After one workout, Chris, my PT surprises me with a Quest double chocolate chunk protein bar. The next week he brings me a pot of Total 0% yoghurt mixed with chocolate protein powder, peanut butter, and cinnamon. Two weeks later, it’s a tupperware of overnight oats. “You could run your own food service” I say, as I text my thank you. Prior to this culinary sampling, I’d never touched natural yoghurt, I’d concluded that all protein bars tasted like cardboard, and all previous attempts at overnight oats had resulted in a tasteless paste and the texture of shredded paper soaked in water.
I was touched that Chris was attempting to break my negative feelings towards these high protein snacks, and pleasantly surprised by all three. I’ve gone from burning more calories than I eat, and feeling that happiness is found twenty pounds lighter, to eating more, working out less (“quality not quantity” says Chris), and feeling happier about how I look. I know that I’ve gained muscle and lost fat, I look leaner, and I’m less bothered about the numbers on the scale anymore.
Juice diets and calorie restriction seem a great idea until you realise the damage they do to your metabolism and your muscles (I am still in the midst of a long slog to get my metabolism back up to a ‘normal’ rate). Not to mention all the weight you gain back after. Filling my days with back-to-back cardio is a thing of the past (not forgetting the gym challenge of June 2016 where I resorted to living out of the lockers in order to make third place); now there’s always a protein bar in one hand to hit my macros, and I’m deemed a regular in the weights area. It’s definitely more rewarding having Adrian cheering you on as you squat a 65kg personal best, rather than hitting 1000 calories on the treadmill, and only a puddle of sweat to show for it.
Seeing my disappointment, we up the ante and end each session with 10 minutes of punishing ab exercises – weighted crunches, Russian twists, toe taps, oblique crunches, and reverse crunches that leave me doubled up in pain after each set (no pain no gain?!). Then there’s a ridiculous manoeuvre on the ab-bench that I still can’t bring myself to do alone, for fear of looking like I don’t have a clue what I’m doing (every gym-goer’s worst nightmare).
But these ten minutes show me that it’s not all about seeing abs. Because magically sprouting a set of well-defined abdominal muscles overnight wouldn’t come hand-in-hand with oodles of self-confidence to walk around showing them off. The process is about real people - with day jobs and body hang-ups - sweating and getting mucky; gradually seeing positive changes inside and out. Not perfectly-lit images of salad for Instagram and pre-workout selfies enhanced with a dusky pink filter.
I’ve found a kick-ass gym that motivates me to turn up 6 days a week, challenges my competitive streak and train hard (even without a PT by my side), whilst helping me feel proud with the little changes, such as defined triceps, a perkier butt, and the outlandish idea that I might be able to defend myself in a dark alleyway. Suddenly I’ve got a reason to drag myself out of bed at 5:30 each morning (and complete a 2 mile run to the gym), my PT makes me laugh, and I finally have some impressive-sounding hobbies - real hobbies - that don’t include record-breaking Netflix marathons or eating Nutella straight from the jar.
An enjoyable part is knowing you’re one step closer to your goal than you were yesterday. But along the way my impatience has started to wane and I might just be falling in love with the process (even those early starts dare I say it).
Before ONE LDN, my weight training regime was virtually non-existent (I’d say ‘Cardio Queen’ was an apt description). The weights zone was a ‘man-area’, and a minefield of awkward moments and obscure exercises waiting to happen. I stuck with cardio for years and maintained an irrational fear of the squat rack. Even in a weightlifting class, I was a disaster waiting to happen, once even hurling – accidentally – a loaded bar at the studio windows whilst attempting a clean and jerk. It was PT Chris who pushed me out of my comfort zone, fitting in dreaded weighted lunges, step-ups, and hamstring curls into each training session.
Over the past year I have gone from wobbly squats to those a sumo wrestler would be proud of. My knees don’t cave in when I’m deadlifting, my back is straighter, and my planks and push-ups have gone from saggy to solid. I feel comforted that weight-training helps anti-aging; that my goals of a decent set of biceps and a washboard stomach are more likely to be achieved through strength-training rather than obsessive cardio; and the idea that I’m burning fat for hours after my workout thanks to greater muscle mass and an increased metabolism. I feel stronger, meaner, leaner, and I can run for longer and tirelessly (strong quads right there).
