Posts Tagged ‘health’

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what it feels like for a quitter.

May 14, 2013

2013 seems to be a year of me leaving things behind in search of establishing my independence, and although this can be called “quitting”, I guess that quitting isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve left one job for another, which has turned out to be at times a disorienting move, but ultimately one that has improved my sanity and quality of life, as well as my prospects for moving up the career ladder (I desperately need to get into a managerial position and gain experience of leading a team). My new job isn’t perfect, and it is a slight departure from what I thought it would entail, but at the end of the day, I am happy for now and I hope that it will be a stepping stone to greater things.

One of the loves of my life, Starbucks, has been another thing I’ve drastically cut down on. As money became tighter during the first few months (note to self and anyone reading: always budget for food!), Starbucks was something I didn’t really need and so I didn’t spend on it. Occasionally I will still have one, but work provides free instant coffee so that is sufficient to wake me up once I get into the office; Starbucks is much more of a social thing nowadays. Also, they do wonderful specialty coffees (read: sweet, sticky treats of drinks) and I still adore a white chocolate mocha or a strawberries and cream frappuccino; but it’s not great for the waistline! Especially when I now live full-time with a fabulous chef who always makes seconds.

And nor is quitting smoking. I started off the year well enough, but soon I started to make exceptions; one in my break during Italian class; one when I was feeling stressed at lunchtime; one nearly every lunchtime… Although going up to 4 cigarettes a week is hardly anything to write home about when I was smoking 8 a day only 6 or so months ago, it represented a breakdown in my willpower. So after a discussion with Toby where he found out about my secret smoking and was shocked, I ended up handing over my cigarettes and lighter to him because I knew that this was a way to completely stop myself from cheating. And it’s worked – I’ve gone nearly 4 weeks without a single cigarette.

Quitting smoking isn’t too difficult in terms of the practical sense; don’t bring your cigarettes with you, and you don’t smoke. Don’t bring your lighter with you, and you can’t smoke even if you buy cigarettes. But it’s the mental games that you play with yourself – on one of the rare warm, summery days, having a cigarette is so carefree and relaxing. It is de-stressing, and it is a way of killing time. Watching other people smoking makes me feel envious of the moment they are enjoying. I gave up smoking – surely one every now and then can’t hurt? (That’s the kind of thinking that leads to making exceptions for yourself, and that’s how I started back on them a couple of months ago.) Why should I have to sacrifice everything?

Everyone has vices – this is true. Do I honestly, truly think that I have smoked my last cigarette? I doubt it. I enjoyed smoking so much,  and I think about smoking quite often because I am still conscious, after this amount of time, that I am depriving myself. But when Toby found out that I had been smoking in secret, he was really upset because he hadn’t known about it (I was ashamed to say anything, and I also felt – quite defiantly – that I didn’t have to report to him. Even though it may have helped, in this case) and he wanted to help me help myself to give up. So I gave him my smoking paraphernalia and that has been the practical part solved. Even now, I often feel tempted to give up on giving up – denial is exhausting, rebellion is satisfying and makes me feel free. But I also know that it’s an illusion – smoking ties down my money and my health (even though you can’t feel it short-term). Toby said to me that he wants to help me give up to support our future together, and to help us ensure that we can grow old together.

Thinking about these words, and about the fact that he was disappointed that I was creeping down the slippery smoky slope, give me the inspiration to try as hard as I can to remain smoke-free. I want my partner to be proud of me, I want us to live long lives together as much as is possible, and more than anything I want to demonstrate that I can triumph over temptation and maintain my willpower. I found out that not long after I quit smoking, Mike also did – now, if he can quit smoking, I guess anyone can! He had a throat infection over the winter (and various chest and lung problems in the run-up to that), and this finally spurred him to quit smoking because he couldn’t smoke during his infection, and once he stopped he thought he might as well stay stopped.

