The Book Lover’s English Adventure

Books, Life

Earlier this year I took a little holiday back to my English homeland and went on a road trip with a friend. Due to crazy work schedules, jam-packed lives, and my parents springing a family weekend trip on me, our plans prior to the trip got about as far as deciding to hire a car and head to Cornwall. And so began a road trip that ended up being a little literary tour around the South West of England. So, if you’re ever wondering where to go outside of London for some culture ‘n’ that, take a read.

 

STOP ONE:
Who left those stones there?
Ok so this one isn’t literary but it is historical/cultural! Our trip started bright and early one Monday morning, trading the busy London streets for the rolling (rainy) countryside surrounding the A303 as we headed towards England’s south west coast. What neither of us realised was that we were about to drive passed one of England’s oldest landmarks (apparently we’re not very good at map reading). Suddenly my friend pointed out the odd shaped stones in the distance and it took us both a moment to twig it was Stonehenge! So naturally, we stopped and took a wander. Stonehenge

Honestly, from the road these stones don’t look that amazing, but up close and with a bit of historical context added to the mix from the exhibition and audio guide, they’re pretty darn impressive.

 

STOP TWO:
A town twinned with fantasy
Unless you happen to be an avid Discworld fan like my holiday pal and I, you might not have heard of the town of Wincanton. It’s a quaint English market town somewhere in Somerset with a few little cafes and shops. For many, its a pretty insignificant place on the map. However what makes it special to book nerds like me is its rather unusual twinning with a fictional fantasy city. You see, Wincanton is twinned with one of the most notorious cities of the late Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series – Ankh-Morpork. 

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As TP fans, obviously we made sure to stop here and discovered that not only is Wincanton home to the Discworld Emporium (the only official merchandise store/Discworld pilgrimage site) but it also happens to have a few Discworld street names lurking in one of the housing estates if you look hard enough.

 

STOP THREE:
Misty cream teas on Dartmoor

After a night in Exeter we continued on our journey to Cornwall by driving through the notoriously misty Dartmoor National Park. Situated in south Devon, Dartmoor’s foggy hilltops have inspired many a tale – most famously the escapades of a certain deerstalker-wearing private detective, Mr Sherlock Holmes. Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles is set on Dartmoor, and the old Duchy Hotel, where Conan Doyle was a guest and supposedly inspired to write his story, is now the main Dartmoor visitor centre.

Cream teas on Dartmoor

The moor itself, spans an impressive 954km² of grassland, hilltops and diverse landmarks. So, if you’re not caught out by the cold, misty rain like we were, you can go hill walking, ride through the moor on horseback or enjoy a spot of whitewater kayaking before retiring to your hotel to keep writing your novel.

We managed to pick the one day with terrible weather to visit, so we took shelter in the visitor centre before enjoying the most delicious cream tea in a little nearby café.

 

STOP FOUR:
A legendary King on a clifftop
Laying Claim to the LegendAny fan of historical tales of Knights and magical swords will be more than familiar with The Legend of King Arthur. Me? I did an entire module at university about the ancient and modern interpretations of the legend so I’m a bit of an Arthur Nerd. So while planning what to do with our second day in Cornwall we realised our road trip could take us to the ruins of Tintagel Castle – the place that claims to be where it all began, with the conception of this legendary King.

These rugged cliffs don’t just house a castle ruins, they look out over the unforgiving Atlantic Ocean and give some spectacular views. We decided to climb the steep old stone steps to the castle and take a wander. And our reward once we got to the top? Discovering a statue of the legend himself. So of course we posed for a selfie with it!

Meet Dave

The story goes that the people at English Heritage thought it would be cool to have a statue up there so they commissioned it and had it helicoptered in. Rather than being an artist’s impression of King Arthur, it’s actually modelled on one of the gift shop staff, a 6ft tall bloke called Dave. How do we know this? We asked the guy at the ticket booth.

 

STOP FIVE:
Roaming through Regency in Bath

On the final day of our trip we woke up in Bath. Bath is a town known for its hot springs and architecture, but it was also briefly the home of 18th century novelist Jane Austen.

Regency Fan LanguageIt’s widely accepted that Jane’s time in Bath heavily influenced the novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. By this point in our road trip we were aiming for a final literary adventure to complete our set, so, naturally, when we discovered there was a Jane Austen Centre we knew exactly where we were headed! We took a very quick and slightly damp stroll through the city, admiring Georgian houses and the impressive Bath Abbey on our way to 41 Gay Street, the home of the Jane Austen Centre. Once there, we joined a short tour through the house guided by various characters from her novels who told us about Jane, her family, and the society she was a part of. Finally, like all good English literature fans, we took the opportunity to dress up in period costume and pose with Mr Darcy!

Awkwardly posing with Mr Darcy

 

Pub in the English countryside

In Search of Home

Britain, Britishness, emigration, Germany, Life, politics

Earlier this year, on a rainy July day, I submitted a non-fiction piece based on the theme “Home Is Elsewhere” into a competition. Unfortunately it didn’t pick up anything, but that means I can give it the light of day here! It’s a poignant, reflective piece about what it feels like living in another European country as a British expat since the UK voted for Brexit.

It’s also a bit of an ode to Germany, the country I now call home – and as they’re holding a rather important national election this weekend perhaps the timing couldn’t be more perfect.

