About Jackie Annesley

Posts by Jackie Annesley

Let Me Count The Ways I Love Costco

Supermarket with the stock organised

I was out running the other day, as you do in lockdown. To make your head, and maybe even some body parts, feel marginally better. I happened to be listening to a Goop podcast which I hadn’t done for a while – they can be interesting but often totally woo-woo too.

One minute Goop’s chief content officer Elise Loehnen is talking about ending the war of self, whatever that means, and the next she and her guest segue into eulogising about Costco. Yes Costco, the world’s second biggest retailer after Walmart, with 95 million members and 731 branches – 28 in the UK.

Loehnen said something like, “I keep asking my husband – ‘When can I go back to Costco?’ ” and the other woman replies: “OMG, nothing brings me greater joy than a four pack of plastic-wrapped cereal”. Instantly I liked them more.

Read More…

A Paean To Tea

Spoon heads with various teas inside, in a row, on a pale blue wooden background

“I feel really unhappy.”

It’s a puerile statement for any mother to make, my only defence being it’s day 58 of lockdown, I’m still in pyjamas and the migraine drugs have left me a lethargic mess on my daughter’s bed.

I’ve finally accepted there’ll be no family holiday this year and little chance of seeing my eldest child any time soon. There’s the added guilt that these are all first world problems.

“Don’t worry mum,”  says our ever sunny 18-year-old. “I’ll make you tea all day long.”

How well she knows me.  Tea, glorious tea, has become the daily fix that keeps a nation going. I send a message to my WhatsApp Girls Night group. “If you had to choose tea or wine – what would be it be?” Read More…

Wait – What Day Is It Anyway?

Clock face with the words "time to think differently" on it.

Here’s my favourite lockdown moment.  Post lunch, warm sun, the freshest London air ever breathed. The screaming neighbour’s kids have retreated indoors and the birds have disappeared to wherever they go when they’re suddenly quiet.  The air is still. Under the apple tree our cat futilely waits for a fledgling to drop into her mouth.

“Is it Wednesday?” drawls my 18-year-old daughter in her filthy sweatpants, as we sit and look.  Having recently re-seeded the lawn, I am literally watching grass grow.

“It’s Tuesday.”

I then tell her I’m writing a piece about just that, our time confusion in the age of coronavirus. Read More…

I Come from a Different World

Retro telephone on table in front mint green background

When I was growing up in the Sixties, we had a black bakelite telephone in the corner of the living room.  It had its own allocated table and chair, because that’s where you went for a quiet chat.

This heavy little piece of tech was first introduced by Ericsson in 1931,  so it wasn’t exactly the latest accessory, even back then.  Life was slower and people didn’t “switch things up” on the interiors front so much.  Still, I loved the weight of it in my hands and the smooth curve of its cupped mouthpiece.  There was the thrill of its metallic ringtone, my mother hollering, “It’s for you!’ and the hours spent whispering into it.  I see you can buy them now on eBay for about £170, not that we even have a home phone connection any more.  That went about five years ago.

I come from a different world – not necessarily better, just different – and without wanting to sound like an irascible OK Boomer, some days I miss it.

I miss the bizarre glamour of smoking on planes,  the cathartic tap-tap-tap of a typewriter and the satisfying clunk of pushing another few shillings into a payphone. I especially miss reversing the charges on a phone call – and even just talking to an operator. “Hello Operator!  I’d like to make a reverse charge call!”  Now more than ever in the age of coronavirus,  all human interaction with strangers is funnelled into a brief greeting to delivery drivers.

Nostalgia usually only hits us in midlife, with the benefit of perspective.  Trapped in our homes, we have even more time to stare at the faces looking out at us from our picture frames, to go through albums,  to clear out cupboards and connect with the past.

So much has changed. Read More…

Blowing Hot and Cold 

Hot and Cold Tap heads cross design with chrome

“On the off-chance that anyone fancies a cold dip and hot sauna after, bring towel and swimmers” emailed my yoga instructor, two days before Christmas.

