Friday, 24 June 2016

Brexit - will the UK be a Posh Spice or a Robbie Williams?

I'm not bored of writing about today yet, I'm not sure I ever will be.  I'm also not bored of an analogy so, in my attempt to cheer everyone up and turn all that negativity into something positive, here's another one.

The UK leaving the EU is a big deal, yep, we get that.  Everyone knows it's unprecedented.  Watching the news intently, even those who voted leave now are saying they wish they voted remain. I mean, that's just silly, you had months to make your mind up and read about the consequences.  Now you see what's happened, the initial panic that everyone told us would happen, you wish you'd stayed in?  That's very silly.  But, whatever.

The UK going solo could go one of two ways - Posh Spice or Robbie.

When the Spice Girls split, and Victoria Beckham tried to go solo, it was catastrophic for her.  But, when Robbie Williams left Take That for a solo career, it was the best move he ever made.

Will we be a Victoria Beckham?  Or will we be a Robbie?

When Robbie left Take That, the hearts of millions across the country - and around the world - broke.  Everyone said it would be the worst decision he would ever make.  Would people ever recover?  Would Take That recover?  Would Robbie sink or swim?

We all know he swam.  Not just swam, floated.  Soared.  The best move he ever made was to leave Take That and go solo.

Victoria Beckham, on the other hand, not so great.  As it's turned out, she's had a pretty successful career in fashion - a path she found after her singing career failed to take off.

Will we be a Posh Spice? Or a Robbie?  Maybe initially we'll be Posh, but I am sure eventually we can become a Robbie and triumph as a soloist.

All those right now who are so negative about our departure from the EU are like those heartbroken Take That fans who vowed to never buy a Robbie record.  He still got a string of number ones, though, so they must have come round.

Hey, we may even return to the EU in a decade for a triumphant reunion tour.

(For those still not yet able to smile today, that was a joke.)

What I'm saying, and what I've been saying throughout the day, is we need to stop dwelling.  We need to now look at the position we are in, lick our wounds and move on.

Successful people don't give up.

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The UK today is like a newborn baby, learning once again how to hold its own head up

Let's not panic, everyone.  I think that needs to be a key message this morning.

We can't run before we can walk.  When a newborn baby is born, it takes a while to hold its own head up but, in time, that newborn baby grows into someone who can run marathons and climb mountains.   We don't write off that newborn baby because it can't do everything straight away.  Today, we are that newborn baby.  Today, we are learning how to hold our own head up.  Next month, we will learn how to sit up.  By September, we might start talking.  Christmas and we may be taking our first steps.  It'll be a slow process, but one I am sure we can see through.

With that in mind, let's not turn on each other.  I'm seeing far too much of that on my social media timelines this morning.

Today is going to go down in history because of the enormity of the decision that has been made by the majority of those who cast their vote.  It doesn't need to go down in history because the population was divided and started in-fighting.  Yes, it was a slim majority, but a majority nonetheless.

If the overall decision is not the one you voted for, or preferred, then we must remember we aren't always going to agree on everything.  The world would be an incredibly boring place if everyone had the same opinion.  If everyone supported the same football team, if everyone only liked watching Coronation Street, if everyone shared the same political beliefs the world would be boring.  Diversity is what makes us all interesting.

Unfortunately, the leave campaign seemed to dwell too much on the immigration aspect.  But that doesn't mean that those who voted to leave are racist.  It doesn't mean those who voted to remain are sympathisers.

Everyone, no matter what their beliefs, is entitled to hold them.

I do feel a bit uneasy this morning, but I also feel quite intrigued.  We are entering into the unknown now, and that is a bit scary.  But it is also interesting to see what will happen next.  This move is unprecedented, it will go down in British and world history.  And change isn't always a bad thing, let's remember that.  When you want to progress in your career, you sometimes take a leap into the unknown to better yourself.  That's kind of like what we have done here.

People will move to a completely new part of country, with no guarantee of a job when they get there, to pursue a career they are passionate about.  It's not easy for them at first, they may struggle to maintain the lifestyle they were previously accustomed to, but eventually they will find their feet and all will be fine.

