London One Month in: A Brief Moment of Reflection

At the end of this week I’ll have been living and working in the big smoke for a month and what a whirlwind of experiences it has been.

Walking past the Tower of London each morning like it’s just another overdeveloped house on the street, diving in and out of fellow commuters like it’s an art form (and, when it fails, dashing off without making eye contact). Staring blanking the world and for once the world happily blanking you back, this city is unlike anything I’ve ever encountered. It was when a cyclist yelled at me “watch the f**king road!” whilst jumping a red light that I realised I was properly London. Why? Because I did not care.

So when people in the very English town of Swindon grab me and ask “what’s London like?” or colleagues in London nudge me with take out cups “would you go back there [Swindon] now?”  I feel myself lost for words. How can you defend a proudly average town surrounded by Cotswold beauty or champion a buzzing and vibrant city that rips you off at every turn? You just can’t, especially not in one sentence (which is what everyone wants). One month in and I don’t see myself being able to formulate a succinct sound bite anytime soon.

I swore to myself weeks before moving that I was not going to let this opportunity slip. I refused to spend eight months working flat out and then moping about my bedroom complaining I had nothing to do. I didn’t want to become like some of my other London friends or indeed like myself in the Cotswolds, brought up without visiting or fully appreciating what was on offer on one’s doorstep.

In light of this, here is a short list of some of the things I’ve done in my first month (well, three weeks three days):

  • Started a diary-come-log-come-Alice’s-attempts-at-professionalism
  • Walked along the South Bank A LOT
  • Visited the Tate Modern even more
  • Introduced to and then introduced others to Borough Market
  • Speed Friending (like speed dating but a lot more chilled out)
  • Made new friends
  • Caught up with very old friends
  • Comedy gigs
  • Explored Wapping
  • Tate Gallery
  • National Portrait Museum
  • Been out for drinks
  • General landmarks – e.g. St Pauls, Westminster, various bridges
  • Burnt 1,000,000,000,000,000 calories from walking everywhere (a mix of commuting and stubbornness to pay for the Tube. 90 minute walking time is my cut off point for getting the Tube on a weekend).
  • Got ill
  • Bought my weight in face cleansers after discovering the heat and air quality was making my skin truly disgusting (FYI I don’t plan on coming out of London with an improved life expectancy).
  • Spoilt countless tourist photos and selfies and walked into a number of French school children on purpose for taking up the entire pavement. Bruises of pride.

And this is only month one. As I get more established I hope to explore more of real London as opposed to tourist London through personal exploration and using my old and new friends (no pressure guys). I want to network with people and make a name for myself. And then I want to meet a rich banker who will take me out to the opera and buy me Hotel Chocolat chocolates for no reason (not just the free samples they give when you visit a shop). And then he’ll remind me how wonderfully amazing I am when I moan about the price of eggs and then buy me the most expensive eggs at M&S to prove a point. When the latter happens I’m not waiting around, consider the man engaged.

I mean I’m not asking for much right?

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I’m Ruddy Awesome

The below piece was something I recently did for my organisation’s internal newsletter. At the time it got a lot of praise and a few chuckles so I thought I’d share it with my lovely readers as well (be it with a few tweaks to make it understandable to an external audience). Enjoy!

I’m Ruddy Awesome

 

Recently myself and a group of work colleagues undertook a two-day Mindset and Attitude course. Now, while all those in attendance will completely understand the term ‘lollipop moment’, say that to the rest of the world and you only get concern over my company’s funding policies (especially when you talk about the whole ‘tied up with rope, blindfolded and groping about “game”’ and dancing around to ABBA). With my Excel course I got given manuals to leave about my desk (‘look at me, I’m so smart. I have manuals!’) but Mindset, well, it’s harder to explain.

‘Annie, right now are you in the box or out the box?’

‘…I’m at my desk?’

 At Mindset we discussed our values and career aspirations and learnt ways to communicate better amongst other valuable exercises. On paper it was a jolly outing interjected with TED talks and Psychology lessons, nothing that you’d think would make much difference. However, in the weeks and months since I’ve started to form a new perspective.