The life of a quitter is hard. The argument in my head that I have already deprived myself of plenty (see above) and why should I enforce this suffering on myself – everyone has vices and their own personal addictions, and I don’t get any reward or gold star for behaving so abstemiously – is a strong one. I had a dream last night that I was in Italy – glamour central! – and I had met up with some man who was supposed to be my father (although he didn’t resemble my actual dad in any way) and his new girlfriend. Everyone around me was smoking, and I was so tempted to have a cigarette, but what convinced me to resist was that even in my dream, I knew that Toby would be upset with me. If I feel a little bit like I am being controlled, I can tolerate it only because I know that Toby is trying to help me and ultimately liberate me, and I’ve given him permission to do that. So I don’t know if I will make it as a non-smoker all the way to the end of my days, but I hope that by taking each day at a time, I could maybe do it? The life of a quitter is uncertain. But it’s also hopeful.

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enter: 2013

January 2, 2013

I have found that writing a list at the start of each year has been a fairly successful way of realising at least some of my ambitions, as well as being able to look back at the previous year and seeing how far I have come. Since I started this blog back in 2009, each year has resulted in a lot of changes and accomplishments, which makes me incredibly happy!  So before I look at what I hope to have in store for 2013, I want to review my goals for 2012 and see how I did.

1. Learn to cook a new dish every month.

Tick… well, I got just over halfway before finally getting bored of this. I am just not one for cooking, and I really did not enjoy it. But after nine months’ worth of trying to make new dishes, I have learned some useful things and when I find myself in the situation of having to cook a meal, I can usually concoct something from whatever ingredients are in stock without resorting to a ready meal or pulling my hair out. So I think that that is progress!

2. Cut down on takeaways – to once a fortnight.

More or less! I think some weeks we do better than others, but we definitely have less takeaways than we used to. Hopefully we will renew our strictness with this rule over the coming year.

3. Move in with Toby.

Tick! This was one of the big achievements this year – we now are living together in our beautiful flat in Chiswick, and we are very happy.

4. Pay off my student overdraft.

Nope. Last time my car ate my money, this time the new flat and two wonderful holidays (to Paris and Prague) did it instead. But hopefully 2013 will be the year! Especially as I am being charged for using this overdraft now – so I’m fairly confident I will defeat it.

5. Learn Italian

Tick! In a couple of weeks, I will be starting my third term of learning Italian at the Italian Cultural Institute on Belgrave Square. My teacher Giuseppe is fantastic, and I really enjoy it.

6. Learn to sew

Tick! I think I learned this skill fairly early on into the year, and it’s been useful throughout. Now, I can repair holes and tears in tops, underwear, socks and trousers, and keep my wardrobe going a bit longer.

7. Finish my new album

Tick! Well, I finished 2526 – I had hoped it would be longer and wider in scope, but in the end the concept of the album dictated that I had to finish it in October. But nevertheless I am proud of it and I feel that the mood and quality of the songs represent another step forward for me musically.

8. Go completely digital with my music and film collections, and only keep physical copies of what I really love

Nope, not yet. I’ve managed to get all of my DVDs from Bristol to London, and the next thing is to get my CDs up here. I already sold a lot of the ones that I knew I didn’t want, but it’ll be easier to work out what I want to keep and sell once I have everything here in my flat, and can just put a pile aside for MusicMagpie or Cex or whatever. My iPod finally died in November after 4 years of faithful service, and though in previous years I would have had to run to the Apple store to buy a new one, this time I’m surviving with the (tiny) music library on my iPhone. Which I feel represents patience, maturity and restraint! As well as a concentration on what’s really important, and where my money needs to go. Eventually I’d really like another iPod but I can’t see myself getting one for another few months yet. So I feel that this aim is on hold for now – I’ll hopefully achieve it gradually, but in the meantime I prefer the tangibility of music and film purchases in any case. I am still learning to step into the future, I suppose!

5 / 5.5 out of 8 is perfectly reasonable, I think! And now, my list of goals and resolutions for 2013:

1. Quit smoking.

Toby’s never known me as a non-smoker, and I think it’s about time he did. It’s going to be difficult, and I don’t want cigarettes to have complete power over me to the point where I’m as much a slave to them having given up as I am being a smoker. I’ve already cut down quite a bit so now I just have to take the final leap. Going back to work will be difficult because I need the breaks and I will feel silly just walking around Notting Hill doing nothing, but I’ll work something out. I do enjoy a cigarette, and so perhaps every now and then I may have a cigarette socially – who knows. I’m trying to be loose about it at the moment, so that I don’t feel overly pressurised and that there isn’t a wagon to jump on / fall off of. But generally, this is the year I stop, and I know that I have the willpower (read: stubbornness) to do so. To muffle any temptation, I need to think of: the money I’m saving, my teeth not turning yellow, my blood pressure and life expectancy being improved, not smelling of cigarettes, and (most importantly) being healthy for Toby and showing that I value our love, life and longevity.

