So, I never wanted to get married…

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Those of you who know me will probably know that as a child, teenager and for a good period of being an adult, I had little-to-no interest in getting married.

I didn’t so much have any problem with people choosing to marry, but more that I didn’t see why it would make a difference in a loving and mutual relationship. My own parents have never been married and are still happily together, so marriage was never a central part of their relationship. I grew up knowing very little about marriage, and I was happy that way. Actually, I still believe that being married neither solidifies or legitimises your relationship.

Some of you already know, but I got engaged a couple of weeks ago. Most interestingly, I actually wanted to propose a few months ago, but it meant significantly more to Andy to do the honours so I was happy to leave it up to him. After all, the proposal, engagement and even the wedding weren’t really high up my list of life priorities.

But somewhere along the line, being married to someone didn’t seem such a negative. In fact, I found myself moving from not giving any sort of a shit, to actually quite liking the idea of saying to someone that you love them enough to want to try spend your life with them. I’m a realist at heart, but I think trying to commit to someone is the key, even if we never know what life will bring!

This transition happened over the last year, and it’s very Andy-specific. It’s hard to express something like this without it sounding horrendously soppy, but it was him specifically I wanted to marry. I’ve got drunk and scared in previous relationships and thought maybe marriage is an solution people choose as a band aid, and it wasn’t until now that I began to see it’s just an expression of love. With maybe some tax benefits thrown in… and a discount on my car insurance. *wink*

So, I’m choosing to marry Andy because I love him. A logical decision for most of you I’m sure, but one that my strong anti-marriage stance required that I explain a little!

I also come at marriage from a very feminist point of view – I won’t become anyone’s property, nor will I change my identity just because I am married. I will switch from Miss, to Ms. I will keep my own name, and I don’t resent those who choose to change it (for instance, the name Lauren Bower would sound awesome so I could understand people choosing it!) – though I do resent any one who expects me to change it. My name, after all, is who I’ve been all my life (and is my mum’s surname, as it happens). I’d feel strange not being that person any more. Andy feels the same about his, so isn’t changing it to Cooke - it all seems fair enough to me! This all links in with the reason Andy was instructed NOT to ask my dad for my hand – I make all my own decisions!

So, there you go, Probably unnecessarily, but just a little explanation for anyone who was wondering about the about change. If you need any more reasons, here you go: CAKE!

 

Miss, Ms, Mrs and More

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The other day, I made a comment on Facebook about how forms rarely seem to include the option “Miss” any more, instead displaying only “Ms” and “Mrs”. I got a few comments on the post, a few left wing, a few right wing, and I thought it was worth trying to put down a little of my position on the topic.

I grew up in quite a forward-thinking family. My parents aren’t married and have happily been together for 30-odd years, and during that time my mother has always been a “Ms”. Personally I never really planned to marry growing up, and if I were to do so I think I’d certainly lean towards keeping my own name. Incidentally, my surname, Cooke, is my mother’s surname. My father’s surname is my middle name, and it would have been the other way round were I boy – just as a way of making the decision objectively!

Growing up, I always felt that “Ms” was the “safest” of the titular options for a woman. You couldn’t tell from it whether the woman was or wasn’t married, and therefore a woman couldn’t be judged accordingly. That goes in each direction – it is just as bad to be treated one way only because you are married as it is to be treated another way just because you aren’t.

However, whilst “Ms” is my preferred word tactically, I hate the way it sounds. It certainly isn’t a clear sound, with that lack of vowel noises – it has never rolled off my tongue easily.

At the same time, I like the word “Miss”. It’s always been how I think of myself, ever since I’ve been young – and I suppose in my head, despite nearing my thirties, I still thinking of myself as relatively youthful – even if I do never get ID’d any more!

Whilst trying to work out if I should, as a strong, powerful and independent feminist, start calling myself “Ms”, I wandered on to thinking about why women even have to change their title any way. Men, with the death of the “Master” title, are called “Mr” right from the beginning – unless you’re very upper-class middle-England, I suppose! Why do women have to change their name as they get older – it’s far too much effort, surely, and seems to be to be connected to outdated traditions? Can’t we pick one and stick with it? No new name to indicate you’re married (what difference does it make anyway?), no needing to disguise things, no different name for the young and the older.

What do you think? Which name do you use and which do you prefer? And why?

Making the mundane seem beautiful

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Light shining through our plastic sheeting for DIY Home decoration and painting

Doesn’t it look pretty?

I simply couldn’t resist sharing what I thought was a lovely shot, taken as we covered most of the house in plastic sheeting so we could paint our doors inside…

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, we’re very very slowly doing up our house. It’s completely liveable as it is, but we’re modernising it, updating previous poor botch jobs (I never knew how many people cut corners with DIY!) and generally improving the house in a number of ways.

