25 January 2016

From L to P: My Top Tips for Learning to Drive.

One of the best gifts I received for my 30th birthday at the end of 2014 was a block booking of driving lessons from my in-laws and on the 5th January I passed my test. Before I started I was a nervous wreck. I’d never had a reason to drive so never bothered however moving slightly out of town it now makes sense and it also gives Jamie a bit of break. My MIL was recommend Mike at Mike Avern DriverTraining (also on Facebookby her college friend and although I would highly recommend Mike myself you do have to find an instructor who’s right for you which takes me to top tip #1. 
1. Find a good instructor. And by good, not just good at their job but also a good, nice person. Learning to drive is a scary, nerve-wracking experience without being taught by someone you don’t like. My worry was an instructor who would shout at me for doing something wrong and unfortunately they do exist, luckily Mike came highly recommended and was a joy to work with.

2. Get your theory test out the way early. I downloaded two apps’ for my phone and practiced/studied for about 2-3 weeks, even then there were two questions on my test that I’d never come across before. There are two parts, multiple choice and hazard perception and you must score a certain amount on both to pass. The multiple-choice part lasts for 57 minutes and the pass mark is 43 out of 50 – bragging slightly but 49/50 – yay! The hazard perception was my worse part, I just couldn’t get the hang of it if I’m honest. The pass mark is 44 out of 75, this time I got 46 – thankfully a pass, just! There are lots of websites on line, you can buy packs with books & a disc for your PC, but for me the phone app’s worked brilliantly.

3. Trust your instructor. Roundabouts are my nemesis, I hate them, especially big ones without lights (although Sherriffhall roundabout is a nightmare!!). However I trusted my instructor when he told me I was ready to tackle these obstacles. When we first hit speeds of 70mph on the bypass, using slip roads, all things that scared the crap out of me. (What if I crash…? What if I kill us both…?) But I was in safe hands and soon learnt that.

4. Don’t be hard on yourself and think you have to master it in a short time. It took me 45 lessons, 62 hours to pass my test, and a couple of private lessons with Jamie. As a rough guide; the Driving Standards Agency research shows that the average person will need at least 47 hours of lessons and 22 hours of private practice before they pass their test. Make the most of your partner, parents, friends if the offer to give you some free lessons.

5. Bear in mind the cost. Learning to drive isn’t cheap and I’d suggest buying in bulk if you can. I was very lucky in that my mother-in-law helped out with the cost of mine but not everyone has that privilege. My lessons were £150 for 5 hours, £75 for 3 hours and at 1.5 hours per lesson it does add up. On top of this my renewed licence was £14 (£34 for a new licence), £23 for my theory test and £62 for my practical. It would be much better to save for a bit before booking some lessons up rather than having to take a break every couple of weeks.

6. Book your Practical test far in advance. The current wait time for a practical test is approx. 6-7 weeks, I’d like to think I’d have passed before the end of the year if I’d been able to get a resit sooner, however the earliest I could get with a suitable time was 9 weeks later. Personally I tried to get a time out-with rush hour, my first time was 10.24am and second was 11.21am, the other good thing was this was a time  I could use the bus lanes.

7. Don’t worry if you fail! I failed my first test at the time I was gutted and didn’t want to tell anyone I’d failed. I barely told anyone I had my test in the first place which was a plus. My first test wasn’t great, I was nervous and it wasn’t helped that I felt my examiner wasn’t interested, wasn’t happy and basically I found his attitude put me anything than at ease. In the end I failed for speeding which was a stupid mistake and not something I’d gotten into a bad habit of doing i.e. not checking my blind spot, not using my mirrors enough. What was the worst thing that happened!? I had to pay out £137 for more lessons and a new test. The plus point was those few extra lessons made me more confident. My second test (obviously) went much better, my examiner was a nice gentleman, he put me at ease, chatted a little but not too much.

8. Lastly, don’t have a massive cheesy smile on your face when your instructor takes your ‘I passed’ picture.

26 November 2015

When I was sixteen...

...when I was sixteen I had an affair.

I mentioned in my last post about spending over 2 years in the wrong relationship because I was too proud to admit I’d f**ked up. Well, here’s that story.

Now, before we get all judgy let me set the scene.

At 14 I joined army cadets, I LOVED it! At 16 I got moved to a different detachment, reason as to why I'll visit at a later date. When I started at the new detachment there was a new adult instructor John, I thought he was cute, he was 21.

Adult instructor/Cadet relationships were nothing new, senior adults pretended not to know but I’d say 90% of them do. I can’t comment if this is still the case but at the time it was.