2. Pay off my student overdraft.

Third time lucky!

3 & 4. Get fit and toned, and write and record over half of my new album.

I was watching Skyfall with the delicious Daniel Craig, and I decided that I want his body. Except without quite so much effort, and my face shouldn’t be as aged as his. But he’s pretty amazing, physically. At the same time, I also decided that my new music has to be made with heart and soul, and in this way it will show my evolution. Hence my new life motto for this year is “Body and Soul” – I will look after my body and keep fit and hopefully lose some weight and tone up, and I will make music that is vibrant and true.

5. To sing live at least once, in front of an audience.

Because I haven’t done it in a long time, and I miss it!

6. Write a novel.

I already wrote a chapter of a novel a few months ago, but it trailed off and I haven’t done anything with it since. I have been inspired by Toby’s brother, who actually wrote a novel and got it published on Amazon and everything. I used to love creative writing ever since I was little, and so it’s a natural progression in a way for me to write a book. Watch this space…

7. Learn to moonwalk.

I love dancing, and I was watching the documentary for Michael Jackson’s Bad album and it suddenly occurred to me that learning to moonwalk would be something really fun. The only setback to this plan is that the floors throughout our flat are carpeted. But I wanted a goal that was quite light-hearted and fun, amidst all of the seriousness!

8. Pass Italian exam in the summer.

At the Italian Cultural Institute, at the end of each term you can take an exam to get a qualification demonstrating your proficiency in the language. By the end of this academic year (i.e. in July), I will have finished the upper intermediate class if all goes to plan – and so I think it would be good to have a recognised qualification stating my ability in the Italian language. So this is something that I want to achieve too. At the same time, I am hoping that I will continue reading literature in both Spanish and Italian to maintain my fluency in both of those languages (if I have to sacrifice one of my languages, I guess it would be French.)

9. Teach Toby how to play chess.

We have a nice wooden chess set on our coffee table, and I can’t believe that Toby is so intelligent and yet does not know how to play chess. So I will teach him – it’s an important life skill and keeps the brain active and from being rotted by episodes of 30 Rock and The Big Bang Theory.

10. Start saving up a deposit for a house.

I know, we only just moved into the Chiswick flat! Toby and I really like this area of London, and so it’s gonna be a long time before we can actually afford something here. But why not start now? This is something that will happen once I have finished paying off my overdraft (see number 2) but I hope that by the end of the year, I will have put some new money in my festering ISA that can be ultimately used for the deposit on a lovely flat or house.

Wish me luck, and good luck with your resolutions and goals for the year ahead!

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responsibility / Tube update: Hyde Park Corner and Green Park.

February 11, 2012

So after living in London for 5 months (to the day today!), I finally got around to registering with a GP this week. It was my second choice of doctor, after the top choice recommended by the NHS website turned out not to take new patients from my area (when I said that the website recommended me, they apologetically informed me “Ah yes. The website is wrong”). I think the website was wrong again, because my first appointment with the treatment nurse on Friday evening was nothing short of horrific.

I was informed that my blood pressure was that of a “much more mature person”, and that I need to go back in a month and keep monitoring it in the meantime. Ok. Furthermore, I need to lose “15-20 kilos”. Now, in my own opinion, over the last few months, I have put on a few pounds. But at 6 foot, I am not delusional enough to believe someone when they say that my ideal weight is 11 and a half stone. I would be skeletal if I lost that much weight – I am not fat as it is. I am my own harshest critic, but at the most I could do with losing half a stone or so. No more. I promise you all I am not kidding myself – I wear small or medium sizes in clothing. Yet I apparently have a 40″ waist (again, despite the fact that I wear 32″ and 33″ trousers). I also had to do a urine test, and when I said “um, right now?!” she said “is that a problem?” I ended up being able to perform, so to speak, and I told the nurse upon my return that “I drink a lot of water”. She eventually confirmed “yes, your urine is clear.” No shit, lady. In addition, how dare you tell me to lose so much weight – not only is this essentially promoting anorexia (because obviously she says this to everyone; I am not a special case), but it’s hypocrisy from someone who is definitely more overweight than I am! I am outraged that people in a position of authority and whose responsibility it is to promote healthy living, is telling people to become dangerously underweight.