At the moment, it’s the bedroom – which is nearly done. It’s only been 6 months in the making! We’re at the stage now of painting the floor and doors, putting the skirting on and then (most importantly) sorting out the internals of our built in wardrobe.

After all, I haven’t seen most of my clothes and my shoes for night on half a year – I’m desperate to find out what exactly is stored in all those boxes…

Not depressed any longer

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Let’s start with the miserable bit shall we?

From the age of about 16, I’m been pretty much constantly depressed. It first appeared when hormones truly kicked in, and ever since it has been a constant presence. I’ve always described that constant feeling as an undercurrent of “meh”. Not outright misery, but sad-feeling nonetheless.

I suppose the best description I’ve come up with so far is that for me, depression was like the water table. Under the earth, at various levels, sits a ribbon of watery depression – the general “meh, why bother?” feeling. Sometimes the level of the earth would dip under the level of the water table, and the water would bubble out and sit on the surface. Sometimes it would drain away quickly, other times it would stay flooded for months at a time.

Medication helped me, which makes sense – it was clear my depression  was wrapped up in brain chemistry and hormones from the start, and even when feeling “meh” I could generally see the positives in life and keep going. I could laugh. For me, there certainly wasn’t many a tidal wave that kept me completely pinned down, which I know was pretty lucky.

The point is that even when I wasn’t clinically depressed and on medication, I was still a depressed person – like an addict who’s never really not addicted to her drug of choice. It was always there, no matter how happy I was or what happened. It wasn’t perhaps as debilitating as this sounds, but it certainly wasn’t pleasant.

Except, some time in the past year, I’ve stopped being depressed. I didn’t really notice it happen, but now when I look for it the undercurrent is gone. It simply isn’t there. In a chicken vs. egg scenario (no matter how scientifically flawed THAT argument is) I’ve also become more active, more social, and more productive. I suspect that as my brain chemistry has finally settled I’ve become more able to do things like that – and that in doing some stuff I’ve equipped myself with the ability to do more. I’ve even joined a gym this week, suddenly finding myself faced with an urge to get fit and increasingly my spriteliness.

Anyway, I know this isn’t a particularly active blog, but a few people still read it and many of you have been with me from the start. So I thought it might be good to let you know that I seem to be “better” – and long may it continue.

Balancing productivity with enjoying life

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A few years ago, if I’d told you that I liked to achieve stuff with my day, you’d have laughed. I was a pretty lazy person really – happy to just watch TV or read, to float through every day in a haze of, well, sluggishness. On the other hand, Andy has always been about doing stuff. He’s an engineer, and one of that group’s general characteristics is a leaning towards practicality, towards achieving things. Thankfully they’ve got a few “flawed” characteristics too, otherwise I’d always feel like a poor sibling!

As time has gone on we’ve started to pick up some of each other’s tendencies. Thankfully we haven’t started looking like each other, like people do with their dogs – but there is a certain amount of osmosis going on!

Andy has now grasped the concept of relaxation. How sitting in the sun, watching the world go by with a glass of wine and a shoulder to lean on can be equally as important as ticking off another box on the endless to-do list. In the opposite direction, his permanent enthusiasm for his hobbies and achievements means that I find myself wanting to do stuff. Learn stuff. See and do things I wouldn’t from my sofa. Ye gods, I keep waking up at 7:30 AM on weekends, eager to get up and get doing. Fun stuff, generally, but still stuff that needs energy.

One of the harder areas when balancing the urge to be productive with the need to relax and give ourselves time to just have fun with life, is the fact that we’re (very slowly) doing up the rooms in our house. We moved in in January, and in 6 months we’re only now drawing to a close with the first room. The bedroom may have been stripped and de-carpeted, and plastered, and the chimney stripped and re-pointed, and everything painted, but even so that’s still a long time not to have a wardrobe proper bedroom for. I can’t even remember some of my clothes. (Who am I kidding – I couldn’t remember them all before!)

So, it’s taken us ages, and that’s mainly because we’re not willing to sacrifice the fun for the function. Sunny weekend? We’ll do a bit on the house, but then go for a drive in the Capri, or walk around town. We’ll treat ourselves to breakfast, or I’ll work in the garden. The one item that really needs “achieving” is the one area where we’re being a bit reticent. But, even so, life seems good, and happy, and fun. Surely a slow decoration process is a worthy price to pay?

How do you balance productivity and fun?

