Meet Monty the penguin – nice one John Lewis

Monty 3

Yes, it’s that time of year again. The time when people complain at those who mention Christmas is on its way, the time when you have to choose your menu for the work Christmas meal, the time when Secret Santa’s are organised, and the time when the Christmas adverts come out. For me, I really feel the Christmas spirit when I see the Coca Cola advert, but I haven’t yet. What I have seen however is John Lewis’ new gift to the nation. And it involves a penguin. Called Monty. A PENGUIN CALLED MONTY.

John Lewis always have a touch of magic about their Christmas adverts. I particularly enjoyed last year’s animation (which involved a bear and a hare – see a theme there?) because the concept was so clever. If you don’t recall, the bear always missed Christmas because he was hibernating, so the hare – being a wonderful friend – bought him an alarm clock to go off on Christmas Day, so he could spend it with the other animals. Touching, personal, SIMPLE.

I came in to work this morning and my boss played the new advert to a few of us – I work for an advertising agency, so it’s not unusual to do this. With a soundtrack by Tom Odell, it starts off featuring Pingu, so naturally I was hooked from the off. I used to love that show. But what I love most about the John Lewis adverts is the story which they tell, this time through the eyes of a young boy. He has a best friend, Monty the penguin, who he goes everywhere with. At the start I wondered where the advert was going – and what it had to do with John Lewis – but it all unfolds beautifully. By the end, my eyes were a little glassy. I am not ashamed to admit it. My boss took the piss, but was equally as complimentary about the advert as I was. And it only cost John Lewis £1 million to make!

Advertising which has an emotional effect is, in my opinion, the most powerful. Add to that humour, a cute kid, an even more cute animal, and you have a winning formula. Animals, or ‘cute looking things’ like Zingy are particular popular – look what Aleksandr the Compare the Market meercat did? Some clever advertising created a whole new business stream.

Having said that, some charities really play on emotional advertising and I often feel uncomfortable watching those. They are designed to make you feel bad, whereas I challenge anyone not to feel at least a little uplifted by John Lewis’ new offering. It’s just an advert, but it unlocks feelings in me. Perhaps I’m emotionally vulnerable, in a way, but I like that. I like being able to feel. And everyone loves a good story.

Other company adverts which have really impressed me of late are Marks & Spencer – serious food porn, nailed – and Lidl, which is doing an impressive job of changing perceptions. Lidl have just released their new Christmas advert which is in the link.

What kind of adverts get you engaged? What do you think of the Christmas offerings so far? And, most importantly, how much do you love Monty?


I’m in NoFit State for aerial skills

Bianco Nofit State circus Cardiff

As I write this, the morning after the night before, my hands have not entirely recovered from the rope burn. Bruises are starting to form on my feet and the bottom of my legs. Don’t worry, not the cause of anything sinister. As part of my campaign for change this year I, perhaps foolishly and definitely impulsively, signed up for an 8 week aerial skills class at the NoFit State circus in Cardiff.

I first stumbled across this circus a few months ago when they were performing their show Bianco in a big silver top right in the heart of my adopted city. I can’t remember actually going to a circus before, maybe I did as a child, but I read a book called The Night Circus last year and adored it. So when Bianco was on, I was desperate to experience it. And what an experience it was. It was like stepping into another world. Mesmerizing and beautiful, I watched the performers put their souls into the show, making their bodies do incredible abnormal things, and enchanting the crowd as they did so. I went home blown away and giddy by what I had seen.

When I was on a Googleing frenzy a few weeks ago I discovered that NoFit State were running classes in a variety of skills for total beginners. Me, in fervent fantasy of flying, whipped the credit card out there and then for the aerial skills class. I imagined myself flipping from one flying trapeze to another, twirling my way round a hoop, wrapping myself up in silks mid-air, and thought yes, this one’s for me.

When watching a show, you obviously appreciate that the circus performers have trained really hard to be able to perform to such an amazing standard, and you understand that a serious amount of core strength and agility is required to be able to do the things they do, but it wasn’t until yesterday that I realised quite how much. And that’s by literally just pricking my finger on the top of the iceberg.

