Posted in Personal life

Decision Time

When shops mount ‘Back to School’ displays at the start of the summer holidays, part of me feels sorry for schoolchildren. I also find the promise of the return to normality in September strangely comforting, but I’ve only just realised why.

Every day we need to make a lot of decisions. How many is unclear, but the extraordinary figure of 35,000 pops up all over the internet from various sources.

Assuming we sleep seven hours a night, that leaves us responsible for over 2,000 decisions per waking hour.

How did scientists come up with such a huge figure? I question whether some jiggery-pokery is in play. Perhaps it is analogous to my Fitbit’s insistence that I’d walked several miles when I was on a long journey in our camper van, doing nothing more active than knitting. It turned out the device was counting each stitch as a step, misinterpreting the movement of my hands.

Now there’s a  handy tip if you’re struggling to reach your step target at the end of a tiring day: sit down and do a few rows of knitting.

photo of knitting
Currently getting my step count up by knitting poppies for Remembrance Day

Lifestyle app Noom’s estimate of 122 daily decisions is more plausible, and more manageable, considering that we spend a good part of each working day on autopilot. Many of our decisions are shaped by our routines: when to rise, what to wear, how to travel, and so on. The more rigid our workday routine, the fewer decisions we need make. Even a creative job like mine is shaped by a certain degree of habit. For example, I always write first drafts by hand with a fountain pen.

Holidays make us abandon our work routines. While freeing us of some sources of stress associated with our workplace – conflicts with colleagues, commuter journeys – they force us to make many more decisions every day.

However well you know your own mind, all decisions are a source of stress, some more than others.

As a teenager moving from a school with compulsory uniform to one with a liberal dress code added much angst to my mornings.

Most holidays are too short for us to lay down comforting new routines. It takes an estimated 18 days to lay down new habits, although there are exceptions. On holiday in Berlin this summer, my daughter and I quickly got into the swing of breakfasting on oven-warm pastries and good coffee at the Einstein Café on the Kurfürstendamm, cute sparrows hopping around our feet to peck up dropped crumbs.

Returning from our holidays – going ‘back to school’ in spirit if not in fact – and to our old routines, we leave the stress of so many extra daily decisions behind. Whether this means a net gain in well-being depends on how stressful your job is.

If you’re feeling blue as the autumn takes hold, try this top tip for keeping your spirits up post-holiday, courtesy of my friend and former colleague Becky: let your first decision be where to spend your next holiday.

This column first appeared in the September 2022 edition of the Tetbury Advertiser.


cover of Dastardly Deeds at St Bride'sBACK TO SCHOOL WITH GEMMA LAMB

Go back to school with Gemma Lamb this autumn – St Bride’s School, that is! The new edition of the first Gemma Lamb Cozy Mystery, Dastardly Deeds at St Bride’s, is now available in ebook, paperback and audiobook, published by Boldwood Books. (Previously published as Secrets at St Bride’s.)

Order your copy here:

🇬🇧 Amazon UK 🇺🇸 Amazon US

Posted in Family, Travel

In the Land of Giants

My column for the October edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News

Lego model of knight on horseback
Tally ho! We’re off to Legoland!

In the first hour of a trip to Legoland on an INSET* day in September (no queues – hurrah!), I spot several signs that I must be getting old:

  • Realising I’m admiring the autumn colours of the landscaping as much as the theme park’s rides
  • Being more interested in the opening times of the coffee shops than of the attractions
  • Wondering how many plastic bricks the builders trod on in stockinged feet while assembling the hundreds of Lego models on display
  • Considering whether the staff valiantly performing in character costumes are thwarted RADA** graduates
  • Not minding the circuitous walks between attractions because they boost the step count on my fitness tracker
photo of hotel carpet
The hotel carpets had pictures of Lego bricks scattered on them – it was hard not to walk around them, as any parent will understand

But such churlish thoughts are vanquished by lunchtime, supplanted by the childish sense of wonder that results from strolling, Gulliver-like, among miniature models of famous landmarks from around the world.

photo of Lego models of landmarks
I towered over the Eiffel Tower at Legoland

Despite the 17,777 paces notched up by my step counter by bedtime, I leave the park feeling rejuvenated. Expensive though Legoland may be, at least it’s cheaper than Botox.

photo of toilet doors with Lego people on them
How to embarrass your teenage daughter: take photos in the Legoland toilets because  the decorations made you smile

*For non-British friends, I should explain that an INSET day is an In-Service Training Day during the school term, when the teachers go to school but the pupils do not. Each school has theirs at different times, so it provides the perfect day to take your kids to a popular attraction that is normally swamped at weekends.

**RADA is a leading British school for actors

Cover of All Part of the Charm


My collected columns from Hawkesbury Parish News 2010-2015, is available as an ebook and in paperback.

Posted in Personal life, Writing

When the Dust Settles…

My column for the November issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News

There can’t be many corners of Hawkesbury that have been unaffected by builder’s dust this autumn.

Lately, between the road works on France Lane and the extension that my husband is building at the back of our house…

Diggers at work on road

…I’ve been living in a cloud of fallout, trying not to think of Pompeii. I’ve sneezed enough for it to count as my recommended daily thirty minutes of vigorous exercise.

Continue reading “When the Dust Settles…”