The A Word: 10 simple tips for starting your own business

Blimey, I’m very late with this blog, but I have some big news!  I am 4 chapters away from completing my book, so I’ve been busy with that. There’s still a long way to go as I’ve got the edits, which will take time.  I will need to read my book twice, once to make notes of all inconsistencies, flow and readability and a second time to correct all spelling and grammar. I then need to find someone (not family) who can read it with a critical eye before finding an agent to help me locate a publisher who will invest in my book and publish it. I envision walking into Waterstones and seeing my book on the shelves in time for Christmas 2023 (or maybe that’s in my dreams).

Enough of me, and onto the subject of my blog. Most of you know that Jamie and I ran our own business from 2008 until we retired earlier this year.  It was successful; it provided us with a lifestyle we enjoyed, and more importantly, it allowed us to keep topping up our pensions in preparation for our retirement.  We started our business from scratch, and I want to share with you ten tips that made us successful.

  1. Spend as little as possible. Try to spend only a little money setting up your business until you start earning it. This is my number one piece of advice. We bought two basic laptops, two second-hand desks and chairs, a subscription to a cloud-based database, a Microsoft exchange subscription and our website hosting, and that was it.  When we started to make money, we invested more.  For instance, we didn’t lease office space until 12 months in when we had money in the bank so we would be able to meet the contractual period for the lease.
  2. Design your website. We visited a business start-up exhibition to listen to the experts. There were some excellent speakers, and we discovered some great tips. We were lucky enough to win a competition for a logo design too.  On receipt of the logo, we wrote our website content and designed our company brand, we didn’t hire an expensive marketing company, and this was enough to begin with. When we made money, we invested in a design company and launched an improved website.
  3. Prepare a detailed business plan. Consider who your business plan is for. It may be aimed at potential investors, attracting business partners or simply for personal reference in developing your business. Ours was for personal use; we decided right at the onset that we didn’t want to raise investment; we were building a lifestyle business without the pressure of outside influence. You can use templates online to guide you through the business planning process.
  4. Know your target market. Market segmentation is critical; you need to know to whom you are selling.  Trying to sell to everyone doesn’t work. We were B2B (business to business), and our target customers were technology companies with less than 500 employees.   If your business is B2C, your market segmentation might be walkers and hikers, for example.
  5. Marketing is essential. Think about how you will let your target market know what you are selling. Your solution must address a need.
  6. Invest in a database. Most databases are cloud-based so you can access your information anytime, anywhere.  They are mostly sold on a subscription basis; we chose Salesforce.com. It’s essential that you can track the results of your marketing effort.  Information is key
  7. Network. I’m presuming you have some knowledge in the area of your business. For example, if you’ve been a professional sportsperson and are setting up a coaching business, you will have a vast network of people you know whom you need to talk to about your business—the more people who know what you do, the better.
  8. Keep it simple. You must articulate your business in two sentences and write a mission statement. It’s incredibly dull when someone takes 30 minutes to tell you what they do.  This needs to be replicated on your website.  I’ve lost count of the times I’ve read a website and don’t know what they do. I like this mission statement from an airline – Connect people to what’s essential in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.”
  9. Work hard. Whilst our business was a lifestyle business, we mostly worked from 8 am until 6 pm 5 days a week. Now, you might say that’s not my kind of lifestyle, but it did enable us to go away 3 or 4 times a year.  We could sit on a beach in Jamaica and still work; this suited us just fine
  10. Hire an accountant and do things properly. Your accountant will help with the company setup.  He will also ensure your annual accounts are in order and the Inland Revenue is paid on time. Unless you understand contracts, don’t sign anything without taking advice.  For example, we would never sign an agreement based on American law.

We also read a book called “2nd bounce of the ball”.  We all know there will be a recession, and we set up our business in 2008, right in the middle of one of the most significant downturns in history.  Read this book, its inspiring and tells you why a recession is a good time to start your new venture.

OK, so this was quick and snappy, but I’m happy to answer any questions if my readers want more detail.

On a final note, I’ve started to focus more on gut health. The theories linking gut health and autoimmunity have been evolving for several decades, but the research is now getting us much closer to an answer. The diversity and composition of the gut microbiota are critical drivers of gut health. Study directly links the presence or absence of microbes in the gut to specific autoimmune diseases.  So, I’m now drinking loads of Kefir, and I’ve bought a jar of Sauerkraut, it looks disgusting, but I’ll let you know how I get on 😊.

It’s beginning to cost a lot like Christmas, until next time. xxxx

 

The A Word: Welcome to Dystopia

I love laymen’s terms. A simple language everyone can understand. I enjoy learning but dislike unnecessary words and as I don’t have a great attention span for detail simplicity is good. When the “dummy” books were introduced I thought all my Christmases had come at once; they’re so useful. Apparently there are 240 of them now, can you believe it. Perhaps BT should buy “customer service for Dummies” it might help!

Anyway, in this month’s blog I’m going to talk about something I’ve never talked about before, in laymen’s terms, and in a way which I hope won’t irritate anyone.

Let’s start by sharing the simplest definition of Utopia – an imaginary place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions.

And Dystopia being the complete opposite – an imaginary place where everything is as bad as it can be.

Today, Dystopian fiction is hot. Sales of George Orwell’s “1984” and Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tail” have skyrocketed since 2016. And with COVID-19, dystopias featuring diseases have taken on new life. Netflix reports a spike in popularity for “Outbreak,” “12 Monkeys” and many others.

