Thursday, 29 April 2010

Long Haul

Sometimes it's not the journey, it's the getting there.

Mother apparently needs a new coat. And a "nice top". So, with a familiar sense of fear and loathing I gave her some money for her birthday and promised to take her shopping with me yesterday. We've done this once or twice before and it's fair to say that it is not an experience to relish. I just kept focusing on the fact that it couldn't go on forever. It had to end at some point.

I have heard tell that some people enjoy Mother-Daughter, girly type shopping expeditions. Some mothers actually like the company of their daughters and look on it as an excuse to treat their offspring with some small frippery or other, or indulge in a sneaky lunchtime glass of wine, or perhaps a cake. That's not us. Oh no.

Mother hadn't spent the money that I gave her for Christmas. Lest anyone think I lack imagination in the gift department I should explain that Mother isn't the easiest person to buy for. Sometimes on forums you see posts saying "What can I buy my 65 year old father for his birthday? He likes photography, travel, music and film, going out for dinner and reading magazines." And I think "If only."

Mother is 71, plays bridge (competitive, not social) and wallows in widowhood. She doesn't wear perfume, or makeup beyond a dab of Rimmel lipstick. She doesn't have her ears pierced, wear necklaces, bangles or rings apart from her wedding ring. She loathes the idea of a massage, has never shaved her legs, doesn't paint her nails. Although she worries constantly about the fact that she has lost weight since my Dear Departed Dad did his departing, she doesn't really appreciate the joy to be found in a box of chocolates, preferring instead to ration them out. She eats chocolates as if they were worming tablets - a necessary evil.

She hates travelling anywhere at all, is terrified of driving, panics on trains. Her new bionic hips mean that walking isn't much of an option either. She doesn't like to go to the cinema. She doesn't own a DVD player and wouldn't want one anyway. She only listens to music if it happens to be playing on Radio 4. She reads, but only other people's cast-offs. The very idea of going into a bookshop and browsing fills her with contempt.

So, no toiletries, no food, no music, no books, no films. No weekend breaks, no magazine subscriptions, no jewellery, no spa days. No meals out, no meals in. Cold hard cash on the other hand...

Mother's idea of a shopping day out is to march (or in her case hobble) straight into Marks and Sparks and then go home. The nearest large shopping centre to my house is only a forty minute drive away but yesterday it felt like a very long slog.

We parked close to the entrance and walked directly into the midst of their Classic Range. This is the section designed pretty much with my mother in mind; sensible twin sets, not so much trousers as crease-resistant slacks, raincoats. Within two minutes she had dismissed it all as being "fuddy duddy", with the one exception of a rather pretty blouse that they only had in my size. I did ask the assistant if they had any more but was told it was the last one. I secretively picked it up.

There was a sale rail ahead. Now this is possibly the one uniting factor between us: we do both love a bargain. I quickly snapped up a pink coat and a pair of shoes. Mother found precisely nothing. We ventured to full price items in Per Una, Limited Collection, Portfolio and Autograph. Nothing doing. And the sense of deja vu was immediate and immense. Every time I take her shopping it's the same.

"I need a new jacket. And a nice top. That's not a jacket it's a coat. That's not long enough. Too long. I don't like double breasted. The buttons are dull. It's too tight across the shoulders. It's baggy. I need a higher neckline than this. Not a polo neck. That would be nice if it were green and half the price. Not that kind of green. Too old. Too young. It's a bit casual. I don't want anything that smart. They don't design their clothes with me in mind. Too busy. A bit of pattern would perk it up. Will it wash? I hate linen. I don't like manmade fibres. Cotton is too lightweight. It's not really my style. It's a bit plain. That looks like what I'm wearing. I have four like that already and I never wear them. It's all too young. I'm not being too fussy am I?"

I wouldn't mind this monologue so much if it weren't for the tone in which it is delivered. I fully agree that sometimes it's hard to find just what you're looking for, and there's no point buying something for the sake of it. But I actually enjoy the process of hunting down an elusive item and although it can sometimes be a little frustrating if you have a particular style or colour in mind but can't find it, there is at least the opportunity to ruffle through rails of pretty things and pleasure to be had from the whole shopping experience whether you buy or not. But Mother dispenses her condemnation of the Marks and Spencer Spring/Summer stock in a voice dripping with accusation and I'm left in no shadow of a doubt that it's somehow my fault.