The thing is when it comes to the day-to-day I’m pretty modest. I know how to talk to people and how to construct a fabulous bit of writing, but when someone tells me I’m awesome I’ve never been good at taking it onboard. I throw my head to one side and my hand goes all limp, finished with an ‘oh you’ as I quite literally bat away the feedback. Mindset and Attitude helped me acknowledge this and, when I struggled to praise myself, Richard Thorpe (the man leading the sessions) got the group to fill in. Being unable to run away from the positive comments of my peers turned me beetroot red, but five minutes was all it took for me to realise my own strengths and qualities.

A couple of weeks later I was in an art gallery in Bath (as you do) when the room steward grabbed me mid-exit. Much to my surprise, the lady proceeded to shower me with praise. She’d been fascinated by how I’d taken in the art on display (because apparently there’s a right and wrong way to view art) and didn’t want me to leave without saying something. Aside from thinking ‘how do I get “art viewing” on my CV?’ I also found myself smiling, eyes locked and hand firmly at my side.

I left the gallery feeling great. An actual lollipop moment! I also realised that in my quest to be a classy, empowered lady maybe I had been one all along. Perhaps I’d been my own blocker, taking in only the bad comments and pushing away the good.

Take aways from Mindset and Attitude include making time for people (a cheeky Facebook like at 7am does not count) and an end to copious coffee drinking at 10pm. Going forward I’m going to hold my head that bit higher and tell myself I’m the best thing to happen to every meeting. Why? Because I’m ruddy awesome.

 

More information on the Mindset Coaching offered by Richard Thorpe can be found on his company website: https://www.wiseheart.co.uk/ or contact Richard direct at richard@wiseheart.co.uk

 

Dear Joe…

The below article (titled “Dear Joe”) was written for a work newsletter which is produced on a rotational basis by those on my finance development program. It’s a light hearted take on when I did something very crazy; telling the CEO of a top ten finance institution to improve his presentation skills.

***

‘You criticised the CEO? Are you crazy?!’

You know how in the movies the protagonist always has a life affirming moment on top of a mountain or in the pouring rain? Well mine took place in the West Swindon branch of Dominoes.

‘I didn’t criticise him, I just told him his presentation needed improvement.’

‘Oh Alice.’

And that’s when it hit me.

It had all started so well-meaning. Joe Garner had delivered a presentation to the 2017 Emerging Talent cohort back in November. All eyes in the room were on Joe as he tested his microphone on stage, it felt like I was at some kind of corporate Ed Sheeran concert. And yet, by the time it was finished I felt mildly disappointed.

Because no digital communication in the history of mankind has ever been misinterpreted, I decided to email Joe my feedback. ‘Dear Joe,’ I started, ‘thanks for taking the time to present on Friday. At the risk of sounding critical…’

Fast forward eight hours and there I was in Dominoes having the above conversation with my housemate.

‘I’m stuffed, aren’t I?’

I received a prompt reply from Joe the next day. Thankfully he’d seen the well-meaning in my email and thanked me for the feedback, whilst also responding to one of my points. ‘How can we expect people to magically buy houses when we don’t educate on finance?’ I ever so delicately put. Well, Joe says, funnily enough it was a topic currently being looked into by ExCo and something that I might want to be more informed on if I so wished.

Next thing I know, I’m outside the office Graeme Hughes, Relationships and Distribution Lead and ExCo member. He and Hannah Faulkner, Joe’s Executive Assistant, sat with me for almost an hour discussing past, present and future ideas for finance education. Graeme explained the different approaches Nationwide had taken in the past and why they hadn’t been as successful as hoped. I took a powerful sip on my strong coffee and gave my response to these comments. Graeme’s eyebrow lifted as he leaned back in his chair.

‘Ok, so what do you propose?’

I came away from the meeting with a splitting headache but feeling as pumped as David Cameron. The firm handshake and broad smile of Graeme said what Hannah readily exclaimed. ‘I am so glad to have met you! We must meet again!’

All said and done I really need to stop emailing Joe Garner.