So, does this popularity signal that people think we are nearing dystopia today? I don’t know the answer but I’m seeing worrying levels of anger present in today’s society. We’ve had bad times before, the 70’s were pretty rough but not like this. Anger is aimed at anything and everything dependent on which side of the fence you sit. It’s aimed at the government, the opposition, the monarchy, climate change, who goes to which toilet, trans in sport, immigration, RNLI, working from home, working from the office, Brexit, Trump, Biden, China, Covid, lockdown, not locking down, Russia, Extinction Rebellion, Trade Unions, Gary Lineker, The BBC, Sky, cyclists, all protestors, Boris, Liz, left wing, right wing, my football team, Postman Pat (only kidding on PP, but the list is endless)

For me, social media has to pick up a large proportion of the blame. Fake news is big news! In simple terms, fake news is false or misleading information presented as news. Fake news often has the aim of damaging the reputation of a person or an entity or, at its worst, making money through advertising revenue and its EVERYWHERE ON SOCIAL MEDIA.

We all know that social media has led to a rapid rise in information-sharing with fake news becoming a component of our digital daily routines. The spread of this misinformation is in part attributed to social media failing to verify the authenticity of news items and how bloody terrible is that!! It makes it so easy to share seemingly real images and videos which have been skilfully manipulated. It’s well-known that misinformation has a significant influence on public opinion thereby fuelling rage and anger. Think about it, who are the losers? The answer is all of us!

In my opinion, Twitter is by far the worst. I’ve started to fact check but even that’s difficult as which data source do you use?  Even the mainstream media are involved in misinterpretation of facts so its virtually impossible to find the truth.

On the flip side, there are elements of social media I like. My favourite is Instagram; I follow loads of accounts that interest me like walking, hiking, photography, fashion, health, beauty, interior design, fitness, football and I glean really useful information.  I also use social media to promote my blog so there are definitely two sides to this argument but does the negative outweigh the positive?

We may well laugh about fictional Dystopia but can you imagine how good life would be without social media? I can’t help thinking that the Utopia we’re all searching for, that place of ideal perfection, may be closer if we eliminated social media from our lives.  As George Orwell once said, “the more a society drifts from truth, the more it will hate those who speak it”.

And on that note, thank you so much for reading and sharing my blog to raise awareness for autoimmune disease, I know I haven’t written much about my AS in recent blogs as summer makes me feel good. Now we’re heading into Winter I’m sure I’ll have lots to complain about soon.

Until next time xxxxx

The A Word: 9 life lessons we learn too late!

We’d all be mega rich if we knew things ahead of time; imagine if we could predict the lottery numbers!  Unfortunately, we can’t but perhaps some of the mistakes we’ve made along life’s journey help us make better decisions today. Here are my top life lessons I wish I’d fathomed out earlier 😊.

Before you read on I must point out that my list very practical. We read stuff every day telling us to walk our own path, make every moment count and not everyone will like us so don’t worry. But these are just words, and to be honest, I find all that stuff a bit wishy washy. If you read some of the advice that’s out there on how we should live, our existence would be as dull as dishwater. My top takeaways are based on real life experiences and as I’m a fan of enjoying myself getting the right balance has always been important to me.  See what you think!

No 1 – Pick your fights carefully

Why is this No 1 on my list? Because I’ve wasted so much negative energy getting into pointless arguments. I’ve had many confrontations, especially at work and regretted them. I find confrontation stressful so why do I put myself through it. 

As I’ve got older I’ve learnt to listen, accept that someone has a different opinion to me and move on.  I could’ve avoided so many difficult situations and sleepless nights if I’d learnt this sooner.  I even find Twitter stressful these days.  Chill out everyone, life’s so much more pleasant without arguments.

No 2 – Always do what you say you’re going to do

Someone who was very influential in my early career gave me this advice and I reckon it’s the best I’ve ever had. How many people say they’ll do something and never do.

  • I’ll call you back
  • You’ll have this by the weekend
  • I’ll pop round tomorrow morning to help
  • I’ll send you an email with the details

The list is endless and we’re all let down by broken promises. Dealing with suppliers is a nightmare; electricity, gas, broadband, bank – it’s hugely frustrating because very few people do what they say they’ll do.

You’ll go a long way if you take this advice on board. I’m not kidding when I say that 90% of your work colleagues or friends won’t do what they say they’re going to do, so you’ll stand out. If you’ve agreed a deadline but can’t meet it, call and explain rather than wimp out and not communicate. If you don’t want to do something say no, I appreciate its difficult, but its better than saying yes and letting someone down.

No 3 – Look after your body

There’s no easy way of saying this but you’ve got to look after your body. I appreciate we’re all dealt different cards when it comes to our health, both mentally and physically but there’s still a part we can play to improve our life. When you reach 60+ all the bad stuff you’ve done will come back and haunt you.  I’m not saying don’t have fun! My 30’s and 40’s were spent drinking far too much, surviving on too little sleep whilst stressed out with work!  I’ve got some great memories though so you have to find the right balance.  The takeaway from this that whilst my lifestyle wasn’t great I always found time to exercise and I mostly ate healthy food, thereby maintaining my weight.  Not sure about my liver though 😊.

Today, looking after my mind and body is my No 1 priority, especially as I have AS. If you want to feel good beyond 60 don’t let the weight pile on and I can’t stress the importance of building strength, especially in the glutes. Our glutes keep us upright and push our bodies forward. Strong glutes are important for proper pelvic alignment, momentum during walking, and even being able to balance and stand on one leg. Glutes also help support the lower back during lifting and help prevent knee injuries. I’ve seen so many people who have no strength in their glutes. The result is bad posture, knee problems and so many other limitations stopping them from enjoying life to the full.

No 4 – Sleep

I’ve learnt, through lack of sleep, how important 7 hours a night is. Look, like everyone, I’ve had periods in my life where I’ve survived on very little. The result is I eat more unhealthy food, don’t exercise and every single one of these life lessons goes out of the window!