We give up on the idea of Mother parting with any of my hard-earned cash and elect instead for lunch. Only Mother, who was brought up in the aftermath of WW2 doesn't like to be extravagant with lunch. "We'll share a sandwich. I'm not very hungry." She might not have been, but having missed breakfast I was ravenous and one cup of coffee and half an egg and cress wasn't really cutting it to my mind. No wonder she can't put weight on. However, I indulged her parsimony on my behalf (yes, this was supposed to be her birthday lunch so I was paying. I dread to think what we'd have eaten if she'd been flashing the cash) and then drove home. Forty minutes. You wouldn't believe how long that can be.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

London, Paris, New York. Part 2.

Last Christmas, I hit upon the brilliant idea of giving The Man I Married tickets to a London Show for Christmas. I even sorted out flights, hotel accommodation and a dinner reservation. This year, we decided to do it again, only we thought we'd go one better and add in a special Wedding Anniversary gift of a trip to Paris too.

After consulting with friends, I sorted childcare out and booked tickets to see Priscilla Queen of the Desert (The Musical). The Man I Married booked hotel accommodation in London and flights to, and a hotel in, Paris. I booked us a table at our favourite Parisien restaurant. We had ongoing discussions as to which Gordon Ramsay establishment we would choose for lunch in London but apart from that we were all set for a weekend of utter fabulousness.

Disaster threatened when British Airways cabin crew started making noises about strikes. The Man I Married worried. He does that sometimes. It irritates me. "Oh, it'll be fine!" I said. Nonetheless he made alternative arrangements just in case. He booked a flight from Glasgow to London with EasyJet instead of BA. And he booked a fully flexible ticket on the Eurostar. He reserved a room at an hotel near St. Pancras in case we ended up not flying to France. Secretly I scoffed at all this caution and anal retentive planning activity but let him get on with it. He had folders with documents and tickets and reservations and was as happy as a happy boy. We had flights with two different airlines, hotel reservations with three different hotels, train tickets and theatre tickets. Still hadn't picked out a lunch venue.

Time rolled on as it tends to do and it began to look as if all the extra planning wouldn't be needed afterall. BA had gone fairly quiet and no noise had been made by the cabin crew with regard to further strike action. The Man I Married started to relax a bit and I tried not to look too smug.

You know what happened next. Big bangs in Iceland as Eyjafjallajokull chucked a shedload of volcanic ash into the sky and while that rained back down to earth chaos reigned in European airports as flights were immediately shelved and travellers the world over were just, well, stuck.

But not us. No. We were still on for Paris. I was going around calling it Serendipity but the fact is that The Man I Married had pulled an absolute coup! We would have to drive to London, and lunch from Gordon Ramsay had been swapped for lunch from Simply M&S on the M1 but we there was still going to be fabulousness in our lives.

The drive down to London was dull. That's the way I like it. You don't want too much excitement from your motorway driving, and someone on the other side had obviously had far too much of it as we drove past what must surely have been a fatal accident. I offered up a silent prayer that perhaps someone had survived, and that we would be safer and luckier than they had been. You don't want to take these things for granted.

Our London hotel was a step up from the Premier Inn by anyone's standards. They had a bellhop to take our bags to the room and while I checked us in I worried about how much to tip him. Sometimes it's just easier to do things yourself! We had room service for dinner before I snaffled the hotel's bubble bath and had a long leisurely soak in someone else's hot water ahead of the theatre.

We had decided to get all dolled up for the show. It seemed appropriate somehow and I felt my daft high heeled pink sandals and bright pink ruffled dress were the perfect get up to see a bunch of drag queens. I'm hoping that I didn't look like a drag queen, although actually, many of them do a much better job with their make up than I could ever hope to achieve.

The show was pure joy. Anyone wading through all this waffle that hasn't yet seen it should make it a top priority. It was joyous and I loved every minute of it.

