Posts Tagged ‘self-sufficiency’

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2526. (my new album, at last!)

November 14, 2012

This album has taken me a lot longer to get out to all of you than I had originally anticipated! After I finished working on Quiet Storm (deep breath) 3 years ago, I wanted to take a deep breath and a little bit of a break, in order to decide what I wanted to do next. I went through a lot of pretty massive life changes (all documented in this blog – thank you for coming along for the ride with me!) such as completing my postgraduate education, starting my first “proper” full-time job working in careers guidance, falling in love with my wonderful boyfriend, passing my driving test and buying a car, moving to London and working for an international school, becoming more or less self-sufficient and “adult” (or as adult as I’m going to get), moving in with Toby… Life has been incredibly hectic!

After some reflection, and listening to a lot of Toni Braxton and Sade, I decided in early 2010 that I wanted to write classic R&B ballads that were heartfelt, and that talked about love.  I remember discussing this with Nick in Caffè Nero in House of Fraser in Cabot Circus, and thinking that the world lay ahead of me. I was so amped to create new music again! Little did I know how much of a rollercoaster was in store for me, and how genuinely the journey of the following two years would take me through the ups and downs of love. Within this rollercoaster, my free time more or less disappeared, and I had hoped to complete this album ages before this, but singing and producing time was just extremely hard to come by. Hence the lean tracklist of 8 songs that you have here.

Nevertheless, time has given me maturity (I hope) and more experience to draw from than I had ever anticipated! It also provided me with the wonderful opportunity to work with a fantastic songwriting/production/music-artistry team Citizens of the World, as well as to share musical insights with them through Twitter. They produced the instrumentals for three of the songs here, and I am extremely grateful to them for providing me with some creative rejuvenation along the way – I can’t wait to do more and I hope to have the opportunity to do so in the future. I was hoping to have at least two more songs finished to bring the total up to double figures, but it was not to be – and I wanted to release the album around now. Through the fullness of time, I serendipitously discovered that if you type the name “ALAN” on an old phone with a keypad like this:

… the numbers you press are 2-5-2-6. (aside: we all remember having a Nokia 3310 phone right? I used to be a demon at playing Snake.) And this album is effectively a distilled diary of my 25th and 26th years of life. Hence the title “2526” – which thus has a double meaning, of sorts, and seemed fated to be the title for this project. Having recently turned 27 and now officially in my significantly less glamorous “late 20s”, I think that this album will be the first and last example of me incorporating my age into a title. Unless I do a Janet and halve my age when I turn 40, releasing my own 20YO. My recent birthday also spurred me to release this album, because I wanted to draw a line under 2526, and start afresh with new music to come.

I sincerely hope you enjoy this record. For those who found Quiet Storm a rather lengthy musical journey, I hope that you will find this album more digestible! I will do a track-by-track soon – but to summarise in a nutshell, this album is about love in its various forms: romantic love, well-meaning but misguided love, spurned love, anger, breakups, friendship, irresistible attraction, and true love.

Download here! 

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Cooking in 2012 – July: Brazilian pork and rice.

July 28, 2012

I must confess that I nearly gave up on my cooking project this month. As July ticked by, I thought “oh, I really can’t be bothered to do this cooking thing anymore. I genuinely hate it, I can’t think of what to cook, so why put myself through it for another 6 months?” Even typing that sentence, the words resonate with me to the extent that I will probably have the same inner monologue for the remaining 5 months.  Luckily, I am fairly stubborn so I’ll probably make it through the rest of the year just to avoid the guilt of not fulfilling a goal I set for myself. Plus it does make me feel more self-sufficient and provider-y. Nevertheless… roll on 2013!

