I quit sugar for two months and this is how it went down

Until recently, I ate too much sugar. You’d never know it from my Instagram feed, which is full of arty shots of homemade brunches and healthy salads, but I was a slave to the sucrose monster.

Back in the days of wheat, mine was a 99

Sure, I don’t eat biscuits and cake because wheat makes my stomach a little crabby. But what I missed out on in baked goods, I more than made up for in desserts, ice cream and chocolate. If there was an excuse to eat salted caramel, I was there.

I blame my parents, cause well, why not. Growing up there was always pudding. It was the 90s, when the frozen dessert reigned supreme and there could be a cheesecake or pavlova defrosting on the side with no mixing, beating or baking required. My mum ate black forest gateau for breakfast when she was expecting me, so was it any wonder I came out with a sweet tooth to rival Violet Beauregarde’s?

Toblerone: Not just for airports

Unsurprisingly, I was a tubby child. I tried to scale back the sugar consumption in high school, because no-one wants to be the fat kid, but I had a full-blown addiction to Polos which were the cause of my first filling. By the time I went to university, it was a junk food free-for-all. I would think nothing of drinking sugary cocktails most nights then treating my hangover with crisps and chocolate the next day.

But I’m in my 30s now and therefore ~wiser~. I realise this is no way to treat my liver and pancreas. Over the past couple of years, I’ve tried to give up sugar cold turkey with minimal success – because I know that unless I have a motivation beyond ‘because it’s healthy’, making a commitment to a sugar-free life was never going to be something I achieved solo.

A Twister used to mean summer had arrived

And so, I parted with money. Because what greater incentive to succeed than knowing you’ve spent cold hard cash? In June, I signed up to Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar (IQS) programme which promised to help me find “food freedom” through its structured daily recipes and helpful advice. This is how it went down.

Week One – 13 June

Week one promised to “gently reduce” sugar intake so you were still allowed fruit, sugars and sweeteners in moderation. So far, so easy. What wasn’t so easy was finding time to bust through the suggested prep for the week ahead – an integral part of the eight week IQS plan which earmarks Sunday not as a day of rest, but as one to get very friendly with Tupperware and the washing up bowl.

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The much lauded paleo bread with avocado and feta

For someone who already has a lot of the required store cupboard “essentials” (coconut oil, apple cider vinegar, buckwheat, the like), even I struggled with the first recipe – a paleo courgette bread which was inevitably well worth the effort, but had me running around several supermarkets trying to source arrowroot powder (Sainsbury’s, btw).

The IQS portion sizes were usually huge

Made from eggs, Parmesan, the aforementioned arrowroot, courgette and carrot, once sliced up and in the freezer this gluten-free loaf saved my bacon on more than one occasion. As per the recipe, I ate it topped with avocado and feta many, many times.

Never again shall I buy shop-bought satay

Other notable meals included a chicken peanut satay which involved making the sauce from scratch. Served with rice noodles and lashings of coriander and seasame seeds, it was better than any takeaway Chinese I’ve ever had and got me thinking about how the shop-bought stuff is probably laden with nasties. Gross.

Though I had picked the “summer” programme, there were some recipes in week one that seemed slightly off-season. A roast sausage number was really enjoyable and introduced me to fresh fennel, but it had the feeling of being rather autumnal and so I filed it away for winter use.

Adventures in fennel

Perhaps it was a result of lowering my sugar intake, but I came down with a cold halfway through the week and would have killed for fruit and juice, but I resisted the urge after seeking advice on the forums – an element of the plan the IQS team encourages you participate in. I was told as long as I stuck to the plan, I would get all my vitamins from the vegetables, which were in abundance at almost every meal.

Week Two – 20 June

This was the start of the four-week detox: no sugar, fruit or sweetener of any kind.

Though it’s called I Quit Sugar, what they’re actually referring to is fructose.   Sucrose (table sugar) is roughly made up of half glucose and half fructose. The former is used up by our bodies for energy, the latter, not so much. You can read more about their stance on it here, but in a nutshell, they say it’s bad for you because it’s addictive, has no “off switch” in our brains, gets converted straight to fat and can lead to certain illnesses.

Fruit: An IQS no-no

I could – and still can – get on board with some of the science. One of the examples they use is how you can neck a bottle of Tropicana but you can’t eat the equivalent number of oranges it would take to get all that juice. Reason being there’s no fibre in the liquid stuff to slow down the absorption in your liver, which therefore gets overloaded and farms out the excess to fat stores around your body. Scary.

So, with the theory explained, it was a fond farewell to my 3pm Diet Coke, sugar free squash and “natural” sugars like honey – because as we’ve learned, regardless of what form your sugar hit comes in, the liver reacts the same – or worse.

