What is Mindfulness?

What is Mindfulness? Mind defines ‘Mindfulness’ as: ‘a technique you can learn which involves noticing what’s happening in the present moment, without judgement. You might take notice and be aware of your mind, body or surroundings.’ That’s it. There is no specific activity you have to do – I love yoga, I use guided meditation from time to time, I dance and I try to sit in the garden and drink a cup of tea most days. And, of course I play boardgames. It doesn’t have to cost the earth and mindfulness looks different for everyone. I thought I’d tell you a bit about what it looks like for me in terms of boardgames. I’d love to hear what it looks like for you.

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Mental Health, Board Games and Me

Every month Lisa Bourne of Time to Change Leeds, holds a board gaming meet up at Abbey House Museum. It is one of a range of events that she runs to raise awareness of mental health and also tackle social isolation. I go every month and now co-host the event, supplementing the museum’s selection of games with some of my fun, unusual ones as well as helping to publicise the event. It is not a formal group by any means, there is no need to book or reserve a place, it’s just an opportunity to meet in a safe environment and chat – or not – whatever you need. And that’s where the games start to come into their own.
Playing games gives the group a focus which is not them. There is no sitting round, awkwardly avoiding eye contact and waiting for someone to share something, there is no pressure at all. Often we play a game and chat just happens, sometimes around the game itself and sometimes about our lives, our experiences, what’s going on for us. There are no experts there, just other people who have experienced or are still experiencing mental health difficulties. I am happy to talk quite openly about my difficulties and I understand that, that’s me, not everyone talks as much as me. To misquote a saying I heard about Autism recently ‘Once you’ve met one person with mental health difficulties, you’ve met one person with mental health difficulties.’ Whether we talk or not, we are still connecting and sharing a fun experience.
When I’m struggling with my own mental health I can often manage a game of something. Depending what mood I’m in, I will usually choose a game I’m familiar with that absorbs my attention either because of theme or strategic demands but that is not too challenging. When I’m feeling rubbish, the last thing I need is a game which is too difficult and reinforces my feelings of inadequacy. That is quite a delicate balance and entirely personal. So, for the games we always have a selection of games we are all familiar with which may trigger feelings of nostalgia maybe memories of simpler times as well as newer games which are light-hearted and fun. Last time, we played Hide the Pickle and we laughed. That has got to be good for you. Right?
When I went for therapy around the time of my breakdown, one of the first things I remember the counsellor suggesting was that I should do fun things which brought me joy. This sounded more insane than I felt. ‘Joy?’ I thought, ‘fun?’ – neither of those emotions were featuring in my life much at that point. They seemed like distant memories – the sort of thing other people did. The ability to play without reservation is something we seem to lose around the time we start secondary school; we become obsessed with ‘being more grown up’ ‘being sensible’, not indulging in ‘stupid’ or ‘childish’ pass times. As a fully grown adult I beseech you to do stupid, childish things, have fun, play games. Games are not just for children – there’s a reason those Haba, MB and Spear’s games say aged 4 – 99 on the box. The ability to throw off the shackles of adulthood and enjoy a game is not necessarily an easy movement of mindset but definitely worth the effort.
The right board game will encourage you to immerse yourself and forget about the real world, giving you control over your actions and outcomes on a small scale. That can be challenging when my mental health is poor as my concentration can be wobbly so I’m not talking about a 3 hour game of Risk. Even short games can be pleasantly absorbing.
I have maintained for a long time that board games are good for your mental health. This theory goes beyond – ‘they’re good for me therefore they’ll be good for you’. And don’t get me wrong I am in no way suggesting that I have ditched my medication and just play board games while choirs of angels sing ‘allelujah, she’s healed’ above me. In fact, I have recently increased my medication because …well… life…
While I’m sharing, I can also tell you that I’m trying to get into a meditation habit using Headspace and doing regular NLT with Becky Antrobus. It is amazing and by the end of the session I feel clarity and so much calm, again – as part of a wider treatment plan – I would recommend finding out more about it. But above all – I am taking my medication. Just as for a broken limb I would take painkillers as well as doing physio to build up the muscles. Only a sadist would suggest you ditch the painkillers and hit the gym. And I’m not that cruel – not even to myself.
So here is a brief run down of some of the games we’ve played and why they’ve been great for us. I can only really comment on my personal choices and those of the people who’ve attended. I’m definitely open to suggestions and I’m more than happy to play pretty much anything. (I won’t have games that are offensive).
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In this game you grow beautiful, sprawling trees and attract kodama (tree spirits) to your tree. There are creatures, flowers and clouds that adorn the cards and gain you points. It is competitive but it is such a gorgeous game that it’s easy to become absorbed in your own actions and forget what others are doing. There are also layers of difficulty you can add as you become more familiar with it.
Are you dumber than a box of rocks?
I should warn you, it turns out most people are. This is a quirky trivia game where you play together against the rocks! The answer to each question is 0,1 or 2 so there is always the possibility that you could have an intelligent guess! The challenge is to reach agreement and of course outwit the rocks.
Stupid Deaths
This is not one of mine. A regular at the meet ups brought it along for us to try and it is very entertaining. The aim of the game is to outrun death by correctly deducing whether the stupid death on the card is true or false. As you can imagine, even with such a morbid subject there are lots of laughs in this one.
Love Letter
Love Letter is another pretty one – I do like my games to be visually appealing. I also added little heart gems to score with replacing the little wooden cubes it came with. The game involves a lot of deduction which I can happily immerse myself in. You only have two cards in your hand and you must play one of those so decision making isn’t protracted but it can be the difference between the safe delivery of your love letter to the princess and you being cast out of court for ever. (Well until we start a new round…)
Jenga, Pass the Pigs, Battleship
Classic games that need no introduction – these are just three of our favourites at the meet ups. They are not involved or complex enough to make conversation difficult and often reminiscing is a good conversation starter anyway.
Wordopolis, Fletter Fuse
I love word games and unfortunately don’t get to play them so much at home as my passion for them is not shared! Lisa and I love a word game and so I was pleased when some of our regular visitors embraced them too. These are two differently paced games – in Wordopolis you create a grid (a bit like a word search) and carefully place letters to create new words. Although it is made for playing competitively, we have played this together – patiently studying the grid and slowly mulling over alternatives. Fletter fuse is much faster paced – you turn over cards and make words from the upturned letters. The longer you wait to claim a word, the more letters there are available meaning you can experiment with different strategies and test your vocabulary. You know it’s gone badly wrong when you finish the game, tot up your score and grab a fresh cuppa… and when you come back your worthy opponent is still adding their score up. Despite being completely eviscerated, I’d still play again.
Hide the Pickle
Last meet up we played this. It’s a silly one where you swap, steal and bluff to try to be the player that has the pickle when the game ends. The cards are very entertaining with brilliant illustrations and comical flavour text.
These are just some of the games that we have played – it doesn’t really matter what we play, it matters that we get together. Board games provide fun, low key socialising and absorb you, allowing you to escape into other worlds, other parts of your mind. Go on, try it – ‘you have nothing to lose but your chains.’ (Marx).
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I definitely absolutely wrote my blog…

