“Dry January is bad for you” and other stories.

It’s here. Dawn has broken over the day we’ve all been waiting for: the day when order is once again restored to British society. It’s February 1st and the Dry January veterans can imbibe the demon drink without betraying their solemn promise to jaded post-Christmas souls and New Year broken bodies.

Now that I’ve successfully completed my first ever attempt at Dry January (or, indeed, of cutting out booze for longer than a week in approx. 10 years), I thought I’d share my experience on all the ways it affected me across the spectrum.

Lesson one: Survival of the Fittest

If you can forgive my loose comparison of not drinking for a month to Darwinism, let me tell you – when you’re a socially active city girl in your twenties grinding that 9-5 life, Dry January can be a jungle. Get to the second weekend of the month and you’re gasping over a large glass of Malbec like a camel for water.

While this may serve to some as a reason for not doing it (“Why put yourself through that? On the bleakest month of the year?”) once you prove to yourself you won’t give in, there’s actually a higher satisfaction – at least for me – that comes from saying no to something your mind and body falsely tells you you need.

Basically, aside from snubbing a big glass of red, there’s a much more important lesson to be learned within it all.

Lesson two: Productivity prevails

For someone who, from time to time, has been guilty of using the fact I’m a bit hungover as an excuse to do, frankly, SFA, suddenly I find myself more productive than ever at weekends – and therefore more satisfied and fulfilled in general.

I’m not saying that you’re not satisfied or fulfilled after a night of drinking moderately, but at 28 I now feel the effects of even 2 glasses of wine the next day (woe).

Lesson three: Social events = alcohol (or do they?)

If you don’t wish to spend every January evening hidden beneath a rock, you’re going to have to accept that if you want to socialise after work, there’s a good chance you’ll end up in a bar/pub/drinking hole of some sort. Sans alcohol.

As a life and style blogger, I get invited to a lot of events – 90% of which I’d say involve tipples. Now, the old me would probably have avoided most of these because the thought of mingling/socialising/staying awake on a mid-week evening after 7pm without a drink was, to be frank, somewhat grim.

Writing this I realise there is a certain level of tragedy attached to the above confession. But it’s only with distance (i.e., not drinking) that the concept has even risen out of my subconscious and I’ve been able to challenge it. So, out of all the social events I’ve been to in January (including dinners, launch nights and birthdays) I’ve imbibed nothing but water and “virgin cocktails” (who am I) and it’s actually been completely fine. Sure, alcohol has a good way of taking the edge off but 20 minutes in and your focus turns to the good time you’re having, not your empty hand.

Lesson four: Haters are rife

While the gratification of proving your own mental strength gives off a good buzz, you’ll need it to fend off the equal amount of negativity coming from the impressive crew of Dry Jan haters.

Quitting booze for a month to give your body a rest shouldn’t be a difficult concept to grasp, but give it a week and you’ll find yourself faced with friends, family and colleagues who either question your motives, accuse you of being boring, or try to persuade you to quit.

This for me has been the toughest part of Dry January. As my boyfriend pointed out the other night, it’s got to the point I’m beginning to treat it as a kind of “Us versus Them” stand-off. But in all seriousness, although I did expect some resistance to my decision not to drink for a month, it’s been really disappointing to be made to feel constantly on the defensive by people who should be encouraging your decisions.

As one of my good pals pointed out, if you said you were cutting out sugar, or caffeine, or any other ‘indulgent’ food and drink group, people would probably be interested to know why rather than primed to shoot you down, or tell you all the reasons why you shouldn’t be doing it (which are, incidentally, largely to do with themselves.) As our friends across the pond would say, go figure.

Lesson five: Alcohol free beer actually has a purpose

Until literally this January, I would say I still questioned why such an invention exists. Beer does not taste as good, as, say, ginger beer, or Irn Bru, or any other fizzy, non-alcoholic drink. But let me tell you, don’t knock this shizz until you’ve tried it.

I had alcohol free Erdinger during a meal out in Glasgow about half way through January, and it definitely trumped Diet Coke in the “naughty” league – despite being, at 0.5%, about as naughty as a nun. It definitely activates the placebo effect to some degree, and, at 10 days without booze, that was good enough for me.

