Got any hobbies?

Hobbies. The word makes me think of trainsets and stamp collections. But I was struck by a post I saw today about the link between hobbies and better mental health. Makes sense to me. After all, doing something we love for the pure fun of it is, well, a lot of fun, and the time can just vanish when you're absorbed in it.

Woman smiling and taking photo with phone
Any camera will do

I was also very struck by another post about the effects of capitalism on the mind. One being an ingrained guilt at resting or 'doing nothing' or not being 'productive.' And the feeling of needing to monetise our hobbies. Wow. That one really got me. I've long been a fan of photography and recently started getting paid jobs taking people's portraits. But somehow, once the buzz of getting some cash for taking photos wore off, it felt somehow less enjoyable.


Anyway, this blog is an ode to hobbies. Namely my hobbies! Here's what I find myself doing when I'm not working, hanging out with my little boy, or sleeping. (Although sleeping would definitely be a hobby if it weren't a basic need).


RuPaul's Drag Race

Yes, I totally class watching TV as a hobby. This show is era-defining, culture-shaping and SO ridiculously entertaining. If you haven't come across it, you need to watch at least one episode of this reality drag queen competition.

Drag queens from Rupaul's Drag Race
Sickening queens

I started watching it as I came out of a long, deep spell of post natal depression in 2018 or so. It was season 8, the reign of Bob the Drag Queen. Watching these fascinating characters transform into singing, dancing, death-dropping, shade-throwing, fashion-defining, contoured to the gods, glamazonians lighting up my screen gave me so much joy. This is not a shallow reality TV show. The stories the queens tell, of overcoming ostracisation, identity crises, bullying, abuse, depression, abandonment and more are heartbreaking and inspiring.


I still love it. And all its spin-off shows - Untucked, Fashion Photo Ruview, Unhhh. Suck me into a Youtube shaped hole and leave me there, please. Times are particularly good right now–with Season 13 in the US airing every Saturday and Season 2 of UK Drag Race on Thursdays. I get my tea, snacks, laptop charged, warm blanket and hunker down for 60 minutes of pure EN-TER-TAINTMENT.


Most importantly, and the question that must be answered, is, who are my top queens? (Ok, nobody cares, but indulge me here). Raja, Shea Coulee, Trixie Mattel, Sasha Velour (the last ever show/gig I saw before lockdown at the London Palladium), Katja, Alyssa Edwards and Miss Vanessa Vanjie all rank highly. Oh and Jaida Essence Hall.

Vanessa Vanjie Mateo drag queen
Miss Vanjie...

Ok, so with what little time I have left over from Drag Race, other hobbies are.


Reading

Because reading is what? Fundamental!

I read a fair bit. I also hate Amazon. Hate, hate, hate. So, I trawl Ebay for secondhand books and treat myself to the odd newbie from Hive. I really miss browsing bookshops, and enjoying the smell of new books. One of my little treats was stopping off in Angel Waterstones on my cycle ride home for a browse. In the last year the main themes of my reading have been...


Self-development

I went freelance this year, plus I love a bit of a how-to guide. Some of my favourite recent reads are:


How Women Rise by Sally Helgesen & Marshall Goldsmith

Playing Big by Tara Mohr

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon


Anti-racism

I am waiting as we speak for a couple of James Baldwin novels to turn up. I read The Fire Next Time before I really started out on anti-racism learning and my goodness, what an astounding book. An essay, written in the form of a letter to Baldwin's 14-year-old nephew, discusses the central role of race in American history. A must read. Other ones that have really stuck with me and that I highly recommend are:


Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

Black and British by David Olusoga

Natives by Akala


Novels

I've not read as many as I'd have liked, due to coming with a limited selection from London to Rotterdam in November. Here are my favourites from the last couple of years:


The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin

What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood


Tennis

In the summer months one of my favourite things to do was to stroll down to my local park and tennis court to meet my sister for a knock about. Despite being equally matched, she mainly manages to beat me. I put it down to her psychologial toughness, forged playing hockey aged 12 at a girls' grammar school. I withered in the face of bigger, faster girls with wooden sticks.


I also met a wonderful friend, Alessia, at a Hackney tennis course back in around 2014. We've had the odd coaching session with some delightful teachers and tennis never fails to give me joy. Plus I acquired a beagle owning, pyschotherapist and pyschedelics enthusiast as a friend. I love tennis.

