Exercise – turns out it’s actually pretty good!

The Cut has a semi-regular column called Turns Out It’s Pretty Good, where people write about the things that surprised them by actually being pretty good. A lot of them are discoveries made during the early days of lockdown, simple things like waking up early, working at a desk, or going outside. All wholesome things that your mother probably told you to do as a kid. These articles have a sweetness to them, a sort of gratitude that the author has found something wonderful. There’s no disappointment or anger that it took them so long to have this realisation.

My Turns Out It’s Pretty Good is exercise but unlike the grateful, bitter-free people who wrote those articles for The Cut, I am furious every time I realise how good it is. Turns out exercise really does give you more energy and improve your mood, just like all those scientific studies said. It really does help you sleep better. Turns out exercise is really powerful. I am angry at exercise. I am angry at all the happy, sporty people who ever raved about the power of exercise. I am angry at the scientific studies.

You could be as happy as she is!

I am not and never have been a sporty person. I’m not competitive and I don’t like the aggressive spirit that seeps into anything to do with sport. I had asthma as a child which meant exercise often left me gasping for breath but even then I still loved swimming and riding my bike. As an adult, most of my hobbies involve sitting down. I like reading and writing and going to the theatre. I watch a lot of tv. I set up a Dining Club with a group of friends which made going to restaurants a legitimate hobby.

However I have slowly realised that if I do some exercise, I will wake up the next day feeling better about the world. It might not be a huge shift in positivity. It’s like the happy feeling that you get when the sun comes out after three days of non-stop rain. You’re surprised that the weather can have such an effect on your mood, but everything just feels a little easier that day.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt a “runner’s high”. I have laughed hysterically in many aerobics classes because I don’t know my left from my right and I’m always out of sync with the rest of the class. The same thing has happened in Pilates when the instructor shows us some impossible move and I just lie on my mat and laugh because there’s no way my body can do that. I’m not sure that’s the same thing. Immediately after exercise I usually just feel sore and sweaty but I also feel smug. I’m delighted with myself and feel a sense of accomplishment and a secret delight that I exercised!

Sometimes I feel a vague disbelief that I actually did it. Even after I do exercise, I have trouble seeing myself as someone who does exercise. Sometimes I have to trick myself by finding things that don’t feel like exercise but still manage to give me all those happy, feel-good benefits.

Doing yoga at home on my own feels like physical meditation. It connects me with my body, makes me more aware of it as a living, moving, changing creature. You have to concentrate of your breath and your balance. Unlike in ordinary meditation if your mind starts to wander, you will start to wobble. I’ve been doing yoga on and off for a long time. It helps me de-stress. When I make time for yoga, especially when I’m busy or anxious, it quietens my mind and helps me sleep. In the early, locked-down days of the pandemic when we were all staying home and staying away from people, yoga helped me get out of my own head and away from my phone for a while. It helped to steady me. I barely think of yoga as exercise but it does all the good things that exercise does. If I do yoga in the afternoon or evening, my body feels better able to carry me up the stairs at the end of the day because I stretched it out and made it work a bit.

Walking barely feels like exercise but still delivers a lot of the feel-good benefits. I often try and go for long walk on the last day of the Christmas holidays, when I’m feeling a bit anxious about going back to work after the holidays. Getting out during the few daylight hours and wearing my body out – not hard to do after 10 days of sitting on the sofa drinking Baileys and eating chocolate – means that I’m more likely to get to sleep quickly and not lie awake for hours dreading the return to the office. It’s not really exercise, I’m just redirecting my anxious energy so it doesn’t keep me awake at night. 

Another benefit of going walking – blue skies and bright blooms!

Even though I know exercise is pretty good, I still have to remind myself of all the good mood benefits and try to see it as a gift that I can give to myself, rather than something I should do. Exercise is a way to be kind to my body. I am doing it a kindness to move and stretch and get my heart-rate up, making my lungs work a bit harder and a bit faster. It makes my body a better place to be. Even my small, barely exercise activities can give me that feeling of joyful lightness the next day.

Can you imagine how good I’d feel if I got really into running or starting doing a boxing class three times a week? We will never know because I keep forgetting that exercise is pretty good and just keep thinking of it as something that makes me sweaty and sore, and I’d much rather sit on the sofa and watch tv.

Soap, and other possible Christmas gifts

Does a bar of soap make a good Christmas present? I’m not talking about handmade soap. (Though the header image for this post is from a crafting blog called Gluestick and a post about making your own soap if you’d like to give it a try. Everything I know about making soap I learnt from Fight Club which is not a good guide to follow.) I’m talking about soap that you buy. Would you be glad to get it or does it feel like an obligation gift from someone who doesn’t know you very well? I think soap is an acceptable present – like socks it’s a good backup because everybody needs it. Particularly this year.

