The perfect fit

I’ve been having a problem shared by many women: none of my bras are fitting correctly.  It’s been a shamefully long time since I’ve invested a decent amount of time and money into this crucial piece of daily kit, so I set out on the quest which is only rivalled by the search for the perfect pair of jeans.  I ultimately visited three shops, here’s the tale of my labours…

Bra stop the first: Marks and Spencer
I entered a local branch of Britain’s stalwart retailer on a rainy Sunday with an action plan.  As a reasonably clued-up girl, I had made a guess as to how my size has changed, and went on what turned out to be a disappointing hunt.  I’ve worn a 36D for a long time (before you all have an attack of the vapours, I haven’t worn this size because I like it – I’ve had it checked regularly, and have genuinely felt comfortable in it until recently), but was curious about the fact that I may finally fit into a 34, which I knew would probably mean going up a cup size (given that I’ve changed shape, but not deflated, as it were).

I hunted around the (horribly-merchandised) lingerie department and quickly figured out that M&S design bras in two categories: pretty, but for those who only need to support the weight of two peas on their chest; ugly, and in suitable sizes to conveniently double as headgear.  I should have given up at this point, but I knew I owed my bust a favour, so I sighed and gritted my teeth.  I fished through for a selection of bras in a variety of sizes (because, hey, my guess may have been wrong) and headed for the fitting room.

I hovered awkwardly in the doorway for a moment whilst the woman behind the desk at the back of the corridor busied herself with something else, before she – without even looking up – told me to just go in, that they don’t help with fit any more.  I almost fell over in shock, and again very nearly dropped the mic (bras) and walked away.  Instead, I saw myself to a fitting room, closed the door and organised myself.

Then, dearest retailer, I was confronted by something I really didn’t expect to see: I had selected some bras which are sold in pairs, and it wasn’t until I got to the fitting room that I noticed they were tagged together.  Like this:

bra_bras_lingerie_marks and spencer_shopping_shops_retail_high street_fitting room_customer service

I twizzled everything around to figure out the mechanics: should I try them on like this?  I quickly realised this was physically impossible.  Should I ring the bell provided for assistance?  I soon decided none would be forthcoming, given the frosty reception I had previously received.  I chose to break the rules and snapped the plastic.  Something not all people can do.  I tried every bra I had selected on.  Some – in the size I had guessed – were a reasonable fit.  They were comfortable, even.  They weren’t the type of bras you’d see strut down a runway, or in a fashion spread, but I was also going for day-to-day practicality rather than sexbomb on this occasion, so I was willing to ignore that fact.

What I wasn’t willing to ignore was the complete lack of customer service I was receiving from a high street retailer.  And shops wonder why the internet is winning!  I got dressed, having completed my research, hung the bras up on the rail by the fitting room entrance and walked away, vowing never to darken the door of Marks and Spencer for so much as a pair of socks ever again (which is a shame, because their thermal socks helped me survive last winter and their socks with the fluffy padded ankles and toes get me through the rest of the year).

Customer service: -5/5
Fit: 3/5
Value for money: 1/5 (due to poor service)

Bra stop the second: Leia
Unfortunately, the town I was in that fateful Sunday has very few decent options when it comes to bras (as demonstrated by the above!) so I had to persist with my old no-longer-faithfuls for another week, before I had the opportunity to seek out another shopping experience.  I decided that department stores weren’t the way to go – I needed real help from experts in order to feel satisfied and shell out for some decent goods.

Having prepared myself via means of caffeination, I headed to a shop I hadn’t tried before.  Oh happy day, I did not have to ask for help, assistance was volunteered by a member of staff (remember, I work in retail, I am admittedly a picky customer).  She whizzed me straight to the fitting room, asked what I was looking for, what size I was wearing and took a look at me.  She agreed that I needed a smaller band size, but her guess was that I’d require a 34F, not an E.  I was shocked, but decided that it wouldn’t hurt to try.

I was presented with a bra which matched my brief, tried it on and…well, hello glass slipper!  The bra fitted perfectly.  The sales assistant returned to check the fit for me, made sure I was properly in the bra and comfortable, then asked if I needed anything else.  I was slightly reeling from the experience of suddenly jumping two cup sizes, so I decided that I needed to go and take stock of my underwear drawer before making too many purchases.

Having bought the bra I tried on, I went to another shop for different items…and swiftly returned to Leia, having realised that my underwear drawer would require a total overhaul.  I tried on a different bra (as I had additional requirements!) and again, a sales assistant helped me to fit it and made sure it was the right one.

