Personal Bests and Personal Worsts

I started this week on a fantastic high. After having cracked squatting my bodyweight earlier this year (roughly 72kg give or take) I had been struggling with improving my squats further. Marred by dodgy knees, skipped gym sessions thanks to a chaotic schedule and over-indulgence on food & drink, it’s my own fault. Still, this didn’t stop me on Monday when I smashed out squats at both 80kg and 85kg with a set of 2 for each. Strong strong legs.

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Not content on just PBing there, I went on to pull 50kg doing close-grip front lat pulldowns having been stuck at 45kg forEVER. To say I was buzzing after that was an understatement.

(I am currently using Myprotein Impact Whey Protein to support my workouts but I’m looking to potentially improve on this in the new year. If you supplement protein, I’d be interested to know what you take. Drop me a comment/email.)

This strength-related high was short lived as I got home to yet another round of work related emails (boo) and the ever present threat of the taxman knocking at my door.

Every single year I forget about HMRC’s payments on account, leaving me ill-prepared to meet their demands for large sums of cash at a time of year where things are tight as it is. My kids want Christmas presents and I’m sat watching the balance of my overdraft grow hoping my clients pull their fingers out before December 25th; this doesn’t leave me much leeway to pay the taxman money for a tax year that isn’t even over yet (don’t even get me started).

Why is balancing the ebbs and flows of freelance, and planning sufficiently ahead, such a personal weakness? It’s been over 5 years since I started working for myself and barring a break in the middle where I briefly returned to my old agency, I have had to put money away all this time. And I fail, time and time again.

2018 has to be the year where I nail this shit.

Making memories: the ‘C’ word

The ‘festive’ C word, that is. I’m not sure I can bring myself to say it yet. C… Chr… Christmas. Aargh!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-Christmas. I love this time of year. I love the darker nights, the frosty freshness of the morning air on the school run. I love seeing the people who clearly don’t have 6 cats putting up their Christmas trees up as soon as Halloween is done, and the scrooges who take to social media to lambast them for ruining the spirit (the irony of arguing over it which is far more spirit-crushing IMO apparently lost on them). I love the planning and the Christmas socials, especially the ones that end in someone getting terribly drunk and stripping off for Santa (usually me).

I love it, but I am not ready. I have bought one single present, which needs a very important “other part” which I can’t find enough detail on to purchase. I haven’t even thought about what the kids want this year, let alone what I can actually afford to buy them. My social calendar is packed with at least two events a week between now and New Year which is drastically reducing planning time, and I’m just not ready. However, despite this total lack of preparedness, this year feels different somehow…

I don’t know if it’s because it’ll be the first Christmas the kids are at home since Gaz and I got married, or because I’ve finally reached that stage of general comfort and ‘at ease’ with my life that has been lost for so long, but I decided early on that this year I was going to do a many of the things that I’ve always wanted to do as possible. When I feel like I’ve hit “peak Christmas” I want to immortalise the whole lot in pictures on canvas, to join our baby and wedding canvas prints, which eventually might become one of those trendy photo walls that you see all over pinterest. Truprint even have 8×8″ sizes available, which they reckon is great for showing off Instagram photos, which appeals to my lazy side & would fill in the big gaps on our wall:

So, I bought a real Christmas tree. It was actually a spur of the moment purchase on the way to Glasgow last weekend:

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But I’ve always wanted a real Christmas tree and although this isn’t the grand 7ft beautifully decorated tree of my dreams, it will hopefully serve us well this Christmas and can then be put outside in its pot until next year. I feel like I’m being somewhat optimistic given the aforementioned six cats (and the fact that it’s already shedding needles in our probably-too-warm living room) but it’ll be fun to see what happens.

While that is settling I’ve been looking at sourcing terribly kitschy Christmas decorations that I remember from my childhood, including these beauties:

Partly just for the fun of nostalgia, and partly because I’ve invited friends around for 70s themed Christmas drinks and if I can decorate for both in one go it’ll be perfect: another lazy box ticked. I actually put some paper decorations up for Izzy’s birthday recently, which is turns out is also a big 70s thing, so I reckon if we can find some more they can even stay up too.

I want a big Christmas feast, which is unlikely to pose a problem as I always overcook anyway. My sister and her partner are coming round to help us eat through a week’s worth of food in one day, and I will (as usual) extend the offer of Christmas dinner to any locals on their own this year.