No 5 – Use Sunscreen

When I visited Australia for the first time in 2000, I witnessed the damage the sun can do to our skin if we don’t protect it. The Australians are much better than we are at applying sunscreen and I’ve used a high factor ever since. I stepped this up when I reached 40 and I never go outside without Factor 50 on my face, even in the Winter.  I use a sunblock when I go abroad and never sit in the sun between 11am and 4pm; I’m the boring person under the umbrella. Years ago I went to see a dermatologist who told me sun damage is the biggest single factor for causing aging skin. You might not mind today but you might when you reach 60. Obviously, and more importantly, the sunscreen helps to avoid skin cancer too. Oh and sunbeds are even worse!

No 6 – Ditch the black eyeliner

I guess this applies to anyone that wears it – please throw out the black eyeliner. It’s OK in your 20’s especially if you can do that intricate “wing thing”.  But after that it makes you look older. I didn’t ditch mine until I was 50 and when I look at photos, I can see why its such good advice. A make-up artist told me that applying dark colours like black under your eyes is way too harsh and makes you look older than your real age.

No 7 – Save for your future

It’s hard to save, especially in today’s world and I certainly couldn’t afford to save anything until my late 30’s as the money I earned wasn’t enough to cover my outgoings.  However, Jamie and I have sacrificed material belongings like expensive cars and nice jewelry to save for our future. Neither of us come from families where inheritance was going to make a difference, and nor were we on final salary pensions, so it was up to us to plan accordingly. I’m often amazed when people tell me they don’t need to save for their future because of expectations around inheritance, or equity release or even thinking that the state pension will be enough.

Research suggests that a couple in the UK need an annual combined income of £47,500 to have a retirement with few or no money worries, while a single person would need £33,000. Now, I think that’s a lot and it’s a huge amount more that you’ll get from state pension so if you want to enjoy a better life after work and don’t have a rich family, you better get saving. Remember if you are replying on inheritance, life expectancy has increased so you may be waiting well into your retirement and wasting your best years. Looking after our elderly parents or relatives is costly and if they do have savings (i.e., more than £24,000) those savings will go on private nursing and health care before you can request any help from the state.

No 8 – Be kind

It’s so much better to be kind than unkind. Look after those close to you, don’t make people feel bad or criticise them, its not nice.  Say sorry if you’ve hurt someone and smile, even if it’s a difficult day; it will help. I’ve learnt that I’m not very tolerant and I’m incredibly impatient so if I’m finding it difficult to be kind, I keep quiet.

And finally……

No 9- Don’t drink cocktails on an empty stomach

Make sure you fill up on wine first .

Until next time xxxx

The big secret revealed! How to live your best life

In this month’s blog I’m going to chat about miracles. Well, not exactly miracles, but it feels like a small miracle to me and, even better, its backed by science.

When I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease affecting my spine I was convinced I’d end up in a wheelchair by the time I was 60,  a lot of people with AS do. But, here I am, at 60, fitter, stronger and healthier than I’ve ever been and I’m going to share some of the reasons why I think that might be the case.

It’s not because my disease has gone away. AS never goes away, it will continue to progress and cause challenges for the rest of my life. However, once the initial shock of diagnosis had subsided I chose to try and live my best life. I decided not to moan too much about my predicament (although I do have days when it’s impossible to be positive); I wanted to enjoy my time on this wonderful planet and not waste away my days.

This approach has taken hard work especially trying to fit in the daily physical exercise needed to keep my body as lean and strong as possible to fight my disease. Carrying extra weight with a fused spine is not good news. However, the exercise alone was never enough. Whilst I felt OK(ish) it was mostly with the help of a lot of pills.

So, what’s changed? In my case, its where I now live having moved out of the M25 corridor. Backed by science, where we live makes an enormous difference to our health and happiness. For years scientists have proven that being in among nature is beneficial to our health. Even in short bursts its proven to help with anxiety and depression and alleviate many of the health burdens that accompany modern day life. Research also concludes that spending more time in green spaces has such a positive impact that there’s many urban development projects in place that aim to nudge people towards the great outdoors.

But, and here’s the thing, another advancement in research shows that blue spaces, areas next to water, might give us even more benefits than green ones. I know it sounds exaggerated, but it’s true, because I’m spending so much time in blue spaces, my health has improved to the extent that I’ve reduced some of my medication. How good is that!

Scientists now have evidence that the mental boost that comes with connecting to nature in blue spaces go well beyond health and happiness. The list of other benefits is growing all the time and already includes improved attention, creativity and better memory. It can also enhance sleep and because I wear a Fitbit, I know my sleep is massively improved.

For me, the ocean has a real calming effect. I love listening to the gentle waves lapping the shores or the crashing of stormy seas against the rocks. There’s just something about sitting with your bare feet in the sand and listening to the sound of the waves that makes you feel good. It provides a sense of peace, being mindful and in the moment – something we all know can combat stress.

Breathing in the refreshing and rejuvenating salty sea air is amazing. Two years ago, during Covid, I started Yoga, which has been incredibly valuable for building strength and, more importantly, learning to breath properly. Being by the sea and knowing how to breath is invigorating. I didn’t know this, but the sea air is packed with beneficial negative ions too which boost your body’s ability to absorb oxygen and help balance serotonin levels thereby further improving your mood.

Seawater is incredibly rich in minerals. I’m not a regular swimmer but it’s something I intend to improve upon. The minerals such as magnesium, calcium, zinc and selenium have powerful anti-inflammatory, skin-healing effects and due to my AS I have loads of skin problems which often bother me more than the chronic pain. Lots of research now concludes that sea swimming can improve symptoms of eczema and psoriasis and also reduce allergic skin responses which, again, is music to my ears.

I love staring out to sea and watching the changing colours of the deep water, wide skies and turquoise coves. Because I enjoy photography, these scenes are magical to capture and I can see why blue is also linked with feelings of calm and serenity. Incredibly, after installing blue lights at train stations, Japan recorded a large decrease in the number of suicides. It seems blue can make us feel more at ease.

