Book Review: The Complete Beauty Book

I bought this impressively heavy tome on Amazon Marketplace a couple of years ago. I’d been browsing YouTube tutorials for ’80s makeup looks, none of which were quite 100% period accurate, and a commenter recommended this book – it came out in 1985, and was apparently considered one of the ultimate hair and makeup guides of the era.

The Complete Beauty Book

Like everything else in life, I like my hair and makeup to look vaguely ’80s – not full on backcombing and Boy George blusher (unless I’m going clubbing!), but using the correct techniques for day makeup that were popular at the time. This book provides a really good immersive experience in that sense. There are also a lot of very pretty pictures of ’80s bathrooms and dressing tables with lots of plants everywhere!

It also gives a really interesting insight into the mindset of beauty specialists at the time. This is a little tangential, but when I studied history at university, the realisation that made the most sense of the passing of time to me was that you don’t know you are living in a particular period of history while the world is still going through it. Since the mid-’90s, society has had this very particular cultural view of the ’80s that it was the decade of excess – in fashion terms, that means big hair, big shoulders, excessive makeup, everything over-exaggerated. But reading the words of the authors in 1985 paints a very different picture. From their perspective at that time, it was the ’60s that were stark and over-exaggerated in makeup trends – white panstick, black eyes, no nuance – whereas ‘nowadays’ the trend was a lot softer and ‘more natural’. Given that we’ve been told for more than twenty years that ’80s makeup looked anything but natural, I found this standpoint absolutely fascinating!

I’m not the greatest at makeup, so I haven’t really perfected all the eyeshadow patterns yet, but the book does give a lot of tips to try out. It’ll be staying in my collection!

House is back to normal…

…though it’s looking very plain and blank now I’ve put away all the Christmas decorations! It’s spurring me on to get some pictures put up in the living room this week, which is one of those house things that’s just not been done yet.

Monday tomorrow, so hopefully I’ll be a bit more successful at dragging myself out of bed than usual!

OOTD 6th January 2019
OOTD: still loving my comfy dress! Glasses Emporio Armani (2017), dress Triumph (vintage 1980s, bought at vintage fair 2018), belt H&M (2017).

Today’s earworm playlist:

Julian Lennon – Too Late For Goodbyes
Tears For Fears – Head Over Heels
T’Pau – China In Your Hand
Prince – When Doves Cry
Tears For Fears – Shout
Freya Ridings – Lost Without You
Tears For Fears – Everybody Wants To Rule The World
Sparks – This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us
DJ Khaled, Justin Bieber, Chance The Rapper and Quavo – No Brainer
Heart – Alone
Spandau Ballet – True

Twelfth Night

Last day of Christmas, last evening with the Christmas decorations up! I’ll be taking them all down tomorrow morning.

It’s been a nice quiet day – we’ve got most of our bags unpacked and put away now. Geth has been playing videogames with nice soundtracks, and I’ve been getting on with my writing.

I’ve been trying and failing to get up early for the last couple of days. I’m going to try and get an early night so that I can make a better stab at it tomorrow morning! I really need to get back into routine.

OOTD 5th January 2019
OOTD: with bonus Christmas lights before they have to go away for another year! Glasses Emporio Armani (2017), hoodie unknown brand (2009).

Today’s earworm playlist:

Post Malone and Swae Lee – Sunflower
Loud Luxury and Brando – Body
George Ezra – Shotgun
Duran Duran – Save A Prayer
Band Aid – Do They Know It’s Christmas?

The last cider

I have a can of Flat Tyre in the fridge for tonight.

This would be a normal aspect of a Saturday night for me, so normal that it’s the kind of thing I wouldn’t even bother mentioning on my blog, not usually.

But it’s not a normal can of Flat Tyre, not to me.  It’s the very last Flat Tyre, the very last cider, and the very last alcoholic drink that I will ever have.  I’m going to explain why.

As such, this is going to be a long one.  But then, it’s a long story.

It was late summer 2004 when someone first told me I had an alcohol problem.