How to be More Like Alice

Have you ever woken up and thought ‘damn, yet another morning and I’m still not Alice E. Bennett? Heck I’m not even Alice Bennett and there are thousands of those, including this deceased bae…’

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Well fear not because below are a few simple things you can adopt in your life to be less like you and more like me. And a world with more Alice would be a fudging sweet one.

  • Make this your new backing track:
  • Or this:
  • Listen to Classic FM on lunch breaks whilst reading solid literature. Bonus points for adding an amused/coy smile when you have no idea what you’re reading about.
  • Make the same sad cheese sandwich for lunch everyday. Own the saved pennies, disown the taste!
  • Play the game ‘new mole or just melted chocolate?’
  • Walk so fast you forget to look where you’re going, trip and smash your head into the pavement. Is that concussion or are you feeling sassier already?WP_20160218_18_08_05_Pro.jpg
  • Spill tea or coffee. Just because.
  • Dresses need to become a thing in your life.
  • Either look adorable…

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  • …Or honest.

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  • Drink wine knowing almost certainly what it will bring.
  • Read books in coffee shops – initially with the pretence of looking sophisticated but then because you enjoy the experience.
  • Explore/visit things by yourself and be perfectly happy in doing so.
  • Work hard, write harder.
  • Love your family.

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  • Mock your family.
  • But most of all, never forget your humble beginnings as a pair of 90s curtains.

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  • …Or a bin bag.securedownload (3)

 

Do that and you’ll be right on track to being more like Alice E. Bennett. Just don’t come knocking round my door asking for tea bags, you can spill your own tea.

2017 – A Chinese New Year in Review

It has just dawned on me I never got round to doing a write up for 2017. Oh how you poor souls must have struggled to survive these past ten weeks. Well good news, it’s the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Dog in fact (why do I say that like it’s that big a deal?) which automatically gives me an excuse to do the yearly review in February.

I’ll keep this short and sweet because I’m multitasking this between a conversation of Papa Bennett’s new Volvo and Mumma Bennett discussing ISAs and investments. There’s also a crumble in the oven which I need to keep an eye on (did I ever tell you how middle class my family is?)

Anyway, a quick update on 2017.

Important Stuff Kicking Off:

  • Trump / Brexit (use as headline news where appropriate)
  • Bruce Forsyth, Adam West, Peter Sallis, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and, most painfully, Keith Chegwin died this year. According to The Sun (look, it came top of the Google search) more men died than women. Not sure if this means more famous women are needed, more famous female deaths are impending, or The Sun is sexist (or all three)..
  • Meanwhile, in Ireland…
  • Meanwhile, in London…

 

Personal Stuff Kicking Off

  • In March 2017 – bought a house (no biggie) and started a mini-series on my website documenting the process of buying and doing it up. You can access the series via the link on the top bar or here: The First Time Buyer Diaries (TFTBD)
  • June – builders moved in for a week and took off the back of my house to increase the size of the downstairs bedroom. Given the back of the property was protected only by a sheet of plastic for several days sleeping didn’t come too easily on those nights. Spoiler – I survived. (I’ll write more about this as part of TFTBD at some point.)
  • August – went on a mini-break to Prague. (Why Prague? Because it’s the cheapest place a skint homeowner can visit within the EU, that’s why.) Booked a hotel room in the centre of the historic capital which meant easy access after all the tourist hoards had left (although FYI the bars close early!) Particular elements to call out were a Gerhard Richter exhibition and a classical music concert. Found both experiences very emotive.
  • August – Bought a car. Still recovering from the expense of buying a house and paying for a holiday, my lovely blue Fiat 500 (and all associated costs) quite literally broke me. For all of about two weeks I had hardly two pennies to rub together. That was fun…
  • In September I started a new job in the glamorously corporate world of finance, working in project governance (haven’t you seen 50 Shades? Control is sexy). This job is wonderful because a) it pays more b) all the men have to wear suits and c) the support, development and progression networks are vastly superior compared to where I was before. Oddly enough A and B were not articulated in my original job interview.
  • October – discovered my new job is nothing like Wolf of Wall Street.
  • Technically it happened in January 2018 but I’m going to tell you anyway. Long story short, I’m now single. I’m fine, that is unless you’re offering to buy me chocolate, wine or coffee. In which case I’m a mess.

