‘About Me’

Welcome! 

Welcome to my little slice of the internet, here you’ll find details on my performing and theatre work, writing and other interesting projects I get up to!

This post is a little map to me. Hopefully it’ll help you navigate your way around if you’re new to my site, (or even if you’re old to the site – hello to you too!)

I blog every Tuesday about a range of things, from my very wise and wisdomous tales and tips from travelling for work (Parts 1 and 2!), to reviews of shows, festivals, experiences and products I enjoy. You might also come across some of my creative writing, reflections on life as a freelancer and other stuff, like how getting married impacted my career.

So what ‘about me‘? In short, I live on a narrowboat with my gorgeous husband Ryo. (Get the answers to the ten most-asked questions about boat life here!) From the boat I write, plan, knit, sell, and develop shows and storytelling experiences – and more. I love my little freelance life, and I hope you enjoy reading about it!

If you can think of a way we could work together, or have a product/service/event you’d like reviewing, don’t hesitate to get in touch via the contact form.

I love hearing from you too! What did you think of the post? What would you love to read more about? How are you doing? What did you have for lunch? How’s your new puppy, do you have pictures, can I hold it, do you need a dog sitter?… and, er, so on! Feel free to drop me a little ‘hi’ in the comments section, I’ll read them all and may even say ‘hi’ back!

If you enjoy the posts, you could click the ‘Follow Me‘ button below to make sure you hear all about new posts – and be the first to comment and share… you trend setter you.

Thanks for sticking with me, welcome to the site and have fun exploring!

Canal, Ducklings, Roar!

Welcome to my boat life and other freelancer adventures!

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Top Tips for seeing Morocco!

We rubbed our eyes, gave a stretch and then let out a collective yawn. Setting the alarm for 3am had been painful (especially after only getting to bed at 11pm!) a few hours and a short flight later and we were stepping off of the plane in Marrakesh, Morocco – me for the first time in five years, the husband for the first time ever.

It was a group trip, with my parents, to see some family friends who live out there. My parents go to see them every year, but because we had a ‘newbie’ in our ranks, and because I hadn’t been in so long, we hit all the tourist spots. Here’s a guide of things I learned and remembered to getting the most out of your trip to Marrakech.

I hope you enjoy my top travel tips for Marrakech, I’ve separated them by place then by individual elements with a round-up at the end of each. Skip to the section that interests you most, or browse at your leisure! Let me know if you have any other top tips in the comments below!

Jemaa El Fnaa (The Big Square) and Surrounding Souks.

Wiki photo – read on for why I don’t have one of my own!

Look, you sort of have to go here. It’s the big, bustling place of merchants, snake charmers and orange juice sellers that you often see on TV. It’s relatively quiet during the day and gets much busier and bustle-ier as the sun starts to set.

JEMAA EL FNAA BIG SQUARE TOP TIPS:

  • Timing: Go after lunch for a good balance between seeing the square as it starts to wake up, and not being too overwhelmed by the sheer volume of *stuff* that gives your senses a real work out. BONUS TIP: ‘La Shukran’ means ‘no thank you’. Say it clearly and firmly to bat away unwanted vendors.
  • Photos: This is one of the most iconic places in Morocco – and don’t the vendors know it! If you want to take a photo of the guy with the monkey, or the traditionally dressed water man, or the snake charmer, etc., you have two choices. One: Take a photo as quickly and surreptitiously as you can. Two: Be prepared to pay up for whoever is in shot. BONUS TIP: If you take a photo of, or stop to watch, the guy with the monkey (/snake/turtle/chipmunk/etc.) be prepared to have said monkey (snake/et al) placed on your shoulders, and then be charged through the nose for it. Personally, I find the vendors pretty aggressive so try to stay out of the business of taking photos at all at this point (hence the wiki photo). But if you want the iconic market square shot, go in prepared with a few coins as a thank-you and then walk away.
  • Hustlers: It’s a market, people are going to try and sell you stuff. From the freshly pressed orange juice from a stall (yes please!) to the totally-authentic-and-not-at-all-a-knock-off Bay-Ran sunglasses and Faux-lex Rolexes from roaming vendors (no thanks!). You might fancy a knock-off as a comedy gift for your mate back home, but remember that their prices start at about £100 (an amazing deal for a Rolex, obscene for a knock-off) and will settle around £20-£30 after haggling. Just be prepared that as soon as you show interest, it will be very difficult to shake them. In the end our local friend had to have a few quiet Arabic words before we were finally left alone. BONUS TIP: Remember, you are not obliged to buy anything. Whether you’ve been haggling for half an hour or have just had a ten minute talk on tea, you can always get up and walk away. They are just trying to make a living, but that doesn’t mean you have to pay inflated prices for stuff you don’t (or even do) want.
  • Where / When to Buy: It’ll quickly click that these totally original, handmade items can be found around every single corner. Hold out until you are further away from the main square in the street souks, haggle on price and walk away if you’re not 100% happy. Walking away might get you a HEAVY sudden discount, or you can buy the same thing around the corner. BONUS TIP: Don’t get, or look, lost. You may become a target of a ‘helpful’ young man who will show you out via a very round-about way and expect payment in return. This happened to my family years ago. He said he was helping for free, then tried to get money from us. When we didn’t want to pay, he threatened to leave us, now even more lost than we were before. It was 40 degrees celsius and we were totally vulnerable. I think we got him down to about £20 – learn from our naivety people!
  • Pick-pockets: The general consensus is that crime happens, but it is rarely violent against tourists – you are much more likely to notice something is missing later than be violently mugged for it. BONUS TIP: Always check crime reports and travel stats before you go, but Marrakech is like any other big city tourist spot. Watch your bags and belongings closely, especially when taking photos. Don’t flash the cash and try to look like you know what you’re doing.
  • Food: Street food might be up and running by the afternoon, or there are cafes around the entire square. BONUS TIP: For a great view of the hustle-y bustle-y chaos, choose a terraced roof cafe and watch from the relative peacefulness of above.

