Catholic Guilt

It’s that time of year again. The 40 days (and nights) of hell that they call Lent where I will once again be sacrificing an abundence of indulgences due to eternal Catholic guilt.

When my (English Protestant) dad asked my mum’s (Italian Catholic) dad for her hand in marriage it was given on the proviso that any children would be brought up in the Catholic faith.

As a youngster I got christened, received my first holy communion and was confirmed into the Catholic Church. I was sent to the Convent for catechism lessons and on a retreat to deepen my connection with my faith. There was even a time that I thought I wanted to be a nun. Yes, really.

So what have I learnt from being brought up with my faith that’s helped me in life?

1. Doing the right thing. Yes sometimes the Bible may feel like a set of stories but a great Priest has the gift of turning them into messages that resonate in our contemporary lives, helping make sense of our Christian purpose. One of my favourites is about when Jesus heals the leper. Ultimately it serves as an excellent metaphor for encouraging us to be the person that proactively seeks to help those who have been ostracised in some way, be it socially or in the workplace. Always be the one who seeks to welcome, involve and do the right thing by others, even if sometimes it means you may face being excluded in some way for doing so. We all have a different measure of what’s right and wrong but staying true to my own morals and beliefs so that I live my life through integrity is what’s most important to me.

2. Teamwork. Never before had I felt the sense of people coming together to achieve a goal than I felt when we’ve lost family members. It’s never too much trouble for the regular church goers to turn up and make everything happen so that the family has the opportunity to focus wholly on saying their farewells. There’s a role for everyone, respecting each other’s strengths and the contribution they’re making to the task. From the florists to the cleaners, the readers to the musicians, there is no hierarchy; people just seem to get on with it.

3. Presenting. I love an audience. From the age of 11 I was on the reading rota in our church, reading bible passages to large Sunday congregations, learning how to deliver the messages in a meaningful way. I also learnt a lot from listening to the sermons of my priests over the years, some good and some less good. This experience set me up well to speak in public as head girl of my secondary school and again to audiences of thousands in my role as Vice President of the University of Bath Students’ Union before taking on the most special role of all – reading at the weddings and funerals of those closest to me. Needless to say, the skills and confidence I gained from an early age in the church have put me in great stead for presenting with impact in the business world. Yes I get anxious before a big presentation but more because I’m fuelled by the adrenaline of wanting to perform well than the fear of the audience itself.

Whilst nowadays I would describe my relationship with the church as fair weather, going only when I feel I need some time for quiet reflection, ultimately I am thankful for being brought up with the church in my life.

And as for the Catholic guilt at Lent?

This year I’m giving up sweets, chocolate, crisps, chips, cake, biscuits, ice cream, Lucozade (red cap), pizza and McDonald’s. Basically, all of my indulgences. I’ve also contemplated throwing alcohol into the mix but I have a hen do and wedding during Lent, not to mention England v Wales in the Six Nations.

If Moses did it so can I. The chocolate bunnies will simply have to wait.

Gabriella x


I did it!

So here it is. My first weekend as a Graduate Dryathlete™, Class of 2014. Woohoo!

I did it.

On Friday night (31 January, proper countdown) I went out for dinner at Asia de Cuba in Covent Garden with some of my closest girl friends. It was to celebrate one of the girl’s birthdays, a fellow Dryathlete™. Rightly so, she decided to end her Dryathlon™ experience six hours ahead of the deadline but I stayed strong and worked my way through the non alcoholic cocktail menu to accompany my bottle of sparkling water with ice and wedges of lime (no tongs this time).

After dinner we went to the adjoining cocktail bar where the birthday girl offered to donate £20 to my Just Giving account if I would have a drink. What would you call that? Bribery? Emotional blackmail? Shocking tactics! I contemplated it due to the potential donation to Cancer Research but luckily one of the other girls talked me out of it and said, “what’s two hours for the 31 days you’ve stayed strong?” Wise words indeed! So I continued to work my way through the virgin list.

