Sometimes you need to stop and walk away

I started writing this a couple of weeks ago, before social isolation and the country was on lock-down, meaning that many of us had more time on our hands at home. But I’m still going to post it, because things will go back to normal and then these things will become relevant again.

Sometimes you need to stop and evaluate what’s really working for you.

Not being willing to give up is often a good character trait. It helps you to keep going when others have thrown in the towel. It gives you the resilience to push through on tough days. It helps you to see things through, even when there are no quick wins.

But it’s not always a good thing. Sometimes it helps you to keep going when the smarter thing would be to walk away or cut your losses.

I have this character trait. A lot of the time it helps me. That bloody-mindedness that keeps me going despite setbacks, struggles, many of which have to do with finding solutions to living in a world that is often inaccessible, and often not built for me to succeed. All the little things – I talked more about them in my I am tired – the disability truth that we don’t like to talk about post.

But it’s not all disability-related. I have done it in failing relationships too. Keeping on till the bitter end, when most smart people would have walked away. I convince myself I can turn a failing situation round, or live with the thing that’s a massive inconvenience, or just be the stronger person. Coupled with my unwillingness to ask for help and tell anyone when things are falling apart, it can be a big surprise to my friends. Like the time when one of my closest friends found out just what a mess I’d got into with a guy that should have been sacked weeks before. It’s hard to turn around and walk away when you’ve put a lot of yourself into something or someone – emotionally, financially, or just in terms of your time and effort trying to make things work.

It’s the same with jobs. Sometimes I’ve stubbornly stayed in a job that was making me miserable because I didn’t want to admit it wasn’t working out. I’m not the kind of person who just quits without a new job to go to or a plan B, but sometimes I think looking back, it would have been smarter if I’d begun the job search sooner.

I’m talking about this now because ever so often I realise I’ve overcommitted myself, and in true Kirsty style, I’m too stubborn to admit it until I’ve really had enough.

It doesn’t show itself in not getting things finished. I’m a finisher, so if I set out to do something, then do it I will, but often without thinking about the cost. Not necessarily financial cost, but cost in terms of my own time, energy levels, or resources.

I have lots of ideas. I’m involved in a lot of cool stuff, in my businesses, social life, studies and hobbies. But sometimes it’s good to step back and think about what’s really adding value.

Today was one of those days. I pulled the plug on some activities I’ve been doing because they’ve been taking up time, but not adding value.

It’s hard to do that. It’s not nice to leave a job unfinished. I take commitments seriously, so if I sign up for a course or plan to do something over a number of weeks, I like to see it through. But if that thing is driving me mad and not giving the promised results, sometimes the best thing is to cut your losses and focus on the good stuff. Or at least focus on having some quality time for relaxing.

Things aren’t always what they seem. Programmes don’t deliver what they offer, or they might just not be the right thing for you. Sometimes it’s just a case of priorities changing and something that was massively important to you at one point slides down your priority list till it’s hanging on somewhere at the bottom. Sometimes life just happens and you have new responsibilities, more hours at work, or unexpected demands on your time.

There comes a point where it’s good to take stock and look at how we’re spending our time. Because even for those of us who don’t like to admit we can’t do something, there are only 24 hours in the day, and we only get one chance to spend each day. So if you have overcommitted, signed up for something that isn’t working out for you, or taken on a bit too much, it’s sometimes the stronger person that faces up to that and walks away.

It’s best not to make these decisions when you’re feeling emotional though, or you run the risk of letting negative feelings cloud your decisions. In my case that’s wanting to cancel everything, not just the thing that was causing the problem. That’s not a good way to be. I try not to make any big decisions when I’m angry/sad or just feeling some other kind of negative emotion.

But what I have learned is that a sustained period of being constantly too busy isn’t good, and sometimes it also takes us away from the things that really matter or make us happy.

Of course it makes a difference if suddenly quitting something will let others down, lead to some kind of financial loss or additional problems for you to solve, but I think it’s still worth having the conversation with yourself once in a while!

Do you ever feel like this? Let me know in the comments.

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Things that I’ve learned during my 8 years of working from home full time

Many people are finding themselves working from home at the moment. As a result, my feed is full of tips about how to work from home. The only problem is that some of them have clearly been written by someone who has never worked a day from home in their life, and others seem a bit generic – like a cut and paste job of random tips from the internet. So because of this, I wasn’t going to write anything on the subject – but then I thought “no! You’ve been working from home for eight years now! Maybe some of the things that you’ve learned will help others too!”

My business has always been an online business, so I chose to work at home. When I was still working in my Communications Manager role, I was occasionally able to get agreement for some time at home. I didn’t like the 3 hour commute. I didn’t like our big open-plan office with 100 people in each room. I was already convinced of the benefits. Still, I know this was a choice, whereas for many people who are now working from home as a response to current events, it is not their choice at all and some parts of the job may be a lot harder. Still, maybe some of these tips will help you.

