What a fucking year.

I was going to write a long boring post today about all the shit that I’ve gone through this year. It’s a lot of shit. In the past few weeks alone I’ve felt the sting of death, twice, and helplessly watched my son crying out in fear and pain as a doctor manipulates his pudgy limbs to check for signs of a broken bone. I’m stressing constantly about my housing situation, which seems to fluctuate between “nearly fixed” and “hopeless stream of paperwork”. I miss my bunnies. I’m trying to give up my self employment to help my mental health but I can’t actually afford to do so and the prospect scares me.

But that would make me cry and I’ve shed so many tears lately I’m not sure I have any left in me to shed.

Instead I’m going to try and tell you all the good things about this year. Like finding the strength to leave a dead relationship, finally. And somehow having the luck and good fortune to step out of that relationship straight into another, quite without intending to, bringing me happiness unlike anything I’ve never known. Allowing me to experience things I never thought I would: trust, respect, autonomy, love without conditions.

I’d like to tell you about the joy of seeing my little girl pick up a book, sound out phonemes until she’s figured out a word, string words together until she has a sentence and ultimately read a book. My little girl enjoying something that has always been incredibly important to me, something that I hope will become just as important to her in years to come.

I want to talk a little about my little boy who turned around recently and counted to 20, just like that, except maybe missing a number in the teens but I’ll forgive him that because last time I checked he’d only learned how to count up to 7.

I need to talk about the immense feeling of pride I felt when I sat and listened to my Granddad talk about the love he felt for his beautiful wife and his children. How privileged I felt to hear his stories, realising how hard he worked to provide for his family. (And not think about the regret I feel for not visiting him more when I had the chance.)

I can’t talk about the positives of this year without a nod to the BeEx-ers who welcomed me into their little ‘family’, allowing me to enjoy their company and share their laughter (and Smirnoff Ice).

I have to mention the amazing people who have supported me in my effort to raise £20,000 without whom I wouldn’t be able to pay the fees on the mortgage, which I’m submitting the (hopefully) final bits of paperwork for today, which is going to secure me that £20k.

Last but definitely not least I have to wax lyrical about the friends who’ve supported me this year. Every hug, virtual or physical; every kind word, phone call, offer of a shoulder; every time someone has reached out to me on twitter or facebook; every single one that’s just said they’re there if I need them: I probably wouldn’t have got through the year in tact without them all. Thank you.

How to: make the whole WordPress excerpt clickable

A client recently asked me to make the post excerpts in their blog page clickable. This seems like a reasonable request and the logical answer (if you know your WordPress basics) is to open the relevant template file (probably index.php or home.php in this case) and wrap the_excerpt(); in <a href="<?php the_permalink(); ?>".. (and so on).

Except there’s two problems with this method:

  1. WordPress formats the excerpt and wraps it in <p> tags
    Which means that you’re then wrapping your block level <p> in an inline <a>. I’m sure some of you either don’t know what this means or don’t care, but I do. Let’s call it nostalgia for the days of carefully ensuring the mark-up on every page was W3C compliant. ;)
  2. Links, which are allowed in an excerpt, break your code
    If you have a link in your excerpt, which is allowed in WordPress, the link in the excerpt will break the link wrapped around the excerpt. You then end up with things linked that you don’t want to be linked and things that you do want to be linked, not. Or something.

Solution one: add_filter()

There is a simple solution that makes use of the built in excerpt filter, allowing you to wrap the excerpt in a link before it gets marked-up, solving problem 1:

function clickable_excerpt( $excerpt ) {
	return '<a href="'. get_the_permalink() .'" class="excerpt">'. $excerpt .'</a>';
add_filter( 'get_the_excerpt', 'clickable_excerpt' );

(This is ideally placed in your theme functions.php file)

Solution two: add_filter() & strip_tags()

The only thing is this *doesn’t* solve problem 2. The effects of the broken link mark-up are less disastrous with this method, but not removed altogether. The simplest (dirtiest) solution to this, aside from not using links in your excerpts at all, is to remove HTML from the excerpt altogether:

function clickable_excerpt( $excerpt ) {
	return '<a href="'. get_the_permalink() .'" class="excerpt">'. strip_tags( $excerpt ) .'</a>';
add_filter( 'get_the_excerpt', 'clickable_excerpt' );

Bob’s your uncle: clickable WordPress excerpts without the invalid mark-up. :)

In which I nearly have a breakdown

Things have been a little weird recently here at Chez Jem. When I posted Enter title here I was struggling more than I let on.