I was sure it was in my bag but now I’ve emptied my bag out and it definitely isn’t there. Maybe the dog ate it… again….
Aiming to do a fortnightly blog is usually fine, but some weeks life just gets in the way… here’s what’s been occupying me for the last couple of weeks.
I don’t usually open with my most exciting news because then, why would you read on? But, I can not contain my excitement about this…. Last weekend I learnt that there is such a thing as a 6 hole, hole punch. Then (the excitement mounts) I bought one! So this week more time than I care to mention has been spent punching holes in things and adding them to my filofax. I am now the most well organised person in the entire world.
One of the things that is taking up some of my time lately is the addition of days off to my schedule. I often struggle with my mental health and the two things I struggle with most are eating properly and managing my time – I am trying to train my brain to accept that both of these activities are good uses of anybody’s time. My days off over the past couple of weeks were filled with art – specifically the Yorkshire Sculpture International. Art soothes my soul and a good wander round the Sculpture Park in all that fresh air is a balm for my mental head stuff. Even the Damian Hirst Sculptures reminded me of games – Operation and the new one by Weird Giraffe Games, Big Easy Busking. I backed this on Kickstarter as I love Stellar Leap and Fire in the Library and it has obviously had an impact on me already.
I’ve been working hard on the other days, spreading the good news about board gaming and bringing people together with games. I’m hopeful that having days off will mean I’m more energetic and more productive on the days that I do work. What with days off AND a six hole, hole punch I could… dare I say it… take over the world. Don’t worry the only terrifying element of my benevolent dictatorship will be the level of organisation, there’ll be lots of fun activities too.
Last Thursday was my regular last Thursday of the month at The Cardigan Arms. It was my first night in their function room upstairs which is huge with great big games sized tables. Unfortunately it was also the first day of summer in Leeds so we had less people than usual but people still had fun playing Deep Sea Adventure, Ticket to Ride London, Cobra Paw and Honshu among others.
Fridays I have been delivering sessions at an Autism Specialist school in Leeds. Playing board games uses and develops so many useful skills – while we are focusing on social skills and communication, we are of course planning, strategising, dealing with changing goals and circumstances which force us to rethink our plans.
In the first session we played Chicken Time Warp just to allow me to get to know the group with something fun and not too challenging. The group found it very entertaining and the session flew by. With support, they coped well with the elimination of players. The game gives you two chances not to be out – the first time you pick a ‘You Dead’ card, you are frozen in time, but then if ‘Time Slips Away’ as well then you are not only dead but erased from existence -deader than a very dead thing that’s been dead a long time. This allows for you to be rescued and they were keen to rescue each other which was lovely and boded well for the co-operative games I had planned.
Week 2 was Forest of Fate, a co-operative choose your own adventure – we managed to navigate the Forest safely by using our special abilities at apt times. The game involved the players judging and agreeing on which skill would be most effective in each scenario, then agreeing which of them would risk themselves and face the challenge. We took turn reading the cards and the story. One of the kids telling another not to worry when he stumbled over a word he was reading with ‘It’s ok, we all make mistakes, take your time’ reminded me why I loved teaching so much.
This Friday we played Forbidden Island, another co-operative game where you have to collect treasure and escape the island. A difficulty some children (and adults) have with this game is that not everyone gets the glory of collecting the treasure – some of us have to do the less glamorous tasks like shoring up sinking parts of the island. Working co-operatively can be difficult but we made sure that everyone had an equal voice in the decisions and that those not getting the treasure felt just as valued in the process. In the end we won – just. Luckily someone had made the decision to save the Helicopter Lift cards that allowed us to escape the island seconds before it sank into the sea.
First Wednesday has been the Cards or Die board games night at The Abbey Inn for the last couple of years. This Wednesday the weather was glorious so we were able to play games outdoors which was lovely until the midges descended and then we darted indoors. We had 28 people playing a whole variety of games like Qwordie the quiz and word game from Big Potato, Snaggit the new one from Yay games as well as Takenoko and Forest of Fate (again!). I was pleased that a couple of people came down on their own and joined in games with others. I’m always keen for people to feel welcome as I know how hard it can be to turn up somewhere on your own.
Thursday afternoon I took the board games to a senior citizens group in Leeds. I had around 30 people playing all sorts of games and everyone tried out something new. We played Are you dumber than a box of rocks? a quirky quiz game, Logo Game, Fletter Fuse a fast paced word making game, Boggle, Colour Brain, Snaggit and Speedy Words.
This image is from a previous booking at a Senior Citizen’s Group.
I love my job (which is what happens when you make your own job up), I love meeting different people with different stories and experiences and board games are the perfect way to spark those stories and bring people together.
If you want to find out more about any of the games mentioned please get in touch or better still come and see us at one of our public events. Make sure you subscribe to the newsletter so you never miss an event.

