furlough/ˈfəːləʊ/noun – leave of absence
Most of us had never even heard this word just over a year ago. I’ve been really lucky, working as I do in the travel industry, to have been able to keep working all this time whilst many of my colleagues have been furloughed, and of course many people (not just in my industry) have lost their jobs. It’s been a tough year though, and I don’t mind admitting that I did like the idea of having a break when things were really stressful, but it wasn’t feasible at the time.
I first brushed with furlough a few months ago when I was told I would go from 5 to 4 days a week and be ‘flexi-furloughed’ for one day. It took a little while to get used to this bonus day off, but to be honest I quite like a 4 day week. Then came the big one – a month of furlough. My company is doing the right thing, making the most of the support available, and I guess it was inevitable that I would be furloughed eventually. So, here I am, about to start my stint of furlough. A month off work.
It’s strange, now that everything is starting to open up in the UK and many people are going back to work, to suddenly find myself with time on my hands. At first I freaked out and in my panic started making a mental list of all the things I would have to do during this time to make it worthwhile. Pole, stretch, dance, do Couch to 5k again, walk 12,000 steps a day, tidy everything, read all those books that are piling up… the list went on and my brain hurt. Then I stopped. Literally, in the middle of the street as I was pacing about. I stopped and realised I don’t need to be a superhuman. I don’t have to prove anything
But I know how my brain works, and I know what’s best for my mental health. I need some kind of structure, and I need goals, even little ones. So, here’s my furlough plan:
- Relax and enjoy some downtime. Don’t feel guilty if one day I watch a lot of TV, or another day I take a book to the park and sit and read all day. It’s about time I had a bit of a break and time to recharge.
- Work on my pole, fitness and flexibility goals, but listen to my body as I go. It’s not possible or sensible to train hard every day – I need time to recover too.
- Spend time outside – whether it’s walking, running, or sitting, I want to get out of this flat and see something other than these four walls!
- Cook! It doesn’t have to be anything spectacular, but use this time to cook nice things. I’ve found when I’m busy or stressed I still turn to convenience food (and there is so much yummy vegan convenience food!) but I do actually love to cook, so now’s the time to dust off those recipe books.
- Just be. Every day doesn’t have to be full of achievements or Instagram-worthy moments. Some days it’s perfectly fine to just be. See some friends. Go for a walk by myself. Read. Dance in my kitchen. Whatever makes me happy.
None of this is to say that you won’t be seeing a bit more of me on Instagram and maybe even here in this blog over the coming month. I will be learning new pole things, I am doing a running challenge, and I will hopefully cook something worthy of taking a photo of at some point. But I don’t want to obsess over the numbers and the achievements. When the first lockdown happened last year and lots of people found themselves on furlough, there was a huge amount of pressure on everyone to achieve. Is this the time to write that novel I’ve always dreamt of publishing? Maybe, but probably not if I’m honest. Is this the time to enjoy some (hopefully!) nice weather and have a bit of a break? Yes. And is this the time to simply do what feels good? Definitely.
Let’s see where the month takes me…
Unlike all of the major newspapers, radio stations and news programmes I didn’t have an obituary ready for the day my favourite musician David Bowie passed away. I didn’t want to think such a thing would happen – surely if anyone could defy time and live forever it would be David Bowie – but that saddest of days has come. David Bowie, just turned 69, “died peacefully, surrounded by his family after an 18-month battle with cancer”, the BBC reported today.
I’ve always been a massive David Bowie fan. Like millions of people around the world, from multiple generations, Bowie’s music has been with me my whole life, influencing me in so many ways. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know who he was. I suppose I just grew up listening to his music with my mum, who is also a big fan. We both shed a tear or two this morning when the news was announced on the radio and we texted each other.