Over the course of a couple of months I got to know John, we’d walk home together after cadets with a few others. He told me he was separated from his wife but sleeping on their sofa until he got himself sorted, they had married at a young age and it just wasn’t working anymore. They also had a son who was almost one. He didn’t have a job at that point; he had been in the army but had been medically discharged. Who was I to question anything?
A few weeks later we had our first kiss.
A few weeks after that we got caught having a kiss by the detachment commander and my cadet career was over. I was completely gutted I won’t lie.

In the February I had started my first job, I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do career wise so a comfortable job in the Tax Office was appealing. In May 2000 I got my own flat as such my Uncle had had an affair, met someone new, they’d bought a house and hers was up for rent. So here I am, 16, full time job, a 21 year old boyfriend. What could be more grown up and better than that?? How about being dragged through divorce & custody hearings?

John wasn’t separated, not even close. I should have called it quits there and then. I didn’t.
His wife, well call her Stacey, was, well, livid, angry, hurt, betrayed. And of course you would be the man you had been with since you were 15 had suddenly ran off with someone 5 years younger than him. Was 16 year old me bothered? Nope. I had been promised the world by this man, I was spun lies upon lies of how their relationship was failing before I was around and that meeting me had giving him the courage to end things. BULLSHIT! But I fell for every word. I was naive.

But Susan, he’d lied?

Yes he had but I was already so under his spell I believed it wouldn’t happen again, we’d live this blissful little life together and it would be amazing. Even when his ex begged for me to walk away, throwing in the claim he had been violent towards her I was talked round. ‘Why would she want him back if he’d been violent?

Come August that year I left the cosy rented flat and moved into a council flat with him, in to a high-rise, in Muirhouse!! I was already regretting things. John still had no job, he wasn’t even looking. We were in and out of lawyers offices, court rooms, I was threatened by his ex, her family, oh the joys. Then our flat was broken into a few month later, icing on the Christmas cake!  

In January we moved into another council flat, this time in much more familiar territory as I’d grown up there. As much as I knew every housing account was in John’s name, this meant I gave him X amount a month to keep the flat; I bought all the food, paid all bills, he had a good life. Only when I moved into my own flat did I realise that there will unpaid bills in my name which lead to a terrible credit rating that I then worked years to repair.

So this was year one. Ok, it wasn’t fantastic but it could only get better yes?

For almost a whole year I didn’t see my friends, I saw my mum once/twice a month, I missed out on my little sister growing up. I got FAT! And I mean FAT! I’m 5ft 2”, even now at a size 10/12 I’m flabby. But I was squeezing into size 14s. The reason? Eating my loneliness and feelings. Almost every night was a takeaway, fish & chips, Chinese, I couldn’t really cook for shit. It wasn’t all the home-made meals it is these days. On top of this my self-esteem had been battered down to nothing. (No-one else will ever want you….)

Eventually John got a job as a Security Guard in a shop (hurrah!) It didn’t pay much but that wasn’t the point, it was a job. I imagined holidays, driving, buying a house. Erm, no Susan don’t be so silly. What happened was me leaving work at 3.30pm every day and getting a bus from Haymarket to Gilmerton to meet him from work and get the bus home together. What happened was me sitting in all the time whilst he went out with friends (in fairness I was still 17 at this point and looking about 14). What happened was I took every Wednesday off to stay at home with him as this was his day off. With him ‘calling in sick’ on my behalf.

In the same year his sister had a baby, we went to visit them all at his mums. Although I’d had the pleasure of being on the receiving end of his words, chipping away at my confidence this was the first time he’d been physically violent. I wanted to go home, that was all. His sister & mum had gone out and his sister’s boyfriend and his cousin (I think) were in the living room.

I went into the bedroom to speak with him, moments later I was pinned to the bed, his legs tight against me so I couldn’t move, he spat in my face and laughed when I cried. I got out of there as fast as I could. I felt like I had nowhere to turn, of course I did, I DID have friends and I DID have family, I thought they hated me, wouldn’t want to know. He caught up to me at the bus stop and we went home in silence.

There was still ongoing drama throughout this with his ex and custody hearings are not fun. I sat like the good little girlfriend, held his hand and supported him. I gave statements, honest statements, over and over. In the end he gave up custody rights to get a quick divorce. 16 and named in divorce documents – Score! On top of that I had been asked by him to send text messages to his ex’s family and friends, why did I do it? I was scared not to but I was also stupid to do it. The end of which got me into serious trouble.

I’m pretty sure people at work knew there was something wrong. He was constantly on the phone to me checking up, texting, calling my work phone. Just after my 18th birthday we had after work drinks. He came along and made me leave. The look on my bosses face will stick with me forever, she was shocked and disgusted, I think she knew better than to get involved though. In the Summer we ‘took a break’ after he tried to choke me and threatened to stab me. I went to see him at his mums to drop of some things & chat.