Corner of a blue and orange tennis court
Photo by Sushant Vohra on Unsplash

Yoga

I know, such a cliche. But yoga has seen me through some tough times–physically and mentally. Whether it was coping with stress during pregnancy, inducing sleepiness in times of anxiety, and generally balancing me out, yoga has been a friend to me.


I did a fascinating if very brief bit of research on yoga and cultural appropriation which made me look at it through fresh eyes. And led to many arguments with my boyfriend. Who is it harming, etc? If you're interested here, read this.


I've always been more of a fan of the stripped back version, with minimal co-option of sacred symbols, and at local small studios, but there's no denying my experience of yoga has been a very white-washed version with little acknowledgement of yoga's heritage and history. My go-to yogi is (Yoga with) Adriene, who is pretty much the epitome of white slim female yoga instructor. One of my resolutions this year is to find and support (financially) yoga teachers from different backgrounds who honour the roots of yoga more faithfully and acknowledge the need to fight oppression as part of a spiritual practice.


Drawing

As a kid I used to doodle endlessly. My dad would bring home 'computer paper' (the really retro stuff with holes punched in the sides and perforated edges) to satisfy my sister's and my insatiable drawing habit. I used to draw lying on my front, watching TV. I mainly drew princesses (and look at me, I turned out as a good feminist!) and also miniature versions of the Argos catalogue with sketches of washing machines and cushions at bargain prices.

1980s perforated computer paper
Office workers of the 80s will remember

My mum is responsible for creative pursuits in my family–painting, sewing, drawing, you name it. During the first lockdown (the one we all fantasise about nostalgically now) I got into weekly life-drawing classes and I got so absorbed. You wouldn't think that life-drawing on Zoom would be good but it really was.


Walking

I'm from Lancashire, on the border with the Lake District. A region that has hills, beaches, rivers and woodland. Then I moved to cities–Edinburgh, Manchester, London–and gradually became starved of the countryside and wide-open spaces. One of the best times of my life was descending Scafell Pike in the Lakes with a small gang of friends. I was overcome with its beauty and felt so free.

Mountain view over Eskdale with three walkers in foreground
Looking over Eskdale from Scafell Pike

One of the most beautiful places in the world is on my doorstep, a village called Silverdale which overlooks Morecambe Bay. I think if I get cremated I'll be sprinkled on the beach there. But hopefully they'll have come up with a lower carbon version by then.


Photography

I love taking photos, particularly of people. When I was a kid I got hold of my Dad's slightly broken Pentax camera and spent a happy day or two photographing PlayMobil figures in little outdoor settings. As I got older I longed to be able to take those lovely photos with blurry backgrounds and portraits that show all the little details in a person's face.


Doing a DSLR for beginners course was just the thing, and now I have enough lenses and know-how to take some pretty nice photos. The next hurdle is getting round to printing and then framing some of the damn things. I've been trying it out as a second source of income but I think I just want to play at the moment, especially as I have a very cute three year old muse.

A large indoor swimming pool at London Aquatics Centre
London Aquatics Centre

Writing

I discovered an enjoyment of writing when I realised I was relatively good at it. When we had to write blogs for work, mine generally came back with praise and minimal corrections from the comms team. I was flattered! It turns out it's much easier to turn out very long sentences filled with jargon, and a skill if you can produce something more lively and down to earth.


I then got a lot of encouragement from Lauren Currie who is a big advocate of women being visible and confident, and shares a lot of very practical advice that I have really taken on board. A key way to be visible is to write about your work, and share it with the world. Through doing this you find your 'voice.' You discover what is important to you. And you start to build a body of work. You make connections with other people that share your interests and learn a lot more as a result.


One of the main reasons to create this website was to have a home for my writing that was all mine, and couldn't be stolen or disappeared by the Zuckerberg empire. Unless he buys Wix that is...


I started writing while recovering from depression. As I got better I had a lot of thoughts that I processed partly through writing. I also experienced a lot of anger which I channeled through writing (as well as pissing off a lot of colleagues and family members, but that's another story!).


Now I am finding it a very helpful medium to weave together what I'm learning about racism, environmentalism and collective action.


What else?

When I am wealthy and/or retired I would like to spend my hobby time doing things like ceramics, trekking through beautiful scenery like the Portuguese coast, the Camino de Santiago or the Scottish Highlands, working my way around incredible eateries, and getting really good at tennis with a hot coach.


Got any hobbies? Let me know!