Anyway, the conundrum of what to make this month was finally solved last week when I was in Peterborough with Toby’s parents, who had the Times weekend edition. One of the supplements had a couple of interesting articles – one was about a diet (I don’t believe in diets unless they are sensible enough that they could become a lasting fixture of everyday life – in which case, they probably don’t count as a “diet”. But I digress.) that claimed to boost one’s energy at the same time as helping to shed the pounds. The other was about Brazilian food being “the food of the summer”. There were 6 recipes (plus a couple of cocktails) that all seemed to be pretty appetising – I ended up taking the whole supplement back to London with me, and this weekend I finally decided to bite the bullet for July’s meal and make some marinaded BBQ pork and rice.  Or, as the Times called them, “Brazilian fried biro biro rice” and “Pork tenderloin on a churrasco”. I presume that a “churrasco” is a barbecue; I’ve not the foggiest what “biro biro” refers to (perhaps the crispy shallots?). But anyways, here are the recipes:

I did a few things differently – we altered the measurements, nearly halving everything because I was only cooking for Toby and myself. I didn’t use parsley because I’m not a big fan; I didn’t make the crispy shallots because it sounded like too much effort and I was using the rice as a side rather than a main in its own right; instead of pork tenderloin, I used pork medallions, which meant that I didn’t have to butterfly them (conveniently enough, as I don’t know what that involves). I used white wine vinegar instead of red wine vinegar, and paprika instead of dried red pepper flakes. We didn’t have a barbecue available, so we fried the pork medallions on a gas hob instead.

I suppose it is proof of my slow but acknowledgeable growth in cooking that I was able to take a fair amount of both recipes in my stride. Things that I didn’t know and have now learned include:

  • Pork is cooked when the meat is the same colour all the way through. You don’t want any pink in the meat; unlike a steak, ‘rare pork’ isn’t a thing.
  • The reason why one is supposed to wash rice before cooking it is apparently it makes it less starchy, and thus clings together in the pan a bit less.
  • Washing spring onions is quite an involved job, because mud and earth can hide quite deep down in the stalks.  If, like me, you are impatient, wash the onions quite roughly and thoroughly, and then if there is still residual mud, just cut the damn stalks off too. You’re still left with plenty of decent onion.
  • When frying, the definition of “enough oil” is so that the bottom of the pan is coated in oil.

In the picture above, the last tiny bit of the recipe has been missed off by my camera, so it basically says: melt some parmesan on top of the marinaded pork just as it’s finishing cooking. Then, when you serve it, spritz some lime on it – the lime actually adds a really summery feel to the whole dish. Here is the rice and pork as it was cooking, followed by the finished product:

I was quite pleased with the exotic, yet rough-and-ready aspect of the dish. I also liked that the burnished taste of the marinaded pork added something to the rice as we ate. It was pretty yummy!  I guess that I admit that I am getting better at cooking, and in that sense I am fulfilling the goal of this whole project. My confidence is growing in the kitchen – although Toby still offers me help, support and a sense of urgency as and when required! Next month is Jack and Katie’s engagement party, and we are expected to “bring a plate” (sadly, this means bringing a plate which has food on it for guests to share – I found it odd that one might randomly bring a plate to a party, until Toby explained the concept to me.  I have only hitherto been familiar with bringing a bottle. Perhaps this says more about the kinds of parties I have previously frequented!) – so if I’m smart, I will help out during the preparation of this dish and that will be August done. Let’s see what happens!

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2012, here we come!

December 30, 2011

The time has rolled around, once again, for my two standard end of year / new year posts. The first one is my own personal review of 2011, evaluating how I did with my aims for the year, and looking forward to 2012 and what I hope to achieve within the next 12 months. So, to recap, my aims for 2011 were:

1. Buy a car.
Tick! I not only bought a car, but I crashed it and then sold it 6 months later!  Driving was a major achievement for me, as it was 6 years in the making, and represented a triumph over my nerves and my previous failure (I have been a lucky person who generally didn’t have to deal with failure too much in life, up until I started learning to drive). But I also learned the hard way that it’s a big responsibility, that it comes with a whole trapping of expenses, and that while being able to drive is an asset and a liberation, living in London and not having to drive anywhere is also a blessing. When the public transport system is good, life is good. (Let me tell you, having gone home to Bristol for 6 days over the Christmas period, I immediately starting missing my car and how easy it made travelling from place to place. Bristol, step your public transport game up please!)

