Running for a train

I turned thirty-six running for a train.

I’d left an emotional night out which included a fantastic Letters Live performance and a reunion with a school friend I hadn’t seen since school. Eighteen years of bright, intense newness and unutterably comfortable familiarity; finding out things about each other in the context of feeling a connectedness that meant the conversation couldn’t run dry.

The clock struck midnight as I bolted from the Bakerloo to the Metropolitan line at Baker Street, heading for the last train out in my direction. It felt so right to be alone, doing a simple grown up thing, as I eased over the line of my mid-thirties. This decade in which I can finally have said to have worked some stuff out about myself – in which I was already a wife but became a mother, a home-owner, a manager, an aunt for the second time, a resident of somewhere other than London for the first time. I’ve given up sugar and taken up drawing. I’ve started wearing red lipstick and stopped caring how it looks.

I’ve always been a quick learner but a slow bloomer. It took the better part of thirty…something years to walk with a spring in my step; growing up as a fat kid you generally want anything but to take up space (that’s the problem, you take up too goddamn much space, ffs), but at some point you hope to learn that you have as much right to that space as anyone else. Even after I reduced myself in size quite considerably, however, I still couldn’t quite get my head around it; words, journalling, blogging were the only spaces in which I gave myself a little elbow room, and even then I generally preferred to stay below the parapet as much as possible (read this, please, but only if you don’t know me and there are not too many of you).

On my wedding day, aged twenty-eight, being stared at was made bearable only by the love of my husband-to-be, some extraordinary hair and makeup help, a lot of very beautiful satin and, crucially, corsetry. I deflected compliments, and shared wedding photos weeks later still wishing there were a hundred things I could change about my stance, my expression, my body… my face. I’m not going to pretend that my thirties have fixed everything about this. I definitely have wobbly moments, daily. I change outfits that don’t look right at the last minute. I don’t post the first selfie.But with every year that I add, I lose an ounce of capacity to give a shit.

In the last couple of years I’ve been able, for the first time, to enjoy dressing as something more than an emo statement (teens) or a way of blending into the background (twenties). I’m now neither two fingers up nor window dressing. I’m able to express sentiments I hadn’t given myself permission to feel before. Having a child undoubtedly had an impact – when your mum, a family friend, the midwife, her trainee student midwife and your husband have watched another entire person, albeit in miniature, emerge from an intimate area of your anatomy, you cannot help but dispense with a certain amount of self-consciousness. I am now beginning to square with actually courting a certain amount of attention; obviously that comes with massive caveats, but leaving the house with gold superhero leggings on I did have an inkling that people might talk to my knees more. To me it was more important to express some fun and experience myself being – as I saw it – brave than it was to worry about what other people would think or say. But it took the cumulative experience of three decades of being me to make that possible. Such a tiny, insignificant thing – a thing that only a gallon of privilege would allow to be an issue – but for me a small but noticeable marker that I have changed.

Recently, my daughter has developed a certain amount of shyness and self-consciousness. Online safety training at school has led to a blanket ban on sharing images without her express prior approval in case “someone shares it and laughs at” her (to be honest, if she’s nailed that understanding at five, then I’m considerably less worried about what she might get up to at fifteen). I’m not going to try to talk her out of it, in part because I’ve learned the hard way that this is actually impossible – you cannot be reasoned into a certain way of relating to the world. But now I can pin just a little of my personal progress on her – give myself the motivation to keep acknowledging the shuffling steps forward – because now I’m also an example for someone. Another thing my thirties have given me.

When I turned thirty, I didn’t really stop to think about it. I was pregnant, tired and hungry. I knew I’d ticked some boxes I’d vaguely hoped to do so by then, but I was too busy feeding a sudden, desperate addiction to cheese and tomato toasties and trying to work out how to extract a distinct individual from my nether regions to consider it all much. Plus, to a certain extent, I expected to have changed. Twenty is only just not-a-teenager. Thirty is a grown-up. If I hadn’t made any progress, then there was definitely a problem. But the growth I’ve unexpectedly packed into just six years since then hit me with unexpected force on an almost empty train, juddering out to the Home Counties, on a freezing cold March night I’d spent with someone who was my best mate when I was six.

