The Bits of London that Make the Bigger Picture

It’s been a while since I put together a heavily picture-based post and I also haven’t given much of an update into my crazy London lifestyle* (*crazy mainly because I now shop at Tesco’s rather than Sainsburys – I’m off the chain). So as I was scrolling through the very typically Alice photo reels I thought I’d combine the two and create a random post full of random images. If you want to see more photos like these check me out on Instagram (aeb_thewriter).

First off, start with this to set your weekend off right:

Maybe it’s the work, maybe it’s the general buzz of the big city but I’ve very much got into my acoustic covers since moving. Perfect music to unwind to.

And what’s a chilled weekend without a good coffee? My local haunt is a tiny little shop on the corner of Cinnamon Street rather aptly called Cinnamon Coffee Shop.

Inside there’s only a small selection of seats however every one offers a perfect people watching spot, be it people walking down the quiet back streets of Wapping or those dashing in and out with their soy lattes to go. I’ve spent many an hour in this place on a weekend afternoon, chilling with a book whilst The Beatles play in the background.

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I drink coffee alongside exposed lightbulbs and at 2/3 circle tables. I’m not hipster, but…

And if Cinnamon is packed out then the coffee world is my oyster. I usually hang out at Caffe Nero on the South Bank (Oxo Tower), but closer to the flat you can find me either at the Starbucks at St. Katherine’s Docks or the Starbucks at Hay’s Galleria.

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It’s outside, but covered over, but charging eat-in prices (but paying for take out).

And if you disturb me whilst reading…

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Or clean away my coffee when I haven’t finished…

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“The small girl took command of the situation”…by running away from the body.

That said, even though I’m arguably doing more ‘young professional’ reading (sans avocado) than ever before, I still think I have a little way to go yet. A) because an equally intellectual man has yet to act on this (“wait, you’re telling me Hollywood is a lie?”) and B) my powers of embracing all forms of Art is still a little way off. Case in point; this Sainsburys receipt on display at the Tate Modern (South Bank).

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You know I’d probably have found it easier to accept if I hadn’t discovered the shopper-come-artist spent over £50 and didn’t claim any of the Nectar points.

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That’s 26.5p in points. Wasted. And you know, back in June 2016 I’d have happily have taken those. It’s just selfish if you ask me.

But that’s the crazy thing with living somewhere where you wake up with a view of Tower Bridge and say goodnight to the bright lights of the Shard. Things and places that I wouldn’t have ever imagined having access to are now only a short walk away. I see the Tower of London twice everyday on my walking commute to work to the point of being blasé to its historic value and beauty.

Loathed as I am to say it, London has also opened me up to some great opportunities and experiences. I’ve attended fancy events with old friends I haven’t seen in ages…

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…and at the polar opposite I’ve got completely drenched queuing for tickets in the pouring rain.

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I was one of the last people to get a seat but, from looking at everyone else, the worst prepared for the British weather. My whole body was so numb and shaking it’s a wonder I could take a photo.

I recently discovered that, contrary to my assumptions, my name isn’t as obvious as I had thought. This is what happened when I went bowling after work with some colleagues (including Bev and Theo).

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Hmm.

The weekend just gone marked the main celebration of Bonfire night (English tradition of lighting big fires and fireworks on or around 5th November. Has historical links, Google it). And in part because I didn’t have anyone to go with but more significantly because I didn’t fancy having to pay the money and fight the London crowds I chose to have a quiet one in. That was until I realised that my bedroom window had a clear sight of a massive firework display happening locally, which this expertly taken photo proves (and will you full on instantaneous envy).

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You really had to be there. After trying about ten times to get a decent shot I put my phone down and enjoyed the display as it was intended to be seen.

Have you ever watched a firework display in slouch clothing with a plate of Chilli Con Carne? Very novel experience.

In a pictorial nutshell those are the key elements of my life in London. Work, coffee, books, exhibitions, embracing spontaneity. So far I think I’ve got the balance right, I’m spending more money (“welcome to London hun”) but not as much as I had expected. As I say to work colleagues and friends, “I can buy a cheap-ish coffee at work everyday and gulp it quickly in front of a computer monitor, or I can invest a little more on the weekends and enjoy a hot drink and cake in a coffee shop where I can relax for an hour.” Seems an obvious choice to me.