Sadly, the “fun” and “glamorous” end of the shop’s range wasn’t really pushing my buttons this time, so I stuck with a nude t-shirt bra (to add to the black t-shirt bra I’d previously purchased) and was on my way.  But I’ll be keeping an eye on what they have in stock, and was quick to recommend the store to a friend who is a similar size to me…

Customer service: 5/5
Fit: 6/5
Value for money: 4/5

Bra stop the third: Victoria’s Secret
VS cops a LOT of flak on both sides of the pond, but I’ve had some great experiences in there.  First pro of VS: it’s fun – it’s not short on colour, sparkle, glamour and atmosphere.  Yes, it’s like shopping in a nightclub (though without the sticky floor and dry ice), it’s very very dark.  But it’s well-staffed and, although the merchandising could be better, once you know what you’re doing, it’s straightforward (just frustrating that they rarely have all colourways in stock in all sizes).

Having been re-sized, I knew the VS range wasn’t going to fit me very well any more (they generally only stock to a D cup, with some ranges going to DD or DDD), but I was desperate for something fun, so thought I’d try a few bras on.  I repeated my M&S smash and grab, not being too fussy about colour at first, I was just trying for fit.  As I knew the cups would likely be too small, I avoided anything with too much padding or push up (which made me a little sad – I’ve had some great push ups from VS, even though it’s not something I really need) and headed for the fitting room.

The fitting room was well-staffed, I was shown to a room and left in peace, with the offer of help if I needed it.  I worked my way through my selection, trying the different styles.  Unsurprisingly, two of the five gave me some definite “four boob” (where there’s too much breast for the cup and you spill over the tops), but some of the roomier styles weren’t as bad as they might have been.  It was tempting to go back up to a 36 and see what happened, but I decided not to tease myself, and returned to the shop floor armed with my findings to have another look.

I returned to the fitting room, figured out which of my choices felt best and decided to get the opinion of the sales assistant, partly to see whether they confirmed what I knew or tried something else!  The girl who helped agreed with my assessment (and commented that she liked the colour of the one I’d chosen).  It’s tough – the cynic in me thinks she was upselling, as I know the bra could’ve fitted a touch better, but when all you’re dealing with is the range you have available…was she in a position to know any better?  Possibly not.

Customer service: 3/5 (this would actually be a 4/5 for the store staff, but see below for what drags the company as a whole down)
Fit: 1/5 (sad but true)
Value for money: -1/5 (VS, who are you trying to kid with your “charge the same number in Sterling as you do in Dollars” strategy?)

I wanted to go through the good points first, but now it’s time to throw some constructive criticism at VS – I would really love the people in charge to listen to this, because I think this store is good, but it could be so much better (and, get this, more profitable) if those in charge listened.

  1. We do not feel like Xtina in Burlesque in your dressing rooms, we feel like we forgot to pay our electricity bill and it’s December. We want to see ourselves in your products, so that we know what we look like!  We cannot do that when we feel like we’re wearing filter category four sunglasses.  Yes, you have a brand; no, we don’t actually want to get dressed in the dark
  2. Repeat after me: big breasts deserve pretty bras. More cup and back sizes = more customers = more sales.  If you even think about charging more for sizes above a 34C, we will turn tail and run, and we will take the lovely A and B cup ladies with us because, guess what?  Stores like Leia stock everything from a AA to a…well, I don’t know, but I definitely heard mention of K cups when I was in there.  Leave the chicken fillet-filled B cups for your Christmas meat market show and give the high street the E+ cups it needs
  3. Linked to the above: cut it out with the security tag obsession. I admitted that your bras don’t fit me all that well, but the tags hinder things even further.  I was thisclose to asking your lovely staff to take them off, but I honestly thought they’d say no, so didn’t bother.  This too, will be making you lose sales (see a pattern, here?)
  4. This is the most important point, so please listen carefully: IT IS 2015. Stop insulting the UK and crippling your staff by failing to allow them to order stock in, and not allowing us to shop online (in fact, not even having your range online in UK prices is a heinous crime too).  Get yourselves a UK distribution centre STAT.  How you’ve survived this long with a placeholder website is beyond me.  Why you aren’t keeping your costs low and your profits high by offering online shopping is also mind-bogglingly stupid.  The UK loves VS, as do all of the tourists who visit us.  You’re an aspirational, cool, sexy brand with masses of appeal.  And you’re sticking a machine gun to your foot on a daily basis

Marks and Spencer, this advice is for you:

  1. Hire a new Head of Lingerie who has run a successful store before. Give your staff products they can be proud of and the confidence to fit and sell them.  Jump on the VS bandwagon and take the advice I have given them (well, you already have a website, so you’re ahead there.  One less thing to do).  Alternatively:
  2. Stop selling bras. I mean it when I say I’m not buying another sock from you.  I will find fluffy socks somewhere else.  And no-VPL pants (because, damn, they are good, but I will hunt down some other ones now).  Admittedly, I may continue to buy the odd bottle of Prosecco or a sandwich.  But you really can forget the rest, unless you seriously change.  My experience was utterly diabolical and, like many British women, I have been buying your bras since I first needed one

After two arduous shopping trips and one long blog post, I feel relieved.  Anyone care to share their own experiences?  If there’s anything else you’d like to know, please go ahead and ask – as you can probably now tell, this is a topic I’m not shy about!