One bad day that overshadows everything.

The last two weeks have been crazy. My mental health has been erratic and thoroughly rubbish. Last Sunday I could not collect my thoughts to write a blog post at all. I tried to review a game but couldn’t convince myself that my opinion was worth setting down on paper. I’m not telling you this to get sympathy, I’m just letting you know how it was and how it sometimes is. But I’m here this week, having a crack at it!
As soon as I start writing I become aware of how many more positives there are than negatives but that requires me to allow myself to write, to give myself a break. I am also acutely aware of how self indulgent my writing is. But please note that I am not apologising. For once I have written a whole blog post about myself without an apology – although I am giving you an opt out – don’t feel compelled to read it all. Just skim it or look at the pictures they’re quite nice.
April 1st
It started off positively enough with me drawing a winner out of a hat. I ran a competition through March to increase subscribers to my website. By subscribing you could win a copy of Quirk! Hallows kindly donated to me by Emmerse Studios. It’s always nice to be able to share games with people and I love a good giveaway – whichever end of it I’m on. Plus it was lovely to reflect on the increase in subscribers – I decided to improve that and I achieved it.
April 2nd
This was World Autism Day. In some sort of evil genius move, the local authority fixed it so that my children had different holidays. This required me to get an autistic child into school despite his sibling and step sibling languishing at home. Thanks Leeds. This was not a fun part of the week. He did amazingly well and we got into school every day but it was not fun. Sometimes the effort to get into school exhausts us both and this week was no exception.
In my exhausted state I decided that I would apply for DLA – I realise that the amount of hours I work is limited by the time I spend caring for my son. I am not complaining, I choose to look after him and am happy to organise work around that commitment. The form is soul destroying, you are bound to write down all the difficult parts, all the times when we don’t manage, when I fail to support him enough, when I fail to get him into school; my fears and worries for his future; the challenges that we can’t overcome. It was in this cheery state of mind that I tackled my accounts….
When I say I’m bad at maths it doesn’t really cover my feelings about it. In fact Maths makes me panic and feel inept so what better activity to undertake straight after the DLA application. The business has been going two years so it is no surprise that doing my accounts didn’t result in me googling off shore accounts or penthouses.
Tuesday succeeded in turning the volume right up on that internal voice that despises me so much. And once she found her voice I could not stop her, could not get her back in her box. One of the awful things about my mental health is that sometimes I can see it coming, like a herd of bison on the dusty horizon but I can’t avoid it. I just wait… paralysed by my own fear and self hatred until it stampedes over me.
Wednesday 3rd April
Today I forgot to take the car in for the service it was booked in for. Again.
Now ‘normally’ this would be ok. Just a mistake. Easily done in my hectic life. But today with ‘her’ fully awake and vocal, it was an unforgivable error.
Wednesday night I had the Abbey Inn, games night. My longest standing booking, it’s always a pleasure to catch up with people at this. Board games are so perfect when I feel like this. It’s a distraction but most importantly it’s a way of connecting with others without the need for actual conversation if I don’t feel up to it. In fact, you usually do end up chatting to people but it just removes the pressure to do so and that is so valuable. My son often comes to this one too and I’m always really proud of him as he mixes with people, plays games and sometimes chats too. Half way through a week at school when ‘everyone else’ was off it was a good break for him.
Games arrived.
An amazing thing that happened was two separate games companies sent me games to share at events. The validation of strangers is always worth more to ‘her’ than my own reassurances. So receiving these and the communications I have with other companies that value what I do and believe in me were invaluable to me during this – I want to say rubbish week but now that she’s a bit quieter I can catch myself and see that it was a couple of tough things in an otherwise really positive week.
Saturday 6th April
One thing I did do was try to cancel my Yorkshire Choice Awards tickets because I felt so utterly wretched the thought of mixing with strangers was horrific. In the end I went along and I was so glad I had. I was listed as a finalist – top 4 out of 58 nominees in the Best Independent Business category. All of this was down to public vote and I am so grateful to everyone that voted and supported me. I was absolutely over the moon. My feelings were all over the place all week and to end on such a high was completely unexpected.
This week has been just as crazy with bookings every day and only one day off. Next week I am planning some down time in so I can reflect and get myself level again. I need to make sure that inner voice is firmly back in her box. It’s too exhausting when she’s set free.
Here are some pictures from last week’s bookings – you can see why I’m ready for some days off!
Sunday – family board gaming at The Boo, Rossendale
Monday – Time Together, Harrogate
Tuesday – Time to Change Board Games at The Abbey House Museum
Wednesday – Board Games night at The Brewhouse Yeadon
Thursday – HOPS – Hawksworth Older People’s Support Group
Friday – Family Board Games at Keepers Coffee and Kitchen, Cookridge
Check out Cards or Die’s up to date events list here.
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Games for Weddings and Mental Health Meet Ups

This week I’ve written a guest blog for Lisa Bourne a wedding and naming ceremonies celebrant based in Yeadon Leeds.
I first met Lisa when she booked me to take part in the Men’s Mental Health event in Leeds. The event aimed to reach out to men and offer advice and/ or a safe space to discuss mental health issues. There were groups there who provided opportunities for men to sign up to activities or social groups which promoted inclusion, tackled the feeling of loneliness and isolation and promoted general wellbeing. Since then I have helped out at The Abbey House Museum Time to Change board games events which Lisa runs as a volunteer. Sometimes it’s just me and Lisa and other times a couple of people come. I know that the nature of mental health issues can mean that although I want to do something I can’t always. We’re both more than happy to offer this service and perhaps in time more people will feel able to come and in the meantime I can witter at Lisa about my mental head stuff and play the occasional game!
The other significant part Lisa is about to play in my life (besides listening to my woes and playing games with me at least once a month!) is that I have booked her to be our wedding celebrant. I am so excited and the more I see on her facebook page and website, the more I know that she will make our ceremony unique to us. We will need to visit the registry office to formalise the wedding as unfortunately humanist celebrants don’t have the power to legally marry you yet (- keeping my fingers crossed on this one) but it means that our wedding can be free of patriarchal traditions and rules which is something that means a lot to both of us.
Weddings are all about getting people together. That can mean that friends who never usually meet or relatives that don’t know each other are thrust into a room together, sharing a table, trying to think of things to say. There’s often a twilight zone in the middle of the wedding where day guests and early arrivals for the evening mill about aimlessly trying to work out whether they should go back to their room, eat something or not or whether they will be needed for the photos. The answer to this is board games – of course. Well you didn’t expect anything else from me!
Our next Time to Change event is at The Abbey House Museum on 9th April 10 to 11.30am
Check out my current event listings here.
Guest Blog – click here

A wordless blog.

