There's a phrase 'be careful what you wish for' and in the last two weeks I have come to understand the true meaning of this little pearl of wisdom.
You see, my normal morning goes a little like this:
6:00am: alarm goes off and dog-walk clothes go on.
6:10 - 6:45am: unimpressed terrier gets dragged out for a walk while I dawdle behind dreaming of working from home (this dream involves long baths taken at mid-morning and delicious aromas of freshly brewed coffee drifting into my study as I type my best-selling novel).
6:55 - 7:55am: desperate attempt to find work pass, pack bag, locate the car keys I have lost from the night before (they are always at the bottom of the bag I've just packed), shower, re-pack bag without the car keys this time, dry hair, wear something smart (doesn't always go the way I'd planned) and generally try to make myself look human so I don't scare my colleagues on arrival at the office.
8:00 - 9:30ish: drive to work convinced for the entire journey that I've forgotten something massively important, while using every expletive I know to describe the road works and traffic that are holding me up.
But then it snowed here in Scotland.
It snowed so heavily that I could barely find my car, let alone drive it to the office. Trains and buses ground to a halt and for the last two weeks, my dream of working from home came true. Well, nearly...
6:00am: alarm goes off and Blackberry, mobile and computer go on.
6:03am - 7:30am: throw back cup of coffee, call work for update, throw Kevin out the door for a dawdle with the unimpressed terrier, wonder why I can't focus on my computer screen properly, panic that I've missed something important in my morning update, panic that I still can't see the computer screen properly, realise I've forgotten to put on my glasses, put on my glasses, bombard my colleagues with emails in between checking my Blackberry/mobile/inbox in case I've missed something that must be dealt with as a matter of urgency.
7:30am - 7:33am: have quickest shower ever while ensuring there's enough of a gap in the shower curtain so that I can still see and hear my Blackberry/mobile should a message come through that must be dealt with as a matter of urgency, worry about what might have pinged into my inbox in the last three minutes.
7:33am - midnight: check Blackberry/mobile/inbox, update my work, catch sight of self in mirror with scary unblow-dried hair, recoil, check Blackberry/ mobile/ inbox, update my work, worry I've missed something that must be dealt with as a matter of urgency, bombard my colleagues with emails in case they know something I don't, check my Blackberry/ mobile/ inbox, eat pack of Hula Hoops, check Blackberry/mobile/inbox, update work, worry I've missed something earth-shatteringly important, make coffee while continuing to check Blackberry/mobile and panicking that something which must be dealt with as a matter of urgency has pinged into my inbox during the 30 seconds I've spent in the kitchen making coffee, and so it goes on until...
12:20am - fall into bed clutching Blackberry/mobile, Kevin tries unsuccessfully to prise them from my grasp, worry about what might have pinged into my inbox since I last checked it three minutes ago, wonder what happened to that long bath and best-selling novel I had once dreamt of.
If it weren't for the fact that I know it's thawing because the water from the - previously frozen and now burst - mains pipe is cascading through our building, I'd be using my teeth to dig a channel from here to the office so I never have to do this again.
Why? Because apart from the reality of the situation completely failing to live up to my dream and the fact that I think I'll need more than a few glasses of champagne and a massage to get over the stress-ridden 24 carat World of Angst that working from home creates - I'm really missing my workmates.
I have to apologise for the lack of any update over the last few weeks - basically it's because I've been mourning my beloved Mac.
For months it had been crashing, stalling, refusing to start up and generally displaying worrying signs that all was not well in its little world.
Admittedly, it was so old in computer years that I was expecting a telegram to arrive any day from the Queen and Steve Jobs, but after one final - and rather monumental - hissy last weekend, it shut itself down and has remained sulking ever since. No amount of button pressing, cajoling, or re-installing will raise it from its cyber slumber.
There was nothing for it but to weigh up the cost implications or repair against renew. The latter won and I'm typing this on my teeny, tiny, new net book.
I hate to admit this while my Mac sits in the study - its keyboard still warm from my touch - but I love this dinky, little delight that responds to my every need and fits happily in my handbag.