Lesson six: It’s easier (and you’re stronger) than you think

In fact, in a very bizarre way, it’s almost enjoyable. The amount of events I’ve been to or times I’ve drunk where I’ve thought I’ve been having fun, but in fact can’t remember a lot of details the next day, or get the fear because I can’t quite recall what I’ve said to somebody or if I’ve offended them, or just generally acted like a bit of a tit.

It’s been really nice to take the expectation of drinking away altogether and just focus on the people you’re with, what they’re saying and – shock horror – actually remembering the majority of it the next day.

Lesson seven: Mental benefits outweigh the physical

…If you can stay sober at a manic children’s party with tipsy adults telling you to quit, you can do anything. Similarly for Lady Libertine’s glitzy launch event I attended recently. It is quite something, after all, to see everyone else drinking champagne on tap while you’re drinking the product of, well, an actual tap.

But in all honesty, it really wasn’t that difficult. Sure, I left a bit earlier than I probably would have had I been drinking, but that’s not to say I didn’t have a really good time. It would have been nice to enjoy a glass or champagne or two but the fact I now know I’m able to say ‘no’ (and be a tiny minority) was actually hugely liberating.

Lesson eight: Omg it’s January and I’m rich

Christmas is expensive and alcohol is a financial hoover. Amen to having more money for nice food and clothes.

Let’s see how February’s finances fare.

Over and out, DJ!

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Bippity Boppity Boo… A night at Cinderella

For me, the ballet evokes a unique kind of festive nostalgia. There’s a grandness to it. A sense of occasion. There’s excitement and grace and beauty and hypnotism. The ballet promises escapism; a temporary portal into a fantastical world.

You can therefore imagine my child-like glee when I was offered tickets to see the Scottish Ballet’s showing of Cinderella at the Festival Theatre last weekend.  

I’m always fascinated by the different ways a classic tale can be told and re-told, and this version was no disappointment. Choreographed by the Scottish Ballet’s artistic director Christopher Hampson complete with set design by Tracy Grant Lord, we watch as the dancers movements, costumes and backdrops evolve from the sparse surroundings of Cinderella’s home into an increasingly magical aesthetic. 

The dresses develop from basic material, design and colour before peaking at Cinderella’s embellished tutu in the ball scene – a sight my inner wannabe ballet dancer was basically in tears at. Roses were the theme woven throughout the performance, which drove the visual experience into beauty overdrive while reinforcing the implied idea that Cinderella’s story itself mirrors that of the rose: at first fragile and ordinary before flourishing into her true and beautiful form. (If you’re thinking I’m not normally this deep then you are absolutely right. But what can I say, Christmas is a time of romantic reflection and the ballet gets me all sentimental…)

It’s easy to immerse yourself watching Cinderella, when the dancers, set design and music (performed live by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra) all work together in such impressive harmony. In line with the Cinderella narrative we all know and love, the performance balances depth with comedy. It’s visually arresting and emotionally moving, factors which together played deftly into the suspicion I’d carried all along: that Cinderella was going to be a very magical experience indeed. 

Congratulations to the Scottish Ballet for putting on such an excellent performance, both on stage and behind the scenes. A perfect (almost) end to 2018! 

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Skye High

It’s the ruggedly handsome island I’ve always daydreamed about. With a couple of days leave still left to take before Christmas, I decided to fulfil my romantic little reveries and book a long weekend over the sea to Skye.

I’m far from unique in my idealised vision of the island, which explains its brimming population every summer, when domestic and international visitors alike descend upon Skye to see its surrounding beau idéal for themselves.

High season runs from April to October, so our late November/early December trip was very off-peak – something people didn’t hesitate to warn me about before we went. Since my plans consisted of walks and seeing some iconic landscapes- while staying in a self-catered cottage – I wasn’t too bothered about this.

However, people were not over exaggerating when they said the island closes down over winter. Anywhere really outside of Portree or Uig (the main two towns) is completely dead – something we discovered on our last night when we thought we’d venture out for dinner, only to discover the only place open for miles (including back over the bridge to the mainland!) was ‘Taste of India’ in Kyleakin. It was lovely but didn’t necessarily fulfil my vision of a cosy, island restaurant experience!

Unfortunately for us our wee visit coincided with Storm Diana, so a lot of our outdoor adventures were accompanied by wind, rain and hail. To be fair, it’s Scotland in November so it’s to be expected, though obviously a visit during the dryer months might suit people who aren’t necessarily used to such meteorological factors. 

