Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The Imagined Audience

Take note, dear blog readers, for this is a very unusual day in my blogging history. I'm going to write something a bit (gasp!) intellectual. Something that has (double take) - references. THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING!!!

So in the recent past (the very recent past - this evening, in fact), I lead a second year MSc seminar group who were discussing papers about the self and adolescence. The paper on the self was inscrutable and fairly up its own arse, but one of the papers on adolescence grabbed in a way that nothing I've read in my work as a psychologist has for a while.

I was reading the paper on the tube, for to prepare, and when I read the following section I actually had to stop and put it down for a while to take in what I was seeing:

"Increased awareness of others' perspectives during adolescence might also be related to the 'imaginary audience'. This term describes the phenomenon whereby adolescents believe that others are constantly observing and evaluating them, even if this is not actually the case... It should be noted that studies conducted more recently indicate that the imaginary audience peaks in adolescence but persists into young adulthood, and that even older adults exhibit some phenomena associated with it." (Sebastian, Burnett and Blakemore, 2008, p 443.)

The reasons why I had to stop, put the paper down and stare, slack-jawed, at the person opposite me on the tube – causing said person to panic and look askance at the fear of actual eye contact on the London Underground... and said eye contact coming from a drooling moron at that – were two-fold.

Number one, I couldn't believe that someone had put this idea of always being watched into words - more than that, that there is an actual phenomenon named after it. And number two, given that this is, apparently, A Thing... that I was supposed to have stopped doing it by now.

At 36 (fiddle sticks), I am definitely an older adult now. And yet I do this all the time. Every single day of my life. I'd never really stopped to think about it, but if I had, I probably would have guessed that everybody else does it too. And yet now it seems, according to Sebastian et al, that I'm an outlier in this case.

The form that my particular imaginary audience takes follows thusly. I do not, egotistical and all as I am, imagine that there are crowded theatres full of people hanging on my every word, cheering at my successes and oooo-ing sympathetically at my pratfalls. Nor do I think that the various extras that populate my world (girls at the gym, other students I pass in the halls, people serving me in the bar) are on a secret government mission to spy on me. I DID think that when I was about four (along with thinking that the weird beeping noise I heard in my ears from time to time was the government checking that the operation on my ears had worked, and that I had to quietly say 'yes' to stop them coming after me - what can I tell you, those many failed hearing tests scarred me), but I'm over that particular delusion now. Let us be thankful for small mercies.

No, my imagined audience is cut from a different cloth. There's usually someone in my head. Isn't there usually someone in your head? The friend I've been talking to a lot recently; the guy I've decided I have a crush on; the internet poster I had an argument with yesterday; the supervisor I'm struggling to impress right now. Someone is nearly always occupying my resting thoughts, so that when I'm not actively thinking about what's right in front of me (usually an episode of Bitch 23 or a phenomenological transcript I'm trying to wrap my head around - I'm nothing if not diverse), that person is dancing around in my head like a sort of embodied screen saver.

And so I imagine (and that's the key word - I know it's imaginary, I do not think it's real, I cannot stress THAT enough!) that they are watching me. And judging me. For good or ill. And occasionally I modify my behaviour so that it will please them. Not a whole hell of a lot... but I stretch a bit further in yoga so that they will be impressed, or I put on earrings I think they would pick, or I put on hip hop CD instead of a pop one if I think they'd like it more. Am I scaring you yet? I sure hope not.

Now that I realise this is A Thing, and that not everybody does it, I find myself wondering if it's connected to another delightful (ho ho) little quirk my crazy brain has. One that I really hope not so many of you have.

Ever since I can remember, my brain has stored little nuggets of shame from my day to day life. Stupid things I've said, mostly, but occasionally idiotic things I've done, or ridiculous outfits I've worn. And, I would say, five or six times a day (more if I'm alone for hours, or tired), those moments of shame will go BANG into my brain, with no warning, so I have no defence against them, and make me physically cringe and shudder. If you've hung out with me a lot, you've probably seen me do this - suddenly grab my head and shrink back a bit. If I'm alone, I will always say, 'i HATE myself' in punishment for being such a fool.

I kinda like my imagined audience. I do not like my moments of shame. But I have no idea how to stop them.