ROUND-UP: A real must if you want to see the iconic, TV world of Marrakech. It will be busy, intense and can be aggressive. Say a firm ‘no thanks’ (la shukran) and walk with purpose. Be careful what you take a photo of and keep an eye, and hand, on any valuables. BONUS: Read the trip-advisor reviews for a fairly rounded idea of what to expect.

Badi palace

The peaceful ruins of an old palace. You would have NO idea that you were anywhere near the hustle and bustle of the streets, it’s incredibly tranquil!

  • A Good View: There’s a great roof terrace to climb to for amazing views, great photo opportunities under the criss-cross terrace and you are eye-level with the storks!
  • Peace and Quiet: The huge grounds mean that it would be hard to crowd this place. As you walk around the spacious grid of paths, you can see cats relaxing in the shade of the trees in the sunken gardens. Not a noise from the mopeds, street vendors and crowds leaks in.
  • Underground: Take a trip underground to the old prisons where you can see the cells and read about the palace’s history of ‘removing freedom as a form of punishment’. BONUS TIP: They have plenty of signs and plaques here in English as well as French and Arabic!

  • Price: An absolute steal at 10DH (under a £1). Most places like this are priced at 10DH and a great way to experience the history of Marrakech away from the noisy crowds.

ROUND-UP: A great opportunity to take a rest from the souks and gather your thoughts in this impressive historical site. Though very little of the original mosaics and carvings remain, the sheer scale and cared-for upkeep of the site is worth a visit. BONUS TIP: They have very decent loos here – if you’ve been out an about all day, I’d take advantage!

Saadian tombs.

You wouldn’t know that you’re in a graveyard.

  • Peace and Quite: You still get shut off from the hustle and bustle and noise of the streets, but because this venue is a lot smaller than the Badi palace, you can expect denser crowds. If you’ve hit it at the same time as a tour group, there may be queues for some of the best ‘viewing spots’ to see inside the buildings. We didn’t bother with those lines as there was plenty else to look at. BONUS TIP: Look out for the turtles hanging out in the gardens amongst the sleepy sun-bathing cats!
  • History: These intricate mosaic designs are incredible! Each of the rectangles is a sort of tomb stone, marking where one of the Royal family of the time was buried, men on your left as you enter, women further in. BONUS TIP: There’s not a huge amount of signage or literature explaining what’s going on, we were with people who had been before, (/ I followed a tour group for a while) so if you’re interested in what you’re looking at, look it up in advance and print off the notes.

  • Price: Also 10DH and, though smaller so slightly more crowded, still a chance to find quite repose.

ROUND-UP: A real gem that is tucked away from the main buzz of the town, accessed through a secret alley way. BONUS TIP: Its mesmerising just to look around and take it all in (and look out for turtles!) but if you want a bit more on the history of the place, check out something like this before you go.

Jardin Majorelles

Pricey, but stunning, this garden and Berber museum is a gorgeous place with plenty of interest.

  • Price: It’s 70DH to enter the gardens, and 30DH for the Berber museum (there is an Yves Saint Laurent museum too, for another 100DH, but we didn’t bother.) At about a tenner, it’s the priciest thing we went to, but I’m glad we did. BONUS TIP: We went on a Saturday and queued for about 20 mins. I’m told that my parents have never seen it like that, so try and hit it in the week to beat the crowds.
  • Photo opportunities: From fish ponds, gazebos to buildings and plant pots, The gorgeous indigo colour was everywhere! The cactus garden and other sections were thoughtfully laid out and made for a very stunning photo op or two. BONUS TIP : This place also has nice loos, so take the opportunity!
  • Berber Museum: The museum was really interesting, outlining the history of what is known about the world’s longest lasting ancient civilisation, the Berbers. With a particularly stunning replication if a starry night sky in the jewelry display room, this is a eye catching and informative exhibition. BONUS TIP: There are plenty of signs and guides in English as well as French and Arabic, so worry not if your French isn’t up to scratch!

ROUND-UP: A beautiful garden and fascinating exhibition; I’m glad we went, but for my money you can see gorgeous gardens and read about the Berbers for less elsewhere so we probably wouldn’t go more than once.

Riad Moulay Said.

OK, this is an odd one to include. Located in the heart of the Marrakech medina, this spa is a real oasis!

My parents have used the pool before (pool and pizza for under £10), but it’s also a full blown hotel, with a new spa which is included in the price of your stay along with use of the pool. Why am I including this? We popped in to have a look around and were greeted with incredible hospitality, free tea and more biscuits than even we could eat! We were the only ones in there, and my parents said that was true every time they came. So if you want a private pool, spa and some nice loos, pop in, or book a night as part of your trip!

Accommodation: Hotel Le Caspien

For a great night’s sleep, close to the centre of Marrakech, you can’t go wrong with Hotel le Caspien.

  • The Hotel: Beautifully decorated with semi-traditional furnishings, one central feature is the gorgeous lamp that hangs through the stair well all the way from the ceiling on the sixth floor down to the ground floor lobby. Good free wifi and a gorgeous roof-top terrace. It does have a very small pool, but this is in the centre of (and accessed through) the restaurant. We gave it a miss.
  • Location: Decent, good access to the number one bus which will take you to the big square, walking distance from the Jardin Majorelles and other interesting spots. Also nearby is the ‘mall’ with a downstairs supermarket, helpful if you don’t have breakfast included.
  • Rooms: Very comfortable, spacious and clean complete with a little balcony (even if it was looking out over the noisy street..!)
  • Service: Friendly and attentive staff. We had to ask for replacement toiletries to be sent to our room (which still never came), but everyone else in our party got fresh ones daily. Easily forgivable when the staff were otherwise so helpful.
  • Food: We were on half-board, which meant a set-menu with a choice of two starters, three mains and two desserts every day. Much cheaper than eating a meal there every night, and it made for simple dining. The veggie option alternated daily between pizza and pasta, but the chicken tagines and lamb skewers were met with virtuous applause from my companions! Breakfast had a huge selection of salads, breads, gorgeous pastries and hot food such as eggs, rice, meatballs and more!