I’ve intentionally made it about what I do, not because I think I have all the answers, but I can only tell you what works for me. You may hate some of these ideas and that’s ok. Sharing my experiences felt better than me writing one of those “10 things that you must do” posts – because I value our differences too much for that.

1. I have a set place to work

I know this will be harder for some people. I’ve worked from a desk crammed in the corner of my bedroom before and it really wasn’t great to be working and sleeping in the same place.It’s nice to have that physical separation between where you work and where you relax.

If I get an idea at the weekend, I might still curl up to write a blog on the sofa or do a bit of website maintenance, but most of the time, work goes on at my desk. Everything I need is there. The room where I work is mostly used as my office.

Apart from having better posture when I’m sitting at my desk properly, it helps me to get into the right mindset for work.

This might not be so easy if there’s a bunch of people in your home trying to work, study, or children who want somewhere to play – but it will be easier for you if you can find a dedicated place to work, rather than having stuff strewn all over the house. It may also be a way to limit distractions.

2. I look the same as I would if I were going to the office

I’ve seen all kinds of things this week about what people are planning to wear (or hnot wear) now that they are working from home. Of course it depends on what you do and how much customer contact you have, but I try to look pretty much the same as I would if I were going into the office, especially on days when I’ll be on video.

I don’t wear a formal suit or anything like that. If you have a very early meeting with me, you probably won’t see a full face of make-up either. But neither do I wear my gym clothes or slob around in my pyjamas when I’m meeting with customers.

It’s for two reasons really – impressions count, and if customers don’t think you can be bothered to make an effort to look your best for them, they may not see you as very professional. Secondly, it makes me feel good to have a shower, put on fresh clothes, spray some perfume, put on my make-up, and face the day feeling clean and fresh.

Everyone has their own personal style and that’s one of the good things about working from home – you can choose what to wear.I just get a bit concerned about the way some people see working from home as just dossing around. If you start to let self-care and personal hygiene go, it can be a slippery slope in other areas too.

3. I manage expectations

This covers all kinds of things.

Firstly, other people’s expectations. Being at home is not the same as being available all the time. I might schedule in an extended lunch with my mum or a shopping trip on a Tuesday in december to finish off my Christmas shopping because I know it’ll be better than trying to do the same thing on a Saturday. But I’m not available for people to pop in when they feel like it – I hate that anyway – or drop everything to have a chat. I have a schedule, and it has meetings in it, as well as other things that need to get done. I just happen to be doing these things from my own home rather than an office.

It means managing customer expectations too. If I see an email out of hours, I may answer it – but there isn’t the expectation that I will because people know I work Monday to Friday from around 9 till 6 – unless something has been booked in an out-of-hours slot. I don’t put up with people getting stroppy with me because I didn’t answer their email on a Sunday morning, even though they followed it up with a tweet and a Skype message. It’s not how I work!

It also means manageing my own expectations of myself and what I can realistically achieve. I’m a bit better at this now that I have a partner. When I lived on my own, I could often be found at my laptop way into the small hours. In some ways that was ok, because this is when I get a lot of my best creative work done, but everything does need to have a balance and tomorrow is always another day.

If you don’t usually work from home or you find yourself with additional caring responsibilities, part of the managing expectations aspect might just be looking at what you can realistically do right now and being honest with yourself and others so that you or they don’t expect too much.

4. I don’t work in bed

I think I did once – to cancel all my appointments because I had food poisoning. I do all kinds of other things in bed – reading, watching videos, shopping, researching – but apart from the problem of the overheating laptop, I feel it’s not good for me to have work follow me into the one place where I should feel rested and get away from all of life’s questions and problems.

5. I don’t reduce my prices because my services are online

I’ve seen this in a few of the education groups. I know it’s hard for some people who are now in the process of transforming all of their offerings into online offerings. Some things are substancially different, and if you’re not offering access to materials or a venue with definit benefits of being there, I can understand that the pricing structure is different. If you add in travel time, this obviously will reduce the price slightly. But if you’re offering the same teaching, with the same materials, and the same level of expertise from you, there’s no reason why it should be cheaper just because the training happens to be online. You’re doing the customer a favour by saving them travel time, travel expenses, parking fees, and letting them participate from wherever they happen to be. You’re still adding the same value, so there’s no need to apply a hefty online discount. It undervalues what you offer, and annoys people who were already working in the online space!

6. I schedule fitness time into my diary

This is harder, particularly if you’re doing the kind of self-isolation where you don’t leave the house at all, but it’s really important to get up, walk around, and if you can, get some kind of physical exercise during the day.
I started doing it because I no longer needed to do a 45 minute walk each way – home to the train station, then train station to the office, and then the whole thing in reverse. I knew I’d been getting unintentional exercise from this and I’d have to replace it with something.