I wanted to write a whole blog about these moments of shame at one point. I was going to call it 'The things that haunt me' and list a whole bunch of those moments - but every time I even thought about writing it, it depressed me too much to continue, and I couldn't imagine who on earth would want to read such a depressing diatribe, so I gave up on the idea.

However, this paper I read, as well as talking about the Imagined Audience, also talks about the idea of the Looking Glass Self, in which the way we feel about ourselves is made up from "our beliefs about how we are seen by others" (ibid, p. 441). Every one of those moments that haunt me came about because I believe that people saw those shameful moments, judged me on them, and found me wanting.

The more logical part of my mind knows that if I asked anyone involved in those moments which repeatedly flash into my mind and make me hate myself, they would no doubt have forgotten them, and not have the slightest idea of what I'm talking about. But my inner whipping girl, the one that can never let it lie, will never believe that.

So as I said at the start of this blog, if I had given my imagined audience any thought before, I think I had just assumed that everyone did this. But it seems that I was wrong - and so perhaps the two things are linked, and are a result of my being in some sort of fucked up state of arrested development, whereby I have yet to get past being an emotional adolescent, with all of the sensitivities and fears that they have.

Let's face it, it would explain a lot, right? The hello kitty obsession, the 13-year-old's taste in music, the fear of the unknown, the inability to hold a boyfriend down, the constant student-dom, the never ending emo-angst? Maybe this is the answer to it all?

Or are Sebastian and co wrong, and we DO all think the same way I do? How about it, blog-fans? Am I crazy, or are you just like me? Answers on a blog comment, please!

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

eBoy pt. II - the returns process

As always, the usual apologies for leaving it so long between blogs. One day, I will be better. The day will dawn, and it will be soon, that I will do an hour of self practice yoga every morning before work, I will eat only brown rice and vegetables for every meal, I will return to my spiritual home of 7.5 stone. I will do every piece of analysis perfectly first time, I will stop drinking again. I will become incapable of saying any of those dumb things that come back to haunt me at night. When that time comes, I will also be writing a hilarious and gripping blog every week. Any day now. Six weeks, tops.

So, the eagle eared amongst you will remember that some time ago I wrote a blog about my foray into the world of internet dating. I promised an update, and here it is. (NB - I must also apologise. This isn't a very funny blog. I had had visions of turning various of the dates into hilarious anecdotes, but I find I don't really want to laugh at any of the fellas in question. So this is more of a musing than a stand up routine.)

I suppose it should have been obvious that finding true love via the internet was never going to be as easy as I had thought, but I'm not always great at grasping the obvious. I was so terrified at the thought of meeting strangers (people never believe this of me, but I am, like you, crippling shy. We all are, underneath. Aren't we?) that I think I sorta had it in mind that if I managed to be brave enough to overcome this, my reward would be - ta da! -  the perfect boyfriend. No muss, no fuss. After all, I'd filled in all the forms, I'd made it perfectly obviously what my requirements were. It's a bit like designing a t-shirt on SpreadShirt, right? I've put in the elements I want, and all that needs to happen now is that it/he is posted to me. What could possibly go wrong?

Turns out (well, duh) that life and love and lust are just not that simple.

I'm sure I'm far from the only person to point this out, but internet dating is such an alien environment. You find yourself going out with people you would never have looked at twice if you'd seen them on the tube, or in the swimming pool, or in an S&M dungeon. Not because they're hideously ugly or defective in any way, but because you can't tell over the internet whether you are genuinely attracted to someone or not. Whether that spark is really there. Damn, I wish you could, because everyone is more attractive on the internet. Why do y'all think I spend so much of my time on here? My internet self is so much better thought out, funnier, slicker, hotter than my real self. Turns out, this is the same for everyone else too. We all have time to go back and edit on the internet. Real life has fewer spaces for retakes.

This phenomena, where you find yourself on these weird, New York style 'dates' with people (which, let's face it, is not the way we get together with people in this country... we go to parties, someone is there, we make friends with them for a bit, we end up sleeping with them, we worry about when we can say 'boyfriend', and then he says 'girlfriend' and then you text all your mates, and everybody's happy. For four whole weeks, at least) who you wouldn't normally have considered is both good and bad. Good, because maybe you *should* be giving a few curveballs a chance. Bad, because honestly, if you don't fancy someone, is it ever really gonna work?