Oh, there are so many things I want to do. I want to start traditions this year; stuff that we can do every year because we want to, things that the kids will look back on in 10 years time and remember as being a part of Christmas. Things that they’ll want to do with their kids. I want to make memories, and I want the kids to feel a part of something. I want them to feel that even though our Christmas might not be 100% conventional — split between two homes, with multiple factions of family to share their time with — that it was always about love, and laughter. I want them to be able to look back at the pictures of these times and feel like it was the best days of their lives.

No pressure.

Just be chill about it

Gaz asked me one Saturday a few weeks back — as I ordered a vodka cocktail — whether or not I’d given up on the ‘not drinking’ thing. A fair question, given the ‘ordering a cocktail’ thing.

Sobriety was going really, really well. I had managed to get through several months without a drink, battling some immense cravings (which peak around ovulation, bizarrely) along the way. I ‘slipped’ on a couple of social occasions but was able to get back into it with ease. And then my brother died, and not only did I smash through a few bottles of red wine in a short space of time but it brought on a crisis. What am I fucking doing? Why can’t I just be “normal” and enjoy a drink with friends without getting utterly wasted? Why can’t I have a healthy relationship with this addictive drug (ha ha ha)? Am I going to end up like my brother?

It wasn’t pretty, and the more I thought about it the worse it got, and the worse the cravings got, and the more I felt useless and like a failure… a vicious circle of self-loathing ensued which, for someone used to self-medicating their problems with a glass or 5 of wine, potentially only had one way of ending. (Because only I could be so stressed about drinking that I need a drink to de-stress which causes me to stress about my drinking… & so on.)

So, I tried to be rational. I tried to think about what my “goals” were if I wasn’t going to be 100% sober:

  • Enjoy a drink on a special occasion, e.g. birthdays, celebrations etc, without it being “weird”.
  • Be able to order one drink and no more. Or, order a soft drink around people who were drinking without feeling left out.
  • Not put on the weight that I lost by giving up.
  • Not drink for the sake of drinking.
  • Most importantly, to not get into a cycle of drinking to ease problems, which worsens my anxiety and depression symptoms caused by PMDD, which causes me to drink more.

With these goals in mind, I have been able to concoct a vague plan, and ultimately relax about it. Relaxing calms the stressy voices which immediately reduces cravings. This, combined with the pressure of knowing what I have to lose if I regress (my sanity, my relative happiness with my body), and seeing the impact of sobriety on my mental health, means I have been able to better make ‘mindful’ decisions about where and when to drink. To just ‘be chill’ about it.

So far so I’ve successfully navigated a couple of birthdays, a weekend with friends, several games nights and other social occasions:

I have chosen to drink, and to not drink, in equal measure. I have interspersed water with wine. I have picked low alcohol ciders over double vodkas. (And I’ve got pretty drunk and felt like shit the next day, which served as an excellent reminder of what not to do.)

I am feeling OK with where I’m at right now. It might not last; I might lose my shit and drink far too much, or… I might go sober again. I don’t know. But it’ll do for now.

The future of shopping: offline vs online

Last week I had a conversation with Gaz’s colleagues about my budget Monday shops, off the back of a one-off trip to Tesco for a single meal which Gaz did at a cost of over £40. Forty pounds for one meal! This is in comparison to my weekly shop, which I’m quite pleased to have recently got back down under £50 per week, averaging around £35 per week. However my smugness was short-lived, as I was challenged on the fact that some of this shop comes from online providers.

It’s true, I use Amazon’s subscribe & save to do a big chunk of my regular shopping. The ability to set frequencies, quantities etc on items that I use a predictable amount of: cat food, guinea pig food, cat litter and so on… this is invaluable both to my budgeting and planning ahead. Especially with a billion cats at home (slight exaggeration). Not only that, because Amazon’s service gives you incremental discounts on the items in your regular shop once you buy a certain quantity per time period, I currently get 15% off my pet foods, litter, and coffee… yes, we get through a lot of coffee.

This of course got me thinking about how shopping on the whole has changed over the past 10 years. One of the things I mention on my professional site is that I’m a busy mum, and use the Internet for the bulk of my shopping: it’s this frequent use in the role of “consumer” that gives me an important insight into how websites can best provide to their customers, and this makes me a better developer. If I understand the habits of people who buy, I can develop websites that make the most of those habits. Or that’s my thinking anyway.

