30. Live bravely

A couple of my heros

Recently someone challenged me about my motivation for fear facing. She (a well meaning stranger) informed me that I didn’t need to prove anything to myself by doing these things. That I didn’t have to make a point. Her stance was that it’s fine not to like rollercoasters for example and therefore never go on them. Why put myself through something I find unpleasant? A good point perhaps. I knew instinctively that she was wrong, but at the time I struggled to articulate why exactly. Over the last few weeks, as I’ve neared the end of my little quest I’ve been thinking more about my reasons for beginning it, why I’ve stuck at it, and the things I’ve gained as a result. Turns out I’ve got quite a lot to say on the matter (no surprises there) so I thought I wrap up my year of fear with a bit of reflection. No bungee jumping or skydiving, just a bit of real life.

There’s no doubt that losing my older brother when I was 19 has had a big impact on me. Obviously there was, and still is, grief and the complicated cocktail of emotions that encompasses. But beyond that, I felt changed by the experience. Losing a sibling as a young adult is unusual and horrific beyond words. It left me anxious and afraid. Afraid of big things, like another of my siblings dying. For a long time I used to creep into their bedrooms and listen to them breathing in the middle of the night (I don’t thing they know this – sorry guys). Afraid of little things, like making the wrong choice about which loaf of bread to buy. I actually broke down in tears about this decision in Tesco once. Over time, roughly six – seven years, my grief progressed through the stages with which everyone is familiar. But the anxiety lingered and at some point it wasn’t a thing anymore, it was just part of my personality.

I lived cautiously. I stayed in my comfort zone. My deepest inner longing was for protection and to be around loved ones. I didn’t want to be far from home. I never wanted to be in danger. I cocooned myself as best I could. I got married. I thought I was safe. But things changed and I was slapped in the face with a cold hard dose of rejection. Old feelings of loss resurfaced and I felt like I was falling apart. Then something amazing happened; I didn’t fall apart. Slowly but surely, I actually grew stronger than before. Amazing people around me enabled this to happen and as the months passed I started to feel like a completely different person.

I knew that through this difficult time I had been brave and I wanted to keep it up. Every challenge I set myself and achieved left me feeling empowered and more alive than I had felt for a very long time. I was becoming a version of myself that I was actually starting to like. Not surprisingly perhaps, my newfound pluck was not restricted to the list and began to spill out into other areas of my life. In January I took the plunge and got a housemate. This might not sound like a big deal, but after months of living alone, sharing my space with someone else was scary and daunting. But it was such a great decision and I have loved living with Gemma. At work, I’ve just begun my second year in a management position. I’ve had to go to scary grown up meetings but it’s all going well. In February I gave up eating meat (which I used to love by the way) and I feel amazing. Despite the fact that the thought of them made me want to curl up in a ball under a desk, I’ve been on a few dates. One of them was even a terrifying Internet date. I never thought I’d be able to do that. But I did. And one of the dates led to a second date. And a third. And come December we’ll be decorating a Christmas tree together in our home.

I used to think that people who were brave were the ones who jumped out of planes, performed to huge crowds or tightrope walked between skyscrapers. I’m not saying these people aren’t brave, I’m saying that they’re only brave if they are scared in the first place. Being fearless is definitely not the same as being brave. The more I look the more I see examples of bravery around me every day. My family and the way they constantly stop to help each other over life’s many hurdles. The way they face problems head on, no matter how painful this might be. My friends, taking steps, big or small in to the unknown: buying houses, having children, retraining, and starting businesses. Children I teach, trying something new and difficult for the first time and being prepared for the possibility of failure. Then coming back to try again when they do fail. Those things take courage; these people are brave.

People have told me that I’m brave. It’s a pretty flattering thing to be told. Far better than being told you’re beautiful or clever. It’s a compliment that I can actually accept though because I know it’s true. The things I have done have scared me. Some of them scare me now when I think about them and I laugh to think that I actually did them, that it was really me. For such a long time I would say casually ‘oh I could never do that’ in conversation. But then I went and I did do that! And a whole load more. Over 30 things in fact. Is it over? I hope not. My Year of Fear has left me stronger and more courageous than I have ever felt before but I know that there’s still more I want to achieve. When I think about these things and about the future I do still feel scared. I worry that life could change at any moment and my world could be shaken. But I want to continue challenging myself, living bravely, because I know that fear is worth facing.

Finally, I want to dedicate this whole endeavour to my brother, George. His bravery was beyond words. One of my aims this year was to make sure that I live my life in a way that would make him proud and honour his memory. I hope I’m doing an ok job.

If you’d like to sponsor me for my Year of Fear, please click this link.

Always making brave fashion choices in the P-H household



29. Caving


Sadly I didn’t get to keep the outfit

When I wrote my original Year of Fear list, over a year ago, I ranked the fears in my head. After sharks, caving was the second scariest thing I planned to face. As children, my siblings and I used to play a game entitled ‘Potholing” which involved us squeezing into small nooks in the airing cupboard with a Fisher Price torch, eating biscuits and pretending to be trapped. We were equally fascinated and frightened by the idea of being deep underground in the dark, squeezing through small spaces. As I got older, I became more scared by the idea.

A few years ago in the staff room at work, some colleagues were reminiscing about a Year 6 camp they’d been on and got on to the subject of caving. Kim explained that before they went, the instructor had placed a chair in the middle of the room and asked all the participants to crawl underneath, between the legs. If you could fit, you could go caving. Just hearing this story made my heart race, my palms sweat and as the conversation moved on to the underground bit I actually had to leave the room.

Getting ready for a squeeze

I’m not claustrophobic to the awful extent I know others are, but I can panic in small, enclosed spaces. A small, enclosed space underground sounded like complete hell. I think the thing I found most frightening, apart from getting stuck, was the sensation of forcing my body forward through a tight tunnel and not being physically able to turn around, just having to keep going with no option of escape.But I’ve already done 28 scary things you know. So how bad could it be? And I’ve developed a great tactic this year, which I can usually employ. It hinges around just not thinking about the upcoming terrifying event. Just sort of pretending it’s not going to happen and trying to focus on practical things. So I got up on Saturday morning and concentrated hard on brushing my teeth, getting dressed and driving to Cheddar Gorge.