I did it.

I can however confirm that you’re not really meant to eat lemongrass or chunks of ginger. They should only be used for decorative purposes in cocktails unless, of course, you quite like to gag.

Every year since I was little I’ve given up sweets and chocolate for Lent. I think they call it Catholic guilt. Anyway, I always stay up until midnight on Easter Sunday morning to have my first taste of chocolate. A lot of thought goes into what the first taste will be and, in recent years, Lindt Lindor has won the accolade of being first past the lips. So, in keeping with tradition of how I celebrate ending a period of Lenten abstinence I contemplated doing similar to mark the end of Dryathlon™.

But I didn’t do it.

Firstly, I was shattered from a busy (but rewarding) week at work so was home for just after 23:00 and, secondly, I wanted it to feel more of a celebration than sitting alone on my sofa swigging a mouthful of fizz whilst watching part 2 of Silent Witness on the iPlayer wrapped up in my snuggle blanket.

So I decided to wait.

Saturday saw me head down to Exeter for a friend’s 40th. A 3hr 20min journey accompanied by my free cup of peppermint tea as part of my weekend upgrade to first class. After a few hours of shopping in the time-warped high street of my sister’s university city, I decided to reward myself with some new shoes from LK Bennett. Actually, make that two pairs and a matching clutch bag. I figured the whole lot cost me much less than I’d have spent on alcohol during January had I not taken up the Dryathlon™ challenge. And before anyone asks, no, I can’t actually walk in them but my God do they look pretty!

At 17:00, 17 hours after I was technically allowed to have alcohol for the first time since New Year’s Eve, I went to meet some friends in the The Mount Radford pub to watch the France England game. Wales had already won so I was pretty chuffed. The pub was, understandably, heaving and I really wanted my first drink to feel more special than one where I risked ending up being barged by someone, resulting in having it part in my mouth, part in my hair, part on my new shoes.

So I waited.

Doing something for the first time is always so much more enjoyable when you can do it with friends. I love creating memories! We decided to have pre-dinner drinks at the gorgeous Magdalen Chapter hotel in Exeter and my long time friend Rob (pictured with me above) insisted on buying me that first drink. Not having drunk there before, I couldn’t be confident at the quality of the cocktails. Whilst I’m sure they would have been lovely, I couldn’t run the risk of my first drink being a disappointment so I decided to go for a safe bet. A glass of Perrier Jouet champagne.

So how did it taste?

I’m not sure really. I didn’t have that “oh that tastes soooo gooood” feeling and whilst it really is a lovely champagne I felt decidedly underwhelmed. Another two glasses of fizz with dinner and I was back on the lemonade, not because the alcohol was going to my head and I wanted to slow down but more because I just wasn’t really enjoying it.

So I got a good night’s sleep and woke up with no hangover.

On Sunday, I headed across to Axminster for some fresh west country air and a catch up lunch with my friend Chris at his place of work, River Cottage. Lunch was lovely, and whilst my locally sourced mussels were cooked in a cider and cream sauce, I chose a non alcoholic Luscombe blueberry drink to accompany my meal.

I’ve changed.

The other reason I know I’ve changed is because I didn’t get a can of G&T from M&S for my long train journey home.

So what now?

Whilst there may not be a cap and gown for a Dryathlon™ graduation, there’s certainly a massive sense of personal fulfilment, a clear head, a strong focus and a new found love of fitness and wellbeing to take away from the experience. I’ve learnt so much about what makes me tick, when and why I choose to drink and, ultimately, a much deeper understanding of my relationship with alcohol in general.

Thank you so much to everyone who has supported and encouraged me on my journey and for reading my blog along the way.