I don’t have a shredded six pack, rippling biceps, the ability to lift a double decker bus (or even complete an unassisted pull-up…yet). At times it feels like an uphill struggle, and I’m one impatient gym bunny. But when I look back at the last 10 months, it’s been a journey about self-acceptance and confidence, not just strength and achieving a body fat mass lower than 19%. I doubt I’ll ever return to doing a workout session that evolves totally around cardio - I’ve come too far to regress back to running like a hamster in a cardio wheel of doom. Now I’m pursuing actual, tangible goals to become the strongest me that I can be. Whilst my hatred for the squat rack hasn't changed, my workout regime has, and not only is it fun - it’s maintainable.
So it will come as no surprise that amidst my wedding planning, my priority above flowers, photographers, and even a dress, is the shoes. And not even just mine (because I’m not that selfish) – my bridesmaids too. And what better way to say ‘I do’ than in a pair of my favourite brand, Jimmy Choo (my bridesmaids will also be joining me in Choos). I have two bridesmaids, and I know shoes are (almost as) important to them as they are to me. As drama seems to magnetize itself to me from most aspects in life, finding the perfect wedding shoe has been no different. And at the time of writing, this shoe situation has still not been solved (although I think we are onto a winner).
It started last year around October time. I’d picked my shoe. Frustratingly it was a short heel at 85mm (not the usual 100mm which most designer pumps are), but as h2b is two inches taller than me, I couldn’t risk being taller than him in all our wedding photos, and I’d probably be grateful for the shorter heel after 5 hours of wearing them on The Big Day (with another 5 hours to go). So the classic ‘Agnes’ shoe it was, in a beautiful navy suede to match the bridesmaids dresses, and a shoe I’d wear time and time again afterwards. One service Jimmy Choo now offers is a ‘Made to Order’ personalization service, where you can have you initials or special date stamped into the sole. This is something that can only be done whilst the shoe is being made, as it replaces the shoe size numbers on the bottom. It also comes at a higher price understandably and takes 8-10 weeks to make, if this is something you are considering. I’d decided it would be a lovely low-key and intimate surprise to show h2b on our wedding day, in between all the celebrations, the small gold lettering with my new initials on the underside of my shoe.
So in February I went into the Jimmy Choo boutique in Harrods to confirm the size (go up a half a size in pointy/narrow toe shoes) and order my special personalized wedding shoes. This was it. Today. Happening right here right now.
Except it wasn’t. Half way through the ordering process with a sales assistant and an iPad, it transpired that I could order the Agnes shoe in suede, but I couldn’t order it with the contrasting shiny heel – like the one on the shop shelf. Which seems a little silly – both in the fact that they already make the shoe as I want it; I just can’t have it with my initials on, and also that their ‘Made to Order’ service doesn’t allow me to design the exact shoe I want. So I went away to mull it over – a suede shoe with my initials (and at a higher price), or the suede/shiny contract shoe with no initials at a steal. Now, I know there are more pressing things happening in the world, and if I’m stressing about this then heaven help us when an even bigger wedding-obstacle comes along… but if you’re questioning the seriousness of this TERRIBLE SITUATION I am in, well, that’s why you’re not a bridesmaid. My two bridesmaids were understandably horrified at this debacle (good move girls, good move), and jumped to my support. I finally reached the conclusion that the initials (and the price) were unnecessary, and the shiny heel was the way forward.
So it was last week when I marched into Jimmy Choo, became besties with the store manager, and asked to buy the Agnes shoes (in a size big enough to fit my mammoth feet). And OH MY GOD. I thought I’d already gone through the trauma and this was the end. But no. More trauma. They’d sold out, and they weren’t ordering any more in of this CLASSIC SHOE DESIGN because they’d moved over to another model. A new model called ‘Romy’ which frankly looks like it came from New Look, with no suede version, and definitely no suede/shiny heel contrast. I’ve called them all week and they are actually not getting more in. They physically can’t. And I couldn’t find any other shoe on the JC website that even came close… except for a jewel and pearl-encrusted bridal shoe costing £1795.
After harassing them a bit more yesterday, I had the brainwave of going up a heel height (called the 'Abel’). Maybe h2b can pull a ‘Tom Cruise’ and find some shoes with a sneaky added heel height for some extra inches. Or I accept I'm in a Charlize Theron/Nicole Kidman kind of situation and face up to the fact that I am the taller flower of our relationship (when in heels, which have practically become part of my legs).
Which brings me to the present (for anyone who stuck along my journey of shoe suffering). I’ve reserved the Abel shoes in my size, and if all goes to plan and they fit tomorrow, I will be purchasing my wedding shoes. Finally. And also my bridesmaids’ shoes, which I have also put on hold. I mean, I refuse to go through the same thing again!