I think it’s fair to say that most of us are big dreamers. We imagine what our future could be, plan it out and then work hard every day to achieve our vision for when we retire. I worked hard for years to achieve my vision. But the difference between my vision and the reality is simple. I realised that my good health and peaceful mind is the most important and precious gift ever. Try to include a healthy lifestyle into your future goals and if you can live by the sea, you won’t go far wrong.

Health often doesn’t come from medicine. If often starts with peace in the mind and peace in the heart. It comes from laughter and love.

Until next time xxx

The A Word: 8 Precious Tips for holidaying in Cornwall

In my opinion Cornwall is the most beautiful place in the world. Well, I haven’t actually been to all the beautiful places in the world but Cornwall must be up there with the best. Jamie and I spend a good deal of time walking the Cornish coast path and drinking and eating in the local restaurants. We also love chatting to the people we meet on our daily adventures. Based on these conversations I’ve put together the things people wished they’d known before holidaying in Cornwall; I hope you find it helpful.

Getting here

There are two main routes into Cornwall, the A30 and the A38. They both get incredibly busy and if you’re not on your toes you’ll spend the first day of your holiday sitting in traffic. If we’ve been up country to Hampshire/Surrey, we’ll leave at 5am in the Summer to arrive in West Cornwall around 9.00am including a costa coffee breakfast stop. In Spring and Autumn, you can get away with leaving at 6am. In July and August without an early start a 4-hour journey can take 10 hours and if you’ve a 6–8-hour journey it may take 12! Friday and Saturday are changeover days in the cottages and campsites, so the roads are busy both Eastbound and Westbound and often gridlocked. You’ve been warned, get that alarm set 😊.

Interestingly, Cornwall’s longest ever traffic jam took place on the 12th of August 1999, the day after the solar eclipse. With over 100,000 extra cars on the road that day the A30 was at a standstill; there was a 65-mile tailback from Penzance to Launceston near the Devon border, horrendous!

Weather

OK, it’s not Ibiza, but Cornwall is the sunniest county in the UK. We average over 1500 hours of sunshine a year. That said we don’t get many barmy nights and typically temperatures are a lot less extreme than you experience in the midlands, London, and the home counties. Extremely hot days in Cornwall are around 22 – 27 degrees. We’ve seen loads of holidaymakers in their Ibiza clubbing clothes shivering in the cooler evenings so make sure you bring a hoodie and a rain jacket. Sometimes, especially on the North Coast we get sea fog. When the rest of the country is basking in sunshine a sea mist appears which can last for a few days and this mist seems to like to hang around in August.

On a happier note, the quality of light in Cornwall is much brighter than anywhere else in the UK because it’s surrounded by sea. The narrowest part of Cornwall, the western peninsular gets even more light because it’s reflected onto land from both the north and south coast. My biggest tip by far is “if the sea mist is in on the North Coast, go to the South Coast for the day as its often clear and sunny.”

Travelling around Cornwall

To reach some of the picturesque fishing villages and beautiful beaches its necessary to drive down narrow roads. If you’re not a confident driver or don’t know the width of your car you should avoid these roads at all costs. The Atlantic Coast double decker bus travels some of these routes and boy, they can drive. But sometimes you will need to cram your car into a hedge and tuck in your wing mirrors to squeeze past other vehicles so if you’re not happy with a few scratches here and there from the hedgerows, again, avoid. The courier drivers, tractors, and Cornish folk expertly navigate these lanes and take no prisoners. We’ve been in gridlock situations when a camper van meets a bus, and after a lot of raised voices, it takes a long time to sort out. If you don’t like narrow roads, the Satnav is your worst enemy. Get a map and plan your route before you set off.

Beaches

Cornwall beaches are the best. We’ve eight of the prestigious blue flag beaches, the international standard for best beaches in the world!  The consensus is the North coast is better for surfing and the South coast for sailing. The sea is often rougher with better surf on the North while the south has less waves and is more sheltered. There are plenty of gorgeous beaches on both coasts, though probably more on the North. The scenery on the South is softer, some beaches can have pebbles. The North coast is more dramatic with more sand but like I said above, when one coast is cloudy the other can be basking in sunshine so don’t miss out.

Parking at the main beaches can be expensive. You also need to get there early, as they fill up quickly. Remember to check the tide times too as, at high tide, some of the beaches have much less sand, especially when we have spring tides. Also, buy a windbreaker, your beach days will be so much better.

Food

I’ve travelled extensively around the UK (and Europe) and I can honestly say the best food I’ve eaten is in Cornwall. Unsurprisingly there’s a lot of delicious fresh fish but there are loads of other healthy options too which I find difficult to seek out in other areas of the country. Do your research and book your pubs and restaurants before you arrive. If you’re eating in, buy your food from the local shops, its important to the communities and much better quality than the supermarket.

Walking the coast path

Walking is not for everyone but if you’re happy to get active on the cliffs you’ll see the spectacular views that you just can’t experience from sea level. We’ve also seen seals, dolphins, a sun fish and even a whale so make sure you take binoculars. Each section of the Cornish coastal path has various levels of difficulty so check out your section before you set out. Some are easy, and others are technically incredibly difficult, your overall ascent can be greater than if you’d climbed a mountain! Flip flops are not suitable, neither are wedges or stilettos; I’ve tried them all. You know I’m only joking but I’ve seen someone on a tricky section of the coastal path in wedges, so it does happen. You don’t need walking boots for most of the walks, but a good pair of trainers is necessary.

Dogs are very welcome in Cornwall but please remember, if your dog is not familiar with the cliffs keep the lead on. There are sad outcomes every year so its best to keep them safe.

Sightseeing

There is so much to do and see in Cornwall and I’m not going to list them out as everyone’s favourite is different. Make sure you grab all the leaflets and visit the Cornwall websites before making your choices. National Trust membership is especially useful here as the National Trust also owns a good number of the car parks which are free for members

Finally

Before I sign off, remember if you have a cream tea, you’ll need to put jam on your scone first and then the cream. If you’re over the border in Devon, its cream first; I’ve never understood this.