I was struggling to see the point of anything. I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning, I didn’t see the point in going to work because I was too stupid & useless to do my job properly (and my ever-increasing todo list was proof of this), I thought Gaz was going to get fed up and leave me, I questioned my role as mum to my children, I was eating virtually nothing because I felt fat and ugly, etc etc.

I have never felt as angry, paranoid, insecure and well.. just generally shitty as I did in November. Early last week, my mood sunk to an all time low. I was angrily snapping at the people I love and then using their retorts as mental justification that everything wrong in my life was all my fault.

I am usually ridiculously laid back, so it was like being a completely different person. The scary part was not so much that though, but rather I couldn’t remember who I really was. It was almost like the ‘me’ before this black cloud surrounded me had never existed at all. I am not sure if I’ve ever truly experienced depression but I’m fairly sure that *that* was as close as I’ve ever been, and it was fucking terrifying. I felt like I had lost my identity and my “self”.

I put the black mood down to not running (it’s been really pissing me off) so I thought fuck it, and blew nearly £200 on an exercise bike I couldn’t afford (yay overdraft!) Of course, sod’s law, having received and assembled said exercise bike (I’m NEVER complaining about putting together IKEA furniture ever again) I’m now pretty certain that it wasn’t actually not running that’s caused my moods at all.

Around Thursday evening last week I suddenly began to feel… normal. This followed into Friday, and Saturday, and Sunday and here I am today still feeling normal. Normal. Like me again! I never thought I’d be so grateful for being me.

What changed? The only think I can think of is that it’s because I have finally had an actual period for the first time in ages. After months of stupidly short cycles, followed by an extra long one, I think I’ve been suffering from raging PMS symptoms. That and the withdrawal from the mini pill / starting a new one (combined pill) must have caused some sort of mad hormone-cocktail mess. I should have known what the progesterone withdrawal would have done to me: I’ve been there before.

Of course I could be wrong. It could be a complete coincidence that my symptoms are identical to when I came off the depo jabs years ago, but really I don’t care. As long as I don’t end up feeling like that again it’s all good.

London, baby!

I am … hastily does the maths nearly 29 years old and this weekend I visited London as a tourist and used the underground for the first time. The capital city of my very own country and it’s taken me this long to go and visit it!

On Thursday, Gaz and I went to see Stewart Lee live at The Leicester Square Theatre and we stayed on in London until earlier today, determined to crack some more items off my list of things I’ve never done (which is a surprisingly long list).

Other firsts over this weekend include my first time in a casino (we left with a profit of 25 pence), my first oyster card (genius invention), first time seeing attractions such as the Tower of London and the London Eye, and my first time in a strip club (more about that in a second).

On the Friday we visited the Taste of London 2014 show (another first) and sampled as many alcoholic drinks as possible to try to balance the crazy entrance fee (£25 each just to be sold to by a ton of exhibitors?!) We had a wander around the Tower of London; I saw my first selfie stick on the London Eye and we attempted to photobomb other tourist’s Eye photos with stupid faces; we ate at the first steak restaurant that basically involved cooking my own meat (Steak & Co.) and bar-hopped the night away.

On Saturday we went to Harrods and the British Museum, and I’m not sure which took the longest to get round. I was absolutely flabbergasted at the designer infantwear in Harrods, with Gaz spotting a little leather jacket for babies priced at over £900! I think I’ve spent less than that on clothes for Isabel in the entire 5 years of her life.

Saturday evening we went out for food in Prezzo which, while very tasty, ended up giving me the shits causing me to have to find an available toilet in the middle of Oxford Street on a busy Saturday before Christmas. NOT FUN. (First ever diarrhoea in a public loo.) After that we did the only logical thing that one does with a dicky stomach and filled it full of cocktails. I did manage to stop pooping, thanks for asking.

Cocktails demolished (there’s something fucking hilarious about watching your boyfriend ask the female bar staff for a screaming orgasm) I suggested we head back to Leicester Square to visit a “gentleman’s club” we’d walked past on Thursday night because it seemed like a logical way to end the night.

Weirdest. Place. Ever. Quite apart from the £15 entrance fee (each), the world’s most expensive ATM in the corner (£10 charge for withdrawals!) and the fact that I was the most-dressed woman in the room, I felt overwhelmingly vulnerable in there. I’m not sure what I was expecting exactly, but we were pounced upon by women from the moment we walked in til the moment we left, desperate to sell themselves. At one stage I was being groped by one of the dancers who thought that fondling my boobs would get me agree to a private dance. I was almost tempted, just to see what it would have been like, but Gaz stopped me (by sensibly pointing out that we were going to miss the last train if we didn’t leave). Obviously I checked my feminist card in at the door.

