You have to stay here: One yurt, some mountains, great food…and nine dogs

It feels like a lifetime ago now (what with the glorious British weather doing its best to rain its way through June) but late May saw my boyfriend and I escape to the south of Spain.

After some time near Málaga and Marbella, we spent a couple of days in the Álora Yurts, a collection of Mongolian-style, hippie-chic yurts in the mountains an hour or so north, run by a British couple. Enter fantastic hospitality, glorious scenery, fabulous food – and oh yeah, nine lovely dogs

Getting slightly lost (our fault!) in the meandering but beautiful county lanes around the Álora Yurts – just over an hour’s drive from Málaga ‒ before being greeted by a welcoming Yorkshireman and a cavalcade of barking but friendly dogs, we knew we were somewhere special.

From start to finish, the hospitality could not have been better. The welcome was warm and genuine, with husband-and-wife team Sara and Darren inviting us to share in their beautiful Andalucian retreat, with down-to-earth company and gloriously relaxed surroundings.

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“Self-care” – 1. Meditation on a train

Yesterday I wrote that although the term “self-care” wasn’t in my childhood or teenage vocabulary, it’s become something I’ve learned is crucial, from listening to wonderful podcasts and reading great blogs on “lifestyle design”, mental health issues, and figuring out how to live and breathe in today’s changing world.

For the next week or so, I’m going to share some of the best things I do to give myself a little space, even when I’m so busy or anxious I barely have time to pause. Today, meditation.

Meditation through the Headspace app

Sometimes it feels like everyone knows about this app – sometimes seen as THE meditation app for your phone, featuring guided meditation packages from former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe. There is a free 10-day introductory version, but you can pay annually for the full-on package, with 30-day routines, quick-fire “SOS” guides, and generally everything you need to maintain a daily meditation practice. No sitting in the lotus position going “om” required.

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“Self-care”: 6 ways I chill the hell out

“Self-care” is one of those words I only see on lifestyle blogs and podcasts.

Don’t get me wrong: I live for these blogs and podcasts; I couldn’t give a flying toss whether it makes me a cliché, I bloody love them – reading and listening to awesome women who are carving out a life they love is what gets me up in the morning (well, that, and the need to catch my train).

But “self-care”? There wasn’t a lot of that sort of touchy-feely stuff in my house. Yes, I got a lot of hugs from my dad and tough, determined love from my mum, but my mother ‒ British, northern baby boomer generation woman that she is ‒ would not have the first clue what I meant if I said “self-care”. She’d be like, “What? You mean, doesn’t everyone just bloody carry on and get on with it?”

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“Just write”, she said: On the wisdom of Laura Barnett, author of The Versions of Us

Last night I went to see Laura Barnett at a book event at Clapham Library, and found myself inspired not just by her beautiful novel, but also her honesty and clarity, and her very human appreciation of how very hard it is to find time to write

Laura Barnett, author of the wonderful 2015 novel The Versions of Us, is rare.

As her first ever published book, the novel was a Sunday Times bestseller, has been translated into over 20 languages, optioned for a TV series, and has enabled Barnett to put aside her previous journalism work and take to writing fiction full time. For a writer, it’s the dream.

Except, it wasn’t quite her first book. As she explained at her very own literary event at the opening night of the Omnibus Clapham Literary Festival last night – twinkly, friendly, articulate, funny, blonde and stylish as she was ‒ it was actually her third novel, and had been, at times, bloody tough to write.

Not that you could tell from reading it. It’s lyrical, beautiful; stunning in both description and characterisation – the individuals within it as real and flawed and insecure and loving and sexy and fragile and scared and fabulous as any actual human ‒ and as expansive and detailed in its descriptions as in its depiction of life and all its infinite tiny decisions and worries.

Much of it is set in Cambridge (my old uni), whose colleges are centuries-old and whose streets are seemingly impervious to the restless decades, and Rome (one of my all-time favourite cities), and Cornwall (where one of my best friends lives), so much so that I felt like it was almost written for me.

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My boyfriend is disabled, so what?

This blogpost was originally published on The Huffington Post here

The first time my boyfriend took his leg off for sex, it was a little weird.

The next time, it wasn’t really weird at all.

Now, I honestly barely notice ‒ or care ‒ that he has no foot from the left shin down (for which he wears a prosthetic leg). To answer your next question: he was born with it, due to amniotic band syndrome, which can restrict growth of limbs in the womb. And your other question – we met online (after I’d suffered my fair share of heartbreak in 2014).

One of the Valentine's Day cards Scope produced this year as part of the campaign, which my boyfriend and I actually found pretty funny :P

One of the Valentine’s Day cards Scope produced this year as part of its End The Awkward campaign, which my boyfriend and I actually found pretty funny 😛

Incidentally, he also has a corrected club foot, a scar from a corrected cleft lip, and problems with his fingers on both hands. No major deal though, (apart from the fact that he’s also gorgeous). Move along. Right?