I have one ask of you if you reached the end of this blog. As well as the health benefits and the personal challenge, I really wanted to do something for a good cause. OK so it wasn’t a marathon or climbing a mountain but it really was a big deal for a prosecco-loving socialite. If every person who’s read my blog to date and has laughed, smiled or simply just related to something I said, I’d love for you to click onto my fundraising page and make a small contribution to Cancer Research. If everyone who I’m connected to via social media donated just £1, we’d be £2000 closer to finding a cure for cancer. Anything you can give will be warmly and gratefully received.

I did it.

Gabriella x

Most Socially Influential Employee

One of the coolest things happened in work. I got an email from our social media manager letting me know that I had emerged as the most ‘Socially Influential Employee’ at Post Office for December. Apparently it was due to the reach of my tweets about last posting dates and my experience as a ‘Christmas Maker’ in St John’s Wood Crown Office in the lead up to Christmas. (See picture above)

This made me feel super proud. I even featured on a PowerPoint slide!

It was in fact this time last year that I was counting down to the redundancy scrap heap when the lovely Vicki Thacker at Fraser Jones called me to talk through an opportunity. As usual she described the role and asked what I thought, only then telling me the name of the organisation. I think my initial reaction was “POST Office?! I’m not really sure I see myself somewhere like that.” My perception of the organisation was that it was a bit ‘old school’ and somewhat dated in its offer and approach.

I saw myself as fitting better into an organisation which was forward thinking, would allow me to innovate and create, and which wasn’t ridden with red tape which would mean I’d struggle to deliver anything meaningful.

Aside from a short-lived stint in vocational education, I’d spent pretty much the whole of my professional career to date in blue chip FTSE 100 organisations and so a dalliance into the public sector seemed an illogical move.

But I went along for the interviews, got offered the role and, as I approach my one-year anniversary in March, I’m so proud to be part of an organisation that’s going through one of the most exciting business transformations in the UK.

I’m still amazed at how few people know that Post Office is no longer part of Royal Mail Group. In fact, the organisations separated in April 2012 as Royal Mail Group prepared to privatise.

Whilst commercially The Post Office will continue to sell its award winning range of Financial Services products such as insurances, travel money and mortgages, its branches are pivotal in providing communities with the front office of government with checking passports and issuing tax discs, pensions and benefits payments. We also offer Royal Mail Group’s mail services.

The three things I love most about working at the Post Office:

1. Being a learning and development professional here is so cool. I look after leadership development and, as Royal Mail Group had historically owned the curriculum, I have the opportunity to grow the function organically. I’m not battling with legacy programmes or frameworks. We’ve launched refreshed behaviours, a leadership framework and had the benefit of designing our approach to developing our senior leaders, working alongside some fantastic organisations. I also have the opportunity to innovate with technology and champion cutting edge app-based social learning. Again, very cool.

2. I work with the most fabulous people. Our Chief HR Officer has pretty much built her HR leadership team from scratch in the past twelve months and they in turn have had the opportunity to do the same. Yes we’re lean but the people I work with are bright and creative yet realistic and pragmatic. I also have a brilliant boss which is often so hard to come by. It feels so good to be part of a team that’s beginning to earn its stripes as a strategically aligned partner to the wider business.

3. There is a sense of collective desire to want to make a difference. From the colleagues I worked alongside in branch at Christmas to the staff who work in our supply chain operation, the subpostmasters and everyone in between, we all want to be part of transforming the organisation into a commercially performing business yet retaining our social purpose. I love that our advertising slogan is ‘handled with care’ as I really do feel there is an appetite to live that statement in the way we all go about our daily business whether referring to our customers, our products, or indeed the way we treat each other.

Yes there are invariably moments when I feel like the mountain is steep and high and I’m never going to get there. I sometimes wish I could win the lottery and become a lady who lunches rather than have to go to work but I think we all secretly aspire to a life where the corporate treadmill is less of a necessity and more of a choice.

And right now this is my choice. We are in the middle of recruiting our 2014 graduates and I’m hoping I will be able to spread some of my enthusiasm for the business so that they feel as excited about wanting to join us as I do almost one year in.

