We ask a boy: Can you meet the love of your life in a bar?

Thursday, 21 August 2014


"There was the date I had in my favourite local pub where she bought me a chocolate orange beer," he says while he chops onions for the home made fish pie he's treating me to. "It made me almost vomit. Every sip I had I pulled a weird face. I'd taken so long to drink it but I couldn't exactly say she'd picked up a terrible choice."

Why didn't he just order another, I ask? He has no good answer for that, other than being polite.

I'm grilling my fiancé over bar dates - as in whether you can meet a girlfriend at a bar. This was the first experience he immediately called to mind after I'd asked the question.

She'd had wine, of course, and left the exotic beer to her date because she's either a clever girl, or a clueless one. You're always safe when you pick wine. Even if you just go for a colour rather than try and decipher a zinfandel from a Pino Grigio.

Except red.

Never, ever pick red wine on a date.

"I'd met her while I was working at a bar. She was the same age, maybe a bit older, and really attractive," he says when I ask how the date came about.

I've never understood women who can pick up men in bars. I'd never have the figurative manballs to walk up to a random stranger and flirt my ass off in the hopes of a decent conversation let alone something as daring as asking for a number.

"Well, because you could see the name on the receipt she waited until I served her and flirted from there." HA. So she cheated.

After the orange beer debacle she'd apologised a thousand times but conversation wasn't great. "It was all about the drink. I just remember her asking 'is it ok, do you want another?' over and over again. When the sole conversation is about a terrible tasting beer it's not going to go any further than making out on the sofa and getting a cab home."

He says he just saw her around town after that. There wasn't much awkwardness, it was just put down to another bad date. She'd seemed like fun when they first met, but was anything but.

Another example?



"I was single," he says. Yeah, I remember it well - he'd broken up with a long-term girlfriend, and the rebound wasn't working out too well either. HA.

"It was England vs. France in the Six Nations and me and my friends had been out on an all day binge. A few lads had gone home but there was two of us who'd stayed out. I was single, with no commitments to worry about - finally."

"We'd met a few girls - friends of friends - who were out on a birthday night out. They were clearly flirting, and they were the only reason we'd stayed out so long. They'd left in the early hours and I was on my way home when I recognised a girl I'd met in a local bar. So I ended up going back inside with her, talking and having a really good night getting to know her."

Things progressed to first date territory and looked good. "We chatted, and had a few drinks a week later." It actually turns out her took her to London to see a show for their third date. Things were promising. Relationship territory seemed on the cards, and I even remember being told that if things happened with her our friendship would have to be put on the back burner. So it's just as well things went tits up I'd say.

"I loved a local pub way out in the country which had great food. It was a gastro pub type place where you can eat, drink and then relax. We'd had great conversation before and London was loads of fun so it was the best option."

He met her at her house and they got a taxi together. All was well. "We were chatty in the taxi, there was definite flirting too." Why wouldn't there be? You don't take just anyone to see Wicked, right? (I'm not resentful, promise.)

"We arrived at the pub where she promptly knocked back a few vodkas before we'd even ordered. When I asked if everything was ok she blamed it on a bad day."

The food came, she played and picked at it and barely said a word. "I asked after her again, she snapped back she was fine and then walked out mid meal. I was stunned. We were halfway through eating when she flounced out, so of course I finished my food. She'd not come back ten minutes later. So I finished her food. And drink."

"We shared a taxi home, and I couldn't help but laugh." He saw her two weeks later over coffee and she apologised. But that was that. Having bumped into her in the local supermarket nothing but tense smiles were shared.

I ask if it's possible to meet the love of your life in bar.

He says no. "It's never based on personality, it's all looks, or luck."

He's right. After a night in a London club recently it's impossible to find out anything useful about anyone with blaring music dominating the night. Even screaming into each others' ears (how romance) isn't enough to work. Really, how can you know anything about the stranger you've picked based on terrible sign language [LOUD DANCE MUSIC] signalling you need to go to the loo but order me another vodka red bull? [LOUD DANCE MUSIC INTENSIFIES]

"Alcohol plays a massive part too. There are exceptions, but almost everyone's out to get wasted and make bad decisions. Men don't tend to think with their heads and women may do things they wouldn't have normally done if they weren't full of fizz."

Even if you manage some modicum of self control and go on that second date, they're very rarely what you remember of them. As the first example proves.

"There's so little chance of personality being compatible, or finding an emotional connection with someone," he says. "When you meet at work or through friends you see them with their guard down. They're just being, well, them. If the groundwork's been made, either online or wherever, then a bar is just another setting."

"If not," he says, "it's a really random and awkward way to meet people."