I have some fitness equipment at home – a crosstrainer and a bike, but it could be anything. There are loads of YouTube videos out there with workouts that don’t need you to have any equipment.

7. I don’t allow myself to become isolated

This was the mistake I made when I first set up my business. I took the dog out every day, but I realised I hadn’t seen any of my friends in about three months because I’d been so busy working all the time. I realised it was neither sustainable nor healthy.

We have so many ways to keep in touch with others online – whether it’s other people doing the same kind of thing as you, other people in your team at work, or other people running small businesses.

Even if we can’t go out to meet friends and relatives right now, we have Skype, Facetime, Whatsapp, Facebook or whatever you want to use. Staying at home is important right now, but it doesn’t mean you have to cut yourself off from others who will listen, make you smile, or just give you a different perspective! It’s also a chance to check in with people who might be on their own.

8. I have figured out the best environment for me to get work done

For me it’s somewhere quiet – very quiet – as in not with music playing! Some people work absolutely fine like that. My fiancé is one of them. I am not!

It’s somewhere with access to plenty of coffee.

It’s somewhere with fresh air to clean my head, but it’s not too cold, like some of the places I’ve worked in.

It’s somewhere I won’t be distracted.

9. I look after my basic needs

This means not working through lunch. I don’t take a long lunch break unless I have something specific to do, but I do go and sit somewhere else
for a bit and I don’t eat at my desk. If my fiancé’s working from home, we try to have lunch together. If not, I listen to a podcast or something.

I try to drink enough water. I find putting a big glass of water on my desk helps. If it’s there, I’ll probably drink it. If it isn’t, I’ll probably forget and just make more coffee.

I put a bowl of fruit on the table near my desk, so I have easy access to healthy snacks.

10. I have a comfortable chair

I wrote about chairs in more detail in my is your chair right for you? post, but if you’re going to spend a large part of the day sitting on it, try to find a chair where you will be comfortable. I know if you don’t know how long you’ll be working from home, it might not be top of your list of new investments, but at least consider your options and try to pick the most comfortable one.

11. I make a point of shutting off before bedtime

There’s nothing worse than seeing an email that makes you reeeeeally angry or stressed out just before you’re going to try to get to sleep!

I don’t always manage this. I sometimes check my emails in bed or when I’m winding down for the day. But I do try not to think about work for the last couple of hours in the day. Work life balance can be harder if you have a work email address that you also use for other things, work contacts on your social media account, or easy access to emails on your phone. But sometimes your brain just needs a break so you can have time to unwind.

12. If I really don’t feel well, I stop working!

I’m possibly a hypocrite with this one, but I do try. I have pushed through when, if I’d had to drag myself into the office, I would have decided against it. I’ve gone to meetings when I could barely keep my head up, because after all, I couldn’t infect anyone on a video call. But we don’t do our best work when we’re ill, and it can take twice as long to recover if we push ourselves too hard. I’m guilty of this too, but this year I’ve been trying to do a lot better because I realised last year that if something happens to your health, everything else has to take a back seat for a while.

So, especially in the time of coronavirus, please be kind to yourselves, and don’t push yourself too hard if you really don’t feel up to it.

What other tips would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments!

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Is my blogging schedule going to change?

I’ve seen the discussion in several places now – on Twitter, YouTube, and people’s blogs.

What do we do now in this time of uncertainty, change, and constant references to the C word?

I’m not here to tell other people what to do. I know some people want their blog to be a place where they can get away from everything that’s happening in the world for a couple of hours, and who has the right to stop them?

On the other hand, the changes are very real. People have fears, questions, and a need to talk through all the emotions or anxieties they are going through. Sometimes it’s just good to let those thoughts out rather than trying to hold them in, or to open up a safe space on the internet for other people to do the same.

If you do post about the coronavirus, some people will switch off because they don’t want to hear any more about it. If you avoid it and put out your normal content, others will think you don’t care. You can’t please everyone!

In terms of my blogs, I’ve decided to do a bit of both. So there might be more posts like my one from last week on how it brings out the best and worst in us because I do write about current events and opinion pieces were one of the most highly ranked in the recent Unseen Beauty survey. That surprised me a bit, but it’s good to know.

Particularly on my business blogs, I’ll still be putting out educational content, because now more than ever, due to social restrictions, many of us have a bit more time on our hands, and some people are wanting to use that time for learning.

I also want to keep putting out my other content though. Sure, there will be less travel content because I’m not going anywhere. Thanks to a suggestion I got this week, I’ll be creating some content about working from home. I’ve been doing that full-time for the last eight years, so I have a few things to say on the subject and some of the tips might help people who suddenly find themselves needing to work remotely. But I also want to keep up with my other posts that I was planning to write anyway, because sometimes it’s just nice to have a break from current events and talk about dogs or a good book!

