Thursday, 29 April 2010

Fighting Fit

After many weeks of anxious yet excited waiting, 300 copies of "Spring to Mind" were delivered to my neighbour yesterday.

Sounds like I have a huge fan, eh?

Well, she might yet be, but at the time she was innocently and very kindly taking in 17 boxes to save the delivery man a return trip next week. As I have said in a previous post - and my words inevitably come back to haunt me - one has no control over delivery men; Ocado (Waitrose affiliated delivery company) being a notable exception.

So apart from my sheer delight in having my books in hand, I was very glad to be in peak physical condition to lug those boxes to my shopping trolley (I mean pushchair, crowd rammer and bloated-tummy disguiser) and cart 128 kilos of books down to my apartment.

Now I have the lesser task of selling them. I have found so far that carrying one or two around - something I prepared earlier - and casually throwing it into the conversation, can work. Ok, it's only day one, admittedly...

Nevertheless, I was well aware during that slog to move the stockpile that had I not been in such an amazing state of fitness, this task might have seemed daunting without a large palette, very strong man or complex pulley system to help. Let me just say though, for the avoidance of doubt (drafters of turgid tax legislation love throwing that old phrase in - "for the avoidance of doubt" - which really means - "yes we know this is very unclear and you, dear reader, will be exploiting this loophole forthwith, but just be warned that we know this part of the law, nay, all of it, is a quagmire of confused, antiquated and impenetrable rules, but the Revenue will not be taken for a fool, again"), that I am being facetious. I have come to realise that my fitness is in fact far from at optimum levels.

Tempting as it is to turn this post into a bellyache about ageing - a post scheduled for next month - or the myriad ways in which modern life conspires to make one fat and unfit, I will keep this post upbeat and optimistic. After all we are all people of the world here. We know that skinny muffins are laden in hydrogenated fat and emulsifiers in order to compensate for lack of butter and taste. We know that a regular large glass of wine will add inches to our hips while taking months off our lives, even if red and full of anti-oxidants. We are good friends with all the "hidden" calories in our day; the half masticated bread sticks and rice cakes we have to force down our throats on buses, in church and during class assembly where no imaginative person has yet to install a bin, the crusts off the morning toast, the "it's not hot, try it" testing mouthfuls of lasagne and curry, the here-a-chip-there-a-chip-everywhere-a-chip-chip sides in kid-friendly restaurants, the extra spoonful of sugar in the coffee. We are surrounded by wicked temptations. Who can resist a chip? Who doesn't treat themselves to a nice glass of something chilled come Saturday afternoon? Hell, it's not like we don't deserve it. And protest as we might, kid oriented snack foods are tasty after three loads of washing, an argument with a teacher/postman/checkout operator/child/husband. Just one won't hurt...

But the impact as we age is severe.

And it's no easier in the city where sophisticated cuisine, alcohol and imported chocolate handed out free with morning coffee at the better cafes wreak their own havoc. Perhaps in the fast lane though, the damage can be mitigated. Working all night, running adrenaline fuelled deals and meetings, rushing around town in search of coffee and adversaries' offices, and around one's own ill-designed office in search of relief after too much of that coffee or just too much of life in a fishbowl, can burn off a lot of energy.

So, I know I am preaching to the converted when I say that keeping fit and trim can be a war of attrition. But I have discovered and dare I say, developed, some techniques for winning that battle. It may be only a pyrrhic victory, but the aching hamstrings will be convinced.

So - I give you Springgirl's Non-definitive Guide to Feeling Fit this Spring.

Remember that there are two underlying principles to feeling fit.
First, if you are fitter than the next person you will feel fit.
Second, if its worth doing, its worth pretending you did it.

1.Talk yourself up. No one ever felt fit thinking they were fat and frumpy. You have to believe you can be fit in order to take the steps needed to feel fit. Fitness hates defeatism. Feeling fit is all about ego. You have to be vain and selfish, even if for the sake of your health rather than purely your appearance. You have to want to wear tight white jeans with panache.

2. Start caring. Join a gym - you will care about the money you waste if you never go. Buy a bike or expensive golf equipment - again you will care more if it costs you more.