With cabin fever already beckoning,  I dug out my least awful swimsuit without giving the cold/hot message too much thought.  Until  I arrived at the local unheated lido to see that the water temperature was six degrees.

Exactly how cold is six degrees Celsius?

I know now that it’s colder than wading into the North Sea any time in March, when the temperature hovers around seven degrees.  I’d once swum off our eastern shoreline in December (when it’s weirdly a few degrees warmer) when I’d  been tasked by the Today newspaper in 1992 with finding Freddie the Dolphin. Injured and hanging out in Amble Harbour, north of Newcastle, he was apparently lonely and up for visitors.  I hired a boat whose skipper gave me a half wetsuit and pushed me into the freezing sea where the photographer kept me for 25 minutes,  first waiting for Freddie to appear from the inky depths (one of the scariest moments of my life) and then while he barked  “smile, smile, smile” while my shaking hands tried to stroke Freddie’s shammy leather back.

My only defence is that it was the Nineties.  Today’s millennials would have flatly refused, citing health and safety regulations. The whole extraordinary episode evidently sharpened my senses, a common side effect of cold water therapy,  because I  recall writing up the piece extremely quickly in a local pub and filing it over the phone.

Anyway, back to the waters of London’s Parliament Hill Lido which on that sunny December morning looked so very blue and so very freezing.  We followed the example of our north European cousins and went into its new sauna first for a quick warm-up, where the temperature was a cosy 80 degrees.  The bodies inside were as pink as newborns and one man was physically shaking, having  just completed twenty lengths in the icy waters of the 60 metre pool.  Mad.

I intended to do no more than jump in and scoot up a steps within seconds.

Geronimo!

The effect on the body of immersing it in freezing water is instantaneous, regardless of how much body fat you hold, and is one of the biggest jolts you can ever give it.   Otherwise known as the cold shock response, cold receptors in your skin are suddenly stimulated, causing an involuntary gasp, several in my case, followed usually by hyperventilation or very rapid breathing.  Your heart rate rapidly shoots up too – so step away anyone with high blood pressure or heart disease – as blood is diverted from extremities to your main internal organs.  Yet after less than ten minutes back in the sauna I wanted to repeat that surge of exhilaration.  So we plunged in one more time and then ran into the changing rooms, savouring that delicious feeling of your blood returning to the outer edges of your body as you warm up.

I felt invincible for the rest of the day and was back for more in the new year.  This time it was busier and everyone in the sauna seemed to be talking about cold water therapy.   Three young women were chatting to ‘James’ about their new addiction.  “I dreamt about it recently,” said one.  “It’s really helping me get over my broken relationship,” confessed another.  All three took cold showers at home (tap water comes out at around seven degrees) which prompted queries from  James about where they got their power showers, obvs, until the conversation switched to cold water therapy podcast recommendations.

I blame Gwyneth Paltrow and Hugh Fearnly-Wittingstall, both of whom have relayed  the wellness benefits of cold water in the last few weeks. Our favourite double-barrelled named chef tried it out on the TV show Easy Ways to Live Well  in a bid to tackle his anxiety.  He joined a group of cold water converts in a painful 4.3 degree lido and in between loud gasps for breath, was the only one screaming: “OH MY GOD this is so unbelievably cold, it’s SO cold”, while a gaggle of 60 year old matrons, casually treading water, giggled from afar.

There was less laughter but better swimwear on display when Gwyneth Paltrow sent her minions out to Lake Tahoe for The Goop Lab’s Cold Comfort episode on Netflix, which also aired in January (BTW you have to watch the one on female orgasms).  Could freezing  water stop their LA whining and general malaise?  With them to the lake went one of the world’s leading cold water protagonists, a Dane called Wim Hof, aka The Iceman.  He looks like the wild man of Borneo and has done some pretty wild things in his time, including running a half marathon on his bare feet in the snow and climbing Mount Everest in his shorts.  Within a few days, his deep breathing technique had turned a bunch of strung-out goopsters into hardy cold water swimmers who barely gasped as they came up from the freezing lake for air.