 

In Search Of Home

Home.

We all have somewhere we call home. Right?

It’s somewhere to belong, to live and grow; somewhere to hide when the world is too much. Somewhere to go back to.

But when home isn’t home anymore, where is home?

Having lived the expat life for the past five years, it’s a question I’ve found myself asking more and more the longer and further I’ve lived away from “home”. Home used to be somewhere safe to return to, a place of comfort and memories. Now my sense of home is falling apart. A derelict notion.

Home was a place my parents lived. A house I grew up in. A village of friends and enemies. Wide open fields in the heart of the English countryside, splattered with houses of all shapes and sizes.

Now, I don’t know how to drive home. Home is misplaced. It is a shadow, an echo of what it once was. A memory bundled with many others. Home has many faces now.

As a thirtysomething expat, it is my apartment in the heart of a growing city. It is where my Wi-Fi connects as I enter and my Netflix is already logged in. Home is where I sleep at night after long days at the office. But home is also that place I grew up. A country, a county, a village far away. A place someone else calls home now. That home is now boxes full of memories – forgotten in my parents’ new garage – that my past self once believed I would still care about 20 years later.

That home is a place I belong. But it is also a place I don’t belong anymore. It’s a place I’ve outgrown. It’s a place that’s changed. It’s a place that no longer exists.

The Home I Once Knew

I’ve heard people say that there comes a time when home no longer exists in the form you once knew it to. I’d always expected this to be a gradual change. That, as the years passed, slowly “home” in its first form would evaporate, replaced by the home I would create with my lover, my significant other, my own family. I never imagined that I would be able to pinpoint the moment home, as I knew it, would stop being home.

The day it happened, I woke up early with a taxi to order and a flight to catch. My phone’s alarm trilled into action. Subconsciously I reached for it from my bed. Alarm disarmed, I checked the news. The previous day had been an important one in my homeland and I was equally eager and full of dread to find out the outcome. That morning, June 24th 2016, was the day the home I had once loved, once fiercely identified with, ceased to exist.

It was the day the world discovered that 52% of the UK’s voting population wanted out of the European Union. Within 24 hours my homeland had gone from being kingdoms united to lands falling apart at the seams. But to be honest, the irrevocable changes had been well on their way for months, maybe even years. Thinly veiled xenophobia had littered the front pages of major tabloids and political campaigns had been bolstered on half-truths and vaguities that could be all too easily misinterpreted.

Picking up my passport emblazoned with the words “European Union United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” that morning carried an unexpected smack of sadness and regret. I thought that would be the worst of it. It wasn’t. As the consequences of the previous day’s events unfolded and the lurid abuse set in, the England I had so lovingly left behind in March 2012 no longer existed. I watched from afar, my heart breaking, as my homeland imploded on itself. I hoped it would be short lived. That we would pick ourselves up and recover, figure out how to make the best of a bad situation and shoulder on as we Brits do. But now, a little over a year on, I know that, should I ever return to the country of my birth, going “home” to live there again will never be the same.

In the 12 months that have passed since that day I’ve experienced emotions that I can only compare to bereavement. I know that sounds dramatic. But in truth I’ve felt so lost and displaced since that day. The country I had once spilled over in patriotism for is not there anymore. Long gone are the days of bursting with national pride – days like my very first expat summer, watching as the country of my birth hosted the world’s greatest sporting event and homegrown athletes won gold and silver and bronze.

Five years later, in its place stands a divided, hostile territory. England has become a land where people are yelled at in the street and told to go “home” – nevermind that they hold British citizenship and have spent their entire lives living on those shores. Brexit opened the gates to a wave of hatred no one really wanted to believe was there before.

As a removed Brit all I can do is watch and listen in horror as news reports and friends back “home” – British nationals and foreign expats alike – share stories that break my heart. Our government in a mess, our economy nose-diving, our people turning on each other. My friends facing uncertain futures where once everything seemed so clear. My own future hinging on my ability to master a foreign language and the generosity of another nation. And there’s nothing I can do. I’m powerless to prevent it. To protect the home I had once loved. To protect my friends and family. I can no longer feel proud of that place I once called home.

And as I lost my sense of home, I found myself displaced – lost; confused; my identity as a Brit thrown into question. I no longer want to be associated with a nation so full of hatred and xenophobia; a nation that has let such venom towards people rise to the surface. I cannot tolerate it.

Somewhere I Never Imagined

In just 24 hours home came to be not home anymore.

Over a year on, I still find myself occasionally apologising to European friends – both in the UK and Germany, where I live now – for the way in which the people of my homeland acted and continue to scapegoat EU immigrants as if it was all their fault. I apologise because in the five years I’ve lived in Germany, the country has offered me so much.

Germany has truly made me feel at home – after decades of muddling through life, school, university, and early adulthood not sure about my fit in the world, my first year in Germany was one that was full of feeling like this was it, I had finally found my place, finally found the right hole for this odd-shaped peg. Here, at last, was somewhere to belong. Here was my home. And to think, I might never have found it!

But now with Brexit negotiations in full swing, I face the possibility I could lose the country that has offered me a home seemingly unconditionally. Brexit means I could lose the home I’ve found – the home that, somehow, chose me. With arguments raging about the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in EU nations, no one really knows how this will end. No one knows what will happen to any of us European expats, regardless of the passports we hold and the countries we call home right now. The next two years hold questions no one can answer.