A few weeks earlier, I had suffered a complicated nervous breakdown due to a year of undiagnosed mental health problems coming to a head.  The end result was that my parents sent me to the GP, and I walked out with a clinical depression diagnosis and a list of referrals to more specialised mental health services.

There were so many specialists I went to see that it’s difficult to remember them all now, but they were all adamant that I couldn’t be treated unless I also got help for this alcohol problem I apparently had.  As you might guess, I didn’t see myself as having a ‘problem’ at all.

I had been a messy teenage drunk for several years – I had discovered the buzz that drinking too much gives you when I was about thirteen, and as my friends and I started to look old enough to get served in pubs, it became routine to spend the weekends binge-drinking, often to the point we would vomit and black out.  But that was normal, right?  All teenagers did that, or so it seemed.  I’m sure this particular brand of teenage idiocy was ubiquitous at the time, but it was especially prevalent in Scotland, where the culture normalised it so much.  We were Scots, and Scots were notorious for being able to drink all those other nations under the table.  (We were no cop at team sports, so we had to take pride in something.)

When I started university at seventeen in 2002, the binge-drinking weekends became binge-drinking weeks.  University culture involves societies, and societies do all their business on weekday evenings, and all of that business is done in the pub.  Being a shy person, and finding myself in a position of having to make new friends by myself for the first time since I’d started primary school in 1989, I felt I needed the extra Dutch courage.  Furthermore, being wholly in charge of keeping myself fed and watered for the first time, I found I was running out of money earlier in the month than I would have liked, and so I got into the habit of eating less so I could drink more.  I had enough energy that I was just about making it to classes – most of the time – but it became normal to me to feel constantly ill due to the drunk/hungover cycle.

However, I was still immersed in a hybrid of cultures that normalised this kind of drinking, and so when my psychotherapist referred me to the Alcohol Problems Unit at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, neither I nor anyone I knew really took it seriously.  I’d fallen into a comfortable role as ‘the drunk one’ in every friend group, and so I was used to treating the whole thing as a joke.  I vaguely tried to follow the advice I was given – which was to alternate alcoholic drinks with soft drinks – but as soon as I had one alcoholic drink, I wanted another, and soft drinks just seemed like a waste of time.  I attended the APU (sporadically – I would often miss appointments due to being hungover) between late 2004 and early 2006, and yet my 2005 diary, where I recorded my daily intake (the Bridget Jones influence was strong with me at that point) is frightening.  Almost half of my entries are written in my drunk handwriting, and I was averaging about 100 units a week.

2005 diary
‘V+O’ = vodka and orange. I measured it in eggcups because the APU doctor had told me I needed to measure it out rather than just sloshing it into the glass, and eggcups were the only thing I could find in the house for measuring. I also smoked a lot of cigarettes and weed when I was out, which was almost every night. SO HEALTHY.

After I got together with Geth in late 2005, things didn’t improve.  He liked a drink as much as I did, and he was also fond of big weekends – Six Nations rugby weekends, weekends away in London, music festivals.  All of these basically constituted hardcore weekend benders – there are many festivals and rugby days that I don’t actually have any memory of, and my memory is really good – and that was our lifestyle for a good decade plus.

Post-festival Facebook post
31 Somersby ciders equals 80.6 units in a single weekend, and that’s not even counting all the spirits and mixers we would have as nightcaps. Music festivals were always like that.

Furthermore, when I graduated from university in 2008, I quit smoking (meaning alcohol became my only stress-relieving drug), stopped having a reason to walk anywhere, and so started piling on weight.  This just meant that I had a greater tolerance for alcohol, so I ended up drinking more, and putting on more weight, and the cycle continued.