I’d booked on to the 10:30am adventure caving session, as I was keen to get it out of the way. As I arrived at the gorge and parked, I looked up at the imposing and impressive cliffs surrounding me. The thought occurred to me that all of this rock was going to be piled on top of me, pressing down on me, trapping me…I pushed the thought out of my head and set off to find the ticket office to get ready.

In the group were four other adults and two thirteen year olds. Nobody seemed remotely phased by what we were about to do so I went along with the cheery atmosphere, changed into the attractive overalls and followed the instructor down into Gough’s Cave. We passed the tourists admiring the show cave and headed right to the back, where we were led beyond the barriers and on into darkness.

There I go…

As we made our way further away from the crowds in the main cave, off the well maintained, well lit concrete paths and things started to get more scrabbly, I was aware of a strange feeling. Or rather lack of feeling. I wasn’t scared. I was excited; I wanted o see what was next. I was entering another world. The Lord-of-the-Rings-like nature of the caves appealed to my inner hobbit and I felt like I was on a real adventure.

Here I come

Soon we were crawling into the impressive Sand Chamber and before I knew it I was flat on my stomach, wriggling through a narrow tunnels. Nerves began to creep in when we had to lower ourselves down a 40ft steel ladder into unknown blackness beneath but I managed to keep calm and made it safely to the Boulder Chamber. Over the next hour I slithered headfirst through more tunnels, wriggled across ledges above seemingly endless drops and slid on my back through the tightest of gaps, with the rock above almost touching my nose. I was most impressed with myself when our instructor led us to some ‘optional squeezes’ as we had some extra time and I did them both. When he gave us the choice of a smaller or bigger tunnel, I went for the smaller and emerged feeling exhilarated, with a huge smile on my face. My favourite part of the morning was when we turned off all of our head torches in the chamber where David Lafferty spent 130 days in 1966. There was not a single particle of light and I have never experienced such enveloping darkness.

Hanging out underground

I was completely taken by surprise by how much I enjoyed this challenge. I fully expected to hate it and feel nothing but relief when I emerged into daylight. The reality was that I wanted to go straight back in and do it again. Maybe I’m just not as claustrophobic as I thought I was. Or maybe a year of facing my fears head-on has actually had more of an effect than I realised.

A huge thank you to Abi, a total stranger in the group, who took photos and emailed the all to me afterwards!




28. Cycle a bike on the road


When I told people that I was having cycling lessons I was met with mixed responses. Some people really didn’t get it. “Can’t you ride a bike?” I was asked. Well, yes, I can. Like most children, I had a bike, was taken to the park and learned to ride it. Many happy summer holidays at my Nan’s were spent cycling up and down the cul-de-sac with my siblings. Great fun was had. I don’t remember ever being afraid at any point. But some time between then and now I did become afraid. I didn’t stop cycling because I was sacred; I have become scared because I stopped cycling.

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My lovely bike (on the left)

As we all know, riding a bike is said to be a skill not easily forgotten. At the back of my mind I have always pretty much believed that if I got on a bike I would be able to move in a forwards direction and probably not fall off. My real fear wasn’t cycling itself but the idea of doing it alongside cars on the road. I never cycled on the road as a child or teenager. When I’ve explained this to people their condescending judgement has become less harsh. Lots of people don’t cycle on the road. Whether they admit it or not, it’s because they’re scared.

Bear in mind that I’m the woman who until fairly recently was nervous to drive her own car. And in a car you’re protected by all the metal that’s encasing you. On a bike, not so much protection. Cyclists seem so vulnerable to me and yet when I see them, I’m in awe of their confidence to hold their own against all the vehicles motoring by in such close proximity. I can be such a wobbly, panicky person and so the idea of taking to the road on two wheels wasn’t something I even slightly considered until I began my YOF. It was an early addition to the list.

Popping out on the bikes for lunch

About three years ago, my class had sessions with some cycling instructors from Bristol City Council. I got chatting to one of the leaders about my lack of confidence regarding road cycling and he told me that I could have some free instruction through the council. He gave me a flyer. I pinned it to my notice board. That’s as far as it went. Occasionally I would look at it and tell myself that ‘one day’ I’d do it. Once I had a bike…

Yes, a bike. I needed one of those. My friend Emily and her husband Jamie quickly got on the case when I mentioned that I needed a bike for my YOF. They found me a beautiful French one on Gumtree in no time at all. When I went round to collect it I felt so nervous getting on for the first time. My instinct was to ride as slowly as possible, which of course makes the whole thing much more wobbly. I cycled up and down their street with Emily while Jamie watched to check the bike was ok for me. Then we headed over to the park to do a few laps. It was exhilarating to be pedalling along but I have to admit, I felt a bit relieved when I got off. I definitely didn’t feel totally comfortable and the notion of taking to the road was not particularly appealing. I was going to need some help. Time have a proper look at that flyer.

Amazingly, everyone in Bristol is entitled to three free hours of cycling instruction through the council. You are paired up with an instructor in your area and they take you out to do whatever you feel you need to do. I had a few friendly emails with my instructor, Andrew, before our first lesson. I explained my fear and he assured me that we could keep it easy and do as little or as much as felt happy with.

Smiling after my second lesson (in the pouring rain!)

Waiting for him to arrive at my house I felt uneasy. Statistics about cycling accidents nudged their way into my brain. I pushed them out, telling myself that if I ever felt unsafe, I’d stop. I needn’t have worried. When he arrived and I told him about my inability to indicate or look over my shoulder he suggested that we stick to the park. I was delighted. We spent the first part of the lesson with me cycling up and down a path doing a mixture of indicating and looking over my shoulder to see how many fingers he was holding up and yelping loudly. Andrew was great. He was concerned that he was treating me like a ten year old (he mostly teaches school groups) but I assured him that this was for the best; in this situation I felt like a ten year old. We received a few confused looks from bemused commuters passing by, as I let out wails of uncertainty and I tried to hold out my right arm while continuing to cycle in a straight line. This should have been embarrassing but it wasn’t. My overriding feeling was of empowerment. This was difficult for me. I found it hard. But I was doing something about it. And with each go I was getting noticeably better. Yes, I probably did look stupid, but I really didn’t care. Andrew was pleased with my progress (hurrah!) and we decided to have a go on some of the quiet roads around my area. He explained where I should position myself in the road and why and we practiced turning right and left. By the end of the hour-long lesson I felt like I’d really improved.