The only downside? I had to buy it on my credit card. I know, don't say it...
It seems my stint on Radio 4 didn't have too many listeners screaming and running for the hills, so I was invited the following week to talk all things debt and shopping for BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio York and Radio 5 Live.
While we all know that I love the airwaves - I must do, I had to get up at 6am to do one of the interviews - I really do hope that anyone in debt or with a shopping addiction gets something from these interviews; something that might just help them come to terms with what seems like an impossible situation.
If I'm perfectly honest, doing the interviews even helped me. For a couple of weeks I've been strolling past the window of a particularly lovely shop during my lunch hour - and there, waving to me from behind the safety of the glass, is a delicious grape, quilted Barbour.
Just before I did the interviews, I had convinced myself that I could afford it and definitely needed it, but after lecturing to all who would listen about shopping only with cash, buying nothing but necessities, leaving your credit card at home (preferably sulking in a drawer because it hasn't been used in ages), I realised that I had to practise what I preached.
So, the delicious Barbour remains in the window, my credit card remains sulking in the drawer and I can sleep with a clear conscience.
I've always thought the programmers at BBC Radio 4 had incredibly good taste - which was why I was rather surprised to receive a call from them, asking me to take part in Woman's Hour on Friday.
The subject was women facing bankruptcy and I was on with Gill Hankie MBE (Director of the Bankruptcy Advisory Service) to discuss the implications of insolvency and how it's sometimes being portrayed as a 'Get Out Of Jail Free' card by certain publications.
A very serious subject, but I had a super time and feel more than a little honoured to have shared the airwaves with Jenni Murray and Gill.
My only horror moment was on arrival at the studio; realising that I really was the only one there and had to operate the whole set up myself. Having worked in radio, it wasn't too daunting a prospect, until I read the instruction sheet I'd been left.
Number one instruction was: Switch on the 'cooker switch' before entering the studio.
We all know how I am with cooking! I crossed my fingers, flicked the switch, went into the studio and waited for the inevitable smell of burning - which usually accompanies that action - to start... ** You can hear the podcast by clicking the BBC Radio 4 link in the first paragraph
When it’s raining in Scotland and you haven’t booked anywhere to jet off to on your holidays, your dog is depressed from being permanently damp and you’ve forgotten what your knees look like because it’s been so long since you’ve worn shorts, there is only one thing to do...
Gather up the damp dog, the unworn shorts and anything else that vaguely reminds you of summer, dump the whole lot in the car and head down the M1.
Well, that’s what we did the other week and on arrival in Hertfordshire (after nine hours and one visit from the AA man) we were rewarded with blissful sunshine and temperatures that seemed almost tropical to us.
There’s no doubt that a holiday and clear, blue skies are good for the soul and it’s spurred us on to think about the future. So much, in fact, that we’ve even been writing out our five year plans.
My new job - which I'm loving - has been keeping me fairly busy over the last couple of weeks, hence the lack of blogging.
The main focus of my busy-ness has been an overwhelming obsession with my commute and how to precisely time my entry onto the motorway roadworks (scattered with signs proudly announcing their completion in 2011), so I can soar through with a maximum of speed and a minimum of swearing.
So far, there has been very little in the way of speed and a marked increase in words that I would never say in front of my mother.
But when I took the job, I knew the commute was going to be bad.
What I hadn't banked on was today's budget announcement, which startled me so much I almost swallowed my own tongue! I am one of those unfortunate souls who not only works in the public sector, but also happens to buy things and with VAT hitting 20%, that hurts!
By a fabulous stroke of luck though, one of my colleagues lives nearby and as of today we've decided to thumb our noses at the budget, and cut our costs by entering the realm of the car sharing commuter.
People always seem to think that making food from scratch, as opposed to buying in pre-prepared meals, will save you money.
This is a lie. Don’t listen to them.
Having heard this little pearl of wisdom more times than I care to mention - and clearly having delusions of actually being able to make something edible - I bought two Nigel Slater cook books.
I realised as I was putting them in the book shelf (having glanced at them once and doubting I will ever glance at them again) that we have a whole shelf of cook books!