Coupled with the weight gain, my becoming more of a hermit – I couldn’t find a traditional job after graduation and so I ended up gradually building my own business, meaning I’ve mostly worked from home since then – meant that I became even more shy, and so unfamiliar social situations felt impossible.  Whenever I had to face one of these – such as a job interview, or joining a new exercise class – I would down a few ciders before I left the house to get rid of the nerves.  This was probably the one aspect of my drinking that I knew wasn’t ‘normal’, and so I would hide the bottles in order that Geth wouldn’t realise what I was doing.  When he was away at work conferences, I would switch to vodka so that I could drink late into the early hours by myself without having to worry about running out of alcohol.  On these occasions, I would often get through two-thirds of a bottle per night.

I still didn’t see myself as having a problem.  In 2011, I gave up alcohol for Lent, and I thought that managing not to drink for six weeks proved that I had a healthy relationship with booze.  But every time I had to tell a counsellor or a doctor what my average weekly intake was (which I always deliberately underestimated), they would look at me with absolute horror.  I’m not sure why this never bothered me.  I suppose in your twenties, you’re still hanging onto a sliver of that youthful feeling of immortality that caused you to pick up bad habits in the first place.  Either way, I had no desire or plan to cut down on my drinking at that point.

But in 2015, the year I turned thirty, three things happened.

First of all, after I moved to Newcastle, I (obviously) had a new GP.  I don’t always like going to see my GP in Newcastle, as he doesn’t sugarcoat things.  He’s the first GP I’ve ever had who I think may actually be my age if not younger than me (one of those signs that you’re getting old), and he really makes me work hard to explain why I still need my antidepressants at my annual review, which can be distressing.  The first time I went for one of these reviews and had to estimate how many units I was getting through per week, rather than doing the usual doctorly ‘you know, you should really think about cutting down’, he flatly told me that I’d end up with liver disease within fifteen years if I kept drinking the way I was.  While I still believed that genetics were on my side with that one – my mum has a fairly frequent wine intake and a very healthy liver – it was the first doctor’s comment on the subject that ever stuck with me.

Secondly, I started running.  I run in the mornings, and you can’t run with a bad hangover (well, you can, but it’s not pleasant), so heavy drinking nights before run days were out.

Thirdly, the running – much to my surprise and disgruntlement – was not causing me to lose weight.  I ran (very slowly, due to my near-constant joint pain) all through the second half of 2015, then all through 2016, culminating in my first half marathon in September 2016.  Despite this, in the autumn of 2016 I was back up to my highest weight, and so I decided to join Slimming World in the new year.

Slimming World is the most manageable way of healthy eating I’ve ever tried, which is why I’m still doing it two years later, but it is fairly strict about the amount of syns you’re allowed to have, and alcohol contains a lot of syns.  It quickly became apparent that I couldn’t keep drinking the way I had been if I was going to follow the plan properly – my weekly alcohol intake pre-Slimming World probably amounted to about 400 syns by itself, and you’re only supposed to have 105 in a week.

As such, I immediately cut down a lot.  I saved up syns for special occasions like weddings and festivals where I would ‘need’ to drink a lot of alcohol, and if I planned a weekend evening where I was going to have a couple of ciders at home, I made sure to time the start of drinking so that I would only have time for two drinks before bed.  If I mistimed it, I would end up having more.  It simply didn’t occur to me to stop drinking after finishing the two ciders that I’d planned.  It’s kind of awkward to explain, sitting here typing this out while sober, but when I’m a couple of drinks down, it feels like the most imperative, important thing in the world that I have another one.

(This is another thing that I just never saw as a problem for many years, simply because it’s so normalised – Geth always refers to the state of having had a couple of drinks and wanting to continue drinking as being ‘warmed up’, and so that’s how I always thought of it.)

As I lost the weight, while I felt healthier than I had done in years, I also found that alcohol was starting to affect me more strongly as my body mass went down and my tolerance with it.  Since I’d started taking antidepressants in 2004, I’d been told by doctors that I shouldn’t drink with them because it would negate the effect of the pills, but again, this was just something that went straight over my head.  After I hit target in May 2018, I found that even one or two drinks would often lower my mood to near-suicidal levels.  It’s very hit and miss – sometimes I’m fine, sometimes I’m really not – and throughout the second half of the year, as my mental health declined for unrelated reasons and the bad experiences became more frequent than the times it was okay, I realised that I would have to stop.  Not ‘for now’, not for Dry January, not for a few months or even a year, but for good.