ROUND-UP: Lovely hotel, great staff, fab location and yummy food! Check out the hotel’s website here if your French is any good, or on bookings.com if (like me) it’s not!

MARRAKECH ROUND-UP:

Marrakech has changed a lot, even since I was last there. It’s swankier and has an H&M, but the historical sites are well preserved and there is still so much to see and do. Between the architecture, intricate designs, handmade crafts and trades, historical sites and cultural history, you could spend weeks discovering Marrakech. I was there for three days and we all had an amazing time just seeing the bits we did. Thee above places are just the tip of the iceberg, but if you’re going for a flying visit, they’ll give you a balance of old and new, preserved and ruined, interactive and passive.

My First Run.

‘I must be crazy’ I thought to myself as I donned my trainers and dampened down my cosy wood-burning stove, allowing the fire to die, reflecting morosely that I may well be in for a similar fate.

OK, tad dramatic, but I was about to go on my first run in… Well let’s say ‘a while’, (but we’ll both know I mean ‘ever’!) I’ve tried to run before but have let myself be thwarted by obstacles such as… :
– No time
– Nowhere to run
– Not having the right clothes
– Not having a smart phone so I couldn’t use an app
– It’s cold
– It’s wet
– I’m ill
– I fall. A LOT.

That’s just part of the chorus of reasons screaming at me that I couldn’t do it. But, now I live on a narrow boat. You step out of my home onto a towpath that stretches for miles and I’m currently moored next to the gorgeous Rickmansworth aquadrome. There couldn’t be a more idyllic setting. I now have a running companion, Scruff. And, there’s now three and a half stone less of me to lug around, making almost everything much easier! The stars were aligned, the tea leaves said go, the time was right, and that time was now! So, armed with some sports clothes (previously unworn) that my mum bought me years ago but were too small (they fit now! Fist pump!), my swanky new smartphone and funky holding-arm-band thing and the ‘Couch to 5K’ app, I tied my laces, sighed goodbye to my toastie warm boat and braced the great British outdoors.

Happiness.

Boy I feel incredible right now! With endorphins flooding my system that’s no surprise. But I’m also just so jolly proud of myself. I did it! I went for a freakin’ run! Me. Lydia. That’s not the sort of thing I do. I laugh at the joggers puffing by my boat, they sometimes make Scuff growl and bark, and honestly, I could relate to his reaction! But if this little run-a-phobe can do it, so can you. Wherever you live, whatever you do, there is time and there is space in your life to get fitter, if you want there to be!

Couch to 5k app.

I’ve wanted to try this app for ages! It chirps instructions at you to help build up a decent run. Week one, day one is seven lots of: 60 secs of running, 90 secs of walking, with a last 60 sec run at the end, the whole thing bookmarked with a five min walk warm up / cool down. You can play your music at the same time and you even get to choose a celebrity voice to cheer you along. My instructions were delivered by then sunny Sarah Milligan, what a star!

Now, jogging for 60 seconds is no mean feat, but I just about managed it, eight times! That, for me, is a huge achievement, and pushed me way out of my comfort zone! If you already have a better level of fitness than me (not hard!!) then you can skip along to the right week for you, it may take some tweaking! If you’re at a lower level of fitness than me at the moment, I recommend starting with week one, but don’t worry about running or jogging in the 60 second slots, just go faster than you were before! Keep repeating it until you can comfortably (ish) complete week one, jogging and all, then move on to week two! I’m a bit rubbish at technology, but the app is super easy to use and talks you through everything you need to get started and keep going!

The ups and downs of running with a dog.

Scruff has transformed the way I view exercise. With his little gorgeous face, how can I not get excited about taking him for a jaunt outside? He LOVES the outdoors and it’s incredible to watch him instantaneously burst into life and become a whole new dog the second he clicks that we’re going for a walk!

He ran ahead of me most of the time, circling round to make new friends, chase ducks and then charge back up the path on my call. He probably ran three or four times further than I did with all that doubling back! He also showed much better discipline running than he does walking, probably because he doesn’t have time to get into too much trouble or he’ll be left behind!

He was a real burst of inspiration and energy, when the run got hard, there he was, his dopey face ready to give me something else to focus on. The only downfall (literally…) being when he came charging to join me after a brief stop to sniff a new friend and charged straight under my feet, sending me toppling to the floor. Previously I’ve avoided running for fear of falling, but today I fell and I was fine.

I now have one tuckered Scruff on my hands!

Takeaway.

It was muddy and scary and my lungs burned like I was breathing fire. But, I’m a bit fitter than I was yesterday. And, at the end of this week I’ll be a little bit fitter than I am today, and so on and so on, until I’m running 5k!!

I’d love your top tips for running, and keeping up the habit! Feel free to ask any questions too, let’s build each other up and help hold ourselves accountable!!

Muddy, sweaty and beaming like a wally!

A Rest is a Good as a Rest.

They say a change is as good as a rest, but, sometimes only a rest is as good as a rest. As you may have picked up from recent posts, I’ve been sick recently. This illness took over a week of productivity away from me, and in the road to recovery, I’ve had several false starts.

Despite my husband’s great and loving advice, I kept declaring myself healed, trying to get out of bed and get something done, only to take two steps backwards because I hadn’t given myself the chance to fully switch off and slow down.

In the current climate, we hate switching off and slowing down. We prefer to compete over who has the busiest schedule, the most demanding life, the least sleep, the fewest days off. And it’s no surprise that we do those things. The work place is a buyers’ market, employees are being pushed harder than ever before because if they’re not the busiest person pushing themselves​ the hardest, there will be ten people behind them ready to snap up their position. Often it’s the person that complains shouts the loudest that gets the promotion to recognise them for all that ‘extra, very hard work‘ they’ve been putting in. The more we talk about how hard we are working, despite being ill / busy / tired, the more respect we think we’ll gain. If someone goes into work feeling rundown, we herald them as a trooper. Most workplaces count your sick days against you in an algorithm called the Bradford Factor. There’s no reward for taking off the time you need to get better, mentally or physically. (Though some employees and employers get it very right.) We equate stress with successes and when you have to switch off from that, it can be very tricky.