There is no need for us all to be sat in fear and panicking, because that will make things worse.  We should be hopeful, looking to a new future.  The nation has decided, they've said we want to leave.  We need to have faith in our electorate and in our decision.  It might not be a decision that is popular, but it was the decision of the majority.

For the first time in any election since I've been eligible to vote, I couldn't make my mind up.  I still went to the polling booth and pondered my decision for some time, swaying back and forth. In the end, I spoiled my ballot because I literally couldn't decide.  Initially, when the referendum was first announced, I was leave.  As it went on, and each side changed from campaigning to scaremongering, I was terrified to vote either way.  I was toying with going with those who said 'if unsure, vote remain', but I couldn't categorically say I agreed with the remain campaign.  I can see the benefits, of course I can, but I can also see a lot of issues with our EU membership.

There's no point me tying myself up in knots about it again, it's over now.  Selby, where I live, was not enormously close.  So, had I voted to remain, it wouldn't have changed things.  I think if it had, then I may have felt a bit guilty this morning.  As it happened, I was among the 33 who spoilt their ballot in Selby.  30,532 voted to leave, while 21,071 voted to stay.

Someone asked me why I bothered going to vote if I was going to spoil it.  He said that Emmeline Pankhurst wouldn't have been happy that I spoiled my ballot.  Maybe she wouldn't, unfortunately we can't ask her.  But women didn't fight for the right for us to vote to pick sides, they fought so we could have a say and stand up and be counted.  Even if you don't agree, don't understand, or don't really care - you should still go and vote.

A vote is something if which not used - whether it is to spoil it or cast it - can be lost.  Nobody would have known I spoiled my ballot if I didn't tell anyone.  There wouldn't be a black mark next to my name.  I wouldn't be hung, drawn and quartered in the middle of town and banned from ever voting again.  But it would show that I turned out, and I exercised my right to have a say.  My say, however, was that I didn't know.  I didn't want to associate myself with either argument given their nasty, scaremongering techniques throughout.

I could have taken the 'safe' option and remained, but why should I vote for something I'm not 100% in agreement of just because it is deemed the 'safer' option?  As I said, David Cameron would not have called for a referendum on our EU membership if something didn't need fixing.  And he would not have allowed it to go ahead if he knew the country was going to implode if we voted to leave.  If David Cameron had backed Brexit, I'm pretty sure today would be a national holiday - there'd be bunting everywhere, dancing in the street, the pound would be soaring, the markets would be booming.  Actually, saying that, if he'd backed Brexit we would probably have stayed.  I get the feeling many voted out purely because he was backing staying in.  But that's a whole different argument.

I think the main message this morning from the media needs to be to keep calm.  Stop panicking.  Stop working everyone up into a frenzy.  The world isn't ending.

We don't yet need to start panic buying prosecco and Milky Way Magic Stars (which, according to Facebook, can't be sold outside the EU - who knew?!)  We don't need to start hiding our money under the bed, or look at fleeing the country.

The world is still turning.  When I woke up this morning, my house was in the same place as when I went to sleep.  Nothing has changed to the naked eye.

Yes, the markets have suffered - but we knew that would happen if we voted to leave.

The markets bet on the outcome of things like this, and they got it wrong.  It's too soon to panic that the economy is finished, though.  It is likely we will enter into a period which will see the economy slow down, there is so much uncertainty around.  But we can recover, it is not the end of the world.

Sometimes you have to go through rough times to get to better.  At the end of the day, we've voted out now and we need to deal with the repercussions that comes with that.  We're a strong nation of natural-born fighters.  We can get through this.  As the famous wartime poster says, 'Keep Calm and Carry On'.  This could not be more apt right now.  Negativity won't help us move forward and it certainly won't catapult us out of this unknown area that we find ourselves in at the present moment.

We need pick ourselves back up and epitomise the British bulldog spirit.  We must pull together, regain our positivity and show that we are a strong nation which can stand on its own two feet.

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Today's Brexit result vs the Pop Idol final of 2002

So, it's happened, the U.K residents have spoken and voted in favour of leaving the EU. A result I'm very surprised at, given the level of support for the remain campaign I was seeing on the news and on social media.