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It was a tad dry…

I missed drinks that weren’t tea or water but did learn to enjoy coffee without sugar. I was weirdly aware of the general taste in my mouth having realised chewing gum was also a no-no, so I had to settle for breath spray when brushing my teeth wasn’t an option. Have you ever tried to find breath spray in Boots? It’s by the dental floss, next to the portal for the 1980s.

I thought now there were no options for snacking I’d feel hungry between meals, but the recipes are (supposedly) engineered to fill you up and I was surprised to find I didn’t feel hungry at all, in thanks, I assume, to the uptake in protein and good fats.

By the time I finished taking pictures it was cold

I had been told to expect crippling headaches, fatigue and all manner of nastiness in week two as my body cried out for a hit, but didn’t experience any. The only craving I really had was on EU referendum day when everyone around me was mainlining biscuits and chocolate eclairs to quell their misery.

The week’s recipes included a halloumi “bowl” of almonds, quinoa and broccoli, which was nice but a bit of dry. A salmon traybake with coleslaw veg and sweet potato wedges was a real winner and the Turkey San Choy Bow in lettuce cups was both visually pleasing as well as tasty.

A pork meatball dish – while a faff – made me finally appreciate courgetti, the trick being to cook it in a dash of apple cider vinegar and garlic and top the lot with a crap-load of Parmesan. Definitely a recipe I’ll be revisiting.

Week Three – 27 June 

If one thing was becoming clear about the programme it was that you need to be the mother of all organisers.

I work four ten hours shifts which can start as early as 6am or as late as 10.30pm. The upside to this chaos is I get an extra day off in the week and a few random hours around everyone else’s normal working day, meaning I can squeeze in food shopping and cooking quite easily if I manage my time right.

The sweet potato muffins were, um, fibrous

But I don’t exaggerate when I say I genuinely don’t know how anyone working a regular 9-5 manages to complete this programme, especially if they’ve got kids. My day off was almost always spent cooking, freezing and cling-filming in prep for dragging my meals halfway to London. 

This week was no different. There were muffins to make (they sounded more exciting than they tasted), sauces to prepare and fritters to throw together. The recipes themselves were simple but not particularly visually appealing, hence the lack of pictures. Despite their unappetising appearances however, they were filling and I was still really surprised to find I didn’t miss the afternoon sugar binge.

The only real hissy fit I threw about the restrictiveness of the whole experiment was on a really hot Sunday afternoon when I would have happily shoved my boyfriend into the road for a bite of the cold, juicy peach he was eating. I still can’t believe I was that upset about not being able to eat a piece of fruit.

Week Four – 4 July

The beginning of week four coincided with my best friend’s 30th, in which I managed to say no to celebratory fizzy booze, peanut butter birthday cake and baked beans with my hangover breakfast. I did feel slightly miserable about this but consoled myself with the fact then when the programme was over, I’d be able to control myself and eat these things when that special occasion arises. And that, I reckon, is progress.

Curried mince: A grower in the taste department

Week four’s meals were a turning point in my patience for the programme – vastly unappealing and not worth the money I paid. Sorry, but nothing on this earth would make me eat curried mince for breakfast and I didn’t even bother to make a recipe parading as a chicken Caesar salad because it involved an oven which went against every fibre of my being.

Basic burrito recipes didn’t warrant the money

The chicken burrito bowl was nice but very simple and hardly a stretch in the culinary department given it was 80% raw chopped vegetables. But, I have to give credit where it’s due: a mid-week kedgeree was definitely a highlight – so much so that I’m still thinking about it a month later. I swapped super fishy mackerel for tuna but I doubt it made much difference.

But then I ate this kedgeree and all was forgiven

Emotionally, I was noticing that I was replacing the chocolate I normally reserved as a reward or commiseration for something else -namely wine – which meant I was probably not really severing the tie of reaching for a pick-me-up out of habit. One particularly low day at work had me treating myself to new makeup in a bid to cheer myself up, which was a damn sight more expensive than a bag of Minstrels.

Week Five – 11 July 

I started to drift from the rigidity of the plan at this point due to time constraints. I was away in London at the weekend which made it impossible to stick to the prescribed meals and I was not going to cook up a bunch of meals and take them away in plastic boxes, because that would be insane.

KFC it wasn’t

So I embraced the beer of the festival (even though all I wanted was a cold G&T) and I behaved myself at the hotel breakfast the next morning, where – even with a fairly horrendous hangover – I managed to say no to the orange juice and muffins my body was screaming out for. I did eat three squares of melon however, on the basis that it might curb the shaking and because I knew I would be allowed to reintroduce fruit the next day. If that was cheating, I don’t care. I would not have made it home without raising my blood sugar.