2. Get a job in London.

Tick! Although I miss the warmth and camaraderie of my colleagues in Cirencester (I yo-yoed about how much I enjoyed the job, but I became much happier and carefree once a certain colleague left), my new job in Notting Hill is a whole new challenge – I’m always busy, I’m never bored, and I am learning many new things. Plus, I am earning more!

3. Move to London.

Tick! As you know, I am now living in my own little studio flat in Earl’s Court, which is pricey but very conveniently located for transport (bus stop and tube station outside my front door), and also only a 15 minute walk from Toby’s place.

4. Stay with Toby and make sure that our relationship grows even stronger!

Tick! I love my baby and I realised early on in 2011 that the 100+ miles gap between the two of us wasn’t going to be feasible. We missed each other all the time, and although I may have ended up in London anyway (I’m a city boy at heart), he was the driving force between the transformation in my life and career that has occurred this year.

5. Buy a new microphone and record a new album.

Nope. The microphone never happened. I have recorded some new material (and written even more), but I am hoping that the album will be complete next year.

6. Pay off my credit card and student overdraft.

Sort of. I am debt-free, apart from my student overdraft and my student loan. My car ended up being a big drain on my finances, and moving to London required every penny I had. Plus, I did have a wonderful holiday to Seville with Toby in July, which I wouldn’t have traded for anything but did further delay me paying off my student overdraft. But with my first couple of pay checks, I paid my parents and Nonna back for the money they lent me to settle myself in London, I paid off my credit card, and sorted myself out financially. The student overdraft is my primary financial focus for 2012.

So I guess 4.5 out of 6 is not bad at all! I seem to have more success when I write my yearly aims down, so here goes for 2012:

1. Learn to cook a new dish every month.

Toby is a fantastic cook, but I want to learn to make healthy, interesting meals so that I can return the favour from time to time, and enrich my own skill-set and repertoire. Tonight, Toby’s housemates Michael and Naomi have made some very yummy sushi, so that is one thing I shall aim to make; I also enjoyed watching the British Bake-Off and am tempted by the idea of whipping up my own lemon tart!

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

I’m not quite as svelte as I was this time last year. I have got into the habit of having desserts, of snacking unnecessarily from time to time, and from cooking quite simple dishes (similar to how I was at university). This is all fine, but I am going to moderate myself a bit and cut down on takeaways from Dominos, Pizza Hut and Jasmine Garden.

3. Move in with Toby.

I would like the two of us to move in together; it feels like the logical next step for our relationship, but we both need to be at ease with it and it also needs to be an affordable and convenient location. Moving in will happen when it happens, but I’m just putting this wish out there in the universe and perhaps in 12 months’ time, I will be able to tick this one off the list! 🙂

4. Pay off my student overdraft.

See above. This year I have really improved at budgeting and restraining myself from impulsive / extravagant purchases; therefore, I am determined to pay off at least £200 a month. So even if I don’t pay the whole thing off by the end of the year, I will have made a sizeable dent in it! Fingers crossed!

5. Learn Italian

Ok, let’s get this done once and for all. I am half-Italian, therefore it will not only be easy (especially having studied French and Spanish) to learn Italian, but it will be culturally enriching and give me a new understanding of my own heritage. Work have offered to pay for / subsidise an Italian course for me, but my initial plan of attack will be to buy an Italian novel, an Italian dictionary (and possibly an Italian grammar book), and keep a pen and paper by me as I read – and just have at it.

6. Learn to sew

Because I feel somewhat babyish whenever I have holes or rips in my clothes, and I have to take them to Toby’s to fix. I presume that sewing is a relatively simple skill, and therefore I should learn to do it and allow myself to be self-sufficient when it comes to repairing my belongings.

