jofuller

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Life: Practicality, Plumbers & Pumpkins

I like to think of myself as an independent kind of girl, getting along nicely without a husband to drive me mad, but there are times when being single sucks and I’m not talking about just birthdays, Sunday mornings and Christmas. I’m talking about DIY. The smallest household job of a practical nature can send my coveted independence flying past the broken blind in the kitchen, the 3 light bulbs that need changing, the broken lock on the front door and out onto the street, hysterically looking for a man to come and put it all right.

It’s not a needy, emotional cry for help at all, it really is a genuine practical requirement for assistance. Ask me to write you a story, transform your look with a fabulous new hairdo or rustle up a banquet with the mouldy contents of your fridge and I’ll happily oblige. But ask me to change a light bulb, go shopping for washers for a gushing showerhead, or measure up for a new bath panel, and you will have to bear witness to me having a physical and emotional meltdown generated by DIY overwhelm.

In an effort to confront my fears and attain some DIY independence, I decided to watch a YouTube tutorial to repair the wireless thermostat that controls my heating. NB the ending of this story is going to be of no surprise. I followed the video, but the inside of my unit was totally different to the one in the demonstration and then I couldn’t get it back together. I had no option but to scoop up the components of my deconstructed thermostat into a carrier bag, walk into the plumber’s yard and ask to buy a new one. It was akin to being on trial when I was cross-examined as to why the innocent thermostat was in a thousand bits. Luckily, there was no bible present so I lied and told them I had dropped it. My sentence, to humbly accept that I should never attempt to fix anything ever again, but bow down to the prowess of those of a more practical persuasion and ask for help.

Once released from the plumber’s yard, I escaped to the countryside with my pseudo-husband – who is as useless at DIY as I am – and his son, my godson. Our mission, to seek out and walk through the Tree Tunnel of Halnaker and then visit the magnificent selection of Pumpkins on show in Slindon. Mission accomplished and autumnal feeling of fresh, chilly sunshine and satisfaction of stomping through crisp leaves achieved. It was comforting to know that my brain may not be wired up for home improvements, but it is wired up to plan a day out, pack a picnic, and rustle up a pot of soup from a Baby Bear pumpkin, procured from a gourd enthusiast, in the depths of West Sussex. Sometimes, life is just about embracing your weaknesses, accepting defeat, and running through a pile dead leaves.

 

This article also appeared in The Huffington Post  and the Brighton and Hove Independent

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Travels: Brooklyn

Having been to New York a couple of times before and based myself in Manhattan, I decided this time around to stay in Brooklyn. I was looking forward to not having an agenda or a list of attractions to visit. I just wanted to hang out and soak up the city without the need to run around looking at things. I was, for a short period of time, to become a New Yorker.

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Brooklyn is on an island and you can see it from the island that is Manhattan. Once the poorer sister, Brooklyn has now come into its own. I was told that ‘Manhattan is so over” and Brooklyn is the place to be. I’m not sure that statement is entirely true, Manhattan is Manhattan. It’s iconic, it’s energetic, it’s frantic and there is no other place like it in the world.  Cross the Hudson River and you arrive in historical Brooklyn. With its back story of Irish and Italian immigration, it has a totally different atmosphere from Manhattan. Nowhere near as frenetic or busy, wide leafy green avenues and streets lined with designer boutiques, coffee shops, cafes and restaurants. The once rundown brownstones have been renovated and are now desirable des res’ for the families, hipsters, and stalwart residents of a bygone era.

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DOES THE MOB STILL EXIST?

I was staying in Carroll Gardens, a delightful suburb of Brooklyn, with a shady past, it was once a stronghold for The Mob. There are signs that indicate a strong Italian influence, prominent shrines to the Virgin Mary in many of the front gardens and numerous delis and garages named Vinnie’s or Frankie’s.  I was fascinated by the accent, and one day I found myself following a man talking on his mobile, he wasn’t happy and was desperate for his “Ma’ to put “Ant-tOe-knee” on the line. The poor kid was getting the blame for something. Sadly I never got to find out what Ant-tOe-Knee had done, but I said a prayer for him just in case.