Thirty years later, instead of running around the playground, I’m running for a train – tipsy, content in my own company, wearing bright pink lipstick and a form-fitting mustard yellow dress, darting towards forty with only hope tugging at my hand.

Five reasons to love Agent Carter

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Oh, Peggy.

Agent Carter, as nerds will know, was never meant to be a long-running series. Originally planned as an eight-episode one-off season hiatus filler for shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  (a rare Marvel property I haven’t been able to warm to), it developed just enough of a following for ABC to commission a second series, which is now playing out its final episodes on Fox in the UK.

While Peggy doesn’t get the kinds of ratings – or rapturous miles of column inches  -dedicated to Daredevil  and Jessica Jones on Netflix, it has attracted a hardcore of devoted fans (myself among them). With its short, sharp seasons that allow for a single story arc to be thoroughly plumbed without ever dragging, it’s a crystalline gem of a show. But I’m getting ahead of myself – five reasons, I promised, and here they are.

One – Hayley Atwell

To be honest, she could easily be five reasons on her own. But since she waltzed onto the screen with a spring in her step and a punch in her fist in Captain America: The First Avenger, who’s been able to take their eyes off Peggy? Atwell’s trick is to make Peggy an entire woman. A whole person. She has complex relationships, romantic and otherwise, she has to fight lazy sexism at work (it is the 1940s, but honestly some of these things really are still happening) and she’s sharp, capable and wryly funny. But she’s not just one of these things.  She says wonderful feminist things, but is not a cookie cutter feminist mouthpiece. She exhibits physical strength when she needs to, but doesn’t hide behind it. She has hurts and painful memories, but she rolls up her sleeves and gets the job done – acknowledging her pain but neither hiding it nor wallowing in it. Too many Strong Female Characters are only that – relentlessly, exhaustingly, tough. There’s a fullness to Peggy that harks back to the glory days of Buffy Summers, only without the post-adolescent whining. And with a glorious English accent.

To top it all, she looks fabulous. Besame Cosmetics 1946 Red Velvet, if you’re wondering.

Two – James D’Arcy

As the youthful Edwin Jarvis, D’Arcy’s bumbling English butler with a heart of gold and passionate belief in doing the right thing- even if it costs him – provides a much needed note of lightness. He’s charming but never slimy, and serves to remind Carter of the fact that just because she can do something alone, it doesn’t mean she has to. Carter’s main weakness is what is usually considered strength in male-centred narratives – her inability to ask for and reluctance to accept help. Would that there were more Jarvises in the boy stories….

Plus, he’s an Amersham boy, raised in west London and I did the opposite, so I feel kindly disposed.

Three – Diversity

This sounds quite po-faced, I know, but it’s actually a hugely refreshing thing to watch a comic book-based piece of creative and not just see a wall of strong, white men. Aside from Peggy there are a number of interesting female characters, including  two complex and indefatigable nemeses and an older, plus-size woman who is included for her intelligence and loyalty – not as a punchline. Of Carter’s colleagues, one of the most interesting is disabled (part of his character development, but not even close to dominating it), has a Latin surname and is played by an Albanian-American actor. In season two, a potential love interest for Carter is a black man. Jarvis’ newly-introduced wife is Jewish.

It’s definitely not perfect – what is? – but I applaud what seem to me deliberate attempts to at the very least balance the gender narrative, and begin to take steps towards tackling wider race and disability inclusiveness.

Four – Humour

If it’s all sounded a bit heavy-handed so far, let that be my fault; one of my very favourite things about Agent Carter is its relative lightness. It sounds weird to say this about a programme that has so far seen a cinema full of people bludgeon each other to death under the influence of a mysterious chemical, a major character badly injured by being impaled on a metal pole and man blown up with a bomb vest as he plummets out of a window to save others from the explosion. But unlike Daredevil‘s relentless gore and Jessica Jones‘ psychological warfare, Agent Carter really does feel like a Marvel comic book – violent, yes, but not gratuitously and with regular infusions of light relief, a touch of slapstick and a hint of romance.