How weird is that for a couple who can burn a boiled egg? We even have one tome signed by Nick Nairn. Although I have to admit Kevin has used that one. He made a prawn cocktail from it. Once.
Anyway, having witnessed the Delicious Miss Dahl turning out the perfect tomato soup with nothing more than a roasting tin, a hand blender and a cleavage revealing cardigan, I decided that I should have a go.
The resulting four bowls - delicious as they were - cost just over £12 for all the ingredients, took over an hour to make and splattered so much when I waded in with the hand blender that the kitchen looked like a scene from a horror film.
A tin of Heinz is less than a pound. It requires no greater skills than the ability to operate a can opener.
I had my leaving drinkies from work on Thursday night and wanted to use this to say a great, big 'THANK YOU' to everyone that came along and witnessed how tipsy I can get on just two glasses of something sparkly.
Despite coming very close to being (and I have to use a charming Glasgow phrase here) all tears and snotters earlier in the afternoon, I had a brilliant night and my mascara was remarkably run free.
Admittedly, it didn't look so great in the morning when I realised my eyelids were welded shut and there was a good reason why Kevin had told me to take my make-up off before I went to bed.
It could have been worse, I suppose...
Like that time I woke up in bed after a student night out and thought I'd been paralysed, only to pull back the covers and find that I'd fallen into bed fully clothed and wearing an incredibly heavy pair of roller skates - not just your average 'buckle on over your trainers' type but the full, white leather, lace up jobs.
The morning after the night before...
A good example of why I'm better just stopping after the second glass.
I said way back in March that I had a feeling of good things to come for the year ahead, and I don't think I'm going to be wrong.
I've been absolutely desperate to tell this, but had to wait until I got the official word...
Kevin and I have been talking for years about how lovely it would be to live in Stirlingshire and after everything that has happened to us in the last eighteen months, we decided it was time to stop talking and start taking action.
So, when the equivalent of my current job came up in the Central Belt, it was too good an opportunity to waste. The interview was on (mad) Mother's birthday, so we felt that had to be a lucky day and it was!
I start on the 1st June and I'm so excited.
I'm planning to commute for a while and then we'll start looking at moving through. It doesn't just feel like a new job, it feels like a whole fresh start and I can't wait to kick off the next phase of my life - dragging Kevin and Hobbs with me, of course.
Just days into my latest cessation of shopping and I’ve slipped up!
Not only am I furious with myself for being so weak willed, but I’ve also been taught a lesson by the ‘Serves-you-right’ Sales Fairy.
Months ago I had openly drooled over a pair of Mulberry shoes, so when a trip to M & S for a quick sarnie unearthed a pair so incredibly similar that the drool reaction kicked in again, I just had to take them to the till.
£45 down and laden with guilt, I went home to confess to Kevin, who did his 'disappointed' face.
It was only a couple of days ago that my punishment became apparent…
Back in M & S - and on the search for another sandwich - I spot the same shoes reduced to £19!! Worse than that, I can’t return the shoes without the refund staff taking them from me and there were no other size 5s on the shelf.
So, much as I love them, I’m stuck with shoes that I’ve paid £26 too much for. Grrrrr!!
April's a month of new life and fresh starts, so what better way to make a change than with the help of another April - April Lane Benson.
She's recently launched her "Stop the Shopping Insanity' programme and I've copied the details and links below for those of us who need a little assistance and encouragement away from the shops.
Trust me, it's a lot less embarrassing than having your mother follow you around shouting "Put that back on the shelf immediately!"
Stop the Shopping Insanity Program Now Available
New program provides overspenders with tips, companionship, and hope
NEW YORK, NY., March 24, 2010 – April Lane Benson, Ph.D., an expert in helping people with addictive spending issues, has released an audio program that helps people who are struggling to get their overspending habits under control.
The program, Stop the Shopping Insanity, consists of three 1-hour interviews with women who had serious issues with overspending, conquered those issues, and went on to write a book about their recovery journey. The three, Alexis Hall, Avis Cardella, and Neradine Tisaj, all share openly the fear, humiliation, and struggle they endured when their spending was out of control.