Add this uncertainty to the distress of seeing your homeland reveal its true colours of animosity and it’s no wonder I’ve spent much of the last year grieving the loss of home and national pride, and feeling displaced. Things that were once sure, that once made me proud, that would always be there, have been erased.

Home is no longer a place, no longer something tangible. It’s no longer somewhere from my past I can return to for comfort and security. Home is a sense. A notion I once created for myself, and am now forced to recreate and re-find.

Home is something else, somewhere else.

I hope I find it soon.

Life with PCOS

Life with PCOS: It’s not just about periods

Health, Life, Sex

The room smelled oddly like my old GCSE Art classroom. Outside, the world hustled and bustled. Inside, people sat in ones and twos, flicking through upmarket magazines, brochures, and books on trying to get pregnant. A portable digital clock in front of me counted down the minutes ’til I had to go back to the nurse to give up another vial of blood.

Unlike my GCSE Art classroom, expensive-looking paintings adorned the walls. Sun shone through the floor-to-ceiling windows. It was an unseasonally warm February morning. The clock bleeped. I stood up and shuffle-clomped to the nurse. I was in my winter boots – the forecast had said rain – she commented I was a little overdressed. I laughed awkwardly with her, mumbled something about these being my only waterproof shoes with grip. Seeing as I was recovering from surgery, I didn’t want to slip on the ice later. Blood done, I wandered back to my spot; digital clock in hand. I put it down and started flipping through a magazine about women and art.

Imposter Syndrome

In the end I spent over 2 and a half hours in that waiting room that day. And honestly, it was weird. I watched as couples came in, nervous, shy, awkward, anxious. Then women on their own, just as awkward or anxious as the couples, a look and a small smile flashed in my direction as they took a seat.

Every time I smiled back, I felt like an imposter.

Here were women and couples waiting to be seen by a doctor. All, presumably, waiting to find out what they could do to start a family, how they could successfully get pregnant. Here was I, alone, flicking through a magazine, surrounded by the smell of my GCSE Art class. In this place where people waited and learned if they could pursue fertility treatment, I was waiting to find out if I had an insulin problem.

I think that’s partly why it felt so weird. It didn’t help that on my first visit to this clinic a couple of weeks earlier, some language mix-up (as is inevitable when you’re speaking to doctors in a language you are still learning) had led to them asking me when my partner would be arriving to fill in the forms and have his first check with the doctor. Not an awkward scenario at all. No sir-ee.

This time I’d gone on my own for two reasons – firstly it was a Friday morning when most other people I knew would be at work. Secondly, I hadn’t thought I’d need “moral support”. I was only going to sit there and wait for the glucose drink to be processed by my body while they monitored it in the form of taking blood samples every once in a while. As I watched couples being called into consultation rooms I found myself envious of them. At least THEY had someone to go through this with them. At least THEY weren’t dealing with this on their own. And it dawned on me, in that moment, that I had never planned to deal with this on my own.

It’s Not Just About Periods

If you’ve read my previous post about polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), you’ll have a little insight into what I’m talking about. It’s been suspected since I was 18 that I have PCOS. But in the 12 or so years since that vague diagnosis, I’ve not really explored treatment options or really been aware of the additional health issues that can arise connected to it.

Earlier this year (2017) it became time to start exploring treatment. It wasn’t really my decision to be honest – it came more from my gynaecologist discovering white marks in my ovaries that were probably cysts but could be tumours and referring me to the hospital for further tests. At the same time she referred me to what the Germans call a Kinderwunsch (fertility) clinic to determine if I really did have PCOS or if I had been misdiagnosed all those years ago. All of these steps lead to me admitting it was probably time to look into ways in which this condition could be managed and my body could be a bit more “normal”.

Honestly, I never planned to deal with this on my own. I knew one day I would need to get treatment of some kind but I’d been expecting it would be something that would happen once I actually found someone I wanted to be with for forever, someone I wanted to have kids with. The fact that all the research I keep doing into this condition suggests that medical science doesn’t really know how to treat it or what really causes it, didn’t exactly fill me with confidence to pursue treatment. That plus how, unlike some other women I’ve come into contact with the same condition, PCOS didn’t really seem to affect my life that negatively. So really, what was the point in getting treated? It’s not curable anyway.

Know What’s Normal

Well apparently one reason to start being serious about the treatment is the potential other conditions it appears it can lead to in later life. One of those being diabetes. Which brings us back to the reason I was sat in this Kinderwunsch clinic feeling jealous of all the women coming in with husbands, boyfriends, partners, and parting with my own blood in the first place.

The doctor, having now pretty much confirmed I did have PCOS, needed to determine if I had abnormal insulin levels too. Insulin resistance or abnormal insulin levels can be an indicator of PCOS (and obviously if this is the case it adds to the risk of developing diabetes later in life). The thing is, just because you have PCOS doesn’t mean you’ll have high insulin levels (mine are pretty normal by the way), and you can have insulin resistance and not have PCOS. It’s not a hard and fast rule, it’s just one of the things medical research has noted about the condition.

And this is the thing, so little seems to be known about how to treat PCOS and we women don’t often talk about things like this except to perhaps our closest girlfriends – and even then it’s sometimes heavily edited – this is the main reason I have chosen to write about what I’ve been through.