If Daredevil feels to me like Marvel stepping into live-action territory usually dominated by DC, Agent Carter is an explosion of colour and light: modern Marvel at its best.

Five – Short seasons

I’ve bored the pants off a few friends with my theories on how series length can make or break things for me. I genuinely think the Netflix-length 13-episode arc is what’s made the two Defenders shows so far so good (imagine that single Kilgrave storyline extending to 22 episodes; no matter how excellent Jessica Jones is – and it is – and how marvellous both Krysten Ritter and David Tenant are – and they are – around episode 18 of same-old you’d be about ready to hand yourself in for a lifetime of mind control). Eight episodes is basically four films. It’s enough time to extend into some backstory, spin off a few interesting sidelines and set up some possibilities for the next season without labouring. Season 2 has extended to ten, but it still feels tightly plotted and just leaves a little more breathing space for the slightly expanded ensemble cast.

Without wishing to sound as if things were better in my day – eleventy hundred years ago – I do think both films and many seasons of television have become, of late, more self-indulgent and far too long than ever; maybe it’s for money or maybe it’s because no-one has the heart to tell Peter Jackson to stop it, but there really is something to be said for leaving the audience wanting more. When season one of Agent Carter ended, I was bereft, because there was so much more left to tell. I will be the first to say when I think it’s been overtold. But two seasons in and there is a wealth material to explore – I’m definitely entirely behind a third season (pretty please ABC?).

And now to get ready to say goodbye again. Sob.

 

Tea for two (or more) at Piacha, Islington

call-me-katie-tea-and-cake-at-piacha-on-upper-street-islington-great-for-tea-and-cake-in-london-03In case it’s escaped your notice – between the multiple afternoon tea reviews, posts about tea and, erm, separate tea Tumblr – I really, really love tea. So when the lovely, totes-unslummy Jo said she was working with a tea shop and would I like to pop in to meet the owner and try some tea I said “hell yes” and “can I bring a friend?”. “The more the merrier,” said Pia, owner and powerhouse behind north London’s Piacha cafe, so my pal and colleague Katie and I scuttled over.

Katie’s post, from which I completely shamelessly stole this surprisingly flattering pic of me snuffling tea like some sort of truffle-hunting hog, goes through the teas in detail, as well as the delicious sandwiches and chocolate we tasted. What I’m going to do instead is give you five good reasons why, if you’re in London or are likely to be in the general vicinity of Islington any time soon, you should get your bum down to Piacha asap. The rest of the photos are distinctly more wonky because I took them…

1. The tea collection

IMG_9304First and most important. There is a very comprehensive mixture of types and flavours here, but what I love about it is that most of them are blends of actual ingredients rather than ‘flavoured tea’. Now, I am not averse to the latter – my breakfast blend of choice is T2’s Brisbane Breakfast and one of the Piacha teas that blew me away was the Black and Cherry – but if you’ve ever had a good chai blend (and Piacha has one of those, too) you know that adding actual chunks and pieces of stuff makes a considerably more subtle and delicious tea. There are good numbers of ‘plain’ base teas – black, green, white and oolong – but also fab infusion combinations, such as roiboos spiked with cocoa husks for a comforting chocolatey hit and matcha mint (not my thing, but very, very popular).

Piacha has enough choice that you could conceivably try a different thing every week, but not so much that you find yourself playing safe. My top ones to try:

For tea purists: Shui Xian Oolong – a black oolong that’s incredibly rich and nutty, with a real kick-ass depth of flavour.

For flavour fans: Black and Cherry. Basically like drinking grown up cherry sweets.

For cold days: Biting and bracing Chilli and Ginger. An infusion that literally grabs you by the throat and can’t help but make you feel better – and I don’t even usually like ginger.