Made it to town

Between my first and second lessons I did a quite bit of cycling. Pottering around locally to friend’s houses, the hairdressers, out to lunch and even into town for choir. Every time I went out my confidence grew a little bit. My friends were really helpful, giving me advice and encouragement. Jo, who volunteers and Bristol Bike Project, also took me for a good old jaunt around and gave me lots of great bike and cycling tips.

Lesson two with Andrew was more adventurous. We went on some main roads and had a go at tackling the terror of city centre cycling. I must admit that being closely sandwiched between two busses is not my idea of a great time but I got through it. And I didn’t cause any major road accidents.

My third and final lesson is coming up. We will be attempting roundabouts (shudder). As scary as that sounds to me now, I know that I will be able to do it given time. By no means do I feel super confident cycling on the road yet. It’s going to take time, just like it has for me with driving. But that’s ok. That’s learning. It can be scary, frustrating and it doesn’t happen overnight. It’ll be worth it though. Cycling is free, quick, good for the environment and great exercise. I’d say that’s definitely worth a bit of hard work.

27. Go on a rollercoaster

20160731_121218.jpgFEAR RATING: 9

It has to be said that some of the challenges I have faced during this project have been perhaps a little niche. Many people might have struggled to understand why on earth I was scared of parking in a multi-storey car park or riding a horse, for example. Fair enough. I had my reasons but I see that for the majority they are standard, everyday activities. Surely though most people can see how going on a rollercoaster is a fear-inducing activity – not just for me but also for a huge proportion of the human race. Their very purpose is to thrill and terrify. Theme parks and their rides tend to be constructed around a narrative of dread. I’m allowed to be scared. In fact I’m meant to be.

My specific apprehensions about rollercoasters are multiple and follow thusly:

  1. Heights – as mentioned in previous posts (climbing and abseiling) I am not a fan of these. Fear of heights is an unavoidable phobia for 1/6 of the population and stems from survival instincts. No need for further explanation I would suggest.
  2. Being upside-down – feet go on the ground. Everybody knows this. We are designed to be upright. My dislike of upside-down is also the reason I have never learned to cartwheel.
  3. Being enclosed in one spot – the big metal restraints on rollercoasters make me feel claustrophobic. Although their massiveness is reassuring I find the not-being-able-to-get-out element horrible.
  4. Speed – as you may remember from my motorway fear facing, I am not built for speed. I am built for sitting down and having a cup of tea. The sensation of going fast brings me no pleasure.
  5. Adrenalin – not sure I’ve touched on this but I absolutely hate the feeling of adrenalin. The way it surges uncontrollably through the body and weakens the joints, sending the heart into a mad frenzy. Not for me. I’d rather have a bubble bath.
Deceptively tranquil

I decided on Thorpe Park as friends assured me that it was ‘a good one’ (what ever that means). After a week in Brighton, my boyfriend Duncan pointed out that we were actually quite near Thorpe Park and could get it ticked off on the way back to Bristol. As much as I didn’t want to go, it seemed too convenient not to, so we booked our tickets online (this saves you a big chunk of money if you do it in advance) and read some of the ridiculous descriptions of the rides we would be able to choose from. Just looking at the pictures was enough to make me feel queasy. But the money was spent so there was no going back.

Thorpe Park pals

On the day of the trip the sky was blue, the sun was shining and there was a feeling of intense doom in the pit of my stomach. We got out of the car and the sound of distant screams filled my ears. I turned round and there they were; great looping, metal, towering tracks of terror. Duncan looked like a child at Christmas. Meanwhile I was clinging to the car. But as I said, the sun was shining, and Duncan’s excitement was hard to ignore and even a little contagious. We skipped across the car park and through the gates. People all around us were smiling and chattering excitedly about which ride they were going to start with. For those of you who haven’t been, the entrance to Thorpe Park is deceptively lovely. You cross a bridge over a beautiful lake with swans gliding gracefully past. My spirits were high.

My Nemesis

Our chosen starting point was Nemesis Inferno (they give these things the best names). From my research it seemed to be the least high off the ground so that was a plus. However it’s described on the website as a “Mad inverted Hell ride into the fiery pit of a volcano!” Hmm. The queue time was long so we got a drink (beer for me) and began the wait. The waiting area was predominantly covered by large, leafy trees. There was the occasional gap where we were treated to a view of screaming people, strapped to a metal track, hurtling through the sky. Dramatic music boomed out of the bushes. It was nice. Surprisingly though I didn’t feel that bad. I had the occasional pang of horror at what I was about to do but it came and went.

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Face of bravery…

Finally we reached the front of the queue. Whimpering pathetically, I made my way to the seat. The huge padded ‘seatbelts’ were lowered and clamped into place. Attendants whizzed along the line, checking them far too speedily for my liking. Duncan looked at me and squeezed my hand, which was already clinging with all its strength to the handle of my seat. I proclaimed that I didn’t want to do it. But it was too late now. A recorded message on a loud speaker was reminding us to brace at all times. The carriage crept forward. Torturously slowly it began to ascend a steep incline and I just knew that we’d be held in suspense for a few seconds before being thrown down the other side. I was right. Then at astonishingly high speed came disorientating twists, sharp bends that flung my body hard against the side of the seat, dips that made my stomach lurch and of course the loops. Upside down, legs waving wildly above me (Nemesis is a dangly leg rollercoaster) I wailed in distress as everyone around me seemed to be screaming with pleasure. Thankfully the whole thing was over pretty quickly and we were released from our shackles. I staggered to the exit and had to lean against the fence. My body was trembling with adrenalin, my heart raced and my head spun. But then came a different rush – a rush of pride and satisfaction. I had done it! And I didn’t close my eyes once. We danced happily to the booth where the photos were displayed and I proudly purchased one of the worst pictures ever taken of me. My eyes are open. Both of them. Just.