Central London may be causing havoc with my skin and with my shopping habits (it is frustrating that the entirety of ‘The City’ shuts down on the weekend) but I have come to accept that it’s what comes as part of the lifestyle when you live so ridiculously close to work by London standards. Charm and character will just have to wait for those times I travel back to the family home (picture the opening scene of Bridget Jones).

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Fun fact: the opening scenes/scenes of Bridget’s family home were filmed in a village called Snowshill which itself is near to where I was brought up. In case you wanted further proof I am country bumpkin.

For what it’s worth (worth being not having to pay for a Tube season ticket and live in an area of suburbia feels out of character given its location), Wapping is more than good enough for me. Who knows what the next weeks will hold as I take on this smoke-filled jungle at Christmas, but right now I’m going to focus on the more pressing questions.

For example…

1. What was going through this person’s head last Saturday at the Surrey Quays Tesco Extra?

If it’s what I think it is then they’ve missed the point. Everyone knows the quality of water is only as good as the plant feed when it comes to cut flowers. Boy are they going to look silly when they come to put those on their kitchen table.

And 2. Why are they called epanbeppies here?

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When She Gives You This Look…

I was in a hipster bar in Shoreditch the other day, attending a chilled out event with an old friend. Before the event kicked off the organiser handed out two disposable cameras, encouraging attendees to use the ‘retro’ objects to take snaps of themselves and their friends. After a quick operation guide for the avocado lovers we were left to our own free will as the main event kicked off. The was only one rule – you have to turn the flash on to get a viewable image post development.

About mid way through one of the cameras reached my friend and I at the back. After a lot of faff (“you’ve got to hold the flash button and the snap button? Well that’s impractical”), my friend got her arms into position and was able to press both front flash and main snap buttons. She held her fingers in position, waiting for me to give the go ahead, completely unaware that I was instead focusing all energies on trying to maintain what I thought was a half-decent smile in the pitch black room. Eventually through gritted teeth and aching cheeks I told her to take the photo. A second later there was a click and I was blinded. The flash on that camera! God that flash left me seeing blotches for minutes afterwards! “Enjoying the show?” “Well I would if I could see it!” Watery eyed we passed the disposable camera to two guys and carried on with our glasses of wine. We tried to forget the hipster ritual we’d put ourselves through for no reason.

That was until today. Today I was reminded once again why I can never be a famous super model type. A) I like food but B) this girl does not handle a camera well, with now the addition of ‘flash lighting’ being able to join the list of photographic types that don’t suit me.

This, ladies and gentlemen, this is the developed photo taken on a Kodak disposable camera in the basement of a Shoreditch bar in East London.

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I mean…

What makes it worse:

  • My friend came out so well in comparison (I can’t play the ‘neither of us suited it’).
  • The event organiser emailed all the ticket holders with a direct link to an album of all the developed photos on their Facebook page (so a lot of people will have now seen the photo).
  • Finally (and most importantly) if you look through the album you’ll see that everyone else who took a photo came out well/funny, EVERYONE ELSE.

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All the attendees are looking classy and humorous whereas I’m sat in the back row bar stools looking like someone trying to get through a date with Rumpelstiltskin. That or a charity case of a human suffering with a freak jaw lock condition, for which I expect to be approached by Channel 5 in the upcoming days.

Dear or dear. Still, who says I can’t laugh at myself from time to time? But seriously, don’t hand me a disposable camera again. Please.

Girl Gotta Read

Here’s a newsflash…I like books.

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I once read somewhere that book lovers never go to bed alone and well I’m that. I read books in pretty much every stereotypical place, including in bed and I’ve woken up with a book is on the pillow on more than one occasion (‘oh God, 50 Shades of Grey, we didn’t…?’) But at the same time another reason why I never go to bed alone is because my room is packed full of books. It’s only now when I’m (tying) to have a clear out that I’m beginning to realise quite how many feature in my life. Call it a bit of soul searching, because I don’t care if you’re Mr Rockefeller or if you saved fifty refugees from a burning missionary school, if you don’t have time for literature then this ain’t gonna work out.

Think I’m being a bit over the top? Well here are all the types/places I keep my books. Bear in mind as well that these are just the ones in my bedroom.