Adopting

There’s an increasing Americanisation of the UK, with us taking on many of their “holiday” traditions these days (that can stop, by the way – we don’t need Halloween or Black Friday, thanks), but I’m trying to bring something else into commonplace.  My favourite American custom is that of encouraging people to have a nice day, rather than just saying goodbye.

As a long-serving (suffering?) service industry professional, I’ve seen retail and food outlets adopt what many super-reserved Brits regard as being an over-the-top friendliness.  To greet customers or be the ones to initiate conversation is seen here as a combination of nosy and pushy salesperson-type behaviour.  When Starbucks began asking customers for their name when ordering drinks, they were met with stern opposition (and not just from the mocking Twitterati, who take delight in exposing spelling mistakes) at this supposed over-familiarity (side note: take it from a former-barista, this policy is saving lives – nothing more frustrating than the umpteenth customer asking if the stone-cold latte on the end of the bar is theirs, and then proceeding to take the extra hot triple decaf wet soya latte which clearly isn’t theirs instead).  No, the American custom I’m on a mission to expand within the UK is that of encouraging people to have a nice day.

Rather than leaving my customer sign off as, “thank you, goodbye”, I try my best to encourage people to have a good day.  It often surprises them.  They tend to say, “thank you” or at the very least smile in response.  It visibly lifts them.  And occasionally, I get the biggest win of all: they return the phrase.  Sometimes, it’s an unconscious, “you too”, but on other occasions it’s clearly heartfelt.  And that makes me smile, put my shoulders back, and glide back into the retail fray with a better attitude.

I don’t save lives, I sell merchandise.  I’m not a member of the emergency services who works unsociable hours, I work in a shop and often work unsociable hours (we won’t discuss my rota for December here, in case some kind of miracle occurs and I escape it, but let’s just say it’s far from good).  I’m no hero, and I can be on the receiving end of some abuse.  So when people are nice, or grateful, and happy, it’s noticed.

I do it as a customer too – partly because I know what it’s like to be the poor person behind the counter who has rotting milk in their hair, or the one on the till whose feet hurt and has been wearing an enforced smile for several hours, and faces a stock take once the shutters come down – and I feel sad when it isn’t a part of that worker’s culture, when it’s me who delivers that line to them (always, always earnestly), who has to try and make them feel better.

But it’s worth it if I change one person’s outlook.  And it’s definitely worth it when one of my customers smiles and tells me to have a great day.  Because now, I just might.

The art of giving (when the recipient is too young to know that they’re getting)

If your life is anything like mine, it currently feels like there is at least one friend/acquaintance announcing a pregnancy or birth every week!  This can mean that a bit of shopping is in order.  I blogged previously on how I think you can ensure you buy a great gift, but there are still times when you could be quite stuck.  Babies are a prime example, particularly newborns, and if the parents do not know whether they’re gaining a son or a daughter.  Unsurprisingly, I still have some advice, most of which was passed on from my mother.  Here are the basics:

  • Clothes are good gifts, but there are still some bad ideas. Avoid buying any clothes with integrated hands and feet – extremities grow fastest, so a baby can irritatingly outgrow the mittens/socks which are sewn into a body suit before their body does!  The item is then sadly wasted (unless the parents don’t mind cutting the hands and feet of the outfit off)
  • Even if you know the gender, buy neutral colours and patterns – you may not know the parents’ exact taste plus, sonographers can get the baby’s gender wrong
  • Never buy clothes in “newborn” size, even if the baby is premature – they will fit for approximately five minutes and, again, be a waste of money. If you want to really impress them (this is my favourite trick), buy clothes the baby can wear in six or nine months time.  You have to think about this carefully, because you’ll have to make sure you think ahead and buy something seasonally appropriate (there’s an art to this!  If you’re shopping in November or December, there will be a lot of cold weather clothes, but when a December newborn is six months old, they won’t need a puffy coat!), but your gift will be mightily appreciated: EVERYONE buys for newborns or up to three months old.  Parents are overwhelmed with new babygros and tiny clothes, then suddenly end up with a limited wardrobe a few months later.  Extra bonus – if you buy for when the baby’s older, there’s a better chance of you getting to see him or her in your outfit
  • No baby can have too many socks. They fall off constantly, get eaten by washing machines and generally go missing.  Socks are a great padding gift, they’re cheap and will be appreciated.  Scout around and you can even get more exciting baby socks – I hit a triple whammy when my cousin’s daughter was born, as I found a three-pack which had a pair that looked like ballet shoes (my cousin loves ballet and her daughter was the first girl born into the family in 25 years), plus a pair which had “born in 2013” on them
  • Think about how you purchase your own clothes – it’s rare that we buy one item which is only ever suitable for wearing as part of one outfit. Buy neutral layers so that parents can again get a good amount of wear out of it, and potentially mix and match your items with others (when my cousin’s daughter recently turned two, I picked two dresses, and a cardigan which matches both… and is in a neutral colour which will work nicely with other things in her wardrobe)
  • It can be quite difficult to find nice clothes for baby boys, but the range on the UK high street is improving. You don’t have to spend a fortune: I’ve previously found some really nice, well-wearing items in places like Asda and Tesco, but my favourite place to shop for baby and toddler clothes as gifts is definitely H&M – they usually have a fantastic variety and are very reasonably-priced