It’s a little scary because there are people out there who know me who are reading this, but in the end, I need you to know too. I need you to know so that you can share it with your friends. Girls, I need you to read this to know that it’s important to know what’s normal for your body – and if it’s vastly different to other people’s normals, to know why that is. I’m writing this because I need people like me to know they aren’t going through this alone. That it’s ok to sit in the fertility clinic and be jealous of the people there who most likely are in a similar position but have a partner by their side. It’s ok to not really know what to do or how to handle this. It’s ok to wonder why your body sucks at this pretty basic human function – being able to reproduce – and to wish you didn’t have to deal with it alone (even if you’re not even thinking about actually having kids yet!). It’s ok to wish there was someone here with you, holding your hand through it all. 

And, you know what? It’s ok to talk about it too. Because it’s through talking and sharing we discover we aren’t really alone. We discover there are others who know what it’s like, and there are friends who wish they could make it better. Through talking we find those who will always be there for us, friends who will listen. And by talking we help other girls, other women, who were told they’d “grow out” of it or that their irregular periods were “just a phase” or those who are tired of trying ANOTHER pill, to take charge and learn to love their bodies, quirky ovaries and all.

take_the_next_step

Creating Momentum

Career, Culture, future, Life, summer

Hello there,

Due to my shockingly infrequent posts, I suspect you have not been avidly checking my blog to see if there’s a new piece up. However, I am making some changes to that and hope to use the summer to start to build momentum towards a personal project that has been a dream of mine for years.

The dream? Launching an online magazine you seriously are going to WANT to read. Like, you are going to NEED it in your life. The idea is still in its embryonic stages but I decided it was finally time to start letting it grow!

For the moment, I intend for this blog to be a launchpad. It starts by me becoming more disciplined and writing waaaaaaay more regularly, hopefully about things you want to read. Even if it’s only little updates like this. And the plan is not just to write things you want to read, but to write things you want to share, to talk about, and comment on.

So along the way, you might notice the blog layout changing or new additions here and there – I’m in the process of creating my own personal domain for example. Anyway, I’m going to do my best to document these things as they move forward – or don’t as the case may be – both here and through my own social media (find me on Instagram or Twitter). I hope my journey to launching this crazy idea might inspire you to jump right into your own adventure and run like crazy with that thing you’ve always wanted to do but never quite got round to.

So yeah, here we go!

Until next time…

books

Books and books everywhere; but not a word was read

Books, Life, Reviews

This is probably not the post I should be writing. Nor is it the post I planned to write next. It is, however, the one that is currently forcing words out of my head, through my fingers and on to the screen, so let’s see where it goes.

I LOVE BOOKS!

61TWsgq-XlL._AC_UL320_SR230,320_Ok, that’s probably not a surprise. Especially if you know me well. I have been having a love affair with books since I was a small child. And it has been a long and great affair. So great, my parents used to use the threat of not being allowed to read before bed as a disciplinary tactic. One of my earliest memories of school is sitting on the Reading Carpet reading Stories for 8 Year Olds when I was barely six. It didn’t have many pictures but I didn’t need them. My imagination was in overdrive as I read about Ancient Greeks fighting over golden fleeces, Arabian thieves in a hot bit of bother, and Arthurian legends battling a green knight. I quite enjoyed that book and all its many stories.

My love of books has continued into my adult life – despite taking a battering during my university years when I’m not sure I ever managed to finish even one of my reading lists! I love books. LOVE THEM. I love the way they make me feel, the way they invite me to explore the worlds within them. I spend hours perusing bookstores looking for gems I might like to read. And inevitably, I buy them. And buy them. And buy them.

I HAVE A CONFESSION

I don’t read these books as fast as I buy them. So they arrive in my house, they sit on my bookshelves, or in piles on the floor or in my Kindle library, and they wait. They wait and they wait. Their pages wait for my eyes, hoping I might pick them up and see what’s inside.

As I ate my breakfast this morning, sat in front of my bookshelves, I realised just how many of the books hanging out on those shelves I’ve half read or never even opened. I counted nine. NINE. Nine books I haven’t explored. That’s not including the ones that I know I’ve started and forgotten about or the ones lying quietly on my Kindle. Yet I still go and buy more. Just last week I was eyeing up three new ones in a local bookstore. I think maybe I have a problem.

It was that revelation that inspired this post. Not that I may have a problem with buying books, but that I have so many I haven’t read. Granted at least half of the nine books I haven’t read on my bookshelf were gifts, but still, most of those were gifts I asked for!

With these many never-opened tomes in mind, I decided I’m  going to set myself a new reading challenge. Now, every year for the last six or seven, I have set myself a reading goal using GoodReads Reading Challenge function. I never quite make it, but I do at least read something. Since 2012, my goal has been 20 books. This year I dropped it down to 15 in the hope I might actually manage to reach 2017’s goal! So as part of those 15 books, I’m going to attempt to read at least four of these never-opened paperbacks (they are nearly all paperbacks) sitting on my shelf. What’s more, I’m going to list them (all nine) here and give each one I do manage to read a little review.