Online shopping has radically improved over the past decade and as a result is generally my go-to for spending money, be that clothes and shoes or bigger stuff like electronic items, white goods etc. 99% of the time I research and compare a product online, and complete via a cashback or deal website to make the most of my purchase.

Surprisingly though, swiftmoney.com have recently surveyed 1000 members of the British public to see how people like to spend and a whopping 54% of people still prefer to buy in store (taken from the infographic below). In my opinion, shopping in a store — especially for ‘big’ purchases — lacks the flexibility and bargain-hunt-ability of price comparison and specification research. Not only that but with voucher sites, newsletter subscription benefits and aforementioned cashback (which has earned be back over £700 in just a few years, money I’d have not seen again shopping in-store), and the vast amount of online retailers offering comprehensive returns policies, detailed size information, an increase in the amount of media (photographs, videos, 3D views etc) that give you a full picture of what you’re buying… I really do struggle to see where the benefits of buying offline lie.

With ease of access on the mobile these days, my personal habits (aside from regular predictable purchases) are leaning towards bigger, bolder (and more impulsive) purchases on the go. With over half of purchases made on mobile as of 2016 and Google pushing a ‘mobile-first’ index to prioritise sites with a good mobile presence as of this year, I can see this kind of purchasing is only going to grow in popularity as we head into 2018 too. In my professional opinion, if you have an online store that isn’t mobile friendly 2018 will see your online purchases shrink as market share on mobile continuously increases.

Still, for all my waxing lyrical about buying online, this wouldn’t have happened in a store:

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Maybe those 54% of people have a point.


Click to see full size infographic.

Stardew Valley (Nintendo Switch): First Thoughts

When I first heard about the Nintendo NX — later announced and released as the Nintendo Switch — my curiosity was piqued. Although I don’t get time to play games as much as I used to the Zelda preview videos looking absolutely stunning, and the idea of an open-world version of this iconic game made the expense for this half-hearted hobby sound doable. For me to then find out that Stardew Valley, quite possibly my favourite PC game of all time, was getting a Switch release? Mind blown.

Despite a short month in September leaving me in my overdraft I did the sensible thing on yesterday’s release date and purchased it minutes after it became available in the eShop. A short download later and I’ve barely put the game down since: I’m not far off Summer in the first year, I’ve grown almost every Spring crop, I’ve done a bunch of Community Center tasks, explored over 20 levels in the mine and I’m on my way to wooing the lady I’d like to be my wife (Leah fans unite!)

Having spent so much time on the game already I’m pleasantly surprised at how intuitive it is on the console — particularly as I’ve tried it on the steam link previously and not enjoyed the controller experience — and how few bugs I’ve come across. There have been a few incidences of me pressing a button and it not doing anything in game, and one where I pressed the button once and hammered the crap out of everything with my pickaxe, but these are likely communication issues with the console (playing docked) rather than the game itself.

Aside from this, the only other glitch that I’ve encountered is a task set from Clint where, upon asking for Coals [sic] and indeed the task being completed with 10 coal (which spoilers! you can still fish out of a chest one by one to complete) you are thanked for ore, and the conversation is identical to the ore-themed quests on the PC. You can see an example of the wording mixup in the journal:

Nonetheless… the familiar music, the adorable graphics, the storylines and character arcs are all there and all exactly as I remember them from my last stint on the PC version. I am in love, and this was well worth waiting for.

ETA 15:43 GMT: Spotted another one…

Sex, Sexuality and Consent

When I was, ooh… 17 years old (give or take) I wrote a “dirty” poem for the man I thought I was in love with. I don’t remember the words, but I remember it was a little bit rude, a little bit “naughty”. That poem didn’t go down well. The recipient freaked the fuck out and I still don’t know why, but it immediately shut down communication about sex with the man I was supposed to be spending the rest of my life with.

That break in trust — the terrible reception to such a big part of an ‘adult relationship’ — caused a catastrophic change in my already fragile relationship with sex and my ‘sexual identity’. It’s hard enough to think about sex when you’ve had control over it forcibly removed from you at a young age (link content warning, sexual abuse) but to pluck up the courage to do ‘something’ and then be shamed and ridiculed and made to feel like a terrible human being?

