Saturday 16 February 2019

Life Documenting: Dispatches from the Land of the Flu (and Haunted Urethra).

Hey you.

Last month there was a lot of social media chat about how long January felt. How it was dragging on. How people couldn’t wait for it to end. Couldn’t wait for slight, slim, and brief as a rainbow February to sneak through a crack in the year and come to the rescue.

Yeah. Well. Not I.

January treated me pretty well thankyouverymuch. What with it being the month I chose a marvellously romantic Word of the Year (‘Romance’, obvs), found the boots of my dreams, published two blog posts (a minor miracle!) and had a birthday of my very own. 

Honestly, for me, January could have lasted a little longer. But February? February was a different matter.

February drifted in on the breeze with all the charm and subtlety of an arson attack on a manure heap, then continued to stink up the year from there on in.

First we had a sudden snowfall, then, under the cover of the aforementioned snow James drove over something that burst his car tyre. Hours later, he began burning up … and that’s when things got even better when flu bullied its way into our lives. 36 hours later it was my turn to take a kicking, but not before the cystitis I’d chased away at the end of January crept back in to haunt my urethra. (And who wants a haunted urethra? Clue: nobody. No. Body.)

And so … what follows is kind of a Captain’s Log reporting back from The Land of the Flu (and Haunted Urethra). My collection of notes made while everyone else was falling face first in love with a brand new month, yet James and I were laid out, knocked back, and smacked down by the flu. As James’s virus emerged a day ahead of mine I had the joy of watching what was happening to him, knowing that in a matter of hours it would all be mine. So really, I’m just passing on the ‘forewarned is forearmed’ favour to you.

If nothing else, you might want to read it as a cautionary tale about wishing away a perfectly good January in exchange for a February created from a Lucky Dip of Evil.

Happy reading!

Dispatches from the Land of the Flu (and Haunted Urethra).

Day 1.

Symptoms may include:
  • A headache
  • A burning, dry, heat that starts on the face/head then moves to the whole body.
  • Followed by a damp, slick, slippery, sweaty heat.
  • And then freezing cold – 4 blankets deep and still shivering – chills.
  • Extreme aches and pains wracking the body, especially across the back, hips, and legs.
  • Accompanied by extreme swearing every time you need to move.

Plus ...
  • Repeated pleas of : 'Please make it stop make it stop' and 'Help me' to anyone who’ll listen. (Spolier: there won’t be anyone listening. No one wants to be within a five-mile radius of you, you germ ridden sack of aching bones and sweaty cleavage.)
  • A dry cough.

Additional side-effects:
  • Unable to sleep for the pains, you might be in need of a distraction so very, very, badly that you get up, slump on the sofa, and find yourself watching the Superbowl. You. Watching the Superbowl. A ‘sportsball’ game thing that you wouldn’t understand even if your brain wasn’t addled. 
  • There will also be secondary disappointment when you realise that none of the players appear to be as sexy as they are made out to be in sports-themed romance novels. (Life’s just one kick in the crotch after another right now.)

Speaking of which …

Day 2.

Symptoms may include:
  • A dry cough that turns into a productive cough (but hey, at least something round here will have achieved something this week.)

But if, like me, you also have cystitis then do take extra precaution with that cough. No one who feels as ill as this flu make you feel, needs to add 'weed a little bit on the bedroom carpet. And, maybe, kinda, also the landing carpet.' to their litany of indignities. Ask me how I know

Side effects: You will lose your appetite and instead keep yourself alive by on subsisting on mainly beige food (bread, biscuits, bread, toast, cream of anything soup, bread.)

Side-effects of the side-effects: the lack of decent food may result in phantom food fantasies floating around your brain, even though you wouldn’t feel like eating them if someone put it in front of you.). These strange and sudden cravings may be for things like a toasted bacon sandwich, cheese on toast, a plum ( a plum? Really? Where the hell did that craving come from?) or a cheese and tomato sandwich. (Apparently, I had mainly cheese based fantasies.)

Day 3. 
 Plot twist!! Today’s symptoms may include … 
  • a spot of cheeky diarrhoea. (Pardon the pun/ puns). 
  • But yeah … the need for speedy toilet visits is just what your aching limbs and poor digestive system have been crying out for.

One good thing: by now you’ll experience fewer peaks and troughs in temperature, however, you’ll still cold by the time your slow old legs make it to the bathroom. If you make it to the bathroom ...

See also: today might be the day you end up visiting the doctor for antibiotics for cystitis. Which may or may not include the awkward exchange with the receptionist which begins “Is that enough” … in reference to the meagre water sample you’ve managed to produce to hand over the counter to her. FML.

You may supplement your bread-based diet with the grapes you bought while wandering around Asda like zombies while you wait for your prescription.

New exciting symptoms:
  • Pain above/behind the eyes. This is so annoying that you’d roll your eyes at the injustice of yet another thing to worry about. If you could roll your eyes.
  • Sneezing. Which can be dangerous.  (See also ‘coughing with cystitis’.)
  • Today may also be the day you receive vaguely threatening texts from a parent declaring their intention to storm the Bastille (ie. come round to check you’re still alive). And  I quote - “I will have to come and check on you both to make sure you’re on the mend. I’m a mother, that’s my job.”
New ways of thinking: Frequent pondering if we can hire someone to come and clean the house for us.

Day 4.

Symptoms may include:
  • You may find yourself feeling a little better today. But, look, don’t get too excited. ‘Better’ is a relative term. Because, feeling ' a little better' while experiencing this hell still equates to a regular fu*king nightmare.
Second plot twist!! 
  • You might manage to go downstairs, report to work that you're still off sick, open the curtains, then haul yourself up the stairs gripping the banister like a mountaineer. By the time you reach the top you may realise that you're sweating and cramping and that ‘something’ is going to happen.
  • So you edge into the bathroom (Because there's no chance of any kind of 'dashing' happening any time soon) and - to cover all the bases - you sit down on the loo with your head over the sink.
  • It is now that you will then wake your partner from their flu-ridden slumbers with the sound of loud dry heaving echoing off ceramic. Good Morning!!
However, you don’t actually throw up, and all is not lost today, as it’s also the day you decide to do something drastic. Like ...
  • get up. Manage a shower and wash your hair. Then sit downstairs. Upright. Almost. Ish.