Still high from the antics of Felicia, Mitzi and Bernadette, we set out the next day for Paris. The train ride is much more fun than being on a plane. It doesn't make me feel sick and dizzy with fear for a start and there's no need to calm my nerves with gin. And besides, when you disembark from a plane you still have to faff around luggage carousels and take a train to the city. With Eurostar you get off the train and you are there - right at Gare du Nord, right in the thick of things, no messing around. I love it!

I couldn't decide if it was because of the lack of planes in the sky or if rich people these days also prefer to travel by train, but there was a distinct odour of money in our carriage that day. I almost gasped out loud as I realised that the woman across the aisle from me had a weekend bag by Louis Vuitton. And a large handbag by Chanel. The distinctive Gucci logo was on the side of her sunglasses. LV provided the scarf that she casually knotted round her fingers. I vaguely recognised the enamel bangle round her wrist and I was sure I'd seen those sandals in a glossy magazine last month. I really did gasp though at the Versace necklace dripping into her non-fake-baked, surgically enhanced cleavage. I noticed that she took it off and slipped it into her handbag before leaving the safety of the train. How many labels could one woman wear at once? Quite a few by the looks of it!

We had originally booked ourselves into the french equivalent of good ol' Premier Inn. By some stroke of luck, The Man I Married remembered that he had amassed a huge number of "points' with Hilton hotels, and consequently we upgraded ourselves to the Hilton Arc De Triomphe. Oh man. This was luxury indeed. I wasn't sure that my M&S jacket and Boden handbag were up to the job. There was yet more Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Prada in evidence here and it was hard not to feel a bit of a fraud! (This place was so posh that the "bell boy" took our bags up to our room without us and so the un-nerving question of how much to tip was neatly avoided completely!) However, it was still basically just a hotel room, even if they did turn down the bed and leave you chocolates on your pillow. We didn't do battle with striking cabin crew and Icelandic ash just to look at four (posh) walls. Oh no.

Paris was everything it should be. The sun shined warmly for us during our stay and as always, it felt like being back at home again. We walked everywhere, with frequent stops at cafes that appealed, for wine, water, coffee, beer, sometimes even food. Our favourite Parisien restaurant did not disappoint and we had a wonderful meal - goats cheese pressed with roasted vegetables followed by carpaccio of beef for me, thick black coffee and dark bitter chocolate to finish, while The Man I Married indulged himself with Roquefort and steak and finished off with the most sublime Creme Brulee. I only know this because there was one little bit that didn't look quite good enough and I was considerate enough to save him from eating it. Even that defective bit was heavenly!

We're home again now and I'm utterly grateful to my very dear friend for having The Offspring while we went on our super-luxe travels. I hope they behaved well enough that she'll do it again some day! I should just about have all the laundry taken care of before it's time to set off again. This time I'm leaving all my crew behind as I head for the bright lights of Edinburgh for a Hen Weekend. I'm part dreading it and part looking forward to the adventure. If nothing else, it will give me something to write about!

London, Paris, New York. Part 1.

Okay, so not New York. Very much the old York. (Old, original and best? Maybe not.) And not in that order either. And actually, it was Harrogate with a day trip or two to York followed by London and then Paris. But you get the gist. I'm living the life of an international popstar. Or jet setter. Or tourist, depending on how you like to view these things.

Traditionally in our household, or so it seems, the company that employs The Man I Married, likes to send him off on long business trips right around about the school holidays. It's the reason we bought a tent, so that I could escape with his offspring and relieve the tension felt at being left behind while the other local offspring get to go off on fun family holidays. This year, I extracted two promises from him. 1. He would be available for at least SOME of the long Easter break this year. 2. This year, he's not to abandon me sans voiture in the depths of Normandy (not once, but twice) in the middle of our main summer break. He kept the first. I'll no doubt report back on the second at a later date.

So, being a complete family unit for the second week of the Easter Break, we figured we'd take advantage and organise a little trip away. Mother is incapacitated after her second hip operation, so there was no danger of her coming with us and it felt safe to venture back to Yorkshire. Just the five of us. Bliss.