I distanced myself from sex at that point. I made excuses to avoid it. I celebrated headaches, and getting thrush was like winning the fucking lottery. I tolerated the parts I couldn’t refuse. I faked orgasms to get it over with quicker. I refused to try new things. I was labelled frigid, and I cried, but accepted it as truth. Over the years as memories of that encounter faded I swallowed the constant message that this lack of interest in sex was my fault. I accepted that I just wasn’t that into sex, that sex did nothing to me, and it was probably because I had been abused; because I was broken.

Some 11+ years after that incident and I found myself suddenly free. With nobody to tell me what I did and didn’t enjoy, what I could and couldn’t say, I found myself bizarrely attracted to the idea of just getting laid. Going out, having sex with a random stranger, and seeing what happened. I put it to my counsellor that having sex would, once and for all, finally answer questions that I had kept buried for so long. Was I just frigid? Did I actually enjoy sex? Could I actually even orgasm from something other than masturbation?

In hindsight, this was a terrible plan that could have gone disastrously wrong. Sex, not least sex with someone for the first time, can be crap for a huge variety of reasons. The last thing I needed was for a bad one night stand to cement in my head that I was a fucked up sexless disaster of a woman incapable of enjoying herself.

By some miracle my first sexual encounter post-ex was glorious. And not for the reasons you might expect: my vagina did not spontaneously combust because of orgasm overload (although that would have been impressive) and I didn’t explode semen from my ears (less impressive). I felt lust and desire for what might have been the first time in 28 years, but after a long day of anticipation and nervousness and a long not-date full of conversation and laughter, I was exhausted and I stopped the whole thing. I said no.

“What happened next might surprise you!”

He said OK. And we rolled over and cuddled to sleep. And it turns out that’s what normal people do. Sometimes one or both persons don’t want sex, and they say no, and things go no further. Like I said, this was glorious. It was exactly what I needed. I did not need multiple orgasms to feel better, I needed someone to respect my body. To respect my voice and to understand consent. Respecting that “no” meant trust, and it meant communication withour fear, which meant I did not feel judged or shamed or like a terrible human being. It made me feel normal.

As it turns out, there’s nothing quite like communication and feeling normal to give you the mental space needed to finally open your mind to what sex CAN be like. Given that freedom meant that I could work through both old issues from new angles to (hopefully) put them to rest, but also a muddled up jumble of thoughts about myself as an unbroken person! With needs! And desires! And fantasies and kinks and attraction to people and ‘types’ that I’d never considered before.

Growing up in what I would call a sex positive household — an openly gay mum and various relatives of all LGBT+ colours — meant that I had never given much thought to sexuality. It was just a thing that people had/did/enjoyed/whatever. No big deal. On one hand this was great for opening my mind as a kid, but on the other this fluidity and ‘normalisation’ and blurring of sexualities and different sexual preferences meant I never really considered it important to establish my own preferences in any sort of fixed medium. That, and the early and further long-term erasure of any sort of personal sexual identity, meant that I spent 30 years just assuming I was straight.

So… back to this new found ability to communicate and explore, and I get on to thinking about my sexual preferences, and I started thinking about sexuality in more detail. I figured yep, I must still be straight because I knew I wasn’t gay: I was finally enjoying sex with a man too much to be gay. But for a straight woman with lots of thoughts on what I’d do to the likes of Tom Hardy or Cillian Murphy if they found themselves in my bedroom, I sure found quite a lot of women attractive too.

Despite experiencing sex and sexuality positive parenting, I also saw biphobia from a young age. Gems such as “it’s just greedy”, and they’re “in denial about being gay” were not uncommon. I can’t say for sure that this made me discount bisexuality altogether, but it definitely meant that it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind growing up. And then one day I found those ‘Tom Hardy in my bedroom’ thoughts undeniably stirred up by an attractive woman and bosh: like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, it all clicked together. I am bisexual.

That wondrous magical consent-respecting man I mentioned above is now my husband. And despite my attraction to women (and Tom Hardy) I’m not greedy and I’m not gay: because above and beyond all others I love, want, & desire him.

Baring All

I plonked my wibbly wobbly stretch-marked belly (maybe NSFW, features underboob) on Instagram last night. It came off the back of a conversation with a gorgeous, sexy friend who mentioned that she had issues with her tummy. It’s a common one, especially for mums.