 

Alice’s Books

I have a pile of unread books…

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…And a pile of recently read books

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(Before you ask I do a little bit of yoga which subsequently means I’m now super flexible. I used to do more but I have reason to believe it contributed to stuffing up my knee eighteen months ago but that’s a story for another day.)

I store books on my window shelves which is great because it means I don’t need to open/close my Venetian blinds when I get up every morning (I call them my ‘modesty books’)

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(That’s right, I own four Blue Peter badges but that’s a story for another day.)

I have intellectual reads

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I possess old book buyer catalogues (in case I ever needed more coffee table material)

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I own a box of old books

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I have books on the waitlist for more permanent accommodation

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I also have a few Alice books (aka photo albums) with glossy memories I value more than pixels. One of the best friend presents I ever got was the album titled ’21 Things I Love About Alice Bennett’ (left).

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And do not get me started on notebooks

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Good news though, I’ve recently purchased an oak bookcase so now I can purchase and store even more books! (I kid, I really need to clear a lot of these out and move the rest to the book case – except my modesty books.)

Looking to take my conversation engagement from 0 to 60? Give me a book and tell me why my life is poorer without it.

A Crumble by Any Other Name

I’m looking at an apple crumble made by Mum, complete with a dollop of clotted cream on the side. Because it’s homemade I have no idea when it’s use by is or, indeed, was. Because it’s me I don’t really care. It’s sweet and sugary and has fruit somewhere deep inside and in my world that’s all that matters. (Well, that and not being poisoned by it, of course.)

I debated whether to take a snapshot of the squidgy, crumbly, goo but then opted against. “The world will not judge my diet today!” I triumphantly thought, before typing up my eating habits for the world to read online.

I momentarily stop in creative passion to return my attention to more pressing matters. The beast calls for what it cannot grab from its imprisonment within. Like a puppet dancing on strings my hands respond to the master’s call. Ten twitching digits grab the faded bowl which had been lain on crumb-covered sheets, the dirtied spoon lifted from a used yoghurt pot beside.

“They cannot judge what they can’t see” I uttered to myself once again. A scoop of dessert piled high with cream onto the small tea spoon, the perfect combination of dry and moist. Each component would be lost without the other, and yet under the strain of such a mass the teaspoon could almost be heard squeaking for mercy. I happily donate my charity to the plea as I inserted the mixture into my mouth, eyes closed in anticipation.

Suddenly the relaxed, drawn, eye lids sprung open to reveal a very different emotion.

“The cream’s gone off.”

 

(Written in response to the prompt of the day: Crumb )

Why The Word ‘Commit’ Makes Me Yawn

When people talk of commitment they’re usually referring to an attachment to a person, goal or foodstuff. All well and good but incredibly predictable. So what you can commit to your job, guess what? The rest of the employed world already does that. You’re committed to your partner? I should darn well hope so! It’s just so predictable and, well, boring.

On the flipside I often feel the word “commit” can also come off as a bit strong, for me it casts images of stone handcuffs imprisoning you forever to an assertion. So you say you’re committed to a food brand? Uh huh, lets see what happens when I double its price and halve that of its rival.

Take this hypothetical example…

Me: “I want to eat a banana.”

Internal Devil Voice: “NO! You must eat chocolate. You said you’re committed to it!”

Me: “But that was one time when was single and having a binge day.”

Devil: “You can’t just drop a commitment because it suits you. You said it then, deal with the consequences of your actions.”

Me: “But…but…”

Devil: “No buts, now eat fatty, eat!”

And this is why I can only eat chocolate. Damn you Devil voice, you and your forcing me to eat unhealthily! *shakes fist in the air

However to prove that I’m not some kind of free spirited hippie that can’t bind herself to anything more than breathing, here is a list of things I can at least half-commit to (without lying or making you want to throw up).