I saw people drawing comparisons between yesterday's vote on our EU membership and the Pop Idol final in 2002. (Stay with me, this does have a point)

In a rather humorous meme, it said there has been no vote that has split the country more since Gareth vs Will in 2002.  And I think it may have been right.

I was only 10 when I fell in love with Gareth Gates on Pop Idol. He was my winner from the outset and I was heartbroken when he lost to Will.

I don't think the similarities of the two votes end at being divisive, though.

When Will won, I didn't understand why. All my friends at school like Gareth and were voting for him. Everyone I spoke to did. Granted, I was only 10. It's not like I had a huge network of people to get a true representation. But even the news stories were all shock that Will had won. Nobody expected it.

Kind of like the result we've woken up to this morning. As I went to bed last night, the YouGov poll predicted a remain win - 52% to leave's 48%. That didn't shock me too much. This week it has all been about remain.

Every man and his dog seems to have come out to support us staying in the EU. Kicked off by the Beckhams on Monday, it's been one big name after the other telling us why we should remain.

The majority of my Facebook and Twitter has also been strongly remain. So I kind of feel similar feelings to 2001 now - who was voting for leave? Was it the same people who voted Will? Could the remain people have had their pencil crosses erased,, just like there were rumours Gareth's voting number didn't work?

I suppose the only explanation is that people who were voting to leave didn't shout as hard. Just like those who voted for Will Young.

This whole referendum campaign has been horrible. When it was first announced there would be a referendum, before any of the campaigning/scaremongering started, I was on the leave camp. But as it went on, I was terrified by what each side was telling me. In the end, when I stepped in the polling booth yesterday, I still had no clue what to do. I stood there for ages pondering it. Which was really awkward because our polling booth is literally a tiny shed, and the two women watching me must have thought I was crazy. I spoiled my ballot in the end, feeling completely incapable for the first time in my life of making a decision based on facts and not fear. I didn't really agree with those saying it was best to remain if you were unsure, because there wouldn't be a referendum in the first place if there weren't issues with our EU membership which needed addressing.

This referendum was not facts-led or based on fact. It was based on fear. And I felt in no way able to make a judgement or decision based on that. I think, in many ways, that's why the result has shocked so many. Because the whole thing wasn't conducted like a 'normal' election.

If we're going to keep the Pop Idol comparison going, everyone doubted Will Young would have any sort of career after his win because 'nobody liked him and nobody voted for him'. The country was Team Gareth, nobody would support him. But, here we are 15 years later and everyone still knows his name and he still has a pretty successful career. He's even had some pretty big hits (I think 'Leave Right Now' is pretty appropriate right now!)

Not only that, but he won me round. Yep, my 10-year-old self would be appalled but I actually really like Will Young now.

Of course, this analogy can only spread so far. Will Young winning Pop Idol didn't seem the pound plummet and the threat of us entering back into a recession loom. Nor did it bring with it so much uncertainty for the future.

But he did surprise us. And maybe (hopefully) this result will do the same. If not, a victory for democracy may actually in fact turn out to be a defeat for life in the UK as we know it.

This is, of course, an attempt at me to make light of the situation we have woken up in this morning. Just FYI, before anyone starts hating on me.

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Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Confessions of a Slimming World target member, part two.

I've had quite a lot of people asking me to write another Slimming World blog recently, but I've been really struggling with what to write about.  I haven't kept a food diary since my first week at target (not that it would really do anyone much good to follow that at the moment) and I haven't even been to Slimming World for four weeks now.

Appalling, I know.

I am going this week, though. So maybe writing a blog will get me in a good mindset to go back.

I would have gone last week, or even the week before, but I've been so busy with work and, to be honest, I haven't felt like I've needed to go.  I don't feel like I've put any weight on (I've maybe put a pound or two on, but nothing major).  My new, smaller clothes still fit me comfortably - some are even still too big - and I haven't fallen off the bandwagon and started eating butter straight out of the tub with my hands.

I think I'm in control.  I have struck quite a nice balance, really.  I eat cake and chocolate, but I still eat Slimming World meals too.  I don't count my syns, but I do still count my healthy extras and try my best to get one third of speed on my plate every meal time.