Manic smile after Swarm

After the lazy river rapids (more my style), lunch and more beer, I found myself in another rollercoaster queue. This time it was for Swarm. The premise of Swarm is something to do with an air disaster. The area surrounding the ride is full of crash debris, upturned ambulances, fire engines emitting explosions of fire rather than water and giant TV screens that show an on-going news report about the shocking and mysterious event. It is as awful as it sounds. While cleverly immersive and perhaps exciting to others, these features served only to ramp up my anxiety. I felt very sick and eventually lost the ability to speak in sentences. We had a full, unrestricted view of the rollercoaster, which was much much higher than Nemesis. And did I mention that it was ‘winged’? If you don’t know what this means, take a look at the picture. Half way along, I announced that I was happy to wait with Duncan but I wouldn’t be going on the ride. I was a bit disappointed with myself but I just couldn’t face it. But when we reached the bag deposit I found myself checking in my rucksack and continuing on to the ride. Duncan said reassuring things to me, none of which I can remember except that he told me I could always close my eyes if I wanted. Suddenly we were being buckled in. A lady called Hazel (I remember looking at her badge) checked our seats and I looked desperately into her eyes and asked if it was really safe. “Totally.” She replied. She double-checked I was secure before moving on. As we began to edge forwards I squeezed my eyes tightly shut and asked Duncan when it would all be over. He replied that it would be less than a minute. We’ll see about that I thought to myself and as we hurtled down the practically vertical track I began to count out loud. Certain numbers received more emphasis in accordance with the level of terror. 27 was particularly horrific I think. I opened my eyes at one point to find myself side ways, looking down at the tops of trees which seemed impossibly far below me. Eyes firmly shut again I continued to count and at 39 we slowed to a stop.

Disbelief that I did ‘that’

Once off the ride I laughed hysterically for a solid 10 minutes or so. My relief at it being over was so intense that I felt completely overcome with joy. I’m not sure if this is the reaction you’re meant to get from rollercoasters.
Before the day was over I also managed to endure Colossus, which boasts “a massive ten exhilarating inversions including a vertical loop, cobra roll, double corkscrew and the UK’s only quadruple barrel roll!”. It was as horrendous as you might imagine and my eyes were sealed for the full 49 seconds (I counted again).

Walking to the car park over the bridge and the lake, I looked back at the menacing silhouettes of the rollercoasters I had faced. I couldn’t quite believe that I had done it. And not only done it the intended once, but actually been on three different rollercoasters. Did I enjoy it? I wouldn’t quite go that far but I had a brilliant day and the sense of achievement was as high as the peak of Colossus.


26. Sit in the front row at a comedy gig


OK, I must be up front, I didn’t sit in the front row. I sat pretty close but not right at the very front. In my defence, the front tables at the comedy club I went to were reserved. Had they not been, if I’m totally honest, I probably still wouldn’t have sat there. It would have been a step too far. But for me, just going to a comedy club was terrifying enough. And if it wins me back any respect points I may have just lost, I did go alone.

Comedy is funny, not scary right? WRONG! They very thought of sitting in a room and listening to someone tell jokes makes me cringe so violently that I actually double over. I am yet to meet a single person who is as cripplingly scared of comedy as I am. I’m well aware that it’s really weird. My family tease me mercilessly about it and know that they can’t put on anything sold as ‘funny’ if I’m in the room. Not without a battle or some clever convincing in any case.

Komedia – temple of laughter. Apparently.

Let me try to explain. This fear is a complicated one and I haven’t totally got to the bottom of it yet. I’ve though about it a lot though and talked it through with a few friends and am beginning to understand it a little more. There are two major ‘fears’ that I experience when thinking about watching something funny.

The first is that it won’t be funny. This matters little to me. Laughing or not laughing is largely irrelevant as far as I’m concerned. My concern is for the comedian. Imagine standing on stage and being watch by people who have paid to see you be funny and not making them laugh? Could there be anything more humiliating? People reason with me that it’s their job and they’re expecting it to happen to an extent at times but this doesn’t soothe my troubled mind. I cannot help but put myself in the big, red, clown shoes of the comic and die a bit inside. I am simply unable to remove myself emotionally from the whole horrible affair.

Secondly, I am constantly tormented by the possibility that in any ‘fun’ situation, the people around me are not enjoying themselves. For some totally unknown reason, I feel it is my born responsibility to ensure that everyone has a good time. I’m not saying I always, or even often achieve this, but I usually try. There are occasions however where the enjoyment of others is completely out of my control, for example when listening to music, watching a film or eating a meal in a restaurant. I find all of these things challenging. Live comedy is the most challenging of all. My weird heightened sense of empathy for comedians coupled with the huge expectation of hilarity from the audience basically makes me want to curl up under a table and never come out.

Obviously I do not avoid all things comedic as I actually do love to laugh. But what I do not do, generally speaking, is watch comedy with others (as a result of reason two). Live comedy  has also always been out of the question (due to points highlighted in reason one). Exceptions are made if I know for a fact that thing I’m watching is going to be funny (usually because I’ve seen it previously alone) and the that people I’m with have also agreed prior to watching that it is indeed definitely funny and we’ve more or less signed a contract that we’ll all laugh no matter what. Mental aren’t I?

Going to a comedy club just had to go on the YOFL. I’ve been trying really hard to put this one off, such are the feelings of sickening discomfort it gives me deep inside. But when I found myself looking up at the jovial, stripped stockinged legs flapping about above the entrance to Komedia in Brighton a couple of weeks ago, I just couldn’t ignore it any longer. After an evening of procrastination reading about it online, I went inside got myself a ticket for their monthly event – Comic Boom. Ugh. Sounds awful doesn’t it? I wasn’t sure if going by myself would make the whole thing easier or harder. My reasoning was that it was going to be horrible anyway so what did it matter.

Not the front row but not bad…

I turned up too early (standard behaviour) and walked round the block roughly 17 times so as to ensure that I wouldn’t be the only person in there at any point. The queue was full of smiling, chatty people ready for ‘a top night’ or something like that. I was practically trembling, my eyes wide with fear as I handed my ticket over at the entrance. A member of front of house ask me if there was anyone joining me (cheers) and I said no. He asked where I’d like to sit and I replied that I’d like go near the front but didn’t want to be in the way. In the way of what I’m not sure. So he showed me to a seat at to the right of the stage in a sort of booth. It felt suitably inconspicuous and safe.