THE UNREAD NINE

US – David Nicholls

Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami

Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami

The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell

Soul Music – Terry Pratchett

The Light Fantastic – Terry Pratchett

The Shepherd’s Crown –  Terry Pratchett (the last Terry Pratchett Discworld novel, which I have put off reading because I don’t want the stories to end. I have a silly idea that involves reading all the Discworld novels in order to then finish with this one, so it probably will remain unread for a while)

Prisoners of Hope – Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice – Laurie R King

Ok, dear readers, help me, which one should I read next? (I will start it after I’ve finished the book I’m currently reading – Perfect by Rachel Joyce in case you were wondering). Also, if you want to join with me on reading any of the books that have been gathering dust on your shelves, or even fancy picking up one of these – feel free!

Lastly, before I sign off, it might amuse you to know that as I finished this post I received an email with the subject line Amazon.co.uk recommends “After You Left”…, which is basically an email full of recommended books and may as well have had the subject line AMAZON SAYS BUY MORE BOOKS!

adult_shoes_converse

The Reason I Don’t Want Children (Hint: It’s Not A Phase)

Health, Life, love, Sex, women

Every now and then little posts pop up on my social media feeds. Little posts about friends expecting babies. And then, later, little posts of friends actually holding said babies. Let’s all say it together, “Awwwww!” Now, I know I’ve ranted about seeing baby pictures (sex trophies, if you please) all over my newsfeed before, but this isn’t about that. This is a little less tongue-in-cheek and a little more personal. This is about learning to love yourself, and learning to accept yourself as you are, even when faced with reminders of how your body falls short.

In amongst those proud little images of screwy-eyed newborns, there are stories of couples who struggled, cried and fought to see their parenthood dreams fulfilled. Stories of challenges and tears, pain and disappointment, and then hopefully, finally, there are the stories of eventual bundles of joy.

I’m going to be brutally honest here. Sometimes I find it really hard to whole-heartedly celebrate with you.

It’s not because I’m a cold, heartless, childless cow who’s totally focused on her career. Far from it. At some point, I’m open to the fact that maybe I actually will want children. (And now all my friends can climb back on their chairs and close their mouths in the awe of that statement.) I mean, way, way, way, in the future, ok? But maybe. Kids. One day.

Anyway, I really am all for celebrating the journey and the little miracles, the beautiful stories of dreams that are now fulfilled. And those darling little babies. My heart actually does love those babies (although I prefer them when they’re well past the stage of pooping on you, and can tell you why they’re crying). My struggle with your celebration is much more personal.

Let me tell you why.

 

THE SELF PRESERVATION METHOD

You’ve probably never thought about it but infertility isn’t only a problem affecting those wanting to start a family. Infertility affects a group of people you’d probably never think of. A group you wouldn’t expect for infertility to be on their radar.

That group? Single women. Heck, maybe even single men too, I can’t speak for them. But I know single women can struggle with the challenges of infertility.

I know because I am one of them. I am a single woman who struggles (albeit periodically) with the pain of knowing that I might not ever have children of my own. Not because I’m single and there’s no one in my life right now to have those kids with, but because, well, potentially I actually can’t.

And that, truth be told, is probably where my declaration of not wanting kids originated; as a self-preservation method. I mean, how better to deal with the fact that I might never manage to conceive and become a mother at some point in my life than by declaring I don’t want kids. Ever. Period. No pun intended.

Ok, so I don’t have a doctor’s report telling me I’m infertile exactly. I’m not having tests to determine whether I can have kids or anything like that. No one has handed me something that says I will never have children. I’m actively not attempting to get pregnant. So how could I know what it’s like to battle with infertility? How could I say I identify with women struggling to get pregnant?

How? Because my periods are few and far between. And I mean, not having periods regularly is usually a big neon indicator something is probably wrong with your ability to reproduce.

 

BODY PROBLEMS

When I was 18 I was diagnosed with a condition called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). It’s an endocrine disorder caused by a hormone imbalance with various symptoms and affects between 10-20% of women in the UK. (And over the years I’ve met quite a few women with the same diagnosis). For me PCOS means my ovaries don’t release eggs very often. So I can go months and months without a period. It’s both a blessing and a curse. Trust me. And it doesn’t take a medical professional to work out that if you don’t have periods very often, it will probably be quite likely you’ll face fertility problems should you ever try to get pregnant.

Having lived with this knowledge for 13 years now I can identify with so many of the emotions and thoughts I’ve heard friends talk about in their journeys from infertility to parenthood. I’ve felt and thought them, too. The pain, the frustration, the anger and sadness. Not about the baby that can’t be, but about my body that is somehow “broken”, and what that means about who I am and who I am not. Emotions and thoughts, that at the same time as feeling and thinking them, I’ve also felt I couldn’t admit to. After all, I’m single, I’ve no desire to be a mother yet; who am I then to feel this pain and heartache? Who am I to be angry with my body for “not working properly”?

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I have the same challenges and issues as a woman who is actually trying to conceive. Personally, I think we have different struggles with infertility. I’m not peeing on a stick in the hope that I might have a bun in the oven and I’m not upset when that magic line doesn’t appear. I’m not going through endless treatments in the hope something will work. Having seen and heard many friends go through journeys like that, I am fully aware my issue with infertility is not really the same. Heck it’s not even called infertility because I’m not trying to be fertile!

Really my struggle with infertility isn’t with infertility at all.

It’s with my body.