Just back from Airecon. My happiness and enjoyment are now at the same level as my desire to sit in a dark room and not speak! As I have used up all my words over the weekend this blog is mainly pictures!
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It has been an awesome weekend. I’ve met loads of fabulous, inspiring people in real life who I have only known virtually before. I have taught games, learnt new games, bought some essential earrings, added to the Cards or Die menu, resolved rules disputes between my children, argued with my children about rules, watched my children be complete charmers with other people who teach them games, met new people and old friends and generally had an awesome Airecon. And now I’m going for a lie down. Websites to check out:Bez (Games)Emmerse (Games)Both Sides of My Table (Solo Game Reviews)Crafting Jones (jewellery and crafts – all manner of loveliness)Redwell Games (games)Dranda Games – (Makers of Solar Storm)Games Crusade (your FLGS)Wren Games (makers of Assembly)Gamely Games (makers of Randomise and more)We’re Not Wizards (entertaining podcasts of the non-wizarding variety)Yog-Shogoth (makers of the Eternal Journal) and of course keep track of Airecon so we can do it all again next year.


2018: is safe to come out yet?

Wishing you all Yuletide light, love and blessings. I haven’t always marked Yule but over the last few years I have embraced the celebration. It seems so natural to celebrate the end of the short winter days and the coming of the light. 2018 has been a dark year for me and I am more than ready for lighter times.
It’s that time of year when everyone starts claiming the new year for themselves. I’m not even going to attempt to trump their claims – they can have it. I don’t need 2019 to be my year, I just need it to be a bit kinder to me than 2018 was.
2018 was mainly poo. But even in the poo there were glimmers of hope and positivity. I just need to give them a bit of a clean up so we can see them properly. Let’s start with the deaths of my parents…
We fought for them and for their welfare even when they fought against us. They both had good deaths in places where they were cared for by people who really cared. When the people who sat with your mum as she died can’t speak because they will cry, you can’t ask for more. The way the Macmillan nurse looked at my Dad with such fondness reassured me that it didn’t matter if we weren’t there at the exact moment of their deaths.
This was a significant and liberating realisation for me. In fact it is not the last breath that counts but all the times before that. It is their life that I want to remember, not their death. It was not possible for me to spend every waking minute at their sides, counting each breath. Waiting.
It is heart breaking to be without them, especially at Christmas, but at least this grief is pure, unadulterated grief. Last Christmas they were already gone – taken by dementia. They looked like them and there were glimpses of them there but often they were frustrating, exhausted and exhausting. I spent more time trying not to be angry with them than is healthy. And yet more time berating myself for being angry. But now in the space where they should be – the phonecalls, the visits, the ridiculous Christmas ornaments – there is just loss and sadness. And that feels right. I’m not OK. Knowing and feeling that it’s ok not to be ok helps me accept that I will be.
Looking back over 2018 it can be hard to see positives through the blinding grief but they are there, nestling amongst the day to day sadnesses and losses. In fact as Romeo once had to be reminded there is ‘a pack of blessings light on my back’.
When I realised my Dad was dying, I contacted him brother who we had lost touch with over time. His brother came to see him and now we will remain in touch. I have gained an Uncle.
As I said, we fought every step of the way for and against Mum and Dad and we made sure they had good ends to their lives.
When my Mum’s dementia got so bad that she lost touch with my Uncle, I picked up that contact and visited him a few times. We reminisced about holidays we had together – good times. He died earlier in the year. I am so glad that I spent time with him. He was funny and positive and always made the best of things. I will miss him but that sadness is imbued with happy memories and gratitude that I had that time with him.
We were burgled this year and I lost a lot of jewellery. Thankfully they missed Mum’s jewellery. It’s only stuff but it’s stuff that’s inextricably linked with memories and I’m glad that I can wear her rings.
The other battle I’ve successfully fought is getting my son the school provision he needs. It was tough, some days it still is. Some days trying to (sometimes failing to) get him into school is an emotional tightrope walk which leaves me struggling to balance. Daily I remind myself and him that we are getting there.
The business has continued to grow stronger. Being nominated for the Yorkshire Choice Award for Independent Business has been a lovely end to the year. It has also prompted me to reflect over 2018 in a much more positive frame of mind.
I normally set resolutions or at least suggest resolutions for other people. There’s just a couple – one for me and one for you and if you can all do your best with it, I’d appreciate it: if everyone could just stop dying (-just for 2019) – just while I recover that would be ideal.
And me? I’ll just crack on with ‘doing the thing’. I think I’ve been doing the thing well on the whole and if I just keep doing it… well, everything will fall into place… eventually.

Get your own daily reminder from Katie Abey.