When I say I don't count my syns, I mean I don't write everything down.  I keep a rough tally in my head of how many a day I am on and still have days where I don't use any.

I still like trying new recipes to keep me motivated and on track - after going wedding dress shopping the other week I realised how important it was to keep where I am and not slip back into old habits.  I threw all my big clothes out, anyway, so I definitely can't let myself go back there.  I can't afford new clothes and I definitely can't afford to be arrested for indecent exposure.

Some days I still feel 'fat', which really aggravates me.  I know I'm not fat now.  For the first time in my life I can actually say with confidence that I know I am not fat.  There are literally no words to describe how it feels to know that.  But, like any other person, I have fat days.  When they creep up on me, I just have a couple of days 100% back on plan and all is well with the world again.

The other week, me and my mum went for a mammoth afternoon tea in Harrogate and, hell's bells, it was amazing.  I literally ate every last crumb on the plate - there was probably about whole month of syns there - but I ate it all.  I didn't care, it was amazing.  But I didn't dwell, feel guilty, punish myself or let it define the rest of my choices that weekend, I just got back to it the next day and it was fine.

I lived to tell the tale (every tasty mouthful of it!)

Me and Tom had a week off last month and had a very foodie week - fish and chips at the coast, syrup-y bacon pancakes, pick 'n' mix, cake - but I honestly wouldn't want to live a life where I didn't get to enjoy foods like this.  I literally plan my whole day around the food I am going to eat.  Any socialising I do 99.9% of the time involves food.  Without it, I'd die, but I'd also be so miserable.

Who the hell wants to just nibble rabbit food when you can strike this amazing balance and still lose weight?

I still get people now saying how great I look and how much weight I've lost, and those comments will never stop motivating me to keep at it.  To hear the lady in the bridal shop tell me what a tiny waist I have, and to swap Slimming World stories (she also was doing it and has lost a stone so far - woo!), was fab.  It's like some sort of sisterhood (and brotherhood) that immediately bonds you when you realise they too do Slimming World.

I also got a really, really lovely message from a complete stranger on Facebook a few weeks ago which took me completely by surprise but was so, so sweet.

This is what it said:


It was so lovely to know that not only have I inspired my own friends and family members, but I have also inspired people who don't even know me, and just stumbled across my blog on Google (cheers, Google!)

Realising that has really spurred me on to keep up with the blogging, not only to keep myself on track (I feel like I have to keep maintaining my weight now I've shared my journey with so many people) but to also motivate (and entertain, I'm told) others.

I'll be stepping back on the scales on Wednesday night after a very long absence.  I may have just crept out of my target zone but if I have it will only be by a pound or two (imagine if I've put half a stone on now, I'll be mortified!!) Even if I have slipped out, I have a whole week to get back in before I have to start paying again.  And hell, if getting back in my target range wasn't motivation enough then paying £.495 a week again certainly will be!!

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Amazing Slimming World chocolate brownies

I might be at my target weight but I haven't stopped Slimming World - if anything I'm trying more new recipes now to keep me on track. These brownies literally made my life at the weekend - just 1.5 syns PER BROWNIE!!!! Yep, you read that right.

I used the recipe for the 0.5 Syn brownie but that made 25 - and there was no way I was cutting them that small. So I made them into 8 , which worked out at 1.5 syns each. Theoretically, I could've eaten all 8 and still had syns left for the day. What a dream.



They're really simple to make - which is also a bonus. And they don't use any flour - so my mum was able to have them as a coeliac.

They're really light and so, so chocolately. They taste waaaay more naughty than they are.

So, here's what you need:

Six eggs (separated)
70g granulated sweetener
60g cocoa powder (not hot chocolate)
2 tsp vanilla essence
Fry light

Method:
1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees and spray a baking tin with Frylight then line it with grease proof paper.
2. Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks.
3. In a separate bowl, add the egg yolks, sweetener, vanilla essence and cocoa and whisk until mixed.
4. If the mixture is too stiff, add a bit of water.
5. Then fold in the egg whites.
6. Pour the mixture into the tin.
7. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
8. Serve hot or cold & enjoy!

Friday, 10 June 2016

Frock frolics

I have been so lacklustre when it's come to my blog over the past few weeks, but that's just because I've been super busy.