I spent a long time hung up on my stomach. I’ve had stretch marks (all over) for as long as I can remember but during pregnancy they multiplied by the dozen. I have weird bits of skin from where it was stretched to the obscene and didn’t quite recover. I have some lines that look as wide as they are long. I’d been with Gaz for close to two years before I stopped flinching every time his hand brushed past my stomach; before I stopped pushing it away, swallowing hard and holding my breath until he was out of the ‘danger zone’.

It’s so easy to look down at myself and see this ‘mess’ and then compare it to instagram models and “just bounced back” celebs and wonder where I went wrong. But comparison is the thief of joy (according to Theodore Roosevelt) and although he probably wasn’t talking about bellies, I can see his point. When we compare our untouched naked skin to the Photoshopped elite we stop seeing the things these soft, squishy, wondrous tummies have done for us. For those of us who are lucky enough to have been able to grow babies, they have protected new life, shielding it from the elements, giving it space to grow.

When I had my little self-love epiphany after my gallbladder issues, I promised myself that come what may I would not slip back into the habit of negative self-talk, of filtering out my flaws and avoiding the scars and marks that cover my skin. I told myself that I would use my platform & my confidence & my ‘fuck you’ attitude to normalise the wobbles and bulges, dips and bumps and lines. Despite this, despite finding comfort in my jiggles, I still hesitated before sharing. That familiar deep breath, hard swallow. Why is it hard? It shouldn’t be hard.

There is beauty in imperfection, in vulnerability, in accepting who we are and how we got there. If that means baring all and shouting “I LOVE MYSELF” from the rooftops so as to reiterate that and encourage other people to do the same? So be it.

Currently Loving…

With recent posts over here all a bit glum and gloomy, I thought I’d make September (or what’s left of it..!) a bit more chipper, starting with the things I’m loving right now.

String & Velvet’s Vintage Maxi Dress

I absolutely adore Zara’s Vintage Maxi Dress on String & Velvet. It’s not my size so I can’t snatch it up, but the splashes of colour are so fucking awesome; who doesn’t want to wear rainbows? String & Velvet is a new online store focusing primarily on plus size vintage.

Nintendo Switch

I had a really good month in June and after putting some money aside for bills, debt and taxes (urgh) I was able to stick enough money in my ISA for a Switch, which Tesco released stock of shortly after. I couldn’t afford any games to go with it, because that would be too lavish(!) but Gaz being the gentleman that he is bought Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and 1-2-Switch.

I have already sunk hundreds of hours into Zelda, getting basically nowhere because it turns out when you don’t play serious games for 10+ years you actually lose all skill.

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Still fucking awesome though.

This AMAZING burger

The Kreme De La Kreme burger from Severn Social in Shrewsbury:

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DIVINE. I am reliably informed that this is what’s known as a “Luther Burger” – a hamburger or cheeseburger with one or more glazed donuts in place of the bun. In this case, triple stacked burger, American cheese, streaky bacon, mustard and ketchup all sandwiched between a Krispy Kreme donut bun. These were supposed to be limited edition but were so popular they added them to the menu.

Severn Social recently opened up as a “dive bar”, replacing Biggies Diner. Live sports on various big TV screens, a fantastic menu with a variety of burgers, wings and hot dogs (and a token veggie option) with REALLY good prices for what you get. I’m not easily impressed when it comes to food, and the previous incarnations of restaurant in this location were all a bit pants, but I’m a big SS fan.

Double Chocolate Cookie Mocha Thingymabob

So in love with Costa’s double chocolate frostino thing it actually hurts.

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However, there’s two problems with these bad boys: One, they don’t come in a super huge “in a bucket” size. Two, each barista seems to make them differently and I’ve had a couple where they’ve missed the cookie bits and a couple without the chocolate sauce on top and URGH why bother if you can’t have ALL THE GOOD BITS?! Sort it out, Costa.

Fnnnghhh I want a bloody frostino now.

Tribute (Robert Addison, July 1981 – July 2017)

A tribute to Robert ‘Bobby’ Addison, as read out at his service today.

It would be… incongruous to stand here and tell you all what an angelic life Bobby led. He was almost as well known by the local police as he was by us here today.

But, despite his misdemeanours and mistakes, it is no exaggeration to say that my brother had a huge impact on so many people’s lives, not least my own.

From my first days at school Bobby had my back. He, with our eldest brother Ian (RIP), dealt with a particularly annoying bully in ways that only an older brother can. He also took the piss in ways only an older brother can: with a delightful range of nicknames for me, all with a story… none of which I’m prepared to repeat to you now – I’ve enjoyed the reprieve since he left home.