“WHO BATTERS FISH WITH THE SKIN ON?” I interrogate my mother down the phone. Mr K and I had just finished off a very disappointing meal of take-away fish and chips from the local chippy on Turnham Green. A chippy that had previously been very good. I did ask if they could batter some fish without the skin and they said no. I very nearly ordered a battered sausage out of protest.
“Every time I’ve had fish it’s had the skin on.” she replies.
“You’re a vegetarian! You don’t even eat fish.” came my response.
All Mr K could say was “you wouldn’t get skin on up North”, and his mate via text muscled in on the debate with “who the f**k wants to eat the skin?”. I would hazard a guess that 70% of the battered fish that I order (rarely - we very rarely a) eat out, b) eat out and I order fish and chips, and c) even rarer, get takeout) comes without skin. Which is a good sign… and makes me even the more angrier and appalled when I am given a battered fillet of fish with the skin still on. Underneath the batter.
Let me tell you the main points of my fish-stration. I’m telling you, the skin does NOT add ‘extra flavour’. And for my Dad who says “it’s extra protein” - well, I’m eating fish which is enough protein in one sitting. Without the skin.
Secondly, obviously because no one is crazy enough to eat fish skin, you have to do the peeling off yourself, also taking away half the batter. Which ultimately, let’s face it, is the reason why you’ve ordered the battered fish in the first place. Because you’re feeling hungry and naughty and you keep telling yourself/ your Instagram fitness pals that ‘tonights a cheat meal’ and you’re going to tuck into a lump of oily batter (and fish skin) longer than your arm. And enjoy it. But you’ve got to leave half of it behind, and stare down at your plate of white cod (side of batter on the bottom), and you might as well have ordered a pan fried fillet of cod with sautéed leeks (clearly the healthier option by about 10,000 calories).
This has always been a sore point for me. A year ago we were sat having dinner in a pub near Putney Bridge whilst watching an ‘open mic night’ for comedy. The comedy was surprisingly good considering that anyone could stand up and do a 10-minute set - and one act saw our (finished) plates and asked if we’d had a good meal. I pointed out to the whole crowd there that there had been skin on the battered fish, and ‘who batters fish with the skin on?’. The crowd thought it rather funny - and I was careful not to order a dessert in case the chef took his anger out on it.
Fish and Chips were listed Number 1 in the nation’s best British foods - NUMBER 1 (Roast dinners came second). I sure as hell think it wasn’t because you get free skin with your fish. And whilst skin-or-no-skin isn’t a mentioned factor (it clearly should be), I’m positive that Simpson’s of Cheltenham, winner of the 2016 National Fish & Chip Awards always peel off both sides of skin from their prize-winning fish.
We’re off to New York in October and have decided to take the plunge and give Airbnb a try. Airbnb is a website which has received a lot of recent press, allowing people to rent out either a room or their whole property to holiday-makers. It can work out much cheaper than hotels, with the added bonuses of having personal space and your own kitchen.
However, with two months to go until our holiday, I have become increasingly disappointed with Airbnb. Prices range from £550-750 for a five night stay in Lower Manhattan (we’re looking specifically around the East Village). We started looking at apartments in mid-July, and finally took the plunge to ‘request to book’ on a beautiful apartment with excellent features including a distressed brick wall feature, a comfy-looking bed, and a kitchen which didn’t look like it was hosting a family of cockroaches. A day later we received a message from the owner saying that actually, the flat wasn’t available on our requested dates.
Not to be defeated we got in touch with another host. There was a sense of urgency thanks to Airbnb informing us after our second rejection that only 16% of listings were still available for our date. Two months in advance!
Don’t be fooled by their low prices – it quickly becomes apparent that you have to pay a service fee of about £80, and a cleaning fee, which can be anything from £20 to £80. ‘Artist’s Studio’ or flats described as ‘bohemian’ will most likely resemble a ‘den’ you made as a child, coupled with Moroccan-themed wall hangings and - I’m guessing here - the smell of mothballs and that suspicious feeling that whilst it says ‘entire house’, it is quite likely that you're bunking with fleas, bed bugs...or his cat (think 'hobo', not 'boho'). Anything with ‘zen’, ‘oasis’ or ‘retreat’ in the listing title is probably located on a sixth floor walk-up, with windows facing a 5-point pedestrian crossing near Times Square. ‘China Town apartment’ equals a pokey studio with the cooker next to the bed and a permanent stench of katsu curry, ‘Super Cute’ reveals an apartment that looks like it’s been decorated by a small child in that ‘Princess phase’, ‘Bright’ means, no curtains so good luck sleeping, and anything described as a ‘unit’ will literally be a box room. With all the furniture pushed to the back. And probably the most depressing place you will ever sleep in.