When a Change Is as Good as a Rest.

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A new look can be rejuvenating!

Sometimes a change can give you that little boost you need. A new hair cut can give you a fresh look that you have confidence in. A new perspective, just by heading out the door for a walk, can cheer you up and cause your productivity to soar. Bigger changes, like jobs or relationships, can hugely change your attitude and day-to-day level of contentment. (Note – with bigger changes, a real rest in-between the old and the new is almost always a good thing!)

 

When a Rest is a Rest.

IMG_7774

Snuggle up and eat cake.

No matter how much better you feel after a change, sometimes a rest is a rest is a rest. Sometimes you do need to check out of the hectic cycle you’ve put yourself in and just chill. Sometimes always, when you’re ill, it can be good to step back, get back into bed, and ride out the cough / cold / fever / etc.. With mental illness, it’s going to be individual to you and each time, but allowing yourself that chance to recharge, even if that means watching cheerleading movies on Netflix from bed, that chance to rest can not only speed up recovery, but make it possible in the first place.

This is hard enough as it is. As a freelancer, it can be even harder when you know that there’s no sick-pay, no support, no-one to do your job while you’re not there. It’s just you. But that’s why you need to step back and get better. The harder you push, the longer recovery will be. Believe me on this one guys. I’m helping!

Look after yourselves out there people. There’s a lot of bugs going around, and heading into your workplace with all your germs isn’t going to make you any friends or be any good for the company in the long-term, despite policy around the Bradford Factor. Put ‘you’ first, get better, and present your best self at work, at home, and wherever else you feel like presenting the new, well rested, you!

 

Run boy run!

You’ll have that spring back in your step in no time!

The One Where I’m a Millennial.

A while ago, I discovered I was a millennial. Here's a glimpse into past-lyds' brain as she unpicks what this means...

 

The One Where I’m a Millennial.

And that’s ok.

(With helpful links for non-millennials / the unenlightened to assist navigating the world of millennial in-jokes!)

Turns out, I’m a millennial. This, according to the internet and Ellen Degeneres, means I’m a privileged kid from the Western world, born somewhere between the mid 1980s and 2000, and I like taking pictures of my food. Being a millennial, my extensive research tells me, means I’m lazy, entitled and addicted to technology.

DinnerInsta

Actual picture of my dinner.

Well, let me tell you something… it’s true. We have it made and can’t fend for ourselves. Allow me to demonstrate.

Maybe you get home from work for the evening and realise, for the first time in forever, (#KristenBell) you just walked through the door and you don’t have to go straight to bed. You actually have enough time to have an evening. You get to entertain yourself, have a meal, relax… If only you knew how to do even one of those things with any success…

So maybe you whack out the box of chocolates your boyfriend gave you. And the entire melon your mum gave you. (It’s just been my birthday, we party hard in this family.) And maybe you call it dinner….

You spend the evening in your millennial freelancer happy place: contentedly hacking away at a melon with a sharp knife, alternating with bites of chocolity bliss, watching Ellen Degeneres interview Ellie Kemper (LOVE her) and Marie Kondo. And for dessert? Finishing off the copy of Bossy Pants you got for your birthday (Tina Fey, all hail). And not a housemate in sight onto whom you can project your guilt.

I’m not saying millennials are weak. I’m not saying we don’t get things done. Taylor SwiftDaisy Ridley, and Marie Kondo fit the bill. I myself hold down six or seven part time jobs, run a theatre company and have many fulfilling rich and brilliant relationships with friends and family.

Imagination

#BusinessOwner #GirlBoss #LadyBusiness

Just, sometimes those fulfilling, rich and brilliant relationships culminate in spending a precious visit from the long-distance boyfriend bingeing the entire season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt whilst playing Neko Atsume on our respective screens – quietly ignoring one another in sweet millennial quality time.

Sometimes you take a nap between jobs. Sometimes you surrender your evening to SNL on Youtube. Sometimes you write down your thoughts and feelings for the internet to read.

And maybe by the end of writing down all those feelings you’ve polished off half a melon, the entire box of chocolates and all the Ellen on ITV player. And you painted your nails. And that’s what you achieved today. Maybe you’re a millennial, and maybe that’s ok….

You go Glen Co-Co.

I wrote that about a year and a half ago. I still feel mostly the same way, we do have it pretty easy. Not in the career-for-life, free-education, property-owning way of previous generations... But, equally, we live in this new world of self-determination and empowerment that makes some people think we're 'precious snowflakes' but in-fact is just a reflection of us placing value on self-confidence, satisfaction and ownership of our working lives and lots of those other 'soft skills' and 'namely pamby' that we now value. We decide what we do and define how to do it. I'm happy with that pay-off. We'll work out the rest, we are the resilient generation Y after all... 
I no longer have the Neko Atsume app (this generation really does know how to waste time...!) but other than that, I'm that same freelance boss lady, more in control of her work-life balance, aware of how many freelance jobs she has, married to that boyfriend, exercising slightly more control over her chocolate-intake and working things out one millennial step at a time.

Something Novel

Writing Nook

My writing nook (on a tidy day…!)

It’s been a busy week, following other busy weeks, proceeding yet more busy weeks. Because we are all busy people. That’s how life works. And how ‘busy’ (or overwhelmed) you feel is in your control.

I’ve had a busy week doing physical, creative and logistically puzzling things (i.e. installing a stove on a boat… more to follow, you can get a little background on the beginning here.)