For those of you who are content creators – are you going to do anything different over the coming weeks?

For my readers – I asked about topics that you’d like to see on this blog when I did my survey, but if you have any extra ideas, let me know in the comments. What kind of things are you reading more of at the moment? Books? Blogs? Newspaper articles? Online courses?

And to everyone – please be kind, be responsible, and do what you can to keep yourselves and those around you safe.

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It brings out the best and worst in us

What a strange week last week was. Struggles to get a delivery of my online shopping – to the point where the site couldn’t be accessed and the app has been taken offline. I finally got a slot, but a number of things were completely sold out and I have to wait 5 days instead of the usual one or two.

People buying their own weight in toilet rolls. Why toilet rolls? Chocolate would make more sense!

Rice, pasta, tinned vegetables – all in short supply. Some flu remedies completely cleaned out, as well as medication that some of us have to take as an ongoing prescription – thanks panic buyers.

No hand sanitiser anywhere.

It was frustrating, but we mostly got what we wanted and have enough non-perishables to be ok for a couple of weeks if we end up in quarantine. This made me feel better, especially as it’s harder for me to get out to the shops on my own. But everything in moderation.

People complain about social media being the root of all evil, but I’ve seen some really good things on social media lately. Small business owners pulling together to lift each other up and help plan for the future. People looking out for those who might find it harder to get out or go to the shops for basic supplies. People reaching out to each other in Facebook groups, even though they don’t really know each other, to help those who are on their own or don’t have transport to hunt around for things that have sold out. People making each other smile. That video of the people singing together on the balconies in Italy. There is a lot of good around, and it’s good to see people helping one another and standing together in these difficult times.

I’ve had offers from two different countries if I get really stuck and need something. Offers of help from people closer by as well.

It also brings out the worst though. The selfish panic buying – or hamster buying as it’s called in Germany – that leaves some people with more than they could ever need and others without anything. People who are buying things that are in short supply just so that they can sell them on at a profit.

I’ve seen multiple instances of selfishness, and they make me angry.

“I’m not going to get ill, so why do we need to cancel the thing I’m organising?” Ok, so screw everyone else who may have underlying conditions, who may be caring for someone at risk, or who might end up ill because of your event that you’re still hell-bent on going ahead with. Main thing is you don’t have to change your plans. Lovely! I’m not saying that everything should be cancelled, but at least have the good grace to not make people feel bad if they can’t make it.

I understand that change is hard. I understand that people are worried about their livelihoods and making ends meet. I understand people want to carry on as usual as far as is possible.

Maybe the saddest thing I saw is that parts of the disability community are on a race to the bottom of basic humanity as well. “I’m not as badly off as someone else, and the main thing is that I’m ok. I only have a physical disability – sucks to be one of those people in the at-risk health categories”. Ok, that’s not word for word what was said, but the essence of what this person was saying “was that we as members of society who just have a physical disability can’t be asked to put ourselves out and do anything different so that we can help more vulnerable members of society. Drastic preventative measures will be bad for the economy, and some of those people were going to die anyway.” As far as I’m concerned, it’s not an ok attitude in civilised society, and it’s not ok to not see what’s not ok about writing something like that in a public forum. But it represents that “everyone for themselves” mentality that you see as soon as things start to go wrong, or infrastructure starts to wobble.

Like the story on Linkedin of the woman who took all the toilet roll on the plane because apparently she was entitled to consume anything on the plane. Too bad if you were one of the other passengers who didn’t think of the idea first. She did replace it, but only when the passengers were threatened with a bag search. There would have been enough to go round if people weren’t so selfish.

And that’s the problem, as soon as we begin to feel vulnerable, we go into fight mode, to defend what we have with tooth and claw. I think we all do it to some extent, but there are those who take it a bit further and feel justified in doing things that they would usually condemn in others – because they’ve convinced themselves that it’s ok in their particular case.

But this isn’t a victimless act. There are people who need things like aspirin and paracetamol who now can’t get them. There are people who will be throwing stuff out because they bought too much, and others who won’t have enough. These are scary times, but our own behaviour is making them worse than they need to be.

So I’ve been heartened by the random acts of kindness that I’ve seen, but also dismayed at the ugly side too. And that ugly side is even more ugly when people hide behind their sense of entitlement when others try to call it out. Some people do have greater needs. Some are at a disadvantage. But some are just arseholes looking to make a quick profit or trample over those who are not quite as strong, fast, or well-connected.

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Luxury treats – February product review

A bit later than usual, but here are some of the skincare products that I used in February and what I thought of them. All of these products were bought with my own money or birthday/Christmas presents from family and friends. None of the products are sponsored, although the post does contain some affiliate links.