When he wasn’t taking the mick, Bobby liked to get up to mischief. I remember one Christmas – I would have been around 7 years old – he showed me the present stash he’d discovered hidden behind a hole in the lining of mum & dad’s divan bed. I also remember the sweets and crisps he nicked from the shop where he and Ian did a paper round, but we probably shouldn’t talk about that.

Bobby bought me my first ever Terry Pratchett novel, inspiring a love for an author which endures both Pratchett’s death and Bobby’s – a love I’m sharing with my two children, thus influencing their little lives.

Bobby was unfailingly irresponsible with his life at times, ignoring danger and risk to tackle pursuits like climbing onto the rooves of high buildings, riding motorbikes at ridiculous speeds with barely any protection and, in one instance, using a rope swing over a drop at The Wrekin which seemed as deep as the Grand Canyon to me at the time.

I mention these things not to glorify his pastimes, but because he encouraged me to do the same; to take risks, to try things, to be BRAVE. He was one of very few people in my life who didn’t stop me doing things because I’m a girl. He thought that if he could do it, I could too.

While his encouragement didn’t inspire me to chuck myself around on motorbikes or throw myself over drops the size of the Grand Canyon, it did inspire me to explore other “boy” things like video games and computing. It gave me the confidence in my abilities to forge a career in a male dominated industry – a career which has shaped my life, allowing me to run a successful business despite the doubters and “but you’re a girl” naysayers.

Finally, Bobby taught me one of the most important lessons of my life: he taught me forgiveness. He taught me that a person’s worth is not the sum of their mistakes, and that despite everything life throws at you, there is always good in everyone.

Terry Pratchett once wrote “no one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away”. I like to think that the ripples Bobby caused will outlive us all.

Death, Depression and Drink

Content warning: suicide, mental health, addiction

On Wednesday I sat down and mentally compiled a tribute to my brother, whilst assembling an IKEA table. There’s something strangely therapeutic about putting flat-pack furniture together (at least when I’m doing it by myself).

My brother, Robert ‘Bobby’ Addison, took his own life some time around the 21st-22nd July. Securely fixed a piece of wood between the rafters in his loft directly above the access hatch, attached the rope, and… well, you get the idea. Obviously something he’d planned out; who just happens to have a piece of wood exactly the right width to slot between the rafters just sat around the house? He was found on the 25th by a neighbour.

Although we were once close, my relationship with my brother was complicated. He had extensive mental health issues, in part exacerbated by the suicide of our eldest brother Ian back in 2000, the fallout of which (long story short) broke down his relationships, his connections with his children, family and friends.

I hadn’t seen him in 7 years, since Isabel was tiny; bumped into him in a local shopping centre. I kept meaning to write, to find him, but put it off: I wasn’t sure I could cope with the risk of introducing someone explosive into my children’s lives, and I felt I needed to ensure the safety of his children too.

Part of me feels like I shouldn’t be talking about this – we’ve not even had the funeral yet. But how do we break down barriers about mental health if we don’t talk about it? Particularly when someone with issues is left with no support network. Yes, actions have consequences, but where do we draw the line if it means potentially saving someone’s life?

Anyway. Bobby had threatened suicide multiple times since 2000. Part of me was sure he’d never go through with it. I liked to believe that he would not want to put us through “it” all over again. But if you feel ostracised, if you feel nobody cares, would that have even crossed his mind? Either way, having to deal with a suicidal brother for 17 years… it numbs you. I grieved for him again and again, every time I thought it was the end. Watching him jump in front of a moving train. Seeing him surrounded by drugs and drink. Every text telling me he’d had enough, that he couldn’t cope, that he didn’t want to be here without Ian. I cried and I grieved and then he didn’t die, he missed the train, he survived the drug cocktails.

And now he’s gone, and I expected to grieve once more, and mostly all I feel is a complicated mess of shock, regret, and relief that he is finally free from his pain.

Unfortunately, being relieved doesn’t make this shit any easier. I have been drinking. Not “bottle of vodka on a school night” drinking, but drinking nonetheless. I use it to escape my head, my own mental health, but it’s cowardly and it doesn’t work. I have also slacked off at the gym and avoided people and responsibilities.