3. If stress helps you shed weight, increase your stress. Kill two birds with one stone and buy a power plate machine - the expense of this will be such as to guarantee stress induced use. This will also help you tone your muscles in front of the telly and burn off that lager and curry faster. Note: you will need to reinforce your floor, sound proof your exercise area and take out a loan or get a second job - all statistically likely to increase stress.

4. Buy the best gym clothes. You need to look good to feel fit. No one ever felt good in baggy, saggy, dog-hair covered sweat pants - did they? A good looking outfit will pep you up, inspire you and impress and intimidate the other gym users, runners, walkers, shoppers, soccer mums, cyclists, coffee shop queuers... Walking the walk is half the battle.

5. If you are a gym user, always work out in front of the the mirrors. This means you can preen and admire yourself, adjust your blond ponytail often and generally induce hatred and envy in the hearts of the other attendees.  The aim is to intimidate. Since fitness is not an absolute - but a relative thing - if everyone resents or loathes you (and let's face it, no one hates the unco nerd trundling along the treadmill at a snail's pace) you will deservedly feel fit and strong.

6. Attend classes often and suck up to and joke around with the instructor. This has two main benefits. It may put the more competitive punters off their game in the class, thereby making you look and feel better - clearly you are fit if you know the moves, rarely break a sweat and can ask after Camp Cameron's chihuahua. Alternatively it can work to increase the standard in the room as the competitive punters try ever harder to keep pace with you. You in turn will work that bit harder as well.

7. Join a running club. Everyone knows runners are obsessed with their sport. Cyclists are too for that matter, but as they are more cliquey and often ride on scary roads or for long distances it is harder to fake it. If you live and breathe running you can't feel unfit even if you only go to club runs once a month and hold up the bar afterwards. You will have a sense of belonging and community - two keys elements of a happy and engaged life. If you are happy and engaged you will not mind so much that you are not fit. And in truth how could you not join in occasionally - they make it look so easy and effortless...

8. Vary your routine. Remember the old adage about spice? Your fitness will plateau and your workout become stale if you never mix things up. Look for ways to use new muscle groups. For example, if you usually shower, take a bath. If you prefer the bus, try the train for a change (all those steps!). Cross the road to avoid people, rather than stop and chat. Use the self checkouts, sleep on the other side of the bed, eat dinner in a different place, sit on the floor to read the kids their bedtime story (great for the butt as you clamber up afterwards), or just tackle something you have been putting off for a long time - like dusting those high shelves. If you have to pant to get a bit of housework done you will surely feel fitter for the effort!

9. Try yoga but don't buy into all the lingo and concepts like "listen to your body" and "this is not a race". It is essential you treat it as a bitter competition in order to get that warrior pose lower and stronger. Remember, there are no prizes for knowing how to breathe.

10. Finally, just do it.

I am off now to vary my routine. I think I will have peppermint tea instead of regular, brush my teeth left handed, lay out my new designer gym kit for the morning and sleep at the foot of my bed. I am anticipating some aches tomorrow after the hard session at the gym today. I had to work very hard to keep up with that blonde chic channelling Carrie Bradshaw all through Total Body Conditioning. Who knew we had muscles in those places?

Monday, 26 April 2010

The grass is greener....

Over the past few days I have felt a sense of futility.

Futility? Surely not Springgirl! What could bring on such a lamentation?

Well the catalysts were threefold. 

First, over lunch in one of the 7 million eateries in this particular national chain (I shall not name it - let's just call it the "Sandwich Place") that promotes itself on its environmental credentials, I watched spell bound as one of the staff bundled up into one bag all of the carefully separated recyclables with the tea bags, food scraps and other flotsam and jetsam of high street life that tends to find its way into cafe bins (used nappies, tissues, sweet wrappers, cigarette packets, newspapers, love letters, travel cards and so on). I was with the Off-Spring at the time. While they hungrily devoured their lunch, I had been assessing my tray and trying to decide into which bin I ought to dispose of my salad box, coffee cup and cutlery. 

Now, as an aside, let me just explain that I like to follow rules that make sense. Also I am a tad competitive and I long ago imagined that if I were to leave the in-flight meal tray on long-haul flights extremely neat and tidy I would be awarded the prize for Neatest Passenger (Meal-time Category) and earn lifetime complimentary upgrades or perhaps even permanent gold card flight club status on the strength of my superb and thoughtful scrap presentation. Hence, my silent musings as to how to ensure the best outcome from both a neatness and an environmental perspective at the Sandwich Place.