Balmonds

This wasn’t a brand that I was familiar with until I started getting Lovelula again last year. This intensive facial oil got me back into using facial oils. I’d had a bit of a thing against them after a bad experience with a particularly greasy one, but this is not like that. It is a fairly rich oil, but it soaks in well and leaves the face feeling soft and rehydrated. The lavender scent makes it a nice choice for bedtime as well.

Body shop

This Mango body Scrub is an old favourite. I love the mango scent, and the fact that it’s a sugar scrub means it’s not messy, so you’re not for ever clearing up something messy like coffee grounds. It just dissolves and washes away. It’s firm enough to feel that it’s doing something to the skin, but it’s not so abrasive that it hurts.

The Ethiopian coffee cream is from the spa of the world range and it’s a luxury body cream. It doesn’t smell of coffee, but it contains caffeine, which is known for its stimulating properties, and it promises to leave your skin feeling firmer and smoother.

The moringa body butter is not something I would usually buy because of its floral scent. I got it in a calendar and used it up because it’s one of the creamier body butters, which I like as opposed to the really firm ones. It’s not something I’d buy again, but it is good as a body moisturiser, and if you like more floral scents, you might like it too!

I was having some problems with my skin and decided to pick up the aloe toner for sensitive skin. It’s super gentle and reminds me a bit of the vitamin E toner. As a rule I don’t have sensitive skin, but I like to use something like this if I have had a reaction to something or just want something really gentle. I’d definitely pick this up again.

H2k

I’d never heard of this brand before, but I picked up the Oilovme serum for fine lines and blemishes as one of my Latest in Beauty choices. This small tube retails for £9.99, and as a 9 product subscriber, I paid £2. This is why I really like LiB – you get to try some new brands and products for a fraction of the price. Anyway – it’s an oil-based serum (sunflower seed and wheat germ) and I particularly applied it to any areas with blemishes. It doesn’t say anything about tea tree oil, but it smells of it, and did calm down any areas where I had hormonal breakouts.

Hugo Boss

I’ve talked about this The scent intense for her perfume before. It’s not the notes that I usually go for, but I smelled a sample of it and really liked it, probably because of the fruity peach and roasted cocoa notes. It does contain osmanthus flower too, but it’s not a particularly floral scent. This is something that I wear quite often, and I finished up my 30 ml bottle. Fortunately I got a really good deal on it in the sale last year, so I do already have a replacement for it. I don’t replace all my perfumes when they run out, but I like this one enough to keep wearing it.

Molton Brown

Molton Brown is usually known for its shower gel gifts, but they have some really nice haircare too. I’ve talked about the Indian cress purifying hair set before, but I got one for Christmas and have now finished the conditioner. The shampoo lasts a bit longer because with that, a little really goes a long way. They smell and feel luxurious, and the jasmin and honeysuckle scent stays on your hair for ages. This particular set is the purifying one and it contains enriching Indian cress extract. Not something I can afford every day, but it’s a lovely treat once in a while.

Radox

Budget friendly and fruity, I got through a couple of Radox shower gels. I particularly liked the lychee and watermelon one because it’s so fruity and refreshing, with a creamy texture that felt moisturising as well. I’m always up for trying fruity scents, and they don’t have to be expensive.

Rituals

Back to the pampering products again – I got this Ritual of Ayurveda shower foam in a Christmas present, which was the Feelunique bathtime pamper box (now sold out). I didn’t even know that Feelunique did these boxes, but I look out for them now. They basically collated a bunch of products to help you have a relaxing night in, and I love the Ritual of Ayurveda scent with its sweet almond oil and Indian rose. I didn’t actually know there was rose in it – it’s not an overbearing rose scent – you really mostly smell the almond oil. Anyway, this certainly makes bathtime more special!

Seascape

This is another Lovelula discovery – the Island Apothecary uplift body lotion. It says that it contains eucalyptus, lime, and lavender, though the only thing I could really smell was the lavender. It was nice enough, but I’d be interested to see whether they do ranges with some different scents.

So, fewer products than usual, but some really nice ones nevertheless. I’m also only talking about things where I have something to say – for example I finished an eye cream and all I really had to say about it was “yeah it was ok” and I don’t think that makes interesting reading! Let me know if you’ve tried any of these products, and if you have, what you thought of them.

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Good, but could be better – my thoughts on the Chancellor’s decision to scrap the tax on ebooks

With all the talk of coronavirus and its impact on our economy, some of the smaller changes in Rishi Sunak’s budget yesterday haven’t received much attention. I’d like to mention one though.

I have loved to read since I was a small child. In those days it was Braille books. Now, I usually read audio books or ebooks on my phone. Sometimes I buy them. Other times I borrow them from the library.

I haven’t always had the same access to books as my sighted friends – sometimes it takes a while for an accessible version to be made available – and by the time it has, all your friends have read it. You can only avoid the spoilers for so long. But with the rise of ebooks, this has got a lot better in recent years.