Today you may even eat a sandwich complete with greenery. Do try not to get drunk on the vitamins

At 7pm – because this week hasn’t yet been awful enough - you might remember a deadline you have. For today. And spend the next 2 hours writing and submitting it.

Day 5.

Symptoms may include:

Conversations which run like: 
  • “When do you think we'll start doing normal things again?”
  • “Like what?”
  • “Oh, like, cooking a meal. Going outside. Or when might I stop walking like a baby dinosaur?”
  • “Never”.
  • "Oh, thanks."
Today may also be the day your parents/loved ones may invoke the power of The Key.
  • Usually, under normal circumstances, our house - like Mordor - isn't somewhere they ever just walk into. 
  • But today we were instructed that if we weren’t well enough to get up and answer the door, they were going to use The Emergency Key to drop off the grocery shopping they’d got for us.
  • They didn't need to, but ... 
Alternative therapies:
  • Day 5 is the day you should self-medicate by watching To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before on Netflix. 
  • It was the 3rd time I’d seen it and …you can  move over Paracetamol, because watching Peter Kavinsky fall for Lara Jean is a far more potent healing power.
Day 6.
Today you will learn that “I’m coming round to change your sheets” is a statement and not a question.

My mother did just that - came to our house, helped change our sweat soaked, Olbas Oil scented sheets … then stayed to do our laundry, clean the kitchen, and make lunch. And, wow, it was the biggest treat.

She also managed to slip in the phrase: “You could have died”. Because what visit from a mother is complete without a reference to death?

Day 7.

Symptoms may include:
  • Getting your money’s worth from your Netflix subscription for the first time in months because you can’t even face reading.
Yeah, just to recap … you might find yourself 
  1. unable to read, 
  2. watching sport on TV  
  3. and accidentally pissing on the carpet but … what’s this? The universe has one more poor taste joke to play on you???
On Day 7 I had my first cup of tea in a week. And ... I didn't like it. *gets down on knees and shakes fist at thunderous sky begging ‘Why cruel world? Why?’*

Day 8.

Symptoms may include:
  • A delivery of Sunday Lunch from people who care about your nutrition. And you may even manage to eat it! You actually sit down and consume real actual food. Warm stuff.Go you!
  • Which is all a world away from Day 1 when I asked for “A Ryvita served on a paper thing” by which you meant ‘a sheet of kitchen roll’ … because even plates felt like too much fuss.

Symptoms may also include: 
  • Some light disapproval from the people who bothered to make you in the first place who may not approve of your decision of what to do with their darling creation. It might be best if you don’t tell them you plan to return to work the next day … because they may well prefer it if you promise to stay off. Maybe forever.

look ... I wouldn’t be telling the full story if I acted like Day 9 dawns and you become a new person, full of life, energy, cured by a platefull of homemade mince and dumplings and Peter Kavinsky’s beautifully non-toxic masculinity but … alas …

  • As I write ... another week has passed by and I’m still feeling the effects of the flu (although, thankfully the antibiotics worked and my waterworks have been fully exorcised!)
  • I’m still coughing, still sleepy, and – while I am drinking tea again - I still haven’t quite got the hang of 3 decent meals a day yet.
And, quite frankly, if this goes on for much longer I’m definitely going to need a tonic. 

How does a 4th viewing of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before sound to you?

  • Have you too have experienced this awful February flu?
  • Have you too accidentally watched sport while in a weakened state?
  • Maybe you too have been haunted by an evil combination of minor illnesses? 
Feel free to share any and all symptoms and cures (including restorative  Netflix recommendations) in the comments (here or on Instagram).


Tuesday 29 January 2019

Leave To Stand : a short story about lust ... and microwaves.

Hey you.

I wrote this piece to submit to a writing competition last year (no, it didn't win anything) where the theme was 'Cooking'. And it's always odd where even the vaguest of prompts can take your imagination. I mean ... until then I'd never really felt the need to write about the effect a microwave can have on a relationship. But that's exactly where the story led me.

Oh, and, forgive me but ... it's written in the second person point of view because I really wanted to make you complicit in this awkward little tale of illicit love, and vegetable soup.

Please enjoy. (And, remember to pierce the film lid before reading.)

Leave to Stand: 
a short story about lust ... and microwaves by Julie Kirk

      That microwave is so high up on the wall it’s all you can think about. Just so high, impractical, awkward.

     You should probably be focusing on him though. You didn’t shower and pick out matching underwear to come and fixate on a microwave inconveniently bracketed to the wall above eye-level. Well, above your eye-level at least. He seems to be managing just fine with it where it is. But you can’t help thinking, just one lapsed moment of concentration and that’s a scalding right there.

     You wouldn’t have your microwave that high up. You don’t, in fact, yours is at a far more reasonable counter-top height. You suppose his is where it is because that’s where his landlord put it. It just came with the house, and its tiny shared kitchen. Some things some people don’t get a choice in.

     He glances between your face to where your gaze is pinned on the lunch waltzing around at head height over there.

     “What’s so fascinating?” he asks, with the genuine interest that attracted you to him in the first place.

     You want to reply: It’s just not right, is it? Having a microwave all the way up there. Doesn’t it bother you, where they’ve put it? It’s courting an accident. Surely?

     But you don’t say that, you say “Oh, nothing.” and drop your head, hoping to look coy rather than irritated. By a kitchen appliance.

     “It’s just … I didn’t have breakfast this morning, and,” you nod toward the microwave, “I’m counting the seconds.”