I like to think that I have the self-awareness to nip the unhealthy behaviours in the bud before they get to a “point of no return”. (And by self-awareness, I mean my habit of constantly over-analysing the minutiae of my life and then wondering why I have so much going on in my head that I can’t escape from.)

I like to think that having the privilege of a support network, of an unwavering rock of a husband, of friends who are there for me 24 hours a day, and a counsellor who willingly listens to my swear-filled rants punctuated with sobs and sniffles… that all of this means I will go on. That I will grieve, that time will heal the wounds of regret, that I will forgive myself for not being there.

Until then? One day at a time.

Forcing a ‘read more’ link on WordPress excerpts even when excerpt text is set

Wow, that title is a bit of a mouthful. OK, so let me decipher: you can customise WordPress excerpts to add a “read more” link to post excerpts, e.g. as per this (cleaned up) example from the codex:

function new_excerpt_more( $more ) {
	global $post;
	return '<a class="moretag" href="'. get_permalink( $post->ID ) . '">Read the full article...</a>';
}
add_filter( 'excerpt_more', 'new_excerpt_more' );

But… this will not add a more link if you have explicitly set a custom excerpt on a post. The excerpt_more filter is only called by wp_trim_excerpt() where $text is not provided. Sometimes, this behaviour is undesirable, e.g. you may set excerpt text because the auto-generated excerpt is inappropriate, but still want the click through ‘read more’ link.

To get round this, we need to apply a filter to wp_trim_excerpt, which is called later in the function, but first we need to strip the default excerpt_more behaviour so that we don’t end up with e.g. duplicate … or similar:

add_filter( 'excerpt_more', function ( $more ) { return ''; } );

function custom_excerpt_filter( $text, $raw_excerpt ) {
	global $post;
	return $text . '… <a class="read-more" href="'. get_permalink( $post->ID ) . '">read more »</a>';
}
add_filter( 'wp_trim_excerpt', 'custom_excerpt_filter', 10, 2 );

Tada, a working “read more” link on all excerpts irrelevant of length or provided custom excerpt text.

Please note: if you are silly, and running < PHP 5.3 you will need to replace the “inline” (lambda) function on the excerpt_more filter with:

function new_excerpt_more( $more ) { return ''; }
add_filter( 'excerpt_more', 'new_excerpt_more' );

Cats… cats everywhere!

I was on my break during the Tuesday morning shift at Shropshire Cat Rescue last week when a lady brought in a tiny black kitten. Roughly 8 weeks old, he’d been found abandoned in Bridgnorth, a nearby town.

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Now, despite evidence to the contrary (a growing menagerie!) volunteering at the cat rescue has hardened my resistance to the “omg cute kitty” fever I was once plagued with. Nonetheless, I saw this little kitten’s tiny sad eyes and almost entirely melted then and there. Perhaps it’s a soft spot for black cats thanks to the late great King of Cats, my beautiful Hex?

black male

Who knows, but I *wanted this kitty*.

I did however manage to exercise some good judgement, and after a brief fussin’, put him down for someone else to tend to. Shortly after, he was joined by another kitten, roughly 12 weeks old, who’d been found somewhere else:

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They immediately took to one another and so I left them to it.

Until Thursday. On Thursday I was back at the rescue with Gaz for a meeting about the rescue’s new website, which we’re working on (complete with a spangly new WordPress theme design from Pretty Content) together, and Gaz is an even bigger “crazy cat person” than I am. Within minutes of walking into the staff room he declared that we should have them.

Now let me remind you that at that exact moment we had 4 cats, 6 guinea pigs, 2 rabbits and a recent baby tarantula addition waiting for us at home.

But we “had to have them”.

I stood firm. I said no. I pointed out that within the next 12 months we’re hoping to move to a bigger home, which is going to require clearing some debts and being sensible with money and generally not spending more than we can afford. Ozzy has been at the vets this week, the house still stinks of cat pee from when we had Pixel. It was a Bad Idea. We left that evening without the kitties.

And then I started my shift on Tuesday. I didn’t look the kitties in the eye, I knew I was in dangerous emotional territory after some recent bad news. I IGNORED THEM. I tootled off to do my usual jobs. I fed the village cats, I medicated the oldies. I swept and I cleaned. But then it was break time again…

It took less than a minute in the break room for me to cave, reserve the tiny kittens and make a coffee.

I am a bloody sucker.