As such, I spent Christmas finishing all the cider that Mum and Dad had kept for me at their house, and observing the way it was affecting me in a safe environment with lots of people around.  I had a lot of unhappy, melancholy thoughts over the holidays, just like I always do, but for the first time, I was able to understand how alcohol was contributing to that.

I love cider.  But my health is more important, and I’ve finally realised that due to mental health issues I’m not capable of functional, healthy alcohol use.

I’m terrified of giving up in some ways.  I’m scared about how it will affect my relationships with people with whom I will no longer be ‘drinking buddies’.  I’m scared about how I will feel the first time I catch sight of a new cider that I never got to try.  I’m scared about all the things I want to do in my life that I’ve always believed I would never be able to attempt without a few drinks in me.

But, because I’ve made this decision, I’m also feeling more positive about things than I have in years.  I’m looking forward to disengaging with all the stress around timing my drinking and worrying about what I said and did when I was drunk.  I’m looking forward to being able to focus in the evenings.  I’m excited about being able to use my syns for other things.

Tomorrow is my first day as a sober person.  I am hopeful that it will be the start of a more peaceful existence.

Book Review: Five Give Up The Booze

This book review’s fairly timely for me, seeing as it’s my last day of drinking today.

I think it was a couple of years ago that Bruno Vincent’s ‘Famous Five for Grown-Ups’ series started appearing in shops, and Geth and I bought a couple of them as gifts for people for Christmas 2016. However, it wasn’t until last summer that I actually got round to reading this one.

If you’re familiar with the original Famous Five stories, there’s a lot to enjoy in these. The kids from the original books have grown up and are now dealing (very comedically) with adult issues, in this case deciding to do Dry January after a particularly heavy New Year. Their resolve is complicated by an upcoming wedding, and some characters find they replace drinking with alternative bad habits. Timmy the dog, meanwhile, just puts his head down and waits for it all to be over.

It’s very well done and very funny and I will definitely be picking up the others in the series. I may even dip into my old childhood copies of the original Enid Blyton stories!

Back to work

I always take at least ten days off for Christmas, so there was a bit of a backlog of work to do for clients today. I got it all done though, so I’ve got a clean slate again for next week.

Now enjoying a relaxed evening with Geth playing Civilisation VI (it has a very soothing soundtrack).

OOTD 4th January 2019
OOTD: glad I work from home so I can still be this comfy. Jumper unknown brand (vintage 1980s, bought at vintage fair 2017), jeans Vivid (2018).

Today’s earworm playlist:

Ed Sheeran – Shape Of You
Spandau Ballet – True

New Hits Friday: 4th January 2019

New year, and the chart’s magically back to normal – all the Christmas songs have disappeared. Today’s new hits:

Russ – Gun Lean

It’ss a rap track with zero melody and thus not remotely my thing. There are also some grim lyrics (though it’s not nearly as bad as some others I’ve heard in the last year), meaning they didn’t play this one on the radio.

The video is a bit wealth-braggy with one of those Lamborghinis you never see in real life, but it gets bonus points for the sequence that was shot in a Sainsbury’s.

Cardi B – Money

Boring, no melody, extremely repetitive.

The video is pretty NSFW with lots of topless women wandering around some sort of weird bank.

Jax Jones and Years & Years – Play

It’s not super exciting, but there are some nice lines and I expect it will grow on me.

There’s no video for this yet.

Post Malone – Wow

Kind of dull. Could do with some more melody.

The video (for now – I’m not sure if they’ll make a live action one too) is a headache-inducing Christmas-themed animation.

Something else worth mentioning from this week’s chart: Baby Shark has made it to #6 – Top Ten for the first time! Some people must just have been watching the video all through the Christmas holidays.