The soaps below are maybe more everyday soaps than gift-soaps, but this is a good thing because it means they’ll get used instead of being “saved for best”. I’ve written before about trying to cut down on plastic, and using solid soap is a really easy way to do that. And according to the Irish Times, “The production of liquid soap requires five times more energy for raw material and almost 20 times more energy for packaging production than a bar of soap.” All the more reason to buy a bar for yourself or to give one to someone you love!

These are all soaps that I have bought and used this year.

  1. The Handmade Soap Company

I bought this soap from Designist back in April. It’s handmade in Slane in Co. Meath and comes in a cardboard box so there’s no plastic involved at all. They have a nice selection of scents and it’s available all over the country, and the around world. You can find a full list of stockists here or order online directly from the company here. They also sell that other 2020 essential – hand sanitiser.

I haven’t been to the physical shop in almost a year but I always love a wander around the Designist shop on George’s Street because you never know what weird and wonderful things you might find there. In April, I was on their website looking for a bedside clock to help me stop using my phone at night. I also bought some Irish-made cards to send to friends and family during lockdown.

Designist sell lots of soap but they also have an interesting collection of books and lots of great kid’s toys. It’s a great place to buy a few Christmas presents. If you don’t know anyone who’d appreciate a bar of soap for Christmas, maybe they’d like a vegan cheese making kit or some gold iron-on patches. It’s also a great place to get really creative Christmas cards.

2. Bí Urban

For anyone living in Dublin 7, this is an extremely local soap. It’s handmade in Stoneybatter using over 50% locally foraged ingredients including discarded carrier oils from Lilliput Trading Company. It’s a really solid soap and holds its shape down to the last sliver!

As far as I know, it’s only available in Bí Urban on Manor Street in Stoneybatter. You can order the soap online but have to visit the shop to collect it, though they do say you can email to arrange getting items posted out. There are lots of other interesting things for sale from the shop including bamboo toothbrushes, local honey and the Bí & Sea Exfoliating Face Mask Kit, which is one of a number of Bí Therapy products.

Bí Urban is more than just a shop. They describe themselves as “a nature based social enterprise promoting health and well-being” and are working on a number of interesting projects, which aim to increase biodiversity in Dublin city and protest pollinators. It’s worth a visit if you’re in the area.

3. L’Occitane

This is the only non-Irish soap on the list but I’m a long-time fan of L’Occitane so I had to include them. We’re in more traditional Christmas present territory here. They do lots of lovely Christmas gift including a selection of guest soaps. But they also have lots of regular soaps. The soaps are really moisturising so they’re great for people who tend to get dry skin in cold weather or from a lot of hand-washing. I also recommend the Shea Butter hand-cream if your hands need an extra bit of TLC this winter.


All their products are palm oil free and they have recycling programming where you bring in your empty beauty and skin care products from any brand and they will give you 10% off your next purchase. I haven’t done this myself yet, but I do have a bag of plastic pots that I am planning to bring in at some stage.

4. Mr. Bloom’s Lemon Soap

Last the summer, on a stunningly sunny Saturday morning I visited the Museum of Literature (MoLI) on Stephen’s Green for the first time. I was keen to see the building and was particularly interested in their Nuala O’Faolain exhibition. I’d just finished reading her biography Are You Somebody? The book is wonderful, full of the inner life of the author but also really interesting about art and culture in Ireland in the 1960s and 70s. I enjoyed the insights into her working life, particularly her career in television.

I really enjoyed my visit to MoLI. I loved the beautiful building and the garden at the back, as well as the exhibitions. I also visiting the gift shop where I bought a bar of Mr. Bloom’s Lemon Soap.

This soap already had a blog-post written about it by it’s creators. It might be a bit gimmicky but it has a lovely fresh scent and does the job.

Now that museums are open again, I would recommend a visit to MoLI. The Nuala O’Faolin exhibition is still running and I also really enjoyed the poetry room where the poem you hear depends on where you’re standing in the room. The poetry is also running across the walls.

The gift-shop is also worth a visit while you’re there. But if you can’t get there, you can still buy Mr. Bloom’s Lemon Soap on their website. There’s also a wide selection of Irish books, including Are You Somebody? And other gift type things like a Poolbeg Towers ornament or some fancy stationery.

Reading in 2020

When I went to the library at the end of June, my first visit after lockdown, it was not my typical library experience. Instead of spending time browsing the shelves, I had to order my books online and then wait for the library to phone to set up an appointment to collect them. After weeks of being at home with no plans all day, it felt strange to have to be somewhere at a specific time. The library looked closed when I arrived and I had to wait outside. The librarian opened the door, took my name and then hurried back inside, found my book on a table just inside the door and passed it out to me. That was it. I went to the library and didn’t even get to go inside the library.