If I haven't mentioned this before, since Dad died almost five years ago, I can't tell her I'm going anywhere without her wanting to cadge a lift too. I've starting lying about where we're going in the hope that she doesn't know anyone in (for instance) Stoke and won't nag endlessly about how helpless she is and how I'm her only means of travel and she never gets out. (We don't have trains in Scotland you see. Or at least, not ones that Mother is willing to travel on.) I should add that The Man I Married has regularly offered to drive her to her sister's house, or even to drive her halfway while my brother meets her and takes her the rest of the way. This is "too much" and she "couldn't" ask us to do that. But encroaching on every other trip we make is okay apparently. And I do sometimes wonder how it can be that a woman who "never gets out" is never available to do any babysitting because she's "out" or "away" that day! Still. This wasn't meant to turn into a "Mother Rant". It's amazing how easy it is to do that though.

So. York. Okay, Harrogate. (I have relatives in Harrogate. Mother would have wanted to come down with us if we'd been going to Harrogate. Even if it meant amputating her leg for the duration of the journey. York is sufficiently far away from Harrogate to make it "not very convenient" as a drop-off point. So for Mother Purposes, we went to York. Even though it was really Harrogate. We felt so guilty that we did make two day trips to York though. Just so the kids wouldn't give the game away. Oh the tangled web....

Travelling four hundred odd miles in a car with three children is always an interesting experience. It doesn't matter how many times you tell them to go to the loo before you set off, you can guarantee that one of them will be "desperate" within an hour of leaving the house. The other two won't want to go and there you have your first fight of the trip.

Kid at the Bottom of the Heap always wants someone to stand outside her toilet cubicle because she's afraid of being locked in. I don't mind doing it, but on this particular occasion I was also pretty desperate (three double espressos before hitting the carseat is not a good plan. I really should know that by now) and so I asked Kid In The Middle to do Door Guarding Duty for me. I might have asked her to lick the floor clean from the expression on her face. "Someone might....seeeeeeeeee me!" So? Oh! Realisation dawned. She's ten and a half years old and we've hit that pre-pubescent phase where everything and anything has the potential to cause huge, massive, overwhelming, all-encompassing and utterly unfounded embarrassment. I was tempted to burst into a song and dance routine and then instantly remembered my Dear Departed Dad doing just that to me and that killed the impulse dead as a dead thing. Oh God. It might have been more than three decades ago but I can still feel that crippling anxiety that I was going to be embarrassed. And worse, blush. Nope. No song and dance routine from me then.

Back on the road, fully refreshed with more diuretics and a vague sense of having been completely ripped off in the sandwich department, we come to the sticky issue of in-car entertainment. When I was a kid this consisted of little more than a few rounds of Pub Cricket and Eye Spy until Mother got sick of it and made us recite our Times Tables instead. Ah, the memories.

These days of course, we all zoom down three lane motorways (when they're not clogged up like a furry artery) and there isn't exactly a plethora of pub signs over which to argue.

(For those who have never had the pleasure, pub cricket works by being the first to spot pub signs and work out how many points each is worth. You could earn points for heads (1), arms (2) and legs (3) So, The Three Lions would have 12 legs and three heads for a total of 39 points. No limb points available for the King's Head. Unless the executioner was depicted in which case you could claim for arms, legs and another head! Four points for The King's Arms, but only after much arguing over the definition of arms. If the King's Arms depicted critters you substituted the four points for however many (for example) lions rampant and their associated limbs that you could see. Unless your opponent was particularly dumb in which case you could claim for the arms as well. Sorry Brother of Mine. The Coach and Horses might provide as few as twelve points if no driver is portrayed on the pub sign, or as many as you like if you could persuade your fellow travellers than in fact there had been eight horses a driver and a crow depicted. Discussions as to whether wings counted as limbs would take you to the next pub. It wasn't much, and it was still maths, but it was better than endless recitation of tables.)

My children, theoretically at least, fare much better. We have ipods, dvd players, fold down tables with cup holders. It's just like being at home only, cosier. A tiny part of me wonders if they'll look back on their childhood travels with any fondness at all, given that they spend most of the travelling part glued to various bits of electronic gadgetry. But I'm not about to launch into a soliloquy about the "good old days". I'd have given my eye teeth for a Nintendo DSi at their age instead of trying to play noughts and crosses with my cheating brother on a napkin that kept ripping as we tried to write on it. No, my only grievance with all this portable gameware and viewing pleasure is that if I'm not the one driving the car, then I'm the one left to sort out the chargers. This means wires and plugs all tangled in a bag and snaking around my person from cigarette charger to the back seat. It's almost worse than dealing with mismatched coathangers.