Clearing out more garden room…

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So, the other weekend I decided it was time to clear up the other end of the (absurdly deep) garden border. I hadn’t been looking forward to this. Firstly the whole thing is full to the brim with everybody’s best friend, the lovable Bindweed, and secondly it is also packed with bulbs – and tulip bulbs in this garden seem to be REALLY deep.

What the garden was like originally...

What the garden was like originally…

This was what I was contending with. It probably doesn’t look all that bad…

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Clearing the garden – plenty of nasty weeds!

But as you can see it took a full wheelie bin AND an incredibly overloaded wheelbarrow to get it cleared. Then, once I’d laboured (in the rain, I might add) for three hours, I had to follow up the next day with prepping the soil.

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Prepping the soil involved two things. Firstly, I had to turn over the soil and check each forkful for bindweed roots. It’s an imperfect art, but basically any bindweed roots left in the soil, even a teeny-tiny chunk, will spawn new plants. There’s plenty left in there, but I did get a seriously large amount out. It was messy work! Once that was done I sprinkled fish/bone feed, vermiculite, and compost over the soil, and then turned that into the ground too, breaking up any big clumps.

As you can imagine, it’s back breaking work, but there’s something oddly satisfying about it. I get a tan, and despite the near-constant cake eating I appear to be toning up a little bit too.

As for the bulbs, well as many as I didn’t damage with the fork (I’m a tad over-enthusiastic) were pulled from the ground. I’d laid them out to dry out and will soon be putting them into paper bags for the winter. I’m not too bothered if they survive, as most are tulips, my least favourite flower – but they do add a nice touch of colours so I will be replanting at the appropriate time!

A few months ago I would never have imagined voluntarily gardening in the rain, so it can’t be too horrendous. I must (gasp) actually be enjoying it. As always, mothers are always right – she’s advocated for a creative and physical outlet all my life, most particularly when I was depressed. Turns out she knew what she was on about. Don’t tell her I said that…

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The little wild strawberry patch

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And our first wild strawberry, almost ready to eat…

 

In other news, our little wild strawberry plants have almost doubled in size. I didn’t notice until I saw the above photo – that entire straw-y space is full now! And they’re starting to produce delicious sweet offspring, only a couple of days away from picking. And devouring eating politely.

If you haven’t had them before, wild strawberries are delicious – concentrated version of the big cultivated variety. I’ll let you know what these ones taste like…

The accidental gardener…

bringing plants back from the brink of death
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Once upon a time, writing was my hobby. But I kinda of sucked at keeping up with that, and that meant that, as my posts got further and further apart, I spent just a couple of hours a month occupied with my “hobby”. To put this in perspective, Andy spends at least 2 nights and Friday afternoon down the barn working on his cars, and he’d stay longer if it wasn’t for me hanging around and wanting attention. (Who’s that callin’ me an attention whore?!)

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Living to work and working to live

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I was thinking today about that question that you bump into occasionally throughout your working life. Do you live to work, or work to live? In essence, are you a workaholic with nothing more important to do than fill in spreadsheets and notch up the hours, or are you a lazy layabout good time Charlie who doesn’t understand the fulfillment of a real career?!

Whilst musing about this question earlier today, I tried to work out what I am. On the one hand, it is important to me to like my job, and to try to be good at it. After all, I spend the majority of my waking life in work – I’ve been miserable in a job before and it simply isn’t worth the pain. I also gain satisfaction from a job well done, and from being considered successful. On the other hand, however, there’s a bit of me that full admits to the necessity of some form of work in this money driven society. In order to do the things that give me true satisfaction, to experience the perks of a holiday or the silly life comforts I’ve become accustomed to, I need to work. I will also never let work take too much away from my ‘real’ life. An occasional late evening or stressful week, perhaps – but if I’m not getting to make memories and have experiences and just enjoy life then its probably not the job for me.

So, once again, I fall in the middle ground. Both work and play are a major part of my life, and whilst there are days when I fantasise about packing it all in and starting a new life goat herding up a mountain (I’m surpringly nimble on my feet), there are also many days when I come home from work bubbling over with satisfaction or excitement over the things I’ve achieved. I’m not performing lifesaving operations or changing the world, but it’s enough for me. After all, I live for life, both in and out of the office.

Do you work to live, or live to work?

When Does Admiration Become Objectification?

Sunset in Warwickshire
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This is a post that I’ve been writing in my head for a long time now, and if I’m honest I’m still not sure that I’m going to be able to do the topic justice. Perhaps there is no right or wrong answer, or the topic is too fraught with contradiction, opinion and attitudes. Anyway, here is my rambling speculation. Debates in the comments please…

There has been a lot of conversation in the press over the past year about objectification. It’s an issue all too present on the TV, in magazines. Interesting, thoughtful, clever people – scientists and artists and thinkers – feature in their pages. All too often, however, they are there purely for looks. Good or bad, stunners or “fugly”, good enough or not trying hard enough, I read article after article that never ventures away from the visual. Judging, commending – objectifying.