Having said all of that… parents tend to receive lots of clothes.  And some people don’t like buying clothes (you’re strange, by the way).  So here my tips for non-clothing items:

  • Never, ever buy a soft toy. Again, parents are overwhelmed with these.  Unless you are an aunt/uncle/grandparent/godparent, step away from the stuffed animals.  Now!
  • As with general adult gifts, ask if there’s anything you can get for the parents. Do they have a registry?  Is there anything they’ve been struggling to get?  See if you can help them out.  They may want sheets for the cot, or a nice blanket, or even have set up a savings account for their baby
  • Mum’s favourite thing to buy is cutlery, she’s particularly keen on this as a christening gift. It’s a nice present, a child’s first set of “proper” silverware – my sister and I still have ours, and buying a nice miniature set that they can have for special occasions when the adults of the house bust out their own nice set is a good chance for the child to feel involved
  • Hand down something you love – one of our family friends had a great knack for picking fantastic young adult books (she gave me Harry Potter before it became famous – yes, those days existed! – and introduced me to another young adult author whose work I fell in love with and also became very popular), and that has inspired some choices in me. Particularly if a child’s parents are bookworms, I like passing on a novel for them to ultimately read together.  I tend to pick my favourite child-centered classics, such as Black Beauty, The Secret Garden or The Wizard of Oz – leave things like Pride and Prejudice for them to hate when they get to school!
  • Remember the parents – even if it’s something you think is small by comparison, it’s a nice thought. Whether it’s a bottle of wine, box of chocolates or a promise of a night of babysitting, something for them to try and enjoy is a nice touch

Hopefully that’s given you some ideas!  I’ve already found the main gift for my closest friend who’s due next… but I need to wait until she gives birth and knows the gender of her baby before hitting the online checkout.

The art of giving

I’m one of those horribly shallow people who loves to shop.  Full on, Confessions of a shopaholic-style, get a thrill out of a great purchase kind of person.  I don’t know why.  It’s an expensive habit, and try as I might, I can’t shake it.  However, it does come with positives, one of which being that I give great gifts.  Because I enjoy shopping, I don’t mind if I do it all day in pursuit of the perfect item.  I don’t normally have to, as I know my territory and am usually pretty quick, but it also means that I don’t mind if persistence is required.

When a link appeared on my Twitter feed a few weeks ago, claiming to offer advice on how to be the best gift-giver ever, I was excited, and clicked through expecting to be nodding along.  I was disappointed.  The first piece of advice?  “Search for their Amazon wishlist”.  I found this incredibly uninspiring advice, and the article only got worse (looking them up on Pinterest?  Spare me).  So I decided to share my own secrets…