Cornwall is the most wonderful county so instead of looking at your phone, admire its beauty, including the lifeguards 😊.

The A Word: Under Pressure?

The best view comes after the hardest climb

Apologies, it’s been a while; I’ve been incredibly busy. In the past, when anyone asked me what I was busy with I used to stay “stuff”.  So, to sum up the last 7 weeks since my last blog, I’ve been busy with stuff 😊.  We’ve also been on a 3-week road trip through France which was amazing.  Since posting our pics on Instagram and Facebook I’ve had loads of messages about the route we took and the places we visited so hopefully my replies have been helpful.

This month I’m going to talk about stress and working under pressure and there’s a good reason behind it.  Since Jamie and I retired earlier this year so many people have commented on the change they have seen in me, especially close friends and family.  Apparently I look so much more relaxed, happy, contented, at peace, and I can honestly say that I do.  I appreciate events will come along that will change this and my chronic pain still has an impact on my daily life but overall, I think these lovely comments are justified.  I’ve also given some thought about the reason why and came up with my own conclusions.

Throughout my working career, like many of you, I’ve lived my life under constant pressure.  During my earlier working days, it was balancing home life and work life and latterly, for the last 20 plus years, I’ve worked in jobs that, whilst rewarding, came with huge amounts of accountability and responsibility.  I’ve always taken my work seriously and undoubtedly put myself under a lot of pressure to succeed. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved my career and have some superb memories but it also comes at a price. 

I’ve worked with colleagues who’ve mastered great skills for working under pressure, they’ve been able to maintain a level-headedness when urgent matters arise instead of getting stressed out and overwhelmed.  Whilst I had coping mechanisms and to the outside world appeared to be in control, inside I would feel high levels of stress that would affect me even after my working day had finished. No matter where you work, there will undoubtedly be occasions where you’ll work in high-pressure situations, so I thought I’d share some of the tactics a great coach taught me in the later years of my career that not only helped with work but in all aspects of life.

My first “go to” is a technique for solving problems.   It’s a coping strategy that involves learning to take specific steps when approaching a challenge. These steps include defining the problem, writing down potential solutions, ranking the solutions, developing an action plan, and then putting the chosen solution to the test.  This shouldn’t be an essay otherwise you won’t do it.  Ideally it should take 5-10 and it definitely works.

Secondly, because I’ve always lacked confidence, reappraising negative thoughts is my next “go to”. When you come across a stressful situation or find yourself in a high-pressure environment, a lot of us develop a mental filter in which we automatically interpret situations through a negative lens. I would often find myself jumping to negative conclusions with little or no evidence to back me up.  My coach taught me to reappraise negative thoughts, treat them as theories instead of facts and consider other possibilities. I still regularly practice this skill and it does help to reduce negative emotions in response to stress.

My third “go to” is yoga and mindfulness and is the one that works best.  It’s something I’ve only recently taken up during lockdown and its wonderful, I can’t recommend it enough.  If my overactive, confused and complicated mind can benefit I’m sure yours can too.  Mastering mindfulness helps you to pay attention to the present moment with curiosity, openness, and acceptance.  Stress is a crazy feeling, it can be exacerbated when we spend time ruminating about the past, worrying about the future, or engaging in self-criticism. Through my yoga and mindfulness, I’m learning to train my brain to break these harmful habits.

Hopefully these takeaways are useful and before I go, I thought I would let everyone know I’ve a very big birthday coming up in a couple of weeks.  I’ve reached the ripe old age of 60 and the most exciting thing about this event is that I qualify for free prescriptions.  Now, if Southend United were still in the football league I could also buy an OAP concession ticket but unfortunately they’re not.  I could also have a free bus pass if I lived in London but unfortunately I don’t but free prescriptions are a big deal for me.

As you all know, I write my blog to raise awareness for autoimmune disease. Since being diagnosed with AS in 2015, I’ve bought an annual prescription card as the cost of my medication is so high.  I’m fortunate as I’ve been able to continue to work, so paying for my prescriptions wasn’t a great hardship.  However, there are many people with these debilitating autoimmune diseases who are unable to work and suffer great financial hardship; I read incredibly sad stories every day.  Its not always easy to find financial help as strict criteria is in place to qualify for disability benefits.  NASS (National Axial Spondyloarthritis Society) is campaigning to help make it easier so fingers crossed they’ll make progress to help those with this debilitating disease.

Thank you for reading and sharing my blog.  I can’t go without mentioning the weather 😊.  I saw a great sign yesterday which made me giggle

Due to high temperatures, we will not be accepting money out of your bra…  My first thought was “who wears a bra in this heat”?

Until next time xxx

The A Word: It was one hell of a ride!

Hi everyone, this month’s blog is about “experiences”. The definition of which can be described as “an event or occurrence which leaves an impression”. The experience I’m going to chat about today definitely left an impression, but what kind of an impression I’m about to share. Apparently it’s better to spend money on experiences than on material stuff as it makes you happier. I had to question whether the £2.00 I spent on this particular experience made me happier than if I’d bought a bar of chocolate, but here we go.

As readers of my blog know, Jamie and I are currently walking the entire length of the Cornish coastal path. It’s nearly 300 miles in total and we’re attempting to finish it this Summer.  We’ve 5 more sections to walk but they’re the most difficult and logistically challenging from where we’re based in St Agnes.  Last week we completed one of them – from Polruan to Polperro. It’s an 8-mile stretch which sounds relatively easy but the total ascent was over 610m which is also the height considered necessary to be called a mountain as opposed to a hill. So, in short, we walked 8 miles up a mountain.

This particular segment was also challenging to plan. We often do a circular walk or even a return but because this walk was classified as strenuous and it was hot, we decided to park in a National Trust car park in the middle of the two destinations. We would then walk the 4 miles to Polperro making sure we arrived in time to get the bus to Polruan.  There are only two buses a day so it was vital we didn’t miss it. Once off the bus at Polruan we would complete the remaining 4 miles back to our car park thereby completing the whole section.