Or so I thought. Turns out, according to the latest figures from charity Scope, released for the Valentine’s Day season, that 67% of people in Britain “feel uncomfortable talking to disabled people”. Apparently, my generation, the maligned “millennials”, feel twice as uncomfortable as other groups, with 21% saying that they had even “actually avoided talking to a disabled person”.

This has prompted Scope to launch a campaign called “End the awkward“. I’m genuinely flabbergasted that it’s even needed.

Because I’ve been on a lot of first dates, and let me tell you about awkward. Silence between two people who have nothing in common is awkward. Making a joke and having the other person not laugh at all is awkward. Hell, even accidentally making intense eye contact with a stranger on the train is awkward.

But honestly? When my now-boyfriend first told me, on our first date, about his disabilities, my reaction was “Huh, interesting, why’s that, hmm these meatballs are really good, tell me more, let’s have another cocktail so we can keep talking please?”. And I don’t think I’m unusual, or being especially “good”, just to be clear. It just felt like common sense.

I mean, obviously, I do ‘notice’, in the sense that I can see. But is it really “awkward”? Er, no.

As far as dating goes, it’s generally something to accept and get used to, like someone’s stupid laugh, or their inability to grasp why you care so much about the Bake Off.

It is lucky (for him!) that my boyfriend doesn’t need help doing stuff, and he isn’t confined to a wheelchair, which might be harder to manage. And no, of course it doesn’t hurt that I find him ridiculously sexy, and that he himself is pretty open about things.

But I do accept that there are certain issues. I’d be lying if I said I’d never worried about whether we’ll ever be able to do typical “couple-y” stuff like go on really long country walks or city breaks (because too much walking can hurt) or, I don’t know, hike Machu Picchu.

I sometimes worry about other people’s potential reactions, in case it might hurt or annoy him rather than because I give a toss what people think. I don’t like it when his leg causes him pain, and I feel sad that the disability means he hasn’t always been as confident as he might have been.

But you know, I’m sure – if our relationship is “meant to be” ‒ we’ll figure it out. Do a bit less hiking up hills or around cities, and a bit more sitting in country pubs, bars, taxis or trains. It’s hardly purgatory, is it?

Disability is just not a dealbreaker for me in the same way as someone being rude, stopping texting for no reason, or just generally behaving like a dick. And as anyone who’s done any dating in a city will tell you, at length, you don’t have to be disabled to do that.

Admittedly, before I met my boyfriend, I didn’t know anyone disabled, and hadn’t given “them” much real thought.

But then, I still don’t give “them” (as if they’re one big group…) much thought even though I’m dating someone who qualifies. Because often, they don’t need you to treat them hugely differently. Yes, people with reduced mobility might need you to consider access or transport alternatives, and those with intellectual disabilities might need you to slightly alter your expectations of what they can do.

But the key thing here? They’re all people. The same damn rules apply. Treat others how you want to be treated. Everyone has flaws, successes, insecurities, passions, and issues. Some people’s are just more visible.

My boyfriend may not have all his limbs or fingers, but he’s still a whole human being. That won’t ever change.

If the Scope research does its job, and makes people realise that a bit more, perhaps we – especially people my age – can all focus less on the fact that disabled people are “awkward”, and more on the really important relationship issues.

You know, like giving him a hard time for how long he takes to text back, taking issue with the fact he doesn’t like whisky (WHAT? I LOVE IT), and groaning at his sarcastic jokes…

There are plenty of things in a new relationship that can be awkward, as anyone who’s ever dated anyone will know. But your partner’s disability? Not so much.

This blogpost was originally published on The Huffington Post here

Dreams and possibility…?

The older I get, the more I realise that most people are generally too busy in their own worlds to bother too much about what you’re up to.

You might think that you’re standing out like a sore thumb, or that everyone’s looking at you or judging you – especially somewhere super-crowded like London or New York – but actually, it seems that most people are mainly absorbed in their own thoughts and worries to pay too much attention to you and yours. Sometimes this feels damn lonely, but other times it can be liberating, or, as I like to call it, I-dont-give-a-shit-esque.

AND YET, if anyone ever wondered, even for a split second, what I’d honestly want others to say about me, the following image wouldn’t be a bad place to start. I’ve always thought of myself as a bit of a dreamer – both positive and negative connotations implied – but if that means you also see possibility everywhere, and ask, well why the hell not me? Well then, I’m pretty happy with that.

Originally posted on one of my guilty-pleasure websites, The Culturist.com.

dreamer-image