     Your palm instinctively circles your grumbling stomach. The anticipation of being alone with him had shut down your appetite this morning, forcing you to leave your overnight oats in the fridge for an extra night. You’ve only had a glass of water and a travel sweet all day and you’re feeling it now. You really do want to eat even though you’re not thrilled about the menu.

     You return to staring at the bowl twirling on a down-lit stage to the background hum of a 750 Watt orchestra, trying to remember the last time you ate like this.

     Chunky soup. Tinned. Microwaved.

     Not that you’re a food snob, you’ve got a microwave too. One, like you say, at a normal height. Mostly for defrosting, but occasionally for heating up baked beans, or a milky hot chocolate when you don’t want to get a pan out. And you’d choose a slick and creamy squeezy cheese (preferably sucked directly from the tube, feeling the hard thread of the nozzle against the delicate skin of your inner lip) over a supposedly ‘good’ Camembert any day.

     But part of you is gratified to know that he’s not really eating like this from choice, but necessity, it’s a money thing. Not that you think people with more money automatically eat better than those on a budget. Although, of course, you’ve seen articles linking low income and poor nutrition. And food poverty is obviously terrible, and yes, you do always drop something into the food bank collections at your local supermarket. Well, not always, but you have done, once or twice, when you remembered.

     The steady slamming of his palm against the base of a second can diverts your eyes from the microwave in time to see the last chunk of potato, a perfect building-block cube of a thing, and an oddly olive-green-tinged pea, slop into the bowl beneath. You swallow. Then note that this bowl doesn’t match the one in the microwave.

    Your eyes meet, and you blush, caught in a judgmental act, although he’ll likely suspect you’re flushing at his cheeky can-spanking. And, now you come to think of it, you are. 

     You watch as he rinses out the can, dipping in his long slender fingers, gliding over its ridges. And this time the redness in your cheeks has nothing to do with being caught judging his mismatched crockery.

     Those hands, they’re on The List. The list you created last week, when he’d invited you here and you wanted all the reasons to say yes. The one you ran through last night when you came up with a lie about why you didn’t need to make a lunch for today; and again this morning when you’d turfed out your bedside drawer looking for your favourite perfume, which you then spritzed over your body. Including behind your knees. 

     Despite a longer list of reasons for you to be nowhere near here, him, or his hands, they’re two of the more tangible reasons you find yourself tracking them as they move around the kitchen preparing your lunch.

     You become transfixed by how, in contrast to the pale, smooth pale palms - freshly laundered hotel sheets that haven’t been lain on - the backs are sinewy and firm, with a drift of dark hairs emerging beyond the cuff line. And, like much of his skin (that you’ve seen, so far), the backs of his hands are ever so softly browned, like toast made in a hurry. The colour coming from his of love of outdoor pursuits; hiking, cycling and wild-swimming. (Whatever that actually entails, you just nodded when he told you, feeling you ought to know, and would appear out of touch if you asked.) And even just from his habit of sitting outside, with a book, on a wall in the car park during his lunch hour.

     The day you’d met it had been Thoreau’s Walden he was poring over, one hand guiding a sandwich to his mouth, the other firmly holding the page open so wide that the front and back covers were pressed against one another. You’d never spoken to him before but you had read Walden and, well, what better conversation starter is there?

      You’d thought it was such a unique choice for a twenty-something, not that you said that to him. Rather you’d chatted about Thoreau’s philosophy and the poetry he’d found in the simple life, until you’d both had to return to the office. Later, when you’d googled it to recap on the finer points, and to check you’d been saying the right things, (it’d been a while since you’d read it), you learned that, it’s recently become a bit of a bible for the minimalist, wild-garlic-foraging, organic-record-player type of hipster and you’d felt a sting of disappointment, embarrassment even. You’d been relieved the following week to see him with a different book, so there was no longer any danger you might be drawn into a conversation about sustainable micro-homes or digital-nomadism.

     Now, as he dips and darts around the tiny kitchen your eyes drift from his hands to his lean, denim-wrapped, legs. Legs so long that any two consecutive strides bring him to a halt against a worktop, where a third would see him stepping clear out of the back door on to the, well, ‘patio’ would be a kind word for it. 

     Or if he were facing your direction, then three strides would bump him right up against you.

     Toe to toe.

     Nose to chest.

     A steadying hand on a waist.

    And if he did? If he came close enough for you to draw in the scent of his laundry powder, what then? Would that be the moment you’ve been waiting for? The one you daren’t actively bring about but, if it just happened, almost accidentally like that … If he bumped against you in that cramped space, with that droning oven turning away overhead, wouldn’t he be stepping straight into something you’ve been rolling around your mind like a lucky marble all these months? 

     If those hands reached around to the nape of your neck, and slid up into your hair, and if he were to draw your face towards his and …


     You inhale a little too quickly, and instinctively straighten up.

     “I think that’s you done.” he says.

     “Mmmuh?” you murmur, hoping your thoughts aren’t playing publicly across your face. But he’s just talking about your vegetable soup.

     With his hands around the tea-towel he’d been casually wearing over his shoulder, he carefully places the hot bowl on to the work surface next to you warning:

    “You might want to let that cool off a bit first”.

     Which feels as much like pointed advice as it does a serving suggestion.

     While the soup cools he prepares the drinks. And he's so focused as he cracks the ice tray over your glass, so present, you almost think ‘childlike’ but then remind yourself that his is not a child’s age. He’s a grown man with a good job, a house (well, his own bedroom and a shelf of a fridge in a shared semi). He can drive, he can vote, a fact you’ve even discussed with him. He’s voted in a general election, and a referendum so not only can he vote, he does. He carries out his democratic duties, so, no, definitely not a child.

