What does happiness mean to you?

I have been on an amazing journey these past 8 weeks.  Admittedly physically not very far – to Esher and back every Wednesday evening to attend an Action for Happiness course.  But emotionally……

Before you switch off and think oh, no not another happy clappy post; just spare me a moment and have a think about what happiness means to you? Not just about you as an individual but how we can make the world a happier place.

Needless to say on the 1st evening I blurted out the stock answer “family and friends” and of course for some there’s loads of others too; a big house, fast car, designer handbags, 5* holidays, money but do they really make you happy?  Think about tolerance, acceptance, belief, understanding, loyalty, openess, friendships and the communities you are part of e.g. work, home, friends, family, online, sports clubs, dog walking – they don’t even have to be particularly profound relationships but they can make you and your environment a happier place.

Just to cite one example….I woke up the other morning in a right huff about my husband (again I hear you shout), life and the world in general (I’ll blame it on those darn hormones).  I stomped off with my dog for a walk and on it I chatted to 2 other dog walkers – who I will probably never see again – about inane stuff.  Walking back home I felt much chirpier and on reflection realised it was all because I had struck up a conversation.

The things I really got out of the course were:

  1. Be outward looking – the more egocentric and insular we are the more miserable we feel
  2. Say hello and smile at everyone you pass (perhaps not always possible on a crowded commuter train when everybody might think you’re a little potty shouting hello to one and all) – it will make someone’s day and make you feel happier too. As an aside there’s a lovely 90 year old man who pops into our local Budgens at least 2 or 3 times a day.  If you see him, please stop and chat as he would love to have a natter.
  3. It’s in our nature to dwell on the negative so at the end of every day jot down 3 good things that happened to you.  Could be the smallest things such as noticing the cloud shapes in the sky or singing along to your favourite song but it will help change your mindset.
  4. The importance of communities in supporting and bringing people together.  One thing we discussed is the decline of intergenerational families and communities and how important they are in society. What can we do to address this?
  5. How we treat and perceive others – we’ve all been there.  You take umbrage about somebody’s behaviour.  But take a moment and think what might have gone on with that person moments before.  Are they having a particularly bad day; is there something not quite right at home etc etc.
  6. Reflect what things make you happy and take some time for yourself to do those things.  My 2 loves before children were tennis and film neither of which I do enough of.  So I’m going to try and go to the cinema once a month (matinee please as it’s so indulgent) and play tennis once a week.  For one of the other participants in our group it is having fresh flowers in the house. The simple pleasures…
  7. Let’s start small.  The conversations with my Action for Happiness group are continuing as we all want to contribute to our local communities and spread the word.  But it doesn’t have to be anything radical….watch this space!

Finally, I wanted to share a three videos and a podcast with you which are worth watching/ listening to if you’ve got the time.

Before I go I want to share this little poem (Anon) which a dear friend at school taught me and rings so true:
Laugh and the world laughs with you
Weep and you weep alone
For the world has need of your mirth
But has sorrow enough of its own.






My love affair with food

I was going to write another self-indulgent post this week and then I thought “Emma, get a grip”.

Instead I thought I would write about food.  I would describe myself as a bit of a foodie and yet, weirdly, I haven’t written a blog about it although I seem to think about the darn stuff for at least 23 1/2 hours a day. I admit it; I’m greedy and love all food – I try and be healthy but you know what sometimes nothing beats a pint and packet of crisps (Walkers Cheese & Onion to be precise).

I’m pretty sure it’s genetic as I was reading the diary my nanny (I know!) wrote and even when I was still in nappies I would throw a strop if there wasn’t chocolate cake for pudding.  Plus I lost the top of a finger helping my mother mince roast lamb to make shepherd’s pie – let’s not go there either… And, as I grew older I was allowed to choose the restaurants for our family special occasions.  In my mid-teens my favourite was Coconut Grove (I think it’s a Carluccio’s now) in St Christopher’s Place off Oxford Street.  It was Caribbean-themed and you could order gaudy cocktails and have platters of ribs, chicken wings and anything else that gave a nod to those tropical islands.  I still salivate at the thought.

My love affair has continued fueled by a number of years in the wine industry, eating and drinking at Michelin-starred restaurants and surrounding myself with foodies working on delicious. Magazine and Sainsbury’s Magazine.