So, we ask a boy, can you meet the love of your life in a bar?

"It happens sometimes. But let's face it, is that the story you'd want to to tell your grandkids?"

Do you agree? Can anyone start a decent relationship that way? Or have you ended up with your soulmate after a night in a bar? Let us know!


Interested? Read on...

The trouble is, you think you have time

Wednesday, 20 August 2014


Why does it feel, recently, that there's not enough time?

Perhaps thirty-somethings know how I feel. How, oh how, did I get to being 28? Where did all the time go? Why do I still feel exactly as I did when I was eighteen?

It's not ageing that bothers me. I can grow old as disgracefully as I like, and the best thing is - done properly - I can just be called eccentric. Or a cat lady. Ageing I've come to terms with. (Also I work with a fabulous aesthetic nurse who can halt time so there is that.)

The thing that bothers me the most is there's just not enough time for everything I want to do. I'm fully aware that ten years have passed me by since the day I turned 18 and thought 'I'm seeeeeeeeeh machuuuuuuure'. But what have I really done with my twenties?

I started learning Mandarin - and failed.
I started learning Thai - and failed.
I went backpacking a few weeks every year.
I got married.
And divorced.
I built houses.
I tore them down.
I met amazing people.
I lost amazing people.
I fulfilled one life's ambition: I did smoosh my face into a chocolate cake. That was AWESOME.

So you'll see on the navbar at the top of this post a new page, 50 things before 2015. Next year I'll be thirty, and I've allowed life to just pass me by for some reason. There are things I've been desperate to do but things, work, family, friends, have come first. 

Not any more. 

I want to see everything. I want to travel and try new things. See, people can spend their life focusing on researching one species of animal or one city or one lake and still not scratch the surface. So no wonder I feel like life's flown away. I'm not asking for forever (ok, I want forever) but I feel like I should be making the most of the time I do have.

I love a challenge, and putting these goals in writing means I have the motivation to make each one happen. 

So, any thoughts on what I should try first?

Photo: Kay Gaensler
Interested? Read on...

What to expect from a traditional Thai massage

Monday, 18 August 2014


I remember my first Thai massage. It was Khao San Road, so we're talking a genuine Thai person doing a genuine Thai massage, a decade ago. I was led through a wood panelled room to a waiting area while hushed girls wearing immaculate make up and the most gorgeous silk busied themselves with preparing the room.

Being a young, naive girl, I had no idea what to expect. Why were my feet being washed? And just how the hell was I meant to wear those trousers?

A traditional Thai massage experience will depend on whether you're paying for luxury in a hotel spa designed for tourists, or a side street off Phuket's seedy strip sharing bed space with a stranger. Both will leave you feeling relaxed, and perhaps a little bit mystified as to how the tiny Thai lady got you more contorted than a circus performer. It's more like assisted yoga, really. And yoga's good for the soul, right?

What to expect from a luxury Thai massage

A team of friendly, silk-robed, softly-spoken Thai women will greet you at the spa's reception with the traditional wai, placing their hands palm to palm held at neck height and giving you a little bow. It's a traditional Thai greeting, and given that you're in the Land of Smiles, one that you'll see wherever you end up.

Your therapist will lead you to a chair in a little room to have your feet washed and perhaps oiled with jasmine and orchid scented lotions. Warm water is poured over your feet to help remove the dust that will have inevitably covered your soles. This is the start of the experience, and one designed to get you relaxed and ready.

Once your feet are cleaned they'll be tightly and expertly wrapped in a towel and dried, and you'll be given dainty slippers to wear as your therapist leads you to your bed. You'll very rarely be in your own room - unlike in the UK massages in Asia seem to be a far more social experience whether it's a Thai massage on a beach, or in your own luxury wood panelled oasis.

You'll be asked to undress as a curtain is pulled around you. On the bed will be your attire for the massage, Thai silks. These are a top and a pair of trousers that'll probably seem massive. If they do, they'll more than likely be Thai fisherman pants, one of the most comfortable items of clothing a person can wear.

To tie them, put them on with the two long bits of string at the back. Hold the front upper edge so its taught against your back and your arms are slightly outstretched. Bring your left arm and the material toward your right hip so it sits comfortably around your whole body. Do the same with the other hand and other hip, so the material's folded over. Hold the pants up and grab the left bit of string, bring it to the front, then the right. Tie them together, and fold the material above the belt down. Voila!

