An Open Letter to All Men

Dear men,

97% of young women have been sexually harassed. 80% of women of all ages have experienced sexual harassment in public spaces. Read that again. 

The first time I was catcalled, I was 11 years old. My friend and I were walking home with ice creams we’d bought from the village shop. It was the middle of July and we were wearing shorts. A man three times our age honked his car horn, leaned out of his window and yelled ‘sexy pins’ and sped off down the road.

When I told my mum what had happened, she said it was probably time I started thinking more carefully about what I wore out in public. I don’t blame her for this – she was trying to protect me. It’s the same advice her mother would have given her in the 1970s. 35 years later, she was repeating the same words to her own daughter with the same fear in her eyes. Nothing had changed. 

When I was 20, I was groped by a man I knew from work. It was a bar job – naturally, I spent a lot of time bending down, picking up crates, leaning over surfaces to wipe them. This man made inappropriate comments about my body at every opportunity. He insisted that I talk to him on my breaks. He insisted that there was something between us, that I was flirting with him too. He wouldn’t leave me alone until I agreed to go out with him. And I went, because our society had led me to believe that my standards were too high, that I was asking for too much from men, that I should give him a chance – even though my gut was screaming at me to stay away.

I said I wanted to leave after one drink; he made me stay for three. He walked me back to the station on the back route where there were no people, no street lamps, no CCTV. He wouldn’t take his hand off my waist as we walked. He pinned me to his body and called me a tease. His breath was hot and sour in my ear. I used the SING manoeuvre from Miss Congeniality and ran for my life. 

Two years later, I was attacked by a man when I was walking home from my place of work. I, like Sarah Everard, did the ‘right things’. The things we have all done. I was with someone (a male someone). I was wearing trainers and a thick winter coat. We were walking down a main road in a nice part of west London that was fully covered by street lamps and other pedestrians. And yet, I was still hit in the face twice. The court case was dropped. He walks free. 

Every woman I know has multiple stories like this. Every woman you know has multiple stories like this. You might be shocked to read our stories, but we’ve heard so many that we feel numb.

But you don’t go around harassing women, do you? So you’re not part of the problem, right?

Wrong. You’re probably not a bad man. You might even wear purple on International Women’s Day and not react with horror when you find out your surgeon is a woman. (How progressive of you, my goodness! Would you like a gold star?) 

But you’re not part of the solution. I don’t see you educating yourselves on our experiences. I don’t see you calling out sexist comments in your workplace. I don’t see you shutting down your lads’ banter. 

I know you think that your boys’ group is harmless. You think your mates would never. But the thing is, statistically, you’re wrong. You like to talk over me and explain things to me when I haven’t asked for it, so explain this. How is it that 80% of all women of all ages have been sexually harassed, yet you all claim to have nothing to do with it? Are you absolutely sure your boys are innocent?

Don’t tell me that not all men are bad men. I know this. We all know this. Show me by being better. Not just today – but every single day for the rest of your life. Commit to doing the work:

  • Listen to our stories and experiences. Let us know you are there to support and help us, no matter how uncomfortable it is for you. Talk to us directly. Listen to the podcasts and the music we make, read books and watch films and TV about what it’s like to be one of us. Try to understand what it’s like to walk in our shoes. 
  • Call out sexist comments when you hear them. Especially when we’re not around. We’re not the butt of your jokes. They’re not funny. They never have been. 
  • Stand up for us. Has a meeting been monopolised by men? Make an opening in the conversation for us to speak. See some guys being creepy towards us at nightclubs or gigs? Look out for us. Ask us if we need help. 
  • Talk to your male friends. Nothing will change if you don’t. 
  • Educate your sons. 
  • Read feminist theory. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a good place to start. Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall should also be on your list. 
  • Practise intersectional feminism. Understand that these problems grow exponentially for Black women and women of colour, trans women, disabled women and non-heterosexual women. Women of colour who go missing are often neglected by the media. Think of Sarah Everard, but think also of Blessing Olusegun, Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry.

Don’t do this work because you have a wife, girlfriend, sister or daughter. Don’t do this expecting praise. Do this because it’s the right thing to do. Do this because it’s what you should have been doing your whole life. Do this because this isn’t a women’s issue, it’s a human issue. Do this for the women you don’t know, the women you’ll never know and all the women who will come after us. 

And to all the men who continue to do and say nothing: we see you. We hear your silence loud and clear. You have failed us all. 

Sincerely, 

One of the 97%.

13. Rage (Is a Quiet Thing)

One rainy evening in January, ‘Simmer’ crackled and hissed into life through the radio in my kitchen. The opening line: ‘Rage is a quiet thing.’ I put down the saucepan I was drying and stood there for the song’s entire duration, staring at the radio as if it were speaking directly to me. 

I couldn’t get those words out of my head. There was something so compelling about the song. The strangeness of it. There were no heavy guitar riffs, no thundering double bass drum fills, no screams or growls. This wasn’t the same kind of anger that fuelled the hardcore and metal that soundtracked my youth – this was something far more potent. It was quiet. Something lurking in the darkness, threatening to claw its way to the surface. Something slow-burning. The sun gradually rising; a ball of fire that could destroy you. 

When I was younger, I was drawn to rock music because of the anger it expressed. It felt freeing to me. I’m not sure if I’ve always been an organised, disciplined person, or if it was just the very ordered nature of my young life. I went to all girls’ schools that had particular rules about everything, from permitted hair tie colours to how you were supposed to format the date on your homework. I slicked my hair back with gel and went to ballet after school. I ironed shirts at the weekend and trimmed the ends off the French beans for dinner. Listening to rock music was a release of everything. It was a window into a loud world of chaos that was as far removed from my own as possible. 

It’s only now that I realise, as a young teenager, I hardly listened to any female rock artists. The expressions of anger I was listening to were almost exclusively male. Not only were these songs written and performed by men, they were also about a type of anger that was emphatically male. ‘Simmer’ was the first time I’d heard an expression of anger that felt distinctly female. The fact that it was a woman singing about her own rage was one thing, but the type of rage it described was another. How quiet it was. How threatening and dangerous. I felt the shouty songs of my youth in my head – in my chest sometimes if the lads were really going for it. But ‘Simmer’ was something I felt in my entire body. 

I’m not an angry person. I’m a woman who feels anger, living in a world where women’s rage is deemed as unacceptable. Something to be quashed before it’s even begun to take shape. In a previous job a few years ago, I was in a meeting with my (female) manager, her (male) manager, and a few other (male) colleagues of varying levels of seniority. One particular colleague had been repeatedly interrupting her and speaking down to both of us throughout the meeting. He had several months of experience in the particular business area of discussion, while my manager had over three years. When she eventually managed to get a word in, she was justifiably annoyed. She spoke assertively and louder than usual, in order to avoid being interrupted once again. The meeting ended politely, but without smiles. Her (male) manager swiftly took her aside and spoke to her sternly about her conduct. Apparently, she needed to work on controlling her emotions. When she returned to her desk, she put her headphones in and worked in silence for the rest of the afternoon. 