Patricia Jones Eulogy

Having only recently completed my Dad’s eulogy, it was hard to face writing Mum’s last week. Losing both parents so close together has been tough even more so because of Mum’s dementia which meant that we lost her over and over again. I am saving it here as a permanent reminder of my Mum.
Over the last few years Mum had become less and less Mum and that has been incredibly hard to face. Mum survived so many falls, bumps, bruises, tumbles and near misses that it is simultaneously hard to believe she survived so long and that now she has gone.
The illustration I always used to make sure that any health care professionals really understood the magnitude of Mum’s ‘high pain threshold’ was the time when Mum and Dad got knocked over by a car. Dad was airlifted to hospital while Mum sat on the kerb insisting she was ok. They both went into hospital, Dad came home with bruises and broken toes. Mum after insisting she was fine was sent home. A few days later complaining of a ‘bit of pain’ Mum went back into hospital. She had broken her hip. Then there was the time she broke her arm while the car was in the garage so her and Dad got the bus to hospital rather than trouble anyone for a lift.
Mark suggested selling her DNA to some sort of military training base to build super soldiers and I think he was only half joking. At times I was convinced that stubbornness alone kept her going.
There were always glimpses of Mum there though. Marie told me at one visit that Mum had told her to do her cardigan up because it was cold out and another time Marie said to her ‘When Lawrence visits I bet you talk more – you can’t get a word in edgewise with us two’ (me and her) and Mum laughed. She loved looking at old photos too.
We want to thank Aaron Court for the care they took with Mum and for making her life comfortable and happy. The love and compassion that they show on a daily basis is incredible.
But Mum was so much more than these final years. As you know Mum and Dad lived in Liverpool during the blitz. Mum was evacuated with Aunty Eileen. She told the tale of how they arrived in a church hall with lots of other children, gas masks slung over their shoulders and then the adults who they would live with arrived. A tall thin woman dressed all in black entered and Eileen apparently whispered to Mum ‘I hope we don’t get the witch’. The numbers in the room dwindled and eventually Eileen, my Mum and ‘the witch’ remained. It turned out that she was an incredibly kind woman who looked after them as though they were her own.
In a time of emails and skype it’s difficult to imagine those children gathering at the train station to see if a family member was coming to visit. If no-one visited sometimes a neighbour would bring a package or letters.Those tales always brought home to me how hard the war was both for those who stayed and those who left.
Some of my earliest memories of my Mum are when we would go down the Port together. She would stride along with me having to run a bit to keep up. I remember getting to the top of our road and turning on to the main road. It was raining and Mum was wearing a carefully selected headscarf tied under her chin, protecting her hair and as we turned a lorry went through a huge puddle and soaked us both. I think I had started to cry, and Mum was dabbing at me furiously (and ineffectually) with a tiny handkerchief -probably embroidered with delicate flowers – then she just started laughing. She laughed till she was crying, and I laughed too. Then we just turned around and went home.
Regularly as we got very close to home, Mum and I would discuss which was the quickest route home. Of course the best way to settle this was to split up and see who reached the house the quickest. We would both agree to walk and solemnly agreed not to cheat and she we would walk looking back at one another and as soon as we rounded the corner we would run like hell. At least I did and the fact she was always slightly breathless (and very indignant) suggested that she did too so we never solved that! I never thought anything of it at the time but often now I think of her – a stylish, well dressed woman in her late 40s, in heels sprinting down the street alone and it always makes me smile.
This is the same woman who in her late 70s had to be told off for cheating at Elefun where you have to catch butterflies which are fired out of an elephant’s trunk. It’s not often that Mum had the height advantage and she was making full use of it to beat Edward and Molly!