Of the things I did manage to cook up, the pulled pork was genuinely incredible and the accompanying cauliflower cream was so rich and tasty even my dad, who hates all veg, ate it and said it was “quite nice”.

Getting creative with leftover pulled pork

The abject failure of the week was the pesto zucchini bread which was entirely my fault as I obviously failed to squeeze out enough moisture from the courgettes. I ended up with a soggy loaf of mush which went straight in the bin. Fail.

I had high hopes for the KFC-style chicken recipe but the end result was a bit powdery and weirdly tasteless considering the amount of spice that was used. Overall though, I was pleased with week five – I wasn’t hankering after sugar at all, but I did miss fruit. I still find the IQS stance on that front a bit bizarre. Nothing will ever convince me that eating a banana is worse for you than eating a bar of Dairy Milk.

On a side note I jumped on the scales and was pleased to find I’d lost four pounds. Not a great deal but I was pleased nonetheless.

Week Six – 18 July

There had been a big build up to week six because it was the week where the plan “reintroduced a little sweetness”. I had visions of making desserts with IQS-approved and fructose-free rice malt syrup, but alas, it basically meant three strawberries on some avocado and toast.

THESE.

That combo struck me as a little weird and so I skipped it and had them with a blob of full fat yoghurt in the garden on the hottest day of the year. It was basically the best thing ever and perfect for the weather. The next day though I found myself daydreaming about eating more fruit so I decided not to for a couple of days. I didn’t want to slip so easily back into my old ways after my hard work thus far, so my flirtation with fruit was short.

I got a bit overexcited in the chili department

There were loads of tasty looking meals on the week six menu but a glitch with the IQS website on my allotted cook-up day meant I couldn’t access the recipes. I was away from home by the time it was fixed and didn’t have the facilities to roast an entire chicken, so was left to my own devices.

Eating out was easier than I thought it would be

Luckily, I had created a “freezer stash” as per the IQS mantra earlier on in the programme, and ended up either reheating a few meals from previous weeks or eating out and choosing sensibly, which had been one of the tasks in week five anyway. On one occasion we went for Mexican which is typically low in sugar anyway and made a nice change from being chained to the oven.

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The only thing that crumbled on this plan

Week six also brought back the peach (at last!) in a raspberry and oat ‘crumble’ form, which I ate for dessert one night instead of breakfast as suggested. Call me crazy but I like my pudding after tea.

Week Seven – 25 July 

I kicked off week seven with the organisational skills of a demon, knocking out the buckwheat granola, buckwheat bread and quinoa in about two hours, while also finding time to make raspberry chia jam on a whim. This was particularly pleasing as unbeknownst to me, week eight’s cook-up would have me make said jam, so I had saved myself a job.

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The bread looked great in the tin…

The granola was the first recipe in the programme to introduce rice malt syrup into the mix which didn’t seem to make a blind bit of difference to the taste, though it remains to be seen whether it makes any sort of impact in larger quantities.

Regardless, the granola mixed up my breakfast routine which had become a bit of a feta-egg-scramble boreathon. It did however make me miss cereal, which could be my gateway drug back to Sugar Town, so I had one or two bowls and decided not to make any more for a while.

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The feta egg scramble became a go-to breakfast

The other side of the buckwheat coin didn’t fare so well. While it held together in the tin it crumbled into a pile of misery dust when I sliced it, which led to a disastrous incident at work in which I had to tip out chunks of ‘bread’ and about five years’ worth of crumbs from the toaster in a bit to save my breakfast.

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The ill-fated lamb

The week also called for a slow cooked lamb dish which I met with some ambivalence as I only really like my sheep in shank form. I sabotaged this meal from the outset by choosing a cheaper cut of meat than specified which probably contributed to its weird, fatty taste and just to boot, my pomegranate seeds were on the turn and I couldn’t be arsed with the faff of making the accompanying ‘pilaf’, so all-in-all, it was a bit of a fail. First world problems.

The highlight however was a halloumi and corn salad which I demolished so quickly I forgot to take a picture. It contained peaches (I frigging love them) though so here’s a picture of that instead.

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The best kind of donut

There was one day towards the end of week seven where I almost caved to a square or two of 85% chocolate only to find it had mysteriously disappeared from the cupboard. But, given that I could easily have caved to the Hotel Chocolat selection gift box that had been sat in my kitchen since week two instead, I must have developed some sort of self-control.

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Pork, paprika and peaches make a great combo

In the spirit of full disclosure however, I did accidentally ingest some sweetness when my well-meaning boyfriend bought me some Doritos. I didn’t look at the ingredients and it turns out there’s sugar AND glucose syrup in them. Both gross and mildly disappointing, but as it wasn’t intentional it doesn’t count.