When men speak assertively, raise their voices and get animated – aggressive even – it’s seen as passion, dedication, creative disruption. I’ve never once been in a meeting where a man’s been told to calm down, but I’ve seen it happen countless times to women. (And I’ve worked in the music industry, so I’ve been in meetings with some pretty outspoken men. That sounds weird, doesn’t it? Have you ever noticed that it’s only women who are described as ‘outspoken’ and never men? Men are just, well, men). Female anger is never viewed positively. It’s not something to be engaged with. Growing up in a male-dominated household, I can recall many a conversation where I ventured an opinion which was immediately and forcefully stamped out by louder voices. My follow-up points were taken as argumentative and aggressive. Whatever issue I was angry about in the first place, I was now even angrier about the fact that I couldn’t even express it. 

Our society does not take women’s anger seriously. More than that, it seeks to eradicate it completely. How many times on screen have we seen a woman’s anger about her dirtbag cheating husband portrayed as something laughable, something entirely ridiculous? How many times have we heard tall tales about psycho ex-girlfriends? Women are angry. Women are angry about a lot of different things, but it is shared knowledge that being perceived as an angry woman would not cast us in a good light. It is even more pronounced for women of minority groups. For Black women and girls, the perpetuation of the angry black woman stereotype makes the consequences of being openly angry far greater than they are for white women. 

As women we understand that our anger must be repressed, pushed aside or turned into something else. Whether I realised it or not, I’ve always released my anger by doing something physical: drumming, dancing, boxing or fast running. While those activities in and of themselves are a healthy use of my time, none of them are actually working through my anger. I haven’t explained to anyone what I’m angry about and why. I’ve experienced my anger alone. The thing is, if women are free to express the full extent of their rage, if we interrogate it rather than dismiss it, the world will change. Nobody hates change more than the patriarchy. 

And so, rage simmers away. A big pot of stew cooking quietly on the hob, filled with all the anger that’s been dispersed and ignored. It’s always there, always hot. Sometimes it bubbles and spits. I don’t know when that might happen. I’m sick of having to control it. I’m angry that my default setting is to keep it all in, keep it together. Smile through it and make small talk. Explain my point of view nicely and patiently. No, I’m not ranting, I’m just speaking. No, I’m not going to watch my language. No, I’m not going to settle down. No, I don’t want five minutes. No, I don’t want a cup of tea. Listen.

Rage is a quiet thing. It’s a powerful thing. So potent is a woman’s rage that the world fears it unlike anything else. But it’s getting harder to silence us. We’re talking, we’re writing, we’re creating. I feel the rage rising; I feel the shift coming.

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11. On Being a Strong Woman and Accepting Your Softness

I come from a line of strong women. A line of women who looked patriarchal societal norms square in the face and simply said, “Move.” My grandmother drove fuel tanks around underneath fighter jets in the Second World War, much to the displeasure of her parents, who would have thought an admin role far more suitable for a young lady. My nan was a single mother working multiple jobs in the 1960s, when this way of living was not praised but frowned upon. My mother left school with no qualifications, but made her own income by qualifying as a swimming teacher after overcoming a fear of water, and later by qualifying as a Pilates teacher in her 50s. She once literally told the patriarchy to move when a man in a van insisted that she reverse to let him pass on a narrow lane. Her response was to turn off her engine, exit her vehicle and remind him that it was her right of way. He moved. 

Consciously or unconsciously, I have emulated these women my entire life. I have my grandmother’s “Why not?” attitude, my nan’s resilience and independence, and my mother’s drive to succeed. Some of it comes from being the last of four children, and specifically the only daughter. There is a part of me that feels compelled to step into my mother’s shoes – to be the fort-holder, the keeper, the provider of that particular feminine strength without which we would crumble. As the youngest child by seven years, I had to develop a sense of independence and resilience. My three teenage brothers rarely had any interest in playing games with their six-year-old sister, so I learned to amuse myself. The age gaps also meant that my siblings were dealing with more serious problems and consequences while I was still muddling through my primary school woes. My parents, understandably, had bigger fish to fry than my sardine-sized childhood dramas, so I learned to sort things out for myself.

As an adult, this translates into me being the organiser, the reminder, the fixer-of-things-because-nobody-else-is-going-to-do-it. It is a role I fulfil subconsciously and at times, reluctantly. I feel a pressure to always be on top of things, to always be able to stand steady and weather the storm – to be, well, strong. The pressure is, in part, self-inflicted. I was always drawn to what Netflix now (patronisingly) calls ‘Films & TV With A Strong Female Lead’ long before this was a search category. I liked loud women, brash women, creative women, angry women, taking-care-of-everything women, running-the-show women and working-three-jobs women. I formulated an image of womanhood that is, in reality, completely exhausting and almost impossible to maintain. And yet, I continue to try.

It’s strange. When I was younger, even as recently as a few years ago, I thought that being this headstrong, iron-pumping, black-Doc-Martens-wearing kind of woman was an assertion of strength, an act of rebellion against the patriarchy. And it was, in a way – but I wasn’t doing it because I necessarily wanted to. I wasn’t doing it for me. Being blonde, petite and quietly-spoken – while carrying an enormous amount of privilege – has often caused people (men) to make sweeping assumptions about my character. That I’m unintelligent, don’t have any opinions and can’t talk about serious subjects. That I don’t like the great outdoors, can’t do a press-up and can’t play the drums. Which I can. When I was in my first band I used to get feedback (from men) that I wasn’t hitting my drums hard enough, so I started whacking the shit out of them (the drums, not the men, unfortunately). People often used to tell me that they liked my drumming because I “didn’t play like a girl” or I “actually hit hard”, which as a sixteen-year-old, I took as a compliment. (How hard you hit the drums in fact has nothing to do with skill and everything to do with carpal tunnel and RSI. Sure, it’s a style of playing that might look more eye-catching on stage, but it does not necessarily make you a superior drummer to someone who doesn’t batter her skins). 

This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy playing the drums. Or boxing, or having a nose ring, or scowling at ladsladslads from afar, or any other number of Kat Stratford-esque things I did and still do now. I loved drumming in bands, but I shouldn’t have needed to play so ferociously in order to feel like a respected musician. There are times for hammering away on the snare and crushing the cymbals – but not constantly. It never felt quite right to me; it wasn’t my personal style. I love boxing and lifting weights, but I shouldn’t feel the need to engage in typically male-dominated activities solely to prove that I am a strong, resilient, can-do kind of woman. What about ballet? I have danced my entire life; I know how demanding it is. More to the point, why should I feel the need to constantly prove my strength – whatever that actually means – anyway? 