Wedding planning has really stepped up a notch - it all seems very real now.

We're less than 11 months away from the big day (I'm so sorry, you're going to be stuck with this incessant countdown for a while yet!) and everything seems to be falling into place now.

After my rant previously about how expensive things were and my desire to make things myself, I had some really lovely suggestions from people for favours etc.  I haven't been brave enough to attempt to make my own centrepieces, but we've had such a cute, quirky idea that I've never seen before for the favours.  The bits we need have all been delivered, they just need putting together now - it's so exciting!

We now have a big box in our spare room full of packages and 'wedding bits'.  If this is the state with 11 months to go, I am dreading how much it's going to take over the house in the weeks leading up.

Most exciting of all, though, is that I started trying on wedding dresses last weekend.

I had been so excited in the weeks leading up to my appointments but when it got to the morning, it just didn't feel real.  The first few dresses I tried on I just felt totally overwhelmed.

It took me a good half an hour or so to realise 'this is real, this is you trying on wedding dresses' - I felt like I was in a dream or some sort of weird parallel universe.

I had two very different experiences at the two shops I went to - mainly in the sizes of the dresses I was trying on.  At the first place, all the dresses were too big for me and had to be pinned significantly.

The lady said she decided it were best to order the sample dresses in bigger sizes, because it was easier to pin them in than to make them try and fit someone who was a size or two bigger than the dress.

The second place, however, went the other way.  Some of their dresses literally only just fit me - they did up but they were far too tight to be considered comfortable in any way shape or form.

As I stood squished into one of the dresses I thought what a good job it was that I'd lost weight already, otherwise there would have been no way on this earth I would have fit in any of those dresses at the second shop.  And that would have made me feel like absolute shit.

Even now, as a size 8-10, I didn't fit in the dresses I tried on.  They were all a size too small and far too tight.  I really was shocked.

The shops also had very different policies on taking photos of me in the dresses I tried on.  Prior to going, I'd heard that most places wouldn't let you take photos unless you were buying the dress - fair enough, I get that.

So when Soph asked at the first place whether she could take some photos, I expected a no, but the lady couldn't have been nicer and even styled me up for pictures.

The second place, however, wouldn't let Soph take any photos.  To be honest, the lighting was so dark and dull that even if she had, they wouldn't have been much to base a judgement on.

I understand places having a no photo policy in some respects.  You could do a Monica and go to the expensive place, find the dress, get photos, then go to an outlet and pick it up for a fraction of the price - with whistles and all!  But, to be fair, once you know the designer, the style and the size you could do that anyway without having photos of yourself.

In my case, having pictures of me in the dresses really helped me to make decisions on the dresses.  Like I said, i was so totally overwhelmed when I was trying them on, it was nice to be able to look back at the photos over lunch and a drink and really make a judgement on how they looked on me/how I looked in them.

I'm still undecided about which dress I am going to go with - I'm torn between two and have arranged to go back to try them both on together so I can hopefully make a decision.  They're both totally completely different, though, so it's going to be so hard.

I see what goes on on Don't Tell the Bride now.  The bride always has an image of the dress that's the one for her, but she always loves the groom's choice.  Everyone said to me that you can't say what kind of dress you want until you start trying them on, and I definitely appreciate that now!

It's all coming together now, though, and is certainly starting to feel very, very real!

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Celebrating Yorkshire's women

The sound of champagne corks popping echoed around Leeds on a Friday afternoon last month as almost 800 women gathered to celebrate some of Yorkshire's most inspirational, talented and successful women.

I was honoured to be invited to the Yorkshire Women of Achievement Awards - held at the Royal Armouries on Friday (May 20) - as a guest of local children's author Christina Gabbitas.  Christina invited me to the awards earlier this year, only finding out a couple of weeks ago that she was actually nominated for the education award.

It truly was a celebration of girl power at its absolute finest.  So much celebrating took place, in fact, that the Royal Armouries sold out of prosecco!  Something you'd only find at an event predominantly attended by women.



I felt humbled to be among such inspirational, brave women whose work was being recognised for the tremendous difference it has made to the lives of others.