And before you start your silent musings along the lines of "what a loser/control freak with too little on her mind", I should assure you (again dear Followers) that I am not a control freak in all respects at all - come and see the kitchen floor and judge for yourself - only in a couple of small ones. Basically, I have made peace with the fact that there is so little one can control (e.g. children, the economy, relationships, the delivery guy, job interviews, queues in the supermarket, random terminal illnesses, ash spewing volcanoes and muck spewing pigs, to name but a few) and I am happily mindful of that most of the time. But, given that we are mere specks on the face of the earth, have control over so little and will be gone before long anyway, it is imperative that in the ways that one can exert influence, one really needs to do so with conviction and commitment. Hence, my obsessional need to go to the gym, my compulsive fixation on DRY cappuccinos and this aeroplane tray tidiness syndrome. There may be one or two others...

So, there I was mulling over whether to use more paper wiping out said salad box to make it pristinely clean for the recycling bin or to leave it messy, save three napkins and put it in with general trash, when lo and behold the green credentials of the Sandwich Place were tossed into one large black refuse sack with all the other garbage. 

The gullible customer is conned once more. And that's when the sense of futility began to seep into my under-occupied Saturday afternoon mind. I began to think "what else" (a thinking process that I learnt from Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher thriller series - thanks Lee - whose characters describe applying this thinking in assessing the credibility of clients and witnesses); if there is one lie then what else may be untrue?

Am I really drinking Spring Water, eating free range eggs or hand carved turkey? Is the cheese truly from France? Are the sandwiches actually prepared with love? Today?

I was once again cast adrift in an ocean of confusion. Thankfully the Off-Spring were with me - helping to keep it real... But not for long, alas.

The second catalyst to this sense of doom is a sneaking suspicion that like "Eco-friendly", terms such as "Diversity" and "Corporate Social Responsibility", as ubiquitous as "Green" these days, as catchwords for the Values in Action of many organisations, have become hackneyed and overused, lacking in real meaning.

I can claim to be Green. After all, I am eco-friendly - I don't drive much, I turn off lights and taps and I don't even own a tv. I watch my air miles - the tidy tray thing is not a common occurrence. My carbon footprint is small - apart from my food-miles - as I do love the fair trade pineapple, and Australian Eucalyptus honey sweetened tea. 

I can claim to be socially responsible - I am a mother and charity begins at home. I drop coins into buckets proffered in tube stations. I never leave my towel lying around at the gym or fail to share the gym equipment. I hold doors open for strangers and I even drink responsibly.

And I embrace diversity in many forms. I watch a range of tv shows, buy loads of different cereals from lots of different stores and trump card - I even have friends from different countries.

All of these attributes supposedly distinguish me and myriad companies and organisations and I daresay you. We are all officially excellent and to be congratulated. What else?

Finally, the third event. I have been considering a return to salaried employment as a sideline to my coaching and writing. I envisage a highbrid role up to 25 hours a week (school hours) - business development/coaching/facilitation/practice management. After all so many organisations welcome and support part time workers, offer family friendly packages and even win prizes for their work-life balance strategies. 

But then the rot really set in - I was advised by a recruiter that all such roles on their books are full-time. 


So the upshot? I can join a firm that embraces Diversity in the form of female staff seeking flexible working hours. The firm would consider and reject said flexibility and offer me a full time role that would allow me to leave the office earlier than the fee-earners, the directors or the partners and thus for all intents and purposes at salary review time - be part-time. My contribution would help create a big enough cushion to enable the firm to offer voluntary or pro bono work and thus be Socially Responsible. I would then have the satisfaction of knowing that my firm was competitive in terms of its values, congratulate myself on being one of "the Best and the Brightest" lured to it by same progressive social agenda and I could in turn pay a stranger to raise my children, do their homework with them and watch them grow and learn. I would nevertheless, enjoy a satisfying, organic, fresh, handmade sandwich for lunch (low cal hopefully as I would have skipped the gym session due to having to attend the early morning breakfast meeting with the fee-earners, clashing with both pilates and the middle child's class assembly). Icing on the cake? I would be sure to find a coffee shop with staff capable of steaming and frothing skim milk to my satisfaction.