In Other News

  • I created this masterpiece for my sister’s birthday, putting together my two all time loves: Windows Movie Maker and Phil Collins.

(Ridley Scott should be afraid is all I’m saying.)

  • Swindon 18-30 breeched 600 member mark.
  • Writing stuff stagnated somewhat, but looking to revitalise this for 2018.

 

So overall a busy year for the world (Trump, Brexit, need I say more?) And for me (house, car, job, at this rate I’m going to run out of things to spend my money on, hah-hah as if I just typed that!)

Happy New Chinese Year everyone!

10. There’s a Lot of Shizz in my Room

There was a room.

A room full of bits and pieces and accumulated knick-knacks gathered over the course of two years. All telling the story of Alice Bennett, the Alice Bennett Installation if you like. Small, full of rubbish and severely lacking in suitable storage. A room unable to decide whether it wanted to rival Tracey Emin or desperately try and avoid it.

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Alice Bennett’s 2017 installation – ‘Push it Against the Wall and It’ll Become Invisible’
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Tracey Emin’s 1998 installation ‘My Bed’ – what can I say, I learn from the best.

As the house sale on the property next door started drawing to its intended close, I realised I was actually going to have to tidy up and clear all my stuff out. And this wasn’t something that a bottle of Windowlene and a couple of Peter Gabriel songs could solve, it was going to involve brutal woman power and an acceptance that, indeed, my room was full of shizz.

The timing for this wasn’t great, I was in the process of re-establishing my love of porridge and the supermarket had a sale on. Plus the shared kitchen gave me no space for storing foodstuffs (see – There’s Some Weird Shizz in My Cupboard) so I started the process of cleaning my room by with piling a load of oat sachets chocolate bars and varying alcohols and taking a photo of it for Instagram, obviously.

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Remember what I said about Tracey Emin aspirations?

Then it all got too much and I wrote a blog article about something else.

Several days later, after consuming a sizeable amount of ‘the pile’, I remembered why I’d piled it in the first place. I got cracking with the tidy up.

It was a painful process. Because I’d achieve a mini-milestone of clearing one patch of floor space…

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…to turn around and see this behind me:

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That’s what hurt me most. Having to empty drawers and boxes that had previously hidden so much but now spewed everywhere. As you can probably tell, my room was tiny in the shared house, the double bed sandwiched into the small space the only way it possibly could.

The clean went on. Thanking the God’s for a decent metabolism and reasonably priced gym membership, one evening I wriggled under the low bed to pull out all the hidden ‘gems’ that had spent years in the shadows. Forget Blue Planet, my under-bed had some weirder things than the deepest depths of the Antarctic Ocean.

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But it also had a couple of bottles of wine so I was prepared to overlook some of the other things I found under there.

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Discovering bottles of wine when cleaning is like finding a five pound note when you’re tidying your room aged ten.

I learnt a lot about myself when cleaning up that space. For example, I’m a closet hoarder who’s in denial. I had enough plastic bags to fill a tanker.

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But then I realised I was British so quickly laid to rest my concerns. I wasn’t weird, just normal. In the same way I had been unable to throw away a handbag I like so mended it with a safety pin as a short term solution. Five million handbags later, I found it at the bottom of my wardrobe.

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You just wait until ‘Make Do and Mend’ comes back into fashion.

A week or so later (yes, that long) I was starting to see progress in the big tidy up.

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Yes, I saw this as progress.

I was quickly becoming numb to the difficulty of throwing stuff out. Either an item was literally falling apart or I was lazy and wanted future me in her massive house to store it. Clearing out items was as black and white as that.

When it came to my wardrobe door however I was forced to make more brutal decisions.

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I find it easier to tear up memories when it means I can spend more time looking at Andrew Lincoln’s face in Love Actually.