After we left the strip club, we hopped back on the tube and I ended up sharing a fellow drunk passenger’s McDonalds chicken nuggets. It felt slightly odd to be eating McDonalds when it was a Maccy Ds loo I emptied the contents of my stomach into earlier that night, but the woman seemed insistent I help her out with those nuggets.

Daft drunken escapades aside, it was incredibly weird to be walking round London seeing things that I recognised from the TV or films, and actually being there and it all being real. I was oddly fascinated by the red buses (also known as buses, to Londoners) which have always seemed such an iconic London thing but have never really registered as being actual public transport and available everywhere. I realise that this probably sounds incredibly stupid, but I’m from the country: we’re lucky if we get one bus around here a day, let alone anything more frequent or indeed painted red.

I was also blown away by the massive multicultural feel to London, and the fact that 95% of the conversations I overheard as we walked down the street were in languages other than English. Attempting to listen to a conversation between a French family on the Thursday night (because I’m rude like that) made me realise that I remember absolutely no French from school whatsoever. So much for that GCSE.

I’m not even close to covering my whole experience, and I was so busy just doing stuff over the past few days that I took ZERO pictures, which I don’t think has ever happened to me before. Still, the memories I’ve got (what’s left after the effects of too much alcohol) from this weekend: fucking amazing. :)

Protected: Dear Isabel

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Enter title here

Feel like I should blog to record some of the stuff that’s been going on lately but I’m struggling to formulate intelligent sentences. Fall back to list format!

  • I came home on October 22nd to find Flymo dead and Rosie missing. I can only guess but I assume something managed to get into the garden. There was no visible marks on Flymo or signs of a scuffle but if he was shocked sufficiently it could have killed him.
  • On November 4th I got home to find that Little Pig had escaped his run and is also missing.
  • My foot is only just this week starting to feel any better, so I’ve now got a month to train for this half marathon I entered
  • I finally got my passport renewed, so I might be able to complete #5. See my Dad soon too
  • I took the train to Birmingham on Wednesday 5th to meet Dominic
  • On Thursday 6th November I went to London to audition for Eggheads with Gaz and his brothers; we should find out this week if we get in
  • I’ve made the decision to stop taking on further self-employment work as of next year. Despite the extra cash being a major help with the bills, the stress it’s causing me is insane.
  • I went back to the doctors on Monday to talk about the fact that I’m still angry a lot; that it comes and goes but is still there. That when I’m not angry I’m sad, really really sad. He tried to offer me anti-depressants and CBT but I want to exhaust every other possibility first. I’m trialling a new birth control pill, I’m spending more time with my babies where possible, I’m cutting back on the things that make my mental health suffer.
  • Gaz and I have been not-dating for 6 months as of this week ♥

Despite everything — the work, the stress, the foot injury, the mortgage, the monotony of the daily grind — I am still the happiest I have ever been and I need to hold on to that. Shit will improve, things will get better. One day at a time.

Another setback

The next time I decide to utter something as stupid as “I’ve never had a running injury…”, somebody please punch me in the face. I’ve clearly jinxed myself as I’ve now fucked up my other foot. On the 4th week of training for the Milton Keynes half marathon this is a bloody disaster (especially as I’ve been slacking off my training as it is).

I’m not even entirely sure how I did it this time. I know I aggravated that foot on Friday wearing my inch-heeled boots — the downside to living in barefoot shoes for 5 years — but it felt fine to run Saturday’s Shrewsbury parkrun. Got about 4km in and started getting shooting pains across my foot, ended up unable to do my super sprint finish.

Still, I hobbled the last leg and finished in 30:01. That’s the important thing, right? :p

Weight: Love, Loss and Lifting

It’s no secret that I have been struggling with my weight for a long time. Actually, struggling is probably the wrong word. I was fat for a long time, but I didn’t really do a whole lot about it except moan that I was fat, so struggling is perhaps over-egging it somewhat.

This is me on my 21st birthday —courtesy of Katy

(Yeah, you know, I don’t think you lot have been missing much by not seeing pictures of me for the past 10 years.)

Anyway, take a good look at that picture. Double chin, fat gut, huge boobs (in a terrible bra), thunder thighs; I can even see chub on my neck FFS. I was a UK size 18 in that picture. I was inactive and ate shit frozen food from Iceland on a daily basis.

Back then, and indeed until Isabel was born I lived in jeans and t-shirts. I told myself and others it was because I loved jeans and t-shirts — and I still do, don’t get me wrong — but the reality is that I thought jeans and t-shirts hid the flab. I thought that jeans and t-shirts meant people couldn’t see what a fatty I was. I hated the way I looked and I wanted to hide it.