Who knows where we will stay? With seven weeks to go, an impending rejection from our fourth potential apartment, and my boyfriend breaking out into hot flushes about our looming holiday-homelessness, perhaps CouchSurfing.com is the way forward. Turns out it’s completely free… but the downside is you’re on someone’s sweat-stained couch.
The following 'comical strip' similar to those on BuzzFeed is one I created and sent to The Boyfriend (TB) after a small 'yelling match' about a holiday to Norway I was expected to pay for without much information on what or where we would be spending our week away. Because of my scepticism of staying at a 'friend's cabin' and TB accusing me of not being able to ski, I was worried about many things, including smelly bed sheets, a tiny cabin, and overall a seriously hyped up holiday which would lead to imminent disappointment. As a result, the flights were not booked that night, and it was me who booked the flights the following morning with a £50 increase. To reveal my thoughts and worries to TB, I concocted the following email which is largely based on what he had said the trip would be like... and the images that had conjured up in my head. Read on!
In between a trip to Paris for CEO, where he climbed into the wrong car whilst a guy with the same surname hopped into his limo (what are the chances), and a very last minute trip Bangkok, I had the experience of spending time in an elevator with Him. We were politely discussing the imminent changes to the company structure, when he suddenly asked: ‘What do you want to do in life?’
What could I say? (Similarly when he asked in my interview what drugs I’d tried.) I answered honestly, as, let’s face it, no one in their right mind dreams of being a glorified receptionist. I said I wanted to write for a magazine, and he responded with a pensive tone, ‘you know what I think you should do? You should get a job at a magazine. Go and apply for a job as a writer or editorial assistant.’ I was as amazed and shocked – automatically fearing he was trying to get rid of me in a more humane and inspiring way as opposed to ‘you’re fired’.
I added that I loved working with the company, and that I’ve learnt skills I’d have never learnt elsewhere; indeed, I am now a master of InDesign, organising flights, booking foreign taxis at 3am whilst he’s in a different time zone, and restraining myself from tearing my hair out.
So far, I am still employed.
He obviously took my passion for writing on board, and subsequently set me some writing tasks ‘as a test’. I have to admit, I absolutely loved being given a title or topic and a word limit – I was so excited I completed the first draft within an hour and gave him the end result as he was leaving the office. The first task was about his life which, of course, painted a very flattering picture of CEO with the odd bits of humour – such as making reference to his neurotic PA. He then set two more tasks – one about secrets/ unusual facts about Mayfair, and the second (don’t laugh) was to be 150 words about ‘Life as a young working assistant’. Needless to say I used a very shortened version of my online tales as a PA, removing episodes like the time I nearly ruined his car, or when I took someone’s bags instead of his. 150 words isn’t that much, but it gave him a peek into his life from a different view and I made sure to keep it light and funny so that he'll read it with fondness – like the time he lost his iPhone, iPad and Kindle in pretty much the same week, and a reference about his whiplash-inducing flight changes. I am sure he’ll laugh. Or fire me.
We have a rat. It’s not quite what you think (that maybe we live in a pig sty and we have rats running amok) - they are behind the walls in the house - but it certainly isn’t pleasant, particularly if you and your partner are house proud germphobes.
On Saturday morning I entered the kitchen to find the wine rack and kettle pushed away from the wall, so I immediately panicked thinking I’d missed an incident as the boyfriend is not one to start impulsively cleaning in the early hours. I was scared to think that maybe the boyfriend had discovered a mouse hiding behind the wine bottles (I am used to cats bringing in their ‘gifts’), or worse... cockroaches. He then announced (and added he thought it was best to only tell me now) that in the night when he came to get a drink he’d heard a scratching noise behind the plastic inspection hatch - a small flat door that opens out into the kitchen to allow workmen access to part of a large water pipe which runs down the building. He opened it suspecting a mouse, and was admittedly horrified to find a large rat staring back at him – after a short squeal, he slammed the door shut.
Upon hearing his tale, I immediately commenced Operation Bleach to clean the entire kitchen, and went out to buy more dettol spray and scented candles. Despite my recent trauma with weevils in the pancake mix and now a rat in the void, I would like to emphasise once more that we are very (very) borderline-obsessively clean people. It is also a relief to know that the rat(s) cannot get into our living space unless he learns how to open an inspection hatch or chew through walls, but the seed of doubt had certainly been planted in my mind. Short of scrubbing domestos into the work top, I wanted to be sure that we could still consider ourselves as hygienically clean despite having a rat in close proximity and our kitchen now smelling like a hamster’s urinal. I called my Dad - stupidly - for empathy or advice on getting rid of it and he replied with 'well, you did say you wanted a pet!'. A dog, daddy, A DOG.