So, what’s the problem I hear you say. Well, the day started off wonderfully, the coastal views were magnificent and with the sun shining brightly, the water was a stunning turquoise. The 4 miles to Polperro were exquisite, albeit with lots of large climbs. We arrived in Polperro surprised to see the bus appearing round the corner right on time and this is where the fun starts. Those of you who read my blog about our Satnav know I don’t like small roads. If you want to drive to any of the beauty spots in Cornwall, small roads are a necessity so I was gradually getting used to them. That is, until the day of our walk when I was so traumatised its set me back years. The first thing I noticed when I boarded the bus was a seat belt. Now, whilst I don’t take the bus regularly, I’ve travelled on them enough to say I’ve never seen a seat belt until now. I also observed I was the only one who fastened mine.  It’s also fair to say that the narrow roads are supposedly two-way and whilst the Yorkshireman driving our bus didn’t say “brace yourself, its going to be a hell of a ride” I did think it might have been appropriate to provide some warning.

We set off on the 8-mile journey with not an “A” road in sight, in fact I’d be surprised if we made it on to a “B” road. For me, I kind of expect a road to be tarmacked, but I can only describe the first part of the journey as a track with grass in the middle. It didn’t stop the Yorkshireman from hurtling along without a care in the world, despite the potholes and blind bends and zero knowledge of what could be lurking around the next corner. I asked Jamie a couple of times to wear his seatbelt much to his amusement. We weren’t wearing masks either as these appear to be obsolete on this particular route in Cornwall but I did think my mask might have been useful to throw up in.

Eventually about halfway through, around the 4-mile marker someone rang the “request to stop” button. Now, imagine this, we’re in the middle of nowhere, not a shop, pub or house in sight and the Cornish lady who’d been chatting away merrily to the Yorkshireman wanted to get off. Everyone remaining on the bus looked around and I’m pretty confident, that, like me, there was nothing that resembled a dwelling within view and we could see an exceptionally long way! The only thing I did notice was one of those little signs indicating that the road was going to get narrower ahead. WTF I thought privately to myself.

On the entire 8-mile expedition we only passed 3 other vehicles hurtling towards us in the opposite direction.  I’m not kidding when I tell you it was a bloody miracle we didn’t crash. Unbelievably there were two places on that 8-mile trip that were wide enough to paint a white line in the middle of the road. Well, when I say wide enough, it still wasn’t my idea of a road. We met a “smallish” removal lorry in one of those places and a DPD van in the other. The third vehicle we met was a car. The Yorkshireman driving our bus wasn’t impressed with the car driver and called him an incompetent “so an so” who didn’t know the width of his own bloody car. At this point we were nuzzled closely into the hedge while the poor chap driving the black Mazda was in shock at meeting  a bus, being driven at 60 mph by an irate Yorkshireman on a track in the back of beyond. To my amazement, we arrived at our destination at the scheduled time. Really? This was the norm! I’d been convinced we’d be at least 10 minutes early.

Whilst I lived to tell this tale I did feel like a cat on its 8th life when another crazy thing happened that day. After we’d completed the remainder of our walk and relaxed into the car for our journey home, we only went and met the ONE remaining bus of the day hurtling towards us in the opposite direction. Fortunately, Jamie does know the size of our car and we were able to nudge past by tucking in the wing mirrors, without too much squealing from the passenger seat.

Movng on, walking really does help with my AS. I write my blog to help raise awareness of autoimmune disease and it regularly makes the top 5 read on my blog site so I do get a lot of traction. I also get loads of questions about why walking helps so much. Those who live with AS mostly have joint deformities, fused joints like my sacroiliacs and further fusing of the spine, so fear of getting hurt does discourage people from exercising. However, walking is mostly minimal impact so helps to maintain joint motion and function.  For me it also helps ease pain and improve my posture. It tackles muscle imbalances and helps with my breathing.  It definitely improves my quality of life with the added bonus of keeping my weight down so a winner all round really.

Before I sign off I want to quickly mention trolls as they are becoming more commonplace. People can be so horrible on social media and I’ve often said they must lead incredibly sad lives to be so angry all of the time. LinkedIn has become the same, people are so rude to each other even though it’s supposed to be a professional platform.  This is why I found this Ricky Gevais quote funny..

“A troll is someone who wants you to feel, for a few seconds, as miserable as they do for their entire existence”.

I know I harp on about it but why can’t people disagree politely? Why is someone wrong because they have a different opinion to you? We don’t need to share the same opinions as others but we do need to be respectful. You don’t have to disrespect and insult others to hold your own ground. If you do, it shows how shaky your own position is..

On that note, fill your life with experiences, pay 2 quid and take the bus 😊

Have an amazing day, until next time xxxxx

The A Word: Wired and Tired!

“It wasn’t like that in my day”, was my Nan’s favourite saying.  I used to laugh at her stories of the “olden days” but it’s crazy how time flies and now I find myself saying the same thing.

I remember in the “olden days” Dr Hunter visiting our house with his leather case and stethoscope when I had measles. A very different scenario to my most recent exchange with my doctor which went something like this.

Dear Matt, please can I have some prednisolone, I’ve got a flare up of my AS. Many thanks, Andrea

Hey Andrea, pred ready to collect.  Let’s catch up in 10 days to see how it’s going.

Now, I certainly didn’t need Matt to visit me at home with his leather case and stethoscope (not to be misinterpreted 😊) and nor did I need to visit him in his surgery so our email exchange was a very efficient use of both our time.  I’m also pleased to report that I’m nearly finished these annoying little tablets of which I’m taking 6 a day and hoping that I can finally get some sleep when I’m done.  I’m completely wired on them, and those of you who know me will appreciate I’m hyperactive without steroids so you can only imagine my current state of activity.  My Fitbit reported yesterday that I’d done 14 out of 14 active hours which is bloody ridiculous when you think about it.  “Wired and Tired” is a very apt description of my current demeanour.