 

CHOOSING CONTROL

As I’ve said, right now, I don’t have children because I’ve chosen not to have them. But I have been through moments in my life where I’ve thought I might actually want to be a mum. I’ve also known the harsh reality that there’s a higher than average probability I won’t be. At least, not naturally. And knowing that means not becoming a mother isn’t necessarily going to be my decision, but a result of my body not functioning as it should. So saying I don’t ever want children was, somehow, a way to take back that control of my body.

During my late teens and twenties, with my PCOS diagnosis at the fore of my mind, I struggled to accept my broken, dysfunctional body. I also struggled to accept the medical condition I was diagnosed with that is somehow both wonderful (6 months without periods! Woo!) and a pain (bizarre weight gain, skin that still thinks it belongs to a teenager, hair in strange places). Deciding I didn’t want children somehow gave me a feeling of control over my body even when I could only see it becoming a chemical slot machine.

It was also a way to “screen” potential future partners. If they were ok with my bold declaration of ZERO CHILDREN PLEASE then maybe we’d have a future. This might sound a little silly, but being a Christian woman looking for a Christian guy to spend the rest of my life with, you come across a high incidence of men who actually want to be dads one day. So finding someone who either doesn’t want kids or is open to other options, like adoption, is actually important to me. In all likelihood, infertility is going to be an issue we’ll deal with, so putting out there that I didn’t want kids gave me an instant defence against the pain of not being able to get pregnant if we ever tried. There’s some sort of logic in there, trust me.

 

NOT NORMAL IS OK

And now to be honest, I’m not 100% sure how to wrap this piece up. I’m fully aware I’m not going through the exact same things that some of my friends who have struggled to have babies have gone/are going through. However, living with the knowledge that I have a condition affecting my reproductive system- about which little seems to be really known – has lead me to feel and think many of the things I’ve witnessed infertile couples deal with. But it’s also led me on a journey to learn what it is to be truly ok with who you are, whatever that means for your body. Normal is overrated.

Let me finish by saying the next time one of your friends tells you they don’t want kids, please don’t simply brush it off and tell them that one day they will. That one day their mind will change and suddenly children will be the only thing they could possibly imagine. They could be in the very process of trying to change their mind already; not to wanting children someday but to accepting the seeming reality that they may not ever have that choice about children at all. As much as we are a generation sharing our lives all over the internet in mundanely minute detail, some things we still keep close to our hearts because, really, how do you tell even your closest friends that the reason you don’t want children is because you’re pretty sure you won’t be able to have them.

 

 

SIDE NOTES:
I’ve been reading around PCOS while writing this post because I wanted to make sure I got the information correct and it made me realise it’s been at least 8 years since I last talked about my condition with a doctor . So I went and got it checked again and I’m now trying something new to help ease the condition.

Also, for what it’s worth, as a Christian, I believe that there’s still every possibility I could conceive a child one day if, at some point, that’s what I want.

 

 

My (anti)Brexit List or Why I’m Vote #RemaIN

Culture, emigration, future, Germany, Life, politics, voting

 

I didn’t really want my first post back after a few months hiatus to be about Politics, but the thing is; I’m not sure I can stay quiet. Not that I’ve exactly been silent about the upcoming UK referendum, but, as more and more people tell me why they are voting #Leave, I feel it’s time I share why I’ve voted to #Remain. I’m going to try and keep it short but I’m not making promises. I could write entire 4,000-word essays on this topic ten years ago.

So while I’m praying my little ballot paper has already made it’s way back to the electoral commission HQ place to wait to be counted, here’s some reasons why I put an “X” next to “Remain”.

    • As an ex-politics student who studied the EU in depth for a good few years, I’ll be the first to tell you the EU is flawed. There’s a plethora of institutions and, honestly, even when studying it, it’s not always exactly clear what they all do. In fact, I’m pretty sure I once joked with someone about how complicated it was and that they just seemed to keep adding countries to avoid anyone ever really getting it.ANYWAY, I say all that to say, yes, the EU has it flaws. Yes, it needs reform. Yes, it’s needed reform for a while and yes, it’s been slow at that reforming process, but what do you expect? There’s a bunch of different countries, agendas and beliefs all bundled together, it’s going to take a while. But I still think we have a better chance to see change happen by staying IN it and being part of the change. The UK isn’t the only nation that wants to change the EU (whatever the media might tell you). As a Brit in Germany, it certainly seems like the Germans want to change it too and they’re watching our referendum with interest.

 

    • I’m a Brit living and working in another EU country and frankly, I massively appreciate the freedom of movement/immigration/emigration thing we have going on because of our EU membership. No one has yet, in my opinion, presented a viable option of how things would/could change if we left, so why would I vote to change things that could potentially make my life more difficult and less rich? Also, from living in Germany for four years and chatting with Germans, I have discovered the Germans have pretty much the same fears and concerns about EU immigration/immigration in general as the UK, so any argument based on anti-immigration won’t change my mind. The tactics employed by the #Leave Campaign concerning EU immigration is just terrifying, and that’s not the England I love.

 

    • I have a lot of friends who are EU nationals living and working in the UK right now and paying into the British economy. They have no voice to say what happens to the taxes they are paying. But my EU national friends in the UK can vote for MEPs to represent them either in the UK OR in their home country (but only in ONE of those places) and that, even if there’s not much achieved by MEPs right now, is a small step in a democratic direction.