I know part of this need – this obsession, almost – is unique to me and my upbringing. I was raised by a mother who never gave up, never complained, always had solutions and suggestions at the ready and kept everything going come hell or highwater. I feel that I am letting her down if I falter. And there was always a bit of “anything you can do, I can do better” going on between my brothers and I – as there usually is with all siblings. The initial reason I picked up drumsticks in the first place was because one of my brothers played and I didn’t see why I couldn’t too. But now more than ever, I feel the pressure to be strong – to be this kind of unwavering, independent icon of womanhood – coming from all directions. “Here’s to strong women: may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.” Social media is rife with it. We like and share images of those who are hustling and bustling, waking up at five AM, killing it at work and nailing a workout. I feel torn. I want to praise and encourage these achievers, to work hard and achieve more myself. But I also worry that this is neither helpful nor healthy. That talking about “strength” in this way alienates those who cannot or do not want to hustle. Why should we feel that we are worth more when we are achieving, when we are doing it all on our own – when we are, in other words, strong?

This idea of “strength” is impossible to maintain. I would certainly like to give the impression that I am always strong and never in need of any assistance, but it’s not true. I am often neither hustling nor bustling. I cannot seem to do anything finance or property-related (or getting-the-spider-out-of-my-bedroom-related) without asking my Dad for help first. I’d like you to think that I am perfectly fine and dandy living my independent life, but sometimes when someone at work asks me how I am, I want to pound my fists on my desk and howl because I miss my boyfriend and the long distance makes my chest ache. I make jokes about not wanting a lot of social interaction, but I am always the first one to follow up on unanswered messages and to-be-confirmed friend dates, because it is my veiled way of saying, “Hello? Are you still there for me?” 

I know it’s fine to ask for help. I know it’s fine to miss people and to cry and to make a mess and to not always be able to solve everyone else’s problems and your own. But I am still learning this. I am still learning how to accept my softness. Still learning that it does not make me less – that it is the colour and texture that makes me who I am. That I do not have to keep proving myself or achieving more and more. That strength means whatever I feel it means and I can express it in my own way. I listened to an interview with Hayley Williams recently and she said it took her years to realise that she didn’t have to – and didn’t actually want to – dress or act like the guys in the scene. That it was okay to stand out and wear colourful make-up. And it is. It is okay to do things in your own way, to rewrite definitions of strength, to feel it some days and not others. We do not have to stand firm all the time. The world needs movement. I just need to remember that. 

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10. Feeling Mad: The Turbulence of Transitioning into Your First Grad Job

I don’t deal well with change. Not even so-called good change. There is always a what-if, a doubt, a hesitation, something to keep me pacing up and down until four in the morning. Change makes the water ripple for too long and I find it hard to keep swimming. The supposedly exciting new chapter of getting into my first-choice university at 18 was not exciting at all. In reality, the shift from quiet village-school life to raucous university life was a swirling pool of hell that triggered a nervous breakdown. By the time I finally settled into my new surroundings, it was halfway through second year and my university career was almost over. 

The transition into the world of work was even harder. I’d done freelance writing and a few marketing internships during summer holidays, but these had all been through mutual contacts. Applying for my first full-time job was different. At university, I always received feedback on my assignments, so if I didn’t get the mark I’d hoped for, I at least understood why. As disappointed as I might have been, the feedback was always logical, and it was only ever about my academic work – it was never about me as a person. Job hunting, on the other hand, is deeply, crushingly personal. In my early application days, I either never heard back, or got rejected for reasons owing to my character, or reasons that simply didn’t make sense. “You’re not the right fit for the team,” “You seem a bit closed-off,” “Your interview task was actually better than the other candidate’s but they had more experience.” The first time I got rejected from an agency job after getting down to the final two candidates, I sat at the top of my parents’ staircase and cried for an hour. The two-sentence-long email simply stated that I “was not the kind of personality they were looking for.” The memory is burned into my brain.

And so began months of rejections. The pattern was always the same. I’d get down to the final two candidates and miss out right at the crucial stage – which was almost worse than not getting offered an interview at all. My self-esteem took a battering. I felt that everything about me was wrong somehow, so I kept trying to act out the person I thought everyone was looking for. By the time I eventually did secure my first job, I’d lost all my confidence and sense of self. I was exhausted before I’d even started.

The job was a paid internship in the music industry, which in hindsight was completely and utterly the wrong place for me. At the time, I felt so lucky to be there. I’d made it down to the final 25 interns from over 1,000 applicants. It was what the teenage version of me had always wanted. But the 21-year-old version of me wasn’t so sure. It was a gruelling year. It was exactly what I’d expected it to be, only I hadn’t expected I would find it so hard. I didn’t feel like I could say anything – I didn’t want it to come across like I was complaining, because I knew so many others would have jumped at the chance to take my place. Quitting didn’t feel like an option either. I needed to earn money, and, as damaging as it is for my mental health, quitting has never been in my nature. Nor is it in the nature of the music industry, I would learn. It is a work-hard-play-harder, sleep-when-you’re-dead kind of place. You work through everything. There are no excuses. Which is probably why maintaining your mental health in the music industry is extremely difficult.

People crying in the toilets and hyperventilating at their desks was a regular occurrence. Interns often came into the office at stupid hours of the morning to send new tracks to radio stations, and worked late at an event the same night. I worked with someone who became so mentally and physically unwell as a result of overworking that she took annual leave just to go to hospital and doctor’s appointments. Taking sick leave – or even just saying that you needed help with your workload – felt like committing a sin. Dark circles, red eyes and smudged mascara were just part of the record label aesthetic.

Managing your mental health in the music industry is challenging enough – when it’s your first job it’s even harder. The day-to-day work is one thing, but adjusting to office life can be what completely scrambles your brain on a bad day. It’s all the things that more experienced employees assume everyone automatically knows: where the IT department is, how to use the post room, what time it’s acceptable to leave on a Friday afternoon, how to fix a printer jam, what to say in an email to an important client who’s known for being particular. I spent the first week of my internship not knowing how to use the boiling water tap for tea, and I left late every day because I thought I wasn’t allowed to leave until my manager did. It sounds ridiculous to me now because I’ve been working in offices for four years, but at the time, I had no idea.