Week Eight – 1 August

I spent most of my final week telling anyone who would listen that I couldn’t believe I’d gone two months without sugar. I also spent the whole week fantasising about what I would eat once freed from the shackles of the programme. This slightly worried me because it suggested I might go back to old habits, but more on that later.

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Pancakes forever ❤

I also could not wait to see the back of the awful IQS “app” which was clunky, more often than not inaccessible, and not actually an app – just a slightly crap website. On the final day I had gone out to buy all the ingredients for the courgette and pear brownies – the one dessert allowed on the entire programme – and flew into an apoplectic rage when I could not download the recipe because the site was down. I did eventually get to make them and they did taste nice, if not a little dry.

Another final week recipe highlight was the coconut fluff pancakes, which tasted just fine without the impossible-to-source coconut flour. They’re probably dreadfully bad for you in the fat department given that they contain coconut milk and are cooked in butter, but my god do they make a great Saturday brunch.

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I’ve made this three times already this week

They were closely contested by the sausage sandwich recipe which has transformed all sausage sandwich recipes for life. Why I ever thought a load of ketchup on my pork products tasted better than garlicky, oniony, mustardy kraut remains a mystery. I will (probably) never go back.

Final thoughts

And so, here I am at the end, having survived a sugar-free existence for 60 days. This morning I got up and made those damn fine pancakes again, ate some pork meatballs and courgetti for lunch and cooked up some curried mince for my dinners later in the week. There’s two of those weird muffins, a shed load of sweet potato puree, and possibly the best tip IQS has given me – portioned up quinoa in the freezer – to keep me on the straight and narrow.

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Hello, old friend

This afternoon I had a cup of tea and cracked open that box of Hotel Chocolat goodies. I ate four pieces and went… “meh” and put the lid on. I’m not sat here jonesing for my next hit, I didn’t immediately go out and buy a box of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, and I have no plans to inhale a pint of Haagen Dazs any time soon.

What I will do, however, is treat myself from time to time. I go to America in three weeks and when I’m there, if I want to sit on a bench in Portland and eat a weird ice cream from Salt and Straw, I’m going to. If I’m in a bar in San Francisco with my friends and I really want a G&T or a White Russian, I’m going to drink it. But then again, I might have a beer. Who knows.

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Without beer I might not have survived

The point is, I can now make a choice because I don’t feel like I’m a slave to the sugar monster. I don’t advocate IQS as the best way to quit the so-called demon – nothing will ever convince me fruit is bad and did I mention how much I hate their app? – but it’s not a bad way to make a start.

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I still love you ice cream

What I learned is I didn’t die giving it up. And even if I do “relapse”, I now know giving it up is perfectly achievable. I’m proud of that, even if everyone else thinks it’s insane. ✌️

Community and coal: Why I feel for Big K’s workers


Even if you haven’t the slightest interest in the subject, you’d have to have been living under a rock – or perhaps more fittingly, a pile of coal – to have missed the news that the UK’s last deep pit closed last week.

Unsurprisingly, given the landslide of eulogies in the media on the subject over the last few days, Kellingley Colliery has been on my mind.

Apart from the fact it brings centuries of deep coal mining in Britain to an end; setting aside the hundreds of people it has put out of work; forgetting the millions of pounds worth of machinery now buried underground – it’s the communities of the Five Towns – Pontefract, Castleford, Knottingley, Featherstone, and Normanton – I feel for.

I spent three years writing for the Pontefract and Castleford Express and for at least one of those, didn’t really understand what local news was about or why it mattered.

It took me a year to really “get it” and almost two to build the contacts and earn the trust of the paper’s readers. I was an outsider, with a strange haircut, and my youth meant I didn’t have any real appreciation of the unhealed wounds these ex-mining towns suffered. The day I really started to understand the bond between community and coal was the night miner Gerry Gibson died.

We had just put that week’s paper to bed and were packing up for the day when the phone rang.  The person on the other end told my editor there had been an accident at the pit and as she put the phone down, I saw Rebecca exchange a glance with the news editor, Julie, and then proceed to have some sort of wordless exchange about sending the most inexperienced reporter out to what turned out to be the year’s biggest story.

Rebecca eventually said to me: “I think you should go out there,” and I can still remember the feeling of dread that washed over me. Within half an hour I was stood at the gates of the pit not really knowing what to do.

I had underestimated the height of emotions felt by those nervously waiting for news – some of them equally in fear of what word would bring but desperate to know all the same. The first girl I approached screamed in my face: “Fuck off, this is people’s families you’re asking about!”

I ended up speaking to a man stood a little off to the side on his own. He was a former Kellingley miner – retired, but so concerned for his friends underground that he’d driven over for his own peace of mind, even though he knew there was nothing he could do. He didn’t know who was trapped but it didn’t matter- regardless of who was down there, the feelings were still the same: helplessness, fear, concern.