     Although, when he’d opened a craft beer for himself and offered you one, (which you passed on, preferring a nice crisp white that he doesn’t have), you’d flat-out refused the fizzy-something alternative he brought out from the back of the fridge. Because drinking pop, at a boy’s house, on a school day, would simply have been an anachronism too far; this is not, after all, 1991. He hands you an iced tap water, then gestures towards the living room (where you curse the speed with which you just calculated that out of the two of you, it was only you who was alive in 1991.)

    You sit at one end of the sofa, cautiously balancing the bowl on your knees. Meanwhile, at the other end, he curls effortlessly into the creased cushions. Tucking a leg beneath him he angles his body, his slate grey eyes, and his enviably easy manner towards you. 

     And as you watch him watching you, you think maybe this could work. Here, today ... tomorrow. You could have, well let’s not got so far as to say a ‘future’ together but, you could definitely have something. And, you do want something, otherwise, why are you here? It’s certainly not for his cooking.

     You finish the soup, even though it’s gone cold around the edges, an assault on your tongue’s expectations, and he leans across to take your bowl and put it on the floor. He’s now so close you can feel his increasingly quickening breaths dancing over your bare arms.

     “I had to have this,” he says, lightly grasping the neck of his empty beer bottle, before moving it further way, and himself closer.

     “So that I could do this …”.

     And this is it.

     The moment you’ll finally know.

     Even after months of incrementally increasing intimacy, the snatched lunchtime chats, the shared meal deals, the swapped snacks. (Like the time you finished off an apple he didn’t want. Carving through his teeth marks with your own. Your mouth over his.) The inching. The edging. The nearing towards inevitability, you’re still not all-in.

     But you’re sure that when your lips meet for the first time you’ll have no more doubts. That the answers to all your questions will appear before you, like the pictures in those water-reveal colouring books you used to get as a kid. Full colour, clear picture, magic-wand stuff.

     His lips graze yours.

     He pulls away slightly to check you’re OK with it, and you grab a handful of his t-shirt in assent. Your eyes sink shut, your shoulders drop and you let ‘something’ happen.

     You don’t feel any sparks just yet, but hey, what are sparks really? Just the stuff of romance novels. Or static. And, as you suspected, his hands do feel good in your hair and, oh, he’s eager, and yes, this could be nice. Is nice. 

     Just go with it, get out of your head, stay in your body. Touch his. Don’t be brain. Be lips, hair, hands, jaw, hard chest, washing powder.

     He moves his mouth down to your neck. You gasp and your eyes open wide in delight … and … then that’s when you see it.

     Over his head. Watching from the kitchen. Looking down on you with its single, stationary, glass eye.

     That bloody microwave.

     And, no two ways about it, it’s just so very high. Ridiculously high. Too high. Not like the one you have. At home.

     Not like the one sitting happily, on your oiled walnut counter-top, at waist height.

     The one your husband uses to make those ‘mug cakes’ that he considers more like witchcraft than dessert, but that he makes for you because he knows your need for cake can sometimes reach dangerously high levels.

     And the one he used last Thursday, at 3am, to heat the lavender scented wheat-bag, when you had cramps, and couldn’t sleep, and had an early meeting the following morning.

    So, no, this is not like the one you have at home.

    And … 


     I think that’s you done.

'Leave to Stand'  © 2018 Julie Kirk


Thank you for reading to the end of my odd little tale of lust amongst the white goods! 

Sharing my fiction is still new to me ... so any comments or observations you might like to share are truly welcome. Without it I'm sending out words without knowing how they land. 

I don't think they're lukewarm in the middle, like a lacklustre microwaved ready-meal, but other than that ... it's hard to judge my own work. 

So, if you have any comments, questions or encouragements, I'm here for them! 

(It doesn't need to be blog comment here, just catch up with me anyway / anywhere that's easiest for you across social media.)

And if you're inclined to share 'Leave to Stand' on your own social media, or with a friend in 'real' life, that would really mean a lot.  

Julie x

Sunday 13 January 2019

2018: A Year in Bad Portraits (Welcome to a year's worth of awkward photo-fails).

Hello you. 

If you've ever dropped by to visit me here in any given January over the last 5 years you'll be familiar with the concept of my bad portraits. But, if not ... let me explain:
  • they're my visual equivalent of a New Year detox; 
  • they're a means for me to balance out a year of sharing the best, most flattering photos of myself - (these days that happens over on Instagram - @withjuliekirk - where like clockwork, every 4th photo I share is one of me) -  with the ones that didn't quite make the cut. For reasons which will become obvious.
  • they're a flushing-out, a fresh start, an enema for the ego!
  • and they're a chance for me to laugh at myself ... and offer you the same opportunity.
They're my BAD portraits ...

As I say each year, you are free to laugh at the following content. In fact, please do, because otherwise what am I even doing sharing them?! 
  • This project is never about body-shaming or self-critique. At worst it's self-deprecating ... at best, it's a healthy self-assessment, and I share mine in the hope that it'll make you feel better about yours! 
  • And I never share photos that make me feel bad, or ones that  don’t make me laugh, so you're absolutely safe to laugh along.
  • So, let the guilt-free voyeurism commence ...

My Year in Bad Portraits: 
The 2018 Edition.

I'm going to start with a photo in which I look like an oil painting.

It's just a pity that the oil painting in question is one of Rembrandt's self portraits.

Granted, dude could paint ... but he was no looker was he?

Below I've put together my Top Modelling Tips so we can all learn from my mistakes. Because these kinds of selfies - where you accidentally take a photo while clutching your phone in a clammy hand, and then you end up looking like an old Baroque artist - are just the worst.  Right?

Modelling Tip No.1: Find your Angles. 

Please note:  this one is never your angle:

Unless you have an especially interesting under-the-chin tattoo, there's never a good reason for you to be taking a selfie from below.

Ever. (As these shots prove.)

From above my loves. Always from above.

Modelling Tip No.2: Always be aware of what your hands are doing.

Left: despite how it appears, I'm not actually trying to keep paparazzi at bay with a modest "No photos please" gesture. I'm just trying to get my phone's camera to take a selfie (where you hold up a hand to set the self-timer going). And then. ... I guess I got distracted. Which happens.