Additionally, there are boxes of the individual added ingredients – cocoa husks, dried rose buds etc – on the counter, so ask to have a sniff if you’re not sure, and buy some to take home and play with your own tea blends.

2. Pia Ikkala

IMG_9326I set out my feminist stall without hesitation, and I’d support a woman’s business if I thought it was great no matter who the woman behind it was. But as it happens, Pia’s an absolute rock star. Coming from a background in corporate law, she’s fiercely sharp and constantly on the lookout for something interesting to try – especially if it involves any of her favourite things: tea, eating and yoga.

It undoubtedly helped that we tend towards the same favourite kinds of tea, but I found her such a joy to talk to, and she’s often hanging out in there. But regardless of whether you actually meet her, knowing she’s behind the business makes you feel in safe hands. I don’t fetishise independent ownership, but here I think it’s what makes this cafe special; the teas are carefully chosen and blends are uniquely created for the shop, the menu is thoughtfully developed to make tasty tea pairings and the friendly atmosphere makes it welcoming to all – such as the little girl standing on tiptoes to slurp down a tea milkshake the next time we visited.

And anyway, even if you don’t care about that kind of thing, I cannot think of a single major coffee chain that does a half-decent cuppa.

3. Nom

IMG_9329The thoughtful Piacha menu infuses tea even into savouries, with lapsang ham sandwiches and genmaicha salmon (the latter pictured on the right of this photo) on the comprehensive tea menu. The apple honey brie sarnies (on the left of the photo) are wrapped in a sweet, dense walnut bread. There are at least three big cakes in the window from which to sample slices – “where there’s tea, there’s cake” said Pia by email before we met, which did indeed predispose me to like her – and a cabinet packed with delightful bites like canelles, macarons, chocolate tiffin slices and more. And recently they’ve added some extraordinary artisan chocolate truffles to the mix, which sounds, I know, like the height of hipsterdom but holy mango and basil, Batman. I’ve never eaten anything quite like it and I’m slightly angry it took 35 years to do so. Other combinations, like raspberry and mascarpone, were quite something too.

If you go for afternoon tea, which is something I’d definitely come back for, you’ll get a broad array of tastes, including four different teas of your choice and matcha ice cream for a little under £15pp. Apparently it gets packed on Saturdays, so book ahead.

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The mango and basil truffle deserved a close up.

4. Tea smoothies and milkshakes

IMG_9375.jpgI know, I know, it sounds weird. But adding vanilla ice cream and fresh peach chunks is so far the only way I’ve ever found to drink Earl Grey that made me like it. Tea adds such a lovely fragrant note that it can only make unusual mixtures more brilliant. Be brave.

This little lovely is a refreshing blueberry matcha iced blend, which is more liquid than the milkshakes, but less of a dessert.

This is not a sugar-free zone. I think you just have to live with that. I did.

5. The setting

IMG_9315Sofas and wooden chairs; an extra, quiet, area tucked away downstairs (seen left); plug sockets everywhere… This is a blogger’s paradise. Not to mention that the teaware and beautifully lit shelves up at the front make for a nice thing to gaze on even if Upper Street is windswept and grey.

Plus, it’s roughly equidistant from Angel and Highbury and Islington stations, so access is easy enough. And when you have, finally, had enough of tea (what’s wrong with you?) there are lots of great shops to potter around in (After Noah. Do it).

About a week after our tasting, Katie and I were back and dragging our pal Christina in for more tea – this time on our dime, so if you’re the type to be suspicious of bloggers, you know we must have loved it for real. I also bought the aforementioned Black and Cherry myself after tasting, and have it for when I fancy a sweeter hot drink or just need extra comforting in my cuppa.

If you’re too far away, you’re not excluded from all the fun, as Piacha does online orders of tea. I’m waiting for one of my caddies – I have a tea shelf stocked to groaning with loose leaf – to be available before nabbing some Shui Xian oolong; it’s a gorgeous savoury and I’m still thinking about it.