Another shared early memory was Mum, Aunty Molly and Aunty Terry sorting out money at Grandma’s. You could only watch open mouthed as it went from ‘I owe you £4.50 and I owe Terry £2’ ‘Oh that’s OK because Terry owes me £1.75 and I owe Mam £5 so if you give me £1.20 and I give Pat £1.50 I’ll owe you…’ and so it went on. Until inevitably someone would utter the words ‘So if I give you 30p we’re all square’. And they would put their purses away and carry on chatting while we experienced something like the start of a migraine if we tried to work out what had just happened.
Mum used to love having everyone over and at Christmas, she spent most of the day in the kitchen. She was in her element – she was always the last person to remove her Christmas hat. For Christmas tea we always had frozen cream cakes – she would defrost them as per the instructions on the packet and every year we had the same conversation. Mum would worry that they were still frozen in the middle (they were) we would insist they were fine (usually whilst trying to melt a lump of frozen cheesecake under your tongue). This conversation always rumbled on for a while – Mum worrying and us re-assuring her whilst all the time wondering why none of us just said!
Then there was Aimee’s special role. Aimee was appointed as the person who knew when the pizzas were done and was able to de-shell the eggs. Any help you offered would be turned down on the basis that Aimee ‘knows’ how to do them ‘properly’. Mum took pride in being able to provide for us. Statements like ‘Marie likes me to make her coffee because she likes the way I make it’ meant that being given any kitchen responsibilities was a huge compliment.
Grandma’s cooking was legendary – her home baked jam tarts and scones were far superior to her defrosted desserts. And search as I might, I can’t find scouse that tastes as good as hers. Her sausage rolls were particularly loved by John, Edward and Molly. Emma and Aimee once saw her take a tray out of the oven with her bare hands and then just carry on. Another example of her bizarrely super human skills.
When you visited she would basically force tea on you. If you ever watched Father Ted you’ll remember Mrs Doyle – Mum’s offers of tea were reminiscent of Mrs Doyle’s. She would offer someone tea and if they said no thank you she would turn to one of us and ask again in a tone that suggested there was something wrong with our guest ‘Doesn’t Sally want a cup of tea?’ she would say to Lawrence. It was always easier to say yes please. Mark for some reason had the special privilege of making his own tea so he didn’t get two sugars which everyone else did because and I quote ‘John has two sugars’. Even I went to make a cup of tea for Mark only to be told that ‘he likes to make his own’.
Mum was always strong and proud which made it difficult to help her at times. One Christmas a toy went under Dad’s chair and without a moment’s thought Mum went over and attempted to lift the chair while Dad was in it! Once, after ‘allowing’ us to help her move some furniture for her she tried to move it on her own as it wasn’t in just the right place.
To say Mum was house proud was an understatement. She is the only person I know who ironed every item of clothing. She maintained she enjoyed it and it was the only time she got to think. She would often come into the living room cross her arms over the back of the chair and say ‘I was thinking while I was doing the ironing…’ and then she would relay some tale or pearl of wisdom.
When Mum told funny stories, usually about Dad, she would start to laugh until she cried. By which point you couldn’t understand anything she was saying because she was laughing so much – she would carry on trying to tell you though. I remember Mum rang me once to ask for Katherine’s postcode. She couldn’t hear me properly and we couldn’t even get past the first letter before we were both crying with laughter. It took ages to communicate the postcode.
I hope that you will share some of your memories of Mum and that even after today we can remember the laughter and fun we had with her. She was the bravest, toughest person I’ve ever known. I hope that this eulogy will prompt some memories of your own.
Patricia Jones
29th November 1931 – 30th August 2018
Today, drink your brew