I apparently have to go for a yearly check-up, “because things can develop without you knowing”; ok, but if there is nothing wrong with me, why would I waste a doctor or nurse’s time? I never had to go before, except for when I felt that there was something wrong with me. After checking my blood pressure, the nurse kept insisting “are you sure you don’t feel dizzy? Or ever have headaches?” Lady, no means no. I am perfectly happy and healthy. No matter how much you want to make me feel like something is wrong, you won’t convince me that you know my body better than I do. I spent most of my childhood and adolescence hating the way I looked and the way I felt. I finally got myself right a couple of years ago or so, and I will not let some irresponsible woman set me back. I will keep y’all updated on my future adventures with this doctor’s surgery. The last thing on my mind is that she mentioned the possibility of taking tablets for my blood pressure if it doesn’t go down. I am confident I have white coat syndrome – I am nervous when it comes to having my blood pressure checked, and I have done it on my mum’s machine at home and it has come out a little high, but far closer to normal. What’s more, I have seen my grandparents existing on cocktails of pills, and it was one of the things that contributed to my grandfather’s ultimate deterioration in health and multiple health problems that culminated in his death in 2008. I know that doctors and nurses have a job to do, but they do not know everything, and I refuse to be bullied into a dependency on medication that I neither want nor need. I am 26 years old; I do not need to be on tablets for my blood pressure when I have no other health problems or symptoms. I was telling Mike and Caroline this today, and they both said that this woman sounds insane and that I should never go back there. But even though this visit was horrific, it did ultimately mean that I accomplished my goal of registering with a GP.

You’ll notice that I mentioned Mike and Caroline just now. Well, Toby and I saw them today! They came down to London for their wedding anniversary, and are staying in the hotel just around the corner from my flat, in West Kensington! They went to the Science Museum today with Billy – we met them there (I had never been to the Science Museum before! A lot of it went over my head, tbh) after Toby and I spent a very long time walking! I suppose that a good thing about my visit to the surgery last night (I was seriously searching for a silver lining to that cloud!) was that is has further kick-started my desire to lose those few pounds and keep walking and exercising. So from Toby’s flat in Fulham, we walked to my place to pick up my sunglasses, walked to Brompton Library where Toby and I both joined and were rewarded with festive-looking membership cards (I will also be able to take out some books in Italian and develop my skills in that language!), went to the V&A, made my first purchase from Harrods, then walked to my favourite Starbucks in Belgravia (although they went down in my estimation somewhat today after messing up my drink – twice!), and then walked to Hyde Park Corner:

Now I realise that you can’t see which station it is from this picture. Hence:

And then we went to Green Park, before going back to South Kensington to the Science Museum and having a lovely afternoon with Mike, Caroline and Billy:

And from there, a lovely afternoon and evening with Toby, re-organising my flat and watching Desperate Housewives tonight. Tomorrow I am going to sort out my Valentine’s gift to him and have a quiet but productive day before another week of work!

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Learning to cook – the journey begins…

January 4, 2012

In my New Year resolutions for 2012, my first resolution was to learn to cook a new dish every month. Now, I haven’t decided what the month of January will hold yet, but just to give you an idea of what starting point I’m at… it’s basic. Things that I can cook include lasagne, mushroom risotto, pasta, a range of ready meals, sandwiches and toast, and combinations of microwaveable foods. I’ve never been very inspired to cook anything more complicated than this because a) I find the process of creating a meal frequently tries my patience, and b) why should I cook a meal for one which takes longer to make than it does to eat?

I am in the very lucky position of being in a relationship with a fantastic cook. He is in the equally lucky position of being in a relationship with someone who enjoys cleaning and household chores. So why should I even bother learning to cook? Well, I’m an adult now – no longer a student, or living at home; Toby comes round my place nearly as often as I stay at his, and I want to be able to make meals that are tasty, interesting and also occasionally healthy. Eating out is expensive, and eating takeaways can get unhealthy and uninspiring. Perhaps I’ll lose some weight and get healthier along the way? I also want to add to my skill set, and I kind of feel that cooking is something I really ought to learn, as a worthwhile (and sociable) human being.