Disclosure: Katie and I were treated to a range of teas and treats by Pia and the team. Our opinions of what we sampled are entirely our own.

Thoughts on being Greek while watching The Lobster

I appreciate this might sound a bit niche. Certainly it is different from my friend Caroline’s very beautiful post about being homesick while watching Brooklyn, but in sense it comes from a similar root: how we experience films while hefting the weight of the baggage we we carry into them.

When I walked out of a recent screening of The Lobstera ShowFilmFirst freebie to celebrate the home entertainment release – the first thing I said, and subsequently tweeted, was this:

You’d be forgiven for wondering what I actually meant by that, since generalisation is invariably dangerous territory and, wait, wasn’t My Big Fat Greek Wedding Greek humour? But I’m tempted to say, cop-out though it sounds, that you have to be Greek to understand. (Think about it: the family are pretty self-parodying, sharp and even cruel to each other even if the bigger picture is dressed up in bundt cakes, confetti and that Windex thing – which was totally product placement given everyone knows all Greeks are obsessed with surgical spirit.)

The thing is, The Lobster isn’t set in Greece and its themes are not uniquely Greek. The wittily savage satire on love and companionship, the ties that truly bind and the superficiality of things we have in common is absolutely universal. But the preoccupation with stripping away the peripheral, with bitterly and wryly revealing the hypocrisy and hopelessness at our cores – that seems to me very Greek; whether I’d notice it so clearly if I didn’t know Yiorgos Lanthimos was behind it is a fair question, but there it is all the same. Many years before my parents’ homeland suffered the economic collapse it will be wading stickily through for years to come, all the jokes, stories and arguments I can remember hearing as a child had certain thematic similarities, no matter which friend or relative related them: that person is pretending to be someone they’re not – we all see through them. Those politicians can’t be trusted; it’s all front. Slapstick. Puffery. Craftiness. Isn’t life just… ridiculous?

If the Brits are generally accused of rooting for an underdog and hobbling their heroes, the Greeks I know are way too cynical to create any heroes to begin with.

Don’t mistake me for suggesting this is a bad thing. Besides, as uncomfortable as it can be to sit with a foot in two different locations, as long as you have a well-padded saddle the route you navigate is pretty scenic. You get to see the best and worst of everything and dole out the stereotypes with relative impunity. To love the Brits for their weird languages and joyously weirder subcultures and the Greeks for their raised eyebrows and jocularity. To scorn both the repressiveness of the full stiff upper lip and the unbridled selfishness of the Mediterranean tantrum (while, of course, reserving your right to indulge in both).

The Lobster effortlessly plays around with brutality and misguided sweetness. With desperation and devotion. It is as relentless as it is funny, as manipulative as it is derisive of manipulation. It nods its head, it reminds you that we are all complicit and we can hardly help but being. It was an Irishman who wrote – the Irish friends I have seem to me to share a sympatico sensibility with Greeks on certain things, including guilt, faith and being naturally suspicious of authority – that “each man kills the thing he loves“. The Lobster plays in exactly these waters, in what we are capable of and what transformations we undertake to stay afloat, even if it goes against everything we think we value. And despite how pathetic its protagonists can be and the savage bleakness it reveals, I can’t help feeling the underlying message is actually oddly… reassuring. We don’t have to choose a side. We don’t have to be part of a faction. Humanity can never cleave unbendingly to one single ideology, so we never have to expect complete perfection or conformity from anyone. We are silly, silly creatures, living silly lives, but no less human for it. And if humanity has any value, it must have it at its worst as well as its best.

That’s practically philosophical, isn’t it? Well, that kind of the thing is in the blood…

2016: New year, new films

You know, I didn’t do badly with my 2015 list. Some of the things on there (*cough* Pan *cough*) dropped off, a few move into this year, other things got added as I went along, I got a few really great bonuses courtesy of the BFI London Film Festival, and there were some other great experiences – most notably being in the first public audience to see the lost-for-decades Oswald the Lucky Rabbit short Sleigh Bells on the big screen – that I didn’t get to writing about.