Self Care for the Self Employed

The challenges of being self employed for me handily play right in to some of my mental health issues: fear of failure for instance – obviously best tackled by working more! That’s ok though because as a self employed person working from home, I can be on call 24/7 and work any ridiculous hours I make myself. No matter how much you love board games they can never be classified as urgent I just need to keep this at the forefront of my mind.
The fact that I set out to do more of what I love actually feeds this too. The fact that we’ve made the decision to become self employed suggests that we are attempting to embark on a career motivated by passion and love for our work. And there is nothing that overworks you quite like passion! I’m being flippant but we need to remind ourselves from time to time that if we don’t take time out we will burn out whether we love the job or not.
So, in no particular order here are some of the things I work on…
Time – there’s the rub. There is never enough time is there? Taking some time out to re-focus, reflect and recharge is something I am completely rubbish at. But I know it works and I know it makes me more productive. In a previous blog I talked about my cafe days – each month I set a day aside to make sure I not only plan what’s next but also look how far I’ve come.
But it doesn’t have to be whole days that are set aside. Sometimes it just needs to be a couple of minutes, time to sit and have a cup of tea while it’s still hot.
At times I struggle to make time to even do the most basic elements of self care so I know how it is to have things like ‘clean your teeth’ ‘eat breakfast’ ‘have a drink’ on your to do list, and that’s fine too. Doing those things is self care and sometimes it’s achievement enough to do those small elements of self care. It all counts. Basically anything that makes you feel more human, more happy is self care. Being my own best friend is what I’m always striving towards and I have to accept that if I can’t lavish that level of compassion on myself, I can at the very least treat myself with as much respect as I would a complete stranger who was having a hard time.
Social Media and scheduling
Social media can very easily be a leech on your time. It’s there all the time – beeping away, shouting to let you know that you’re probably missing something. One of the ways I’m trying to keep it in check is by using scheduling and also a time sheets app which lets me track how I am spending my working hours. Basically I am shaming myself into not spending all my time pretending to social network whilst actually watching cat videos or having random conversations.
Social media is a very worthwhile method of promoting your business and getting your brand ‘out there’. It’s great to interact with people and build a support network with people who are doing similar things to you along with potential customers. It can have the unfortunate side effect of making you available at all hours. Most of us honestly do not need to be on call constantly -it’s rare that someone needs an emergency board games event, or an immediate wedding photographer or a chair reupholstered within the next hour. I worked with someone who told me his mantra was ‘Good enough; soon enough’ and that’s a good enough one for me to work by too. It seems particularly pertinent when we consider what we expect from our online enquiries and interactions.
The core ethos of Cards or Die is using board games to connect people. I love creating accessible board gaming experiences where people get together, have fun and ditch their phones for a few hours. So you’d think I’d be adept at networking and constantly looking for opportunities to interact with others face to face.
In reality, being self employed can be an isolating experience and my anxiety and depression can make isolation very appealing. In an attempt to combat this I have tried out lots of different networking groups over the last year and a half. There are lots of different styles of networking and some are more formal than others. In some the level of formality can be intimidating especially if you have anxiety but if you keep looking, you find the right one for you. My local group – The Horsforth Friendly Forum is just that, a friendly group of people who get together, discuss ideas, share business knowledge and support one another. It allows me to interact with real life human beings as well as learning and sharing hints and tips on how to further the business. Plus the level of authenticity there is refreshing. I do enough pretending that everything is awesome on Instagram, I don’t need that bleeding into my real life. Honestly, in a society that’s full of people who always eat perfect lunches and do dynamic activities with their perfect families it’s a relief to be in the company of normal people.
It is a fact universally acknowledged that exercise is the answer to all sorts of ills: anxiety, depression, grief, period pains. For a long time I have contended that this is a myth put about by ‘authority’ to keep the proles working.
Grudgingly though, I have to admit that exercise does make me feel better. Whether it’s a walk and some fresh air or doing my yoga practice. Signing up to an exercise classes and dance groups has always been good for me as I lack the discipline to exercise otherwise. If only I was more disciplined I could opt for the thriftier options! The ideal scenario for me involves going with another person. Knowing that their attendance relies on you is a good way to rope your conscience into going. And it really works – it gets me out of the house, gives my brain a break and gives me a structured activity in which to interact with other people.
That’s not to say it always works. Some days what works is curling up on the sofa with chocolate, tea and soft blankets. Self care is about finding what works for you depending on how you feel at that moment.
Once again it all comes back to time. When you’re engaged in activities you love and success matters more than ever, it can be easy to devote all your time to work. I often find it challenging to justify using time for myself especially if it is spent on something ‘selfish’ or ‘frivolous’ but I’m working on it. I try to keep in mind the analogy about the oxygen masks on an aeroplane. If the masks drop you must put your own on first and then help others. If you can’t breathe you’re no use to anyone.
Small steps, not always in a linear fashion is what’s required to make a go of self employment and be successful at self care. And above all when I fail to complete these aims – as I do time and time again – the most important thing to remember is simply this..
So, what have I missed? What challenges? What solutions have you found for balancing the demands of self care and the unique challenges of self employment?

