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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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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The Fringe Survival Guide: How locals survive August in Edinburgh

I’ve lived in this city for four years now, so am officially declaring myself a stalwart of Edinburgh culture – a large chunk of which is defined by the annual frenzy that descends on the capital come August. That’s right readers, Fringe season is almost upon us.

I absolutely love the festival. I love the way Edinburgh comes alive with weird and wonderful people, acts, shows and events for a whole 3 weeks.

Trying to get anywhere in a hurry during that time though? Nat so much.

With this in mind, I’ve put together a survival guide for any new Edinburghers experiencing their first Festival living in the city. Here are my 9 snippets of humble Fringe wisdom.

1. Do not take the bus anywhere.

Seriously. During the Fringe the population of Edinburgh doubles – as a result, some aspects of our travel infrastructure are affected. Basically, get on a bus in central Edinburgh in August and expect to be there for a loooong time. Pigeons overtake you (seen with my own eyes). My suggestion would be to walk and soak up the atmosphere. Granted, power walking isn’t likely to be effective with the amount of dawdlers around, but the bus is the same or worse, and you end up in a bad mood. Best avoided.

2. Be organised (but not too organised.)

It’s easy to be complacent when you live here, but there are too many good shows I’ve missed from thinking I’ll get round to booking it – cue, the festival ends and I’ve seen nothing. The half price hut, normally located outside the Scottish National Gallery, is a good compromise for last minute Larrys, and the app is worth downloading to keep track of it all too. But the festival is also all about spontaneity too, so don’t go too hard on the old organised fun.

3. Have at least one big night out.

The festival license means places stay open at least two hours longer than usual (so 5am in some cases), and a lot more cool venues are available to check out, so make the most of it!

4. Be prepared to queue. Everywhere.

That’s all I’ve got to say about that one really. Maybe don’t turn up to a show with minutes to spare?

5. Take an umbrella.

Even if it starts off sunny, remember: we are in Scotland. And there isn’t anything much more miserable than standing in said queues in the pouring rain. It happened to me circa 2007 and I’m not sure I’ve ever fully recovered.

6. And a hoodie.

You spend a lot of time outdoors during the festival and while it’s summer, again, we are in Scotland and once that sun goes down, the temperature takes a nose dive. So take something warm if you know you’re going to be sitting in one of the festival’s many outdoor areas!

7. Cash up.

Although a lot of the shows are free, it’s courtesy to leave a fiver in their tips collection at the end. Also some food and drink stalls don’t take card – and you cannot festival without beer and street food. Catching ubers can also be pretty extortionate (and slow – see point 1), so in case you need to grab an old-school cab, best to have a non-plastic form of payment on you.

8. Do NOT get over-excited when you see a celebrity.

After one too many drinks in the Gilded Balloon, I came face to face with a well-known comedian. And, er, told him who he was. He looked at me scathingly, muttered “fir fuck sake” and turned his back on me. Three years later, I still cringe every time I think of this. Stay cool out there, people.

9. Explore outside the city.

If it all gets too much, remember Edinburgh ain’t the only Fringe in town. North Berwick hosts Fringe By the Sea every year, which has music, food and drink, can be a welcome break from the assault of the Royal Mile. It’s a really arty community there and has a pretty chilled out vibe for days when you still wanna soak up some culture but cba with being in the city.

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The One with The Birthday: 28 lessons in as many years.

Birthdays in your late twenties are kind of weird. While I still enjoy them, I feel like every year brings with it an added pressure to be doing more with your life: this year’s not-so-gentle reminder to achieve. This feeling is, I accept, a result of bowing down to certain outdated social pressures whose threads, though increasingly fragile, remain intact. Like big, unwelcome cobwebs.

When are you going to do all those things you thought you would ten years ago, they whisper.

Who cares you have all those things we said you should have – a stable job, a boyfriend, a mortgage? You still haven’t cartwheeled across a beach in Costa Rica, or volunteered at a husky farm in Finland, they say.

You haven’t learned to surf (and what’s further, surf while the sun sets on an empty beach in Paraguay?). You haven’t walked the Brooklyn Bridge and you haven’t gone to live in Paris for a year like your 16 your old self said she would.