What did Rishi Sunak say?

According to yesterday’s budget, from 1st December, the 20% tax on ebooks and online newspapers, magazines, periodicals and journals will be abolished. This will put them in the same category as physical books and periodicals, which are already exempt from the tax. Whilst some newspapers provide free content on their websites, if you sign up for a paid subscription, it is currently subject to the sales tax.

The government expects the publishing industry to pass these savings on. If this happens, it will mean savings for the consumer, and no sales tax to pay for those who consume information in digital formats such as ebooks or online subscriptions.

How will this help?

For a start, it’s good for anyone who likes reading ebooks.

In the interest of transparency, I’ve written two books, which can be bought as ebooks, and as it stands at the moment, around 70% of the people who bought my books have purchased the ebook versions. I’m happy that in the future, both versions of my books will be tax-exempt.

We can talk all day about whether you prefer online or hard-copy books. Ultimately I don’t believe there’s a right answer – do what you enjoy doing. Reading should be fun after all, and people should have a choice about how they want to read their books.

Choice is good, but not everybody has the same degree of choice. I can’t read hard copy books. It doesn’t matter how big the font is – they are not useful to me. I could laboriously scan each page with an OCR app on my phone, but for me, that would be disproportionately more work than any sighted person would have to do in order to read the same information. It’s not the same as curling up on the sofa to read a good book and relax.

So, having the 20% tax exemption for ebooks means that there is more of a level playing field, and although ebooks are generally cheaper than hard copy books anyway, it’s still good that people like me are not being forced to pay tax on material that other people can access tax-free. That’s only fair, right?

Also, it’s good for the planet. Books can be passed on to other readers, but most newspapers and magazines aren’t kept after they’ve been read. So it’s great that those of us who want or need to read the information in the tree-friendly way will be able to do so without being taxed for it!

So why do some people feel that this doesn’t go far enough?

The issue is that the tax exemption will not apply to audio books, and many blind people would prefer to listen to a book as an audio version read by a real person, than an ebook read by the computerised voice of their screenreader.

I’ve been listening to screenreader voices for the last 30 plus years. I have them set to read faster than most of my sighted friends understand. I spend a large part of every day listening to them because this is how I do my job, research information, read emails, and occasionally also read books. Screenreader voices have come on a long way since the somewhat robotic voices I listened to at school, but they’re still not the same as a living, breathing human, who can inject life into a dialogue, learn how to pronounce more complicated names, or add the human touch to the listener’s experience.

For non-fiction books, I’m happy to take the information however I can get it. But when it comes to fiction, I prefer a human reader over my screenreader too. It’s more enjoyable to listen to. More relaxing. An overall better listener experience. Unless of course you get a narrator that you really don’t like, but this happens vary rarely to me.

I’m a member of Audible (here’s my review on my Audible membership), and there are often good deals there, which means that my book habit isn’t as expensive as it might be.

But as it stands at the moment, anyone who chooses to purchase audio books will still be paying 20% tax on them, whereas people choosing other formats will not.

Not just blind people

Also, It’s not only blind people who enjoy audio books. There are older people, people with dyslexia, people who spend their days looking at a computer screen, people who spend time driving or commuting, people who want to learn English – I know people in all of these categories who enjoy audio books because for some personal reason, the audio books provide something that printed or online versions do not.

Is it really fair to tax all of these people when they want to buy books? Let me know what you think in the comments.

So thanks Mr Sunak – I do appreciate the tax exemption for online materials, but it would have been really good if audio books could have been included as well.

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Every night in my dreams – a blind woman talks about dreaming

Of all the things I wonder about when it comes to people who are different from me for whatever disability-related reason, dreaming isn’t one of the first things that come to mind. But I’m often asked about it.

Do you dream in colour?

Do you see in your dreams?

Do you dream at all?

So I thought I’d answer the questions here in case anyone else was wondering!

You’d probably get different answers to these questions if you asked someone who used to be able to see, or whose vision had decreased throughout their lifetime. Their brain would have a visual frame of reference to draw on. Memories, colours, things that they’ve seen on TV. My brain doesn’t have this, so it can’t create what it has never had access to.

So my dreams don’t have a visual element to them because I don’t know what it is like to see. I might see the sunlight, because I can see the difference between light and dark in real life, but that’s about it.

So, in my dreams, dialogue is important – I hear things and sense things, but not in a way where everything is heightened, rather in a way that doesn’t focus on the visual side of things – because I’ve never had access to that.

I feel things – like the soft fur of a dog, the warmth of the sun, or the water on my skin as I swim. I feel emotions, like anyone else, depending on the type of dream – excitement, fear, happiness, loss, or enjoyment.