Traditional Thai massage isn't about soothing oils and superficial body rubbing. Your therapist will begin by loosening your muscles up. She'll use her entire body to contort yours into shapes you never knew existed. You back will click, she'll slap you, climb on top of you and hold your hands behind your head while seemingly trying to snap your spine in half. This part's the same, regardless of how much you're paying. There will be much stretching, slapping and bending. She'll hold your arm and bend your knees and you'll hear all kinds of pops and cracks in your joints. It's not relaxing at the time and you'll probably wish you're dead, but it'll leave you feeling amazing.

After the massage she'll end with a head rub and leave you laying down to relax and get ready. Once you're done you'll wander back to the waiting room, sit down and be given a herbal tea to complete the experience.

You'll leave feeling refreshed and full of energy, and itching to get your next one soon.



What to expect from a £5 massage

These massages are held anywhere. More than likely it'll be in a patio door fronted small shop with florescent lights and communal beds. The ladies will be sat outside heckling you to come in with cries of 'masaaaaaaa for you!' You can barter a bit, but over the last couple of years I've found you can never get more than 50p to a quid off.

Now, I've read loads of posts about people being naked and fingers being put in places, boobs being touched, and happy endings. As someone who's had loads and loads of Thai massages in pretty divey places, this has NEVER happened to me. If you're worried about your masseuse offering a seedy service, head to one of the fairly open rooms on a main road and see how many other people are having a massage. Sure it'll be a conveyor belt of people in and out, but if you can see them with their clothes on, you're a goodun.

Basically, this massage will be exactly the same in routine as the posher massages. Your feet will be scrubbed briefly (shoes are left outside) and you'll stay clothed in whatever you're wearing. Wear a bikini if you fear nudity being imposed on you as there's no reason it can't be done without it.

A coarse towel will be placed over you and the process will begin, with the back cracking and spine popping.

At the end of the massage she'll probably give you a friendly slap or shake you awake, and you'll be on your away feeling lithe and limber.

Thai people are known for their welcoming and friendly demeanour, and their smile is a natural gesture to them. So whether you're getting a massage costing £200 in a spa designed by a world famous architect or a £2 on a beach platform knocked up by the locals, you're going to be getting the same service and warm, friendly smile.



Do

...wear loose fitting clothes. Ideally, buy a pair of cheap fisherman's pants as you'll be able to have the full massage in these
...give your masseuse a tip - it doesn't have to be much but the gesture will be appreciated
...tell them if you suffer with back pain. They'll modify the massage slightly


Don't

...eat much Larb Gai before a massage. Or anything. Just trust me on this.
...insult the staff. It's fun to barter, but remember you're in a developing country and a lot of girls don't get paid if they don't have customers - and even then they give half to the boss
...worry about what you look like. Chances are if you've almost been pulled apart by a tiny woman with super strength, the girl on the next bed over has too.


I'm going to Bangkok. Where should I get a massage?

Shewa Spa, off Susie Walking Street is great. They have a few floors and offer everything from manicures to waxing too.

Photos: Tara Angkor Hotel, Thomas Wanoff, Sofitel So Bangkok, Mark Grapengater.
Interested? Read on...

Here's how to: Create and write a blogger press kit / media pack

Friday, 15 August 2014


Hi [you],

My name's [PR's name] and I'm the account manager for [client]. I've had a look at your blog and I really love it! Your writing style is fantastic and you cover a lot of interesting subjects we feel could pair well with our clients.

I'm emailing to see if you'd consider a press trip to London to cover the launch of [fabulous bar]. We can cover travel expenses there and back, but you would need to make sure you arrange accommodation if you'd like to stay over.

If you could send over your blog's stats that would be brilliant. Do let me know if this is something you'd consider for your blog and I can give you more information.

Thanks [blogger], speak soon.

[PR's name]

Have you ever had anything like this pop in your inbox? To some, getting that elusive email can be the sign you've made it*. A PR thinks you're good enough to spend time and money on. WOW.

Getting that email means you've worked hard to get on a PRs radar, to make a popular, well-presented site documenting your passion. Whether it's fashion or food, baking or beauty, travel or tattoos, cocktails or cats… whatever you love to write about you've done it well.

When PR ask for stats, what we really need is called a press or media pack. This is so when we have to fill in those endless forms for our client about upcoming and secured coverage, we can show reach - how far that sample will go. To 50 people or 50,000. Who those people are. Where they're located. Basically, we want to know if our client can and should justify the time and expense offering a blogger their product. They want a return on what they're giving away for free after all.

If you have a long-running blog and feel like you could start reaching out to PR people, then you should start thinking about putting a pack together. I say pack, it only needs to be a one page PDF ideally, with a splash of colour. I've seen some incredibly beautiful spreads which show, to me, a blogger's really in the know about working with PRs, but even if it's a well put together one page, you've got the edge over others from the get go.