He kissed me, I didn’t want him to, he touched me, I didn’t want him to, he forced himself on me, I said no, he didn’t listen. Regardless of your relationship status, no means no. After I text my friend and got him to pick me up, I went home, numb, and told very few people. I was ashamed.

From one person I was emotionally, physically, sexually and mentally abused. I know anyone reading this will think, why didn’t you just walk away? Easier said than done my friend. When someone has such a hold on you that you feel totally alone apart from them, it’s hard.

By August 2003 I had had enough. He left the flat for good. In February 2004 I moved into my own flat, he took the other one back. I left almost everything, £3k worth of trust fund. But it was worth my sanity, my freedom. I had my friends turn to me, those who don’t know the full story, ‘I never liked him’ – I know they think that’s the right thing to say, it’s not, be supportive.

I always view myself as a strong woman, ask Jamie, I’m determined, strong minded, I won’t take shite from many folk. Three years ago I saw John for the first time, in fact I’m not even 100% sure it was him; it looked like him from side and behind. I was in the queue at Greggs, I was shaking, my heart pounding, I was scared. Even after such a long time someone still has that effect on me and I’m sure he still would if I saw him now.

After it ended I got my friendship back with Claire, unfortunately other circumstances mean we are no longer friends but she was a great strength to me at that time. I started going out, like to clubs, and pubs, the things I hadn’t done before. I spent money on myself, I bought new clothes, I got fit and I learnt to cook proper meals.

Seeing my sister grow up over the last few years (she’s just turned 20) I see all the things I should have been doing. Going on girlie holidays to Spain, learning to drive, saving money, blowing money, getting blind drunk at 18, living life. She really is one of my favourite people. I hear stories from friends and Jamie of younger days and Uni days. This is what I should have been doing NOT playing step-mum to a 1 year old and financially supporting a 25 year old man.

His ex still hates me, I don't blame her. I saw her in Ocean Terminal about 5 years ago, she told me I’d ruined her sons life. She now has two other kids and is with the guy she met straight after John, he seems like a nice guy, I think she got the better deal. I saw her again a few times in the gym, she didn’t say a word.

So why am I writing this post? It’s pretty personal. But isn’t that what a blog is for, sharing your life experiences hoping to reach just one person that may be in the same or similar position and showing that you can get out, people are there for you even when you think they aren’t? Ask for help. Never be afraid to admit you made a mistake.

27 April 2015

30 things in 30 years! (Part 1)

Turning 30 wasn't a big deal but it did make me look back over my life and analyse things I've done, choices I've made. The other morning I was doing my deepest thinking in the shower, as we all do, pondering the meaning of life and all that, when I thought - if I could have told future me, younger me, what I've learnt in the past 30 years what would I say?! 
I set a bit of a challenge to list 30 things in my 30 years I've learnt about myself and about life in general, as it's a bit wordy, here's part one. 

1. Boys are not the most important thing in life and never will be. I've spend most of the last 15 years in relationships. (3 of which have been long term). I've never had a one night stand and I can list every guy I've dated. But growing up I always thought finding 'the one' was the be-all in life, a bit like Mark from Peep Show with slightly less social awkwardness. It took a long time for me to realise I like my own company more than some guy I 'kinda' like. I realised that I didn't have to be such a walk-over when it comes to them and that it's not a good look, it looks desperate and needy. I've been used and I've used guys in return, I've had my heart broken & broken hearts, I've cheated & been cheated on (karma!). Over the past 30 years I wasted around 13 of them wondering if that one guy who kept coming back into my life would one day stay for good but then I met Jamie (as cliche as that is) and I 'woke up' and realise he wasn't what I wanted anyway, the 18 year old I had wanted when I was 15 had long gone. For the first time in 10 years I said no, I didn't jump when he asked, I'd moved on.

2. Never be afraid to swallow your pride and admit you made a mistake. This would have honestly saved me 2 years of my life living with someone I didn't even like after the initial 'honey-moon' period. Someone who made me unhappy, who was emotionally, verbally and physically abusive, all the things I swore growing up I'd never put up with. I wish I had just said to my mum, 'I'm sorry, I was wrong, I made a mistake. Help me put it right?!' So big or small, sometimes you just have to admit you were wrong. 

3. Always handle your own finances. When I was 16 I lived with a 21yo (above), having never lived away from home I left him to set up the bills etc, I was responsible for paying them as the only one working. What I didn't know was, he wasn't paying them all. This resulted in a terrible credit rating & a CCJ which I then had to work hard for years building up to 'good' again. The CCJ impacted on everything and made obtaining a mortgage before this was cleared off my credit report almost impossible. Thankfully now it's not a worry and as much as I trust Jamie with my life I always know what's paid, when etc.