  1. There’s no harm in asking: Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries aren’t surprise occasions – everyone knows when their own is, and those of us with close family and friends are probably prepared to be asked what we’d like, or if there’s anything we need. So ask!  Recruit other family members, significant others or close friends in your quest if necessary, but you can still surprise the recipient despite asking if they have anything specific in mind.  I encourage my recipients to think big, too – I think some of the best gifts are things which the recipient wouldn’t buy for themselves
  2. Pay attention: if you’re buying for someone you see regularly and/or know well, you probably won’t have to ask. Whether they mean to or not, many people drop hints (some of us are less subtle than others!).  For example – I know which brands my close friends like, so if I know they’re in need of new clothes, I’ll consider buying them a voucher… but I’m aware that my friends have a selection of regular haunts which ebbs and flows.  Try to spot which brand they’re currently coveting in order to make sure they can get the best from their gift
  3. Bigger does not equal better: the best gift doesn’t have to be expensive, and the perfect item doesn’t have to be the most expensive of its kind. What counts is that you do your best with your budget and the recipient’s interests in mind.  It’s great to have lots of money lavished on us… if we’re into that sort of thing and if the occasion demands.  But if what the person really and truly wants is socks… well, there’s honestly no need to spend £20 on a pair of the regular variety.  That said…
  4. Remember the occasion: you are buying someone a present – unless they’ve asked you to shop in Poundland, you’re better to stretch yourself a little and spoil your recipient. If champagne and chocolates are what they want, avoid the petrol station and set aside 20 minutes to visit a larger supermarket at the very least, in order to choose from a better selection.  Remember – something they wouldn’t necessarily purchase for themselves.  But again…
  5. It really is the thought that counts: some people think it’s cheesy (remember these people, they’re the ones you unfortunately need to actually buy for), but make your own-style vouchers are underrated. Especially for occasions such as Father’s Day, Mother’s Day or to congratulate new parents, these can be great.  Things like “one Sunday roast (including free clearing up service)” or “I will empty the ironing basket (and by ‘empty’ I mean ‘iron every single item for you’)” can be great signs of how much you appreciate a person.  Some can involve spending a little money (such as “I will take you out for dinner when that restaurant you’re interested in opens”), but sometimes, experiences are better than “things”
  6. You don’t get a second chance…: before you wrap the gift (or pay someone else to), make sure any incriminating evidence is destroyed – inspect the item(s) carefully for price labels (this doesn’t necessarily mean cutting the tags off – items from higher-end brands will often have the price on a perforated tab, so that you can leave the tags on in case of the need for returns). This is especially important if the items have been purchased as part of a deal – nobody wants to open a gift and find BOGOF stickers, or a huge “special offer” label.  When purchasing items, check the shop’s return policy if you have any niggling doubts.  Keep the receipt, and ask for a gift receipt if possible (these normally have the price concealed) in order to make for easy exchanges if necessary.  Finally, make sure the gift is presented nicely – choose an appropriate packaging method (paper, box or bag) for the item(s), and one which suits the style of the recipient (few adults want to rip kiddie paper off a gift!).  Personalise if you can, such as writing a card to go with a voucher, or hand-writing a card to go with flowers if you purchase in person.  Show the recipient that you’ve considered every detail, rather than got bored or tired and given up.  You like them enough to buy them a gift, so remind them how special you think they are

I say all of this as someone who likes to please, and knows a few people who don’t want for anything.  People who are selfless, generous and kind, the ones who deserve spoiling.  Go forth and revel in making those people smile!  I’d love to know how you get on.

Getting around

Apart from the facts that I have yet to save up and have nowhere to keep a horse, one of the factors which is holding me back in my First Horse Hunt is the fact that I have no means of transporting said furry friend.  Neither my parents nor I own a vehicle which is capable of towing a trailer, and I’ve also never towed anything before.  So I’m sure you can also make the leap that my own horsebox wouldn’t be in the offing either (unless I win the lottery and hire a chauffeur).

So this presents a logistical issue and, although it’s one I needn’t worry about too much just yet, it has got me thinking.  Obviously, when I obtain an equine, I will need to transport him or her from their current home to their new one (unless I’m incredibly lucky and they won’t be moving house or it’s hackable).  Then, once said horse is in my possession, there are two or three eventualities for which I would require transport: medical (either emergencies or investigations which aren’t able to take place at home); social (we might like to attend a sponsored ride or play day, go to the beach or just trailer to a friend’s for a visit); competitive (another unlikely one, as it’s not something which is in my plans, but you never know!).  Many of these situations would be planned, and it’s not unreasonable that my horse and I could travel with a helpful friend who does have a box or trailer and the ability to drive one, but is this the sort of thing you want to be stressing about in an emergency?

Which brings me to the point of my post: how much of a priority should this realistically be?  Given that I have time, it’s not outside of the realms of possibility that I could ask a friend to teach me about towing and let me practice.  Saving for a suitable car and trailer would be another matter, but is this something which should be high up my list?  My guess is that the answer is “it depends”.  As with many things, it depends where my horse would be kept, how friendly and available the other owners are and proximity to said vet, social activities and other opportunities.

How long’s a piece of string?  Pick up any and add a bit.

Important kit

This post probably could’ve gone in my other category, but it’s more sporty than “general other”, so here we are.  We’ve got past the “new year, new me” stage for most people now (anyone got a gym membership which is gathering dust now that Dry January is over?), and with the cold and wet weather continuing in the UK (newsflash: it’s like this all year round), enthusiasm for exercise is definitely waning.  Then along came #thisgirlcan to try and get us all out of our comfy PJs and off our sofas (WHY?!), and a few people probably groaned and did as they were told.  And then here comes another problem: we’re doing it wrong.  The media tells us and our bodies tell us, and it puts us off again.  But today’s issue is really easy to get right, and far more important than many women assume.