I’m not a natural chef (see: lack of patience; lack of understanding what foods go together; issues around eating and weight), but I did have some cookery lessons at school. I made things like pasta carbonara, quiche, bread, triple chocolate upside-down cake, and they always turned out well – however, I might attribute some of this to my desire to succeed in a classroom setting, rather than any potential I had as a cook. The only thing I ever did mess up was crème caramel, because I burned the caramel in the oven. (I later found out that I didn’t really like crème caramel anyway.) But for the most part, I had a recipe which I always followed to the letter, and things always turned out fine. However, Toby has discovered that there are some basic things that I didn’t know. For example, don’t lick your fingers when you have been handling raw chicken or raw egg – this is bad for you. He asked me, “didn’t you have food technology lessons at school?!?” To which my reply was “No, we studied Latin instead.” I think I was due to have 6 weeks of cookery lessons in 6th form, but instead I was chosen to be a peer mentor and had 30 hours of training in mentoring and listening skills from a psychologist.

Moving on… Last month, I made a lovely meal of honey and mustard roast chicken breast (courtesy of Waitrose), with chips, salad and croutons with caesar dressing. I was pleased with this meal because I picked the ingredients in the supermarket myself and created the dish in my head as I walked through the aisles. It was delicious. Tonight (and this is not counting towards my dish per month resolution), I had a go at making steak pie (courtesy of Sainsburys) with steamed baby corn, beans and boiled potatoes. This presented some challenges to me as I have never steamed vegetables, and I have never boiled potatoes.

The easy part – I shoved the steak pie in the oven for 35 minutes. This gave me 35 minutes to:

  • discover that one of the hob rings on my mini oven doesn’t work when the oven is on;
  • boil the potatoes on the other hob;
  • realise that supermarket estimates for cooking are not always to be trusted;
  • learn how to steam vegetables in the microwave (thank you Google);
  • find out that it’s not worth using tablespoons to measure out water.

After accumulating all of this knowledge, dinner was served:

steak pie, potatoes and steamed vegetables

It was yummy! The pie and potatoes (after the initial panic that they weren’t cooking on the hob) turned out very well. If I could do it again, I would have steamed the vegetables for longer in the microwave, as the beans were quite crisp and fresh-tasting; but the vegetables were still perfectly edible. The whole point of this, and my cookery journey, is that I am going to learn skills I didn’t know (however basic they might be) and improve my culinary capabilities. I am not ashamed of being such a novice cook, because I am doing something about it. And if you are reading this and thinking that you can’t cook either, then let’s take this journey together. I will be completely honest about my failures and lack of knowledge, and hopefully the fact that I will be able to make successful dishes in spite of these will be proof that even though we aren’t all born chefs, we can all learn to cook something simple, yet tasty and interesting.

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run(a)way.

June 9, 2010

Monday night, after one more argument with my mother over the dinner table where I should really know better than to voice an opinion contrary to that of my parents’, even if that opinion is backed up by fact and knowledge from my university studies rather than jaded cynicism and hearsay, I decided it was all too much and left home for 2 days.  My father was ambivalent during the whole row, my mother decided I had a “problem” with her and refused to listen to her (despite the fact I expressed my opinions in a calm manner, balancing positives with negatives; these opinions were talked over or dismissed at each turn); that I had suddenly “flipped out” despite the fact that she, not I, was the one raising their voice; that how could my feelings be hurt by her, if she’d had her feelings hurt by me? As if only one person can feel wounded by another at any one time.  I said that over the course of the year, I had learned that the only time I ever argued or was in a toxic atmosphere was at home with my parents, that I have the ability to make friends time and again and therefore there can’t be anything wrong with me, that I would no longer let my parents make me feel ugly.  I left to give myself some space, and I am more than grateful to Toby and Mike for providing me refuge, and to all of my friends for understanding and for saying that I was right, and not crazy.