I feel so proud to work for such an iconic UK brand which continues to serve and support the communities in which it operates and I look forward to playing a part in its future.

Gabriella x

PS All views are my own and not those of my employer.
PPS Do you want to know more about our products and services?!

Mysterious Girl

Being a Dryathlete™ has definitely made me more mysterious. FACT.

I know this because every time I’ve gone into my local since it opened last year, one of my favourite bar men (Joao, see pic above) knows that I like a glass of prosecco with a (quartered) strawberry in it. When I went in on Thursday it was a whole new experience. Aware of my new Dryathlete™ status he was unsure of what I’d go for. A woman of mystery indeed! Peter Andre would have been intrigued.

So rather than embarking on a simple cork-popping exercise, he got chopping with a rather juicy looking water melon, some apple, cucumber and mint. Add to that some crushed ice and he basically made me a Mr Frosty* with none of the nastiness. And it didn’t turn my tongue blue either.

Ahhhh…. Mr Frosty.

In other alcohol-avoiding outings last week, the ‘Quizz and Fizz’ at Searcy’s champagne bar was actually fine too. It was on the upstairs concourse at St Pancras station and it was so cold that we were given a heater, blankets and a hot bottle to keep warm. I can confirm that sheepskin mittens look much better wrapped around a cup of tea than a champagne flute and so I didn’t feel too hard done by after all!

I can do this.

Dinner in the pub on Sunday night with a group of local pals who I’ve not seen properly for ages was another good test. My flatmate got straight on the rouge and I automatically ordered myself a large bottle of sparkling water, which swiftly arrived accompanied by an empty glass, a tumbler of ice with silver tongs and a little plate of lime wedges with cocktail sticks (NB I just asked for a glass with ice and a slice of a lime, but the creative flair was appreciated!). Only in Maida Vale.

The cutest thing ever was a friend introducing me to 100% black grape juice drunk from wine glasses when I popped over for a cuppa on Sunday afternoon. Being really honest, I’m not sure I would actually be able to tell whether it was alcoholic or not if put to the test. Apart from maybe the telltale leg tingling that usually happens five minutes into my first glass. A nice alternative to satisfy a bit of mind trickery.

I’m still feeling all of the benefits of being a Dryathlete™ that I wrote about some weeks ago and there’s no denying how much fitter I’ve got during January. I’m 100% sure it’s down to my being a Dryathlete™. I did a personal training session followed by a boxing bootcamp on Sunday. Both in the rain. There’s no way I could have or would have done that on a hangover.

There’s also no way I could have headed up to Bolton at 05:30 on a Monday morning and then do a full day of meetings with a hangover. (I also have no desire to do that ever again, hangover or not!)

It’s weird, I’m not even looking forward to my first drink. It feels somewhat like a first date but one where you’re setting yourself up for disappointment rather than the one where you’ve got a flippy over stomach because you so want it to be a good one. I will of course have a cheeky few but am not sure I’m expecting fireworks.

Lent is coming up in a few weeks and whilst my abstinence usually extends to sweets, chocolate, crisps, cake, biscuits and ice cream, I’ve never been quite holy enough to extend my list of forbidden indulgences to alcohol.

But there’s a first for everything.

And besides, hangovers are sooo 2013!

I can do this.

Gabriella x

* As well as not letting me drink from pint glasses, mum wouldn’t let me have a Mr Frosty when I was younger either as she said it was ‘junk’. I might get one now. Just to be a rebel.

Mocktail Schmocktail

The penultimate weekend as a Dryathlete™. DONE. Woop. In fact, double woop.

The big test came last night when I went out to a cocktail bar in Shoreditch for a friend’s birthday. Despite the absence of anything non alcoholic on the menu, the lovely barman made me some delish mojito mocktails. That said, lovely though they were, they would definitely have benefitted from a shot or two of Bacardi. Wishful thinking, eh?!