And what does life even MEAN, these cobwebs say, if you haven’t done everything you wanted?

And then there’s the loudest whisper. Quiet, but insistant.

“Life is passing you by.”

You’re not getting any younger, you’re reminded. If you still want kids in a few years you better get a shift on… Time waits for no-one, and you still haven’t done it all…

So in light of my recent 28th birthday on this big old planet, here are as many lessons I’ve learned so far along this winding, beautiful, pain in the arse, breathtaking, gorgeous, painful, exhilarating road of life. When I’m experiencing that Great Millennial Affliction of not being “enough”, or “having it all”, I offer myself the following advice:

  1. You’re here. And as long as you’re here, you’re still in the game.
  2. What you have done, you’ve done for a reason. It was your priority at the time, and it’ll stand you in good stead for whatever choices you make down the line.
  3. What’s for you won’t go by you. You want something enough and you’ll make it happen.
  4. No-one else is you. You are your USP. Use it.
  5. Never compare yourself to others. They don’t have what you do – not the other way round.
  6. Choose your friends wisely. Good ones are surprisingly hard to find, but you’ll know them by the way they bring you up, not pull you down.
  7. On that same token, distance yourself from toxic people. If they’re all about the drama and less about the substance, they’re never gonna be there for you when you need it – factoid.
  8. Be kind to others. You don’t always know what people are going through.
  9. Life is about compromise. Nobody Has It All. Including you. Choose the things that are the most important, and the rest will fall into place.
  10. Nobody else is having an easy ride while you’re struggling. Everyone’s facing some kind of battle – try not to be a martyr.
  11. It’s OK not to be OK. Seek help when you need it. Silence is a killer and taboo is outdated.
  12. Mistakes happen. Learn from them and do not beat yourself up.
  13. Question things. If you don’t agree – say so. You matter.
  14. Let people in.
  15. (But make sure they’re the right people.)
  16. ‘What if’ are two words that will kill you. Unleash your inner ABBA and take a chance on life.
  17. Get a kitten.
  18. You can’t appreciate travel without somewhere to come home to.
  19. Be the ‘yes gal’ as often as is responsible. It’ll lead you on many adventures. If not, it’ll give you stories.
  20. Don’t ever care what people think of you. It’s not about them.
  21. Don’t dwell on what you haven’t yet done. Celebrate the things you have (and there are plenty.)
  22. Practice patience. It can get you to all sorts of places.
  23. Don’t run away with the idea of something. It almost never lives up to the reality. Living in a world of unreachable ideas is the key to heartbreak. Keep your mind open and keep it real.
  24. It’s OK to be a dreamer but don’t distance yourself from reality, or the people who are right in front of you.
  25. Listening to classic road trip playlists can lift your mood massively.
  26. Knowledge is power – soak that shit up and you’ll be so much more prepared to take life on.
  27. Just like how you make mistakes, so do other people. Forgive.
  28. This is one I’m still working on but believing in yourself is paramount to living a fuller life. (Enter R. Kelly, stage left.)
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I don’t always make good decisions, but when I do…

There have been a few choices I’ve made in my life which, in retrospect, weren’t my wisest. Dying my hair black in secondary school was a big one. Taking a pair of heels with me the first time I went backpacking aged 18 was another (yes, they sat at the bottom of my bag for 4 weeks and no, I did not wear them once.) Going out for “a few” the night before a 5am flight also ranks up there in the Poor Judgement category, among many, many other bad life decisions which aren’t *quite* as suitable for public consumption.

But despite these fairly regular lapses, I’ve made a few conscious decisions which I’ll never regret. Here are a five of the most important ones I’ve made in the past few years.

Chasing travel

After graduating from university, I wasn’t interested in chasing any kind of ‘career’ job. I wanted to work for the sole purpose of earning money so I could go away. And yes, clearing tables and pulling pints while friends and fellow classmates were migrating to the big cities in the pursuit of degree justification was sometimes tough – but I am so, so glad that I stuck to my guns. It was all part of a bigger plan I had for myself.