The room filled up quickly; huge groups, couples and individuals ordering pints and greasy food, ready to have a right hoot. I drank a beer at top speed in the hope it would relax me a little. It did not. The the lights went down and there were flashing disco-type lights and blaring music and the compare was being introduced. He came on stage to decent applause and I began to wonder if it was going to be alright after all. He explained there would be three acts, a break, three more acts, and a headline act. And him in-between of course. Eight people trying to be funny. I thought I was going to hyperventilate. But there was no escaping now. Jokes were happening before my very eyes.

He has a guitar. Frightening times.

It’s a bit of a blur. And that’s nothing to do with the beer. Honestly. My desperation for the human on stage to feel like they were succeeding in their dream of being funny meant that I clapped and laughed rather manically and indiscriminately throughout. There was definitely a lot of genuinely funny stuff being said though and the audience were warm and receptive. The greatest thing about it for me though was that each set was extremely short. This was a huge relief. In my mind I had imagined someone standing on stage for about half an hour being greeted by heartbreaking stony silence. But this went so quickly there wasn’t actually much time for awkwardness. Thankfully there were a good scattering of crazy people like me in the audience who happily laughed uproariously at anything. Time whizzed by and I relaxed a little more with each act. I never felt totally at ease I must say though and when the penultimate chap launched himself on stage with a guitar I began to plan my escape route. I stuck it out though and I’m very glad I did.

I left feeling elated. I’d actually had a really good time. And without a doubt I would go again. I would probably go on my own though – that really helped. Not concerning myself with the enjoyment of others helped immensely. Would I sit at the front though? 100% not. Each and every person in the front row was ‘picked on’. Nothing horrible but I couldn’t have handled it. They were so close they were practically on stage. Not only this but when they were chatting to the comedian in the spotlight, they were being filmed and beamed up onto big screens around the room. It was like they were in the show. No thanks. I’m really glad I went but the front row is a fear I won’t be facing any time soon.


25. Go to a dance class


I’ve always liked the idea of dancing. I’ve been know to watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers routines on repeat. As a very small person I did a bit of ballet. This was mainly because my mum used to take me to the bakery afterwards and get me an iced ring donut. When the time came move up to the next ballet class I remember absolutely freaking out. I’d looked through the glass door to the ‘big class’. The girls were so tall and beautiful and graceful and basically adults. I was terrified and intimidated. In reality they were probably about 8 years old but being five the idea of being in the same room as them was unthinkable. It occurred to me only a few years ago that they presumably would have also been moving up a class. But I didn’t realise this at the time and told my mum that donut or no donut, I didn’t want to do ballet any more.

Clearly terrified

Later on in my childhood I tried jazz dancing with my friend George but I just never seemed to get it. I think I spent so much time feeling frightened about doing something wrong that I never really took in what the teacher was saying. I kept going for a while though because there was a rather good snack bar in the dance studio. Notice a theme? Like my ballet career it was pretty short lived. Around that time I discovered that I wasn’t terrible at singing and blending in was far easier in a choir than on a dance floor.

When I hit my teens and the horrendous era of ‘discos’ I could be found lurking awkwardly around the edges, trying not to make eye contact with anyone. I was equally afraid of not being asked to dance and being asked to dance. I mean, what are you even supposed to do? Where do you put your arms and hands? Are you meant to look at people? And how does everyone just ‘know’ the moves to Saturday Night? Minefield. Then came the welcome arrival of my good friend alcohol and with limited self awareness and inhibitions, I spent many nights leaping sweatily around on dance floors in Bristol and Cardiff, wowing crowds with my peculiar brand of interpretive moves. I loved dancing at uni. I was silly and over the top with my arm waving and I didn’t care in the slightest what anyone thought of me.

Shaking it off

But throwing shapes in a packed out, dark, noisy club is one thing. Attending a formal, grown-up class is another entirely. It went straight on the list. Back in September some friends and I organised a Taylor Swift themed dance class for our friend Victoria’s hen-do. The teacher from AYDance taught us a routine to ‘Shake it Off’ and we performed in in our cheerleading outfits with great gusto. Again, just like at uni, I embraced the silliness of it all and had a great time. Yes it was technically a dance class but it didn’t feel enough of a challenge to blog about. Then earlier this month, my talented teacher-friend Kiel organised a staff flash-mob for the kids in a school assembly. We practised for half an hour a week after school for a couple of months and he choreographed a really fun performance. The kids went absolutely wild and the parents loved the Facebook video too. So I could have blogged about that. Again though, it just hadn’t felt scary enough. Maybe I was cured of all my anxiety and self-doubt through all of this fear facing, I mused…

Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 22.32.53

But then I realised that the dancing I really didn’t want to do was dancing with a partner. Eugh. That would be the absolute worst. Why? Well, for starters, it would involve being touched by strangers. Plural. I don’t like that. And I would have to touch them back. Who wants to do that, right? Then of course there’s the fact that I knew I’d be awful at it. I have no coordination or spacial awareness. I’m clumsy. On average I break, drop or spill at least three things a day. I would go in the wrong direction at the wrong time and my many dance partners would all hate me. I was certain.

In the first week on the summer holidays, I found myself in Brighton with a couple of evenings to myself. Perfect opportunity to tick some YOFL items off. I contacted my friend Liz, who lives in Brighton and is a keen Lindy-Hopper. I thought she’d be able to recommend a beginners class to me. As luck would have it, she was in fact teaching a beginners class and invited me along before I had even mentioned dancing to her. Meant to be, it seemed.

I arrived unnecessarily early at The Mesmerist bar and nervously nursed a preparatory orange juice, while watching the time creep ever closer toward 7:30pm. Had I not already arranged to go to the class and have a drink with Liz afterwards, I think I would have left. But I didn’t. I reluctantly made my way upstairs, secretly hoping I was somehow in the wrong place. I wasn’t. I was welcomed in by Graeme, Liz’s dance partner and the class got started.