I decided to head home at 22:30 as everyone else was drinking, getting the shots in and generally getting merrier. It was OK though as I picked up a Malteaster bunny and a copy of Closer from Sainsbury’s as a treat for my journey home where I then settled down to watch this week’s Silent Witness two-parter with a bottle of Evian and no hangover on Sunday morning.

I have three big social tests coming up in the week ahead where I would generally be leading on the fizz consumption:

1. ‘Fizz and Quiz’ at Searcy’s champagne bar with the girls. We booked this before I committed to Dryathlon™. I mean what’s the point in going to a champagne bar when you can’t even drink champagne?! I hope to God they don’t have a ‘Schloer’ equivalent. I feel as though I may as well be miserable sat at home drinking Robinsons Fruit and Barley orange squash (no added sugar) than be miserable because I’m the only one in a champagne bar who can’t drink champagne. That’s like torture for me! I’m hoping the fizz abstinence means I actually take the quiz seriously. Here’s hoping there’s a showbiz and cocktail round.

2. Connecting HR Networking event. This is a lovely group of people who I met via Twitter. The group gets together every few months to chat HR, organisational development and learning and development over a beer or two. I love these events because I can talk about the subject I love and learn more about it from others but in a relaxed environment with no formal structure. It’s almost impossible to get to talk to everyone who comes along so I’m nearly always still there at last orders with a glass of wine that’s become warm as I’ve continued to chat. I wonder how long I’ll manage to stay out this time?

3. Catching up with an old pal from my Tesco days. The last time we caught up we got through a fair few champagne cocktails at Vertigo 42. I’m so excited to see her and I’m hoping the fact we have so much to catch up on (including her recent wedding!) will be enough to make me forget that I’m not actually drinking.

I can do this.

Actually I do have one more social event planned this week and that’s with the people I work out with. Most of us are either doing Dryathlon™ or don’t actually drink anyway (yes, really) so I’m hoping the non alcoholic solidarity will carry me through. We’re going to one of my favourite locals where they have a fantastic mixologist who has just launched a new detox cocktail menu. Who knows, maybe I’ll love it so much he’ll never pour me a prosecco with strawberry in it ever again.

Roll on 1st February.

I can do this.

Gabriella x

The Rules of the Game

It’s Day 16 of Dryathlon™, the mid-way point, and I’m bored of it now. Last night was the first night I felt frustrated that I can’t have something because the rules of the game have taken the choice away from me. And whilst I’m still choosing to play, I don’t like the rules anymore! But I’ve come this far.

I can do this.

I found myself in three very different situations over the past few days where a glass of prosecco would have been most welcome. In fact, a bottle would have been even better. I feel so sober at the moment that I think I’m almost more sober than sober! (if of course that’s possible)

1. Spending time with children. I spent the weekend with a friend and her two daughters, aged four and five. They are the most lovely, bright, curious, well mannered little girls and my friend should be super proud of the amazing job she does of being their mum. But it’s constant. After painting their nails (each toe had to be a different colour), plaiting their hair (it had to be a fish tail) and spending two hours at a six year old’s princess party at a soft play centre, I felt like I needed something to take the edge off. Something more than five cups of green tea. I honestly don’t know how she does it. And she does it every day. I also don’t know how she is doing DryathlonTM. She is amazing.

2. My stolen phone. I got home on Sunday to find that my lovely iPhone 5 wasn’t with me. It’s usually glued to my right hand but on this occasion I was busy watching last Friday’s episode of Silent Witness on my iPad which lasted literally until I got off the tube at Maida Vale. As soon as I realised it was missing I watched it painfully move further south through the New Forest as I tracked it on the ‘Find my iPhone’ app. The phone was fully charged but, on arrival at Petersfield, it was manually turned off. It has never been switched back on or handed in. All I wanted to do on Sunday was have a drink to take the edge off how I was feeling. Instead I went for a run. In the rain. I ran for two miles.