Then there’s the matter of your junior level. As an intern, I never wanted to bother anyone. I knew that I was entitled to take time off for illness and appointments, but I felt like I needed to earn my stripes before I asked. Those allowances seemed like privileges reserved for company veterans. Nothing I was experiencing felt serious enough for a chat with HR, and my managers were so busy that talking to them wasn’t an option either. Even if they’d had more time to spare, we didn’t have the sort of relationship where I’d have felt comfortable talking to them anyway. 

On a warm summer day about nine months into my internship, I walked out of the office and kept walking until I reached the park. My heart was hammering so hard against my ribcage that I thought I might die. I couldn’t pick out a single coherent thought from my brain. It was sunny but everything was dark and tangled and too much. I felt mad. I do not remember the series of events that followed, but at some point later that week, my GP signed me off work for two weeks with unmanageable anxiety (GAD) and burnout. When I came back into the office a fortnight later, I felt like I’d done something terrible. Nobody spoke to me. People hovered awkwardly by my desk when they needed something. Clearly, I had disrupted the status quo and nobody thought it was rock and roll. I hadn’t gone about things the right way. But then, what would have been the right way? There was no formal process in place. There was an employee helpline, but what happens when that isn’t enough? 

A lot of companies fundraise for mental health charities, and even train Mental Health First Aiders – which is a step in the right direction. But if there are no clear steps to follow when you need time off to take care of your mental health, none of these things are actually helpful. Most companies advise employees to talk to their line managers, but often that feels so intimidating and anxiety-inducing, it isn’t actually achievable. Especially when what your unfiltered brain wants to say is, “Hi – I keep thinking about putting my hand into my blender which is obviously a terrible idea because I need my hand for things and I don’t want to blend my hand but I keep thinking about it when I make my smoothies and I really do feel like someone is making scrambled eggs with my brain which is making it quite hard to do life in general let alone come up with creative ideas for this campaign so please can I possibly maybe not come into work for a bit while I work on thinking about not putting my hand into a blender? Thanks so much for your time.”

See?

Now I’m in my third job after graduating, keeping my brain happy is a little more manageable. (It also helps enormously that I left the music industry behind). My responsibilities are much bigger than they used to be, but I’m more confident in my abilities and I know where my boundaries are. I take a lunch break. I leave on time. I don’t have work emails on my phone. If a project doesn’t get completed on time, nobody is going to get hurt. Mental health is worth more than a deadline. 

I’m glad I have this mindset now, but it shouldn’t have taken me four years to get here. I worry about younger colleagues and graduates just starting out. We have made progress in the last ten years, but the mental health stigma is still huge, and attitudes in the workplace aren’t great. (Evidence: People saying that they are “so OCD” about their desk layout. Why is this still happening in 2020? OCD is not an adjective, it’s an anxiety disorder. If you don’t correct people when you hear things like this, you are part of the problem). We need more than work charity runs and employee helplines. We need clear steps to follow and mental health days written into all contracts. In the meantime, if you see someone having a bit of a day, ask if they’re okay – and ask twice. They might brush it off, but sometimes it helps just to know that someone sees you. We all need to look more closely. Nobody ever made a positive difference by not paying attention. 

9. 2019: The Year of Making Decisions and Giving No More Fucks

On the eve of New Year’s Day 2019, I make a decision. I walk away from a bad situation and out into the night with a suitcase. I text my best friend: “I’m coming home”. I receive a response seconds later: a pink heart emoji and three kisses. I feel suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude that I have a home to go to, and wonderful friends who send me sickeningly sweet messages when I need it most. I remember who I am. Strong, independent, creative, honest, reflective. I realise that I’m still all of those things. I realise that I have just made an excellent decision. I realise that despite all of the inconveniences I will have to deal with later, and the money I will lose as a result of this, I am happy. And I start laughing, hysterically laughing, wheeling my suitcase into 2019. 

In the weeks that follow, I am fuelled by an energy so intense that I feel like a Dyson vacuum. I am making plans left, right and centre. I am having engaging conversations that make me want to write and create. My mind and body are working in harmony for what feels like the first time in my life. I feel powerful and centred. I have the confidence to make a bold move. Which is exactly what I do when, without a hint of my typical overthinking, I slide brazenly into the DMs of someone who has been floating around the periphery of my thoughts for six years. The act is so out-of-character for me that I proceed to throw my phone into the depths of my bag and not look at it again for several hours. I have absolutely no idea what I think I am playing at – all I know is that this is important. On a level that goes beyond conscious thought and words, I know I have to speak to this person, have to know them, as a matter of urgency.

Later, I sit on my best friend’s sofa with a mug of tea and a grin the size of Australia on my face. Being brazen, it seems, has worked out superbly for me. I relay the story to her and she looks at me with a wide-eyed expression that I haven’t seen since we got told off for giggling inappropriately in Year 9 History.
“You do realise that you’ve just invited yourself on a date, don’t you?” she says.
I consider this surprisingly astute observation and take an extended sip of tea. “I have done no such thing,” I say.
(Reader: I had done exactly this thing). 

The year moves fast. I need it to. 2018 was a year of stasis, where I thought too much and did too little. The decision I made on New Year’s Day blasted off the bars of a cell I didn’t know I was trapped in, and I am dancing away from it, kicking down doors that had been closed for far too long, because I no longer care about the mess. I make choice after choice without agonising over all the possible outcomes of each one. I curl my hair, put on red lipstick and drink wine from the bottle because I remember that I can. I stop sugar-coating my words and start asking for what I want, because I really, honestly, have run out of fucks to give and don’t intend to buy any more. Good things happen. I move into a new house after months of looking, and it becomes the first place after my childhood home that I actually call “home”. I get a job offer, completely out of the blue, from a company I interviewed for years ago who happened to remember me. I accept. I keep running with what the universe sends me and listening to the inner voice that told me to be brazen and turned out to be right. I do everything with the newfound confidence that even if I don’t make the right decision, I have the guts to say “fuck it” and walk away. 

Things slow down a little in autumn when I have foot surgery and am forced to sit down. (Unsurprisingly, I do not enjoy this at all). One afternoon, when I have exhausted all forms of sedentary entertainment (including rewatching Gossip Girl for the fifth time and reorganising my sock drawer), I video call my brother in Australia. We sweep through all of the pleasantries before inevitably, being the chronic overthinkers of the family, landing on our favourite topic: life. We pick at the subject tentatively at first, like polite party guests who don’t want to disturb a fresh bowl of snacks. He is the first to make a move.
“But how do you know if you’ve made the right decision?”
He is actually asking me for an answer, I realise. I chew over the question and come up with some waffle that doesn’t really mean anything. I don’t want to say “when you know, you know” because I do not want to sound like a wanker. But in hindsight – and hindsight is everything – I know this to be true.