Of course in hindsight the jeans and a t-shirt combo meant I a) looked like a dude and b) lacked any definition or curves which made me look WAY worse than a tighter fitting top might have. We live and we learn.

Years of gradual improvements to my eating habits and hyperemesis throughout my pregnancies dramatically decreasing my weight I get to roughly this time last year: a UK size 14, having once maybe snuck into a size 12 in a Dorothy Perkins changing room but only just long enough to stop me breathing and never long enough for it to be considered “wearing a size 12”. But I still hated the way I looked.

And I start running (for unrelated reasons), and I ditch the alcohol and I reduce my diet to 1500 calories a day and I still don’t see any improvement.

Meanwhile I go through a massive life change and fall head over heels in love with somebody new. Somebody who makes me feel attractive even though I can’t seem to lose weight. Someone who, for the first time in many, many years ever makes me feel like I deserve to wear something other than jeans and t-shirts. Someone who makes me want to buy sexy underwear and nice dresses. Someone who makes me love myself despite my flaws, and suddenly losing that weight doesn’t seem like the be-all and end-all afterall.

Of course I could end this tale of weight woes on that paragraph, leaving you all “awwing” over the fatty who found love, but it doesn’t really end there. Because it turns out that there IS a way for me to lose weight, and I can do it without massively restricting my diet or giving up the odd glass of wine.

Turns out my body likes it when I lift weights. And I’m not even doing it at a gym or with any expensive equipment: I bought a 20kg dumbbell set from Amazon for about £30. I am doing the same set of lifts once a week and even though people told me I shouldn’t lift weights (not sure why) and even though I only do it for 20 minutes once a week, I have gradually lost inches of fat. I haven’t lost weight, in fact I weigh more than I did 6 months ago (yay muscle gain), but I am comfortably wearing a size 12 for the first time in my life.

I wear clothes because I like how they look, and not because of how much they’ll cover. I eat real food (and plenty of it) and I still drink wine. I like myself, and I like liking myself.

But that’s nothing to do with my weight after all.

Best Chips in Shropshire: The Bell Inn, Cross Houses

I don’t often blog about my experiences eating out, but there are times when I’m so surprised (either positively or otherwise) by what I’m eating I can’t help but give it a mention. This is one of those times.

I have recently had the pleasure of dining — twice, in fact — with Gaz at The Bell Inn, in Cross Houses, Shrewsbury. The Bell is not one of those pubs that looks ridiculously pretentious from the outside — although it has recently had new signage — it’s just a typical “friendly local” type pub. This ‘theme’ continues inside where the decor is cosy and clean.

The pub is split in two halves as you enter, with the main bar through a door on the left and the dining room on the right. I’ve not been in the bar, but I imagine it’s probably full of local gentlemen nursing their pints and talking about how things were back when they were a lad. (Isn’t that normally what happens in local pubs?) The dining room is quite small, but there has been room for Gaz and I on both occasions we’ve visited.

I am fairly predictable in that, when I go out to eat, I generally always order sirloin steak (rare). I am generally always disappointed because very few pubs and restaurants manage to deliver a truly rare steak. In fact, having eaten in upwards of 15 pubs and restaurants in Shrewsbury and Telford I can only count two who have actually delivered what I’ve asked for. Some pubs seem to think it’s OK to slip a rump steak onto your plate (and assume the diner won’t notice) and some just can’t seem to grasp the concept of what rare actually is.

The Bell is an exception. On both occasions eating there my steak has been deliciously, perfectly rare. Seasoned “just right”, those steaks melt in the mouth and are full of flavour. What’s more, they are served alongside the best chips in Shropshire. Yep! I’m making the extraordinary claim that The Bell Inn serves the best chips in Shropshire (but I’m happy to be proved wrong if anyone knows of better!) Alongside the steak and chips is a nicely dressed crisp salad complete with croutons, which are a nice (and often over-looked) touch and fab onion rings.

I think we’ve definitely found a well kept secret in The Bell, but I can’t keep this one to myself. If you’re local to Shropshire I definitely recommend checking it out.

The Bell Inn is located in Cross Houses, Shrewsbury, Shropshire SY5 6JJ and has a large car park, bed & breakfast facilities, as well as space for caravans and campers.

HostPapa? More like HostCrapper*

hostpapa-logo* sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

Yesterday I opened my work inbox first thing to a panicked email from a client (Sutton Community Farm) labelled “URGENT” – their website had gone down (again) with a Resource Limit Reached error. I quickly shot off a reply to let them know that this was usually caused by hitting a resource limit (e.g. server CPU usage) imposed by their host — HostPapa — and then I began investigating.