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Apparently The Mob doesn’t exist anymore, but when I repeatedly bought the most unctuous Mozzarella from “Toe-knee” who made it three times a day in his deli – unsurprisingly called “Tony’s Deli” – and I observed his other customers, I got the impression that perhaps The Mob hadn’t completely disappeared from the city and that maybe a few members of the Genovese or Gambino family were still knocking about.

BROOKLYN: GETTING AROUND

I walked most of the time, the grid system is easy to get to grips with and tourist maps are widely available. There is always something new to see and walking was the best way, for me, to take it all in.

I had a moment of madness and hired a Citibike, it was terrifying. I’m a confident cyclist at home, but deciding to cycle in New York was just stupid. There are no roundabouts, the avenues and streets are one-way and the cars are BIG. The NYPD didn’t take kindly to me cycling on the pavement, but this was, at times, necessary in order to save my own life. Rent a bike at your own peril, I’m just saying.

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The subway is hot, busy and full of crazy people, I tried to avoid it as much as possible. There are signs up saying you are not allowed to put your make up on whilst riding the subway. You can carry a gun, be a danger to society and a total and utter nuisance but you can’t put your lipstick on. Sort it out.

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The one time I used Uber, I was picked up in a Limo – what are the chances of that? – with a wonderful Peruvian driver. He had never heard of Paddington Bear but he did pass on his recipe for a perfect Pisco Sour. It was a very memorable cab ride.

BROOKLYN: FAVOURITE SPOTS

The Brooklyn waterfront with its awesome views of Manhattan was once a busy working dock. It’s now too shallow for the visiting containers and has been turned into a well used and well-respected community space. Water parks, restaurants, public BBQ’s, hockey pitches, basketball courts and gyms line this pedestrianised area from Red Hook to DUMBO and beyond.

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They love a locational acronym in New York, and DUMBO stands for Down Under Manhattan Bridge Underpass. Once a disused area and out of bounds to anyone who valued their safety, it is now the buzzing ‘MetroTech,’ full of bright young things coding, drinking coffee and sinking craft beers. I loved the cobbled streets and the big waterside warehouses, which have become coffee shops, workshops and digital hubs. Standing on the cobbles in Dumbo you can’t help but look up in awe at the giant Manhattan bridge that looms overhead *bridge geek alert*.

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Vinegar Hill leads straight on from Dumbo. It was where the Irish settled in the 1800’s. I didn’t know this when I first wandered through the romantic cobbled streets, but there was something about Vinegar Hill that drew me back for a second visit and that must have been the Irish in me. It was a place where I just sat and pondered. An oasis of peace and quiet and a strange feeling of being at home.

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I went to Williamsburg on a Monday, specifically to follow up a couple of restaurant recommendations and coffee roasters. The two eateries I wanted to visit, Martha’s and Rider, were both shut – bad planning on my behalf – but Blue Bottle Coffee didn’t disappoint. That said, I wasn’t impressed with Williamsburg. It was dirty and scruffy and a bit too cool for school. However, the view of the Manhattan skyline from the Ides rooftop bar at the Wythe hotel was well worth the trip.

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Walking across Brooklyn Bridge was on my bucket list – tick.  It is a phenomenal structure and a thing of beauty – not something I thought I would ever say about a bridge. The day I walked across, was a beautiful clear day and the unadulterated view across to Manhattan was breathtaking. Empire State building to one side, Statue of Liberty on the other, Financial District straight ahead. It’s busy, you need to take a deep breath and ignore the other pedestrians – mainly tourists – elbowing you out the way, or the frustration of having your journey thwarted every few minutes by a selfie stick and its owner. Find a gap, put your camera down and just take in the view.

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BROOKLYN: COFFEE

Surprisingly, Americans, on a whole drink really weak coffee. Last time I visited New York, I wasn’t a coffee drinker, and I certainly hadn’t turned into the coffee snob I am now. I like one, strong, coffee a day and it’s such a disappointment if doesn’t hit the spot. To save you the pain of a disappointing coffee, here are my recommendations:-

Seeds of Love Coffee (SOL) – one shop, one man and his very expensive coffee machine. The best!