By the end of the day we were surrounded by scented candles, reed diffusers and those plug-in things which cost a bomb and had cancelled all our dinner parties over the next few weeks (oh the embarrassment!). We lodged a complaint with the building management and subsequently received notice of an appointment with ‘Budget Pest Control’ (very reassuring...). Hopefully we get this fixed pronto as there are only so many times we can eat dinner out to avoid prepping food in the kitchen but in the meantime, however, the kitchen is sparking clean.
Well it’s certainly not Prada but a tailor flies in from Rome specially to see CEO for regular fittings, shirts are shipped out to Italy to have his initials sewn onto the front pocket, and his laundry is collected by the Queen’s dry cleaning company each week (‘Jeeves’, if you were wondering). And so far, I haven’t had to chase down any unpublished manuscripts of the latest must-have book. Yet.
But similar to the moment where Miranda Priestly demands: ‘Have the brakes checked on my car’, this morning CEO walked in and announced that his Mercedes had a ‘run flat’ flat tyre and I needed to get it fixed. After calling the Mercedes workshop who wouldn’t come out unless he had a spare tyre in his boot, and the KwikFit team in Chelsea who wouldn’t drive out at all, I realised this might actually be the moment I have to get in the driver’s seat. With car keys in one hand and car park entry card in the other, I make my way down 10 floors of a multi-storey carpark and slide into the front seat of CEO’s Mercedes C63 AMG 507, being careful not to bash the door against his 1966 Bentley. Three floors up and I have to pause to ask a valet-attendant how I turn off the parking brake as the screen keeps flashing at me - apparently it’s a small lever to the right of the steering wheel to anyone sharing the same difficulty. I was worried I’d actually have to drive all the way to the garage with the brake on. I spend the journey lurching to abrupt halts thanks to the overly-sensitive brakes and arrive 30 minutes later at the garage with my heart in my throat and several attempts at whiplash. I practically tumble out of the car overjoyed that I’ve made it all in one piece - and myself.
The mechanics at the garage thought it pretty funny with me stuck behind the wheel… gasping in alarm when the car halted suddenly, when I tried to reverse in neutral and the engine revved dramatically, and when I couldn’t remember how to turn the engine on. This makes me sound like I’m useless at driving, but this car might as well be a space ship there are so many buttons! I couldn’t adjust the rear-view mirror without breaking it off as I couldn’t find the switches to adjust it or my seat. There is an engine on/off button but I never did work out why I had to turn it on and off several times to get the engine on, and there was a gear stick for automatic but the screen on the dashboard make it even more confusing. By some miracle I made it without any dents, accidents, or pedestrian massacre and I had to swear to the mechanic that the flat tyre and the huge chunks taken out of the other back tyre were absolutely not and under no circumstances my fault (they weren’t).
With tyres replaced and several mechanics appearing to have a gawp at the Mercedes AMG and its limited edition air vents on the hood (I can only dream that one day I will have a car that every one will want to stare at) and a very pricey bill, I clamber into the car hoping the journey back to Old Burlington Street car park will be less stressful, less jerky and maybe I might even get the hang of it. And I did! Driving it back was a dream, and the ride was absolutely LUSH. I am hooked, and CEO really should be careful entrusting me with his spare set of keys. I also leave the garage with a warning from the mechanics for CEO to be more careful and avoid kerbing his wheels in future. The route back is much more fun and around Hyde Park the road opens out into six lanes where you can really ‘give it the beans’ and test out the accelerator. As my previous employees used to call me, ‘Connie McRae’ is back in the game!
I spend a great deal of time parking the Merc back into a parking space - just so I can spend a bit extra time in the leather racer-style seats with hands wrapped around the suede steering wheel. Sadly I have to dash back to the office for a meeting with Mrs Assouline, and so play time is over. It isn’t until an hour later that I realise through all the excitement I have managed to leave my Blackberry on the front passenger seat, whilst I am stuck in a 3 hour meeting away from my desk - and my office line ringing off the hook an unusual amount. After work I head via the multi-storey again to retrieve the phone and move the car back into its rightful parking space beside the Bentley - another 3 minutes of joy. The brakes are certainly in working order - my neck can attest to that - although whether or not they still work after my attempts today we will find out next time.
the crazy happenings in my life