7. Finish my new album

This year will be the year! I am over halfway. Keep your eyes and ears peeled!

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

Having moved to London, I was unable to carry all of my DVDs and CDs with me. I would need a truck. Obviously, I have my computer, my iPod, and I was able to take quite a few of my DVDs here; but I have realised that I don’t really need most of the physical copies that I own. So I will sell them, give them away, and go digital. I will open myself up to buying things on iTunes much more (believe it or not, B.Slade’s album Diesel that I bought a couple of months ago was the very first album I bought on iTunes!), and perhaps I might need an extra external hard drive. But I am willing to embrace the digital age (only a few years late!), and also make it much easier for myself to move flats and houses as I go.

Wish me luck, and have a Happy New Year! x

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powerless.

September 12, 2009

“My life can never be anything without you.”

That is what Graham said after Jill’s death last week.  It was in the Evening Post Deaths section.  My mother was saddened and a bit confused.  My father was convinced that someone at the newspaper must have got the wording wrong.  I don’t know.  I mean, my mother knows Graham best out of the three of us (I have only met him once; I don’t believe my father has ever met him at all), but by his own admission he is a very private person and isn’t particularly upfront with his emotions.  So I don’t know if he meant to word himself in that way, if it was a typo, if it was just his expression of sadness and grief that came out a tiny bit wrong.  Perhaps it was a combination of all three, who knows.

But it got me thinking.  I don’t know if I would ever be able to say that about anyone, no matter what. I don’t know if I would want to.  I envision falling in love with somebody and the whole experience complimenting and transforming my life, but not leaving me totally powerless without that person.  I mean, no matter how smitten, no matter how rich or successful or romantic or attractive my partner eventually is, I don’t think that I could ever let myself be totally dependent on someone to the point that if they left me, for whatever reason or however it happened, I could be nothing without them.  I wouldn’t want that.  I was talking to Hannah last night about guys and about someone she’s been chatting to who seems entirely too dependent.  I asked her whether I came across as needy, and she replied no, the exact opposite.

This pleased me, and this was what I had hoped to hear.  But then I asked her whether I came across as so independent to the point of being intimidating.  Her reply stopped short of intimidating, but she said that I do come across as very self-sufficient.  Reading between the lines, this meant that sometimes I didn’t need to be so afraid of appearing vulnerable in front of anyone.  I am grateful that I can have a friend who understands me so much, she knows how to express a sentiment tactfully yet honestly, and I can understand exactly what she means.  This, to me, is much more important than a boyfriend who might come and go.  Obviously I want to have it all, and this includes the boyfriend who hopefully stays.  But whether I need to be a little more soft around the edges, I still have friends who like me just the way I am.  I think that in every relationship there needs to be a certain amount of compromise, but I also believe that it has to stop short of totally compromising yourself for the other person.  Because otherwise, before you know it, your world revolves around them and if they disappear, you’re left at rock bottom.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve never really been in love (apart from with Gucci and with Rafael Verga), but I’m just not willing to put myself in that situation.  I will think about guys and treat my friends and boyfriends well and think about them a lot, but I will never stop caring about myself.  Self-esteem has been (and to an extent, still is) a hard uphill battle for me, and I’m not willing to totally surrender it now, or ever.