So. What should you include?


The details

You blog name should be fairly obvious, but the strapline, your motto or how you'd describe your site, could be the best thing you ever write. Make it short, sharp and to the point and tell PRs in an instant what you do. At best, you'll be the only blogger contacted. At worst, you'll be one of 100. Make sure your details are easily accessible. And always include a mobile number.

A photo

Show us what you look like. It means we know who you are if we're inviting you to a press launch. Try and make this as professional as possible. It just gives a better impression. No obvious selfies please!

About you

Not your life story. But include your age, what you do for a living, where you live. This is where you sell yourself so make it fun and pithy. Explain why you write about what you write about and include other places you've written if they have weight (we're talking HuffPo, Company, Glamour, not your local cat shelter's newsletter... long story with that one)

About your blog

Tell us what you cover on your blog, and what its niche is. Then talk about when you started it and why you blog. Talk about your plans for the future too - do you want to branch out into other topics? Have you got a strategy to increase readership?

Social media

Include Twitter followers, Pinterest stats, Facebook likes, Google+ whatevertheyares, Bloglovin follows, etc etc… this shows how far your reach is. Reach is how far a tweet or Pin goes.

Blog stats

Visitor, page views, Moz rank, page rank... all of it. Have an all-time section and stats for the past month too. Include logos of places your blog's been features, i.e Buzzfeed, Metro, HuffPo etc

Who reads your blog?

This might need a bit of work, but it's so so important. Who. Where. Why. What they like. Where they shop. How old they are. How many kids they have. How much they earn. And so forth. To get this, invite your readers to take part in a quick survey - create a free one using Survey Monkey, then offer a giveaway using collected email addresses. Nice for your readers and good for you too.

Reviews

Talk about how reviews work. What you'll review, what you won't, how posts will look, will it be disclosed, will you post negative experiences etc.

Sponsored posts

State how much you'll charge, how they'll look, how many words per post etc. and also include your disclosure and nofollow policy too. If you don't know all this, then just make a note as to whether you will accept a sponsored post or not.

Giveaways

Again, add info about types products you'll accept, how giveaways work, whether you'll incorporate social media or not and how many people applied for your last giveaway.

Forward features

Magazines often have a 12 month plan of what they're likely to feature. So if you have a general plan of where your blog is going in the next few months make a note of it here. This is a great way to ensure you have a steady stream of content, and also start getting paid for it too.

Ideally update your kit every month to keep it current, but if that's a bit too much then create a quarterly pack to reflect the last three month's stats.

Do you have a media pack? Do you need one? Do you even want PRs to contact you? Let me know. If you have one, or need advice on anything PR, tweet me at @sixoutoftenmag


*Not that a blog is ever less worthy than another based on the opportunities they're given, definitely not. I happen to think there are some sites out there getting a lot of attention when others are put together by far better writers. Perhaps that's just me though!

Photo Thomas Eagle
Interested? Read on...

Just what does depression feel like?

Thursday, 14 August 2014


After the shock death of everyone's favourite funny-man Robin Williams yesterday, the world was in mourning. Comments ranged from surprise at how someone so seemingly happy could decide to end their life, to calls for the media to report depression and suicide in a more ethical manner than has been before.

So what does depression feel like? Is depression just feeling sad? Can you snap out of it? Does thinking happy thoughts help you get out of being depressed?

Here's what it was like for me.

It's not being sad, because that would mean that you feel something
Sadness is a good sign. Feeling sad means you have emotion, and if you can feel sad you can feel extremes. Depression feels like, well, nothing. Your favourite movie leaves you bored. Your funniest joke doesn't tickle you. Nothing makes you sad or upset, and nothing makes you happy. You feel like shell of a person, unable to feel anything except a sense of being trapped and guilt. Guilt for knowing you shouldn't feel this way.

It's like everyone else can enjoy the sunshine but you're shrouded in fog
You can see everyone else making the most of their life, but you feel numb. It's like your friends and you are on the same beach but they have the sun shining on them and you don't. Everyone around you is sunbathing and playing volleyball and socialising and having so much fun, but for you there's no sunshine. It's drizzly and cold and you can't even see the sea thanks to the mist. Everyone around you wants you to enjoy life because they are. And you can see they are. And you want to, so desperately. But how can you when your brain and body doesn't feel like your own? When you feel like you're living in a haze?