It’s also ‘NaNoWriMo‘ month this month. I’ve been working on (/neglecting) my little novel. As I haven’t had much to blog about this week (unless you’d like a post on writers block / wondering if that rusty splinter might kill you) I thought I’d share a little with you. Just 200 words. A tiny prologue. I’d love to know what you think! And, I’m setting you a little task of creativity yourself. Whilst reading, I’d love you to think about these questions, and, if you’re not too busy, answer them in the comments below:

  1. How do you think Tina got to this point?
  2. Could you finish this story in 500 words?
  3. Go on then. (/ Give it a go!)
  4. Any other comments / questions / thoughts / musings or interesting asides?

Thanks for reading and see you in the comments!

Lydia

Hidden Spark.

Prologue.

Friday 20th October.

Christina. It’s got Christ in it. She Googled it once, but couldn’t tell you what it means now. Tina doesn’t like it because she reckons people will get the wrong idea. That’s why she goes by Tina and won’t answer to anything else. She sometimes wonders if, perhaps, when they named her, her parents wanted to inspire her to help others, make a real difference or something. Save. The point is, Tina has never been heroic. She’ll even admit that, if anything, she’s the one that needs saving. Not like in a big Biblical-flash-of-light or a caped-man-in-tights sort of way, but just a little bit of saving. Maybe a teaspoon of saving. All right, a tablespoon.

Unfortunately, as I’m sure you’ve worked out for yourself already, even if you can admit that you need help, there are no heroes. No men in capes, no saviours and certainly no-one with enough time on their hands to dedicate it to saving you. Or the city. Or the world. Or so Tina thought.

What follows is the story of the last few weeks, how they changed Tina’s mind and why she’s running for her life down Bletchley high-street, ready to save the world.

My Week Without WiFi

Here’s the thing. It happened. That 21st Century nightmare. I ran out of data. Between the odd Netflix binge, webinar, Skype call and Instagram scroll, I reached October’s internet limit with a week still to go. My tablet is everything; a TV, computer, Satnav, home office suit… (It’s probably more surprising that this is the first time I’ve completely run out of data…!)

So, liberated from the ability to waste a whole day ‘catching up on Facebook’, how did this millennial spend her time? And what did she learn?

Prepping the Stove.

Fortunately I had Scruff to help….

It’s cold on the boat. Real cold. And we’ve been so busy / tired / preoccupied, we haven’t made any progress on putting in our stove. But, now that it’s that much colder the imperative has strengthened, and I’ve got the undiluted internet-free time, I’ve ripped out the cabinet unit, de-rusted, cleaned and painted the stove and have made plans to get installing ASAP. Frustratingly, there’s some things I need to look up, like regulations and where to buy certain bits and bobs, but the progress I’ve made is tangible, and we’re closer than we were!

 

Walking the Dog.

 

I love walking Scruff, but without internet I was more present for him during our walk, we bonded more, I was better focused, and our walks were longer and through more interesting places, I had nothing to rush back to!
My days got longer. We went out first thing. I didn’t let the morning melt away in a scrolling daze, I got up and we got on!
I grabbed Ryo’s camera and captured some of our magic together. It was truly lush.

Reading a Book.

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Blocking out the whole novel has sharpened my focus and fixed my writers block!

A friend had just leant me ‘Save the Cat’ by Blake Snyder. It’s a screenwriting book that professes to be the last one you’ll ever need. At the time of writing, I have no plans to pursue screenwriting success (though, never say never…!) so I didn’t consider myself in any particular need of any screenwriting book. However, to paraphrase one of my brilliant theatre mentors – if you want to learn about something, read about something else (he was in the process of applying architectural rules of negative space to blocking out our festival piece. He’s great.) 

Writing a Novel.

 

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November is NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. I gave it a go last year but then got distracted and busy with other things when I was rudely interrupted by a marriage proposal…
The novel I wished to continue is online, so I couldn’t access it, buuuut, armed with the storytelling advice from Save The Cat about structure, planning and character development, I have planned out more or less the whole thing, ready to catch up when the internet kicks back in! And I did it all with pretty pens and a notepad.

The Takeaway:

As a freelancer who uses email and Google drive to run several enterprises; and Facebook and Instagram to promote those enterprises, I need the internet.

But, being forced to spend some time offline has meant that I’ve been WAY more productive online for the short bursts of internet access I did have, I’ve got so many things done around the boat and I made some real progress old school pen and paper style!!

It can be great to shut off the distractions and get something done with a notepad and pretty pens. My days got longer and I used the time more efficiently.

So, I’m daring you to give it a go.

Designate a day this week without internet at home. No TV, no social media, no email.

I promise that your world will not end in this time.

Wake up and get straight out of bed, be more active, get back to basics, put pen to paper, pay more attention to your family / housemates and at bed time, just switch off and go to sleep!!

Let me know how you get on with a comment below, especially if you achieved something new!!

Because You Are Worth It.

I’m good at what I do.

And that’s ok.

No false-modesty qualifiers, no fake pretence that I am anything less than I am. I’m energetic, commanding, and creative. I’m resourceful, can use my initiative and know my limitations.

I’ve not always been able to recognise that I’m any good at… anything. But, years in, thousands of happy customers and audience members, hundreds of pieces of positive feedback, many a satisfied boss, and I can finally see that I’m doing well. Not because they said so, but because I can see it myself.

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My captive storytelling audience!

There’s a very good chance that you’re good at what you do too. If you don’t think you are, I have three options for you pal:

Option 1) Have a real think about your work and the impact you have. Are you being a bit too ‘modest’? It’s not immodest to say that you are good at your craft (you know… that thing you spend all day every day doing?). So, take a deep breath and get over it, because if you don’t believe in you, no-one will, then how will you sell your product / service?

Option 2) Get better at what you do. Never just go through the motions. Whatever you put your hand to, put your whole heart and mind to it too.

Option 3) Find something you are good at, and do that instead.

So, how does this translate to your working world? You don’t need to be pulling power poses to gain a little confidence in your craft. Here are my top tips (/ reminders for myself) for valuing yourself and your work.

 

1) You do not owe anyone a discount.

“We can’t pay you because we are a small organisation. But we’d still like you to design, deliver and promote a bespoke event for us. For free. Of course. Because we’re a good cause.”