Dr. Benson, author of To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop and editor of I Shop, Therefore I Am: Compulsive Buying and the Search for Self, has now given us, in convenient, audio format, an up-front and personal series where real people reveal their intimate journeys—from facing the horror of enormous debt, threatened relationships, and harassment by creditors to a path of self-discovery, true fulfillment, and the relief of low-balance living.
“These conversations,” says Benson, “can be healing companions for those who are ready to face their own compulsive spending issues. In listening to these generous women share their stories of recovery, overspenders will acquire practical strategies from people who actually used them successfully. They’ll realize that they’re not alone, and that there’s solid reason for hope.”
Three years - a prison sentence or a shopping spree?
The Daily Mail ran a feature today (with a little contribution from myself) on how many years the average woman spends shopping and it came in at roughly two years and ten months.
I dread to think what my total would have been if I hadn’t reined in my retail therapy when I did.
The article and talking to its writer has given me the kick start I needed to embark on a few months of minimalism again. I’ve noticed recently that little items and unnecessary indulgences are slipping back into my basket.
I know the warning signs now - the panic buy; the ‘essential item’ that will transform my wardrobe and the subsequent, desperate hunt to find it; spending £40 in Boots and then realising that all I’ve bought are sets of false eyelashes that I will NEVER wear.
So, I’m going back to basics for a while.
I’ve also been very neglectful of my blog lately.
The excitement of Spring, and all the good things I was hoping it would bring, have given me rather a lot to think about and do.
As well as another round of stopping shopping, I’ve made a few more decisions - with the help of Kevin & Hobbs - that I hope will work out towards changing all of our lives for the better and I can't wait to share them.
Nothing that my family does can really be considered ‘normal’, which is why I’ve only recently swapped Christmas presents with Mother.
Here’s what I got:
A DeLonghi coffee maker that produces the tastiest, freshest morning wake up I could hope for and I get the added pleasure of pretending to be a barista while I froth the milk to perfection.
A Marmot jacket with a faux fur hood that just begs to be nuzzled into on the chilly mornings that we don’t seem to be able to shake off, even though the Spring buds are doing their best to break through.
What seemed like rather an uninteresting Icebreaker black merino top to add extra warmth to the Marmot jacket. It wasn’t until I looked at the label, that I fell completely in love with it.
You see, it has a Baacode on the label, which allows me to go online and meet the fleecy friend who sacrificed a bit of coat to keep me warm.
I’ve decided that decorating is rather like plastic surgery...
You get one thing done to perfection and it just shows up the flaws in something else.
So, while I’m thrilled to bits with the new carpets, they’re just highlighting all sorts of other interior issues which I fear could spark a shopping frenzy.
We’ve already had to buy a new vacuum (marvellous Miele) to cope with the blonde dog / dark carpet dilemma and yesterday’s delivery of the latest White Company catalogue has done nothing to calm my inner Martha Stewart.
I’m suddenly seeing the appeal of living in a cave.
I wonder if the taupe cushions would go best with the stone walls...
Between my poorly partner having another set back in his recovery and my foolish decision to have the entire flat carpeted in one day (where the hell will all the furniture go?), it’s been all slog and no blog.
I’ve spent the last fourteen days desperately trying to clear out as much clutter as possible before the fitters arrive tomorrow and despite numerous trips to the bin shed / charity shop / council tip, there appears to be more stuff than ever before.
If nothing else, it has – yet again – flagged up just how much we own versus how much we need.
Having so many possessions is exhausting! It’s stressful and a horrible reminder of all the things you’ve bought, never used and then stuffed in a box, only to uncover them a couple of times a year so you can feel guilty about them all over again.
Perhaps this is the starting point of turning my dream of clutter free, minimalist living into a reality.
Usually when I read surveys, I skim over them with a disinterested air and an urge to get onto some more constructive reading – such as what shoulder pad size we should all be sporting this season.
So I was knocked sideways when I saw a survey that thrilled me so much, I read it twice!