I’m talking about sports bras.  Whether you’re the proud owner of fried eggs or melons (as an aerobics teacher we had at school put it), you really and truly should be wearing one for anything remotely resembling exercise.  The more-endowed are generally fairly naturally aware of this, as we occasionally bruise ourselves when stumbling down the stairs in a hurry to answer the door early in the morning, yet some still don’t do much about it.  I’m not even sure why, to be honest, because I for one find exercise painful enough without adding ruining my bust to the drama.

Here’s the thing, girls: unfortunately, breasts aren’t made of muscle (life could be fun – if maybe a little awkward – if they were), which means that there’s absolutely no hope for redemption once you do too much damage.  And something I only learned this weekend, is that their motion pattern isn’t a straightforward vertical or horizontal when you break out of anything other than a dawdle: oh no, breasts move in a figure of eight pattern when they jiggle (I was very conscious of this for the first few minutes after I learned it – I began to understand what the fascination is for certain people…).  With those facts in mind, you may want to care for your assets a bit more, but guess what?  You’ll probably get it wrong again.

Many people are aware that “statistically”, most women wear the wrong size bra.  Beware – these statistics even more than usual ones are highly flawed, because they’re generally taken from those who actually know this already, rather than measuring a random sample of women.  However, the point is valid: it can be due to poor measuring, change in size, bad fit or age of bra, but either way, most of us are in the wrong size, which decreases the helpfulness of said garment.  But it’s okay, help is at hand!  Here are my top tips for kitting yourself out:

  1. Admit you need help – congratulations! You have realised that you need to take care of your body.  I would strongly recommend going to a specialist retailer if you can (I don’t mean high street department stores – many of these get it wrong too).  I bought my first “real” sports bras from Less Bounce and haven’t looked back.  If you’re at a show where they happen to be, go and see them!  There are many other good online sports retailers with great advice, but beware the internet…
  2. Be careful – I love the internet, it’s very useful. But it sometimes has too much advice, and with things like clothes and cooking, it can be very confusing.  Because guess what?  A 36D isn’t always a 36D!  Make sure you find a measuring guide which uses your own country’s sizing method, and even then be prepared to be patient in your search…
  3. Get more than you need – check the returns policy of the site you’re ordering from first, but if you’re able to return items, then buy lots of sizes, try them on and send back the ones you don’t need. You probably won’t be able to actually exercise in them, but you should be able to at least figure out what fits.  Sports bras are an investment, and can be pricey, so it’s worth getting it right.  Make sure you do your trying on and returning within the window of opportunity, so that you don’t get charged unnecessarily
  4. Make the right choice – if you regularly do a low-impact exercise and fit into a smaller cup size, you’re not going to need a lot of scaffolding. If, however, your sport of choice is high-impact and you have a larger bust, make sure you don’t just get a glorified crop top.  For several years now, various companies have produced sports bras with underwires, which were a total revelation – they offer greater support and, in my experience, the wires have yet to escape and cause any nasty injuries, yay!  Sports bras have also come a long way in terms of attractiveness (not that this typically matters, but it does make them a more fun purchase these days)
  5. Look after your kit – Less Bounce recommend sports bras shouldn’t have a birthday! Just like helmets and other sports equipment, these things have an expiry, particularly if you’re wearing them daily and washing them in a machine.  Even if (like yours truly) you don’t replace them strictly on time, do make sure you adjust your bra after washing and vigorous activity – bras are not fixed pieces of armour!  They are designed so that they are adjustable, and they therefore tend to do this of their own accord.  If you really can’t be bothered with fixing them all the time, perhaps take a Sharpie to your straps and make a mark where yours are typically adjusted to, but remember that you will change size and shape too, so it’s worth taking the few seconds to make sure it fits every time
  6. Sports bras aren’t just for exercise – I wear mine whenever I visit the yard, even if I know I’m not riding. Inevitably, you end up chasing after some kind of animal, or a stray feed bag, or a child.  And as someone who has taught many beginners over the last couple of years, well that involves some sprinting if you’ve got mischievous horses, excited riders or ones who are just learning to go faster.  Think about what you’re likely to do and dress appropriately.  You wouldn’t go to do turnout in flip flops, would you?

Next time you spot me in the saddle or leading a horse, you’ll know that I’m in my favourite Panache (it’ll take a lot to persuade me into something else) – what will you be wearing?

All angles

In my attempt to make a decision on how to spend my year, I’ve had heart to hearts with friends, made a pros and cons matrix (a list would be far too simplistic), drunk a lot of wine and noted the things I’d like to achieve in either situation (improvements I could make, procedures I could implement, and fun things I could do).