I know now when things feel right or wrong. I knew at the time that I’d made a bad decision back in 2018, but I wasn’t listening to myself. The strange thing is, I think the universe was trying to give me a chance to correct it. There was a problem with the flat I was due to move into, so the move was delayed, with a possibility of it being cancelled altogether. I wasn’t disappointed; I was relieved. When I eventually did move, I felt sick the whole day and I couldn’t get anything to look right. The plates wouldn’t fit properly in the cupboards, the toilet wouldn’t flush, it was too hot and too cold all at the same time. I spent the first night pacing up and down the hallway, staring at the street lamp across the road, searching desperately for something that I didn’t know how to find. 

I knew then, standing barefoot and alone on the cheap vinyl flooring, that I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. But I felt so far away from myself that couldn’t make sense of anything. For the past 18 months I had been busy ignoring who I was and forgetting everything that was important to me. I’d gone running around in the music industry for a year, constantly telling myself that the fast-paced environment was thrilling in a good way and not in an on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown kind of way. I’d gone out to parties and gigs and bars and drank far more than I wanted to, because this was fun, wasn’t it? I kept telling myself things I didn’t believe, yelling over my inner voice until I couldn’t hear it any more. 

In December 2018, I went looking for quiet. I flew out to Portugal and walked on the beach every day at sunrise. Slowly, I started to piece myself back together. I stopped yelling and started listening. The New Year approached, and I could see exactly what I wanted it to look like. After living at odds with myself for so long, I vowed never to do so again – and this is how I learned what making the right decision feels like. The right decision, in my experience, is an expression of your truth. It comes from a place that can’t be explained in words. It brings peace. It, annoyingly, is one of those things that you do “just know”. 

I don’t have all of the answers. I don’t always do the right thing or know exactly what that is. I still wander around most of time with absolutely no idea what I’m doing. I still decide to bring garlic potatoes into the office for lunch and wear black skinny jeans on my summer commutes. But I know who I am and what I stand for. I wear bold colours and I make bold moves. And when I inevitably make a tit of myself? Fuck it.

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8. Built By Ballet: The Art Form That Made Me

It is December 1997. I am two-and-a-half years old with honey blonde hair and the tenacity of a toddler, which I never lose. My Mum takes me to a baby ballet class at the village hall. I wear tiny red ballet shoes and frilly socks. 22 years later, I am still dancing.

I have been through a lot of different phases. I’ve been scene, emo, goth, indie, and everything in between. My hair has been black, blue, green, brown, red, bleach blonde and various other questionable shades that looked like pond water. My portfolio of interests has included everything from weightlifting and boxing to swing band and embroidery. But throughout all of this, I’ve always danced. I never left ballet, and it never left me. 

Why was it ballet that stuck, and not something else? I tried out plenty of other hobbies, and I’ve done other styles of dance that came to me far more easily than ballet ever did. Physically, I am not made for ballet. I’m naturally inflexible and I build muscle easily on my thighs, which makes my lines look broken. My hips are inwardly rotated so I lack turnout, and my spine is twisted (scoliosis) so I never look entirely symmetrical. My body lends itself more readily to contemporary and commercial – both of which I love, but they’re not my first love.

I can’t pinpoint the moment when I fell in love with ballet. I just know that I don’t make sense without it. So much of who I am is ballet. It’s in the way I hold myself, the way I penché down to pick up a hairpin from the floor, the way I brush my teeth standing in relevé. It’s so deeply rooted in my physicality that it saved my body from becoming dangerously twisted. When I was 15, my contemporary teacher noticed that my ribcage looked slightly crooked during a floor sequence. I saw a spine specialist, and he said that if I hadn’t been doing ballet for my whole life, I would have needed major corrective spine surgery. I might not have been born with a natural ballerina’s body, but now, ballet is literally in my bones. It’s in the very essence of my being. I think I was born with a resilient streak, but ballet took that and turned it into the unyielding strength that makes me who I am.

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1997. Pretty sure I’m holding a packet of raisins here. Constantly snacking, nothing has changed.

Ballet is hard. The simple steps are harder than you think, and you spend a lot of time doing them. It’s not all double fouettés and grand jetés. There is no such thing as fudge-stepping or styling it out – there is a right and a wrong way to do things. A head inclined towards one foot instead of the other isn’t a nice way of making it your own, it’s just wrong. Your body has to morph into shapes that frankly, the human body isn’t designed to make. The only way to get there is to practice tirelessly. You don’t give up and you certainly never sit down.  You repeat combinations over and over again until either you get it or your teacher tells you to stop. If there’s music playing, you’re dancing, my teacher used to say. 

There is no place for apathy in ballet. It requires commitment, persistence, and a willingness to show up and give it everything you’ve got and a little something more. Try for a triple pirouette, even if you think you won’t land it. If you fall flat on your face, get up and finish with a smile. If your costume comes undone, keep dancing and ignore it. If you go wrong, own it. (Or as my current teacher puts it, Wrong and strong, ladies, wrong and strong). If you’re injured, come to class and do whatever you can, even if that’s only stretching and making notes. Just show up. And try.

Ballet instilled within me a kind of quiet determination – less an overt desire to triumph and more a stubborn refusal to concede. It was this mentality that got me through my first year of university, which went all kinds of wrong. I felt entirely disconnected from my body; I was walking around campus but I never felt my feet touch the ground. I had no friends, no emotions and no idea how to make anything better. My brain had been scrambled beyond recognition. But in all this, there was one thing that made perfect sense. Chassé pas de bourée, glissade, grand jeté. Développé á la seconde. Chaînés. Ballet. Of course. Going to ballet was not a decision I needed to make with my head. As my old teacher once said to our class, Even if your head falls off, you keep dancing. So I did. I put one hand on the barre and pliéd. I did bad pirouettes, average grand allegro and half-decent frappés. I showed up. I kept showing up. And slowly, I started to feel okay. 

The order and discipline of class comforted me. It always has. I like knowing that I could turn up to a ballet class anywhere in the world and it would start with pliés and end with révérance. I like the feeling of pulling my hair back into a bun, taking off my fussy jewellery, putting on my leotard and placing my hand on the barre, purposefully, gracefully. I like the respectful quiet that fills a ballet studio, the unspoken understanding that this time we have carved out of our day is for ballet and ballet alone. It is surprising that I enjoy this disciplined environment, considering what I was like growing up. I wore black nail polish, played the drums in angry bands, got my nose pierced and spent my Friday evenings in the boxing ring. Even now, nothing has really changed. Outside of my Thursday evening ballet company rehearsals, I spend most of my time stomping around in Doc Martens, listening to shouty bands and reclaiming the free weights at my gym from sweaty men. I like to question things, push boundaries, live outside of the lines already drawn for me. My personality doesn’t exactly sound like it would get along with ballet.