I think it is sad that so much of our efforts go on looks, whilst there is so much else of note to pay attention to. If someone is saying or doing something brilliant, then I think the way they look is irrelevant.  I don’t see why it matters. We live in a digital age – people should be able to announce amazing things anonymously if they wished for chrissake – why do looks even come into it?

However, I worry that some people are turning this idea on its head. That appreciating looks, even when appropriate, is seen as terrible. Looking at people, appreciating their skin or their eyes or their body – this is something that we shouldn’t be doing in this modern enlightened day and age. The righteous, whether or  not I agree with them, do have a tendency to be so very black and white about these things.

The thing is, I can be a bit of a letch. Not a slimy, drool-y, “ello treacle” kind of letch, but I certainly know how to appreciate someone beautiful.  Male or female, I think the human body can be spectacular sometimes, sexy others, remarkable the next. I can happily spend hours surreptitiously gazing at a particularly toned tattooed arm, or appreciating a craftily placed hemline.  I wholeheartedly believe that beauty is in the eye of the beholder – what I find attractive someone else won’t. There shouldn’t be a prescribed “right” kind of beauty, of that I’m sure. However, I don’t see why enjoying beautiful people, or wanting to be attractive yourself, should be “wrong”. We should just all be aware of our own beauty in and out – and this goes into a whole other debate about the appropriateness of advertising, fashion and beauty products. I’m not even going to try and go into that, or else this will be the longest blog post ever!

I suppose what really matters with appreciating the people around us, whether visually, or mentally, or for whatever reason, is appropriateness. For instance, I would never dream of making a lewd comment to a beautiful young man I passed in the street. I shudder at the idea of pinching the ass of someone I don’t know. It must be inappropriate to do that, just as it is to make someone feel uncomfortable just for making themselves look nice – or conversely, commenting if someone doesn’t look completely pulled together. If someone is presenting themselves for observation – such as in a photo shoot – then we should be fine to look at and appreciate the photos – but we can’t take that as permission to make advances were we to see them in real life. If people let you look at them, appreciate that – don’t take it as a right, but a gift. I think this is where the line stands between admiring and appreciating beauty, and seeing people as only objects to be looked at. A beautiful person can say amazing things, and the people who ignore that and just look at their boobs? Well, I feel quite sorry for them, because they are missing so much more of what a person can be.

It’s common sense really. Knowing that looks are irrelevant sometimes and relevant at others. Understanding boundaries, and politeness, and yet acknowledging and embracing beauty. If you tread the line well, work the balance, then you’ll be fine, and that is something that can no longer be taken for granted. After all, people do strange things and act in strange ways that seem naturally counter-intuitive much of the time!

Hmm, that was, I worry, a pile of gibberish. Sometimes I ramble so much that I lose the point completely by the time I get to the end!

The Genuine Article

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I am the sort of individual who is prone to crises of confidence. I come across as bubbly and loud and silly (and don’t get me wrong, those are relatively significant parts of my personality) but at the same time, underneath, I’m pretty worried about what people think of me. Sometimes that emotion bounces to the surface, and I spend a few hours whining to Andy about whether anyone, anywhere, actually likes me. Or do they find me as ridiculous, as brash and absurd as I see myself as in the mirror?

Last night was one such night. After gibbering my way enthusiastically through the pub quiz (and simultaneously contributing absolutely nothing useful in the form of answers), I got home and panicked. Oh god – am I the most annoying person in the world? Am I the class clown, insecurities patently obvious to anyone looking in? Am I the sort of person that people like only in small doses?

Andy is used to me being me, and generally comforts and nods and says all the right things. And last night, he pointed out that whilst I am undeniably silly and a little bit knobbish, I’m also very much “me”. There’s never been any hiding, wearing of masks, pretending to be something I’m not. For all my insecurities, I’m not afraid of putting myself on show for others to judge – in fact, I’m incapable of pretending and deceiving. He reminded me that I am, in actuality, the genuine article. Not fake, far from perfect, utterly myself.

This was a comfort – it actually managed to drag me, reluctantly, back into the less melodramatic territory if liking myself. Or at least being able to tolerate myself. For all my flaws, I’m am truthful and faithful to myself. And maybe, in a world where people are always told they’re not good enough, not smart enough, not normal enough, that’s a pretty rare quality.

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