Now that family life dominates, my husband is more of a fuel-for-life kinda man and my waistband has increasingly thickened my tastes have changed and I long for simple foods beautifully executed with fresh, clean flavours. Our go to treat at home when we have people round for dinner is a rare rib of beef with Vietnamese coleslaw.

I would say my favourite restaurants in Central London which I will happily go back to time and time again are Roka, Barrafina, Quo Vadis, J Sheekey, Lima and you can’t beat The Hawksmoor chain for some serious steaks.  Locally our go-to restaurant is Naturally Chinese and for special occasions The French Table but I do wish Kingston had more independents as they all seem to be chains.

And in terms of cooking, I do like to create but I also have a folder full of recipes that “one day I’ll cook” and a shelf loaded with cookbooks.  I did a sort out recently and sent some to the charity shop as I just never used them.  However I go back to the same books/ chefs time and time again:

Mary Berry’s Cookery Course – I bought that for our au-pairs so they could learn the basics and it’s a really good reminder for basic weights, temperatures and cooking times for classic home cooking

Nigella Lawson – Kitchen – you can’t beat her recipes as they work and taste fab.  Try her lemon polenta cake or chicken with 40 cloves of garlic and you’ll be hooked

Made in India – Meera Sodha – a new and v welcome addition to my collection.  Delicious curries, salads, breads and chutneys.  So far I’ve tried the chicken and fig curry, masala roast chicken and chaat salad. Yum!

Dan Lepard Short and Sweet – he’s my go to for baking and bread-making.  Easy to follow down to earth recipes. Banana butterscotch cake, farmhouse loaf and his long-prove sourdough are my weekend hit list bakes

Anything by Ottolenghi as long as I’ve got the time and ingredients.  His recipes can sometimes feel rather long-winded but they are worth it if you’ve got the patience.  I did his version of a Waldorf salad and I could have troughed the lot before our friends arrived for supper

Falling Clouberries – Tessa Kiros – a loving collection of recipes from around the world and from her family.  Mouthwatering and I’ve yet to find a better carrot cake recipe (sorry Dan)

Finally I really enjoy reading Felicity Cloake’s column in The Guardian.  I love reading about the history of recipes and the different versions chefs make.  She then creates the definitive recipe based on her research.  I’ve made her gazpacho and cinnamon buns recently and they’ve gone down a storm.

It would be lovely to hear what your favourite restaurants and cookbooks are.  I’m off to cook Bill Granger’s stir-fried  Vietnamese lemongrass chicken….




What makes you, YOU? I’ve just rediscovered ME

I’ve had the most amazing pre-summer holidays holiday last week and sneaked my daughter out of school for a few days (naughty naughty!).

First of all It started off with a long weekend with all my family to celebrate my mother’s 80th – my family like to stretch out celebrations for as long as possible (my brother’s 50th lasted for at least 6 months!).  We stayed at the luxurious and super comfy Launceston Farmhouse near Blandford Forum – I highly recommend it for a house party.  This was then followed by 3 days on the beautiful Suffolk coast staying with my in-laws in a rustic “cottage” on the beach at Walberswick. From all mod cons to the very basic, both places are wonderful in their own ways.

What it highlighted to me is that during those fews days there were times when I was really me.  Not worried about school, work, chores, money, husband, daughter, my Sainsbury’s online delivery. Just me being me.

And what were those moments?

They were so simple…

  1. Playing clap catch (v simple game of having to clap before you catch the ball from anybody in the circle) on the lawn with family ranging from 7 to 80
  2. Go-karting – I really didn’t want to do it (‘cos I’m a woos (sic)) but once I was on the track I let rip and effed and blinded my way round the track loving the adrenalin and speed kicking in.  I was probably going at a snail’s pace compared to everybody else but I didn’t care
  3. Swimming in the sea.  This is the one that really got me.  An early morning swim in the chilly waters of Suffolk.  I choked back the tears as I lay on my back buoyed by the swell of the sea and staring into the blue sky.  It allowed me to be still and realise that this is who I am, this is what I love and to question why I don’t do this more often

Being back into the routine of life this week, I let myself drift back to those moments and what I’ve promised is to:

  • Make more time for myself
  • Do more activities – hopefully with my husband and my daughter – that bring out the kid in me
  • Visit the seaside as often as I can – even if it’s too cold to swim. Just the wide open spaces allow me to breathe
  • Go to more exhibitions and creative installations
  • Be a little bit braver and try new things without whingeing!