Or does it? Ballet is about pushing boundaries. It’s about defying your own limits and constantly questioning what your body can do. It’s living a life outside of society’s prescribed norms – ignoring the kids at school who tease you for being a weird bunhead, choosing a quiet night at home with a foam roller instead of a boozy night out. The very art form that taught me discipline and control was the same one that taught me how to rebel. It gave me the inner confidence to choose the path less trodden, to say no firmly, to be bold and unapologetic about the decisions I make and the opinions I voice. 

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2019. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, City Academy Ballet Company.

Bold. This is the word I associate most with ballet. Not floaty, frilly or pink. People usually picture tutus, soft hands and slow, dreamlike movements when they think of ballet. This is all part of it (yes, I have indeed danced in a pink tutu), but it doesn’t even begin to do ballet justice. I have never been particularly fond of this sweeping, adagio-focused choreography anyway. I’ve always preferred the more audacious kind: jumps, grand battement, strong arabesques and anything with a good dose of épaulement. I find this much easier than holding my leg up for hours on end while I try and sweep my arms around gracefully in an adagio style. Ballerinas might look like they’re floating around on stage, but I can assure you that they don’t feel like it. The slower the movement, the harder it is on your muscles. (I am still haunted by a centre exercise from my Grade 6 Cecchetti exam which involved The Slowest Grand Plié In The Universe, where we had to plié down for four counts and up for another four, then développé to second in eight counts to music that was about 45 BPM. My quadriceps have never stopped screaming). Ballet is about making very difficult things look very easy. You have to keep your face light, your upper body relaxed and open, while your legs are dying and your toes are bleeding. It is, after all, a performing art. You must do everything in your power to keep the grimaces off your face and the blood from seeping through your pointe shoes. Ballet is beauty and pain. Learning how to show one and conceal the other.

This is something else that has spilled over into my everyday life without me noticing. People tell me I’m hard to read, that I keep my cards close to my chest. I take it as a compliment. Can this sometimes be detrimental to my mental health? Yes, absolutely – as can many personality traits if at the extreme end of the scale. But this ability to maintain coolness and poise has helped me through a number of difficult situations. Tough work meetings, disrespectful comments, bad dates, awkward conversations. Whenever I am in need of a little strength and composure, I think of ballet. Roll the shoulders back and down, neck long, stomach pulled up, voice even. We are fine. We can do this. 

Ballet is at my core. It’s in everything I am and everything I do. Our relationship has never been perfect – there was a time when I thought my body was not small enough, not symmetrical enough for ballet. My heart wasn’t in it for a while, and I stopped trying. But I couldn’t let ballet go, and it wouldn’t let me go. There are frappés in my feet, arabesque lines in my arms, and petit allegro combinations in my head. I am always in the wings, ready to dance at any moment. I may not have been built for ballet, but I was, undoubtedly, built by it. 

7. On Being a Reluctant Londoner

There was once a version of me who loved the idea of London life. Sometimes, when I am weaving through the blurry Thursday night drinkers of Northcote Road, or diving onto a Victoria line tube to Brixton seconds before the doors close, I miss her. 

But it was only ever the idea of London that I loved – I don’t think I have ever loved the reality of it. I grew up in a small town an hour away from the capital, and I was always fascinated by it. London was where people went to start careers in exciting-sounding things like publishing and television. London people went to work in heels and had a whole wardrobe filled with coats that coordinated with different outfits. And I wanted to be a London person. London had the power to turn me into someone who I very much was not. Someone who drank gin at rooftop bars and went to indie gigs in Shoreditch. Someone who had house parties and actually enjoyed them. And for a while, I did become that person. I had an internship with Sony Music from 2016-2017, and while I didn’t actually live in London during that year, I may as well have for the amount of time I spent there. The days were long – I had to be up at 6am and I wasn’t getting home until 8pm on a good day. I was out most nights at a gig or some kind of industry event that involved a lot of free alcohol and not a lot of food. I was hopping on tubes at all hours of the day and night, running around London like it was a giant playground and I was a hyper child. I was the city girl I had always imagined being, and I hated every part of it. 

The city doesn’t change you. It might let you step into a louder persona for a while, but it can’t change the fabric of who you are. I know this now. I no longer try and trick myself into liking things I know I really hate, like pop-up bars and the Central line. I do live in London now – only because it became impossible for me to find a job anywhere else – but it hardly feels like I do. I live in Zone 4, clinging onto a London postcode by the skin of my teeth. (If I walked for ten minutes in one direction, I would be in Surrey). I can see the back garden of my brother’s old house from my bedroom window, and I’m only half an hour’s drive away from the town where I grew up. I work in a gated village in west London where the only place to go for lunch is a Tesco superstore. I am hardly living the high-flying, suit-wearing city life that many people imagine. 

It is strange to most of my Zone-1-and-2-dwelling work colleagues that I don’t live closer to central London. “But what is there in Zone 4?” they ask, heads tilted with genuine curiosity. “Nothing!” I reply, gleefully. It is true: there is absolutely nothing where I live. Well, there is a high street with a few restaurants, a Starbucks and a Waitrose (obviously, it’s south west London bordering Surrey). But nothing happens here. Nobody has any reason to come here unless they live here. We are not even on a tube line. (To most central Londoners I know, this essentially means we don’t exist). After a draining day of far too much talking with real-life humans, I feel a huge sense of relief when I step off the train into quiet Zone 4 and trot home past the library. The idea of battling my way home on the underground to a Zone 1 flat – no matter how “convenient” the location is – is one that makes my palms sweat and my heart race.

Living in the capital does come with its advantages. There are more job opportunities, especially for those at a junior level, and the wages are higher. Yes, the rent is expensive, but it’s often cheaper than paying thousands in commuter train fares, and it is possible to find affordable housing if you’re prepared to venture further out of the centre. I live in London solely because that’s where my job is, but I would be lying if I said there is nothing else I like about it. You can join a meetup for just about anything, go to all manner of lectures and exhibitions – there are activities for introverts if you have the time to find them. For someone like me who loves dance and fitness, it’s one of the best places to be. There are three gyms within walking distance of my house, and there are studios nearby offering classes in everything from boxing to pole-dancing. One of the highlights of my week is going to a two-hour ballet rehearsal as part of an amateur company, which isn’t something I’d be able to do if I lived in the countryside. 