These things are:

  • Tea
  • Coffee
  • Spilling both on frequent occasion
  • Vintage-style dresses
  • The memory of Heath Ledger in Ten Things I Hate About You
  • Mika’s first album
  • Chocolate (see above conversation)
  • New pillows
  • Phil Collins…just Phil Collins
  • The 2016/17 TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale (thou shalt not talk about the 1990 film)
  • My writing

There you go, all the things I can reasonably commit to and make me happy. You now know a lot more about compared to a post writing a soppy love story about how committed I am to my family. I bet as a reader you preferred it too. Please feel free to send me any combination of these things to my door, although FYI chocolate covered Phil Collins is a definite no. Lets get that idea nipped in the bud.

 

Oddly enough this post was written in response to the word prompt of the day Commit

Money CAN Buy You Happiness

Right now you’ll probably be thinking a) she’s lying, b) she’s mad c) she’s referring to Thai brides or d) she’s been set up by Chanel to sell their new fragrance “Happiness”. But hear me out on this ok? Because it is true, money has bought me happiness and really there is no excuse why it can’t do the same for you, you annnnddd you. Maybe not you though. I can’t put my finger on it, but just not you.

Anyone expecting a Buzz Feed list or a three step plan to get happiness with bundles of cash should metaphorically walk away how. Such a list does not and will never exist. If it does exist it’s a con to get you investing in gold goats in the Congo. You would not expect someone to tell you how to make millions of pounds in cash in three steps so why would you expect someone to tell you how to make millions of pounds in happiness in a couple of bullet points?

Lets take this back to the start. Que wavy, squiggly, lines and enter into a flashback…

Back in August 2014 I had just moved to Swindon. A recent graduate, I was sat on my bed knowing no one and nothing about where I was, with only a degree and assorted volunteering experience to my name. Financially I was not destitute but I also had the lovely student debt monster living with me.

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Not the stuff of nightmares, just an annoying creature that never buggers off.

I was sat there and it was ruddy scary, I won’t lie. It would be for anyone. You go from being with family, then you are ripped apart to go to university/college and then torn away again to start afresh as a proper adult. What nobody ever tells you (particularly the higher education institutions) is the the second split is much harder than the first time. So much harder. When you go into university no one knows anyone else, so you’re all in the same boat. You’re put with other new people in accommodation blocks (or halls), so you’re huddled closely in said boat. And the university puts on a range of social and course related events to help you settle in, they provide the gentle wind to safely direct your boat to stop you wanting to jump off. What I quickly learnt post higher education is that after you’re received your qualification, once paper and sweaty palm shakes have been exchanged, universities really do not care. “Have you got a job?” “Yes” “Would you deem the job and wage graduate level?” “Yes” “Good. Fill in this survey and off you pop.”

Moving to Swindon to start work was hard. In the real world everybody knows each other already, they are all a range of ages and live in their own properties, so you can’t live with them (I tried that card, apparently it’s not a thing). And these people have things that take up time called children and partners? I.e. they don’t socialise in the same way. I felt like I was in a leaky boat, by myself, being pushed along to China, or maybe South Africa, there was no map or wind to guide me. I felt a bit betrayed by my university, especially when the Alumni please-give-us-all-your-money emails started coming through days after I’d begun my job. At this time a self-help email to work, tax, living alone etc. would actually have made me feel so much better when I was at my worst.

It was around mid September 2014 I realised happiness and a social life in the real world does not land on your lap without effort. With that I switched off TV, cracked open the laptop and started singing “Eye of the Tiger” while I searched for a solution online. I sounded like this.

Pottery Classes

I searched evening classes at my local college. I decided on Pottery classes, a 10-week course which would introduce me to the subject. Annoyingly it was fully booked for the Autumn term, but I handed over £90 and signed myself up for the Spring term class. It was meant to be an introduction but I ended up paying to do the Summer term as well. Pottery was a great way for me to relax after work and learn something new. I was never great at it and truth be told being back in a classroom with people that were naturally better than me always played on my mind. However it gave me something to do on a Monday evening and I met new people outside of work. It was a creative release from the day-to-day. After two terms I felt I’d reached my potential and was reach to move on. I packed up my assorted creations (including my humble bowl) and moved on.