Here are some of the things we got up to during our two full days on Skye…

Fairy Pools

Through my incessant Instagram scrolling (no, you have a problem..) I’d seen so many amazing photographs of the Fairy Pools that I insisted they were the first thing we saw on Skye. Luckily the weather stayed clear enough for long enough that we were able to actually walk around them properly and enjoy them.

Even while experiencing the authentic Scottish weather of four seasons in one day (or rather, hour), these naturally-formed pools and waterfalls are so magical. In between the hail when the sun shone, the water was so clear and turquoise and I felt I could sit and watch them for hours. 

TOP TIP: if you’re visiting here in winter, do not be extremely optimistic like us – wear actual proper hiking boots or wellies. I had normal boots on while Dave had trainers, so we (yes, two man effort) had to squeeze his size 9 feet into my size 6 wellies I’d left stashed in the boot of the car. Prepare yo’ feet, readers. Also, the car park opposite was a fiver to get in to so remember cash!

                                                               The Quiraing

The weather was at its worst when we went to see The Quiraing on the north of the island, so even though we couldn’t do the walk (which is a loop of around 7km), it still looked pretty epic with the low hanging mist and cloud. 

The site is widely compared to Lord of the Rings scenery, and when we visited it definitely had a touch of Mordor. I’d love to come back in Spring/Summer and do the full loop. We only did the first kilometre maybe, but even then I was blown away by it  (metaphorically as well as almost physically.) 

                                                                Portree

We made a little pit stop here on our way back from The Quiraing. We only wandered around the centre a bit but we ate by the fire at The Antlers Bar and Grill (haggis bon bons: the best) we wandered down the main street (mostly gift shops!) and got some cake at Cafe Arriba which is a cute little upstairs cafe overlooking the sea. 

                                                      Eilean Donan castle

OK, so it’s not technically on Skye but it’s close enough…

As far as castles go, Eilean Donan in my (I suspect very mainstream) opinion is the king of them. Standing above the water about a 15 minute drive from the Skye bridge, it was lit up as we passed in the darkness and the sight gave me instant goosebumps. 

The castle itself is closed in the low season but you can still walk around it. I will certainly be back one summer to go inside!  

                                                                       Mhor 84

‘Cos you can’t have a North-West road trip without stopping here! My absolute favourite little spot just off the A84. This time we visited “Store 84” (the shop right next to the restaurant) for the first time, and it was filled with some amazing things so definitely worth popping your head in. 

                                         And finally, where we stayed… 

As an Air Bnb stalwart, we of course stayed in a little Air Bnb cottage. It was in Lower Breakish, which is about 15 minute drive from the bridge. It was right on the sea front and the space was just so gorgeous and secluded.

If you want to be closer to the ‘action’ (which is somewhat limited during winter on Skye but you get my drift) this was quite a long drive from most places (45 minutes to Portree and over an hour to The Quiraing on the north of the island.)

From what I hear from others who have visited, Uig and Portree seem to be the most popular places to stay, as you’re slightly more central/nearer to the big attractions. Since there wasn’t much going on while we were there anyway (and it was also mad weather) we were more than happy to make dinners in our wee cottage, drink mulled wine and sit by the fire! 

Skye, I’ll see you again soon! 

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White Noise: When Instagram yells

Social media is one the biggest, shiniest and sharpest double-edged swords of our generation. While this is not by any means news to any of us, I’ve recently found myself pondering what happens when one of the positives – giving people a voice – takes a negative turn?

Love it as I do, I have one very major issue with Instagram.

In traditional print, broadcast and radio news, stories have to pass a fundamental test before they should ever be released to the general public. Before a story gets to see the light of day, news-gatherers ask the simple question: “Why are we saying it?”. Normally, if it’s judged that enough people will care, the news story is issued.

Instagram, and indeed a lot of blogging, blurs that line. While we’re constantly releasing information to the big wide cyber world, how often does anyone actually stop to ask “why” before hitting ‘post’? Too many times I’ve found myself watching stories of someone’s birthday night out or staring at photos of a stranger’s average at-best lunch and think …but who cares?

I apply this same standard to myself and sometimes catch myself uploading things before thinking… who is this actually for? It’s one of my big problems with this platform, and social media in general. Why do we all think we’re celebrities – and more importantly, why are we relentlessly enabling each other to continue buying into this misguided belief?