In rentals (or at least mine) blu tac is the substance of Satan, pretty much all landlords don’t want it anywhere near their magnolia walls. In place of that, the thin door was my only place to tac up things which meant something to me. A pin board-come-scrap-book of information and pictures that summed me up. New job cards, renters info from the Telegraph, a sassy postcard from M&S, it was, well, me. And now I had to take it all down and be a big girl for a change. Renters and school girls can do this sort of thing, homeowners with matching furniture sets and themed wallpapers couldn’t. The odd item got put to one side (sassy postcard, check!) but most of it ended up in the bin.

When the drawers were finally emptied and the shizz (well, most of) was in a black bin sack there remained little for me to do than slog over the worn down dirty mess that was the carpet. The landlord had bestowed on us a Henry hoover to enable us to keep the house tidy. Now, Alice, I hear you cry, what could possibly be wrong with that? Hurrah for landlords! Well, before you think my previous landlord was a saint…

  1. Three storey townhouses with heavy, hose-based, Henry’s do not mix.
  2. Never expect tenants to buy hoover bags, especially when most do not know what they are.
  3. No hoover will revive a cheap, well trodden, carpet that hasn’t been replaced since the property was built fifteen years ago. None.

I spent hours on my hands and knees trying to suck up every bit of dirt the machine could just about manage. I knew at the time it was a joke, trying to remove a strand of hair from the dirty beige pile. At the end of it I was so exhausted that I think I lost it a bit. On a Saturday night, a Saturday night, I put this on my Instagram:

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The filter only makes it worse.

I mean seriously.

Once that was done all that was left was to wait. Until the house sale was completed a lot of items remained bagged up in assorted suitcases donated by family and random shopping bags. It looked like I was about to go to some far flung country, about to jet off somewhere new, but in the meantime I had to sit and wait it out while messages pinged in from solicitors and I scrabbled around the square of floor to complete important documents. Like I was waiting for my plane to depart.

After the sale had completed on my house I started moving items over, often taking a heavy case down to flights of stairs, across, up another two flights of stairs, then dumping the contents in a cold, empty bedroom. Then back down and up, fill up the case again and repeat. Then do the same with kitchenware and foodstuffs and you have the makings of a very drawn out, tiring, house move. My housemates would watch me carrying out the unorthodox house move in silence, whether they thought I was crazy or not mattered little to either of us.

On the last night I packed up my case with the last of the few items of clothing and put out what else remained on the bedside table.

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The boiled down essentials of Alice Bennett, all laid out on one tiny rectangle. At first I was a little bit emotional, then I felt a bit let down by the basicness. Only I would rate the presence of Sudocrem and a lemon pip higher than books or make up. What scenario would cause me to urgently need Sudocrem and a lemon pip I do not know.

The duvet and bedding got carried round to the house bright and early the next day, alongside the final case of clothes which this time got left unopened in the bedroom. Into one of my many plastic bags I scooped up the bedside table contents and checked the tiny room for the millionth time. I knew that it would be clear and I also knew that living next door it would be a breeze to collect things should anything have been missed off, but it still didn’t stop me checking again.

Ironically, now the room was clear of junk and shizz it looked much bigger, I realised why I’d taken it on in the first place (well, cheap rent and location were the main reasons, but still).

 

I placed my bedroom door key on the bedside and with a final long look and a sigh, walked out with the latch off so that the newer housemates could peer in after I’d gone. I slipped out the front door and posted the key back through the brass-coloured letter box. Done.

 

There was a room.

A room full of bits and pieces and knick-knacks accumulated over the course of two years. A room which told the story of a kooky girl who hailed from Gloucestershire (or was it Hampshire or Warwickshire?) who worked in a solid job, with solid interests, yet always aspired to be more. She moved out of the busy house share and into her own home next door. Why? Because we all thought she was mental.

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This post is part of The First Time Buyer Diaries. To view all articles in the series (so far) click here.

Loop

I get up, I work, I sleep.

That’s how my days pan out nowadays. Nothing much in between.

Maybe come the weekend I’ll venture out and explore the world, find a hidden corner of this town that I’ve yet to discover. I’ve yet to try out that bar on Elm Street, heard good things about it. Might be worth a try. Oh, is that an email? Better give it a look…

I get up, I work, I sleep.