Turning up on my own with the typical worries that every other person in the class would have gone with a friend, I was surprised at how many people were there. After a decent warm up we were split into groups and told that the word ‘can’t’ wasn’t in our trainer’s vocabulary. Uh oh.

My first task was the rope. A simple ‘Classic’ climb. Hmm, simple for koalas yes. But after a few attempts I just about grasped the basics, even if my poor little size fives were suffering for it. We learnt a second ‘Russian’ climb, an upside down straddle, and eventually a foot-lock, which I didn’t quite manage. For me the most difficult part was merely holding myself up. When I’m on that rope I feel like I am the weight of a blue whale, and my arms are just too weak to keep me there for long enough. Perhaps a sign that I shouldn’t have given up crossfit…

Towards the end of the session I moved on to the trapeze, which was slightly less painful on the tootsies. The main challenge was preventing the trapeze from wobbling about too much. We made a couple of shapes from sitting and standing positions and at one point my arms just decided to fail me and I performed what one trainer described as an ‘epic dismount’. By which she meant definitely not epic.

It’s fair to say that I have an entirely new, and utmost, respect for circus performers.

After the class my hands ached so much I almost had to use both of them to put the car into reverse. When I got home Olly asked if I enjoyed myself. I did, but I hate that feeling of not being very good at something. I’ve always been competitive, especially against myself, and when I was younger I was able to do pretty much whatever I put my mind to. But this journey I’m on at the moment is all about putting myself out there, stepping outside the comfort zone, doing something new. If I don’t like it, it doesn’t matter. If I’m rubbish at it, at least I had fun trying. Just because you’re scared of the idea of something, or you don’t know what you’re letting yourself in for, do it anyway. If you don’t, are you really living?

Fingers crossed (I actually just tried and it hurts) I can see an improvement in my skills next week, and the week after that. I’ll sure as hell turn up with a positive attitude every time.

Lifestyle changes

Lifestyle changes

I’ve been away, and now I’m back. And now that I’m back, I need to address some things. The first is this vicious circle of tiredness that I’ve found myself in. As I’ve described before, I find it immensely difficult to tear myself out of my pit in the mornings and I wish it was easier to jump out of bed and feel full of energy from the moment my alarm goes off. Ok, so maybe that’s a little too optimistic, but I just can’t deal with the feeling of dread when ‘that time’ comes. Surely it shouldn’t be so hard? The colder days make peeling off the warm duvet and relinquishing my cocoon even more unbearable. But I’ve really started to ask myself why? Why do I feel just as tired in the mornings as I did when I went to bed? Why do I spend my afternoons yawning at my computer screen? Why do I feel constantly lethargic and use that as an excuse not to do things?

Yesterday I was having a little relax on the sofa after work while Olly was at football and I decided to have some bread. I cut a hunky chunk of three cheese loaf and ate it. It was so good I decided to have another chunk. Now, white bread isn’t healthy, and I’m pleased to say I very rarely have it, but yesterday I had enough to feed a small army of ducks. About half an hour after the devouring I felt awful. And it really got me thinking. How much of what I put into my body is affecting how tired I feel? Affecting how good I feel FULL STOP?

I was one of those kids that did every sport under the sun. When I got older I chose the sports to focus on and exercised a lot. This meant that even if my diet wasn’t fantastic, I would still feel fine because I was active. These days, exercise takes a back seat. I also eat the things I want to eat, rather than the things I should eat. I would prefer that this wasn’t the case, but recently I’ve had other priorities. I think it’s about time that those priorities changed a bit. So, here’s the plan.

1. Become a green machine. Vegetables are far from my best friend, but I feel we need to become better acquainted. This means doing some serious juicing and getting the steamer out more often. I also need to cut down on the sugar and, in line with number 2 below, up my protein.