I can’t steer my way through the dream, but I am often aware that I’m dreaming, so if I’ve decided I don’t like it, I can usually wake myself up by concentrating really hard and then moving part of my body, which in turn wakes me. That’s quite useful and especially when I was younger, it saved me from a couple of nightmares! I often remember what I’ve dreamed about, and can easily trace links to what I’ve been doing/thinking about, even if things are not exactly the same as in real life.

Being blind doesn’t feature in my dreams that much. I still often dream of walking with a guide dog, even though my golden girl hasn’t been around for coming up to five years. I think this is the way that I felt most comfortable getting around. In contrast, the white cane rarely features in my dreams. I think even though I’ve chosen not to work with a dog at the moment, I was happiest getting around with one at my side.

I remember once I was surprised that I could navigate a completely new and unfamiliar place, even well enough to run after someone. I somehow just knew where the obstacles were and how to avoid them. Maybe it’s like when people dream about flying. We can’t do it, but we can imagine how it feels, and therefore the brain is able to build that into a dream.

Languages are important because most of the time when I’m awake, I’m working in a multilingual environment. So my dreams are usually in English, but occasionally in German or Turkish. Then it’s really funny because people who don’t speak these languages suddenly gain the ability to! That’s always quite bizarre when I wake up, but it seems perfectly normal at the time.

So, have I answered all the questions?

It’s important to remember that every blind person is different, and other people’s experiences will be very different to mine.

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Lovelula subscription box – February 2020

This post is neither sponsored nor gifted.

I’ve written a couple of posts about the Lovelula box before – the last was in October 2019 – so I decided to tell you something about the February box.

I have mine on a rolling monthly subscription, but there are also deals if you want to buy subscriptions for longer periods of time. I like the products because they are all cruelty-free and natural, and they tend to offer different choices than the similar products that tend to crop up in a lot of the other beauty subscription boxes.

Out of the February box, I’d only used one of the products before. I have decided to keep all of the products this month, and I’ve tried four out of the five so far.

Cleanser and toner all-in-one

This DIY cleanser and toner from Laidbare is a handy travel-size, ideal if you’re pushed for space in your suitcase or you can’t take too many products with you. I have reviewed it on the blog before. I don’t generally go for two-in-one products – I like my skincare ritual with all its many steps, and a cleanser and toner do quite different things, so I don’t really understand the science behind something that claims to do both.

Having said that, I’ve already used this up, and it’s the nicest-smelling product in the box (probably due to the apple secret extract, which is nice and fresh). It also contains aloe and liquorice extract, both good for reducing inflammation, cleansing and toning the skin. It’s like a cleansing gel and due to the inflammation-reducing ingredients, I got it out when hormonal breakouts showed their ugly heads!

Face mask

Another product from Laidbare, which if you haven’t heard of it is a budget-friendly brand with some really nice products, is the for richer for porer face mask.

According to the Lovelula site: “Kaolin Clay draws out impurities and toxins, Japanese Seaweed Extract detoxifies and smooths the skin. Shea Butter gives hydration and conditions skin, whilst Liquorish helps minimise inflammation and Rose Water soothes irritation.”

You apply it to cleansed skin and then leave it on for 10 minutes, before rinsing off. It’s unusual because it does have small particles in it that work as a kind of exfoliant, but a gentle one, and at the same time it doesn’t leave your skin feeling dry as some masks with clay can do. I like it!

Face oil

This time we got the new release from OOH (Oils of Heaven), which is the natural raspberry repairing face oil. This is the third face oil since I’ve been getting the box, so they’re averaging at one every couple of months. I don’t mind this as I do use them, but I’ve seen a couple of people saying that they’re not getting through them. Still, I like them, and the value of this product alone is more than I paid for the box. It’s definitely a good way to try out products as they are released, and all of the oils are marketed as doing different things, so you could swap them out, depending on what your skin needs.

There seems to be an anti-inflammatory theme with this box, because the raspberry seed oil also has anti-inflammatory properties, but it’s also good for dehydrated skin. It is absorbed well with no sticky residue. It doesn’t smell of raspberries, because it’s made with raspberry seed oil, not the fruit itself – it just smells of nature, like when you go for a walk in the countryside!

Exfoliator

The final product that I tried was the Ayumi Turmeric & Bergamot Face Scrub. I’ve never heard of this brand before, so it was nice to try something completely new. However, I’m a fan of chemical exfoliants rather than face scrubs, so whilst I’ll use up this travel size, it’s not something I would buy.

It would be nice to see another product from the brand though – they do hair and bath products too.

Shampoo bar

This pollution patrol shampoo bar from Rescue My. Hair™ is the only product that I haven’t tried yet – just because I don’t want to get it wet once and then not finish it off, and I have another shampoo on the go.