People say that “friends are the family you can choose”. Others say that “blood is thicker than water”.  It is true that I will never not love my family: my mother and I were inseparable during my early years and we got each other through the dictatorship, misery and abuse (verbal, mental, very rarely physical) my father wreaked on our lives.  I won’t forget that.  Neither do I hate my father, although he doesn’t love me: he’s never known how to be a father, but at the age of 16 I finally realised that hating him still meant that he had some power over me.  I saw him weakened after one too many accidents on his bicycle – watching my father crippled, being wheeled in a wheelchair, having to help him go to the toilet in hospital made me realise that his power was all an illusion, and that if I didn’t submit to his subjugation, there was little he could do to truly hurt me.  Since those epiphanies, I’ve been able to forgive him for my childhood, and at times I know that his lack of attachment to me makes him almost an objective source, and occasionally a better source of advice or confidant than my fiercely feisty but heavily biased mother (if I have issues and neuroses, I most certainly learned them from her).  He’s not a bad person and I don’t think he ever meant to be, he’s just imperfect.  My mother is imperfect too, and just as I rebelled against my father, I’m now fighting a battle to establish myself as an intelligent human being against and apart from my mother, who unwittingly (unlike my father’s deliberate past sabotage) threatens my intellect and independence fairly often.  Her timing is off however: I’m 24 and after university not once but twice, and a gradually-formed but steadfast collection of true friends, I’m stronger than ever.  So I won’t take shit from either of them. I don’t need to.

I came home this afternoon with some trepidation: as much as I am strong now, I’m not invincible, and if I had been kicked out I don’t know how I would afford to live elsewhere until my job at Cirencester kicked in (my first salary payment won’t come through until mid-September, and my bursary won’t keep me going until then, especially if I’m juggling rent with driving lessons and tests, which are indispensable at this point).  Financially, I just can’t afford to be out of this house; emotionally, if they said goodbye, I’d walk out and never come back because my pride would not let me do otherwise.  I’d be shooting myself in the foot, but I’d do it with resilience in my eye.  However, I’d rather not have to shoot myself in the foot 😉 My mother is giving me the silent treatment: even though I don’t think I was in the wrong, before leaving on Monday night I apologised for “getting heated”. My mother did not, does not apologise unless hell has frozen over or unless she’s actually not done anything wrong.  My father is pretending like nothing ever happened, and is playing piggy in the middle of our fury; because there are 3 of us in our family, one of us is usually stuck in the middle / left outside alone (delete as appropriate) while the other two bait and infuriate.  Usually, I’m the third wheel to my parents’ storms.  So I can understand my father feeling relieved that he’s off the hook for a little while.  My stubbornness, identical to my mother’s (I won’t lie: we have a lot of similarities and I have had to reprogramme myself to eliminate some of her neuroses and pessimism ingrained in my psyche at a young age – they’re not all gone yet), means that our arctic silence will persist at least a week or two.  I don’t want this, I don’t want to be locked in war, and yet as a child I always surrendered to the silent treatment.  Not only am I not in the wrong, but I have apologised for my foibles in the argument.  I have nothing else to say: my mother evidently feels she is impeccable.  So what else is there to say or do, other than go on and wait for everything to subside?

Once everything is financially stabilised, I will be gone from here.  It’ll take only a few months I believe: my life is slotting into place and in my mid-20s, it’s been long overdue for me to be out of home.  Returning from my undergraduate degree, it was really difficult getting used to living under my parents again; over the past year when I’ve been going to UWE, their relationship seems to have destabilised to the point that I prefer to be alone or out than endure the atmosphere.  Perhaps it’s partly just natural for me, as an adult, to want my own independence too.  It is within reach now, I just have to bide my time a little longer and keep looking to the sky. Hopefully, when I achieve my goals, with some perspective and space my parents will be happy for me.  And if not, then that’s okay too, because I will be happy for myself and I have enough people who care about me that I feel healthy.  I can do this 🙂

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Toni Braxton – Pulse. (album review)