So how exactly does the cold-water therapy help? TV personality Dr Zoe Williams said on Fearnley-Whittingstall programme: “One way to think of it is that our stress ‘alert system’ has become over-sensitive in today’s world, and a short blast of freezing cold water every morning reminds it what a real threat feels like, and makes those everyday irritabilities less likely to trigger the full stress response.”

My second plunge into the lido, by now a balmy eight degrees in January, saw me jump into the middle of the pool and swim ten metres to the steps. Initially, all I could think of was that frozen water scene in the film Titantic. On the night of the real disaster, the water was something like minus two degrees and Kate Winslet’s Rose would have frozen solid alongside Jack with his memorably blue lips.  But puffing through that ten metre swim to the ladder felt totally doable. In fact I did the hot sauna/cold plunge routine three times and then strode across Hampstead Heath afterwards with wet hair plastered to my head, but feeling like I was luminous. That night I fell asleep instantly and woke up at 5 am instead of the usual 4 am. Result.

Apart from being mood-enhancing, cold water plunging can help achy joints by  constricting blood vessels and reducing inflammation. It also releases brain positive endorphins,  which is good for depressives,  triggers the aforementioned sleep hormones, and there is even talk of it generally making you live longer.  Biologist and Harvard Professor David Sinclair, who looks a very young  51, explains that slowing down the ageing process may be connected with the cold turning bad white fat into good brown fat.

“Specifically, the sirtuin-3 gene gets activated by cold, which promotes the browning of fat, which we believe is good for us.  Brown fat is full of mitochondria that use energy and speeds up the metabolism.”

I am contemplating daily cold showers and in the meantime dunk my head into a sink of cold water after washing my hair in a bid to leave it super shiny. Add that to the cold pool therapy and I’m slowly getting there.

Wim Hof has said:  “At one point the cold will feel just as comfortable as wearing your favourite pyjamas.”

Well, maybe.  I’m just not sure Gill would ever agree.

How To Be Less Miserablist

new-how-to-be-less-miserablist

It had been a while since I’d played this game. Maybe even half a century. It’s nighttime, a comfy 30 degrees and we’re at a party that’s progressed into the pool. I have one foot on someone’s shoulder – David? Thomas? Richard? It’s difficult to distinguish between them as I heave myself into the clutches of Liz who’s waiting for me to complete the human pyramid. Finally I’m up and for a few seconds we are a triangular mass of wobbling post-youth bodies that then crash into the inky water, shrieking like the children we once were.

That was last month at a reunion in Bahrain where we all grew up together in a Californian-styled township in the desert, a story for another day. As these pewter grey November days close in, quick, quick, spit spot – name the last time you really goofed around? Like blaaah, head shaking, arm-waving crazy? See. Long time. Too long.

Yet in these not-so-cheerful times, it turns out George Bernard Shaw was right about fooling around being seriously good for you.“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing” wrote the Irish playwright. The benefits? Manifold. Adult play relieves stress, boosts feel-good endorphins, improves brain function, helps relationships, keeps you feeling young and energetic and may even improve your resistance to disease.

In my forsaken executive life of being at my desk at 8am, 10 miles from home, I was deemed “lugubrious” by one of the fashion team. He was right. A tendency towards worry and a diabetic child to keep alive was lethally mixed with fierce weekly deadlines.  Something had to give and for me it was the lightness of being. A later bout of working with optimistic millennials did little to help.

Yet in this of all years, life’s become inestimably brighter, slipping those surly bonds of gloom.

What gave? Frankly even I was bored of having a resting worried face. But the turning point came down to a cat, two yogis, one run and two WhatsApp groups. Mostly the latter.