And what’s more an article I read at thriveglobal.com states that neuroscientists now believe that reminiscing about happy memories can help you handle stress – so what’s not to lose?

What do you do to bring out the you in you?

My top ten books

I had bookclub last week and was dismayed when some of the group didn’t enjoy my nominated book as much as I did.  It was A Year Of Marvellous Ways by Sue Winman which I inhaled as the beautiful prose sucked me in. But each to their own! So for a change this week I thought I would share with you my top 15 books (I couldn’t bear to cut it down to 10); in no particular order.  See what you think and feel free to comment:

  1. Weaveworld – Clive Barker: I do love a good fantasy novel
  2. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulkes: No doubt on most people’s lists
  3. The Book Thief – Marcus Zusak: I cried
  4. Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides: Awe inspiring book about an hermaphrodite
  5. Haroun & the Sea of Stories – Salman Rushdie: Children’s book and I think one of his best
  6. The Time Travellers Wife – Audrey Niffinegger: The film didn’t do it justice
  7. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami: Mystical story and the book my husband wooed me with
  8. Cutting for Stone – Adam Verghese: Moving insight into twins and life in India
  9. Skallagrigg – William Horword: Author best known for his Duncton Wood series but this trumps them every time
  10. Creative Mischief – Dave Trott: Non-fiction insight into the world of advertising
  11. A Man Called Ove – Frederik Bachman:  Who knew a book could make you laugh and cry at the same time
  12. The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt:  This seemed to be a love it or hate it book but I loved it. You just have to get through the 1st few chapters…
  13. The Mitford Girls – Mary S Lovell: Biography of an extraordinary family during an extraordinary time.  The Kardashians aint got nothing on these girls!
  14. A Year of Marvellous Ways – Sue Winman: Just read it for the prose if nothing else
  15. The Essential Calvin & Hobbes – Bill Watterson:  Can’t help but love these cartoon characters.  How I wish I could be transmogrified

But of course the list goes on as there are authors who I love and treasure; the older novels of John Iriving, Louis de Berneries’ trilogy set in a fictional Latin America and anything by Maggie O’ Farrell, JoJo Moyes and Tracy Chevalier who have to get a mention too.

Thank goodness I have a place where I can centrally log the books I’ve read rather than in old notebooks scattered around the house. Over the past few years I have been using Goodreads.com  but there’s a new app on the block Litsy which I’m going to try out based on a great review EConsultancy.  I’ll let you know how I get on…



Why our confidence falters

As I mentioned in a previous post I was going to join a choir and blow me I’ve gone and done it; Vocality in Surbiton were happy to take me on. Bear in mind I haven’t sung in a choir since school and my hubby laughs every time I mention it (at least I make him laugh!) but I have attended every week since.

But the funny thing is, the 1st couple of weeks I went along and sang with gusto but the more I go the more self-conscious I become and have lost some confidence.  I think I am aware that perhaps I can’t quite hit the notes (no music to read –  it’s all through listening to the choirmaster which I find soooo difficult) and what will the people standing next to me think?  Also I naively presumed I would master singing again quickly but I had forgotten how hard it is to sing alto sandwiched between the sopranos and tenors & don’t get me started on breathing.

I know I shouldn’t really worry as we’re all in it together but I do.  At least I’ve been practising with my daughter (husband puts on headphones at this point) so I am familiar with the words and music.

These feelings brings to mind the constant ebb & flow of emotions we go through at work. For example you’re getting a new project off the ground.  Initially we go “Yep we’ve got this one nailed, I can do this”.  Then we actually start working on whatever it is and our confidence begins to dip as we begin to doubt our abilities and perhaps the project isn’t going quite as smoothly as we would like with a few curve balls thrown in for good measure.  You’re left to make key decisions as your line manager knows you can do the job even though you want their support as you sit at your desk gnawing at your nails.

But you work through it piece by piece until you’re on the upward trajectory and the project comes together.  It’s at this point your confidence has grown again as you say to yourself “Wow I did that” and think back to what you have learnt and the obstacles you have overcome to make the project a success. And then another project/ new job/ issue comes along and the confidence cycle begins again. We need to remember with every confidence dip there’s a rise just around the corner.

All I can hope for is that my confidence is on the up at choir this week.  If not, I’m sure it will be soon and to be honest nothing beats belting out a good tune with a group of like-minded people in a beautiful setting.  But promise me you wont come to the concert at the end of the term!