Happiness rating  – 5 / 10

Gym

The idea of going to a gym, let alone signing up to gym membership, was an alien concept thought before I moved to Swindon. Why would anyone pay to put themselves through torture? But after I had stopped my pottery I found I had a gap in my evening schedule and, lured in by the promise of company and attractive men I was persuaded by my housemate and a colleague-turned-friend to sign up. I recently wrote a post on said gym, where you’ll find more information on my experiences with various equipment and those who use it. Gym membership minus corporate discount is £12.99 a month (including fitness classes) which works out as a very good deal. A good deal but also a good investment. Since I’ve joined the gym I now feel better about myself (the extra slice of cake isn’t so guilt ridden), I feel happier due to the extra endorphins I now have (the type I used to believe were a work of fiction) and I aim to go at least once, if not twice, a week which keeps the mind and body distracted. The only drawback is the lack of social company. A gym is not the place to make new friends. With the gym my body started to feel happier and I’ve come to learn that physical pain can result in mental gain. I’m still a member of said gym.

Happiness rating – 10/10 (physical happiness) 2/10 (social happiness)

Founder and Manager of Swindon 18-30 Professionals

My housemate Cherice and I had moved to the area for jobs post university and both struggled with our non existent social lives. We cracked around October 2014. We both ploughed our joint efforts into finding a social group for young people in Swindon. “Swindon is a pretty big place, there must be something” we both thought. We were very wrong. I struggled to find something that wasn’t for over 40’s or amateur dramatics.

(“I thought you’d like that sort of thing Alice, you were very good when you played the gangsta rat in the Pied Piper of Hamlin” “mum, a) that was a year six school panto and b) I was the leader rat, George Richards was the gangsta rate” “Oh, well he was pretty good”)

Five minutes later of searching online I got bored. 10 minutes later I was in this part of the internet.

Cherice and I did end up going to to meeting for Swindon’s JCI group (I still don’t know what it stands for or does). We went to the event in jeans and very causal tops expecting a small group of people to chat and socialise with. To our horror we walked into a large room, which was packed (and I mean packed) with suited people aged 45+ who had all come to persuade myself, Cherice and two other nervous people to join their cult organisation. We were trapped in a surreal corporate environment listening to a power point presentation where each slide changed when the lead speak clicked his fingers. I didn’t notice it at first but when I did I couldn’t forget it. Combined with the ridiculously formal environment which made it unacceptable to laugh, his click and flick of the hand became unbearably hilarious for the two of us. I was crying at one point. 1.5 hours later we dashed out while the room ‘networked’ and roared with laugher all the way home. At the very least we said it was a bonding experience.

There was also another group called “Swindon Young Professionals”.  We went to two events hosted by this body. The first was for Pizza Express, where we paid a small fortune to go to a pizza making class and the second was two months later where again we were ripped off by the organiser who made us pay £20 to enter a pub quiz created by them and have a very poor quality Indian meal. Both events gave us a harsh dose of clique society. All solicitors who worked together, people who didn’t give the slightest dam about us. The pub quiz was like the scene in Bridget Jones where she’s at the lawyers’ Christmas party. More in jokes than you can shake a stick at. On principle we refused to not give them a penny more of our time and money.

We also tried a couple of events in Oxford, but these events were too far away from Swindon for us to seriously commit to. We met people, then the next time those people weren’t there and we had to start again from scratch for one evening. “If only Swindon had something like that” said Cherice as we walked back to the train station, “I enjoyed that, but you can’t meet people in Swindon. Where we live is so boring compared to Oxford.”

This planted a seed in my head which turned out to be the best dam thing I’ve ever done. If Swindon didn’t have a decent social group for 18-30 year olds, I would make one myself. And that is what I did. Swindon 18-30 Professionals was born  on 1st February 2015. To set the group up I had to pay fixed amount of around £30 (the website runs on dollar currency) which granted was a special half price offer, but still took courage on the grounds I didn’t know if anyone would join or it would work. I opted for the higher fee so I could have more than 50 members in the group. At the time mumma Bennett was doubtful I’d get that many members (I kinda was too).

I created some provisional events and waited to see what happened. To my amazement they came, at the launch event about 12 people turned up. This took me by surprise, for months I hadn’t met anyone new and yet in 5 minutes I was overwhelmed with new faces to talk to. With many different events being hosted by the myself and others in the event team the group quickly went from strength to strength.

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As the group increased in size I was able to pick up the courage to ask a large bar called Baker Street in Old Town to put on special drinks offers for us. They happily obliged.