It only took a few moments to narrow it down to a massive stream of traffic to /wp-login.php which clearly indicated an attempted brute force attack on the WordPress login system. Common, but annoying. Coincidentally at the same time I noticed my own site (this one) was being hit by a similar attack though with less force – enough to slow the site down but not enough to push it beyond allowed resource usage levels like my client.

I e-mailed the client to let them know the cause of their issues so that they could update their support ticket with HostPapa, and a short time later emailed my host (Clook Internet) to notify them of the issue I was having.

Within 4 minutes Clook had not only dealt with my issue but had responded to my support ticket to let me know. Problem solved, top notch service as always.

HostPapa on the other hand, despite having been told exactly what the issue was, took hours to reply before finally suggesting:

Enable Gzip compression form cPanel:
login to Cpanel and then go to Software/Services.Click “Optimize Website”. For the best results,select “Compress the specified MIME types”, ascompressing all of your content can sometimescause problems in your hosting configuration. Makesure all MIME types on your website are compressedto get the most benefits out of the compression

Seriously! GZIP compression, while nifty for optimising page load times by serving compressed versions of files to your browser, is not going to mitigate a massive brute force attack.

I provided my client with an excerpt of the visitor logs so that they could show HostPapa exactly what was going on (because at this point I assumed HostPapa were too incompetent to do this themselves) and set about trying to find a way to attempt to block the traffic myself with the limited tools available through the basic HostPapa shared hosting cpanel. This was not only necessary but urgent – Sutton Farm’s veg box system hinges upon an export generated by the website on a Monday which they could not get to while the website was down.

By early afternoon I was able to curb the effects of the massive traffic load using the deny all directive to throw up an error 403 for all IPs except for my own:

<Files ~ "^wp-login.php">
Order deny,allow
Deny from all
Allow from 82.##.##.##

Satisfy All
ErrorDocument 403 "Not acceptable"

which allowed me to download the export and get the farm the data they needed to process their customer’s orders for the week.

At 16:53 yesterday, a full working day since the issue was initially noticed, the wp-login.php page was still being absolutely pelted by malicious traffic attempting to brute force a login to WordPress, and HostPapa had still made absolutely no attempt to help sort the issue which not only affected the uptime and stability of Sutton Farm’s site (potentially causing them to lose business) but, as is the very nature of shared hosting, will have affected other users on the server their site is on.

HostPapa finally responded again late last night (far too late to actually achieve anything) pointing out that the site was now back up but we’d probably want to install a WordPress security plugin. Oh, and they suggested optimising the site again.

HostPapa’s response to my client’s urgent enquiry was absolutely terrible. Not only did they take far too long to respond (ironic, given the tagline on their site Real help – from real people – is here when you need it) to a business critical issue, but had absolutely no solutions to the actual problem even when they were directly informed of the issue and provided with proof of what was happening.

I’ll be migrating my client to an alternative hosting provider this week and in no uncertain terms recommend against using HostPapa’s web hosting services.

Half marathon training plan

Now that I have officially signed up to my first half marathon (so much for pacing myself and doing a 10k first) — a half marathon that actually isn’t that far away — I’ve had to come up with a “proper” half marathon training plan.

I’ve browsed and compared suggested training guides from the big names (Bupa, Runner’s World etc) and come up with something that balances my desire to continue strength work & bodyweight workouts (because they seem to have the biggest effect on my body shape) with the need to fit in as much running as I can to build up my stamina for the big day. I have plotted the following:


However, having done that, I am now wondering if I’d be better doing my strength work (which does involve squats and other leg stuff) to a Monday, to give my body chance to recover before the planned long runs on a Wednesday. The only problem with that is Mondays are a totally manic as it stands; first day back at work/school after the weekend, food to cook, washing to do, bedtimes and then it’s one of the nights I see Gaz. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me working out while he’s there but for some reason I’d feel a bit weird :/

Any runners out there with thoughts / suggestions… is this manageable?

Update 19:16: based on feedback via email & twitter I’ve tweaked my plan, putting the longer run on the Sunday morning and scaling back closer to race day a bit more. Now looks as follows:


I think, whatever happens, I’m just going to try and be as flexible as possible. Given my potential for childcare issues etc as long as I get some good long runs (~2hrs) in without being too f*cked I will probably be fine come race day. Here goes…

In which I admit failure

I failed another Sugar-Free September.

It’s not my fault, honest. The biscuit spread leapt out of the jar into my mouth. The jelly beans tempted me with their sweet, sweet goodness. The cocktails proved too much for my willpower.

Oh well, maybe next year :/