I’ve finally also got round to joining Letterboxd (let’s stalk each other there!), so now I have a slightly more orderly way of keeping an eye on my watchlist – and seeing just how many things I still need to mop up from the year(s) before.

Here’s a screenshot of the most recent few I’ve added (sorted so the earliest release dates go last). What else should I be adding? You can probably tell I really enjoy ridiculous big-budget stuff, adventure, drama and animation; however, I’m very very definitely open to a much wider field than that (except horror. I just can’t. I have nightmares for weeks). My top films of 2015 included Mistress America, Mr Holmes and High-Rise, if it helps.

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(Note: I have no idea when Artemis Fowl is actually happening, but I’m pretty sure the paroxysms of unearthly joy that I unleashed when I heard one of my favourite kids’ series was getting the directorial treatment from His Royal Bloody Brilliantness Kenneth Branagh were felt on the International Space Station. So much love for the K-Bran. Just saw him on stage in Harlequinade and it was outstanding.)

I need your recommendations, friends, family and randoms of the Internet. Don’t go letting me down.

10 New Year wishes for my 5-year-old

Eight out of ten ain’t half bad. As wishes go, failing to watch Ratatouille I can give a pass to (especially since you’ve seen more films in the cinema in one year than ever before) and not letting me brush your hair, well… there are worse things.

So given that the other eight wishes – all of them endless, forever wishes apart from WDW and we had a ROLLICKING time – are going as strong as I could hope for, what else is there left to hope for?

When it comes to you there is always  more.

1. I wish for you to keep surprising me. I mean, it was no surprise to me that you had a spectacular time at Walt Disney World, but every day you managed to do something unexpected – liking a ride I didn’t think you would, bravely agreeing to do something that scared you, playing brilliantly with your cousins. And really it was the trip to Stockholm that was full of little joys; it was great to know that you could get as much pleasure out of a city trip as we could, that you enjoyed exploring and tea shops and the unusual (that, in fact, you’re more like me than I thought, at times).

2. I wish for you to continue fighting your fears. I know that you find the unexpected difficult sometimes; you’re already better at being brave at your age than I was. But there are some times when I know you’re keeping yourself from something you’d love because you’re nervous about what might scare you – even for a second. I was majorly impressed that you kept going on the Nemo ride despite Bruce (even more so that by the fourth ride, you kept your eyes open), but I look forward to a day when you will judge which film you want to watch, book you want to read, place you want to visit and ride you want to go on more by level of interest than by likelihood of not being scared. There’s a world of enjoyment out there for you, and I promise you that sometimes, to slightly redirect the words of the man himself, being scared out of your pants may be the best thing in the world for you.

3. I wish for you to continue being brilliant at making friends. I’m sorry it took so long to have a proper playdate with your bestie. She’s awesome, and there will be many more, I promise.

4. I wish for you to lose that sense of embarrassment! It shocked me when I realised you meant it that you were bashful and embarrassed whenever anyone talked about you. I’ve always considered my overly honed sense of personal humiliation my greatest weakness. I simply do not want you to inherit it. So please – be like your dad. Give not one flying… fart… what anyone says about you. Because you are the best.

5. I wish for you to unleash that creativity more than ever. You come up with the best, maddest, funniest most bonkers stories. I simply insist that you keep them coming. And I shall uphold our deal: when I come up with an idea, I’m free to write it, draw it and play with it any way I like. And when it’s your idea, it’s your intellectual property, no matter how frustrating I find it that you won’t let me develop it. Humph.

6. I wish for you to stop licking our hands and faces. Seriously, kid, it’s revolting. And while we’re at it, could the foot-tickling go on hold? Ta.

7. I wish for you to keep being delightfully affectionate. In line with number 4, I’m dreading the day that cuddles and kisses start to dry up and start being embarrassing. For now, I am taking full advantage of being carpeted with snuggles and I do not wish it to stop. Also, you can keep telling me you love me and you’ll stay with me forever; I mean, in the fullness of time I shall want you to be independent and want to leave me, for your own good, but in the meantime I am very happy to be clung to and generally adored. As you were.