It's when sleep seems like the best thing ever, because for those precious moments you're not trapped
I used to love dreaming. Because in those dreams I felt inexplicable joy and unfathomable sadness. Dreams seemed to be how my brain would cope with the lack of emotional processing throughout the day - it was a natural outlet for the experiences I had encountered but been unable to process in my waking life. Even if I had a dreamless night, the relief of knowing that for a few hours I could rest made sleep my best friend. It's why suicide seems like a good option - one I've contemplated many times. Because it ends the numbness, the hopelessness and despair of the illness you have. It's seemingly the only way for peace.

It's not being able to recall good memories. It's like they never even happened.
My ex's favourite saying was 'think of the good times' but really, it's impossible. Everything seems bleak, like you're a spectator in your own life's story. You know you had fun and enjoyed life at one point, because you haven't always felt this way. But for some reason those memories seem lost, shrouded in that fog which consumes all emotion and logic. And if you can think of them, there's no emotion attached. It's as if you're watching someone else's home videos - you can see what's going on, you can see people having a good time, but how can you feel anything if you weren't there?

It's not being able to ask for help, because really, no one can
A lot of comments were of people feeling angry after Robin took his life. It's like they were personally insulted they didn't reach out to help him. But it doesn't work like that. People can help no more than they can someone with cancer, diabetes, or cystic fibrosis. Doctors can barely change the chemicals floating around the body, so how can Joe Public help? Of course, it may seem that taking you out for a few drinks or for a lunch date will 'fix' you, to people who think you're just a bit sad. It won't. It's a temporary fix to a medical condition and all the tea and talk in the world can't help that. In fact, it leaves things worse. 'Why didn't you tell me' always made me feel guilty. I didn't need someone to tread on eggshells around me. I needed the normalcy of my close friends and family. Fortunately my family, when they found out the extent of how depressed I was, offered nothing but understanding. 

It's feeling scared to say you're depressed because people just can't ever understand. 
You can have all the money in the world, the most dotingly perfect family, a wonderful relationship and a job that earns you enough money to be able to live a comfortable life. But none of this matters. I say again, cancer doesn't discriminate. It targets the rich, the poor, the seeing, the blind, the old, the young, the happy and the sad. The same with depression. It's an illness, it's nothing to do with lifestyle or wealth, or whether you're a loner or a social bunny. It's not just feeling sad or low or being in a rut. It's not thinking about good times. It's not about any of that. And the sooner people realise just what depression is, the sooner we'll find sufferers more willing to express themselves. 

It's making the illogical seem the only option
I know, looking back, the decisions and thoughts I had at my lowest points weren't logical. But to me, they made perfect sense. In fact, nothing made more sense than my warped ideas and no advice and encouragement from those worried about me would work. This is what most people fail to realise about taking your own life when depressed. It seems so logical and clear at the time. It's the most perfect way out. 

When the working environment and employers cater for the depressed as they would someone with a broken leg, when doctors seek to treat the root cause instead of passing out pills, and when the public see that wealth and status are inconsequential, perhaps then we'll see an improvement in how this condition is treated. Depression isn't being just sad, it isn't a choice, it isn't moping for the sake of moping.

Me? I can say that it was a long struggle to get out of bed half the time. It took agonising willpower to not let it beat me. I could see my life passing me by one foggy day after the next, and eventually got the help and advice I needed to make my life a little bit better, day by day. It'll always be there, I know that. But for now, I can feel happy again.

There isn't a cure for depression yet. Who knows whether there ever will be. But with Robin Williams bringing the true seriousness of it to light, I just hope people will understand this complex condition. Even just a little bit.

Photo Louis Vest
Interested? Read on...

Wanderlust and Envy: The Booklover's Dream at Pera Palace Istanbul

Tuesday, 12 August 2014


Turkish tea and a library perfect for any bookworm feature in this opulent 115-room hotel in Beyoglu. Dating back to 1895, the hotel has been furnished in luxury decor with pinks in the patisserie to a mix of gorgeous purples in the library. From the ornate lobby with marble tile floors, to the elegant afternoon tea, to the live piano music, to the (working!) original wrought-iron elevator, everything about Pera Palace evokes the bygone days when posh Europeans traveled to Istanbul on the Orient Express. Part of the Jumeirah stable, it's to be expected really. The hotel is old, but the sympathetic design and refurbishment make it an exquisite place to spend a weekend exploring the city.

One of the hotel’s luxury suites is even named after Ernest Hemingway who had one of his characters stay at the hotel. Others are named after Greta Garbo, the gorgeous Swedish silent movie actress, mystery writer Agatha Christie, and Pierre Loti, a French writer.

Rates for this hotel aren't cheap. A standard twin room costs just under £200, with a weekend in the Hemingway suite costing over £1,000. But when there's so much old school glamour and elegance, it's the experience rather than just a bed to sleep the night.
Interested? Read on...