3. A networking event. I’m due to launch a pretty significant leadership programme into our business and one of the companies I’m working with was holding a showcase and networking event. They always put on a good show with free-flowing wine and delicious canapés. I spent my whole day in a workshop, had brain mush and an hour to kill before the event. So I popped into the bar in Gaucho for a drink whilst I caught up on my emails. The cocktail menu was all alcoholic but the lovely barman made me a few different virgin cocktails which kept me happy. Interestingly, rather than saying “I can’t drink alcohol”, I found myself saying “I don’t drink alcohol”. Psychologically, I think it helped. At the networking event I then drank a lot of ginger beer. I’ve always felt at ease at such events but, for the first time ever, I felt quite exposed. I felt I was less relaxed, worried I was less engaging and even, perhaps, a little boring. I managed to stay until 22:30 and had some really meaningful conversations but felt quite flat when I got home.

So in summary, whilst I am still feeling all of the benefits of being a Dryathlete™ that I outlined in my previous blog, there are three things I now dislike about Dryathlon™:

1. I feel like my freedom of choice has been taken away from me because there are rules that are restricting me.
2. I miss my social life. I’m avoiding going out and doing the things I usually do because I’m worried I’ll feel like I’m missing out. I’m just doing exercise instead.
3. I feel like I’m super serious all the time. Not on edge, but just quite serious. I want to feel more relaxed and more, well, like me.

I’m now starting to think about how things will be after this period of abstinence. I’m not sure that denying myself what I want when I want it is really for me, but hope I will have more of an ‘everything in moderation’ approach to my relationship with alcohol. We shall see.

I can do this.

Gabriella x

Don’t Tell My Mum About The Pint Glasses

One whole week as a Dryathlete™ and quite possibly the longest I’ve gone without even a sip of alcohol since I came of age. A worrying thought.

From the school days of drinking Mad Dog 20:20 and Hooch behind the rugby club, the university years of downing bottles of blue WKD, shots of Aftershock and pints of Cider and Black, through to the past fifteen years of trying to find the best wine producer in the world through careful, regular sampling, this is a very strange feeling indeed.

That said, I’m now really starting to notice a difference. There are five main signs so far.

I feel fresher. Whilst getting out of bed is unlikely to ever become a simple task, I feel significantly more refreshed when I get out of bed than I usually would. This means I seem to spend less time faffing around in the morning and have a greater focus on getting myself ready and out of the house more quickly.

I have more energy. I’ve noticed a massive difference in my physical strength and endurance. Running has become easier and I can sustain the exercises in my personal training sessions for longer than I could before. The downside is I’m finding it harder to get to sleep at night on the days I’m not training as I seem to have excess energy which needs to be burnt.

I’m less bloated. Just that really.

I’m much more hydrated. I’ve been drinking two to three litres of water a day. Often after work I’d automatically have a glass of wine or prosecco. Even if I’m thirsty, I don’t usually have a soft drink with it, instead using wine as my sole method of hydration. As a result of Dryathlon™, I’ve been drinking water rather than wine when I’m thirsty. In fact I’m finding I’m thirsty much less often than usual.

I’m much more alert. In work I’m finding I’m a lot sharper and able to make decisions more quickly. I seem to stay focused on specific tasks for longer without getting distracted or drifting into procrastination mode. This is probably where I’m feeling the most positive impact of being such a high performing Dryathlete™.

Chatting in the office with other Dryathletes™, we all confirmed we are amazed at how much more focused and alert we feel. There is a real buzz amongst the team, as well as a sense of pride that we’ve surpassed even our own expectations!

In fact, I wonder what the increase in the organisation’s effectiveness would be if we all became perma Dryathletes™. In fact, imagine the impact on the UK Economy if its entire workforce gave up alcohol.

Now that’s a thought.

I can do this.

Gabriella x

PS Don’t tell my mum I used to drink from pint glasses at university. She says it’s very unladylike.