The Black Dog

That bloody dog is at my heels again. I can feel its breath, sense rather than hear the heavy thud of its paws as it feeds on my shadow and grows bigger, stronger.
I try hard not to feed it, not to tempt it closer with those intrusive thoughts or the automatic negative thoughts which move in waves – waxing and waning like the tides. 

I want to write a blog. I’d love to review a game or share something amazing with you but instead I am preoccupied with that bloody hound. 

I started this blog last week but of course my visitor meant that I was robbed of the power or will to actually finish it, let alone publish it.

This is not one coherent blog post, rather, it is a collection of snippets glimpses of how it feels for me. It’s self indulgent, I think. I don’t know, I can’t tell at the moment. And, that’s part of the problem – this paralysing mind fog. What would my best friend say? It might help people – reassure them; it might help you to share it; it might help people who don’t have mental health issues understand a bit more. 

But, on those days being my own best friend is an impossible task. My best friend on these days thinks the kindest thing is just to be brutally honest, to prepare me for the worst and prevent future embarrassment by discouraging human contact. Even the cat doesn’t care. She knows I’m a selfish bitch who deserves awful things. The way she speaks to me – even I know that no-one should have to put up with that. 

I realise I sound insane but that’s because I am. A bit. Fortunately most days I’m blessed with sharp wits and humour and I can shut her up. I can’t get rid of her completely though. Mostly I am alright…mainly… 

But I digress. I bore you. 


I lay in bed this morning after I’d dropped the kids off and stared at the expanse of grey sky, broken up by wet rooftops and bare trees. I think about things I should do. I scold myself for saying should – it’s really unhelpful language. I shouldn’t use it. My list flitters round my head and in amongst the list flicker answers, advice, strategies I *should* be using. There’s that damned word again. But it is all too hard to grasp and while I try to capture a thought I realise it’s too late and the black dog is on me. I sleep and when I wake, I feel fleetingly better until I realise how much time I’ve wasted. 


Today the insanity was palpable; a grey blanket which scratched at my skin, covered my head, made breathing stilted, shallow. I retreated into the darkness and smallness of it. Trying to catch myself, I lifted it and looked out at the sky. The measurelessness of it winded me; left me gasping for breath; floundering, drowning in open blue space. 

My body drifted through time and space confined by the madness which remained all day as a stone, lodged in my throat threatening to choke me at any moment. 


I do sink. From the heady heights of manic anxiety straight down to the paralysis of depression. Pausing only briefly to fasten my seatbelt in the car outside wraparound club and to feel happy. Momentarily I am happy and grateful for happy children and feeling love. By the time I reach work – a scant, blank 3 minute drive – I have plummeted into depression.