Moving on, I’ve been questioning how I make decisions and how I come to conclusions about anything and everything really.  

Why? I hear you ask.

Well, I’m keen to move with the times and not be one of those people who gets stuck in the past and who constantly moans about change. I want to embrace change and not use “bias” in any debate or discussion with our grandchildren; I don’t want to be critical of their era and I’d love them to value my opinion, but you have to earn the right to that and be understanding of their generation.

However, “bias” is something that can definitely hold you back.  It’s actually worse than bias because it’s generally “unconscious or cognitive bias” because we’re unaware we’re using it. I follow a guy on Twitter who reminded me of my sales training.  He said “to be successful in business you need to study psychology, cognitive bias and body language” and I totally get why.

I tend to make decisions quickly which can be beneficial and, as the “experts” point out, it’s often better than procrastinating.  However, my problem is that I allocate equal amounts of time (i.e., very little) to both big and small decisions.  My brain has a natural tendency to take shortcuts in order not to be overwhelmed by too much information.  Evaluating evidence requires a great deal of mental energy and my brain says, “uh oh”, let’s not go there.  My unconscious mind is much more efficient, it uses my beliefs from my cultural environment and my personal experiences to make immediate decisions.  In other words, I use my “unconscious bias” to make big decisions!  How scary is that? The problem is that sometimes these shortcuts can result in wrong decisions, especially when rational, logical thinking is required. 

Now, I’m lucky, I can get away with it most of the time because my husband Jamie does all the hard work for me.  If we have a big decision to make, Jamie has tons of mental energy and does all the extensive research required for both of us.  This means that I’m presented with expert facts that I wouldn’t have found out myself and between us we’ve mostly made good decisions.

So, when I realised I’m an avid user of unconscious bias I put a few bullet points to together to remind myself of these behaviours.

  • Only paying attention to news stories that confirm my opinion
  • Learning a little about a topic and then assuming I know all there is to know
  • Relying too heavily on the first piece of information I learn and discount everything else
  • Placing greater value on information that comes to my mind more quickly

And then I decided on some actions:

  • Be aware when I’m using unconscious bias
  • Be more curious; curiosity should help me to pause long enough to ask questions
  • Strive for growth mindset; rather than covering up mistakes, learn by them. I’m quite good at this one, but mostly because of my career.  Learning from mistakes is beneficial in all aspects of life.
  • And finally, the most important:- Embrace the opposite.  Try to understand an issue from both sides.  This is difficult but incredibly valuable.  It’s especially helpful in improving critical thinking to enable us to see the world with more empathy.

Empathy is, without doubt, the medicine that the world needs right now as it seems to be running on steroids, a bit like me – Wired and Tired..

Where’s Doctor Matt when you need him?

Until next time…

The A Word: A tale of two halves

Hello everyone and welcome to my blog. It’s a tale of two halves, the past and the future.  I was intrigued to know the number of times I’d been asked the question I’m going to answer in this blog so I counted and can officially confirm it’s 74. Over the last 6 months 74 people have written to ask if we’ve retired. I’m not surprised as I’m sure it’s apparent that I swan around a lot.  I haven’t responded until now as I was unsure of what to say but yes, its official, at the ripe old age of 60 Jamie and I have retired (well sort of!)

We’ve got loads of plans so watch this space. Our biggest desire is to travel and we’ve a long list of places we want to see and countries we want to visit.  We want to spend time travelling around Europe and specifically taking on some challenging walks in the Alps and Pyrenees. I’ve started to write and whether I’ll make it to being a published author, who knows, but I want to try. Jamie and I will also continue to take on consulting assignments, both in the charity and private sectors in an advisory and coaching capacity but only on a part time basis. We’ve also got 3 grandchildren so life will continue to be very busy.  Getting old doesn’t seem too bad and certainly has its advantages (unless, of course, you’re  a banana).

I started working weekends at 14 and full time at 17. Apart from a brief time out when I had my beautiful daughter, I’ve worked full time all my life. I was lucky enough and worked hard enough to enjoy a successful career and since the late 1990’s my jobs have been stressful, working long hours, but also incredibly rewarding. I’ve contributed to a private pension since my younger days, as has Jamie; we’ve sacrificed fast cars, expensive jewellery and material stuff in favour of putting money away for our future and our plan was always to retire while we’re still fit enough to take on the challenges we’ve always talked about.

So, what was the most important thing I learned during my career that I’m going to share with you?  Well, it’s quite simple really – “just because someone’s opinion is different to yours it doesn’t make them wrong”. Is that it I hear you say! Well let me share why that’s so important and why it can help you in all aspects of life, not just work but family and relationships too.

I was born into a working-class family and brought up in one of the staunchest labour constituencies in the country. Socialism bordering on communism ruled.  You could not mention Maggie Thatcher (and still can’t) without being lynched and that’s no exaggeration. In my late 20’s I moved to London and started working in the city, learning about capitalism, the complete opposite to what I was familiar with. I saw both sides of the argument.

I realised very quickly that to be successful you have to appreciate that it’s OK for people to have different opinions.  It’s also OK for you to accept that because otherwise it does make you seem like your intolerant of anyone’s else’s beliefs.

Making an extremist statement about something someone else likes doesn’t make you right. Instead, it makes you seem controlling and not willing to listen to anyone else and that’s not a good look.

One of the biggest reasons a company fails is down to a leader who is intolerant of other people’s views and opinions. A CEO who surrounds himself with yes-people will ruin their own career as well as damaging the company. “Yes” people will always tell them what they want to hear and not what they should know. During my years in the city, I ran a large sales team. We were responsible for $100 million dollars of business each year, selling software into financial services organisations. We were successful because we worked as a team. We all had different views and opinions, but collectively we would come to the right conclusion, often having to compromise on our own beliefs to secure the best outcome.