Meanwhile the kitchen floor would get mopped, the kids would appreciate me more, I would have ready cash to spend on non-recyclable consumables like another espresso machine, home gym equipment, expensive toys to salve my conscience and buy back my children and airline tickets to exciting destinations.

This self employed/working from home thing doesn't pay too well but it certainly offers a lot of benefits for cynical blogging failed lawyers like me...

What else?

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Scripting one's own story

Today I attended my first London Book Fair. It often happens that a much anticipated event that has loomed large in one's imagination for some time disappoints. The Book Fair did not disappoint, exactly. I was not expecting a queue of agents waiting to sign me up at the door. Nor did I expect to sell my next book. And no, I could not spy any visible press coverage. Although I did see two old blokes chatting next to a cam corder - look out You-Tube...

But a decent coffee would have been something, given I am back on instant after yet another cracking Bodum experience. A decent coffee in an emporium that large (think of the show-bag pavilion at the Brisbane Ekka - "Exhibition" - circa 1982 and you will comprehend the scale of this event) is not asking too much, is it? I did score a free pen, stale shortbread biscuit, holder for my travel card (thanks to Lexis Nexis for that!) and an orange cream Roses chocolate (possibly the high-point). I learnt that the Fair ("LBF) is largely about publicity and publishing, rights and distribution and various other intellectual property concepts that can be monetised by the players in the Book industry.  And there were, admittedly, a variety of interesting workshops and discussions for authors, e-publishers and illustrators, largely scheduled for after 3pm (most book trade people evidently not being charged with school pick up duty).

So yes, the LBF was worth attending. 

However, wandering through the hall pretending to no one at all that I knew where to go, I felt, as I often do, like an extra in the film of someone else's life. Or a nameless face in the crowd in a book with no title. Usually, I do have some clue as to who the film or book is about (admittedly mostly me, but sometimes Mr Springgirl, a larger than life friend, one of the Off-Spring), but today, and I dare say at any industry show or convention on this sort of scale, I could not discern just what the story was. Perhaps this is a metaphor for how we all move through our lives. If the story is ours or that of a person or place we know or care about then the action can unfold as it will. But to pick up a book and begin half way through and have no idea what is going on? There we struggle.

If this metaphor is not working for you, imagine weird three walled rooms full of books as the backdrop to dozens of speed dating couples in deep conversation and you will get an idea of the atmosphere at the LBF.

Bewildering. It is reminiscent of returning to work after maternity leave. No one is going to throw one out, but...

The task for me now, given my intent to market my book/s, to appear winning and charming and to win readers and clients over on the strength of a 2 minute impression, is to manage this in a mindful fashion. I am at heart a mindful person. I negotiate most interactions in a present and mindful way. For example, I am aware in the moment that I have no idea what is going on at an event. I am aware during a conversation that my audience has switched off, or that I, the audience, may have done so. I am aware while being ignored by an acquaintance in the street that I am being ignored by an acquaintance in the street, I watch myself acquiesce to that and I am aware of any (not much) emotional response to the episode.

Are we all like this? 

Admittedly, I am a slow burn sort of character. The film of the book of my life will probably be a long drawn out affair - going straight to tv and run over several nights during the football off-season, over five or six years...

So yes, while in many regards I am a self starter, full of boundless energy, when it come to small talk and networking I never really enter the room to begin with. Sure, I can do the dinner party chit chat with strangers, the gossip with the mums at the tennis court (under duress), and the lunch table at the work conference. Those are fine - the implied welcome, the shared purpose, help break the ice. I can chat to my neighbour on a plane, though hopefully only for a few minutes every hour. I can chew the fat at the water cooler, if push comes to shove. But walking into a room full of strangers and starting a conversation is just not my strong suit. Classic self limiting behaviour and as a perceptive lawyer turned coach I am the first to "own" it. 

And from where does this come? Having thought long and hard about it, it seems that I cannot think of a single thing worth saying. This is the real issue. 

It is not a lack of confidence - though a better hairstyle might help. No, it is a sense of futility; a feeling that it has all been said before. We know too much now. Virtually everything ever written can be accessed in our living rooms. I am overwhelmed, indeed awestruck at the extent of human knowledge and understanding. A brief perusal of Wikipedia alone can leave me speechless. 