 

    • On the topic of democracy/democratic deficit (I once wrote a lengthy essay years ago about that by the way), I know the EU gets a lot of flack for not being truly democratic but think about this:
      The EU has evolved to become what it is today, but because it’s politics and it’s multi-national and it’s bureaucratic, it hasn’t necessarily developed in the most streamlined of ways, meaning democracy isn’t necessarily there in the ideal way it should be. It’s perhaps a bit more diplomatic than democratic to be honest. But, like I said, it does give all EU nationals wherever they live in the EU (even if they’re not living in their home nation and can’t vote in state elections in their resident EU nation), the right to vote for someone who will (hopefully) represent their views at some level. I know it’s not the most ideal situation but speaking as someone who’s well on their way to loosing the right to vote in their home nation (unless I move back there), being able to have a say in the EU no matter where I live in it, is actually pretty awesome.Also, if you’re going to complain about the lack of elected representatives making decisions for us, have you looked at how the UK elects Members of Parliament recently? Our First Past The Post system means that you don’t need to win more than 50% of the vote to get a seat. You just need to win enough votes to be the party with the highest number of single votes in your area. Basically, if you manage to choose the biggest piece of pie, you win. At least the EU uses Proportional Representation which means pretty much everyone’s political views are represented no matter how much pie they got.

 

    • I don’t believe either side has been responsible in communicating the true predicted impact of what leaving or staying will really have. It’s been a lot of scaremongering, misleadingly represented facts and figures, and an absolute avalanche of opinions spun with emotions. In this situation I favour one of two options. Sticking with what I know (ie remaining in the EU) or making the government do what we elected them to do which is make decisions on our behalf, representative of our beliefs. But then, I don’t really trust the current UK
      government
      (see: Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt) so I’d rather vote to #Remain

 

  • And finally, I was going to write something here about the economics of it but if I’m honest, I don’t understand enough about the economic implications of staying or leaving to offer that as a reason why I decided to vote #Remain. What I do know is that, what I have read so far and tried to understand, to me, just doesn’t actually add up. Kinda in the same way that EU nationals can’t all be taking UK jobs and stealing all our benefits.

 

OK. I’m done now. Maybe you understand where I’m coming from. Maybe I’ve inspired you to go find out for yourself and make your own decision. And so, with that all said, however you decide to vote on Thursday, please do three things.

      1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK (to get you started, spend 20 minutes listening to this uni professor explain some things about the EU.)
      2. GO VOTE
      3. REMEMBER the history Europe had before the EU was born. The EU rose out of decades of unrest, where hate had bred hate, where extreme-wing politics (both left and right) had prevailed, and where people and nations had been torn apart. The EU wasn’t a first attempt at unification – there were previous iterations that had failed – but it has been the one that has survived the longest. To me, that indicates that there is something good in it. We need to work together to find that and improve the rest of it.

 

 

Stop Saying We Need To Address The Gender Imbalance

Career, future, Life, politics

Over the last few weeks I’ve seen posts like this one on HuffPost and J Law’s rant on Lenny talking about women in our society, whether we’re represented at the top and what we’re being paid compared to our male colleagues.

Everyone’s clamouring that we’re not doing enough and there should be more women in high/authoritive positions, and I don’t disagree, I really don’t, there should be more women in top roles. However, I feel like half the reason that it “hasn’t happened yet”, as so many people bemoan, is because this only started being a real REAL focus in the last 5 -10 years. Probably closer to 5. It hasn’t happened yet because it takes TIME TO WORK to those positions. Merkel is 60 or so right? Most leading politicians are in their 40s or 50s, that means they were born in the 1960s or 1970s when the roles and views of women were starting to change but only in certain circles. These people were born into a world with a very different mindset about the role of women compared to the mindset of the world today on this same issue.

We live in an age where people expect to get things instantly, and we don’t see why we can’t have gender equality instantly. But changing mindsets isn’t an instantaneous thing. Changing mindsets is a long process. It takes decades. Centuries even. How many years did women fight for the right to vote in the way we so often take for granted now? It wasn’t an overnight movement. It took years of protesting and petitioning. It took people, mostly women, making huge, bold moves in the hope something might change this time. Votes for women wasn’t something that was a success within a few years.

To take the UK as an example, modern campaigning for women’s right to vote started in the 19th century. The movement that would become the Suffragettes was born in 1903 but it took 15 years and a World War before Britain let women have the vote. And that was on the condition they owned property and were over 30. It was another 10 years after that before British women could enjoy the same voting rights as British men. Some countries, like Finland, were decades ahead. Others took much longer to adopt gender equal voting rights.

Will It Ever Happen?

As a generation who expects to get things straight away, if something doesn’t happen in the next five minutes we wonder if it could ever happen. We forget that sometimes things don’t happen in the blink of an eye but more in the gestation of an embryo. If something doesn’t happen now, our generation questions whether it’s going to happen at all. This morning’s newspaper is the lunchtime chip paper before it makes it out of the newsstand. Only, no one eats chips in paper anymore. A better analogy would be this morning’s newspaper is lining the cat litter tray by noon.