Right: At first this seems like a half-decent outfit shot (of a vintage jumper I found in a charity shop), the kind any fashion-oriented Instagrammer might share. But, then - as I did while deciding which shot to share - you might just notice where my it looks like my right hand is resting. Oh. Dear.

And you might think I'm an entirely different kind of Instagrammer ...

Modelling Tip No.3: Cultivate your 'Signature Pose'

And while yo're practicing it in front of your bedroom mirror,  just be glad that 'startled Scooby Doo' is the one that comes naturally to me, and not you:

Modelling Tip No.4: Be like an actor and think yourself into the character you're trying to project.  

Case in point: 
  • here on the left I'm channeling that look your mother gave you when you arrived home later than your curfew when you were 8 and where she claims she was just about to call the police to find you.

  • Meanwhile, on the right I'm bringing to mind all those times in life when you're in public, and you don't want to make a big fuss but your stomach has just sank because you've suddenly thought "Oh God, where did I leave my keys? I thought they were in my pocket, but they're not in my pocket."
(Honestly ... posing for outfit photos is a sure fire way to foster a greater respect for models!)

Modelling Tip No.5: Be a blank canvas so you can easily adopt other personas.

Here, I've managed to appear so blank ... I've accidentally allowed myself to be possessed by Neo from The Matrix:

(Seriously, all I was trying to get was a selfie with the sky while I was out walking! Why does this happen to me?)

Additionally ...

  • On the left my mother and I clearly tapping into our inner thugs with our 'We're out to hot-wire cars' looks:
  • While on the right I'm tapping into the 'Forthright nun' pose so, at least whenever I move on from modelling I'll have a future in Call the Midwife: 

Modelling Tip No.6: Leave behind your self-consciousness and really feel the moment.

Genuinely, neither of these photos were staged to look funny. But as to what I was really doing in them?

Buggered if I know.

Modelling Tip No.7: At the very least ... try not to look like the walking dead:

And, finally ...

 Modelling Tip No.8: Play with the camera by embracing your inner child. 

  • On the left I've somehow managed to access the look of a sly and crafty five year old drugged-up on too many sweets.
  • And on the right ... well ... I guess this is the face I make when eating crisps in a library whether I am aged 2 or 42!


Now, while not strictly part of my modelling tips ... no Bad Portraits round-up would be complete without a shot of me crying and eating!  (Generally in life, if I'm not doing one I'm doing the other!)

  • Left: don't worry, I'm crying for nice reasons, I was watching the  movie God's Own Country on Netflix for what must have been the 2nd or 3rd time. And yes. I still cry. Every time. 
  • And Right: If you've followed my Bad  Portraits in past years you'll already be aware that James often takes advantage of a moment where I'm standing still with my mouth full (no comment) to capture a shot of me where I can't complain at how long he takes to take a bloody photo! 


And so ... we've reached the end of another year of my bad portraits. If you'd like to share my selfie-struggles with a friend, or on social media, please do. In a photo-manipulated world, the more people embracing the fun to be had from photo-fails, the better! 

Now, if you don't mind, seeing as how I've carried out my penance ... I'm diving back into another 12 months of sharing only the well-lit, poised photos, shot from above (always from above).   

Right that's it ... you can leave now, before I give you that look. You know 'the look'. This one (OK, maybe it's more of a glare):

(Jeez. I was relaxed, happy, on holiday, reading when this was taken. I wasn't even trying to look annoyed in this photo. But I do. Clearly it's an innate skill.)

Julie x

Psssssst, before you go: if you've ever missed any of my awful faces - fear not - you can catch up with them all here:

Friday 12 October 2018

50 Shades of Nay, Chapter Two: my two biggest fears about growing out my grey.

Hello hello.

I know, I know. I'm never here. I treat this blog like a hotel. I never call.
Forgive me? I won't waste time making excuses, and hey, I'm here now, and while I am ... you can check out how much more of my grey is showing since the last time I was here. OK?

Before we begin, you should know …

I drafted out this post a few months ago, before I’d lived with the grey for any length of time. And, at this moment in time, I don't feel quite the same. Unlike my roots, my original feelings have been coloured by experience since then!

As of today (12.10.18) it's 25 weeks since I began my no-dye experiment, but my original thoughts, which you can read below - are from around the 6-12 week point. But I thought they were still worth sharing in case someone reading is only just now setting off on a greying adventure, and might be glad of the company. Welcome aboard!

I’ll try to get around to writing an update soon, and share my experiences from further down the grow-out line.
14 weeks without dyeing. 
Fear No.1. Perhaps the the most obvious fear. That I’ll look older.

When I considered halting the Sisyphean cycle of covering-up my grey, the idea of looking older wasn’t actually my biggest concern. Still isn’t, but, hey, it’s big enough! And it’s probably the most obvious so … let’s deal with that one first, shall we?

All my life people have mistaken me for someone younger than my actual age.

When I first started working at the University, supporting students in and around campus, I was told that some other students on the course had asked: “Why is that girl always hanging around with X in his classes?”

I was 31.

Just this month a colleague asked if I’d ever had trouble turning down students’ requests for me to go for a coffee with them seeing as how “I was so much closer to them in age” than she was.

I’m 42. (And had no idea how to break it to her.)

And at least once in my 40s I’ve been IDed while buying wine.

Maybe it’s because I’m small (5ft 2in / size 10), or softly spoken, or child-free, or psychologically unwilling / unable to dress like a ‘proper lady'. But whatever it is, there’s something working to embellish me with a (thin!) veneer of youthfulness.

Or maybe it’s genetics. When my Dad retired from work people asked him why he was taking early retirement. He wasn’t. He was 65.

So - apart from using this as an opportunity to boast (joke!) - I wanted to explain how I’ve spent a lifetime correcting people’s assumptions about me, my age, my status, my experience. All of which has led me here, to wondering … how will having grey hair change all of that?