It is easy for relationships to consume you.  I was discussing what happened at the Perfume Shop with Nick today, and with a little bit of perspective on it, I guess that it was easier to blame me for things going missing there because I am no longer a part of their world, than to confront their problems that the thief is still there.  I’m an easy target because I can’t defend myself, because I got out of there and they are still in that world.  When I worked there, I was doing 38 hours a week, and they were my circle of friends.  I would visit them on my days off, or at the very least phone to see how things were going.  I put my all in there for 11 months, and I was assistant manager / store manager for 10 of those.  So escaping from that environment was a blessing for me, but it also made me realise just how unhealthy it is when a job becomes more than a job.  I guess that a certain amount of restraint from total consumption, absorption, obsession with your work is a very good thing.  And perhaps it is the same with relationships.  Even if you create a world within that relationship which is just for the two of you, which is sometimes irresistible and timeless, there is a real world which keeps on turning outside of that, and we have to stay connected to that.  I want to give someone all my love.  But all my love is not all of me, and love doesn’t (and shouldn’t) equate to power.  I don’t ever want to be powerless, not for anyone, and not for myself.

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love or money.

July 22, 2009

Generally, the media and society villify those who get married for convenience, or for money.  We brand them “golddiggers”, we make songs mocking them (hello Kanye), and we generally feel that they don’t act in the spirit of marriage, which should be for life and for love.  I don’t disagree, but then on the other hand, we admire high-flying career men and women who really go after what they want (which is money) while sacrificing their personal relationships to do more work at the office.  I think that is an impressive sacrifice to make, but the message seems to be one minute that love is the most important thing there is, and the next minute that you have to think of yourself and put your financial security above all things.  To me, these messages contrast.

I am always someone who will say “you have to do what makes you happy”, and I genuinely believe that.  But after a year of not really going very far after my degree, I find myself at a fork in the road: do I pursue something I am interested in that will cost me more money (a year’s diploma in Careers Guidance, after which I can get a job with Connexions as a Youth Adviser), or do I give up trying to do something I will like and instead do something that will make me lots of money? For sure, I like money.  I like buying designer clothes, I like the idea of having a car, I like jewellery, I like the idea of living somewhere that I can afford by myself. I like the idea of being self sufficient, I like the idea of not having to keep a constant eye on my bank account before making plans to go out.  I think that wealth will suit me just fine, and I think I would be good at being rich.

But at the same time, I’m 23 years old, and I want to do it on my own terms rather than because someone told me what I should do.  I was told I should go to Oxford, that I should not try for my singing career, that I shouldn’t even study the subjects I chose (I dug my heels in).  And sometimes I would do what I wanted, and other times I would choose to trust in others whom I presumed had better judgment and more life experience.  After all, I dont know everything, but I do know that I want the best for myself.  And so far, perhaps I should have trusted my own intuition a little bit more and others’ a little bit less… but then maybe I would be in a worse position than now.  Who knows – “what if” is at once a wonderful and a useless phrase. As it stands, I’m not too badly off, but I feel like I am at a crossroads where I’m being forced to choose between doing something that I might genuinely enjoy and could also help other people (which I think would be a really good thing), and doing something that would be a mundane 9 to 5, but bring in the money and allow me to kickstart my independence one year sooner and keep me in the Armani to which I have become accustomed.  After all, I don’t like the thought of having another loan to put me through this extra year of study, I don’t like the idea of living at home another year and possibly going insane (and my parents are pretty decent and respect my privacy somewhat), and I don’t like the prospect of being dependent on a low income.  But I like the prospect of getting another qualification that will open up a path towards doing something I have discovered I am more and more passionate about (I owe Sapphire and her book “Push” a hell of a lot – you must read it!).

So am I being naive? Am I cutting my nose off to spite my face?  Or am I right on for trying to pursue something I am genuinely passionate about?  After all, once I have landed the job after qualifying, I will be making a decent amount of money even on my starting salary.  Should I sacrifice my finances for one more year and hope that this path works out, or should I sacrifice my happiness to take a job that doesn’t interest me but will pay me right now?  Everyone makes sacrifices, but I don’t know what is best in this case.  I thought that money wasn’t the be all and end all, but in the recession, is it smarter to put money in the bank or to get a qualification so I can do something I am passionate about that can influence the community and give more chances to the youth coming up?  I know which I prefer, but I am trying not to be blind and genuinely wondering which is best?  Love or money?