I won’t waffle on too much today, but I wanted to share some of my earliest memories of Bowie with you, dear reader. The Labyrinth (1986) has always been one of my favourite films, and I could watch it over and over again. For anyone who has been living under a rock their whole lives and hasn’t seen it. David Bowie stars in The Labyrinth alongside Jennifer Connelly (Sarah) as the beautiful goblin king Jareth who has stolen Sarah’s annoying baby brother. Sarah has to face the labyrinth, and the intimidating, ball spinning, tight trouser wearing goblin king in order to get the baby back. The entire soundtrack is also by Bowie, and I’m not ashamed to say I still know every word to every song.
Don’t even get me started on all of the things I love about The Labyrinth, but I will say that I grew up with the above image firmly planted in my mind. I wanted to be Sarah, wearing that dress and dancing with the goblin king. And hell, he could have kept the baby for all I would have cared!
I remember learning word for word the lines Sarah has to say to Jareth at the end of the movie, and I used to say it to myself all the time when I was having a bad time at school or feeling unhappy about something.
“Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child you have stolen. For my will is as strong as yours and my kingdom as great. You have no power over me!”
There are so many amazing moments in The Labyrinth, but I’ll leave you with just two more…
Rest in peace David Bowie, you beautiful, brilliant man. You’ll never be forgotten.
I had another cycling lesson tonight, and it was great. I spent the week dreaming that perhaps one lesson would be enough and that today I would just cycle off into the sunset, but I know it will take more work than that. Already I’ve learnt that good things are worth working for, and have certainly reinforced the old saying “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”. I did well today, and still no injuries, but I do have a long way to go.
My cycling teacher said something tonight which really rang true, and I don’t know if she realised how deep and meaningful it was when she said it, or if she was simply offering me cycling advice. To paraphrase, she said, “It’s no good looking in one direction forever as you’ll only go that way. You have to remember to look where you want to go.”
Those are the words I’m going to take with me this week as I ride in to the second half of the year. I have a very different perspective on life now than I did when the year began, simply because I started looking in a different direction, towards where I wanted to go. I’m quite happy going the way I’m going at the moment, but I mustn’t forget to look around me too, and to keep my eyes open for all opportunities that come my way, whatever the direction.
The phrase “it’s like learning to ride a bike” is one I don’t think I have ever uttered. It’s a common phrase used to explain how easy it is to master a skill. Everyone can ride a bike, can’t they?
No, they can’t.
I’m 31 years old and have never learnt to ride a bike. For various reasons I didn’t have one when I was growing up, and by the time I was an awkward, overweight teenager it was just too embarrassing to even consider trying to learn. I did briefly have a go once, but failed quickly and found trying to teach myself was actually really hard. I’m not usually one to quit something because it’s hard, but I just figured I would muddle through life without wheels, and I’ve managed pretty well until now.
I haven’t written this blog for a while, but if you follow my other blogs you’ll know I’ve been settling in to my new life in Bristol really well and loving every minute of it. I can now walk to work (rather than using public transport), and it only takes about 30 minutes, so I spend a lot of time marching across town, getting lots of exercise. Every day I’m passed by countless speedy cyclists, whizzing along without a care in the world, and I admit I do sometimes feel pangs of jealousy. Not only is it a fast way to get from A to B, cycling looks like fun.
But I’ve lived in places with lots of cyclists before. In Japan people can cycle on the pavement and pretty much everyone rides a bike, it seems. I was a bit jealous then too, but I managed fine on my feet. By the time I had become an adult I had well and truly convinced myself that I wasn’t meant to be a cyclist. I was too big, probably had no sense of balance, and didn’t really need to cycle anyway.
Then, a few weeks ago something snapped inside me and I realised I was missing out. I was reading about an island in Japan that I’d like to visit someday, and how you can have so much fun if you just hire a bike there and cycle around, and I just thought “this is ridiculous”.
A quick Google led me straight to Life Cycle, a “small, energetic, innovative and committed Bristol-based charity helping local people transform their lives through cycling”. It said they offered free cycling lessons for adults living, working or studying in the Bristol City Council area, and I immediately signed up.
Signing up alone took a lot of nerve – this was a hell of a mountain I was about to conquer – but I knew I still had to actually go through with the lesson. In order to make sure I didn’t chicken out, I told everyone I was going to the lesson. It was embarrassing to not be able to cycle as an adult, but it would be worse to not even try to learn and have to tell people I hadn’t done it.