That deep-rooted camaraderie was never more evident to me than the day I spent down Big K. A year after the horrific incident which killed Mr Gibson, UK Coal invited me to travel the nine miles to the coalface to see for myself what mining was all about.

I wrote about it in detail at the time and even now still find it hard to articulate the obvious affinity between those men, perhaps because it’s so rarely observed in the average workplace. Maybe digging far below the earth’s surface for a living is one of the only places you can expect to form that sort of extraordinary bond.

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Shortly after I surfaced from my time down the pit

I remember once interviewing a man about something completely unrelated to coal when he began to tell me about his life down the pit. What was memorable about this exchange was how deeply sad he was at the loss of what seemed, at least to me, a highly undesirable way to spend your life. I wouldn’t even come close to understanding it until I saw for myself what he had been forced to give up.

He was from Featherstone, which was part of my patch – a town which in many ways never really recovered from the closure of its own pit in the mid-1980s. Its housing estates are full  of men like him, who have been on the dole since Thatcher’s reign, put out to pasture long before their time. Some made a career of hopping from one doomed pit to another, but many felt let down and demoralised – never to return to another job, let alone another coalface.

After I joined the BBC, I was well-placed to talk about the impact it would have on the communities it would affect. But now, as it becomes a reality for those who have never known anything but coal, I wonder how they will ever move on. All that’s really left to say is it’s a damn shame it happened at all.

Making a DIY Guess Who

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What do you get for the girl you’ve bought everything for? That was the quandary I faced when trying to figure out what to buy my best friend for her birthday this year.

After a decade of friendship, I’d covered pretty much all the gift-buying bases: books, clothes, prints, records, chocolate, beautiful – yet ultimately pointless – bits of crap. For probably the first time, I genuinely was stumped.

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As the arty one in our relationship, she has made me numerous handmade gift over the years. So, after coming across a blog about making a personalised version of Guess Who, I decided it was the perfect present, particularly for a woman that loves board games as much as she does.

The first task was accumulating the photos – a process of herding her friends and family and getting them to send a picture of themselves that was both the same size and style. That was, it turned out, the easiest part of the project, even taking into account the task of tracking down people I didn’t know and randomly asking them for a photo. I think we should just take a moment to look at what a sexy bunch they are:

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Next up was trying to source 50 miniature pieces of wood which, God bless the internet, involved only a few messages to DIY types on eBay. Most told me it would be nigh on impossible to find anyone to cut MDF that small but thankfully, someone out there had a teeny tiny saw and some time on his hands and made them for me no questions asked. Well, except one: “Are you sure those are the right measurements?”

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I had already batted my eyelashes at a timber yard and had two larger pieces of MDF for the boards cut to size, so I started the drawn-out process of spray-painting the wood. I do not have an art degree, but thankfully two of my friends do and had given me advice on primer and the type of paint I needed. Even following their advice, the MDF was so porous each piece needed several coats and it took two days to get the right coverage. The downside was some of the layers in the wood started peeling at the edges. The lesson here is don’t use MDF. It’s rubbish.

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While that dried I attached the photos and hinges to the individual pieces of wood. The blog had suggested supergluing the hinges rather than using the miniscule nails they came with and this, my friends, was what caused me to almost lose my mind. On that Saturday in June those tiny pieces of metal were the worst thing that had ever happened to me.

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I glued them on; they fell off. I glued them on; they glued the hinge shut. I glued them on; they stuck and then took off chunks of wood when I realised it wasn’t going to work and tried to removed them. I attempted to nail them in – I won’t even go into what an unmitigated disaster that was.

IMG_3608[1]I stared in despair at the chaos those evil little bastards had caused and realised I was at risk of ruining the whole present if I didn’t change tack, the irony being I couldn’t call the one person who probably could fix it because it was her gift I was destroying.

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Luckily, I knew exactly who else to call.

My friend Bunty is a crafting superhero who creates incredible pieces of art just by brushing past a wad of paper. I knew if anyone could save my disaster she could – even though at this point it was covered in holes and glue. I turned up at her house looking like a woman who had looked into the art abyss and seen unspeakable horrors and presented her with what I had deemed to be an unsalvageable mess.

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She took one look at it, produced a roll of washi tape, and in less than 30 seconds, saved the day. We spent the next hour patching up the wood and attaching the photo pieces to the boards using the magical masking tape, then she did what arty people do, which was to polish the whole thing off by covering up my mistakes with a piece of felt on the underside of the boards; therefore banishing the holes and the patchy paint to the graveyard of crafting misery.

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Though it took me two weeks and an obscene amount of money to make, it was totally worth it for the number of jaws that dropped when Ruth unwrapped her present at the pub. That being said, I’ve made it clear I probably won’t be making her anything ever again. At least not for another ten years.