Sky the Siberian Forest kitten arrived to remind us of the joy of stroking and the fun of felines leaping for ping pong balls.  The last year has been like living with an amusingly furry two year old.

Then there was the physical fillip from a weekly run and two yoga sessions.  Emerging from a cotton cocoon to lollop around Wormwood Scrubs for 5km every Saturday at 9am does not induce laughter – but its after effects do. (News reports last month said one shortish run a week is all it takes to reduce the risk of early death, no matter how slow you go.) Ditto the two £10-a-go weekly yoga sessions that melt calcified fascia, lull the mind and mean you can embrace the freelancer’s 5/2 wardrobe – two whole days of never having to be properly dressed.

But the biggest spike in my annual lol activity came from spending more time, that most illusory commodity, with family and friends generally, and two groups of women specifically.

Here we need clarification – spending time at play is about more than just having fun. Renowned American shrink Stuart Brown has done a rather brilliant Ted talk on the subject, which if you can’t be bothered to watch says this: we need to retain our neoteny. Our what-eny?  Make it your word of the day because it means the “retention of juvenile features in the adult animal”, which translates into keep goofing around throughout your life. Because Brown is clear on one fact  — the opposite of play is depression.

He spent years studying prison inmates and almost every one of them suffered play deprivation as children. They missed out on the give-and-take learning that comes from play. “Normally we play,” says Brown.  “When we don’t, something has gone very, very, wrong, and non-players will suffer a number of effects.” He quotes field biologist Marc Bekoff, a former university professor, who says play is “training for the unexpected”.  Which makes it pretty essential in the sand-shifting era of Trump and Brexit.

Beyond playing the usual array of sports (abandoned tennis racket – one day I will return), the adult play market is now huge business, with the Lego trend a prime example. Last month ‘Build Yourself Happy: The Joy of Lego Play’ was published  as a manual for wellness while at John Lewis you can buy the 5,900 piece adult Lego Taj Mahal for £279.99.

Not for me, but let me tell you about those WhatsApp groups.  The ‘girl’s night’ one began several years ago with eight of us getting together whenever we could agree on a date, but which has progressed to added playtime. There was a recent wine drinking and pottery making evening, a perfect getting-your-hands-dirty combo,  with the resultant crusts of unglazed clay still rattling around in the back of my car.  Next up is a poker night in January with a real live poker teacher who’ll hopefully instruct us on how to arrange our flaccid faces into inscrutable masks. Cannot wait.

Meanwhile, a reunion reconnected me with three of my first friends, the ones I’d grown up with in primary school, had played spin the bottle with as a teenager and fooled around with in swimming pools. We are now scattered across Australia, Florida, London and Portugal but every Saturday sees us together again on a WhatsApp video grid, our latest quest being to learn to virally hoola hoop. I’m pretty good thanks – Sara, doll, it’s all in the hip thrust.

We definitely all need to play more.  To put down those  perfidious phones and dig out that frisbee or pack of cards.

The dream? A poker-playing, hoola-hooping pool party.

OMG lol, as only an Ok, Boomer would write.

How to be less of a miserablist in 2020

  1. Delete your Mail Online app pronto. Child killer/Kardashian tales are no longer needed.
  2. Buy Rummikub, the perfect board game as it can last less than 30 minutes. (Habitually losing inures me to the pain of real life.)
  3. Revisit Season 1 of Friends. Basically be more Chandler. Step away from Newsnight.
  4. Ask for ‘Funny Ha-ha’ in your stocking – 80 of the funniest stories ever written, out this month and edited by veteran wit Paul Merton. Leave the Booker prizewinners to gather dust.
  5. Purchase a cheap hoola hoop and eat latkes (hello Gill) or crisp sarnies with friends who make time to see you. Money does not = good times.
  6. When it’s all going south, listen to Baccara’s “Yes Sir, I Can Boogie”, the 1977 best-selling single of all time by a female group (18 million).  Joyfully awful lyrics, but it’ll  make you laugh and dance at the same time. Dream pastime.