May 7, 2010

The first album from Toni Braxton in 5 years comes following an abbreviated residency at Las Vegas, yet more record label disputes, health scares, a neat run on Dancing With The Stars and a separation from long-term partner Keri Lewis.  So one would assume that she has a lot of life material to draw on, material that might be evident in the singer’s new album.  Well, yes and no: Toni Braxton has stuck to her strengths, which are soulful R&B ballads expertly sung.  The lyrical content of these tracks betrays barely a whisker of what the singer has been through in the past 5 years, and to look at the singer she stands stately, sophisticated and stunningly beautiful for a woman of 40 years old.  Indeed, she still has that same sexy body she had 15 years ago, although now it is dressed with a more chic, age-appropriate veneer that effortlessly walks that tightrope between sexy and classy.  Nevertheless, Braxton’s creamy, rich alto has a slight bit more depth to it now; to paraphrase from her interview in Metro this week, she has the ability to channel her experiences (be they joyful or sad) into the texture of her voice, and this is what makes Braxton one of the most enduring and valuable singers to emerge in the last 20 years: you feel her when she sings.  On Pulse this is evident throughout, particularly when her voice is reduced to a low, husky whisper such as at the beginning of “Woman”, a cover of Delta Goodrem’s track from 2007’s Delta that improves on the original because Toni Braxton’s voice brings more depth to the lyrics (although Delta Goodrem’s own version was solid in itself, perhaps making this achievement all the more impressive), and the production ranges from subtle to soaring while never overtaking Braxton’s performance.

After more leaks than Ciara’s Fantasy Ride, it would be unacceptable for Pulse to be anything less than solid, considering the 25+ tracks we’ve heard from Toni Braxton’s recording sessions for the project.  For the most part, Braxton has chosen the strongest songs for the project, although bonus tracks “Rewind” and “Stay” add little value to the album and could have been replaced with successful “Ice Box” soundalike “Clockwork” and particularly “It’s You”.  These are just little personal gripes however, and don’t affect the fact that Braxton sings each of the 11 tracks on her album with impeccable aplomb; her voice cannot be faltered, whether she’s emitting attitude on the sassy “Make My Heart” (which again improves upon Blaque’s / Mis-Teeq’s “Can’t Get It Back”, being based on the same sample) or evoking vulnerability on standout closing track “Why Won’t You Love Me”.  It is surprising that this is the only track on Pulse that gives Toni a significant songwriting credit (“Yesterday” does credit her, but only along with 4 other contributors) considering her credits on The Heat and More Than A Woman; those two albums, while not perfect, were both cohesive and consistent – they felt like albums, not just a collection of songs.

And this is where my only main gripe with Pulse comes in.  Indeed, the album contains some beautiful songs – my personal favourites are first single “Yesterday” (although it sounds like Beyoncé’s “Halo”, it is strong and sincere enough to stand on its own two feet – unlike the version with Trey Songz, which suffers from a change in production that is at once overdone and bland), the aforementioned “Make My Heart” and “Why Won’t You Love Me”, “Wardrobe” with its clever man-as-outfit metaphor that somehow avoids sounding cheesy or forced.  “Lookin’ At Me” is a welcome uptempo that bumps convincingly and brings the sass out of Toni, and perhaps in the closing stretch of the album which is ballad-heavy, another uptempo of this nature might have livened things up.  Finally, “Hands Tied” is an utterly beautiful song in lyrics, production and vocals, and has an outstanding video to match – Toni Braxton dances in front of a troupe of attractive men, stands in an eye-catching black dress in front of an ornately carved table that I would quite like in my house, and locks eyes with the camera, singing and dancing and yet conveying the determination for love inherent in the song’s lyrics.

As I said before, there are no weak tracks, and perhaps my opinion is swayed by the sheer amount of material I’ve heard from the project – unlike classic albums Secrets, The Heat and More Than A Woman, the album feels merely like a collection of lovely songs than like an album.  Previous album Libra suffered from this same problem, although Pulse has more of an identity, hewing close to soulful ballads and eschewing popular production tricks; unlike a couple of Libra‘s tracks, this album won’t sound dated, to its credit. But something intangible makes some albums more than the sum of their parts, and Pulse just doesn’t have that je ne sais quoi.  In comparison with Monica’s recent Still Standing (check my review here!), both albums are a welcome embodiment of “real” R&B, both are classy efforts that dispense with unnecessary featured artists and emphasise the singers’ strengths.  Neither album possesses any repellent tracks, and all the material is beautifully sung.  But if I had to choose between them, Monica’s would win out because something about it feels more sincere, more cohesive; something connects with the listener more.  I feel bad that I can’t quite put my finger on what that “something” is, but it means that while Pulse is certainly solid and worth purchasing, as a whole it isn’t  exceptional.  Nevertheless, some of its songs are exceptional, and it is wonderful to hear a singer relying on her vocal ability and strong songwriting rather than gimmicks or collaborations with flavour-of-the-month artists.

h1

nausea.