“I just don’t have the budget to pay you minimum wage…”

“It will be incredible experience for you.”

“Think of all the brilliant exposure.”

Ugh. Companies who try and make it sound like they’d be doing you a favour by ‘letting’ you work for them for free. Uuuuugh. No thanks. You know who doesn’t accept exposure? Tesco. You know what I can’t buy with experience? Petrol. (If you find any shops that will take my ‘new network contacts’ as currency, let me know..!) There are times when you might want to work for free (see below). But, a client leaning on you to bring down your prices, or an organisation that wants your best stuff for free, even an employer offering you less than you deserve – stick to your guns.

I’ve found that if I know what I will work for, and stand firm, people respect it. In 80% of cases, people are just trying their luck. Yes, you want / need the work, but, if you do it on your terms, it will grow and it will be worth it, and you’ll be working with people and organisations who respect you, and your product / service, enough to value its worth.

Write down your price list somewhere, and keep a record of what you charged and to whom. Charge them for the extra travel. Finish when you said you would, and don’t agree to ‘little extras’ unless you want to.

N.B. I’m not *always* the best at this myself. I once took £90 for a three-hour bespoke training course, with bespoke take-away resources, that took me several hours to prepare and cost me £145 to get to. It was for a friend. And y’know… all that useful, fridge-filling experience.

 

2) It’s your choice to give discounts as, and when, you choose

I offered friends mates rates in exchange for pics I could use for promo!

Just because you said ‘no’ to one small cause trying their luck, or a larger client trying to increase their margins, it doesn’t mean that you can’t work for a discounted rate, or for free, if you want to. If it’s a cause you support, or you’ve weighed it up and the exposure would actually be really useful, or, if you’ve got a new show/product that you’d love to test on a more forgiving not-paying audience, or if you want to collaborate with a friend… then you go ahead and work for less, or for free. That’s your prerogative. (Shout out to all the 90s kids that just sang that…)

We live in a world where access to the arts (and lots of nice things in life) is sadly reduced or restricted by barriers of cost – we’re asked to pay top dollar to access workshops, the West End, ‘even’ above-the-pub events tend to want fifteen of your hard earned pounds (or more..!). Personally, I try and make sure that I’m contributing to free, or cheap, arts projects as often as I can. Access for all. But, I know when I will, and when I won’t. You don’t owe anyone this, it’s your choice. You do you.

 

3) Give them an inch…

I was recently negotiating with a client. They’d asked for a 90 min party, rather than the two-hour package advertised. I designed them a reduced-time, reduced-cost package, full of bespoke discounts to meet their needs. Then they dropped on me that it would be for 40 kids (90 guests in total) rather than 20-25. For that many kids, I’d need a second entertainer, which I also offered at a reduced price. When it came to the £30 travel fee (they are a considerable distance out of my standard zone), they told me ‘no’. I immediately offered, (out of sheer stupidity a gesture of goodwill ) to bring the travel down to £20. Every back and forth took days, and it was now less than a week to go to a party that may, or may not, be going ahead. They told me £20 was just far too much for their budget, but they would, graciously, offer me £15. I had had enough. I stood my ground. Best case scenario: they recognised that I was already offering them several discounts, acknowledged the worth of my services, paid the £20 and I got to go ahead with the booking. Worst case scenario: They pulled the party and I got to spend the afternoon with my husband instead.

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Oh, you’d like me to travel over an hour each way and pay for my own travel? … Wha?

I didn’t want to create ill-will with the client, I didn’t want to strong-arm them into paying something they couldn’t afford, but I did have to be realistic with what I was offering, and not end up running at a loss. I love my job, but spending an afternoon entertaining 40 kids is not something I do just because I really love pass the parcel*.

(*Though I do, really love pass the parcel!)

In the end, the client found room in the budget for the £20 travel fee. Turns out, they were just pushing their luck to see how far they could bring the price down, probably because I’d already made so many concessions. Lesson learnt.

 

4) It’s ok to say you like money.

The love of money is the root of all evil.

But, you can go too far in the other direction.

“What? Money? Me?? Oh no, I hate money, I never touch the stuff. Fairies deliver my weekly Tesco shop by magic and pixie dust and rainbows.”

(Actually, that sounds amazing..!)

We need money to live. Do we accuse the Tesco delivery driver of selling out? Does anyone begrudge the electrical engineer their monthly pay cheque? Of course not!

Yet, for freelancers and the self-employed, there seems to be a stigma around admitting that the reason we work is…. Money (dun dun duuuun!)

I know, I’m not meant to admit that my motivation to work is to earn a living. Freelancers are meant to be in it for the love of it – right? Riiiight? Um, no. Wrong.

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I *love* my job, but it’s not always glitter and jazz hands…

Am I just in it for the money? No. I could make plenty more doing a much more boring, predictable, stable job that offered a pension, reliability, and maybe even a book club. I have found work that I love, and I’m privileged to be in a position where I could make it into my breadwinning income. But that is why I do it. I give up my weekends playing duck-duck-goose to pay for my car. I hold Skype meetings with Kazakhstan at the crack of dawn (GMT time) because I’d like to buy food. I perform because, yes, I love it, but also, I love heating on my boat. My work gives me so much more than money. But I do like the money. It’s pretty neat.

 

5) You are not an imposter.

I have heard about this over and over again from freelance clients and friends – and it’s not just restricted to the self-employed… maybe it’s a generational thing, but, ‘imposter syndrome’ is rife amongst us.

It’s that feeling when you’re convinced someone will ‘find you out’ and realise that you’ve been blagging this whole time, exposing you as a fraud.

I think it could have something to do with the fact that a lot of us haven’t trained for the roles we have. I’m sure school teachers also told you: you will probably end up in jobs that do not yet exist. Social media experts, freelance web-copywriters, targeted advertising software developers… at least elements of all these roles didn’t exist when I was studying ten – fifteen years ago.

