The Woes of Resting Bitch Face

So I’ve recently returned from a positively lovely weekend in Hertford visiting friends from Uni.

I traveled on the overnight National Express bus on Thursday, arriving almost without a hitch in Stevenage bus station at 7am on Friday. I was met there by Tamara – one of my housemates from first and second year – who had brought me the world’s most appreciated flask of hot, milky, sugary tea, ready for our connecting train to the beautiful Hertford. If there’s one thing you learn about each other whilst living together for two years at Uni, it’s how people like their tea! You drink a lot of that shit and you can’t be seen to be dodging putting-the-kettle-on duties. That is of course unless you’re me, as my cuppas are in many ways like snowflakes, fingerprints or a tiger’s stripes, i.e. no two cups of tea that I have ever made have been the same (in taste, colour, temperature, consistency). So I was practically begged not to make them.

In fact the first (and one of the last) times I offered to make a ’round’ of teas was in my first year of Uni and it really was a sight to behold. Although most people asked for them exactly the same we were able to spend 10 minutes once they were made arranging them in order of colour, from deepest brown to murky grey.

It’s just occurring to me now actually that it’s fairly fitting that I should meet Tamara at a bus stop after not seeing her for a few months. After all I actually met her for the first time, along with the rest of my 1st year adoptive flatmates, in the same place (a bus stop I mean, not specifically a bus stop in Stevenage – the original one was in Sunderland). It was the morning after my utterly disastrous first night out in our campus bar, where I made what you wouldn’t so much call friends, as mildly uncomfortable acquaintances whom for quite a while I harboured the desire to poke enthusiastically in the eyes. The 4 girls I went out with decided at around 1am that they didn’t want to wait any longer for a 6-seater taxi and got into a regular one, leaving me stood on my own without a clue of where I was. Anyway the next day, carrying on the theme from that gloriously Inbetweeners-esque episode, I was being the way cool guy that I always have been and heading to Uni to register on my lonesome, definitely contemplating in some dark recess of my mind calling Mammy and making her come get me; when I bumped into Becca, Fee, Sophie and Tamara, at the bus stop outside my halls. After a day that consisted of us registering then wandering aimlessly around town together struggling to understand each other’s accents, followed by the succession of rather messy nights out that comprised our Fresher’s Week, I promptly more or less moved into their flat, proceeding to use the room in my flat across the car park as a glorified (and expensive) wardrobe for the next 8 months. The rest, as they say, is history.

Anyway back to my journey, I say it went almost without a hitch because there was a bit of a dodgy 30 minutes there when we were stuck in traffic outside Milton Keynes (at 5:30am, these Southerners need to learn to go to sleep) and I was perilously close to missing my second bus from Milton Keynes to Stevenage. Thankfully I didn’t and was spared the joys of waiting in a cold and not entirely safe bus station for 4 hours, for another bus!

I’m happy to report, though, that my falling-asleep-in-public skills did come in very handy on this outgoing journey and I slept for a good few hours of it.

The return journey on Monday was a lot shorter and marginally more comfortable, which was much appreciated after a weekend during which the ratio of hours spent asleep and hours spent consuming alcohol was a very enjoyable one, but not without it’s negative consequences. I got the train from Hertford-Stevenage then Stevenage-Newcastle, followed by the Metro to Four Lane Ends and a lift home from there.

The first thing I learned from the weekend’s is that I desperately need to pass my driving test and invest in a car.

The second issue that was thrown into the limelight of my irritatingly over-active consciousness during all of this time spent on public transport, was my chronic Resting Bitch Face (RBF if you will).

Now I have been aware for a long while that I possess this affliction, so it’s not like I experienced some kind of awful epiphany whilst travelling over the weekend, about the fact that at any time when I am not actively talking to someone, smiling at something, or laughing, I tend to have – to use what I think is the most accurate and simplest description – a face-like-a-smacked-arse.

I already knew this.

The clues have always been there in the frankly unnecessary amount of times I am told by friends to smile, or – slightly but not much less often – asked if I’m OK.

I don’t know what causes this phenomenon and I know I’m not by any means the only one to experience it. I guess my face just likes to screw me over.

This is a classic example from many, many moons ago and an absolute favourite snap of mine, don’t I just look thrilled to be alive…

Resting Bitch Face (RBF) at it’s Absolute Best

Anyway, what I do know is that when you spend hours on end on your own on board public transport where there are strangers in the form of other passengers, this issue can be greatly highlighted.