Instagram is extremely effective for getting big issues out into the virtual stratosphere, and I’ve consumed a lot of important information through it – from mental health to climate change. Thanks to Stacey Dooley’s recent documentary on fast fashion and its impact on the planet, over the last few weeks I’ve watched Instagram blow up with posts about sustainable wardrobes, no-spend Novembers and more.

Now – I think that documentary was amazing. As a total ASOS fiend (though to be fair, also Depop/Ebay-er and occasional charity shop dweller), it really struck a chord with me in terms of how utterly thoughtless our actions have been to the planet we live on. The reason I listened to it with such interest and respected it in the way I did was because it was presented as facts, without arrogance or aggression.

I applaud the passionate people of this world. I am one of them. But I know from experience the passion I feel about certain things, for example feminism, climate change, and some of my political beliefs – has in the past caused me to speak in ways that have been less than effective. Telling people they are [insert disparaging comment here] for example, or called them [insert rude words]. It’s taken reflection on my part, and patient words from others (…Dave) to explain that people aren’t as willing to listen to your view point when you’re pointing a big fat finger of blame at them.

So while I acknowledge that this new trend of preachy posts telling everyone to stop buying fast fashion come from a good place, for me they somewhat miss the mark and I find them unbearably smug and grating. Posting endless stories and Dostoevsky-length captions about how right you are and how wrong everyone else is, are not likely to achieve the desired effect.

After all, are you more likely to do something when a person shouts in your face, or when they explain why it matters to more people than simply you?

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Seven-up: What I want to be wearing this Autumn

Since I have a body temperature akin to a Cullen, I’m always a fan of summer and its various draws. Sitting outside sans jacket, for example. And the green card it gives you to day drink at any given, sunny opportunity.

But despite these delicious benefits (and my circulatory shortcomings), it’s the cold seasons that really have my heart. Autumn for me is filled with a very unique kind of excitement. The unique smell of it. The slight edge in the air. The crisp mornings. The sight of your breath. The rosy cheeks. The glorification of hot drinks. The condensed windows.

But among the plethora of reasons fuelling my lifelong love affair with Autumn, is, of course, the wardrobe opportunities.

Here’s what I wanna be wearing this Autumn…..

 

Coloured textured coat

Let’s face it, Zara hits the spot when it comes to most trends. But it’s well known that their coats run the show when it comes to A/W. And it looks like they have excelled themselves this season. This textured burgundy number is on my hit list come pay day…

 

 

New knits

Cards on the table, hoarding knitwear is one of my particular fortes. A strong suit, of sorts. Come to my flat and you’ll easily find piles of jumpers in drawers, piled up in wardrobe(s), on the floor, on me…. (though not in my oven, comme SATC’s Carrie, as that whole thing was, quite frankly, offensive.) Anyway, you get the jist. I just can’t get enough.

But obviously I still have to keep buying them, ‘cos #logic. I bought this little beauty from ASOS recently, and another very similar one in white.

 

 

Pointed black chelsea boots

 

I’d be fascinated to know the science behind the Black Boot obsession that seems to encompass women across the age spectrum. Similar to my fond feelings for knits, I must own about 7 pairs of black boots.  And I am constantly on the look-out for more. Currently I’m fantasising about the perfect pair of heeled Chelseas – and these cowgirl-esque beauties from & Other Stories are a big object of desire.

Oversized patterned scarf

I’m a sucker for a scarf. Always have been, always will be. I find them to be a great adult replacement for the security blanket of toddler-hood. You’ll know by this far down in the post I am a complete winter accessories hoarder so it’ll come as little surprise that I already own several suitcases worth of scarves. But I’d still like to get my paws on this My Accessories (via ASOS) number.

Vampy lipstick

Nothing says Autumn like a slick of dark lippy. MAC, Queen of lipsticks, have a gorgeous blue-based red called ‘Sin’. And quite frankly I need it in my life this A/W.

 

Beanie

Beanie there, done that… Still not satisfied. The ex ski-seasonnaire in me lives on in my favourite headwear of this time of year. I’ve taken to stealing the boy’s Carhartt hat, but will be investing in my own this Autumn to add to the collection.

Shaggy cardigan

This season I’ve got an unrestrained desire to channel my inner Big Bird. Shaggy cardigans have come a long way since gracing the back of Pat Butcher. Pair this & Other Stories number with an understated t-shirt, jeans and converse and you’ve got yourself the best Autumnal outfit for the least amount of effort. Ta-da!

 

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