So, tonight I went along to a park to meet a woman with a bicycle. I was terribly nervous – scared that I would fall off and hurt myself, worried that I would look a fool, embarrassed about being an adult who couldn’t ride a bike. Fortunately my teacher was really kind, and reassured me that hundreds of adults can’t do things that other people take for granted, like cycling and swimming, and that she taught adults to ride bikes all the time. She really put me at ease and, although I was quite distracted by how silly I thought I must look, I managed to get on with it and have a go.
And, do you know what? I can do it!
I actually managed to ride a bike today, for the first time in my life. Of course, the teacher supported me at first, but before even half the lesson was up I was able to do it on my own (albeit with a bit of a wobble, and not necessarily in a straight line). I have two more free lessons, and I intend to make good use of them! Of course, at some point I shall need to buy a bike too, but I’m not going to try and run before I can cycle. 😉
I feel so proud of myself, not just because I could ride a bike, but because I was brave enough to have a go. I’m not writing this blog post to blow my own trumpet though, I’m writing it because I’d like to inspire others to get over their fears and jump the hurdles in their lives. Yes, it’s embarrassing if you can’t do something, for whatever reason, but there’s bound to be someone out there who can help you learn that skill or get over that fear. I’m so pleased that I didn’t just bookmark the page as “something to do one day” but that I actually went straight ahead and booked a lesson.
I’ll end with one of my favourite inspirational quotes:
“Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it… Boldness has genius, magic and power in it, begin it now!”
(Quote attributed to Goethe, but possibly from another source)
I don’t think I would ever have enough time to respond to all of WordPress’s ‘daily prompts’, but this year I hope to do some of them when the mood takes me. Today I feel the urge, so here I am responding to the challenge of sharing my favourite quote and explaining why it moves me.
Here’s the one quote I always return to:
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. (Mark Twain)
I think it’s fairly obvious why I like this quote – it’s all about following your dreams, throwing caution to the wind, and not being afraid to have a go. Although that’s not a philosophy I’ve always stuck to in my life, it is something that is generally in the back of my mind when I’m making big decisions (like when I quit a well paid job in publishing to go and live in Japan).
This quote usually comes to mind whenever I see the sea. The sea calms me, but also excites me, because it makes me think of adventures and travel. I love the idea of literally throwing off my bowlines and sailing away from the safe harbour, off into the distance, in search of adventure. We’ve got it all too easy these days, what with hoping on planes and being able to communicate so easily with people on the other side of the world. Sometimes I long for the days when people had to go on epic journeys because there was no other way to get from A to B, and when the journey was all part of the adventure. Now everything seems to be about how fast we can get from A to B, and how much we can distract ourselves with technology along the way. When we get to our destination, we already know what we’re going to find, because we’ve seen it all online already.
We must never forget to explore, dream, and discover, wherever we are.
2012 has been a busy year for me. I started a new job in August, which has kept me out of trouble, and I’ve been working hard outside of the day-job too, trying to get more freelance writing work and make more connections in the UK-Japan community in London and also with street artists in the UK. I haven’t written on AliMuskett.com as much as I would have liked to, but have been busy with Haikugirl’s Japan and Picturing England, my two main blogs.
Still, I’ve managed to post 54 times on AliMuskett.com and have received 15,487 views in total this year, which is wonderful! My top 5 posts in terms of views this year were:
1. Brainwashed in London (August 2012) – 932 views
2. An interview with graffiti artist Paul “DON” Smith (April 2012) – 766 views
3. Sex & the City? Do it yourself! (February 2012) – 312 views
4. The locks of love… (January 2012) – 233 views
5. Rave Art: Mr Brainwash & David Guetta know how to party (August 2012) – 213 views
As you can see, it’s been quite a year! I’ve really got into the street art scene in the UK, and hope to be able to meet up with some more artists next year and conduct a few more interviews. I’d also like to write more about London, because it really is an amazing place to live and there’s an awful lot going on here.