I also have quite a tendency, owing to the aforementioned over-active brain and the amount of thinking that it insists on doing at all times, to stare off into the distance (or what I believe at the time is the distance) for often undetermined periods of time. Now the problem arises on occasions – and there have been many – when my eye line towards said distance happens to be inconveniently occupied by another human, or as in the following example, another passenger.

Basically what I’m saying is that when you’re sitting on a bus across from the same guy for 7 hours+ and you haven’t said hello or otherwise acknowledged him – because it’s an overnight bus and nobody wants to make small talk that will only serve to prevent themselves and others from being asleep – it comes as an unpleasant surprise when you find that said fellow passenger is looking at you uncomfortably out of the corner of their eye  – and realise that you’ve been staring straight at them, most likely looking vaguely angry, for who knows how long.

Happily this happened not long before I was able to escape from that bus and get on a different one, so I didn’t have to feel like a big weirdo for too long.

It’s no wonder really that even though I don’t think I’m too much of a social catastrophe most of the time – although I definitely do have my spectacularly embarrassing moments, much to the enjoyment of my closest friends – I can give off a not-so-agreeable first impression.

It’s not just the once that I’ve been told by a friend that when they first met me they thought I was anti-social, or not-so-diplomatically, “a bit ignorant.”

A few years ago when I worked at McDonald’s, some of my work mates broke the news that when I first started, they couldn’t believe that I was the daughter of Aileen, one of their favourite semi-regular customers, because Aileen was really nice!

I think the problem is that I’m shy and nervy when I first meet people but I don’t think that comes across, as I’m also really quite chatty and loud, pretty much at all times. And especially when I’m nervous, call it a defence mechanism. So mix that together with an accidentally constant Resting Bitch Face and you can see why I may not always an immediate hit!

And let’s face it, the high sarcasm levels don’t always help.

Basically, if I was a friends character I’d be Chandler, every time!

The Lesson of Emotions

A lot of work has gone into this post by my good friend. I’m sure writing it was therapeutic for him but the main intention is clearly to make other people smile. Well worth investing 10 minutes in!


“What is luck? It is not only chance, it is also creating the opportunity, recognising it when it is there, and taking it when it comes.”

Natasha Josefowitz

Life truly can be a tricky ol’ thing at times. Sometimes, we feel as if we are at the peak of our existence. At other times, almost within one split second, we can feel as if our world can come spiralling down on us, whether it all comes at once, or whether it takes its ‘roller coaster route’: starts out slow and then throws what seems like a million light speed twists and turns that can leave you feeling physically sick.

Occasionally, you can come across a person that can learn to take the good with the bad and shrug it off almost as if it never happened. But for some, the suffering of anguish is an all-too familiar feeling. I would…

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Time to Talk – my 5 minutes

I had a rubbish morning at work today.

Over the last week or so my head has been pretty busy. I described it to my driving instructor the other day as feeling like my brain is a washing machine with two drums, one in front of the other. One is furiously spinning clockwise on the highest setting and the other’s doing the same, except it’s going round the other way. The thoughts/worries/concerns/whatever you want to call them, are at times inseparable from each other and just sort of buzz around in there, while I try to ignore them. Until one particularly persistent one escapes from the tumbling masses and sticks temporarily to the back of the glass door, demanding that I stress about it.

When my head is like this, trying to relax is pretty much futile. Watching TV or listening to music usually involves hitting pause every now and then because my internal monologue has been disrupted and I become worried that I’ve lost track of what I was worrying about. So I track back through the path of worries that lead up to the forgotten worry until I remember what it was and manage to convince myself it doesn’t need worrying about. As for reading? Let’s just say it’s a lot more difficult than it used to be. But then I suppose it is for most people. Growing up means you have things to think about and demands on your time. I doubt many adults can sit and read for 2 or 3 hours without getting distracted, like I used to as a kid. I definitely miss switching off and getting lost in a book. That’s a lot more rare these days.

Anyway when my head’s behaving in this fashion, the noticeable result is that it’s pretty hard to focus and concentrate, or to remember things. It came up in conversation when my instructor was asking me how I can be so intelligent (his words, and only shared here because it helps make the point, not because I’m an insufferably arrogant tool – I promise I’m not) and yet so ditzy and forgetful.

Well the answer’s pretty simple. Sometimes my head feels so busy with all of the completely pointless day-to-day crap that I worry about, that it actually feels like there physically isn’t room for anything new. When my head is at its worst, concentration isn’t an easy thing to achieve.