Liz and Graeme showing us how it’s done

After telling us a little bit about Lindy Hop and it’s origins, Liz and Graeme  gracefully demonstrated the sequence of moves we’d be learning. I shook my head to myself. If they thought there was any way my feet would be moving at that speed in such a variety of directions while my arms were doing something else then they had anther thing coming. But there I was so I though I might as well give it my best shot. Then they took us through the most basic step – ‘rock, step, triple-step’. Leads stood behind Graeme and follows behind Liz (the whole thing was a bit Westside Story). We went over the steps at different speeds, with and without music. When Liz and Graeme felt we’d mastered them, we were suddenly lined up and being paired off. Heart racing, I introduced myself to my first partner David. I explained immediately and with far too many words that I was terrified of dancing. He responded with amusement that I might be scared of dancing with strangers but I clearly wasn’t scared of talking to them. Good point Dave. Then we were instructed to change partners! David and I hadn’t even had a dance yet! The speed of this was oddly reassuring though – I wouldn’t be with anyone long enough for them to develop too much resentment towards me – hurrah!

The structure of the class was great – a very accessible pace and so well broken down. They’d demonstrate a section of the routine and then Graeme would talk the leads through it and Liz would do the same for the follows. Then we’d practise with a few different partners and slowly but surly, I began to get it. Admittedly, when the turn was introduced, I did really struggle. I tried to keep my apologising to a minimum and remind myself that everybody has to start somewhere. Periodically Liz and Graeme would stop to give a tip or pick up on common errors. This was always timely, helpful and never patronising. As a teacher myself it was great to be on the receiving end of really spot-on teaching. Now that was patronising wasn’t it?

An hour after my terrifying assent up the stairs, I was smiling and a little sad that the class had come to an end. Without a doubt I had made real progress and there were elements of what we’d been taught that I’d definitely nailed. It was enormously satisfying. And the physical contact with strangers really hadn’t been an issue. In the context of the class it was just completely normal.

Following the intermediate class, which I stayed to watch, we headed down stairs where a brilliant swing band (The Swing Ninjas) were playing and couples were strutting their stuff. As I watched Liz and Graeme whizz around the floor I couldn’t stop grinning. Their dancing was so full of life and fun and it was a total pleasure to watch. It was a Wednesday night but there was such a party vibe and it was clear that eveyone was having a fantastic time, whether watching or dancing.

I’m so glad that I went to the class and I would definitely go back. I’ll certainly be having a look at what the Bristol Lindy Hop scene has to offer. If it’s anything like the Brighton one, I’m sold.



24. Miss a deadline


Deadline-Ahead1For the last couple of months I’ve been fretting about this project. Specifically about finishing it. By its very title, a time restriction is implied – I’m meant to be completing my fear-facing escapades within 12 months. As mid July, my impending 31st birthday (yikes) and designated deadline has stomped ever closer, I’ve worried with growing anguish about the fact that it’s basically impossible for me to confront and write about 30 fears in time. I’m going to need an extension and this has been upsetting the heck out of me.

When talking to others, I’ve been quizzed about the importance of meeting (or not meeting) this self imposed deadline. Naturally I’ve answered with my go-to babble about failure and letting people down and so on. My good friend and colleague Karl challenged me further though and suggested that admitting that I couldn’t meet the deadline and accepting it, was actually facing a fear in itself. At the time, we were staying late at work in order to meet a deadline I couldn’t face pushing back. Interesting.

It got me thinking about the pressure that I put on my time. I’m the type of person that will write a to-do list at the weekend to ensure that I am equally fun and productive. Next to each item I write the allotted time I will spend on it. This is sometimes useful. It is sometimes nuts. I’m getting better at moving away from this rigid approach to my leisure time but its hard. There’s nothing quite like crossing something off a list. It’s a pretty sweet high.

And there’s a bigger picture too. Turning 31 seems like a bit of a thing. 30 is just a novelty age really. Anything goes. You can do silly things like swim with sharks and go away every weekend and spend every penny you earn on apparently nothing and get a credit card and have no intention of ever saving for a house because “No one owns property in Spain!” and stuff like that. But when your 31…It just seems a bit more…serious.

But why? Well unfortunately there’s the inevitable but highly unhelpful comparison to peers lark which we all enter into an a daily basis. When many of your friends have mortgages, spouses and offspring, you can’t help but feel a bit left behind if you don’t. Especially if all you have show for 31 years of being alive is the 1/8 of your car that you have paid off and £50 in an ISA somewhere.

Now I’m not blaming anyone but myself for this. I made a very conscious decision to live for now and I don’t regret a thing. However I’d be lying if I said I am where I hoped I’d be at 31. I got married at 26 and my ‘plan’ was always to have a family ASAP, save up and buy a house where I would live in blissful happiness forever more. It didn’t work out. I remember thinking that I’d definitely have a baby by Rio 2016 and what great timing that would be. But I’ve missed my deadline. Rio is round the corner and no baby. And as for owning a house, well that seems equally as likely as the idea of me sitting down for a cup of tea and a pink wafer biscuit with Michael Gove.

So have I failed because I haven’t got some of the must-have items on the list of things you need to be a successful adult? Am I a catastrophe of a human being because I am unlikely to own a dishwasher in the next 10 years? I suppose that’s a matter of opinion. True, I am not where I had hoped to be by 31, but right now I am where I want to be. I love my job, my family, my friends and I’m so excited about the future, whatever that might bring and whenever it might be brought. There is no deadline.

I do promise that I will complete my YOFL to the best of my ability. But again, there is no deadline. I hope that you understand.

23. Get waxed



Firstly, don’t worry – this post contains NO PHOTOS. Moving on…

Waxing. Painful? Surely. Intimidating? Definitely. A feminist issue? Possibly. But nevertheless here it is on my YOFL.

I shall begin with a brief outline of my relationship with the ‘beauty’ industry to give some context to the above fear. I’ve never been what some would refer to as a ‘girly-girl’ (a term I loath). What I mean by this is that when many women get excited at the makeup counters in department stores, I plough through the gauntlet, head down, until I reach the safety of Paperchase. I mean, I usually wear a bit of mascara (I’ve had the same one for about two years – is that normal?) and I sometimes wear foundation now. Foundation is a relatively new departure for me though. In 2014 I actually sat at a tall spinny stool in House of Fraser and let the Bare Minerals woman do things to my face. And then I bought the things she put on it. And I do actually use them. But this whole experience wasn’t straightforward. I made my friend Beth come with me and basically hold my hand.

Why? You cry! It’s just makeup! Well, yes. But also no. To me it’s always seemed like witchcraft. In my teens I was lucky enough to have great skin (thank you parental genes) and so when my friends were experimenting with various creams, powders and liquids, I was recording the top 40 onto tape and writing down the Lyrics to All Saints songs. I missed it all.