2.  Get off my arse. Being tired means I don’t often feel like exercising, but if I don’t exercise then I’m not going to feel energetic or rejuvenated. Basically, I need to put in to get out. I’m not playing netball any more so I need to find a substitute. I’m starting something very new and exciting next week, but that’s not enough. I need to get back in the pool because I do actually love to swim (SO IT MAKES SENSE) and maybe even do some home workouts. YES Jane Fonda. Umm maybe not.

3. Early nights. The body clock needs to be in a good place for me to be in a good place.

I’m keeping it simple. I’m fed up of feeling like a lump and I know things can’t change overnight, but I do need to try harder to be good to myself. I’ll never be a preacher of ‘my body is a temple’ – depriving yourself of the things you like means depriving yourself of an element of joy – but now that I’m getting older *sob* I do need to be more careful about my health and my lifestyle. Me 8 years ago would be pretty ashamed of me today.

Living for the present v living for the future


I have always been someone who looks towards the future. Someone who thinks that what I’m doing at a certain point in time isn’t good enough and I want to move onto the next thing. Because then, life will be better. My mother would corroborate this. When I was in primary school, I wanted to go to ‘big’ school. When in secondary school, I wanted to go to university. When at university, I wanted to start my career. And so on. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the times I spent doing any of those things, but it meant that I wasn’t always living in the present. I was always looking towards the next step. This isn’t always helped by circumstances. For example, I studied Law at university and you have to start applying for training contracts at the end of the first year, because so many firms recruit two years in advance. This forces you to think about your future. Where you want to be, what you want to be doing.

I do still do this now, to an extent. One of the reasons I left my job as a lawyer was because I simply couldn’t see myself doing it in five years’ time. In this respect, evaluating how I wanted my future to look was a good thing, because it meant I changed path sooner rather than later. Luckily, making that change was the right thing to do. But although I’ve found a job I’m really happy doing and feel settled within it, I still can’t help thinking ‘what’s next?’ Not in terms of job – I hope to stay where I am for a long time and grow organically with the business – but in terms of life. I’ve been living in my one-bed flat for just over four years now, and it’s great. Ideal location, generous size, lovely inside. It’s served me exceptionally well. When Olly moved in a couple of years ago, it was a squeeze. But we have worked around the space issue and, generally, it’s just fine. But sometimes, I do want more indoor space. And almost all of the time, I want outdoor space. The answer? I want to move to a bigger house with a garden. The flat just doesn’t cut the mustard any more. Cue becoming obsessed with Rightmove and becoming ridiculously excited by the idea of having a shiny new home.

Olly isn’t quite on the same page. Why do we need to move now? We are happy where we are. And it’s true, we are happy where we are. But I had started to see all the flaws in where we lived and was focused only on how our life could be improved by living elsewhere, instead of thinking about all the positive things which our current circumstances offer and how good we already have it.

What I’m learning is that it’s fine to look towards your future. In fact, it’s important to do so. People should always have dreams and ambitions. But equally, it’s important not to become so immersed in how you want your future to be that you don’t appreciate what you already have today. So I’ve taken my foot off the moving house pedal. Our flat is warm and cosy in the winter, I no longer have to wear corporate clothing for my job so I can clear some more space in the wardrobe, and the lack of garden can force us to get out the house even more in the summer. I actually have it really good, and I’m lucky. So I need to spend more time appreciating the present and less time mapping out the future. I’m a complete believer in fate, and as much as we can try and master our own destinies, what will be will be.

So be an optimist, or at least a realist. Even if you think your life or the things in it are not the way you want them, turn your thinking around. There are always silver linings floating around, you just need to find them and change your attitude. If you live too much for the future, your present will pass you by. And there could be a whole lot of happy that you miss out on.

Guest post – Introducing Lifesmile Scribbler

Delighted to have been asked to guest post for the beautiful Buttercup Belle!

