Although I have to say, I’m incredibly grateful that I don’t have a fear of needles because I have more blood taken in this process than a weekend in Transylvania with a vampire bat).

Once they (finally) have the vein, they take blood, and test it for blood count and indications of a low immune system and then hook you up to an IV line of saline solution to keep the flow going.  The blood test results take about half an hour, but when I went yesterday, the lab was busy so it took over an hour.

Once they have all the results back, they can decide whether to give the chemotherapy (yesterday my neurocytes were low, which means I’m more prone to infection – if they drop any lower, I won’t be able to have the next round of chemo, which is concerning) and they give the order to the pharmacy to make up the drugs.  This takes around 45 minutes, during which I’m given an anti-sickness drug orally, and also through a drip, to take effect before the chemo starts.

The ABVD letters stand for the drugs that are given -Adriamycin (doxorubicin), bleomycin, vinblastine and dacarbazine.  Each drug goes in separately, and not in the order that the letters go, just to make things extra confusing.  They all have different times of administration – the adriamycin, or doxorubicin, is given via a syringe by a nurse, and then flushed through with a drip.  This is red, makes your pee red, and is the one that does for your hair, so even though it’s saving my life, I have mixed feelings about it.  Everything else goes in on a drip – the vinblastine takes 10 minutes, the dacarbazine takes two and a half hours and the bleomycin takes 30 minutes.

It’s a pretty long process, so it’s worth having people with you who can keep you entertained.  My clinic is private, so there’s a pretty good supply of catering throughout the day, and I try to eat as much as I can while I’m there.  I feel pretty much normal while the treatment is happening, although towards the end I start to feel quite tired and grumpy, and a bit fuzzy-brained, which is the effect of all the chemicals.  I found it difficult to concentrate much on reading, but radio and podcasts are good.

I also tend to need to constantly pee, because of the amount of fluid going into me, so I have to wheel my drip stand to the toilet, and get my mum to help me, which is tricky to do with a huge amount of dignity, and probably the time when I feel most like a ‘patient’.  (Side note: yesterday we went to the toilet for the umpteenth time, and waited outside for 10 minutes, getting quite concerned that the person in there wasn’t ok.  As I was about to knock on the door, or get a nurse, I realised that it wasn’t locked and I had been waiting for no one to come out, but let’s blame that on the chemo brain).

After it’s all done, the pharmacist comes to see me, and takes me through the many drugs I have to take while I’m at home – see picture below – and then I’m free to take a taxi home.  The drugs make me so toxic that for the first 48 hours, I have to flush the toilet twice whenever I use it, for the safety of other people using it, which makes me feel pretty radioactive.

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Side effects

For me personally, the worst side effects I had last time were to do with the steroids that I take for anti-sickness; I seem to be very sensitive to them, and they gave me two nights of terrible insomnia – believe me, when you’re going through chemo, the last thing you want to do is lie rigidly awake and wide-eyed all night, thinking about how awful it’s going to be to lose your hair – and then a pretty horrendous crash when I stopped taking them.  Being someone who’s pretty upbeat and happy most of the time, I’ve never felt as down and depressed as I did after coming off steroids, and it was really frightening – at the time I didn’t know that it was the steroid crash and I was worried that I would always feel like that throughout the treatment.

After explaining this to the doctor at the clinic, they adjusted my steroid dose down, to prevent such a crash happening again, and gave me some sleeping tablets to sort out the insomnia, so I’m hoping it will be better this time.  The biggest thing I can stress is that if you, or anyone you know, has to go through chemo, you don’t have to suffer any of the side effects in silence; the doctors have remedies for everything (apart from hair loss, sadly) and they will do everything they can to sort out any problems, although the first few goes are a bit of an experimental balancing act of drugs to see what works best for each individual.

Beyond that, I didn’t suffer too much with tiredness – I was more knackered than I’d usually be, but managed to get out and about every day, as recommended, and went into work for a few hours on the second and third days, although I’m not sure if there was much point in doing that because my ‘chemo brain’ had kicked in and everything felt very fuzzy and difficult to focus on.  I was back training on the sixth day, and felt totally back to normal by the seventh.  I didn’t feel any sickness at all because of the power of the anti-emetics (anti-sickness drugs), so that’s definitely a huge relief – previously I was very worried about nausea.  My appetite was pretty normal, again thanks to the steroids, and so far my tastes haven’t changed, or become metallic.  The worst side effect has to be the hair loss, which I am expecting any day now – I think that warrants a separate post.

It’s really good to keep as active as possible, which helps minimise exhaustion, so in addition to doing a gentler version of my usual circus training (pic below), I’ve also been going to yoga and walking a fair bit.

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I’ve also been to see a dietitian, and to the nutrition workshop put on by my clinic, as diet makes a huge difference to side effects – personally, I think it’s empowering to try and take as much control over your own health and experience of chemo as you possibly can.

I’m most fearful this time round for the steroid crash, or any sickness from the reduced steroid dose, which remains to be seen, but so far, so good!  I’ll post another update soon…and please keep sending good vibes!

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