And so cast adrift in this ocean of information and connectivity and activity, I flail about looking for something to cling to; a mast to pin my colours to, a rock or a safe harbour, while I search for the gossamer thread of originality and optimism and oomph. 

There are plenty of buoys, plenty of sharks, shoal upon shoal of fish.... But where are the floral sails, the gingham surfboards, the silver crested waves that will bring us home to shore?

So where was I...

Oh yes - the to do list:
new haircut (new shoes while I am at it)
list of small talk topics
subscription to Hello, Spectator, Private Eye and Sky HD


Sunday, 18 April 2010


It has been a strange few days. All flights in and out of the UK are grounded due to a cloud of volcanic ash high above Europe that may damage aeroplane engines and windscreens. There is talk that the Royal Navy may be drafted to assist stranded UK travellers needing to return to the UK. All the romance of Dunkirk, the age of steam, land and sea travel... If only we had gone abroad this Easter.

Aside from the sheer novelty of not seeing or hearing a plane in its usual place in the sky over south-west London for four days, we are being spoilt by a burst of clement, clear and warm weather. The communal garden that we call ours was teeming with residents today. The obligatory shirts off (so delightfully European) temperatures were to be savoured. As was the wafting aroma of burning sausages, spilt wine, cut grass and fresh blossoming flowers. On days like these one remembers why one moved to London. The quiet of the skies only enhanced the impression that one was luxuriating on a village green rather than an urban playground 58 seconds walk from the busiest westbound artery to the now deserted Heathrow and beyond.

The communal garden is a snapshot of modern life. A melange, if you will. Young couples hand in hand over the Sunday paper, smile dreamily at their own reflections in each other's sunglasses. Still new parents enjoy the first tentative steps of the soon to be toddler; vigilant, proud and almost as dreamy as those news hungry young lovers. The older folk bring their own chairs - the park benches being too hard and upright - books and cups of tea. Clusters of older children, finding a "homey" and playing "It" (or "catch"), chase and cycle and search energetically for cats and squirrels to torment. The weary but oh so relaxed working parents soak up the sun before another week underground and inside, ignoring the children because for once they can.

The children want for nothing - playmates, food, freedom... drama, enmity and turf battles.

And so in the midst of this spectacle, I, semi-recumbent reader of Lee Child thriller, took it upon myself to broker peace between this Lord of the Rings-esque ensemble of players. I have a new calling - my son told me afterwards that I should consider working full-time as a "Negotiator" (his words) as I managed to repair some broken hearts at the sandbox, secure guarantees of forgiveness and sharing and quell the growing rivalry over the spoils of communal garden conflict. Needless to say these skills have been honed in my own home through much of my life. It is my dream that my son will emulate the style and aplomb at the sandpit in solving his own conflicts going forward. It seems to be the case that while he has been exposed to (subject to) my style all his life, he is now seeing how successful it can be in achieving a happy resolution. I doubt it is novel. While I know mine is a different approach to that of some teachers in our short and sometimes chequered schooling history, (another post will be needed to do justice to the myriad modern means of tacitly encouraging persistent bullying in the interests of building resilience), I would have thought most mothers could sort out the old sandpit shenanigans fairly smartly.

So forgive me if I state the obvious - blogs do sometimes stray into that arena I believe - but inevitably my thoughts turn to sharing these strategies for conflict resolution - not because I hold any key, but because my son perceives that I do!

Could I pen a handy guide to managing conflict among the under 10s. What do I really know? What works? I hasten to add that I am only dealing with extra-familiar conflict. In terms of minding my own house, I am open to suggestions. The usual threats to call the babysitting agency, suspend some perceived treat or to remove the guilty party(s) from the equation, or object of conflicting desire to the bin or charity shop, are ceasing to generate the fast and certain results they once did.

But enough dirty laundry. At least at home it is only me being driven to distraction. In public the risk to unsuspecting, though not always innocent bystanders is such that it is imperative that I model or instil some reasonable mediation techniques as often as I can. Maybe the Off-Spring can learn from these situations to resolve their issues not only with neighbours and friends, but also each other.