8. I wish for you to keep growing like a weed in the sun. You shot up 10cm betweeen March and December! Your legs are just like your dad’s – long, lean and always tripping over themselves. You are so outrageously strong. I love it, I admire it, I’m a little jealous of it.

9.I wish for us to travel again this year – perhaps nearer and more cheaply, but for us to have some sort of adventure together and you to experience some more new things and discover fresh likes, dislikes and interests. I’m keeping fingers crossed for the trip we talked about in the summer – a new way of travelling for us as a family too, so let’s wait and see!

10. Finally, I wish for you to be ever more you, a simply wonderful person whom I consider myself privileged to know. You constantly make me want to do better for you, and I know you enjoy hearing how proud you make us. In keeping with my theme of finding the value in myself and others, I hope we three continue to constantly inspire each other to show the best of ourselves to each other and to the world. And that we continue to feel safe disclosing and battling the worst of ourselves, too – which might even be the more valuable bit.

Happy new year, Pickleface.

My word of the year for 2016

Every year, I read a plethora of posts that say “I don’t do New Year’s resolutions” and then go on to list New Year’s resolutions. Hell, I’ve probably written one before.

I think the problem is that the format of the resolution sounds like putting pressure on oneself – “this year I will lose arbitrary amount of weight as if each lb taken away signifies 1lb of added happiness”. There’s a negativity about it, a beating of the self with the pointy stick of “why haven’t you done this already”. It’s a checklist, rather than a spur for growth.

The thing is,  the changing of the calendar is as good a time as any to get your thoughts in order. No, you don’t have to do a damn thing just because it’s January 1st. Neither does it make it any less of a resolution if you make it on June 17th. But emotionally, I think it is easier to allow yourself to be carried on the tide of hope that inevitably wells up at this time of year. The days begin to lengthen again, we spend weeks correcting ourselves every time we write down the date, and it just seems to be a serendipitous moment to do a bit more brain training.

This is why I like to set myself a theme, rather than specific goals. For one, some goals can be forced but some depend on the right opportunity presenting itself, and the resolution is more about the groundwork – being ready to seize that moment – than about the moment itself. For the last few years I’ve sought to develop mindsets, rather than attain specific rungs on my mental ladder. So for each year, I’ve assigned a word, and let that word be the theme that guides me, and that I can come back to when I feel stuck.

In 2013, I was feeling a little scared and set in my ways. So I chose Decisiveness, and I changed jobs and took a new career path which has helped me learn a lot. In 2014, Creativity ruled the roost; I started to share more of my writing and drawing online, and I found that each time you do it the walls do come down a little more and it becomes easier. In 2015, the year of Asking, I applied for and received funding for an art course, negotiated some things at work I would usually find difficult and, crucially, learned when I could ask, but also when I didn’t need to anymore.

And these things are cumulative. I shared more stories, and more art and came up with better creative ideas in the year after I made Creativity my guiding principle, because I’d exercised the muscle and it was working more smoothly. My decision-making has been better this year than the last two; it will continue to improve, I’m sure. I speak up more now than I did at the beginning of the year. So, the time has come to choose the word that I think will pick up these three strands and continue to pull them along, while giving me new challenges.

That word?

Value.

I frequently underestimate mine and, frankly, I’m not sure I always see it in other people as much as I could or should. It could be my own financial value, or it could be the emotional or practical value provided by another, but more than that I think it’s understanding that – even if you can’t itemise it – everyone has value, just by virtue of being here. It’s really seeing that, and living it, and getting it. I feel like the best thing I could teach my daughter is to be kind, and at the root of kindness is appreciation. I’ll find it a lot easier to teach her that if I truly have a grip on it myself. As things are in the world now, compassion is desperately needed and not always easy to come by. But it has to start with recognising the value of each person, and really, truly, knowing one’s own.

And hey, it sounds pretty Agent Carter, right?

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