Seeds of Love "SOL" Brooklyn

 

Blue Bottle Coffee – They take coffee really seriously. A roasters in Williamsburg and a few shops dotted over Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Blue Bottle Coffee, Dean Street, Brooklyn

 

Café Regular – a little bit of Paris. Great coffee, really friendly staff and warm cinnamon buns. C’est tres bon.

Cafe Regular, Berkley Place, Brooklyn

 

Blue Stone Lane – Australians were responsible for the coffee revolution in the UK, so generally, they can be relied on to make a good, strong coffee. Blue Stone Lane is Australian owned and not only do they do a great coffee, they also do a great brunch.  You’ll find them in DUMBO and in Manhattan.

Blue Stone Lane cafe, Carmine Street, West Village

 

The following coffee shops didn’t, in my opinion, do great coffee, but if you’re not as fussy about your coffee as I am, they are all great places to sit and people watch:-

Smith Canteen – terrible coffee, BUT delicious quinoa breakfast bowls and really buttery croissants with really buttery scrambled eggs.

Smith Canteen, Smith Street, Brooklyn

 

Henry’s Local – gorgeous little place, but you’ll need 3 shots if you want your coffee to hit the spot.

Henrys Local, Henry Street, Brooklyn

 

Brooklyn Roasting Company – Uber cool hangout in DUMBO, a roasters and cafe in a big old warehouse, great music, great salads, and lots of beards.

Brooklyn Roasters, DUMBO

 

BROOKLYN: FOOD & DRINK

New Yorkers, in general, don’t cook. I was staying in a fabulous house, with a wonderful Whole Foods around the corner, so I thought one night I would cook rather than eat out. Just as well I checked the cupboards before I went shopping, there was nothing to cook with, or in, or on. The food scene is impressive and it would appear to me that the American’s work to eat, they easily spend $30 plus, each a day on eating, which makes for a huge variety of food on offer, and some wonderful eating.

Happy Hour in Brooklyn is usually beer or wine and a plate of oysters. The Kittery was located at the end of our street, and $10 got you a large glass of very dry, drinkable Rosé and six oysters. It was a no-brainer.

The Kittery, Smith Street, Brooklyn

 

There is nothing to make you feel more like a local than perching on a bar stool at the open window of a Pizzeria, ordering fresh pizza by the slice and drinking cold beer. It’s hard to get it wrong and ‘joints’ like this are all over the place.

Pizzeria, Brooklyn

 

Juliana’s is an institution. Massive pizzas under Brooklyn Bridge.

Juliana's Pizzeria, Brooklyn

 

Wilma Jean for when a dirty dinner is required. Delicious buttermilk fried chicken and potato salad. I was too busy licking my fingers to take a picture.

 

Alma is an understated Mexican restaurant, the kind of place you would walk past, but don’t. It has an amazing roof terrace and spectacular views across to Manhattan. Perfect spot for watching the sunset, accompanied by a cucumber margarita and a plate of fish tacos.

Alma, Brooklyn

 

MilkMade ice cream – One girl and her ice-cream machine. I tried a Cobble Hill made with peach and cinnamon, a great combo.

Milk Made, Sackett Street, Brooklyn

 

Van Leewen – where the cool people eat ice-cream. I can highly recommend their vegan, salted caramel.

Van Lewen, Bergen Street, Brooklyn

 

I have never seen Thai Ice-cream rolls in Thailand, but they are a work of art and being brought to Brooklyn by Blossom Ice Cream. The ice-cream mixture is poured onto a freezing plate and manipulated as if making a crepe, the end result, wafer thin ice cream rolled up and put in a cup. UTTERLY delicious. If you can’t quite picture it, watch the video of how they do it here.

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Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain – a traditional seltzer bar that will bring out the kid in you. I wanted to try everything, but I restrained myself and just ordered a creamy and nostalgic root beer float.