Or perhaps by definition siblings cannot apply that learning at home. I suppose that there is some consolation in the fact that kids seem to split upon family lines when fighting outside the home. They must love each other after all...

Here goes. The Negotiator's tips to sorting out the garden/playground/street battles of the chattering middle classes under 10's (ie where there are no knives, swear words or gang issues in the mix):

(My recently silenced inner voices are moaning now. Not another bloody list, Springgirl!)

1. Never take sides.
2. Bring all factions together in one place - face to face. This avoids the name calling, disingenuous blame laying and face-losing tears that can occur if the parties are separate.
3. Make sweeping statements about life being too short for all this animosity. Chances are they will lose the will to fight back as their little brains stew over what animosity means. Also the whole "life is short" notion seems to be very effective with this age group as they grapple with the concepts of death, hell, ghosts and retribution on a daily basis.
4.Threaten those under your control/guardianship with time out indoors if they cannot bring a spirit of reconciliation to the sandpit. The recent memory of grey wintry days stuck inside with nothing but fights with their siblings to break up the tedium will ensure compliance. For those not under your control this suggests a modicum of authority that their parents, sipping Verdelho on the other side of the garden, may lack at that moment.
5.Seek no information as to the source of the problem or conflict. Keep above the fray and thus keep them focussed on the prize - a long summer of fun outdoors.
6. Ask each child for their personal buy-in to the notion of moving forward with kindness towards each other. Like an entente, when one comes in, they all capitulate.
7. Praise them for their sensible and mature rapprochement.

I am sure I can make this work in other contexts. I hasten to add that this works where there are multiple protagonists, strangers with whom one has yet to lose credibility and with small girls who heretofore have managed to be mean and nasty under the radar and thus are already disarmed by the fact one has approached them in the first place. The above 7 point plan seems not to work in the sanctity of the family home among one's own children. In that context the tears, obfuscation and name calling barely stops long enough to allow any of the negotiation/mediation to really begin.

Inner voice - is there some learning for us there, Springgirl?

Let's hope all of the weary travellers for whom entrance or egress from Europe is important soon manage to make or complete their journeys in the coming days.  Nothing worse than being grounded.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

How to lower your cholesterol

This past week has been a flurry of activity. Aside from school holiday antics and day trips to country and seaside to enjoy the "balmy" weather, Springgirl has been occupied illustrating her first children's book. No, Springgirl is not an illustrator, proficient with a paintbrush or pen, or even adept with Photoshop. Sure, Springgirl is perhaps what was once called "accomplished". She can sing - a little, play tennis - a little, cook - a little, and carry a conversation. But artistic? Only if unfinished knitted sweaters and macrame count? 

But as sending copious e-mails to friends, artists and illustrators had not yielded the fruit desired in terms of a malleable, inexpensive, available and talented artiste, Springgirl had no choice but to embrace and emulate the positivity of Spring and set about the task herself. If nothing else, it would pass the time. 

It transpired though, given that Springgirl is never one to let a wanton lack of talent hold her back, that the illustration project was taken on with gusto. Lacking a fear of the unknown, impervious to embarrassment, and driven by an almost manic desire to get things done, Springgirl has achieved a finished product that has been met with oohs and ahhs of delight from the off-Spring and indulgent and amused smiles from Mr Springgirl. 

The book will be available soon - once printed and distributed. A sparkling example of what can be accomplished without skill, practise or style.

And so thoughts now return to marketing the soon to be printed first novel - Spring to Mind, promoting the nascent coaching business and publishing the first of (I hope) many children's books (now that I have stopped with the self-congratulatory diatribe, I feel able to express myself better in the first person...).

Indeed sales and marketing efforts will redouble in coming weeks as the parlous state of the coffers spurs me to new feats of self-promotion. Accordingly, I have been mulling over ways and means of hooking my readers and fan-base.

Based on my sense of what the market is looking for in making purchasing decisions, this is where I am now:

1. This book will lower your cholesterol. Take the two week challenge. Buy it and read it instead of eating breakfast and one other meal a day. You will be slimmer in two weeks.

2. Get longer lashes overnight! Enhance those lashes with a session reading Spring to Mind. Your lashes will appear longer, thicker and more luscious after just one evening tucked up with this great book.*

3.  Change how you see your life - for the better. A beguiling mix of the facile and the erudite, this book is guaranteed to make you ever so grateful for your own life, problems, family and job.