One of the great inventions of the last couple of decades was the Premier Inn. My children don't know how lucky they are. Unless you're about my age or older, you might never have had the pleasure of a good old fashioned B&B. Peeling wallpaper, sinks that rattled when you turned the tap. The tap which looked like it might come adrift at any moment. In the shared bathroom. That strange smell which I think was probably a combination of cigarette smoke, burnt bacon, old teapots, newspapers and Zoflora. With a bit of wet dog thrown in for good measure. Swirly orange carpets, badly executed floral still life paintings, usually done by the landlady herself, or worse, portraits of the wet dog. Mismatched tablecloths, plastic carnations in little glasses decorated with Spanish-looking flowers and the immortal word "Southend!", inspite of being in Essex. It was as though most of them were rehearsing for being retirement homes.

Say what you like about the purple place, but at least you know what you're going to get: a clean room with a clean bathroom and an all you can eat breakfast. And no surprises. Although the one we stayed in did have a lingering smell of lavender which is what reminded me so strongly of my own childhood adventures!

However we didn't sit in a car for the better part of five and half hours just to stare at the four recently painted walls of our Premier Inn. And given that the framed print on the wall of this room was identical to the framed print on the wall of the last P.I. we'd stayed at, the artwork wasn't really much of an inspiration either.

We had planned to take the children to see Old Mother Shipton's Cave on arrival. But the cold sharp wind that sprang out of nowhere didn't make it an appealing prospect to us much less hardy adults so we opted for The York Dungeons instead. Even if it turned out to be overpriced, overrated and over the top it had the advantage of being indoors. Once we'd finished queuing /freezing our buns off outside that is. Still, we were "entertained" by a medieval looking chap with bad teeth and acne while we waited. Apparently his name was Kevin, he was from Merseyside and was still getting over the shock that York wasn't as posh as he'd been told.

Inside, after nearly fainting at the cost of a family ticket plus one child (not sure which child was considered the "extra" - Kid The Eldest for being the closest to an adult, or Kid at the Bottom of the Heap for being an afterthought?) we began our adventures by having our photographs taken. Mmmm. Another means of extracting cash from the hapless tourist. At this point, Kid at the Bottom of the Heap decided she was scared. Not just a bit scared, but pant-wettingly terrified. We bought the picture at the end of the tour simply to see just how miserable one child on a fun day out could look. She proceeded to howl and scream and cry her way through the first two thirds of the tour. Only when the torturer locked up The Man I Married and threatened to remove his genitals with a rather gruesome slicing machine did she begin to cheer up. Not sure if I should read anything into this or not.

In the end, we all came out smiling. The Dungeons had been fun, and there'd been just enough of a smattering of educational value to make us feel just a leetle bit worthy. Oh yes. We entertain and educate all at the same time in this house. After terrifying them of course.

Day two and Mother Shipton was going to have wait a bit longer. The Offspring were bitterly disappointed as for some reason this had become the most anticipated part of our trip. However, more indoor delights awaited at the York National Railway Museum. This is one of my favourite places. Not because I like trains all that much, but there is something fascinating about the degree of engineering capability from so far back. Technology these days is lost on me for the most part - it's all chips and circuit boards that you can't see. But with engines and shunts and hydraulics and nuts and bolts you can see which bit does what job and it all fits together and works. And some of it is quite beautiful to look at too. Amazingly intricate shapes wrought from great lumps of metal. This was lost on the Offspring who just turned grumpy. Well, not Kid The Eldest. He's a bit of a train nut and was in 7th Heaven, as was the Man I Married. But Kid In The Middle and Kid at the Bottom of The Heap looked about as happy as the condemned man in the Dungeon. Until they realised that there was a Helter Skelter. And a miniature railiway and a simulator. One ride on a virtual roller coaster and suddenly we were having fun again.