So yeah, concentration was doing its very best to allude me at work today. I was working on something that required a certain degree of brain engagement and for the first hour or so of the morning it just was not happening. Things quickly deteriorated as I allowed my mind to wander in the direction of a couple of things I needed to do when I got home.

Now I’ve had years of experience in trying to figure out how this head of mine ticks, and I’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way. Some days my brain allows me to go merrily about my business, content to work away in the background doing all the amazing things it does, reminding me to breath and blink and how to put one foot in front of the other. Other days, or sometimes even just for an hour or 2 out of a day, it becomes a wee bit more attention seeking. It fires a constant barrage of worries at me that make it a lot more difficult than I feel like it should be, to concentrate or to relax, to achieve things which require me to think about them – such as writing posts for this blog – or to switch off and enjoy hanging out with friends or family, or watching a movie.

As I said I have learned a lot of lessons about myself over the last 10+ years. One of the major silver linings that I have taken from having experienced OCD, anxiety disorders and depression, is that I know myself and what makes me happy, so much better than I would imagine most people do in their early- (OK then mid-) 20s. That doesn’t mean that
I think I understand myself completely, of course I don’t and I don’t think anyone ever really does. But I’ve pulled through from some pretty dark places and I’ve learned lessons I’ll never forget about what I need in my life – and what I don’t. For me it’s about being around my family; not ignoring the little things because I’m too busy hating the fact that I’m not perfect; and reminding myself that it’s OK to be an individual. And talking, all of the time.

Today, to address how I was feeling I took 10 minutes out and wrote down a to-do list. I hated doing it because it meant having to face up to the racing thoughts that I had been doing my best to ignore for an hour before hand. But I knew that it would help, so eventually I faced up and did it. And it did help, although I didn’t stop stressing all together and I’m still convinced now that I missed something really important.

Today has been a busy-brain day and I knew early this morning that it was going to be. I don’t have complete control over the times when my brain decides to act like this and I probably never will. But I did what I could and it allowed me to get on with the work that I needed to do. It allowed me to get on with my day and to leave work in the end in a pretty good mood, after having an afternoon that was a lot better than my morning.

Why am I telling you all of this? Well today is Time to Talk Day, and Time to Change along with other organizations are encouraging everyone to take 5 minutes out of their day to talk about mental health. It’s part of a much bigger campaign to end mental health stigma through open and honest conversation.

So this was my five minutes.

I think the Time to Talk initiative is fantastic and it’s amazingly positive for the campaign to end stigma around mental health issues, so I will be logging my 5 minutes on the Time to Change website.

What about the Wealthy Pregnant-smokers?

My initial reaction to the news that cash incentives are being considered for sucessfully quitting smoking whilst pregnant, was total shock. I was completely astounded that anyone would suggest it, even more so that enough people would go along with it, or give it the time of day, for it to become a talking point.

After reading more and chatting about it, I’ve simmered down a little, as is usually the case because my reactions do tend to be a little ‘knee-jerk’ at times. Having read, talked and thought more about it though, I can see some of the reasons that a scheme like this is being considered.

But realistically, can we really go there? Can we really be comfortable with rewarding parents for finding more motivation in the promise of £400 than in the increased likelihood of having a healthy baby?

Let me explain my thinking here because I really do not mean to over-simplify things or throw around accusations…

To be clear about my position, I am a non-smoker and I have never carried a child. I’ve been around children all of my life, I have 5 brothers and sisters, a niece and two nephews and I consider myself to be pretty maternal. I don’t particularly like it when I see a pregnant woman smoking, as I’m sure most people will agree with what we now know about cigarettes, it’s never a very nice thing to see.

That said, I am not passing judgement on mothers who cannot quit smoking when pregnant. As I’ve said, I’m not a smoker and have never been pregnant, I’m not in a position to understand the reasons why some people cannot quit. I have both friends and family who haven’t been able to stop smoking while they were pregnant, as well as both family and friends who have.

I can also say with confidence that some of the best and most devoted mothers that I have the privilege to know and to learn from, have been unable to stop smoking while pregnant. Some were ill-informed about the dangers (and yes that is still the case even today, in some cases), some didn’t believe it was as dangerous as they were told, and some just simply could not stop.

It isn’t called an addiction for nothing.

To be addicted to something is to be both ‘physically and mentally dependent‘ on it. So as much as I hate it and would love everyone that I care about to stop doing it forever, tomorrow, it’s clear that smoking can become a significant physical and psychological element of people’s lives. Therefore surely it follows that as pregnancy is a time of massive change and anxiety in the best of cases, quitting smoking at that time may not be quite as easy as it sounds.