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Beauty woes: Stumped by the smoky eye

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Picture: Pawel Kadysz

I have a confession to make.

I am 30 years old and have still not perfected the daddy of all makeup techniques – the smoky eye.

This seems like a gross oversight given the sexy raccoon look really comes into its own at this time of year, coupled with the fact that every magazine I pick up seems to be imparting helpful advice on how to ‘go from desk to dance floor in five easy moves’ – a transformation which typically involves sweeping a wash of ‘sparkly slate’ or ‘rich chocolate’ over the lids.

Not that this scenario particularly presents itself often –  I’d much rather go home and eat a shepherd’s pie than go out on the lash at 6pm on a Wednesday, but it would be nice to know how to achieve the look of a woman adept with a make-up brush should the need ever occur.

Yet despite the abundance of step-by-step beauty guides at my fingertips, my own attempts to make me look all sultry, etc, end up looking like I’ve rolled around face first in a box of broken Crayola.

Because, somewhat bizarrely for someone who was practically the poster girl for Barry M circa 2005, it turns out I have absolutely no idea how to properly apply eyeshadow.

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My sister won’t thank me for this photo but it’s the only one which illustrates the two-tone eyeshadow and keeps my dignity intact

Back then, I regularly caked my eyelids in clashing shades of neon in the name of ‘new rave’, frequently coordinating the colour scheme with matching glitter and securing it to my face – to the horror of dermatologists everywhere – with half a can of L’oreal Elnett.

But as I’ve matured (ahem), I’ve found myself adopting the failsafe combo of red lippy and a black eyeliner flick; a reliable but winning combination that’s become a sort of facial uniform.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not for lack of curiosity that I’ve fallen into a makeup rut. I’ve often found myself loitering around make-up counters wondering if I should experiment more with shadows and blush before the onset of crow’s feet.

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Red lips and black eyeliner can do no wrong in my book

But overly bronzed counter staff scare the bejesus out of me and I find myself backing away quietly at the thought of them coming at me with their utensils and on the occasions I have been brave enough to sit through a consultation, I’ve spent it awkwardly perched on the edge of the chair ready to bolt and wondering how many products I’m obliged to buy. Sure, I know there’s no commitment to part with cash, but by God I’m British and I can’t accept a freebie.

It’s this combination of fear and laziness that has found me entering my 30s and lacking the necessary skills to confidently manipulate a stick of kohl, let alone execute the coveted smoky eye, case-in-point being the time I recently rooted out an ancient eyeliner pencil and ended looking like I’d gone ten rounds.

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That’s a relatively cheap mistake to make, but when you’re investing in your face it can add up – particularly if it doesn’t work out – and despite poring over various beauty bibles, I’ve still managed to make a number of costly mistakes in recent months, resulting in beautiful yet unused purchases languishing in the bottom of my make-up bag.

Sure, I know I should fork out £20 for the much-lauded Mac 219 to overcome my eyeshadow fear, but I can barely master a £3 version, so why break the bank? So what I’d really like for Christmas is for some kindly, impartial beauty expert to show me how to actually use a chubby stick and a blending brush so that I can start looking more my age and not like a startled lemur.

It’s either that or I go back to two-tone eyeshadow and glitter.

#30stories30days: A Story About Beginnings

It was hot with all those bodies in the room, so she opened the balcony door.

The left speaker had just blown and the room felt unbalanced with music filling only one side of it. It made her feel off-kilter, like the moment the world goes quiet before a fainting episode.

There were people perched precariously on all surfaces – the arms of chairs, the step leading to the kitchen, the glass coffee table. A glass half full of red teetered on the edge of the bookcase.

She returned to the decks and looked up to see a boy she didn’t know enter from the hallway. He seemed to know her flatmate, who was gesturing around the room.

He was wearing a shirt in a pattern of tiny red and white checks and nodding at something she was saying. Her flatmate handed him a beer and he took a swig, letting the bottle fall to his side.

She busied herself with choosing the next song and smiled as her best friend Alice approached the decks.

“I’ve just been talking to that bearded guy. He’s a bit awkward but he seems nice. You should go talk to him.”

“Oh…” she said, trying to think of an excuse.

“You should, go on.”

She tutted. “Alright.”

She motioned for her friend to take over the music and walked over to the boy.

“Hey, how’s it going?”

“Hi.”

“What’s your name?”

“Adam.”

“Nice to meet you.”

He took a long drink of beer and sat down on the ledge between the kitchen and the living room.

“I’m Meg,” she said, sitting down next to him.

“Hi.”

There was a pause just long enough to border on uncomfortable.

“So… do you know Sarah?”

“Yeah.”