We did make it to Mother Shipton and her cave. And inspite of being worried that all the build-up would lead to an inevitable anti-climax, my kids loved it. Basically, a walk through the woods alongside the river at Knaresborough, there shouldn't have been all that much to recommend it. But the path leads to a natural waterfall which contains so much calcium carbonate that anything left in the water turns to "stone". This phenomenon has been in existence for years and years - it's effectively a stalactite that is growing in front of your eyes. Objects placed under the solidified "wall" under the running water become calcified over a three month period. You can see where someone left a hat over a hundred years ago and all that is left is a lump in the wall.

And that was really it. There was a quiz to do, a wishing well and a statue of Old Mother Shipton in her cave but it evidently caught their imagination because it was the most talked-about activity of our Easter Break - more so than the simulator at the Railway Museum, more so than any of the special effects in the Dungeons. The best bit for all of them was a walk in the woods and a ten pence wish in a rock pool. Perhaps I should teach them Pub Cricket afterall.

Light - Keeping The Tunnel Bright All the Way

At the same point every year for as long as I can remember, I start to feel that heavy black oppressive feeling that means a bout of depression is heading my way. It comes with the approach of the clock change in autumn and the knowledge that the night is going to begin encroaching on my day.

Historically, I have always tried to push back against the bleakness by focusing heavily on Christmas because there's nothing better than keeping so busy you can't think for putting off the inevitable. And the inevitable usually hits me smack in the face on January 3rd as all festivities of Christmas and New Year fade away with the last noise of the last cracker and the falling of the last champagne cork. Two days to get the house back in order and then...nothing.

January and February offer up little better than yet more dark nights with a biting wind and lashings of mean rain to add insult to injury. The depression that I've been battling with for months usually finds me here, at my lowest ebb, least able to deal with it.

The year before last, it dawned on me that this approach (essentially one of complete denial) wasn't working very well. I don't know why it took so long to figure out - the patterns have been the same for the last decade at least. With my new found insight I decided that the answer must be to put off the inevitable even further. If I just filled January and February with fun things to do that involved lots of planning then I'd stay too busy to be depressed and surely by March I'd have got over my seasonal slump and be ready to face the world again. Right?

Sort of. Only now I was knackered and although I'd avoided a full-scale bout of depression there was a low-grade sense of anti-climax that prevented me from feeling truly positive about anything at all. Evidently this was going to need more thought, and it was after reading (on the internet of course) that I decided to tackle things from the other end this previous year. I bought myself a SAD light, and as the days shortened I used it daily. Within a week I could already feel the dark clouds that had been rumbling in the distance start to fade. They hadn't quite disappeared completely but for the first time ever I felt confident that they would.

For the first time in a long time I felt I could start planning Christmas with enjoyment in mind and not just as a displacement activity. And although I had organised a few fun things to do as a family during January and February, it was just that - fun things to do, not a desperate attempt to fill the days. We went to the pantomime just before the kids went back to school in January. I joined friends in Edinburgh to see Scotland play (well, lose to) France in the Six Nations Rugby tournament in February. The kids had sleepovers with friends and I went to a candle party and spent far too much money. March was quiet - school and church events notwithstanding but it felt calm as opposed to disappointing.

I haven't turned my light on in the mornings now for several weeks - I haven't felt the need. It wasn't a conscious decision - it just happened naturally. I guess I'll naturally know when I need it again. In the mean time it's just another thing to dust!

Friday, 9 April 2010

Top Shopping! And a change of focus?

A friend mentioned that she'd been reading here, and that, coupled with something else I'd said to her, made her realise that I'd lost four stone. That fact had eluded me too. Mainly because I'd been denying that I'd ever been that heavy at all, and was really only counting down in my head from about thirteen stone. But losing that much is something of an achievement and I think I can take a few moments out of my hectic schedule to feel pretty damned pleased with myself!

But now that I'm done beaming, I find myself staring at a couple of problems. Not awful problems. Lots of people would be pleased to have such problems. Perhaps I should call them "issues" instead. Everyone has issues!

Losing four stone is great. I've chucked out all my size 18 to 20 stretchy waistbands and I'm now in a place where I can go into normal shops, even trendy shops, and be fairly sure that they'll sell things that will fit. This has been something of a revelation. For so long now my wardrobe has consisted of a vast swathe of George at Asda.