What I can’t find any wiggle room with though, no matter how much I try and what angle I look at it from, is this…

Surely if you can stop smoking for £400 worth of shopping vouchers, then you were always capable of quitting for the health of your child.

I am all for providing as much support as possible for women to quit when, and if possible even before, they are pregnant (the same goes for their partners, who are just as responsible and whose fumes can also harm the baby). Anything that can help increase the amount of babies born 100% healthy is always worth spending money on, as far as I’m concerned.

But to me this just seems like a way of continuing to encourage the attitude that is so rampant across a lot of our country (we are actually, on the whole, a pretty privileged society after all, whether we care to admit it or not) that everything, perhaps even the wellbeing of our children, is someone else’s responsibility. “If they give me money to stop, then I’ll be able to stop, but if I’m being left to do it alone, how am I supposed to manage?” That sort of thing.

The idea is to offer vouchers in stages, totalling £400 throughout the pregnancy, as a reward for succesfully engaging with smoking cessation services which already exist. That’s right, services that already exist and that you can access for free. So if you want that type of support (and think that it may work for you) it’s there. If you think that type of service will help you, then join it. If you do engage in these services but find you are unable to successfully quit (i.e. you’re supposedly one of the women targeted by this scheme), that is not something that I at least, would ever judge you for. But what I don’t understand is how on earth the addition of shopping vouchers could make a difference?

Put simply, if you are so addicted (which I fully believe you can be) that you cannot quit for your baby, how can you do it for money?

And thinking more generally, how could waves of people engaging in these services for no reason other than to take home their voucher, achieve lasting results?

Anyway, I don’t buy the idea that money is a motivator and certainly not one strong enough to convince a body and a mind that they no longer need nicotine. If I’m wrong and it is an effective motivator, then why is the money to be saved by not buying the cigarettes, not motivation enough to quit? With cigarettes costing what they do now, even when they are self-rolled and/or bought from a good friend who happens to go abroad a lot, it wouldn’t take most people that long to save £400 by giving them up. Probably less than 9 months, put it that way.

So say it’s true that the vouchers will in most cases be spent on essentials that the mothers-to-be cannot otherwise afford, then why would the money saved by quitting, not have the same effect?

The other thing that didn’t jump out at me when I first heard about the idea but seems obvious now that it has occured to me, is that this idea seems to suggest that someone, somewhere, is labouring under the frankly pretty disturbing assumption that the significant majority of people who don’t give up smoking when pregnant, are those who are in a financial position to see £400 of shopping vouchers as a reason to do something that they wouldn’t have otherwise been capable of doing. What about the wealthy people who don’t give up? They surely won’t see £400 given to them in instalments as an added motivation, certainly not a strong enough one to help them battle an addiction that has been likened many times, in it’s addictiveness, to heroine.

So here’s what I think may be the most important question to ask about this research – is an assumption being made that smoking throughout pregnancy somehow correllates with an individual’s financial situation, or dare I suggest it, their social class?

What Sisters are For

The men in my family aren’t doing too badly for themselves when it comes to ladyfolk.

My eldest brother who’s 27 years young has a beautiful wife. They were married last summer and we were all so happy to have her join the family. She’s a wonderful girl and adores my big bro (I figure we all have our faults, so we don’t judge her for that one)!

The middle brother is 21 and he’s engaged to a lovely girl who has even managed to get him hoovering on a regular basis and cooking more than beans on toast, which was always going to be an impressive feat, so serious brownie points there!

As for the littlest brother, whom I probably can’t get away with calling little in any sense of the word any more, he’s just-turned 16 and seems out of nowhere to have become a good looking, strapping young bloke. Hopefully he never reads this though, we don’t want that noggin getting over-inflated. It is my sisterly duty to keep him down to earth after all and that’s not done successfully by dishing out the compliments too generously! Anyway, my not-so-little brother has a lovely girlfriend, who’s an older woman, no less!

So they’re not doing badly at all, my merry band of brothers.

However despite all of the above, I was still surprised, amused and quite frankly reduced to coo-ing like a broody 20-something at a toddler’s nativity play the other day, as I struggled to cope with the cuteness levels when I discovered that even my nephew has somehow landed himself a girlfriend. My 3 year old nephew!

Her name’s Thalia, I think. I can’t be 100% sure as his little voice was very muffled by the school jumper sleeve that was swiftly crammed into his mouth when I asked, as well as by the fact that he basically just didn’t want to tell me.