More events put on and more members increased. To give you an idea, in my post Educating Alice where I talk about good things in Swindon, the group had 34 members. That was in March. The group now has 205 and we haven’t even reached the 10 month mark. The group has an average of one new member a day, and several more will apply and not be accepted (Requirement: this group is for people aged between 18 and 30. How old are you?  Response: 45.)

At the six month mark my subscription was up for renewal, this time at a much higher rate. In need of sponsorship I put on my empowered professional female hat (an actual thing I own) and typed a lengthy proposal to Baker Street with the situation and why they should invest in us. I outlined the group’s growth, projected growth and the money my members brought into their establishment. To my utter joy they accepted and a new business partner was established. Sponsorship meant my members could now join for free, another big feather to our cap.

Baker Street have supported us massively ever since. They have even helped me radically improve the promotional material we put out and about in Swindon. The images below give an idea of the evolution of our posters:

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February 2015

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July 2015

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November 2015

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out which poster was created with the aid of a professional designer and which one has helped to radically boost membership. All the same, being able to have a strong creative input into the design has helped give me new skills and boost my inner confidence that I am pretty awesome.

While the growth of the group is amazing, it’s the people I’ve met that have really brought about the most happiness. At every drinks night we host on the first Wednesday of the month I see a range of people. I see the well seasoned members who have been there from the start, those who tend to only come to this one event a month and those who are completely new and, understandably, nervous. All three types stood around, chatting, laughing, enjoying themselves. Sometimes I get caught off guard and feel quite emotional at what I see around me. There are no cliques here, everyone has different professional backgrounds and opinions. It is a welcoming environment, everyone is relaxed and open with each other. No matter how many events they have attended every person in that space has been in the same position when they were new to the group, coming along to meet new faces. Everyone is in the same boat. Members may not live together but they socialise in the same boat. And, with all the events myself and my now extended event team put on, there is a schedule of events that people can go to to forget about the stresses of work, even if for one night. We provide the wind to safely guide the ship.

We recently had our Christmas party where we went to Pizza Express for a three course meal and then onto the group favourite, Baker Street, for endless complimentary prosecco from the venue and 2-4-1 cocktails.

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It was a great night. An old friend from university was visiting me for the weekend (the girl sat opposite me at the table). As we stood in the cold waiting for our taxi she said to me, “you’ve made a life for yourself here, they’re a great bunch of people. They all really care about you, you just don’t see it because you spend all your time making sure they’re having fun. They call you God!”

When I went to upload the album on social media the next day I contemplated what to call it. It was a Christmas party, but it wasn’t a traditional work Christmas do, nor was it so detached from my personal life that I felt happy calling it just “Swindon 18-30 Christmas Social”. I settled in the end with something much better:

“Christmas Party with Friends”

Happiness Rating – 1,000,000 / 10

Conclusions

So there you have it. Money CAN buy you happiness. If I hadn’t spent £90 on pottery or £12.99 on the gym I would not have learnt as much about myself as I do now. If I hadn’t spent £30 on setting up my group, well, I don’t want to even think about what my life would be like I hadn’t done that. I laugh now thinking about me sat at a kitchen table debating whether to invest the money to set up the group. If I could I’d go back in time and throw a banana at myself. I’d know it was future me trying to knock sense into my head and I’d stop faffing about.

Yes, money can’t buy you everything. I’m not telling you to invest all your saving in meaningless gifts and spending outside your range. What I am saying is that your social life should be treated as a business or a bank account. If you keep investing little and often into it you will find the interest and rewards will build up. Money should not always been seen as the enemy that will prevent you reaching your personal Nirvana. How about a new ethos to life? Something like…

Money in modesty makes for happiness.

(Alice’s big book of terrible sayings, coming not-so-soon to a discount book store near you!)

Because, at the end of the day, how can anyone argue differently when faced with an image of Alice after a couple of glasses of free wine mixed with an additional glass of complimentary prosecco.

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And if that isn’t happiness, I really do not know what is.

FYI: you can find out more about the group I run here on it’s official page: http://www.meetup.com/Swindon-18-30-Professionals/ or on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/swindonprofessionals/ or even on Twitter: https://twitter.com/swindon18_30s?lang=en-gb

I know, I am so social!