It’s even more important to be tolerant of other people’s opinions in our ever-changing world. Brexit and Covid have been incredibly divisive, fuelled by social media.  I know families and friends who’ve fallen out; how ridiculous. Remember, respecting others’ opinions doesn’t mean being untrue to our own. It simply requires us to recognise that others are entitled to look at the world differently and that when they share their views with us, they can expect a fair hearing. Tolerance is not a sign of weakness it’s a sign of strength.

This tolerance stood me in good stead and I’ve left my working life behind with no enemies (well, maybe one 😊).

Finally, as I write my blog to raise awareness of autoimmune disease I wanted to let you all know how pleased I am to see the back of winter. I suffer more pain in the cold, damp months and my Raynaud’s has been far worse this winter. My nose, fingers and toes are affected and I’m always so bloody cold. I don’t know about you, but our gas has gone up by about 30% and now that we’re retired, we’re more watchful of our pennies so its more thermals and jumpers for me next year. On the plus side, at least there’s no mosquitoes, pesky things.

I’d like to end with a quote that rings true with the weather we’ve had recently. I love spring and these few words from Charles Dickins summed it up.

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade”

Until next time.. xxxx

 

The A Word: Mind your Language!

Dad and me ❤️

We’re just back from visiting my parents in Cumbria. As an only child, I wanted my parents to move closer when their health started to deteriorate but they wanted to stay put, which I understand but I’m now into my 32nd year of travelling up and down the UK motorway network for the 780 miles round trip.

My dad has Alzheimer’s. He was diagnosed over 10 years ago and its an incredibly disressing disease.  If there is a positive to come out of it its that Dad doesn’t have a filter anymore.  I sometimes don’t have a filter either but at least Dad has an excuse. I’ve got used to the fact that I lost the Dad I’d grown up with many years ago but he’s still extremely funny, especially without the filter.  Dad loves photographs; not recent ones as he hasn’t a clue who he’s looking at as Alzheimer’s affects the short-term memory; but all the old photos still bring a smile to his face. When we arrived on this recent visit, there was a new photo on the mantelpiece, one that neither Jamie nor I recognised. It was a photo of a football team, probably from around the 1930’s. Picking up the photo and sharing it with Dad I said, “who’s this photo of Dad”.  Looking very carefully at each of the twelve faces Dad eventually said, “I haven’t a clue, probably all the fancy men your Mum sees behind my back”! We all had a right giggle and thankfully Mum was out on the room. Its so important to laugh with Dad and not at him and, like with all my family, I’m incredibly defensive of him.

It’s the same when we take my parents out for dinner. It’s recommended you carry a small card explaining you’re with someone who has Alzheimer’s. This can be passed discretely to a staff member when you arrive but Mum doesn’t like to use it. This means we all end up holding our breath in case of any inappropriate comments. Dad’s also started to speak German to the bar staff in a funny Basil Fawlty type voice but as he only knows three words it does become a little repetitive. He also does a bit of shoplifting now and again so trips to the Co-Op are interesting. It’s mostly booze, chocolate or pepperoni pizza he’s interested in so he still gets his priorities right.

Jamie’s Dad suffered with Alzheimer’s as well. Fred is no longer with us but we shared some giggles with him too. He read the same chapter of Ian Botham’s autobiography 100’s of times and hid in the back garden shed when everyone was frantically looking for him. Eventually he had to go into a home and one of the nursing staff found his escape kit behind the toilet. It consisted of some string, a very sharp razor blade, money, a penknife and many other useful gadgets you would use for your getaway.  We didn’t know Fred had a good left hand either until he decked one of the other male residents who was annoying him; Fred, like my dad, definitely didn’t have a filter either.

On a more serious note, its an incredibly distressing disease, perhaps more so for close relatives, especially the spouse. It’s the charity that Jamie and I always support and my daughter ran the London marathon for the Alzheimer’s society too. Medical advances are being made; experts are cautiously hopeful about developing Alzheimer’s treatments that can stop or significantly delay its progression. A growing understanding of how the disease disrupts the brain has led to potential Alzheimer’s treatments that short-circuit basic disease processes. Here’s hoping..

On a less serious note, the bloody mice came back. We were full of hope as they hadn’t materialised for nearly 2 weeks after Shane’s visit but our hope was short-lived. On the night they returned, they were incredibly loud! I’d no idea that mice could make so much racket. Shane came back and parked his large car complete with the pest control logo on the front drive. He dug a large trench in the muddy soil next to the white wall of our house, hopefully it will clean off. He found their home buried deep beneath the soil. Shane explained that mice burrows are often expertly camouflaged to keep predators out and their little underground houses feature multiple rooms to allow them to store food and nest comfortably. It spurred Jamie and I on to do the landscaping that had been waiting until the warmer weather arrived. We’ve moved about two tonnes of soil; laid weed membrane and we’re now waiting for our delivery of hardcore and pebbles to complete the project. Try getting out of that Mr Mouse!

Finally, this month I’m happy to report that after the little hitch following my FFS flippancy, me and my Rheumatologist are back on track, albeit by telephone. I’m wondering what stage Covid will need to get to before I meet him face to face again. I do see other people at the hospital when I go for my bloods and MRI scans but not my Rheumatologist, he still prefers chatting to me on my mobile; perhaps we’ll progress to FaceTime soon.

I don’t know about you but I’m finished with Covid, its gone onto my FFS list. I’ve had three jabs, a dose of Covid and now they tell me I can still get Omicron. In 2024, we’ll have had Foxtrot, Hotel, India and Juliet and we probably heading towards Romeo. You can just imagine the conversation

“Have you had Romeo or Juliet yet?”

“No, not yet, but I’ve had Viktor and Zulu”

On that note, I’d better go before I get into any more trouble,

Until next time..xxxxx