So yes, we need more high profile powerful women. Women like Hiliary Clinton and Angela Merkel. Women like Tina Fey and Jennifer Lawrence who call companies out on the gender pay gap. But remember 20something and 30something feminist supporters (women AND men) – we have grown up listening to people telling girls we can be whoever we want. We can be a president, we can be a CEO, we can earn the same wage as our male counterparts. But yet, as Always so wonderfully pointed out last year in their ad campaign, “like a girl” is a phrase we’ve all grown up with being used as an insult too.

I don’t want to gain a “top position” in a company tomorrow because I am a woman. I want to gain that top position because I worked my way there. Sure, maybe I still have to work harder and longer to get there than my male counterparts. Sure, maybe I still have to face more prejudices on the way there. But I don’t have to work as long or as hard or face as many of the challenges as a woman in my position would have done 40 years ago. That’s progress.

The Gender Imbalance

Stop saying we need to start addressing the gender imbalance. We don’t need to start addressing the gender imbalance because we already ARE addressing the gender imbalance. Things like this take time for it to show out at the very top. It’s not ideal, but that how things go. When my generation are sat there, drawing our pensions, and the gender imbalance/gender pay gap is still like today’s, THEN we have a problem. But I hope and believe, 30 years from now, the girls born today will be confident in their roles and goals and be on the kind of equal standing with their male colleagues that is our dream ideal.

Sure, make a point. Photoshop the men out of photos of political leaders, business leaders and other male dominated professions but stop whining that we’re not doing enough, fast enough. What we’re not doing enough, fast enough right now is making sure people have basic provisions to live. That people in war torn countries can seek refuge in other nations.

And to get back to Feminism or whatever we call this, we’re not doing enough to change attitudes in places where women are still second class citizens. There are countries in the world where women don’t have the same rights to life and freedom as you and I. Where they can’t drive a car, or wear what they like, or choose their husbands or enjoy the same access to education. It’s all very well us Western Europeans or Americans or Australians crying that there aren’t enough women at the top. What about the places where there aren’t enough women at the middle, or even at the bottom? How about we also shout about that too? How about we stand together to raise future generations ACROSS THE GLOBE who value women AND men and embrace the different things men and women can bring to the table precisely because they have different genders?

We don’t need to address the gender imbalance. Rather we need to keep working to change gender mindsets.

Sunset over Hamburg docklands

20ish Things I Tried To Do Before I Was 30

Life, Music

Well, that’s it, I’m officially 30, and have been for almost a week. In fact it started at quite a pace with an early morning flight for work and a client presentation.

But you don’t care about that. Hopefully if you’re reading this it means you’re kind of interested in whether I managed to succeed at any more of those challenges. So here goes:

1. Get that tattoo! 
I don’t have the tattoo yet, but the wheels are in motion to get it. 

2. See your favourite actor in one of the major plays of the season in London.
Done 😀 and I plan to post a little review soon.

3. On a night out, if you spot a hot guy boldly buy him a drink. 
No hot guys spotted. Although there were arguably not that many nights out to spot any hot guys. 

4. Help the homeless
TICK

5. Prepare your lunch at home for a full week
5 days worth of lunch taken in to work 😀 Go me!

6. Write that first chapter...
I half did this… it needs a bit more work but if you’re interested/lucky I might share this opener sometime soon.

7. Apply for a job that sounds like a real challenge
TICK

8. Make out with a Bavarian.
Well, I ruled out making out with a Bavarian but I did attempt to have a conversation in German with the taxi driver who took me from Munich airport to my client meeting. Seeing as I’d been awake since 4am, who knows whether what I actually said made any sense, but he at least humoured me for the 30 minutes he was a captive audience.

9. Adopt a kitty.
I got to pet 6 beautiful kittens and a slightly anxious mummy cat while visiting friends of mine in London.

10. Write a fan letter to One Direction.
Done. Read it here: http://wp.me/p2oEtS-2O

11. Fund something ridiculous but cool on Kickstarter.
Ok, so I have to admit that technically I completely forgot about this one. BUT, I did preorder a friend’s book he’s planning to self publish so that kind of counts right?

12. Find a “Victorian Female Hobby” ™ and reclaim it. Cross stitching feminist slogans is a good start!
Nope, failed at this one spectacularly.

13. Get drunk without getting a hangover. Believe me, it’s going to be the last time.
I don’t ever drink enough to really claim that I did this to be honest. 

14. Sleep underneath the stars.
I’m claiming dancing under the stars and then sleeping between 5.30am and 10am for this one.

15. Write a poem.
I started to write one, inspired by the current discussion about Syrian  refugees. I don’t think it’s ready for public consumption yet but maybe I’ll share what I did with you some time.

16. Kiss a stranger without any foreplay.
Nope. Didn’t manage this one either.

17. Stagediving. Go for it.
Or this one :/ Oops.

18. Get up early and watch a sunrise somewhere beautiful
I got up early and saw the sunrise on my journey to the airport on my 30th birthday. Not really somewhere beautiful but still pretty amazing.

19. Go to the top of a mountain and sit there contemplating the world.
Again, didn’t make it up a mountain but contemplated the world while several thousand feet in the air travelling across Europe. Can we say that counts??

20. Go to a music festival
TICK – MS Dockville in Hamburg

21. Watch a meteor shower
TICK – Watched the Perseid from my balcony

22. See Wicked in the West End
TICK – this was a last minute whim added to my list when deciding what I could do with the rest of my stay in London to see Hamlet