She nodded. “Cool. She invited you then?”

“Sort of. I saw it on Twitter.”

It was her turn to take a long drink. Her flatmate is inviting people to their party on Twitter.

“Where were you before this?”

“I was at my mate’s birthday down the road, but I got bored so I came here.”

“On your own?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s kinda brave, rocking up to a stranger’s party on your own?”

He shrugged. “I guess.” He drained the dregs of his beer.

“So what do you do?” she said, grasping for something to talk about it.

“I work in the travel industry, in events.”

“Wow, you must get to go to some good places then?”

“Yeah,” he nodded.

“I’ve only really been to America, but I love it, have you been?”

“Yeah, a few places.”

“Like where?”

“New York, California…”

“They’re both great aren’t they?”

He nodded.

She took a drink.

“Do you want me to go? It doesn’t really seem like you’re that interested in talking to me.”

He turned and looked at her. “No? I guess I just don’t have much to say right now.”

She blinked.

“Wow you’re hard work.”

He shrugged.

“OK,” she said after a beat. “I’m gonna go back and DJ a bit more,” she said.

“OK.”

“OK. Bye.”

She walked back over to Alice.

“You weren’t kidding were you?”

“HA, I know. He seems nice though.”

“How can you tell?”

“He’s just a bit quiet.”

Meg rolled her eyes.

Across the room, Adam rolled a cigarette.

She watched him walk over to the balcony and light up. She decided the best course of action was to circulate with a glass in hand.

By the time she reached him again she was wearing a confidence-boosting booze jacket.

She lit a cigarette even she’d blagged. She didn’t really smoke but it gave her something to do with her hands.

“Hey again.”

“Hey,” he said. He was holding a record.

“What’s that?”

“War of the Worlds.”

“Why do you have a copy of War of the Worlds with you?”

“I was DJ’ing my friend’s party and I wanted to play it, but it’s the wrong version.”

“Why, what’s wrong with it?”

“It’s shit.”

“Oh. I guess that’s a good enough reason. Though I’m not sure why you’d want to play War of the Worlds at a party.”

He took a drag on his cigarette.

“Bet I can throw it over there.” He gestured to the multi-storey carpark on the other side of the street.

She scoffed.

“It’s too far away.”

He took the vinyl out its sleeve, rollie between his lips.

“Bet I can.”

He looked at her, waiting for the dare. She shrugged, “Go on then.”

Hurling it like a Frisbee, he sent the record sailing across the road. They watched it land on the roof of the carpark.

She nodded slowly. “Very good.”

“Shall we go back inside?”

They sat beside each other on the sofa.

“Your dress is like digital chainmail,” he said.

“What?”

He laughed.

“Do you maybe want to hang out this weekend?”

“Are you asking me out on a date?”

He had been hard work. She wasn’t giving in that easily.

“Yeah… If you want to.”

He was looking down at his hands. She waited a few seconds. Let him sweat.

“Yeah alright.”

#30days30stories: 59 times my cat ruled the internet

It’s been a while since I posted anything and even more so since I attempted to complete the #30days30stories challenge.

Excuses include a new job, laziness and Mad Men, however, I still maintain that if I write 30 stories over the course of 30 days, technically I’ve done what I set out to do.

And with that in mind, I give you a story about an animal, or more specifically, my cat.

To borrow a phrase from Troy McClure, you may remember Nino from such places as Twitter or Instagram. So popular is he among a select group of people that often when I am introduced to friends of friends, they tend to say, “Oh I’ve seen your cat on the internet.”

It’s true. He’s very photogenic. When he was a kitten, Facebook all but imploded.
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I mean, just look at him:

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He’s a natural in front of the camera. He downright nailed ‘whimsical’ that one time he went outside.

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And even now that he’s two-years-old, he’s still pretty darn handsome:
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But anyone who’s had the pleasure of meeting Nino knows that he’s….special:

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We’re talking really special:
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I mean, look at those eyes:

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Actually MAD:

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A direct result of which means I’ve not had an uninterrupted night’s sleep since 2013:

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Because he requires attention 24/7:

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So much so that I can’t remember the last time I peed alone:

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Or bathed:

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That myth that cats don’t like water? Not true:

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But at least I have a towel guard:

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Which is fine except for when he stares. The perv:

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I can’t even brush my teeth in peace:

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In fact, all sinks are basically off limits:

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Nothing is sacred:

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Not even the roasting tin:

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You think that’s weird?:

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You’ve seen nothing:

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Nothing:

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Convenient is his middle name:

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He never gets in the way:

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Or climbs into things he shouldn’t:

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Sure, you can tell him not to sit in the fridge:

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But does this face look like it GAF?:

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Literally, not one bit:

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I’ve never seen a cat give less of a shit:

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And if you try to make him, he will cut you:

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Occasionally he will reveal his softer side:

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For instance, he’s got a new buddy:

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And he definitely love his momma:

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But y’know what he loves more?