Continue reading “Reading in 2020”

Therapy – the benefits and barriers

At the beginning of February, around the time of the General Election, BBC4 showed the first series of This Life, the 90s drama about co-habiting lawyers. February – a distant time when we regularly left the house to go to work, ate in restaurants and meet friends in the pub – now seems almost as long ago as 1995, when This Life first aired. It’s aged well. The clothes and hairstyles don’t seem particularly ridiculous because the 90s are fashionable again. And it’s still good. The characters and storylines still feel real and dramatic. The first time I watched this show I was about 10 years younger than the characters, I’m now more than 10 years older than them. That’s always the weird thing about fictional characters – how they stay frozen in time while you age beyond them, having experiences that inform how you interpret their actions and attitudes. Some of the attitudes in This Life do feel dated. Attitudes towards women and gay people, particularly. I suppose that’s to be expected; it was 25 years ago. The characters’ attitude towards therapy also really felt odd and old-fashioned to me.

Continue reading “Therapy – the benefits and barriers”

Mind yourself, mind each other, change the world.

At the end of 2018, Theatre Forum carried out a survey on pay and working conditions in the performing arts. The results of the survey were accompanied by testimonials from artists who spoke candidly about their financial struggles. These were well-known theatre and dance artists, artists who make a new show every year, who have won awards for their work and toured internationally. They are so obviously successful in their chosen careers that it’s natural to assume that they would also be making a good living but despite appearances, their livelihoods still felt precarious. The results of the survey proved that this was more than just a feeling. According to the 144 artists and creative practitioners and 97 arts organisations who responded, average weekly earnings in the arts in 2018 were 30% lower that the average across all sectors (€494.98 compared to €740.32). As well as low wages, the precarious nature of the work means a lack of financial stability, as well as difficulty keeping up with PRSI contributions. There’s also the fact that most arts organisations do not make employer pension contributions or provide a top up to state maternity benefit.

Continue reading “Mind yourself, mind each other, change the world.”

Five Favourite Newsletters

Newsletters, Tiny Letters, SubStacks, whatever you want to call them, I love getting these updates from people’s lives in my inbox. I’ve always loved email. I subscribed to so many mailing lists in the pre-social media days of the internet that email was how I first got to know people online. Email is still the first thing I open when I sit down at my computer.

A good newsletter can feel like a great secret and it feels a little bit odd to be talking about my favourites out in public like this. Maybe it’s because they are sent directly to me and that makes them seem private and personal, or maybe because they remind me of the early days of online journals when every newly discovered site felt like it belonged to me alone. But I like sharing the things I love, and I can console myself with the fact that very few people read this blog, so they will remain mostly secret!

These are five (plus one bonus one) of my favourite free newsletters.

Continue reading “Five Favourite Newsletters”

New Year Resolutions – it’s never too late!

It felt like January would never end but it’s finally drawing to a close and on Friday it will be February. Soon, there will be more light in the sky and green buds appearing everywhere. It’s a new beginning, and there is still time for new year’s resolutions. The resolutions you made in the final days of December might be cracked and broken but you can still make fresh, bright new ones! Resolutions that aren’t about punishing yourself for the excesses of Christmas. Resolutions that don’t involve giving things up.

Here are six resolutions that are designed to add something to your life and make it better. They are all a bit earnest and do-gooder-y but they are definitely better than a juice cleanse.

Continue reading “New Year Resolutions – it’s never too late!”

A Look Back at 2018

I’m a little late with this but I believe in celebrating the full Twelve Days of Christmas, and this is a Christmassy activity so I feel it’s ok to do it up until Jan 6th. (And yes, maybe I’m just making excuses. My next piece is about new year’s resolutions and I probably won’t get that one online until February. And then I’ll tell you that January doesn’t really count and all sensible people start their new year’s resolutions a month late.)

This is not a year in review post, or an attempt at a Best of. It’s a personal look back at the last year and the art, events and moments that I enjoyed.

Continue reading “A Look Back at 2018”

TV that’s worth your time: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

This is my fourth and final tv pick for the moment. Our usual (ir)regular blog posts will resume shortly. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a show on Amazon Prime. Now, I don’t like Amazon – I’m a fan of bookshops so Amazon feels like a natural enemy but I also really don’t like how they treat their staff. I don’t use Amazon as a rule. I watched the first series of Mrs. Maisel with a free trial of Amazon Prime and consoled myself with the fact that I wasn’t actually giving them any money. Now I’m in a bit of a bind because I want to watch the second series of Mrs. Maisel (and I really want to see Dietland because I loved the book when I read it last year) and I’m going to end up giving them money and I’m a little bit disappointed in myself for that. I would be very grateful if someone else could please boycott Amazon for the next month on my behalf.

Continue reading “TV that’s worth your time: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”

TV that’s worth your time: The Bisexual

My third tv pick is actually something that was on this year and doesn’t feature the after-life or clones or anything other worldly at all. The Bisexual started on Channel 4 in October and all six episodes are available on All4 in the UK and Ireland, and Hulu (I think) in the US. It’s set in London and revolves around a group of young people but it’s not like the happy, shiny portrayal of adulthood that I grew up on.

Continue reading “TV that’s worth your time: The Bisexual”