The 30th Yorkshire Women of Achievement Awards were overseen and presented by BBC Radio Leeds presenter Liz Green.  Among the guests were the original Calendar Girls - spotted early on for their distinctive black ensembles with the infamous sunflower - Welcome to Yorkshire's Sir Gary Verity, actress Gaynor Faye, writer Kay Mellor, Mike Tomlinson - the widower of iconic fundraiser Jane Tomlinson - and radio DJ Stephanie Hirst.



The big winner of the afternoon was Jayne Senior. She was the whistleblower for the Rotherham sex scandal, explaining in an emotionally charged VT how she risked prison to make sure the horrific crimes were exposed.   She was the manager of a project called Risky Business, which works with victims of child sexual exploitation, and has dedicated her life over the past 10 years to helping children.

She helped the police and the council to try and get justice for the girls who were being groomed and exploited by men in Rotherham.  She saw Risky Business shut down and even saw her health suffer due to the stress.  She battled adversity, was branded a racist, and even risked getting arrested by whistleblowing the whole scandal. But she never gave in.   Jayne won the Commumity Impact award but was also presented the overall Woman of Achievement award for 2016.

Young businesswoman Mary Benson picked up the Woman of Achievement in Business, kicking off the ceremony with a cracking acceptance speech which had everyone present howling with laughter. 
The successful fashion designer has worked with some of the top names in the fashion world including Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood.

In her acceptance speech, Mary reflected on a tough few weeks that she had been having - even admitting that she contemplated giving it all up because she was so skint - and was visibly emotional at the honour that had been bestowed upon her. 

Quite obviously taken aback by the whole situation, Mary didn't hesitate to describe the difficult past few weeks to the 800-strong audience with a perfectly timed expletive - "I've been fucked!" 

I've not been to many awards ceremonies, but I would hazard a guess that Mary's was one of the best acceptance speeches ever.

Christina Gabbitas, the lovely lady of whom I was a guest, also picked up an award for her work in education. Christina is amazing - I literally have no idea how she fits everything in.   She visits schools to do reading and writing workshops, carries out storytelling sessions at libraries, runs a successful national initiate aimed at getting children writing, writes her own children's books, and even recently found time to visit the United Arab Emirates for a reading festival. 



She has also released a hugely successful safeguarding book called 'Share Some Secrets' which aims to educate children about the good and bad secrets, encouraging them to speak out without fear.
Recently, Share Some Secrets has been shortlisted as a finalist for the People’s Book Prize.   The book has also been highly praised by the NSPCC and Barnardo’s, and Christina was a worthy winner of the award, if I do say so myself.

Another worthy winner was Jackie Roberts, who walked away with the Jane Tomlinson award for courage.  Jackie's daughter Megan tragically drowned in the River Ouse in 2014 after falling into the water while on a night out in York.  Since her daughter's tragic passing, Jackie has become a prominent supporter of the Royal Life Saving Society UK, becoming a drowning prevention officer last year. She has also raised thousands of pounds for the charity.

Truly, truly incredible and so emotional.

It didn't end there, either. 

We were also treated to an emotional performance by Lizzie Jones - the widow of Keighley Cougars player Danny Jones who died after suffering a cardiac arrest during a game of rugby last year.
It was emotional. It was humbling. But it was truly inspirational.



As I sat there reading about each of the 73 nominees, and the reasons they were sat there in that room, I realised all the good that there still is in the world.  We spend so long focusing on the bad - terrorism, war, poverty, disease - that we forget to look at the good. 

We forget to celebrate the people who are making a real difference to people's lives. The people who go above and beyond anything that is expected of them to put others before themselves. The people who risk everything to safeguard others. The people who don't let adversity bring them down.

It's so easy to give in when things are tough. To accept that's the hand we've been dealt and just live with it. The women I celebrated last week did not give in so easy. They fought to overcome obstacles, adversity and barriers and have become role models, trailblazers and inspirations.

In total, over £58,000 was raised for Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice in Leeds thanks to the event.  This could cover the cost of 3,656 hours of incredible care to support people in the Leeds community.

Since the awards were first founded 30 years ago, over £500,000 has been raised for the hospice.