Fast forward to adulthood and suddenly I’m the moron who’s never been quite sure what a pore is. I don’t have a skincare regime. I’ve never plucked my eyebrows. Not only that but I don’t even get my hair cut regularly. I just don’t feel like I belong in salons or preening facilities of any kind. The people in them are so clean and shiny and they must all think that I look like a completely unkempt scruff-bag. These insecurities could be something to do with the fact that I was called Worzle Gummidge for a time at secondary school, but that’s a story for another day.

Additionally, I don’t like people looking at any part of my body in close detail. I feel that from a distance, I can pass a normal but I’m absolutely convinced that if scrutinised closely I’ll be revealed as officially disgusting. Not meaning to go on about it but being left by a spouse really fed into this insecurity and belief that there must surely be something wrong with me physically.

So hopefully you can see why waxing was a fear for me.

I’ve been putting off this list item for such a long time. The idea of taking my trousers off in front of another human being and then paying them to look at and touch my legs was just horrendous. I have a great many issues with my legs and pretty much have to give myself a motivational pep talk every time I leave the front door with them remotely exposed. Anyway, time is running out for my YOF so I emailed a local beauty salon (shudder), which Beth had recommended, and explained quite clearly that I wanted to book an appointment but was terrified. Cleo, the salon owner, replied promptly with a lovely email aiming to put my mind at rest. It did help. A little. At the very least I was happy I’d made contact with a scary beauty person and they hadn’t laughed derisively at me via the Internet. Now because I’m absolutely nuts, I booked myself in for a leg and bikini wax. And not just a bikini wax: a Brazilian. I don’t really know what I was thinking. I suppose I thought if I was going to face the fear, I was going to do it properly. Also I’ve been toying with the idea for ages and I’ve annoyed every single one of my female friends asking for their advise so I thought it was time I just shut up and went for it.

I arrived embarrassingly early so I could sit in the waiting area and get steadily more nervous. Well done me. When Cleo came out to get me I immediately blurted out that I was really scared. She put her arm round me and gave me a comforting squeeze. This gesture, small though it seems, totally relaxed me. Well not totally. But I did feel I was in safe hands and that this lovely woman was certainly not going to laugh at me. She talked me through the process very clearly and gently and then said we could just try a strip and see how I felt. And I felt reasonably ok. I mean, obviously it stung like flipping crazy, but I didn’t scream or get tearful. So Cleo set to work de-hairing my legs like some kind of honey-wax-ninja and before I knew it they were both done.

On to the ‘other area’. Now I won’t go into too much detail here as it’s pretty intimate stuff but I will say a few things:

  1. I got to keep my pants on – a huge relief.
  2. I didn’t feel embarrassed or undignified at any point.
  3. She didn’t laugh at me.
  4. It hurt.

Cleo was so nice and reassuring about the whole thing. She chatted away and gave me a little ‘well done’ after each strip had been ripped swiftly from my skin.

When it was all over I felt amazing. Elated. Relieved. Sensitive. But mostly proud of myself. I’d been dreading the appointment all day and had considered making an excuse and cancelling it. Even when I was there I could have got out of it and just asked for legs, or said no thanks after the first strip. But I didn’t and I’m so pleased with myself.

Something I really hope I take away from the experience is that ‘beauty people’ are not scary, shiny sorceresses. They’re just people who want to help you feel good about how you look, and that’s pretty lovely I think.

22. Learn to play an instrument


Learn a musical instrument was an item from the first draft of The List that I wrote, around this time last year. This original list, which was written on my phone, was lost in an unfortunate late night theft incident. I remembered most of the contents of the list, but only recalled this item recently.

George and his guitar

I’ve always loved music and as you may know, singing is a passion of mine. Despite this though, I’ve never consider myself a ‘musical’ person. Yes I like it and can hold a tune without too much trouble, but anything more than this is a bit like witchcraft to me. At choir, when people talk about the theoretical aspects of the music, I try to avert my eyes and hope that they don’t direct anything at me. I can see where the notes go up and down and I have a very basic understanding of which ones are longer than others, but anything more than that is another language.

I’ve tried to learn to read music but it’s always been a struggle. Being dyslexic means that reading anything in a grid-like layout is really difficult for me and the notes jump around in front of my eyes. After failed attempts to play the keyboard and the clarinet as a child, I felt that I just wasn’t cut out to be a musician.

When I finished my GCSE’s in 2001, my brother George bought me a guitar as a reward. Thinking about it now, I don’t think that this is particularly normal 18-year-old brother behaviour, but then he wasn’t exactly a normal 18 year-old. He played guitar himself and wanted to encourage me to take it up as well. I began to learn to play it and he taught me some basic chords. For a while I practiced regularly and made progress. But then, I don’t really know what happened. It got harder I suppose and as an impatient teenager, I just didn’t push through that stage of it being boring and difficult. I just gave up.

My germ uke

I still have the guitar and it’s a strong connection to George. I’ve always thought at the back of my mind that learning to play it properly would be a great thing to do in his memory. But somehow I built it up to be a scary and challenging prospect. A few years ago I reasoned that a ukulele might be a good stepping-stone. So I bought a cheap and brilliantly green one and had I go. Again, when it got hard, I just couldn’t seem to stick with it. It went up on a shelf and I did nothing with it but feel a slight sense of guilt whenever I looked at it.

Then seven weeks ago I saw a post on Facebook about a beginner’s ukulele course running for six weeks in Bedminster. Perfect! I had nothing to lose so I immediately emailed the teacher and confirmed my place for the following Wednesday.

Lovely class

Arriving to the first session I felt nervous and didn’t really know what to expect. I needn’t have worried though as the atmosphere was warm and relaxed and I soon felt at ease. Josh took us through the basics, explaining everything clearly and at a perfect ‘beginners’ level. We practiced some simple chords and strumming patterns and I left feeling a little more confident and hopeful about my musical ability.

Ukulele biscuits!