I’ve heard mixed reviews about shampoo bars in general, but nothing yet about this one. I definitely like the idea – less waste and something that’s better for the environment. I’m quite fussy about hair products though, so I really need to give it a go and see if the results I get from a bar are as good as my favourite bottled shampoos. I’m definitely glad to have the chance to try it and will let you know what I think in a future empties post.

So, have you tried any of these products? Let me know in the comments!

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Coronavirus – deciding what to believe, and some basic tips for reducing the risks

It seems all of my students wanted to talk about it this week, and everyone has something to tell. I learned about the bulletins you can get from the government in Singapore, border crossings being closed to stop it spreading, a possible case of a customer’s colleague contracting it and further colleagues having to stay at home.

Opinions are divided – some think that social media is the root of all evil and it’s all a big panic over nothing. Evidence doesn’t bear that out though. Sure, I’ve heard of people doing some social media stunts in very bad taste, just to get some likes and shares on the back of trending coronavirus hashtags. Not cool. There have been fake news videos and no doubt some people getting hysterical. But the fact is that the virus is spreading, and I don’t think that on the whole we’re particularly well-prepared for it.

Fake news is a thing, and everyone has a responsibility to check their sources for accuracy before they believe or share things further, but burying your head in the sand and hoping it will all go away doesn’t seem like a particularly smart strategy either.

There have been discussions about the number of deaths from the flu and from the coronavirus, but numbers can be misleading. The number of people who actually died is less relevant than the number of those who died as a percentage of those who caught the disease. I’ve seen different figures, but there seems to be consensus that the death rate from coronavirus, although low, is still higher than from the flu.

We don’t have a lot of data apart from what’s been gathered in the last months, but based on the evidence we already have, some groups are more at risk than others. So my point is that we’re not all the same. One person’s extra precautions or ultra-cautiousness might not be so extreme when you stop to see it from a different point of view. Perhaps that person is in a more high-risk group. Perhaps their immune system is already struggling for another reason. Perhaps they are caring for or living with someone who is likely to be hit harder if they caught the virus. I’d like to see a bit more kindness and a bit less judgement when it comes to what other people are doing and what they consider to be reasonable precautions. Unless of course someone is clearly doing something that puts other people in danger – like trying to refuse quarantine if it’s been confirmed that you have the virus. Then it’s ok to judge!

I guess I am a bit of a newshound. I like to know what’s going on. Somehow knowledge is power – it makes me feel safer if I have the facts, even if I don’t like them. You can’t make informed decisions on what’s right for you if you have nothing to base them on.

The last time I was in hospital, I received really good treatment. But it’s no secret that the NHS is already overstretched.

Of course you could say that if the virus is going to spread, there’s not a lot that individuals can do anyway. But I think there are things we can all do to minimise the risks such as

  • Knowing what’s going on and keeping up-to-date with any advice for your area;
  • Washing your hands regularly, especially when touching things in public places, and if that’s not possible, carrying and using a hand sanitiser;
  • Avoiding people who are obviously ill when possible, and if you get ill, whether it’s just the flu or something more serious, not giving it to everyone you know. There’s nothing wrong with spending some time at home to recover and most colleagues will thank you for it;
  • Getting a bit of extra food in – not panic buying, but just having enough in case you get ill and don’t fancy a trip to the shop, or worst case scenario, your area is quarantined;
  • Knowing what the symptoms are and what to do if you come across someone who may have the virus (getting an public transport to A&E isn’t the right answer);
  • If you need regular medication, does your local chemist deliver if you’re unable to get there easily? I only discovered recently that some do;
  • Do you want to keep all of your plans? I’m not saying everyone should shut themselves away, but I don’t think I’d fancy any really big gatherings at the moment. To be honest, I never do, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing that some big events are being cancelled, especially international ones;
  • If you run a business, what impact might there be and what could you do about it.

I tend to plan for the worst and hope for the best, which I think just makes me a realist.

But this isn’t supposed to be an advice post. I wanted to know how people are feeling generally. Are you worried? Tired of hearing about it? Not concerned?

I guess we all need to try and keep things in perspective – too much information or thinking about it might just make us anxious and we can never completely illiminate the risk. I guess it’s a question of balance.

How about you? How do you feel when you see information about the virus? Are you doing anything different at the moment? Do you think social media is a force for good or misinformation? Let me know in the comments.

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The emotional effects of poor online accessibility

I thought I’d share something I wrote for one of my business blogs. I think it’s something that some of my readers here will relate to as well.

I don’t talk about emotions a lot. I talk about tips or facts or things I’ve learned. I enjoy educating people and helping them to make their sites more accessible to me as a screenreader user, but I’ve never really shared about how it feels when I have to abandon my virtual trolley or ask my partner to help me complete a simple purchase. It’s not fun!

I saw an article about some research into the emotions experienced when disabled people encounter inaccessible websites, and that prompted me to add my thoughts. If this is something that interests you, you can read /the F word in online accessibility – frustration