4. Never change to be the person someone else wants you to be. Before I met Jamie, I made a promise to myself, in my next relationship I wouldn't be 'pretending', I would be me, 100% me. After my previous relationship ended my brother was treated to the spiel 'your sister changed, she's not the person I met' - And yes, I had changed, but really I'd gone back to being the real, proper me. I'd started watching football again, I'd been out with mates watching the Six Nations, I'd been meeting mates for mid-week beers, started hanging out with old friends, actually having a life again. If we were both honest, this relationship should have ended about 2 years before it did and I'm not even sure why it didn't. Comfort? Scared to move on? Maybe he'll/she'll take the jump before I do? I don't know the answer. 
Maybe changed is the wrong term, I stopped doing a lot of things I was doing before, I stopped seeing friends as much, I went out literally 3 times a year (my birthday, Halloween, Fee's birthday) and that was it because out of guilt I didn't want to leave them on their own. I stopped watching sports I enjoyed because it didn't interest them. I stopped seeing certain people because they didn't like it. Things you shouldn't have to do in a relationship. 
When I met Jamie I was very open about things from the start, this is who I am. I like watching football, I like beer, I'm not a girly-girl, I won't tolerate sh!te from you. And it worked. We have shared interests which is great, not a lot beats a night in with beer, football and pizza, but also we have our own mates,  hobbies  and interests. Along the way some of these have intertwined, I'll happily go watch a rugby match (have you ever seen Tim Visser in shorts? ;)) and Jamie, with the help of a few beers, would come jump about to All Time Low with me. 

5. Do have some kind of career plan, but also do something that makes you happy. When I left school in Feb 2001 I went straight into a job in a government office and stayed there for 5 years. I hated by the end, actually hated it. So I left and worked in a bar for a year. Growing up I'd wanted to 'be a barmaid like my mum'. My mums job always looked so much fun, I used to get to go and sit on a stool at the bar, drink lime & lemonade and eat onion rings, this was the life  (of a 6 year old). I LOVED my job in Marcos, I LOVED the staff, I LOVED the customers, I LOVED pulling pints, having banter on reception, seeing the same faces coming into the gym day in, day out. But the pay wasn't the best. In an average week I would end up with one day off, a Monday morning so I could go to Cav on the Sunday night. Regularly I would get a call on a Saturday/Sunday morning asking me to cover Little Marcos, even though I'd gotten in about 3am from working the night before, I LOVED it but it got too much and I started looking for a normal office job again. 
I got a job working on reception for a small company in Leith, after a while I was helping out the Project Managers with small jobs, then I became an Assistant Project Manager, and now I'm a fully fledged PM and hopefully I'll soon be a fully qualified PM with my PRINCE2 qualification under my belt. If I could go back I would have told younger me to stay at school, to go to University (for the experience as much as the degree) and get a game plan, although my MIL is currently studying Gaelic and Scottish studies now that she's retired so I guess it's never too late. 

I think the next 25 of these won't be as in-depth or as deep going as these 5 will be 'don't over-pluck your eyebrows' isn't really in the same category some how....

If you could go back to younger you what would you tell yourself? Even if it wouldn't or couldn't be changed.

23 March 2015

Our Big Announcement

So I meant to pop this a while ago, and unless you live under a rock I've probably bugged you enough with our news. Which was.....

.....we bought our first house! Yup Jamie and I are officially home owners!

Some of Pinterest followers may have twigged something was going on as I've been abusing those boards like heck the past few weeks but I wanted to wait until everything was official before announcing it. I hadn't even told many people it was happening at all. 

So on 6th March we picked up the keys to our very own 3 bedroomed semi-detached house in Woodburn (bye, bye Leith). It's going to be really odd for me not being a 10 minute walk from work, not having The Shore on my doorstep or being a 22 bus journey from town. However, a good few of my friends live out East Lothian way and maybe I can convince others. 

The place isn't in bad nick decore wise, however I'm looking forward to putting our mark on it. And having a garden has been brilliant so far, bring on the summer.
Rudi's been outside twice now and exploring away, looking a bit more excited that this!! 

It's been strange packing up the little flat, it was never, ever intended to be anything other than a 'stop gap' but things happened and I ended up being there for 10 years in the end, almost to the day in fact. There's been some good memories created in this place, as well as some absolutely chaotic nights. 

I've had numerous flat mates, the cross-dressing bouncer, the (ex) best mate, my little brother for a while, two of my bestests Fee & Gordon, and lastly Jamie & Rudi cat (OK, the last two weren't technically flat mates) but each one has taught me a lesson in life. 

Now I'll probably be updating more with decorating, new things we've bought etc but at the same time I'll be looking for A LOT of tips of you guys. Espsecially if anyone's clued up on gardening and growing veggies.