The basis of this revelatory read was that shopping can make your slim- oh yes! Apparently, during the course of a year, the average woman takes a trot round the shops over 130 times and that can result in 48,000 calories being burnt off over the twelve months.
Clearly if that's based on an 'average woman', then a shopaholic is going to be shedding a lot more pounds and ounces in her quest for the perfect purchase!
Yes, I know, there is a flaw.
For people like me who really shouldn’t be shopping, this is simply a case of shedding more pounds from my wallet than my waist.
But I have a solution…
If the shopping alone burns all those calories, just think how many more you’ll burn when you return all those goodies for a refund.
Much as I love them both, when it comes to food, I’m fed up mooching around M & S and I’m bored with Boots. And that can only mean one thing...
It’s time to start packing my own lunch!
Okay, so this isn’t the first time I’ve launched myself into lunch brought from home and on every previous occasion I’ve lasted about a week before I’m sick of the sight of soggy cheese sandwiches and a bashed apple.
Not this time - oh no!!
To keep me keen (and lean) I’ve invested in the cutest lunchboxes ever. They arrived yesterday and bring a smile to my face with the thought of all the dinky delights I’m going to pack into them.
They come from a brilliant company called Pinks and Green, and range from teeny yoghurt pot size up to fairly chunky sandwich size. You even get a boy and girl version - although I opted for the boy version as it has a dog on one of them (wouldn’t like to upset Hobbs with a cat).
Too cool for school!
You’ll have noticed by now that they are clearly designed with kids in mind, but why should they get all the fun when it comes to food?
Now what shall I pack in them first? Crudities with dip in the middle sized one? Some chopped fruit and yoghurt in the smaller one? Chicken and salad in the big one? Definitely some chocolate raisins in that teeny little one!
Good old Posh - just as you think you’re starting to warm to her slightly, she does something else that has you wanting to bash her over the head with her own Hermes handbag.
She has just announced that she is a shopaholic and that it’s like a drug to her. A drug that she happily told us got her high enough to spend a cool one million dollars in just one day.
Shopaholic needing our sympathy or just plain smug?
Being a recovering shopaholic myself, part of me can see where she's coming from, but instead of her using the media to get a serious message across, it feels as though she's just rubbing salt into our poor, raw, recession inflicted wounds.
You can see why I was struggling to be sympathetic towards the plight of poor Mrs Beckham and her million dollar trolley dash, when I was given the opportunity to talk about all things shopping and debt related on the Stephen Nolan Show on Radio 5 Live last night.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, the rest of us Brits are stuck in the grip of another week of Arctic weather - and part of me is secretly pleased.
The reason being that it takes about ten minutes to get on enough layers just to walk the dog, so the mere thought of trailing into town and removing even one of those layers in a chilly changing room is enough to put me off the January sales forever.
So far, the only item I’ve forked out on is a pair of blissfully warm Marmot gloves to see me through the snowy season.
New Year equals New Resolutions, written in my best handwriting with my poshest pen in a new journal bought specifically for the purpose.
Once done, I’ll blow the ink dry, close the cover and either instantly forget about them or beat myself up for a few weeks at my inadequacy to stick to them.
This year, there is no new journal and my poshest pen has only been taken from its box to write the most mundane of shopping lists. That sums up the only resolutions I have committed to this year:
1. To stop putting pressure on myself with endless lists of tasks and things I believe I should be doing, but know I will never get round to (hence the lack of a new journal to remove the temptation to start a new list in the first place).
2. Take all those things that I consider too expensive / rare / irreplaceable and use them for the purpose they were actually intended and not merely as decorative pieces (hence the reason that poshest pen has been dragged from its satin lined tomb and will be enjoyed at every opportunity).
And apart from my yearly promise to be nicer to everyone and less of a stroppy moo (never manage to stick to that one!), that is it.
Now, you’ll have to excuse me.
I’m going to look out my white fur (faux!) snow boots that have never seen a snow flake in their life. They’ll be just the thing to wear while I’m sledging on the chess board we commissioned about a decade ago but have never got round to finding pieces that matched it.