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Yep:

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You guessed it:

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Boxes:

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Sometimes bags:

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Occasionally the radiator:

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But mainly boxes:

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Especially the ones he can ‘hide’ in:

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On the rare occasion there are no boxes, there are rugs:

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Cupboards also work:

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And drawers:

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But boxes are where it’s at:

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When he’s not chilling in a cardboard cube, he can be found watching TV:

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He bloody loves a bit of The Good Wife:

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Unless there’s a good film on:

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Or a book to read. He’s cultured like that:

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In fact, he’s pretty good company:

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Except when I’m trying to do yoga:

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Or work:

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Cause, duh, laptops are an invitation to cuddle:

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EVEN AS I WRITE THIS POST:

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Because it’s all about him:

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He is the master:

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And I am his bitch:

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I mean, seriously:

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What a dude:

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Accidentally Incommunicado

I always thought I wasn’t that bothered about my phone. When I go on holiday I love nothing more than leaving it in the hotel room and choosing not to connect to the Wifi.

But yesterday, I accidentally left my phone at home and realised pretty quickly that I depend on it much more than I thought.

Perhaps much of my reactions throughout the day were because I hadn’t chosen to leave my phone at home (I’m not the sort of person that forgets things very often).

Whatever the reason, this is what happened when I accidentally went incommunicado for a day…

11:30 Experience a sinking sense of doom. Audibly groan at the thought of having to do a late shift without being able to text anyone.

11.30 I’ve never forgotten my phone! WTAF!

11:31 Stamp feet in a mini- tantrum.

11:33 Mutter swear words under breath.

11:40 Park the car and hand over keys to the attendant. Reach to get phone out to make a note of parking space number. Realise I will have memorise it instead.

11:42 Wander up the road. Feel bored so decide to check messages. Remember I don’t have phone.

11:43 See about ten people from the same company huddled together on a communal fag break. Think it’s funny so decide to take picture – reach into pocket for phone. Resign self to doing this for the rest of the day.

12:20 Try on some boots in Topshop. Decide to consult Ruth on account of well-documented boot-buying difficulties. Panic-purchase boots in absence of second option. I can take them back.

12:28 What time is it? Oh yeah, I don’t have my phone. Wait, I have a watch! It’s 12:28.

12:29 Think about writing this blog post. Go to make notes in phone. Scrabble around bag for pen and paper.

12:35 Try to check messages again.  Wonder how often I look at phone every day.

12:40 Remember that I need to make a doctor’s appointment. Can’t ring them. And the number’s in my phone.

12:58 Try to check messages. GAH!

13:30: Arrive at work and immediately email Ruth to tell her I don’t have phone.

13:31 Moan loudly to colleagues about lack of phone.

13:43 Remember that I made a Best Offer on eBay and it’s about to expire. Log on via the desktop. It’s been declined and the listing’s ended. ARSE.

13: 54 My hands feel weird. I don’t know what to do with them. Email Ruth again.

14:00 Try to check messages. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME.

14:20 Remember I owe Ruth £20. No quick and easy app access so log into online banking the “hard” way. Struggle to remember customer number because I’m so used to just entering a six digit pin.

14:26 Hear a text message noise. Assume it’s my phone. It’s not. It’s on the table at home.

14:32 Tweet about lack of phone. Feel a bit cut off from the world.

14:57 Email Emily to inquire about the state of her car following conversation that morning. Receive reply saying, “I texted you about this.”

15:01 Wonder how many messages/notifications I’ll have when I get home.

15:31 See a story about pizza and immediately want to text Lizzie about how great our last Domino’s was.

15:33 Email Ruth again. Send 14 emails to her in total.

16:15 Wonder if I should go home on my break and get my phone. Dismiss idea as ridiculous.

16:18 Check email.

16:37 Hear a text message sound. Assume it’s my phone. It’s not.

17:03 Whine to colleague: “God it’s so annoying not having a phone.”

17:05: Annoy self constantly thinking about phone.

18:00 Go almost an hour without automatically checking for text messages. Congratulate self.

18:09 Think about calling Ewan. Realise I don’t know his number.

19:42 Bemoan fact that everyone has stopped answering emails because they’ve left work.

19:59 Think about updating my Christmas present lists. They’re all on my phone.

20:23 I’m used to not having my phone now. I think.

21:06 Only an hour to go and I’ll have my phone back.

21:48 Wonder if Ewan needs anything from the shop on the way home. Can’t ask. Hope for the best.

22:16 Am reunited with phone. Scroll through messages.

22:19 Check phone again.

22:21 Check phone again.