It got to the point that I’d agonised so much that I just wanted it all to be over, and one of my closest friends demanded that I just pick, because the whole thing was clearly making me uncomfortable.  I’d lost count by this point of the amount of people who told me to flip a coin or pick one option out of a hat, and that my reaction to that game of chance would tell me how I really felt.  Unfortunately, my brain is not so easily fooled – there really is nothing in it when it comes to this contest.  I’ve got two great options to choose from, both beneficial to my future, both things I’ll enjoy doing, and both opportunities which of course have down sides.

And then I received a truly great piece of advice.  “Which one frightens you most?” a friend asked.  I answered quickly.  “That’s your answer,” she smiled.

She had a point.  We finished our cups of tea, trudged through a muddy field and returned with two horses to work, and I mulled it over some more.

As I played with the horse, a lightbulb flickered into life.  I was wrong about which choice really scared me.  It wasn’t that the answer I’d given was wrong, just that it, in reality, is mildly less scary than the other choice.  I figured out that I was scared of both, for different reasons (of course).

And again, the waters were muddied…

Killer questions

In an uncharacteristic move, I was unprepared for a situation I found myself in the other weekend.  Back in December, I had a message from the director of my summer camp to provide dates of recruitment fairs she’d be attending in the UK and Ireland – former staff were invited along to say hi and help out.  There had been one such person two years previously when I was hired, and I thought it’d be a fun thing to do (plus I needed to see the director and discuss what may or may not happen in 2015), so I agreed to attend one of the London fairs.

Having witnessed someone else do what I knew I’d be doing, I didn’t think about it too much – the day I was hired, a friendly girl (who, as it happened, had done two summers in the horseback department) was essentially entertaining the queue of waiting candidates.  She wasn’t assessing anyone, but she was available to ask any of the more informal questions an applicant might have.  I assumed I’d be in the same position, so I didn’t prepare myself other than remembering what I might get asked.

However, I forgot that things have changed slightly in the meantime – I initially turned down the opportunity to return to camp in 2015, deciding to stay in the UK and start to get my life back on a permanent track.  Some good things have happened this winter, and I wanted to stick with them.  Then my boss also said she wouldn’t return, and the carrot of a promotion was dangled in front of me.  My decision was on the rocks.

Nobody at the recruitment fair I helped at was uncertain.  Once the doors opened, we were inundated with enthusiastic applicants.  I duly triaged the queue, turning away anyone who was seeking a position we’d already filled, and warming up those who we could potentially take.  As I was chatting away, my director grabbed me and asked me to speak to an applicant she’d already approved of – our first candidate for horseback.  I was excited to finally talk horse with someone, but what I wasn’t expecting was that I’d have to vet their skills!  The director had decided she was happy with the person – not an easy feat, she’s justifiably a tough woman to please – and I was to make a call as to whether their horsey experience was sound.

I explained a little about the department – one of the problems we often face at camp is that whoever hires people (a selection of directors travel around the world, and none of them work at the barn) doesn’t know a huge amount about what we do and how the day works, so they aren’t able to answer detailed questions.  Sometimes, it’s clear staff have been accidentally misled, and they get a big shock.  They’re normally told it’s hard work (which any horse person should already know) and long hours are involved (but again, it’s camp, not a holiday – you’re there to work!) but sometimes they seem to show up assuming they’ll ride several hours per day, or during their breaks… not the case!

It’s difficult to give an accurate representation of what it’s like without scaring people off, but I tried my best.  Anyone who loves horses and wants to work with them shouldn’t be phased by the hours, the poo picking and the grunt work, but some are.  So I was fairly gentle.  I made sure to explain that the majority of riders are beginners and that it’s therefore very repetitive.  I laboured the point that if you get an hour in the saddle every two days, you’ve done well.  But I did also point out that none of our horses live in unless they’re seriously ill, so although there’s poo to pick, there are no stables to muck out.  And they all remained keen.

Rightly or wrongly, I didn’t ask them too many questions – the thing I’ve learned over the last two years is that people can talk a great game, have brilliant experience with horses and know their stuff, but when it comes to teaching… that’s a different thing.  You honestly can’t properly tell how someone is as a teacher until you see them do it.  So I didn’t ask for any detailed philosophies there, but I did ask two questions which, to me and the way our barn runs are critical: how confident are you handling horses on the ground; how good are you at picking out hooves?