March 30, 2010

Don’t worry, I’m not going to go all Sartre on you.  I don’t think I have the energy for it to be honest, and I can’t really remember what that book is about anyway because it’s been 4 years since I pretended to read it for my undergrad.  On Sunday night my stomach began to feel all weird and twisted, so I rode with it despite my late-night cigarette making me feel as if I were going to vomit right then and there.  I went to sleep early and curled up in bed in the foetal position, only to wake an hour and a half later (though it felt like I’d been asleep for half the night already) stomach still pangy.  Or in fact, more than that – it felt as if I were pregnant.  I went to the bathroom, tried to induce vomit – and it didn’t take much.  After being copiously sick, I felt much better and slept soundly until the morning. I dragged myself out of bed, off to uni and despite at times feeling like I was trudging through treacle (you know when it takes effort to walk, so you say to yourself “All I have to do is put one foot in front of the other, and keep doing it” – it was like that) I made some good progress on my new interview analysis essay.  I also made a friend in the library caretaker, who enquired why I was lying across several of the seats in the UWE group study area – she asked what was wrong, and when I told her about my nauseous stomach, she proceeded to tell me about what triggers her IBS (TMI!?) and to call her if I needed to be sick (thanks, but I think I can manage vomiting by myself).  So I made a new “friend” through my illness, which is slightly odd but sort of heartwarming.  Last night I fell asleep for about 10 hours, and this morning I felt more or less back to normal, but come around 4pm my energy quickly depleted and now I’m sat here blogging, muscles aching in jogging bottoms and a hoodie (you know it’s serious if I can’t be bothered to make an effort with my appearance – especially considering my motto “if you feel good, then you should look great; if you don’t feel good, you might as well look great”).  I apologise for the delay between this and my last blog, and I also thank all of you for making the past few days ridiculous highlights in my blogging career – my stats have exploded! Long may it last!  And thankyou so much 🙂

Anyway, I don’t cope with real illness that well.  I generally don’t admit that I am ill most of the time – I don’t get “man-flu” and I’m not one of those pansy-men who crumbles at the merest whiff of cold.  I generally carry on as if nothing is the matter until I am physically forced to sit down and stop – I have quite a lot of stuff I want to accomplish most days, and I’m damned if any kind of bug is going to get in my way.  But I also try and be healthy – despite not having much appetite, I force myself to eat because it’s the only way I’m going to get any nutrients, and thus any energy.  I make an effort to sleep, when normally I can get away with burning the candle at both ends a bit. But I feel like I’ve been stopped in my tracks a bit – I’ve been relieved that my essay is going well, but I feel somewhat guilty that the last two days before Toby goes home for a week, I’ve not been particularly fun to be around and I haven’t been energetic enough to as much spend time with him as we would both like.  Fingers crossed, by the time he returns to Bristol I’ll be all sparkly and new again.  To be honest, since we started dating I’ve been uncharacteristically ill, having had multiple colds and now this kinda indigestion bug (I presume it must have been something I ate). So I apologise for that, but with the summer coming and my yearly hay fever diminishing, I hope for health and happiness. 🙂 Perhaps with everything in my life seeming to have aligned since last autumn, I’ve forgotten to look after my basic health a little bit (I’ve been underdressed at times, my gums were bleeding for a little while, I’ve had these multiple colds) being caught up in the rapture.  I’ll try and remember to look after myself a little bit more.  I made a joke about old age, but I really hope that this is not what getting old is like, because if so then I’m going to be grouchy 😉 I mean, when I was younger and my nan and I used to walk down Totterdown to the St. Philips market, I used to push her up the slope back home because “it was good exercise”.  I didn’t understand quite how tired you could get, or why you couldn’t push through it.  And walking up St. Michael’s Hill yesterday with Hannah, I can still push through it, but I can now envision in the future that I may not always have the physical strength to do that, even if my will is there.  So I have a newfound appreciation and understanding of that.  And if worst comes to the worst, I listen to something hard and upbeat like Rihanna or Nicki Minaj and that keeps me going, and gives me a placebo energy boost.  I’ll be fine 😉  Take it easy xxx