I didn’t do a ‘How to run your own party business, and a performance troupe, direct plays around the world and have ‘side hustles’ of blogging and knitting small gifts’ degree – I did and English Literature degree. (Where, to be fair, I did develop my ‘blagging’ and ‘writing about things you had no authority on’ skills, so… thanks uni…)

We define what we do, just by doing it. It doesn’t mean we’re imposters, or no good, or that we’re any less. Whether you’ve been at it a day or a decade, you are meant to be here, and you are doing just fine. (But keep training, and developing, because your current role might not exist in the same way in another fifteen years…. spooky!)

 

The Take-Away.

Your job is fun. You like your job. That doesn’t mean you have to do it for free. You are worth paying, and it’s ok to demand top dollar. Recognise your worth, stick to your guns, boss it.

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See you out there fellow freelancers!

P.S. Have you got any top tips of your own? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

Why I’m Lydia Longman

“You’re taking his name? I thought you cared about equality for the sexes. Don’t you know women died for this?”

– Real quote from a someone whose opinion had not been sought.

I now pronounce you Mr and Mrs –

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The day I stopped being a Longman… Sort of…

When I got married, all my dreams came true and I got to tie myself to my very best friend – FOREVER. It also had a big impact on my professional world.

It also meant that I got to finally ditch my ‘maiden’ name – and I couldn’t wait.

Or so I thought.

But it was more complicated than I had anticipated.

I already had web-domains under Lydia Longman, business cards had been printed, I had clients and followers who knew me as such, and my professional brand was established around that name – as a freelancer in my world, your name can be all you’ve got.

Longman Party

There’s just so much fun to be had as a ‘Longman’ (pictured here in purple)

I thought I hated LongMan. I once had to show my school planner to a classmate to prove that it really was my last name. I had to spell it to everyone because we pronounce it ‘Longmun’.  But… I love the alliteration, I love how it ties me to my family, I love the fact that it’s a compound word. I love these things more than I realised, they mattered more than I thought.

I also like the idea of having my personal bits of the internet slightly harder to find than the bits I choose to be public.

 

A Rose by Any Other Name.

Mr and Mrs

Is there something to be said for presenting a united front?

I know that I could have ‘rebuilt’ and ‘rebranded’ under my new name. Which I love because it ties me to my husband and his family. Which I love because it’s exotic and interesting. Which I love because it gives me one small tie to his Japanese heritage and the dad I never met.

But I do use my new name, it’s on my official documents, personal Facebook page, I write it in the front of my notebooks and in my heart.

But what if just one little slice of me was still a Longman?

 

Having Your Cake and Eating it Too.

Having your cake

I’m a big supporter of eating it too….

 

The truth is, you can go by whatever name you want. Getting married means you legally have the ‘right’ to use this new name, however you chose. If you choose. At our registry ceremony, when I asked the room of female officiants how to change my name, I was met by an enthusiastic chorus of “You don’t have to!!

I want to honour my family, the person I was before I met my husband, have a degree of distance between personal and professional and stay consistent for my clients. I don’t want to drown out little feminist Lydia who lives in my head and fights for gender equality.

On the other hand, I want to be part of this new clan, one day help continue the family tree (I married the last male of this line… no pressure…) and be a united front with my gorgeous man.

I think being Lydia Longman professionally and something else privately allows me to do this – hopefully without too much confusion!

Longman adventures

I mean seriously, how could I leave behind being a Longman for good? (Here in green)

 

What do you think?

Let me know in the comments below!

 

Body Positivity, Losing Weight, and Mental Health.

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** This post is very personal to me. My numbers, measurements, timescales and goals are all very specific to me and not necessarily transferable or appropriate to you. If you want to lose weight, seek professional advice. If you are affected by any of the issues in this post please get in touch with the following organisations – Mental Health: www.mind.org.uk Eating Disorders: www.b-eat.co.uk.**

In one year, I have lost 3st 9.5lbs.

That’s 51 and a half pounds.

That’s 23.3 kilograms.

It’s two or three dress sizes. (Depending on where you shop – ugh.)

And I feel great.

I recently shared a pic of me ‘then and now‘ to celebrate my victory, and got a little heat from a friend who gently reminded me that ‘it’s not all about how you look.‘ I’m not saying looks are the most important thing, I’m not even saying they’d rank on my ‘top one hundred things that I care about most’ (we don’t even have a proper mirror on our boat), my friend had missed my point.

Well, I hadn’t made my point clear.

I’d failed to highlight everything I’ve gained with the weight I’d lost. It had been a huge journey and a massive feat of determination, motivation and will power.

For me, losing weight was never about the numbers. When they told me I weighed almost fourteen stone, I had no reference point for whether or not I was supposed to think that was a ‘good‘ or a ‘bad‘ thing (spoiler alert, it’s neither!). I hadn’t weighed myself since I’d left home, six years ago. When they asked me for a personal target, I could only shrug and say ‘Um… less than that?‘ I joined Slimming World with my mum as moral support. Although I knew that I had ‘chubbed up’ over the last few months (… years), I was all about body positivity, even though I felt anything but positive about my body.

BeYOUtiful. Be happy in the skin you’re in.

These were my mantras for my friends, family and fellow ‘bigger ladies’ (??!??) when they shared their doubts or insecurities with me. They were even the mantras I tried to tell myself. Because I do believe in them. You should be happy with the way you are, no matter what. If you decide to lose weight, it shouldn’t be to gain confidence in your looks, that’s got to come from within. It’s got to be more than skin deep. 

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I could smile for the camera, but I couldn’t feel beautiful.

But I wasn’t happy and I wasn’t loving myself. I was making poor choices that were coming from a bad place. I was punishing myself with food. I didn’t feel as though I deserved healthy meals full of nutrients and goodness. I knew it could shorten my life, but I didn’t feel as though I deserved to live longer. I was suffering from low self-esteem, low-confidence and some serious anxiety and depression issues.

Food was not my friend.