Those questions sound basic, right?  They should do, but they aren’t.  We do always get a variety of levels of experience (see previous regarding the type of person responsible for hiring staff – non-experts), but it amazes me how many staff seriously lack confidence when they’ve got an excited or flighty horse on the end of a lead rope, or who are reluctant to bend over and pick out eight hooves first thing in the morning (that’s all they have to do once we’ve tacked up!  Each member of staff is responsible for two specific horses – if you as a person do the same two horses once or twice per day for 13 weeks on the bounce, if those horses don’t have at least the fourth hoof in the air waiting for you, you’re doing something very wrong).

Throughout the course of the afternoon, I vetted and accepted enough staff to fill my department, and they’re all lovely.  It was very exciting to take people through that process and see their reactions.  But I did walk away a little disappointed in myself for only thinking of two killer questions – I used to work in recruitment for goodness’s sake!  Anyway, it’s done now.  I got excited about camp again.  So my 2015 is still to be confirmed…

If you’re looking for grooms or junior instructors, what’s the most important horsey quality for you?  Clearly, something else of great importance is that someone has the confidence to speak up when they’re uncertain, rather than do something wrong, but that goes for any job… Do you look for champion hoof pickers, strong biceps for lugging water buckets or another type of X-Factor?  Let me know in the comments!

A little guesswork…

It turns out that Susan’s question from Monday night was actually twofold.  She thinks that mine and Wiola’s Tweets look “cool”, and I think the ones in question are these:

Time to let you in on a secret: I have nothing to do with the image which comes with this Tweet.  Well, almost nothing.  It’s all to do with how you set up your post when creating it in WordPress.  I’m a huge creature of habit, and have a sequence to how I format my posts once they’re written.  My final job is to set up the tags, but prior to that, I make sure the settings for when the post will go live and how it’ll publicise itself are good to go.

Because yes, I also use Hootsuite to set up Tweets throughout the day (and sometimes throughout the week, though I’ve been slack with that lately) on days when posts go live, but there’s also a nifty little box within WordPress which enables you to customise the initial social media posts when the blog post first goes up.

Below is a visual guide to how to do this.  Again, it’s very easy!

1. Make your choices!  Ensure your social media accounts are all linked up to your blog (this is within your settings, you’ll have to give permission for the sites to interact) and make best use of the box highlighted in this image:

wordpress-tutorial-how to-customise-tweets-twitter 1

2. Click “edit” and this is what happens:

wordpress-tutorial-how to-customise-tweets-twitter 2This means you can choose which websites automatically publicise your post when it goes live (the text I’ve highlighted in the box is autofilled by WordPress – it’s the title of the post.  You can remove this if you want, I only do so if the title is really long and taking up a lot of characters).  And in the case of Twitter…

3. Make the most of it!  Go crazy with the hashtags (this works well for Tumblr too).  The box has a character count, so you know how much text you can put in, and it allows for the characters involved in the link, so you can’t go over the limit:

wordpress-tutorial-how to-customise-tweets-twitter 3

4. This is an example of what I might put – I do more than this, but it then wouldn’t all show up on the screengrab!  You can tag people using their username, as well as making use of hashtags:

wordpress-tutorial-how to-customise-tweets-twitter 4

And that’s all there is to it!  Wordpress does the rest – you have no control over the image that comes attached to the Tweet (as far as I’m aware!), but what you can change is the headline of the Tweet, and any other text (including tagging users or using hashtags) that is part of the Tweet.

Any questions, class?

By popular demand…

Horse Hour strikes again!  My friend Susan mentioned that, after I taught her how to embed YouTube videos into blog posts, she’d also like to know how to embed Tweets.  It is a nice feature, I think embedded Tweets (and other media) can look slick, and add a little colour to otherwise texty posts.

This is really simple, and I’ve taken four screenshots to illustrate the process (if you need larger versions, click the picture and it’ll open in a new tab):

1. Select your Tweet – if it’s part of a conversation, you can opt to include the “parent Tweet” too.  See picture below: identify the Tweet you’d like to use and click on the ellipsis button beneath it…

embedding-tweet-twitter-tutorial-social media-how to 1

 

2. A menu will appear!  Select “Embed Tweet” (told you it was easy)…

embedding-tweet-twitter-tutorial-social media-how to 2

 

3. Highlight the code (text) which appears, and copy it…

embedding-tweet-twitter-tutorial-social media-how to-code-coding-copy and paste 3

 

4. Paste the code you’ve copied into your new blog post.  I’ve highlighted the post-editor you need in WordPress (there are two versions of creating posts: one which is suited to accepting code, and one which isn’t – switch to “text” mode as I’ve highlighted when you’re ready to pop your code in, then go back to “visual” mode to finish your post – the latter is much more user-friendly)…

embedding-tweet-twitter-tutorial-social media-how to-code-coding-copy and paste-wordpress 4

 

And, suddenly…

…you’ve embedded your Tweet!  Congratulations.  Any questions?