13 weeks without dyeing.

Surely once my grey’s on public display, those kind of mistakes (which, were once frustrating, but are becoming more flattering with time!) will cease. Who will I be then? A grown up?  

Yeah. First world problems. Crack out the violins, right?

But while this all may sound privileged and indulgent I’m really just trying to be honest, so that anyone reading this who feels similarly, knows that at least one other person out there is feeling the same trepidation.

I won’t gloss over these concerns for fear of sounding superficial. That’s how women are systematically kept in place, through fear of sounding frivolous, childish, not serious (think how many things associated with traditional femininity - clothes, make-up, Rom-Coms - are also considered less worthy than masculine pastimes).
And it’s good to recognise the purely socially constructed embarrassment that persuades us to not dare to admit we’d still like to look young, all while being sold products that promote that exact idea! Then we’re tapped between either:
  • being scared of looking old, and reaching for the hair dye ... 
  • or quietly going grey, while scared of looking old when we do!

Hence me talking about it here to contribute to the growing conversation between women experimenting with what grey means and looks like to them (check out the #grombre hashtag on Instagram for all kinds of gorgeous greying inspiration).  

So, yes, looking older is absolutely a concern of mine. Going grey is possibly the most ageing change in my appearance since my front teeth grew back in when I was 7, or that time in the 90s when I thought boxy jackets were a worthy style choice.

13 weeks without dyeing.

However, as I’ve mentioned, looking old is not the biggest fear I have, not the most immediate, not the one that makes looking in the mirror the hardest. Because first place in that race is taken by Fear No.2 …

Fear No.2: The biggest fear. The fear of looking like I don’t care.

I dare you to admit it. 

That there’s been a time when you noticed a woman with visible root regrowth (of any colour, not just grey) and you thought to yourself “Hmmm, has she seen herself in the mirror lately?” 

I've thought it. 

I’m not proud of it, but I have thought that kind of thing in the past. (I honestly try to not be judgemental about appearances at all any more).

But, because I’ve thought it, I know that - when a percentage of those (most likely) women who’ll witness to my current amazing technicolor dream hair - it will absolutely cross their mind that I’m ‘letting myself go’, that I must not care what I look like.

When I do. 

Oh how I really do.

Again, as with the fear of looking older, the fear of sounding vain about your appearance is similarly not something we’re encouraged to openly confess!

I know that hair, makeup, clothes and shoes are not everyone’s priority. But to a lot of us, how we physically present ourselves to the world, is equally a huge part of how we construct who we are, for ourselves.

And if there wasn’t some truth to the idea that many of us enjoy putting our best selves forwards, then we’d all only ever take just one quick selfie, rather than pausing to pose for several, many, dozens! And yet - once again - women (young women and girls in particular) are frequently vilified for caring too much about their appearance. But for some  it’s a critical part of who we are.

I know there are those whose only interest in clothes begins and ends with the practicalities:
  • to fit with social convention, 
  • to keep warm 
  • to keep from being arrested for indecent exposure in the cereal aisle of Asda.
That’s not me. My personal style is my creativity worn on my shoulders, on my feet, in my ears. 

My look is how I tell you who I am. Who I want to be. And not just you … it tells me the same things about me. It creates and reinforces the person I am, who I've always been, since I started picking out my outfits and attempting to dress myself at 18 months old. 

So the idea that someone might clock my grey grow-out and interpret it as evidence that I no longer care about my appearance that’s … aw, hell, that’s a sharp dig in all of my soft places!

And I know that - for however long my hair’s in this untidy, muddled, inbetweeny, neither one thing nor the other stage - the risk of looking a little dishevelled will be the thing that bugs me far more than the idea of looking older. 

Older is not something I can help. But looking put together, like I care, is something I should have control over. 

And control could look like marching into a shop and buying a dye and mastering this unruly and ragged head of mine. And yet ... 

... that's not the experiment is it? The experiment is seeing what this mop looks like once there's no longer a trace of dye amongst it. 

And all my control right now is channelled into not dyeing it!

And, fortunately, while looking like I've stopped caring is indeed my biggest fear, I think  maybe there’s something, a few things even, that I can do about it. A quick wardrobe restyle, a haircut, something, anything to give the impression that I still care, will hopefully do the trick. (If you've seen my Instagram account - @withjuliekirk -  at any point in the few months since I wrote this, you'll know I definitely gave the hair chopping thing a go.)
So, there's that ray of hope. And while I’m growing out these silvering locks I’ll take all the silver linings I can get!

Do join in the conversation ...

When I shared my first 50 Shades of Nay post (all about how I tried a hair dye-stripper to speed up the greying process, which you can find here) there were some great responses in the comments section, and on my other social media too.  And I really enjoyed hearing your stories and thoughts on the greying process ... so please don't stop there ... 

  • are you happy to share any of your own greying fears? 
  • is your biggest fear the fear of looking older ... or looking like you don't care? Or something else entirely?
  • or maybe you've got tips on how to survive the months / years it takes to finally grow it all out?
  • any advice on how to talk yourself out of ogling the packs of dye in Boots like how you eye-up the rotisserie chicken when you go to the supermarket before you've eaten lunch?
Whatever you've got to share, and wherever's easiest for you to share (here, Insta, Facebook, sky-writing)  I'm all ears ... let's keep the grey chat going. 


Wednesday 12 September 2018

Can I have a quiet word? 7 Things Quiet People Wished You Knew on ‘Quiet Day’.

Hey there, can I have a word? 

Today (Sept 12th) is National Quiet Day, a day during which we’re encouraged to take a break from the over-stimulation of modern life. To tune out, turn down and switch off.

And if this is about having one day a year where you can focus on listening, reflecting and just being, rather than speaking, then, hey, I’m all for it.

But what about those of us who are quiet for the remaining 364 days of the year?