2018 Chart of the Year

The UK Top 100 of 2018 has been confirmed! Some thoughts:

  • I at least ‘sort of like’ thirty-eight of the songs, which is more than I expected. The rest are all at least ‘fairly awful’, with a handful actually being painful to listen to.
  • I am hoping that the 2019 chart will not be similarly filled with songs from the soundtracks of film musicals.
  • I am not exactly thrilled that Calvin Harris and Dua Lipa’s One Kiss was the top song of 2018, ’cause I find it extremely dull.
  • However, I do think it’s brilliant that the Killers’ Mr Brightside, which was released in 2004, is still sitting at #80! Apparently this is because people are constantly streaming it to play in the background at things like weddings and football matches. It was probably my second favourite track out of the whole Top 100 (5 Seconds Of Summer’s Youngblood was my favourite), which says something about how much the quality of chart music has declined even in the last fourteen years!
  • I am already looking forward to the ‘Top 100 of the Decade’ chart that will be released in a year’s time…

Book Review: The Girl On The Train

The Girl On The Train was one of those books that I only ended up reading because of what I think of as the Kindle’s ‘3DS effect’ – i.e. the Kindle offered me a sample to see if I liked it, similar to the way the Nintendo 3DS offers me demos of its games to see if I like them.  I’ve ended up buying a lot of 3DS games this way, and similarly, I was intrigued enough by the sample of this book to buy the whole thing.

It’s a mystery told in a really intriguing way, with lots of unreliable-but-maybe-not narrators.  For me, the most interesting character was the protagonist, Rachel, whose alcoholism means it’s often hard for both her and the reader to see things clearly.

It’s a good, gripping read and I can understand why it’s been so popular.  At some point I’ll read Paula Hawkins’ follow-up, Into The Water, to see if I enjoy it as much!

Thirty-four

It’s my birthday today, but I didn’t go out tonight. I’m thirty-four years old now – I have far better things to do. Things I did do today:

  • Got up early and went to Slimming World, because it’s important to keep an eye on things over Christmas even when it is your birthday.
  • Opened presents and cards under Mum and Dad’s Christmas tree, just as I do every year. It’s the tenth day of Christmas and that Christmas tree is still important! Nobody’s ever got me any lords a-leaping for my birthday though.
  • Listened to my birthday number one – Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas? – more than once. Was inordinately pleased that the current chart rules mean that it is currently yet again sitting in the Top Ten a whole thirty-four years later.
  • Drank prosecco and blew out candles on my birthday cake – it was a New York style cheesecake as usual, made by the world’s best dad as usual!
  • Packed up and left Edinburgh to go back to Newcastle after ten lovely days spent at Mum and Dad’s for Christmas.
  • Got on a train. Geth was worried about travel stress spoiling my birthday, but it was actually a really relaxed journey.
  • Got home and put on the heating and both fires to warm up our ice block of a house!
  • Ordered takeaway pizza and drank more prosecco. It’s my last non-sober birthday, and it’s been a double-prosecco day. I am okay with this.
  • Spent a perfect birthday evening watching ’80s episodes of Top of the Pops recorded off BBC4. I’m very nearly at the point in the marathon where I’ll get to watch the episode from Thursday 3rd January 1985! So glad I was born on a Thursday. That one’s going to be staying on the digibox and constituting my birthday viewing for many years to come.

It’s been a good day.

OOTD 3rd January 2019
OOTD: favourite day, favourite jumper. Glasses Emporio Armani (2017), jumper Carlo Colucci (vintage 1980s, bought at vintage fair 2017), leggings Primark (2018).

Today’s earworm playlist:

Alison Moyet – This House
Duran Duran – Hungry Like The Wolf

And a bonus track that Geth was humming earlier:

Kraftwerk – The Model

Plus my awesome birthday playlist that I made on Spotify earlier:

will.i.am and Cody Wise – It’s My Birthday
50 Cent – In Da Club
Lesley Gore – It’s My Party
Bowling For Soup – 1985
The Birthday Massacre – The Birthday Massacre
The Crüxshadows – Winter Born (This Sacrifice)
Altered Images – Happy Birthday
Band Aid – Do They Know It’s Christmas?