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Brooklyn Social – has a dark and fascinating history. Originally an Italian men’s’ club, for members only – what was I saying about the Mob? – it now welcomes non-members, and women – welcome to 2016.

 

Brooklyn Social,

 

Smorgasburg the street food market to beat all street food markets. Saturdays in Williamsburg and Sundays in Prospect Park. Innovative and exciting food from all over the world, the highlight for me was pulled and bbq Jack Fruit an exciting discovery from pop-up vegan restaurant Chickpea and Olive. Braised jackfruit is made into a patty and bbq to give you a burger with the texture of pork, it was delicious and so exciting to eat something totally new. I’m not a vegetarian or a vegan but I do love plant-based food and in NY they are doing amazing things with vegetables, it’s really inspiring.

Smorgasburg, Prospect Park, Brooklyn

 

I feel I should also mention some of the great food that I tried over in Manhattan,

Sweet Green – delicious fast food. Big bowls of salads, grains and proteins mixed up with amazing dressings. Who would have thought of putting watermelon and coriander together and through a juicer? It so works.

Sweet Green, Manhattan

 

By Chole – pure vegan, but a bit too much ‘fake meat’ for my liking.

The Butchers Daughter – vegan food and amazing juices.

Butchers Daughter, West Village, Manhattan

 

Black Seed Bagels – hand rolled and cooked on a wood fire, yes they are as delicious as they sound. I had a #8 Lox (smoked salmon) dill cream cheese, radish and sprouts. I’ve tried to re-create at home, but to no avail, their bagels and radish’s are something else.

Black Seed Bagels, West Village, Manhattan

 

Egg Shop, does what it says on the tin, sadly we couldn’t get a seat.

Egg Shop, Lower East Side, Manhattan

 

Café Henri – the most amazing Dragon Bowls with turmeric poached eggs and gentlemen’s relish.

Cafe Henrie, Forsyth Street, Manhattan

 

Balthazar – a French bakery that makes very fattening, but very delicious, doughnuts.

Balthazar Bakery, Spring Street, Manhattan

 

BROOKLYN: YOGA

I wanted to keep up my regular yoga practice whilst I was away, and I had heard great things about the standard of yoga in NY and I wasn’t disappointed. I was lucky enough to have two established and respected yoga schools on my doorstep, Preema Yoga and Brooklyn Yoga Project.

Prema Yoga, Court Street, Brooklyn Brooklyn Yoga Project, Sackett Street, Brooklyn

I practised classes at both studios, all were Vinyasa Flow based and set to music,  I loved them all. I’d like to thank Bobbie Marchand, Miles Borrero, Ossi Raveh and Jessica Weiss for their inspiring classes, hands-on adjustments and words of wisdom.

 

 

Looking back on this trip, the one thing that really stood out for me, was the friendliness of the people in both Brooklyn and Manhattan. I met only one really grumpy person and he was working in a booth on the subway. Given his dark, airless environment and diversity of customers, I could forgive him his bad temper. New Yorkers are keen to speak to visitors, and on many an occasion I got asked about Brexit and told about their concerns for the upcoming Presidential elections. Shop assistants, baristas, men in suits, all forthcoming and friendly and when someone says ‘have a nice day,” I think they really mean it.

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If you’d like to see more of my photos, head over to my Instagram page @jofuller_life

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Life: Spiders, Smoke & Seasonal Change

It was by chance that I walked into a scene from Arachnophobia when I went to watch Brighton v Someone in my local. My three “blind’ friends had caused a right kerfuffle when one of them spotted a spider HIGH up on the wall. Blind friend number one had the poor barman on a stool trying to eliminate the spider, which had caused petrified blind friend number two to seek refuge in the garden. Blind friend number three, was directing the scene from the comfort of his chair. I don’t have 20/20 vision myself, but even I could see that it wasn’t a man-eating spider at all, but a bit of fluff, most probably left over from Halloween, blue tacked to the wall.