With one breath I was telling myself to be happy with the way I was. With the next, I was downing an entire family-size chocolate bar (or two, or three…) as a paradoxical punishment / pick-me-up for being fat and rubbish and of no worth.

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I had takeout pizza for dinner that evening. I laughed it off.

I was not happy with the way I was, and it had little to do with my size.

I would sometimes starve myself and skip meals because I couldn’t find the motivation to take care of those basic daily needs. I didn’t care enough about me to look after myself.

Being ‘big’ was symptom of a very unhealthy relationship with myself and with food. It became a treat, a punishment, a reward, a way of controlling myself, sabotage… I believed (and still do) in all the body positivity messages, but I wasn’t living them or applying them to myself, and to make things worse, I felt like actively trying to lose weight would go against those principles of self-acceptance.

That was my excuse.

I was wrong.

But things didn’t get better as the pounds came off.

With Slimming World, I was starting to develop a much healthier relationship with food. I rarely ate just because I was in a ‘low place’, I’d completely cut out using / withholding food as a punishment and I was filling my plate, and my body, with yummy nutrients that gave me more energy and a zing in my step.

However, give someone with OCD, a compulsive person, weekly weigh-ins and targets, and the result can be ugly.

Slimming stickers

My excitement for hitting targets got muddled with a pressure I didn’t deserve.

On one Tuesday (weigh-in day) I weighed myself twelve times in an afternoon. This was ridiculous for several reasons, least of all because you’re not meant to weigh yourself at home between weigh-ins, but mainly because I was using my mum’s scales, where you could step off, then step straight back on again, and there could be as much as a six pound difference.

But mental health does not use your clear, sensible logic. Metal health creates a panic-attack of tears and the feeling of imminent vomiting at the thought of having gained weight this week, or not having lost as much as hoped. However irrational (I actually lost that week).

There’s no shame in a gain or a maintain.

This is slimming world law. They know that if you beat yourself up about it, then getting back on the wagon is even harder, and you’ll throw the whole day, weekend, or even week, away, rather than just drawing a line under it and moving on.

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When I was feeling low, I couldn’t see the positive changes I’d already started to make.

But I’m goal driven. And I’m a people pleaser. The thought of having my brilliant consultant, Gerry (all hail) , announce a gain in front of my new slimming world family was too much. I was putting myself under pressure that no-one would have wanted me to feel in a hundred years. Add to the mix an unhealthy dose of obsession and anxiety and we’re back to that twelve-weigh-Tuesday, with a hyperventilating Lyds on her parents’ bathroom floor.

But it did get better.

I had to reexamine why I was doing this. I could no longer pretend that it was just for mum. It also wasn’t because I’d recently been proposed to and was now armed with renewed motivation to ‘look my best’ (bleugh). It was for me. I had begun proving to myself that I was Capable. Strong. Willing, and able, to take care of myself and give me the self-love I deserved.

That journey could well include weeks where I lost nothing at all, or even put weight on. But I was working on a downward trend. A bigger picture. A personal crusade.

I’m not fussed too much about being in my ‘target range’ forever. But I owe a lot to the organisation that helped me reset my relationship with food, and my body, and me. Even when I was near the middle of my journey, when I still wasn’t as slim as ‘before’, I felt the most confident, and body-positive I’d ever been.

Now I am smaller than ever before. And I’m happier, and more confident, than ever before. But those two things are both separate symptoms of the same, much bigger, picture.

They are symptoms of me taking care of myself, eating fresh, cooking from scratch, loving food and relishing new recipes. They are symptoms of a me that is more caring, forgiving, and loving, of myself.

The new me.

The one that’s here to stay, regardless of size.

 

The Adventure of Instagram

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I mean, who doesn’t want to see cute doggo pics? #InstantWin!

 

Imagine that you’re explaining Instagram to your nan.

Who are we kidding? Your nan’s already on Insta, isn’t she?

Sigh.

Imagine I know less about Instagram than your nan. But you don’t need to imagine, because – I. Know. Nothing!

Someone said that ‘All the kids are on Insta, and all the old folks are using Facebook’… My immediate response was ‘Great, let the kids have Instagram, I’m happy right here.’ I’ve never really got the hang of Twitter (though I’ working on that), and LinkedIn is still a mystery to me (working on that too…) But I love Facebook, it’s how I connect with people around the world. I keep up with travelling friends and family, loved ones over seas… but… apparently, you can do that with Instagram too… who knew?!

My foray into Insta all started as part of my new initiative to build my online portfolio and readership. After taking a little online course with blogging beaut – Helene in Between, I read that I should be focusing on Instagram to help build my blog.

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Did she mean blurry pics of my dinner? … I don’t know…!

 

Aside from the business implications (if I can ever get my head round them…!), I also just wanted to see my friends’ pics as Facebook began to take a back seat….

Me: (Refreshing Facebook) When are you going to upload that super cute pic you took of us on my boat last week?

Them: I did it straight away, on Instagram.

Insta-gratification as my lovely friend (and Instagram pro) would say…!

There are still many things I don’t understand (Can you ‘share’ or ‘re-blog’ photos? Will someone know if I unfollow them? Should I always follow someone back? Can I ‘tag’ myself in someone else’s photo? Why can’t I tag Shania Twain? What’s an Instagram story? Can I have a secondary account with my Parties page?…) but, I’ll get there in time!

The general gist, as I see it is:

  • Take a pretty picture that you think people might want to see,
  • Either chose a nice filter, or tag #NoFilter to point out that you didn’t use a filter,
  • Caption it with something engaging, maybe include a call to action,
  • Hashtag it with tags that will help people find it based on shared interests.

I must say, I’m enjoying a good hash tag, caption and filter combo! Following Helene in Between’s advice, I’m (trying!) to create a cohesive and helpful feed that supports my other online presences too! So watch this space!

If you have any top tips on how I can get better at this world of filters, pics and hashtags please drop me a comment below!

In the mean time, if you’d like to see how I’m getting on, check me out on the app itself! @LydiaTabusa

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Prepare for a *LOT* of cheese….