Over the next five weeks we played a variety of songs, all based around the same handful of chords, experimenting with different rhythms and strumming patterns. At home, when I had tried to teach myself, I had cast my uke aside when things got tricky but here, I could just ask Josh when I needed help. I have realised that I need this immediate feedback when I’m learning which is why things like YouTube tutorials don’t really work for me. I need to be told I’m doing it right, or if I’m not, exactly why.
I have really enjoyed the last six Wednesday evenings. I’ve focused a lot on physical activities and exercise in my free time lately, which has been great, but it was refreshing do something more creative for an hour a week. It’s helped me realise that it’s never too late to learn something new. Or pick up something you gave up a long time ago. I really hope that I will continue to make time to practice and progress now that the course has finished. My goal is to achieve the Holy Grail of playing and singing at the same time. Wish me luck!

21. Run 10K


Almost a year ago exactly I took the first step in my running journey and I haven’t looked back since. In September I completed my first 5K, and two weeks ago I managed to up it to 10K. Here’s how it went.

Struggling with training

After the 5K success in September, I had a bit of a break from running. Lovely events such as a hen-do and a wedding were valid (ish) excuses to leave my trainers under the bed for a bit. Then a bit became a lot. It’s not that I didn’t want to go – just that I quickly got out of the habit and it was hard to get back into the routine again. Especially when the weather started to become distinctly more ‘wintry’. I’m quite a wimp when it comes to being cold and wet (see Rocksolid whinging) so the ever increasing wind and rain, and dropping temperatures were enough to have me reaching for my pj’s rather than my running garb.

But then I had a clever revelation: join a gym! People do it all the time! I thought to myself. It’s easy. The beautiful fit people in their practical-yet-stylish gym clothes and sweat free faces are nothing to be intimidated by! I reasoned. I’m sure there’ll be at least one other person there who turns burgundy when they exercise. Hmm. I was a bit afraid. But, in the spirit of my YOF I did it and had no regrets whatsoever. It actually wasn’t scary at all. It was great. I loved going there straight from work, listening to a podcast in the perfectly temperate and totally dry gym while rain lashed down outside. I kept this up for a while, going 2-3 times per week and it felt really good.

Pre-race smiles

When the weather began to improve I decided I really couldn’t justify the £30 monthly fee so I hit the roads again. The biggest problem when preparing for the 10K was trying to fit in training. My life seems to be quite full and busy (not bragging, just stating facts here) and getting the running in was proving tricky. People suggested training plans to me but for some reason I just couldn’t commit to one. I decided that the key thing for me was to just get out three times a week. So my housemate Gemma suggested a wall planner, mapping out when I would go, to be filled in the week before so that I could fit it around other commitments. This worked really well. After each run, I added my distance to the chart and gave myself a smiley face reward (because I’m really grown up like that). It really did help and I could see that I was making progress. Although, it has to be said, not as quickly as I needed to. A few unavoidable breaks in training prior to ‘the chart’ had really set me back and my fitness wasn’t exactly great. I was getting a lot of stitches and really struggling to run without stopping to walk occasionally. I kept telling myself that it didn’t matter if I had to walk a bit on the day, as long as I finished somehow.
The day of the Great Bristol 10K rolled around suddenly, as things your slightly dreading seem to do. My good friend James came from Cardiff to join me. I told him that I intended to stop and walk if I needed to but he was having none of it. He insisted that he was going to run with me (despite the fact that he could have done the race MUCH faster without me), keep us at a steady pace and slow down rather than walk if I was struggling. No walking. Crikey. This was a worry but in a way it was great that the strategy of the whole thing was out of my hands.

Ready to go

After a big bowl of porridge we set of to find the start line. Numbers were attached, final toilet stops were had, stretches were done and then we were off. The sun was already blazing down considerably at 10am and it was impossible not to smile. I’d been told about the ‘amazing atmosphere’ and people kept telling me that this would give me an ‘extra boost’ on the day. I had been cynical about this but as we ran past the Bristol Samba band on Anchor Road, the Rock Choir in Hotwells and the family playing Greenday very loudly into the street from their house at the bottom of the Portway I started to get it. The whole route was lined with supporters, clapping and cheering in the sunshine. There was so much positivity in the air, you could basically taste it. Sounds silly I know, but there you go.

Nearly there

As with Rocksolid, the first 5K wasn’t too much trouble. Then I started to struggle. My legs hurt. I was hot. I was sweaty. There was still a long way to go. James kept an eye on our pace using the mapmyrun app and poked me onwards when I started to moan. Which was quite a lot. I had made myself a super-upbeat playlist so I turned it up to full and tried to smile through the sweat burning my eyeballs as Stevie Wonder sang that ‘Everything was alright’ into my ears. As we reached the final kilometre marker I suddenly felt like I couldn’t do it. One more kilometre? It felt like forever and I was seriously struggling to drag myself forwards. Then we hit the city centre and there seemed to be people cheering everywhere. At the top of Prince Street I caught sight of my mum, dad and new boyf (!) waving flags and cheering. It put a huge smile on my face. A few metres later I heard someone call my name from the crowd – my friend Nick from work. Round the bend, a hysterical scream of ‘Go Ellie!’ this time my brother and his girlfriend, Libby. My legs were jelly-like but James pointed out the 200m marker and the end was in sight. As we approached the finish line I heard some of my amazing friends giving us a final cry of encouragement. And we were done.

Medals and beer!

Almost everyone who has asked me about the 10K has inquired as to my time. At first I felt a bit embarrassed about it. Compared to a lot of people, it was very slow and I was finding that I didn’t want to tell people. But then I began to think about what it really meant. This time last year, the idea of me running for 10 kilometres without stopping would have been laughable. When I saw events like this, I felt so separate from the participants. Like they were from a different planet to me. One full of fit, healthy, happy and all-round better creatures. But I did it. Regardless of time or comparisons to others, I DID IT. And perhaps most importantly, I enjoyed it. Friend and running motivator, Andrew, said to me a few months ago that when doing your first 10K, the most important thing to do was to enjoy it. And I did.

Without meaning to sound too cheesy, running really has changed my life. It’s altered how I feel about my body, my overall potential and has continually improved my mental health beyond recognition. I am a happier, healthier and more at-peace version of myself when I run. Even when I run slowly. So does it matter that it took 01:07:09? Not to me.

Huge thanks to the many people who have helped me on my running journey so far and a wide variety of ways. Special mention to James for supporting and pushing me; I couldn’t have done it without you.