The first of this month’s guest posts is from Suzanne Hoare of Lifesmile Scribbler.  I’m lucky enough to count Suz as a good friend of mine.  Her bravery and infectious positivity continues to inspire me day after day.   It is with great pleasure I kick off October’s sponsored posts with a few words from her creative little brain.  Enjoy!

me smiling black frameHi there! My parents named me Suzanne at birth and I’ve been called that ever since, but most of the time I answer to Suz. It’s lovely to meet you in this virtual space where Amber, aka Buttercup Belle, has so kindly allowed me to scribble.

I’m pretty new to blogging. WordPress boggles my mind, it amazes me how people from all over the world find my site, and I haven’t got a clue what HTML stands for. But, I am relishing being part of an enormous online community…

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The start of change, a terrible sense of direction, and my first pottery class

Pottery throwing

This year I have decided to focus on CHANGE.  Mix things up a bit.  Try something different.  When I moved back to Cardiff a few years ago and knew almost no-one I decided to stay in my comfort zone, which meant joining a local netball club to play the sport I had played since I was almost a dot.  I still love the sport but, as with anything competitive, it comes with its stresses.  Stress is now off my agenda.  I’ve already parted ways with a stressful job (ok, make that two stressful jobs, but more about that another day) and now I’m all about doing new things which bring me enjoyment, fun, and zero anxiety.  Well, that’s the plan.

Item #1 on the agenda: pottery.  I wouldn’t describe myself as enormously crafty, but an interest has certainly been sparked in that department recently and I’m keen to explore it.  If I put my mind to something, I can be surprisingly creative.  Earlier in the year I watched Monty Don’s Real Craft and found it fascinating, the pottery episode in particular.  So a few weeks back I got my big balls out and somewhat compulsively booked on an open course at the Cardiff School of Art and Design (check them out, they run some amazing ones).  Yesterday was the first class.  I gave myself half an hour to get there.  Plenty of time even in rush hour traffic.

My Dad has always been bitterly disappointed that his eldest daughter failed to inherit his sense of direction (he was probably a homing pigeon in a former life, whereas I must have been a magpie because I like shiny things and I annoy people).  But I looked the venue up on a map before I left and I was completely confident I did not need a satnav because it was seriously easy to find.  Note to self: NEVER BELIEVE THAT AGAIN.  I ended up going on and on up this busy road before concluding that the enormous university building definitely was not situated along it, and proceeded to take a right into a no-through road suitable only for miniature items (items excluding Vauxhall Corsas).  Attempting to manoeuvre myself back round probably took about 10 minutes and a 100 point turn (so by this time I was already late for the class), but what makes it that much worse is that I had a slight significant altercation with a miniature WALL in doing so.  Cue crunching noise, removed paintwork and a small dent.  Oh, and lots of stress.

When I finally rocked up at the flipping campus I just wanted to cry.  But tears were not going to create masterful pots of beauty, oh no.  So I located a hairy person from the student union to guide me through the building maze and I eventually reached my destination.

Attempting, and almost succeeding, to forget about my vehicle woes I threw myself into pottery throwing (ha), a thoroughly therapeutic activity.  My first pot went slightly wonky and thus became a strange jug, my second broke in half so became a large egg cup, and my third became an actual, if slightly uneven, pot.  It’s something that looks so easy, but requires real skill to do well.  I guess that’s why it’s a craft.  Our teacher was wonderful, if a little potty (oh stop) and I’m pretty excited to see how I progress over the course.  There’s a surprising amount of different elements involved with pottery, beyond throwing on the wheel, and I wonder which I’ll take to best.  I just hope my creations don’t blow up in the kiln.

Oh and friends, you all know what you’ll be getting for Christmas.

I heart X Factor and I’m not ashamed to admit it

X factor

Yesterday was pretty perfect.  A lie-in (always an absolute winner in my book), an afternoon surfing in the refreshing, but somewhat murky, waters of Porthcawl, a deliciously hot shower, cosy clothes, a take-away curry and the televised dramas of X Factor.  Just thinking about it makes me feel all fuzzy inside.