I’ve been considered, and called, ‘shy’ and ‘quiet’ all my life and, along the way I’ve come to understand that many louder, more gregarious folks, either simply don’t know how to deal with us, or else they’d rather we change everything about our nature, to suit some bubbly, outgoing ideal. 

(How do I know this? Because they’re not shy in telling us precisely that!)

And so I’m taking today’s pause amid the incessant chatter as an opportunity to speak (in hushed tones, naturally) about some of the ways in which my comrades in quiet and I are often misunderstood.

See how many you recognise ...

7 Things Quiet People Wished
You Knew on ‘Quiet Day’.

1. We're not spending all of our quiet time silently judging you.

I mean, yeah, sometimes we are. Obviously. And never more so when you publicly point out how quiet we are (see No.2 below).

But, most of our time, whether we’re sitting quietly during a group conversation, a meeting, or at a party, we’re generally not silently observing you and picking apart everything you say, do, or are.

I have a friend who used to say quiet people made her nervous, mainly because she didn’t know what we were thinking. So I guess it’s not much of a leap for chatty types to fill in the blanks and decide that we’re probably observing them, judging them, quietly plotting their downfall. 

Yet, in my experience, quietness more often goes hand in hand with a loud inner critic.

We’re keenly aware that, while we’re perfectly happy being quiet, we’re somehow failing to meet the expectations of a society that insists we need to contribute, join in, come 'out of our shells', make conversation.

Our inner critics know we’re expected to be able to do this thing they call small talk (the worst kind of talk, and a lot of talk is bad) and trust me, if there’s anyone in that room we’re judging harshly, it’s most likely to be ourselves

So, while we’re quiet externally, internally our inner monologues are loudly cajoling, debating, and assessing whether we should be trying harder at the decibel range of a hostage negotiator hollering to be heard over a thunderstorm.

2. Mentioning how quiet we are won’t make us any louder.

In fact, it will likely achieve the opposite.

It’s the moment in a social gathering that quiet people dread, when someone, either just thinking aloud, or perhaps considering themselves to be uniquely insightful, comes right out and baldly states: “Aren’t you quiet?”

If you’ve done this, shall I let you in on a secret? It’s not exactly news to us that we’re not the chattiest of Cathies in the room. We know this. 

And now congratulations! You’ve worked it out too. Woo hoo!

Now what? How do expect us to respond?

  • If we say a plain ‘No’, we’ll seem deluded because, patently, we are quiet. 
  • If we say an embellished ‘No’, such as - “No, actually, I’m not all that quiet really, you should hear me natter when I’m with someone I actually like.” – we’ll appear rude.
  • Ruder still to retaliate with “And aren’t you a complete gobshite?”
But, equally, if we admit a plain ‘yep’, but then continue on in our silence, we’ll appear facetious.

The last time this happened to me was in a tea break at a workshop, where someone pointed out my lack of contributions so far and wanted to know if I was OK. As well intentioned as it was, it made me feel under scrutiny, and for the remainder of the day the notion that I was now marked out as ‘Quiet’, sealed my mouth shut tighter than an introvert’s smile when someone unexpectedly joins them for lunch.

We really can’t win when you point this out about us. We’re backed into a conversational corner with duct tape slapped over our mouths.
Worse still, this often happens in company, where there are other people’s ears pricking up, watching how we respond, which only serves to increase our discomfort and embarrassment making relaxed, natural interaction almost impossible.

3. Quiet people don’t live in a shell that you’d like us to come out of.

I wish I had ten minutes peace for every time someone decided I needed to ‘come out of my shell.’

Rarely, if ever in our western society, do we hear it suggested of loud, gregarious, people that:
  • “Oh, bless them, they just need to realise how inappropriately loud they are being, and go back into their shell”. 
Preferably a soundproofed one.

This is especially hard when we’re children, being constantly told that we’re not contributing enough (particularly in school). And as young adults where we’re trying to find a way to be in a world that constantly asks us to go against our nature, rather than consider accepting us as we are, for the skills and qualities we can quietly offer.

At 42 I know that this quiet person‘s body and mind is who I am, where I live. It’s not temporary shell-like accomodation. I’m not moving out of it any time soon. 

And yet, imagine this, I’ve still managed to get through life, maintain a long-term relationship, get jobs, make friends, express myself, and follow my creativity. Who’d have thought? Certainly not the teachers who were obsessed with me changing.

If your concern for us is real then you can help by not being so blunt and confrontational about our natural personality traits. Stop embarrassing us in front of others, stop pointing out what you consider to be our weakness. And if you really do care about what we have to say, then offer us a safe environment in which we can do that.

In general though, you're going to have to trust us that we’re not hiding from you. We’ve shown you who we are many times, but you keep denying it, telling us we just need to be a little bit different.

Stop trying to change us, improve us, coax us out. 

There is no shell.

We’re just quiet slugs, plain and simple. Not snails who you’d like to see evicted.

4. We’ve been led to believe we’re ‘less than’.  

Quiet people are often made to feel that they’re just not getting this whole life thing right.
Early on in my first ‘proper’ job a member of staff attempted to explain why she didn’t think I’d fit in in with their school as they had lots of ‘big personalities’ there.

The implication being that, in contrast, my personality was small.


In ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking’ (one of the key works on this subject) Susan Cain explores how the West's education and employment systems are set up in such a way that louder, more outgoing people, are offered the chance to shine (even from the basics like a focus on group discussions in classrooms or using open plan offices), while quieter people are overlooked or considered lacking in what it takes to succeed.

We may already have our own reasons for being quieter than others (be that introversion, shyness, confidence issues, being on the Autistic spectrum, being a HSP [highly sensitive person]) and so on. But team those with an awareness that we’re also being judged and found wanting by a structure that prizes outgoing personalities over ours and ask yourself … how likely is it that we’ll feel comfortable enough to communicate more

For the record, me and my not-big personality for stuck at that job, where I managed to not only find some ... but to to then work to my strengths as a quiet practitioner. In between other duties I deliberately set out to champion overlooked kids hosting various groups and activities for those who liked to read, for the shy quiet ones, for the Gifted & Talented.