Spider season is upon us. The time of year that turns perfectly rational, lucid people into fear-filled humans made of jelly. A time of year when spiders seek refuge in the warmth and comfort of our homes as the temperature outside drops. If I were a spider I would most definitely want to come inside, share a sofa and watch Great British Bake Off, or pop to a comfy pub for a decent roast. I’m not sure though, that I would want to climb up someone’s plughole and into their bath.

Spider season is the time of year when social media is awash with pictures of “have you seen how big my spider is?” “I may have done a Tough Mudder, a triathlon and 1000 push-ups a day for charity, but that’s nothing compared to the size of the spider that joined me in the shower this morning.” #hardasnails.

Spider season is of course also a sign that summer is melding into autumn. No longer will we be able to draw a comparison between the funeral pyres of the Ganges and the beaches of Brighton and Hove, due to the biblical amount of smoke produced by the total and utter overuse of cheap disposable BBQ’s. We will soon once again be able to venture down to the beach without the need to wear a decommissioned WWII gas mask to block out the fumes of burnt sausages and the suffocating smell of copious amounts of warm Rosé. Dogs and bikes will once again be allowed to roam freely on this hallowed ground as the tourists leave and the nights draw in.

I’m always sad to say ‘adios’ to summer, but I do love the change of the seasons. Every year I love the idea of going blackberry picking to make a crumble. And EVERY YEAR I leave it too late and the best places in Brighton to forage these succulent beauties have been totally ravaged of their bounty by the time I get there. And so every year my first crumble of the season is made from fruit courtesy of Tesco Express, however, it still tastes delicious, doesn’t require BBQ-ing and definitely doesn’t contain spiders.

This article also appeared in The Huffington Post and the Brighton and Hove Independent

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Life: Successfully not having Sex in the City

Shortcuts has had a busy few weeks. As well as being kept busy hairdressing, I am now a columnist for the Brighton and Hove Independent. Getting my own column is a dream come true. “You’re the next Carrie Bradshaw” was something I heard on more than one occasion and although I brushed it off with a “really?!” it was a comparison I was delighted to hear.

I was in my mid 20’s when I first watched Carrie tip tapping away on her keyboard. Sitting in front of the open window of her Manhattan brownstone, a glass of wine and a fag on the go. Her observations and experiences tumbling from her mind onto the page. I was inspired. I knew that my inner Carrie was just waiting for her opportunity to break out.

The main, and possibly the only difference between the fictitious Ms Bradsahw and myself, is in the title and content of our columns [sic]. Her’s was famous ‘Sex and the City’ and if I were writing in a similar vein, mine would be called “Unsuccessfully having Sex in the City.” Again, it was something I laughed about when the comparison was drawn – my first column for The Brighton & Hove Independent was a tongue in cheek account of how annoying cats are. No mention of sex, although I did mention the City.

So how do you successfully not have sex in the city? I think it’s a niche topic for a column, and I’m certain there are people who can’t help but have loads of sex that need some advice on how to avoid it. So for those of you that fall into that category, here are my top tips for successfully not having sex in a vibrant city with a varied demographic, and hence no reason whatsoever to be stuck at home, on your own, at any time during the day or night.

1. Go to yoga. Although yoga makes you feel great and the benefits are unlimited, yoga attracts a lot of women. If your class of choice is a hot yoga class, you are not going to look your best, and so very unlikely to attract any male attention. If you are a straight woman trying to avoid having sex with a straight male, this is a good place to start.

2. Hang out in parks with your friends who have children and their friends with children and their friends with children – you get my drift. Surrounding yourself with couples with children is a great way of avoiding sex with eligible, single men. This is definitely a good way to spend your weekends.

3. If you are a straight, single woman, another great way to avoid having sex is to not go out in the evening or at weekends, instead invite your friends round for dinner. Avoiding every possible opportunity to go out and mingle with the opposite sex by dancing, drinking and socialising, is definitely a good way to not have sex.

4. Only go to parties that you know are going to be top heavy with couples and gay men. If you get invited to a party and the host says excitedly that there are some eligible friends of her partner going, avoid at all costs. Instead stay in and invite your friends round for dinner – see above.