X Factor is one of those programmes people love to hate, but I just love it.  The changes on the judging panel have seen my love waver (ok, and the sob stories, and the decisions which bamboozle the entire country), but this year my love is well and truly MAXED OUT.  Why?  One word.  Cheryl.  She.  Is.  Back.  I cannot really describe how I feel about this woman.  She is, in my eyes (not Olly’s thank GOD), the most beautiful creature I have ever seen.  And I’m straight.

I have had a slight obsession with Mrs Fernandez-Versini since the days of Popstars: The Rivals (umm, see a theme here?) when she was, let’s be honest, a chav with a terrible singing voice.  But, I saw the potential.  And, sure enough, she blossomed.  It’s been over a decade and my love is still going strong.  To the point where, when X Factor shows a close up of her face, I move closer to the TV.  I’ve seen Girls Aloud twice, I own all her solo albums even though her singing hasn’t much improved, and when Olly is out I watch her tour DVD.  I could stare at the woman all day.  It’s a wonder I haven’t got a photo of her on my fridge.  Hang on…

The difference between being alone and being lonely


Some people might consider being alone and being lonely to be the same thing, but I disagree.  Sure, there are cross-overs, but they can also have distinct differences.  I am very good at being alone.  I am not at all good at being lonely.  The biggest difference I see is the choice you have: a person can choose to be alone, but does not choose to be lonely.

When I bought my flat aged 22 I made the decision to live on my own, something which may seem unusual.  Many others I knew at that age chose to live with friends, or at least flat share with people they had found on the internet.  Sometimes a person can’t afford to live alone even if they wanted to, I understand that, but for me the decision was more about being able to do exactly what I wanted, when I wanted.  And if the place got messy, I could only be mad at myself.  I loved coming home from work in the evenings to a cosy warm flat, dancing like no-one was watching (because no-one was), singing in the shower, leaving the washing up till I could be bothered to do it and, on occasion, watching TV till 1am (luckily I had kicked the habit of late night quiz shows in university, my god those awful programmes were addictive).

Basically, I was more than happy to be alone.  Oddly, perhaps, I have always enjoyed the company of me, myself and I.  I can socialise with others when I choose to, not because I have to.  I have always been good at saying no.  I’m not anti-social, but I’ve never been the biggest people person.  There always comes a time when I long for peace and quiet.  On a night out (rare these days), there always comes a point where I visualise my bed and then want to leave.

Now that Olly lives with me I don’t get a lot of time to be alone, but this is fine because he’s my best friend.  I can be completely myself around him (so yes, he’s seen plenty of crazy dance moves) and if I don’t want to talk, I don’t have to.  Despite this, it’s still important to take some time and space from each other.  It allows you to be immersed only in your own thoughts, without the contamination of anyone else’s for a little while.  Always good for perspective and reflection.  But when I don’t want to be alone any more, I can choose not to be.

Loneliness is a whole other ball game.  You can be lonely when you are alone, but you can also be lonely in a room brimming with other people.  You can be lonely sitting next to your best friend and not being able to say what you are dying to say.  You can be lonely even if you have a hundred friends.  Loneliness is consuming.  It is an emptiness inside which longs to be filled.  The absence of choice separates it from simply ‘being alone’.

At one of the law firms I used to work for, we held a coffee morning for members of the charity Contact the Elderly, which brings together elderly men and women who are missing companionship in their lives.  After speaking to many of them, it became clear that they lived for these meetings.  These meetings kept them going.  They looked forward to them and were disappointed when they were over.  Did this mean that they felt lonely the rest of the time?  That they felt they had no-one to talk to?  No-one to just keep them company?  For a lot of them it did unfortunately mean this.  But they were so grateful to have a place where that loneliness went away, even if it was just for a short while.

Everyone has experienced being alone at some point, and most people will have felt some sort of loneliness too.  But the latter is a negative feeling.  It is a feeling that something is missing, rather than a feeling of reflecting upon what is there.  Loneliness can be a craving for interaction with other people, while being alone can be a desperate need to escape from others.

What do you think the differences are?