What is this little girl like? Well he says that she smells. Naturally. After all he’s just under two months from his 4th birthday, and she’s a girl.

Naturally he was a bit embarrassed about the whole situation and as you would expect his big sister, at the grand old age of 8, had a whale of a time with this valuable information that she had managed to appropriate at school that day. I’d feel bad for the little guy but let’s face it, he’s going to be in a great position to exact his revenge in a few years’ time, when big sis tries to get away with anything that she shouldn’t be doing, at school or otherwise. Little brothers (and sisters) have an uncanny way of making sure they’re around at the most blackmail-worthy moments; and I’m sure the little guy will get his own back!

Punch Drunk Blyth – reigniting a community?

When some friends asked me a while ago if I wanted to go to a comedy gig at the Social Club at the bottom of my street, I thought it sounded like a good laugh (hardy-har). It was being hosted by a local lad whose sister I was good friends with at school and still keep in touch with, and I’d heard about how well he was doing.

So I asked my friend to reserve a ticket for me and I forgot about it. Because I didn’t reserve my ticket myself, I hadn’t joined the Facebook group or even looked it up online. So I didn’t know who the acts were, how the ticket sales were going, or even what time the doors opened. Seriously, I think I asked my friends about 4 times the week before while we were arranging who was getting lifts with who etc, what time I had to be there.

The point is I didn’t realise it was actually a pretty big deal.

So I went down – running late as is to be expected with me – and met my friends who were already there and wondering where I was. We found some seats and watched the place fill up. By 10 minutes before the show started, people were apologising as they squeezed past the uniform rows of chairs laid out for the event, to sit on the sofa’s that run along the walls. It’s fair to say the room was packed and there was a definite buzz in the air.

Punch Drunk - the girls

As the host took to the stage it was clear that he was nervous. This was his home crowd after all and they were clearly expecting a lot. Many of them had followed his career more closely than I had and they knew he was certainly no amateur! I was expecting Kai Humphries to be good and he didn’t disappoint, warming the room up with his unique and hilarious take on growing up in our hometown. What I wasn’t expecting – as like I said I hadn’t looked into it at all – was the calibre of acts that he had convinced to play a gig in our tiny Northumberland mining and port town on a Monday night, at the social club.

When Kai introduced the first act I recognised the name and when he came on stage I realised that I had seen him a few times on TV. It was a young scottish comedian called Daniel Sloss who is quite simply far too successful to be the same age as me (no bitterness there I swear)! He’s had 6 majorly successful runs at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and has been on TV in the US as well as at home in the UK (but I still reckon Newsham Side Club has to be a highlight)!

The second act was Matt Reed, a comedian from Sunderland who has played major comedy clubs across the UK. Wisely he elected to break the ice very early on by assuring the room of die-hard Newcastle United supporters that he couldn’t give a flying you-know-what about football! He went on to crack everyone up and by the time Kai came back on to introduce the headliner, I was having a whale of a time (and was also on the right side of tipsy).

Somehow I still hadn’t looked at the line-up (or overheard anyone talking about it) so as fits my typically oblivious way of stumbling through life, I still had no idea at that point that the headliner was Andrew Maxwell, a massively successful and well-known Irish comedian who I’ve watched on TV countless times. Needless to say, he too was hilarious.

As well as having a great night with some old friends and seeing some great entertainment, I was blown away by the effort that had gone into a comedy night at my local social club. The work put into the whole thing by the host and the promotions team, as well as the willingness of successful comedians to get involved in bringing something new and exciting to a small community that isn’t exactly in the middle of its heyday, was an amazing thing to be a part of.

Local charity Princess Ellie’s Trust – set up by a local family who lost their 2 year old daughter to septicaemia as a result of meningitis to raise awareness as well as funds for the Meningitis Research Foundation and the Paediatric Intensive Care unit at a Newcastle hospital – raised almost £500 through ticket contributions and selling/collecting at the event. The charity will continue to be associated with the Blyth\Punch Drunk events which will be held once a month.

The initial February date on Monday 16th has sold out and there has been so much demand that the organisers have put on a second night on Tuesday 17th! I’ve roped in all of my family and 8 of us will be going to the Monday night this month. For £7 a ticket, it’s a pretty decent way to spend a Tuesday night!

Punch Drunk Extra Date

This is big news for a town of our size that has a less-than-great reputation. The buzz from the first event has everyone wanting to help make this a long-running thing and people are excited to see where it could go. As for re-igniting the community, I’d definitely say they’re making a damn good go of it!