5. When in need of some male company, give your Gay Best Friend (GBF) a call. On no account, ask out the cute, straight guy sitting next to you in the coffee shop or flick through Tinder. Behaving in such an irrational fashion could lead to sex.

6. Make sure your book group is strictly female only. Reading is sexy and you will only have yourself to blame if a male is introduced and you have sex with him.

So if you are having too much sex in the city of Brighton and Hove I hope the above is of some use, and my thoughts and sympathy are sincerely with you. Short Cuts is off to NYC for a couple of weeks. I hope to successfully avoid having sex in another major city, but hey! Who knows? I might fail abysmally and talk to a handsome stranger, the outcome of which could result in me having to rename my column.

This article also appeared in Brighton and Hove Independent

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Life: I’m Planning My Own Personal Brexit
I voted to remain and, like so many people who voted the same, I am finding it hard to come to terms with the uncertain times we now find ourselves in.
I am single, 46, childless and self-employed. I have an interest-only mortgage, no pension and no one ― as yet ― to care for me in my old age. I know I am not alone in my situation, a situation which to others, perhaps with a more secure financial and family plan for their future, could be seen as a bit tragic, but I don’t see it like that at all.
Every now and again you need a good shake up in your life. The end of a relationship, redundancy, death of a loved one, health issues, the turning of British politics on its head. Anyone of these major events can be turned into a life-defining opportunity. You have a choice. Life doesn’t have to floor you when it doesn’t go according to plan, it can give you the guts to follow your heart and turn sadness and fear into liberation and adventure. You choose.
At 32 I was made redundant from my job in telecoms. I was single, had just bought a flat and I knew that if I didn’t do something constructive with my redundancy money I would just fritter it away. I had no idea what career path I wanted to take but, more importantly, I knew what I didn’t want. I didn’t want to be in an office. I wanted to be more creative. I knew that if I banked my money for a rainy day, put on a suit and commuted, I would find myself once again in a job that only met my financial needs and, long term, there was no satisfaction in that. So instead I rented out my flat and went on an adventure. My purpose was to make a decision as to what new career I wanted to pursue when I returned if indeed I was to return.
The thought of travelling alone was terrifying me, and I had it in my head I would be the only 30+ female solo traveller in the whole world. How wrong I was. I met so many awesome people and a lot of them were women on their own and many of them were 40, 50 and 60, I wasn’t as ground-breaking as my ego had led me to believe.
My travels took me from Southeast Asia to a long stay in New Zealand, and then across to Australia. I met a boy in the idyllic setting of Byron Bay and I followed him back to Sydney. When I discovered he was a small time drug dealer and not an electrician, I made a quick escape with a broken heart and flew to Bangkok. I hooked up with a girl – who has now become one of my best friends – and we headed out for the night in that crazy Asian city. We rode elephants, played pool with “Lady Boys” and were so disturbed by a sex show that we did a runner without paying for our drinks. It was a night of many memories and the night that changed my life. I woke up the next morning, dazed, confused and hungover. It was hot and humid and I was sweaty and dehydrated, but the first thought that entered my head was “I’m going to become a hairdresser.”
It was a damascene moment. Somewhere, sometime, I must have a planted a seed in my subconscious. Hairdressing had never been on my list of jobs to pursue, but here it was, presenting itself to me, and it ticked all my boxes. I could travel with it, it was creative, it was a skill that would never be automated, I could be my own boss, I wouldn’t have to put on a suit and sit in an office, tick, tick, tick. And so I declared to my friend that I could now make my way home. I had found the answer to my question. My quest was over.
I am continually grateful for the opportunity I had to be able to take 18 months off and explore the world and myself. Every day whilst doing the job I love I am thankful for that “devastating” redundancy 14 years ago that had the potential to create overwhelming uncertainty, but ultimately prompted me to change my life for the better.
I am now planning my next change. I am determined to live a happy and fulfilling old age without worrying about money or my relationship status. My dream is to be able to work from anywhere in the world from my laptop and the way I want to fulfil this is to become a writer. I am planning my own Brexit, should you be planning yours?
This article also appeared in The Huffington Post 
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