But the thing that makes London enjoyable for so many is the same thing that makes it utterly overwhelming. There is stuff to do, all the time. And what, exactly, should you be doing? Is it acceptable to sit at home and read when everything is out there? I don’t feel like it is. I feel the pressure a little less now out in Zone 4 (I used to live closer to central London), but it’s still there. I feel overloaded and overstimulated a lot of the time. There is a force pressing on my body from every angle that makes it difficult to breathe, to think, to just be for a minute. It gets stronger the closer I get towards Zone 1. I only feel fully lift when I get on a cross-country train and drift away, until the grey becomes green and the people start to disappear.

This is another thing. London is so densely populated, but it can be a deeply lonely place. Making friends is hard, and keeping them is even harder. For such a well-connected city, people are surprisingly reticent to venture out of their habitual corners. It is not a place where people regularly “pop round” for tea. (Nobody “pops” anywhere in London. Have you ever tried to “pop” to Oxford Street?) Socialising tends to consist of going out with your friend’s friends and one of their cousins, riding the night tube home with them, having a cracking chat about life and then never seeing them again. It’s an odd thing which seems to only be acceptable in London, much like it’s acceptable to be squished into someone’s armpit on the tube and not even vaguely consider introducing yourself. Sometimes, I take my headphones off during rush hour journeys and I’m overcome by the weirdness of it: people pressed up against each other in a speeding underground box, making neither eye contact nor conversation. The only sound is the screeching of the tracks and other people’s music. It is strange how other humans be so physically close to you yet at the same time, so completely inaccessible. It is the worst kind of loneliness, and London is plagued by it.

Other cities aren’t the same. There is something about London specifically that is vacuous, impersonal, unfathomable. It is dangerously easy to lose yourself in. This is exactly why some people love it, but I find myself consciously resisting it, pushing back against the noise. It is hard to hold onto yourself in a city that is constantly pulling you in every direction. 

I don’t hate London. Maybe, on some level, I am quite fond of it, in the same sort of way that you actually quite like the creaking floorboard on your staircase. But there is just something about living in the capital that doesn’t sit right with me. I have made my home – for now – in the wonderfully uneventful Zone 4, but there isn’t a single part of me that feels like a true Londoner. I follow the unspoken public transport rules, I walk so fast I’m basically running and I have accepted that a round of drinks is expensive enough to make me cry – but none of this comes naturally to me. I fall in line, reluctantly, but I yearn for green, space and quiet. London is everything, everywhere, all the time. And I just want a little less.

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6. Navigating the Chaos: Friends, Work, Piles of Miscellaneous Crap and Not Having the Right Clothes

It is Sunday evening. I am sitting on my bed wearing my Mum’s old plaid pyjama bottoms, a Green Day t-shirt from 1994 and cat socks with pink glittery trim. I have my hair piled up on top of my head in a ballerina bun, the universal sign for ‘I am home and have life admin to do’. Next to me is a list written hastily on a green post-it note that says things like ‘Claim back money for contact lenses’, ‘Book airport transfer’, and, for a reason I cannot remember, ‘Cornflour’. At the foot of my bed there is a semi-neat pile of library books, Boots vouchers and NHS letters, because I haven’t yet worked out where to store them (and probably won’t ever). Beside this pile is my pop-up washing basket, leaning dangerously far over to one side because I have stuffed it full of gym kit, towels and spare bed sheets. 

This is life in my mid twenties. Everything is sort of fine. I am doing quite well. I am sailing along at a fairly steady pace, and sometimes, I actually remember to pluck my eyebrows and download the latest software updates. But there are tiny holes in my boat. I put things away in drawers but they keep spilling out again. I’m always busy but I never feel like I’ve achieved anything. I have a lot of conversations where I actually have no idea what I’m talking about. I never seem to have the right shoes for anything. Tiny holes. Just little ones. Not enough to make me sink, but enough to get my feet wet.

Is it just me wandering around in my soggy socks? I feel alone in it. Loneliness isn’t something anyone in their twenties ever really talks about, but it seeps in, from time to time. I don’t have a big group of friends, and I haven’t since primary school. I have a handful of close friends scattered around the place, but no group large enough to warrant booking a table in advance in London. For the most part, I’m content with my own company, and with having deeper connections with fewer people – but there’s a shamefulness to not having a group. It’s one of those little holes that I have to keep patching up and painting over. I feel I must have gone very wrong somewhere, because I seem to be the only 24-year-old who isn’t a part of any WhatsApp friend groups containing more than three other people. I’m happy with my small circle most of the time, but there are moments when I do feel like a bit of a failure. Especially living in a city where everyone else my age seems to be constantly gathering in big groups on Clapham Common, and organising Facebook events for 25th birthdays where 34 people are definitely going, 21 might go, and 9 have such busy social lives that they haven’t even seen the invitation yet. 

The close friends I do have are enormously important to me. Nobody explains this to you when you are little and running around the playground playing tag with your pals – but maintaining friends as an adult takes time and effort, like all other relationships. And I do my best. I try to remember to check in on people when we haven’t spoken in a few weeks. I message them when I see something that reminds me of them. I suggest meeting up often, and sometimes I worry that I’m annoying because I’m always asking for diary dates. It’s hard. Minor but actually extremely major things like geography, logistics, time and money get in the way. And then of course there’s the number one thing, the thing that seems to be swallowing more and more of everyone’s time as we move further into our twenties: work. 

Work is relentless, isn’t it? Five days a week, nine to five. (That is, if you are one of these lucky people who works a 35-hour week instead of the incredibly rude 37.5-hour week of most London jobs). After my first week of office work a few years ago, I had the same feeling that I did after my first day at school when I was four. Just when I thought it was all over, my parents broke the horrifying news to me that school was actually going to be a daily event for five days each week for the rest of my childhood. Essentially forever, in a four-year-old’s brain. Apart from the holidays, of course. As an adult you don’t get any free holidays. Nobody warns you about that. Not even Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve. (The audacity!)

That said, after years of getting rejected, I’m happy that I finally managed to secure a job that I actually really enjoy. I get paid to write all day and I have absolutely nothing to do with data analysis or finance, which is excellent. But I still have this constant fear that someone’s going to find out I’m just a clueless weasel masquerading as a well-assembled adult. I hear words coming out of my mouth in meetings and struggle to keep up with what I’m saying. People nod along with me and keep sending me more work to do, which must be a good sign. But can anyone tell that it’s chaos inside my head? Does anybody know that I inhaled three bowls of cornflakes last night while I was waiting for my dinner to cook and then dropped my tray of aubergines on the floor? Can anyone see that I have a hole in the back of my tights? Do I actually look like I know what I’m doing? 