I’ve been looking at the handy annual report WordPress.com has produced for me, and was very interested to see that most of my readers this year have been from the UK, but that the US and Mexico (?!) are in second and third places, closely followed by Japan in fourth place and Spain and Canada in joint fifth place. It seems my blog is more international that I imagined, and I’m delighted to know that people all over the world are stopping by.
Wondering how people are finding my blog, I looked at the popular search terms which lead people to AliMuskett.com. The top five this year were all to do with the Big Egg Hunt, and yet my Big Egg Hunt post featuring photos of the 209 eggs I found hidden around London earlier this year didn’t quite make it into the top five posts (it was sixth, actually, with 178 views).
Anyway, enough of these statistics! Anyone who is following me on Twitter is probably wondering what’s got into this girl who used to hate stats so much at school, as this will be my third ‘2012 review’ post this afternoon! Thank you all for reading, whoever you are, and please do keep reading in 2013! Leave me some comments, introduce yourselves, suggest things you’d like to read about, and do get in touch if you’d like to discuss a review or interview, or some freelance writing work.
Happy New Year! See you in 2013!
When I was a teenager I didn’t fit in. In fact, as soon as I realised that I wasn’t like most of the other kids, I actively tried to do everything I could do be different from “the norm”. I thought other people were sheep, and rebelled against wearing labels or doing anything that was seen as mainstream. I dyed my hair every colour you can imagine, and got quite a lot of piercings. For anyone who’s interested, I looked like this.
My friends and I used to talk about how one day the “freaks” like us would rise up against the rest of the people. I had dreams about people coming up out of the sea like an army of pirates, ready to stand together and do battle against the people who tried to put us down.
I know now that I was just being a teenager, for the most part, but there is still an element of the non-conformist in me.
As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I really don’t care much for the Olympics. However, I felt that, as I was going to be in the area, I really ought to try to make the effort to be interested and watch the torch go by. It was, after all, probably the only chance I would ever get. I arrived at Great Eastern Street about half an hour before the torch was due, and there were already people lining the streets. I tried to feel their excitement, but couldn’t quite get in the mood. People banged on Coca-Cola sponsored drum things that were being handed out, drank free Coca-Cola and waved flags.
Prior to arriving, I had been at the Whitecross Street Party, dubbed “The Rise of the Non-Conformists”.
I had wandered up and down the street, happily snapping photographs of street art and artists at work, and generally soaking up the atmosphere. I chatted with the artist DON about his recent work and watched him stencilling a new piece out on the street.
Then I popped in a gallery and a lovely girl dabbed glitter on my face and took my photo to put on Facebook, and I felt like I belonged.
Standing waiting for the torch, I listened to some people talking next to me. They were full of almost obsessive excitement for the Olympics, and I felt like turning around and just asking them “why?”, but I didn’t. They wouldn’t have understood me any more than I understood them.
When the torch came by, it was all over in a flash and something of an anti-climax. I barely saw the guy who was carrying it, and didn’t have a clue who he was anyway.
So I headed back to Whitecross Street, back to my people. When I got back there, the streets were buzzing with life, colour, good smells and great sounds. Eating a delicious chocolate brownie, I happily mingled with the non-conformists, and watched an artist called INKFETISH painting this somewhat anti-Olympics piece…
And another artist called FETCH painting this:
Enjoy the Olympics if that’s your thing, but these are my people, and this is where I’ll be.
Quitting a job is a bit like finishing a relationship – you never know how the other person is going to take it. Sometimes there are tears, raised voices. They might even beg you to stay, tell you they’ll change or try to make you an offer you can’t refuse. Or perhaps they’ll just say “meh” and accept it. But you always know in your heart that you’ve done the right thing. No matter how good you felt when it started, no matter how sure you were this could be the one, you just know when it isn’t working and it’s time to move on.
In fact, it occurred to me recently that jobs and relationships actually have an awful lot in common. In both cases, aren’t we really just searching for “the one”?