By the time I left teachers were talking about:
  • my ability to “sit quietly and talk with the children”, 
  • my ability to keep a child on track while keeping my voice low,
  • my calming influence, and so on. 
Despite not being the loudest candidates, us quiet types do have gifts to offer. Who knows, maybe sometimes it takes a quiet adult to help a quiet child. And even a noisy child.

And nothing about that is ‘small’.

 5. We love it when we find friends who 'get' us, without wanting to change us!

Just as we’re underestimated in the world of work, negotiating friendships when you’re on the quieter side can be tricky too.

A few years back now a group of my friends had been away for a weekend, and this particular time for some reason or other, I hadn’t gone with them. On their return they voluntarily offered up the information that they’d missed me.

And I was shocked. Genuinely. Because who could miss little old me? 
  • Me, and my ‘small’ personality.
  • Me, inside my shell.
  • Me, who is ‘less than’.
  • Me, a vacuum where a personality should be.
What even was there to miss?

Clearly I’d internalised all the things I’d heard about quiet people and applied them to my role in this friendship. 

Fortunately for me, my friends hadn’t internalised anything. And knowing that they call a spade a spade, I knew they weren’t lying, had no reason to, and were simply letting me know I’d been missed. And, let me tell you, you can’t buy that kind of confidence boost!

Us quiet types can honestly come to believe that we have little impact on the world, and feel no one would notice if we just didn't turn up one day.  But let me, and the friends who missed me, serve as objective evidence that we're wrong! 

6. We may not always talk, but we don't want you to stop calling!

Even when we’re confident that our friends actually do like having us around, it can still be tough for a quiet person (particularly an introvert like me) to maintain friendships.

Sometimes we simply don’t fancy meeting up. It’s nothing personal. We might like the time to ourselves instead. We might not be up for company. During our time off we might find it easier to just dive into a book, or Netflix, or bed.

My friends now know that, when I do go away for long weekends with them, there will still be times when I just absent myself, take a long shower, mooch around outside with my camera, curl up with a book. Be together, but apart. And it seems to work OK for us.

So, if you can find it in your chattery, nattery, bubbly and outgoing hearts to just cut us some slack, to keep inviting us to join you, even if we don’t always take you up on it … we’ll love you forever.

Please don’t stop asking. It really isn’t you, it’s us.

(If it was you, you’d know. We may be quiet, but that doesn’t mean we’re good at hiding it when we don’t like someone!)

And finally ... for us quiet types ... 

7. Sometimes it’s a numbers game.

It’s not always true that quiet people just don't like to talk; we can often be found gabbing away in specific circumstances. 

When I was little - the same tiny Julie who was told she needed to talk more in class - was referred to a ‘Little Miss Chatterbox’ at home. And I personally like to think that I can talk to anyone, with the emphasis on the 'one'. 

Because there’s the rub: the numbers.

Quiet people, especially introverts, may only really struggle to talk in a group situation where all of those additional personalities can heighten our long held anxieties about our own.

Personally I don’t love trying to get a word in while sitting in a large group and I have to brace myself for any attention that me opening my mouth can bring down on me.  So, the fewer people watching me speak the better, and in a one-to-one situation, with no audience, I'm in my element.

  • Take for example, the time, in that same school I mentioned already, where - one-to-one - I could handle the domineering headteacher without batting an eyelid (in fact, one time his secretary later asked me what I’d been saying to him to make him laugh so hard!) 
  • Or more recently, during the novel writing course I attended I got to have four separate meetings (two on the phone, two in person) with a Literary Agent. 

Me, Quiet Julie Kirk, and the London Literary Agent. 

Me, Off-work-sick-with-anxiety Julie Kirk and the London Literary Agent. Chatting. About my work. Like that's a thing that happens to people like me.

In all honesty, I couldn’t actually manage to share my work with my peers back in the workshops, but with the agent (which maybe should have been scarier?) I was perfectly fine because it was just me and her.

Working to my strengths and taking on only the aspects I could manage at the time - without berating myself for not taking on everything - was an act of defiance, and self care.

And I hope a quiet person reading this thinks ‘Oh, I now there’s something I could do!’. Because even if we can’t do the group thing … it shouldn't mean we automatically miss out on the entire experience.

Talking to the agent was a key part of the course wherein, after that, the cohort got whittled down from 20 to 8, to move on to the second round. And quiet Julie Kirk got through.

Moral of the story: make sure to grab any opportunities you get to shine in your natural setting! They don’t come along every day!

However, maybe somewhat perversely, on the the flip side of our reluctance to speak in front of a couple of other people … quiet types don’t always share the wider population’s terror of public speaking.

Groups are unruly, raucous things, where you never know who should or will speak next, and you have to gauge when's the best time for you to pipe up and make yourself heard.

But, in the past I’ve given a eulogy in a packed church, where more gregarious family members, confessed they’d never have been able to do it. Yet the key for me there had been having complete control of the situation. Delivering a speech you've written, in church, while standing on an altar, alone, well in that situation … you’ve kind of got the upper hand.  Aint nobody gobby enough to dare talk over the top of you there!

So maybe the majority of the time we'll battle to get a word in but, give us a clearly defined face-to-face meeting, a microphone, and even access to Instagram Stories … and you might soon be trying to find ways to get us to shut up!


Right then, your turn, speak:
  • Which of my 7 points had you nodding in recognition?
  • What annoying things have people said to you about your quiet nature? 
  • Dare you admit that you've said them to someone else?
  • Or is there anything else that you - as a quiet person - wished the louder population understood about you?
Speak now or ... you know what they're like ... the gasbags over there will only get in first! 

Thanks for pausing to chat today.