At first I argued that it was because it was convenient to shop for clothes at the same time as bagging the bread, milk and a Sunday joint, but gradually I had to admit that it was a kind of comfort blanket. I could shove something in the trolley and put off finding out if it looked hideous or not until I was safely at home in my bedroom. With the curtains drawn. And the staff didn't look at me as though I didn't belong; they were all shapes and sizes safely hidden behind a ghastly green nylon uniform and had no reason to look askance at me. Topshop was positively terrifying in comparison and so I stopped going there. Or anywhere else really.

So, it has been having great fun in the last few weeks replenishing my wardrobe by actually going out to shops. Clothes shops. Amazingly, no alarms sounded off as I entered; no security guard insisted on escorting me back out for the crime of having been around too long, or for having too much cellulite. Of course, most of the sales assistants look like they should still be in full time education and a great deal of what passes for fashion out there can only be worn by the sort of woman who hasn't hit puberty yet but so it ever was. No, this is not the "issue".

The issue is, or at least, one of the issues is, that I don't know what suits me any more. My shape has changed so completely since the days when I last really enjoyed clothes and shopping. My confidence has been hit so many times it's practically liquid so now I need to know what "suits" because I no longer have that "chutzpah" that allowed me to wear ridiculous things in my youth with panache so that even things that didn't look good still somehow worked as a statement.

I have tried on literally hundreds of garments over the last few weeks and while it has been huge fun in some respects, it has also been quite frustrating. When I was young and skinny all over with no boobs, no waist and no hips, I had a pretty good idea of how something would look on me just by holding up the hanger. When I was at my largest, what it looked like wasn't so much of an issue, so long as it covered everything. But now, well now I have this new shape and I'm not quite sure how to dress it sometimes. I hate to say it but I could do with Gok!

I have boobs now for a start, but because my tummy area has diminished they look like a separate part instead of being a big homogenous lump that started under the chin and ended around the knees somewhere. But I still don't think I really go in at the waist that much (and my "waist" seems to be much higher up my body than on other people). Does this make me a pear shape? I'd have laughed at that idea when I was younger. But I carry most of my weight around my tum. I think. You see? I have no clue! I'd always assumed that I was an apple but now I really do not know.

So the shopping has been a bit hit or miss. I'd pick things up and think they'd look good only to gasp in horror. Which means I've probably ignored some things that might have looked great! All in all though, I'm pleased with this new wardrobe. It has items from a variety of sources (yes, even Topshop, that supposedly hallowed ground for the uber-cool youf of today) and covers every day scruffs to smart casual, dressy and even quite posh things. Which brings me to issue two. How much more weight to lose, given that I've just splashed out vast sums of cash on things that fit me now?!

You see, I've been here before. And last time, my competitive streak got the better of me and I just kept on dieting and kept on losing weight until I was contemplating whether or not to go down to size 6 jeans or not. And I was as pleased as punch, because I'd beaten my target by a lot and was continuing to beat it on a daily basis. Only I hadn't realised how dreadful I looked at that weight - really, really ill. I don't want to go there again.

Could it be that I'm finally reaching some sort of acceptance? This body isn't ever going to be the same again, and it's certainly never going to be the smooth, toned body that it was in my twenties. I've had too many operations, leaving too many scars, too many children and too many diets. But dressed right, it doesn't look so awful any more and in the right light can look quite reasonable. So am I done dieting then? And if so, do I stop (the very sporadic) blogging?

I think I'm almost done with the diet. Another half stone would push me further into that healthy weight band and allow my existing clothes to fit even better without being too big. And then I can concentrate on my health and fitness rather than just my girth.

As for the blog, well it occurs to me that while I might have rediscovered my thinner self, I haven't done much work on my "inner" self. I'm not sure I've really explored that "me" in the Blog title. I've been existing, battling with family issues, trying to stay one step ahead of depression and dieting but that's about it. I think it's time to start living again and learning and having some adventures. So perhaps the blog title should change and the focus of my writing should be on gaining some things in my life instead of just losing!

Starting weight: 14 Stone 11 lbs
Current weight: 10 Stone 11lbs
Total Lost: 4 Stone

Today I'm wearing:

khaki trousers - River Island - size 12
Pink camisole - Topshop - Size 12
Black cardigan - M&S - size 12
Black suede boots - George at Asda