When we’re young we have casual, part-time jobs and casual, non-committal relationships. These days, people often don’t really settle down until they’re over 25 – some take considerably longer. But by the time you reach your 30s you start to notice everyone around you getting more serious. Words like “career”, “commitment”, and “marriage” are used. As we grow older, we start looking for the one we can commit to for the long haul. Finding “the one” can be just as difficult if we’re searching for a career, or searching for a long-term relationship.
Like the pair of skinny jeans you look at longingly in H&M, sometimes we try things on just to see if they fit. I know I’m guilty of this when it comes to relationships and jobs (and skinny jeans). I’ve tried working in record stores and dating musicians, I’ve tried working in offices and dating men in suits. Just like the skinny jeans, you try them on even if you’re not sure they’re right for you. You try them on, but when you look in the mirror you just know something isn’t right, something doesn’t quite fit.
Dream jobs and dream relationships can both, in theory, be found online. I know a couple of friends who have recently found love through online dating websites – one even got married. In both cases, all you have to do is create an online profile and look for a match. Sometimes, they even come looking for you. But it’s not easy. There is a lot of rubbish out there, and you have to sift through a whole pile of lies before you can find the truth. Whether job hunting or looking for love you really shouldn’t lie on your resume, but you should be aware that others will not necessarily be as discerning. Both potential employers and potential partners might promise something they can’t deliver. We’ve all been there: you turn up for the date/interview and something feels wrong. He’s not quite as tall, dark and handsome as he said he was, or the office doesn’t look quite as bright and shiny as it looked on the website.
But sometimes you get lucky – whether it’s from a website, a newspaper, or through friends, it is possible to find “the one”. As far as my career goes, I’m feeling quite optimistic about the future. Since graduation I’ve tried various careers on, but none of them really fitted. However, in August I will be starting a new job at a company where I feel like I might be able to build a career and have a real future. I caught a glimpse of myself in the office window when I went for my interview, and it seemed to fit. It’s time for me to get serious, make a commitment, and build a future.
As for relationships, well I haven’t really had time for a while to be honest, but my eyes are open and I know “the one” must be out there somewhere…
As I walk through a cloud of hairspray and perfume I realise the true meaning of the expression “a fish out of water”. My fins are flapping and my gills desperately gasping in the foreign air.
London fashion week.
All around me are paparazzi pointing their lens at preening fashionistas. It’s sort of like being on safari. I walk past, utterly unnoticed, and slip in to the west wing of Somerset House, where I visit the Japan: International Fashion Showcase 2012 exhibition. Slipping out again, I squeeze past more models and photographers and hastily exit in my frumpy flat shoes. (I couldn’t go anywhere hastily in heels.)
(Image: London Fashion Week)
As I leave, a woman passes me. She is dressed entirely in black, head to toe. Her hair is black, her clothes are black. On her face she is wearing what appears to be a black pvc balaclava. Her legs are clad in a similar shiny plastic material. Her eyes are hidden behind large black sunglasses. She strides on high heels and is painfully thin. I wonder for a moment if it is Lady Gaga.
This is not my world.
Fa-fa-fa-fa fashion? Turn to the left. Turn to the right. Then run away. Fast.
I did it – I went out to play. I set my alarm for 6.30 this morning and went out just before sunrise. The snow was so thick and clean, and ready to be played in!
I decided to walk to Friary Park, which is only about 20 minutes away from my house (well, 30 minutes in the snow). On the way I passed a few men out scraping their cars. We exchanged good mornings and I marvelled at how snow makes people more friendly.
As I reached park, I couldn’t see another person. It was mine.
Armed with a few accessories, I built a little snowman:
It’s actually quite hard to build a good snowman and, as you can see, I’m not very skilled when it comes to snow sculpting!
I liked my quirky little creation though.
As I stomped through the snow I saw a couple of other people, but it was still very quiet. When no one was looking, I made a snow angel:
(Not easy to take a photo of it though!)
There was one dog in the park, and he was about as excited as me!
As I crunched back home I felt very satisfied and happy (and wet). Playing in the snow – fun and free! 😀