I lived at home and saved for months before going off on two consecutive ski seasons in Europe and travelling South America. It sounds like a cliche but there’s nothing like throwing yourself out of your comfort zone, meeting different people and being exposed to environments at complete odds to your own to shape your outlook.

Although I’m in less of a flexible position now to travel for as long periods at a time, I try to make up for this by exploring new places as often as possible. I would love next year though to move abroad somewhere for a year or so.

Signing up for my Masters degree

During my last few months of uni, I had such a crappy time that I vowed I’d never take another academic exam again. Which of course is easy to say fresh out of graduation but alas, two years later and no relevant-to-degree job offers in sight, I realised if I ever wanted to earn a decent salary and use my skills at the same time, I’d have to face that return to uni fear.

Despite the fact it set me back all of my savings at the time, and I’ll be paying the debt off for another few years (possibly even decades…), it was a decision that had a hugely positive impact on my life. Yes, I was poor as hell for about 2 years, stressed out much of the time and exhausted from working various jobs to pay my way – but I made some brilliant pals, had some hilarious (er, and educational) experiences – and of course it got me my current job in writing, which was always the end goal.

Saying ‘yes’

I would probably call myself a confident introvert. This means that although I’m outgoing and confident, I really relish time on my own or I feel drained. This meant that a lot of the time when I was younger, I avoided certain social situations because I’d rather hang out in my comfort zone, doing ‘me’ things and ignoring the outside world when I wanted to.

But, like going to the gym, I realised that actually, the thought of the thing is not as bad as the thing itself. In fact, the thing itself can sometimes be really good fun. I think I made excuses for why I couldn’t do things too much of the time, instead of just going for it and taking part in experiences and opportunities that may never come my way again.

As a blogger, I’m invited to loads of different, exciting new things and this has become something I look forward to and embrace rather than finding excuses for. #Whoknew?

Conforming to my inner ‘adult’

The concept of having a steady job, paying a mortgage, maintaining a relationship and still somehow enjoying life used to baffle me. It all sounded so suffocating and restricting – and to be totally honest, occasionally I still feel like that.

But I’ve now come to see that for me, the pros far outweigh the cons. In some ways, having all the things I once thought would suffocate me in fact gives me more freedom than ever. My job gives me a regular salary, which allows me to plan my future better than I ever could before. Owning a house means I can do whatever the hell I want with it, creating an environment that I love (hello neon signs), and being in a relationship with the right person allows me the added confidence of not only accepting myself, but having someone else celebrate exactly who I am too.

And yes, ‘adulting’ can sometimes be shit – I still occasionally crave those heady uni days of random day drinking, slothing in pyjamas dissecting the night before, drinking jagerbombs mid week and living on money you didn’t *really* have.

But nothing beats that feeling of having control of your life, supporting yourself and laying your own path.

Flicking my comfort zone the finger (oo-er)

Three years ago, I applied for an internship in Turin, Italy, working in the Communications department of an EU agency. I applied not really thinking I’d get it, and about 10 days later I’d rented my room in Edinburgh out, said bye to my (at the time) new-ish boyfriend and gone to live in a country where I knew nobody, was living with strangers and didn’t speak the language.

Was it intimidating? Yes. Did I sometimes want to cry? Frequently. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

To be honest, I found the first half of my time there really really tough. I was struggling a lot with low mood and felt completely isolated. I missed my friends and boyfriend at home and felt stressed out by the uni course I was also juggling. Writing a dissertation and studying for exams while working full time is no joke let me tell you – and I was a childless, effectively single woman with no social life at this point so big cheers to the parents out there who somehow manage this!

Anyway, I got through it, and those 3 months remain some of the most important in my life. They showed me the power of determination, motivation, inner strength, independence and the life-affirming rewards you get from stepping completely out of your comfort zone and proving to yourself you can and you will.

 

As far as I’m concerned, making bad decisions is a vital component in being able to recognise the good ones. As long as you’re trying stuff out you’re nailing it. So get going and decide what that future of yours is gonna hold…

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