I don’t think I do. At least, I certainly never feel it. I have a lot of clothes – far too many, probably, but I never feel properly put together. I certainly never feel like the kind of woman who can pick up the phone and say “Speaking!” when someone asks for her. I always end up looking like too much or not enough. I’m drawn to deep colours and different textures, and I seem to have a penchant for outfits that involve lots of tucking in and hoisting up and smoothing down. When you add to that my love for bold lipsticks and oddly-shaped earrings, everything feels too fussy, like an overloaded pavlova. I’m always envious of the chic women who glide onto the tube in the morning wearing shift-dresses and just a little mascara, but whenever I wear something simple, I feel like a tomato bobbing around in a fruit salad.

My outfit indecisions mean that I am horrible at packing. I swear I never used to be this bad at it, but recently I’ve been almost incapable of packing a weekend bag. Every time I pack, I somehow always end up slumped in a heap on top of my clothes, surrounded by hairbrushes and various charging wires, with nothing inside the actual bag. When I eventually get everything in the bag, it obviously never fits. This is usually because I have packed two woolly jumpers, six pairs of socks, and ten pairs of pants, because I’m always cold and you can never have enough spare pants. This overstuffed bag then opens up a whole new world of problems, because I realise that I can’t carry it halfway across London on the tube, and that arriving with something so unwieldy absolutely won’t make me look like a carefree and easygoing gal who can throw a few things in a holdall with absolutely no worries because I do, in fact, have a large amount of worries, and on top of this, if there is no space in the bag then there will be no room for my snacks. (A very big problem). Of course, the logical solution to this is to tip everything out of the bag and back onto my bedroom floor, go downstairs and have a large mug of tea (wine) and a (several) biscuit(s), then lie down in the packing mess I’ve created, eventually pack at 1.30 in the morning, turn up to my destination and wear the same pair of black jeans for the whole weekend.

Perhaps I will learn to pack when I turn into a proper adult. I am not sure when this will be – although there are signs of this happening. Last week I descaled my kettle with lemon juice which I specifically bought for this exact purpose, and went out of my way to go via Wilko on my commute home one evening to buy a loose-bottomed (don’t start) cake tin. I also recently bought 100% white cotton socks from M&S and got a custom-made Roman blind delivered to my office. If this doesn’t say adulthood, then frankly I don’t know what does. (The blind then sat in my room for six weeks because I couldn’t reach high enough to install it myself, and I almost knocked someone out with it when I had to carry it home on the tube in rush hour, but this is entirely besides the point). 

I am hoping that I might eventually stop feeling like I’m scooping water out of a sinking boat, but the older I get the more buckets I seem to need. Constantly pretending that you are a competent adult and not, in fact, a bumbling mess who keeps their 85% dark chocolate in the drawer next to the mini screwdriver set they got from a Christmas cracker in 2012 is a full-time job. I have figured out a range of quite useful and completely useless things by this point, but there is an awful lot of blagging, fudge-stepping and Googling going on. (Most recent search item: what is a credit rating and how do I get one). 

Navigating the chaos is hard. Things keep getting more and more complicated. Every day there seems to be a new pile of miscellaneous crap to sort out. My brain feels increasingly like a hash brown at the end of every week. And I don’t think it gets any easier. I think we just get better at making it look like everything is plain-sailing. 

 

5. 24 Things I Have Learned At 24

On the eve of my 24th birthday, I sat cross-legged on a kitchen chair wearing Hello Kitty pyjama bottoms, a Download Festival 2014 t-shirt and Christmas socks with holes in the heels. As I polished off my smashed avo on toast (I’m a millennial and an adult, it is perfectly acceptable to have smashed avo for dinner. Also there was nothing else in my fridge apart from wine), I realised that although there are still a lot of things I don’t know yet – how to fold a fitted bed sheet, what to do with yourself when people sing happy birthday to you in the office, when it’s time to buy new socks – I have by now learned at least some important lessons.

And so I present to you: 24 pieces of wisdom straight from my rosé tinted brain.

  1. Your Mum was right, you really do need that extra jumper.
  2. Sieve the cocoa powder. Thank me later.
  3. Talk to your friends. And I mean real talking, not just sending cat memes back and forth. Just because someone posted a photo of a beautiful sunset on Instagram, it doesn’t mean that they didn’t spend the other 23 hours and 59 minutes of their day feeling like shit.
  4. You do not need to buy another black top.
  5. Heat the oil up in the baking dish in the oven before you put the potatoes in. Et voilà, crispy roasties that haven’t stuck to the bottom and turned into chewy crisps.
  6. Do not sit around for hours in wet bikini bottoms. Just don’t do it. 
  7. Oat milk is the best non-dairy milk for coffee. Be cautious with almond and soya – they curdle.
  8. If you need to send a risky text, throwing your phone halfway across the room after pressing send and not looking at it for at least two and a half hours really helps.
  9. Put your basil plant on a saucer and pour the water onto the saucer, so the basil can slurp up as much or as little water as he likes. If you pour the water directly into the soil, you’ll drown him.
  10. Write down exactly what you want to say to the doctor before you go in, to avoid sitting down in the chair when you get there and saying, “Oh yes I’m fine, how are you?” Also, keep track of your periods because there is at least a 92.7% chance that the doctor will try to relate your twisted ankle to your uterus.
  11. You do not exist solely to perform emotional labour for men. There is a big difference between being supportive and being used. It is not your job to raise a man.
  12. The numbers on the side of the toaster do not equate to the level of toast intensity, but rather, the number of minutes that the bread remains inside the toaster for. (WHAT).
  13. Never stay in a situation out of convenience. Contracts can be broken, flights can be cancelled, phone numbers can be deleted.
  14. Pilates. You need to do pilates.
  15. Be honest about how you feel, even if you can’t work out why you feel it.
  16. When you meet someone for the first time, say “It’s nice to meet you, [NAME]”. Using their name makes them feel like you’re actually paying attention, and apparently it’s also more likely that you’ll remember their name if you say it aloud. (You will not remember their name because you have a sieve brain, but it is important to look like you are trying).
  17. Stop faffing about and ask him out on a date. (Step two: see number 8).
  18. Nobody is staring at you in the gym. But maybe do your hip thrusts facing a wall. And for the love of God do not make eye contact with anyone.
  19. You are not one of those people who can function on less than 7 hours of sleep. Coffee will not help you. Please go to bed before 11pm. Please.
  20. Your hamstrings are really tight. Stretch them some time.
  21. The remedy for a bad day is as follows:
    • Do a sweaty workout
    • Have a hot shower
    • Put on clean fluffy socks
    • Watch some early episodes of Gilmore Girls  (the ones where Rory starts to fall for Jess because Jess and Rory are endgame and I will argue this point to the death)
    • Pasta.
  22. Stop apologising for not wearing make-up. If someone is offended by your bare face, that is their problem, not yours.
  23. You are not less of a person because you are quiet.
  24. It is very important that you keep a bar of 85% dark chocolate in the house at all times.