4.  Reduce bloating and wind in just 3 days! Rebalance your gut with a good belly laugh this Spring.

5.  Save money! Inspired by the author's tales of the perils of shopping, hairdressing and gym membership, you will swear off all such pursuits until you read an unbiased endorsement of same.

6.  Get fit fast. Walk to the store to buy it, walk home to read it, walk around the park while you read it, walk it to your best friend's house to share it. 

7.  Find love! With Spring to Mind to hand you will find love in new places, accept the love you have may be as good as it gets or reconcile yourself to the single vocation.

8.  Become a style icon. Spring to Mind will change the way you see fashion forever.   

9.  Coach yourself to greater resilience, happiness and optimism! Spring into a fresh mindset with Spring to Mind's Self Coaching Toolkit.

10.  Get the career of your dreams. Drawing on the author's years of expertise clamouring at the foot of the career ladder, sliding down the greasy pole and banging her head on glass ceiling, this book will equip you to know when it is too late to quit while you are ahead.

11.  Reduce wrinkles and fine-lines. This book will reduce the seven signs of ageing.**

* Fake lashes supplied with first 200 books sold.
** Readers are advised to:
a) use it as a sunshade,
b) pulp it and apply the papier-mache to the face as a therapeutic Spring mask, or
c) re-sell 10 copies and use the proceeds to buy the latest miracle cream.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Walking on eggshells

Today I saw an Easter wreath.

When I was a girl, Good Friday was the quietest day of the year. It was the only day - with the possible exception of Christmas Day - when one was guaranteed that everything would be closed; schools, businesses and shops. Even public transport virtually stood still - though for 1970s and early 1980s Brisbane that is probably nothing to write home about. The point was though, that Jesus died on Good Friday - we remember and we have a quiet and simple day.

It has therefore always been something of a shock, living in London, to find that Good Friday is commercially much the same as any Bank Holiday. Admittedly it is quieter than a Sunday or a Bank Holiday as so many people travel for the school holidays, but it is business as usual on the high streets. Indeed, the smaller volume of shoppers makes for a very pleasant outing to the mid-season sales. A sombre day of mourning? Retail therapy?

We spent Easter Saturday in the country. A simple day - no vomiting pigs, no fleas or other small flying insects to plague us. We took part in a fairy tale themed trail through the park of a stately home searching for clues and answering questions in order to claim our chocolate egg prize. Afterwards we wandered the nearby town. That was where I saw the wreath made of pastel coloured "distressed" looking hollow (I hope) eggs.

Perhaps I am a shopping philistine. I certainly lay no claim to following trends, brands or labels, but an egg wreath seemed a little over the top somehow. I may well be years behind current chi-chi Easter styling; just something else to add to the list.

I realise I am beating about the bush here. I suppose what I am trying to say is: why is there an accessory or a gimmick to accompany every single event in our lives? Some would say: that is what happens in a free market. Should we do away with the internet, phones and The Gap? Savvy companies and entrepreneurs see an opportunity and supply a product or service. One is free to choose to buy into it or not. Indeed, we have all been in a store, seen some useless, overpriced item and thought  - "who would buy that?", only to discover it is on all the "Hot and Hip" lists that season. On that basis we can forgive all sorts of marketing ploys, branded knick knacks that do nothing for anyone and complete debacles of style and substance.

On the other hand, even noticing and commenting, lamenting the passing of simpler times when global
merchandising and branding did not sway our choices and dominate our decision making processes, one runs the risk of exposing oneself as the grumpy old woman one has become - or perhaps always has been.

No, one does not want to throw the baby out with the bath water. At the end of the day if one is a believer in free will and freedom of expression, one can hardly begrudge people their buying choices, their self expression or their own dearly held beliefs that Fashion House Branded Golf tees will enhance their game. Or that copious amounts of eye makeup will ensure they are as young, vital and energetic as they were in their prime. Or that a cap that matches their car makes them look cool and wealthy...

So in spite of myself, and in the spirit of Easter, new life and new hope, I offer you an Easter Basket of joyous nothings.

It is a day for celebrating.