But then, you're this terribly strange situation in which the very notion of whether you do or you don't fancy each other and what that might mean is so tangible, so heavy in the air, that it might as well be the third guest at the table, making polite yummy noises about the tapas and wondering why it's drinking quicker than you. And that makes it nigh on impossible to work out what anyone really thinks of anyone else. This tends to be where I remind myself that I didn't fancy any of my recent boyfriends upon first meeting them. It has often taken a few months, or even years, to work that out. So what, are you supposed to keep seeing these internet boys for years, in the hope that you'll start fancying each other at some distant point in the future? That doesn't seem like an efficient use of time.

A recent boyfriend once screamed at me that I would never really be happy in a relationship because I have such unrealistic expectations of men. I have filed this in the brain-box labelled Least Favourite Memories Ever. I don't think this is true. Is it true? I don't know. It's probably true. I do expect quite a lot from people, or so I'm told. But you know what, I expect about 50% of what I expect of myself from everyone else, so it never really feels like that much to me. It can't be true. Can it?

The ongoing dialogue in my head throughout this series of dates with different boys I've had this year is whether I'm rejecting them because they're not right for me and no-one should be in a relationship with someone who is wrong for them, or whether I'm rejecting them because I'm an unrealistic princess who has watched too many rom coms. I have no idea which is correct.

So when my brain isn't doing the 'don't settle vs unrealistic expectations' tango, it tends to be occupied with another constant, unwinnable war, which I'm guessing all the single ladies and laddies may well recognise from their own crazy brains. The one where one part of my brain seems to be permanently screening every male I see, from the scandalously young boy in the coffee shop to the ridiculously ancient dude checking my library book out, to see if he might be potential husband material; constantly raging against the injustice of the fact that everyone else in the ENTIRE world (statistically speaking) has an other half and I don't; forever planning futures with people I don't really know and then getting annoyed when even in my head they don't go the way I'd really want them to.... whilst the other half of the time, I'm thinking hang on a moment, do I even want this thing I seem to spend so much time thinking about?

I know that I'm just as capable of being miserable when I am in relationship as when I'm single - it's a talent of mine. I'm lucky enough to have amazing friends and a busy life. I DJ and I take photos and I (sometimes) write this blog. I do my PhD and I go to yoga and I try to sleep right. When would I even have time to have a boyfriend anyway? And if I did get one, would I have to stop listening to Harry Potter at night? And pretend to like his music? What if he wanted to put his CDs on in the car? Would I have to pretend that was ok? Cos it's not, you know! Could I still spend entire Sundays watching the Big Bang Theory and eating cheese? What if he wanted me to spend Christmas with his family? I probably won't like his family, I only really like my family. Would I have to be quiet in the mornings? Have curries half of the time instead of always Chinese? Share the gin? Do I have time for that shit? Not really, no.

So the upshot of all this, dear reader, is that I've left all the dating websites. Maybe romantic love will find me. Maybe not. But (for now at least) I'm done trying to force it. I'm too tired.

What do YOU think, dear reader? Is love all its cracked up to be? Or am I better off sharing my bed with Harry Potter alone until my days are eeked out?

Thursday, 13 September 2012

The Summer of Love

Here's a little poem I wrote for my friend Kaye's cabaret, which I performed in last night. It is dedicated to my many, many friends who got married this year. Thank you to all of them for having so much more imaginative and wonderful weddings than the ones depicted in this poem - I love you all. Please don't hate me.

The Summer of Love

A thick, creamy envelope's come in the post.
This has to be something exciting...
A wedding! My goodness! What fabulous news!
I'm so happy to be invited.
I'll rush to the shops, and I'll buy a new dress,
and some heels that reach for the sky.
Bring a bumper pack of tissues along,
cos true love always makes me cry.

The big day is here, we've all scrubbed up well,
the groom's up the front looking shy.
The bride! The dress! She looks so fine!
It's the best day of all of our lives.
A kid stumbles over her reading (aww),
but really, we won't complain.
They say their 'I dos,' the girls start to cry...
Now let's all go get drunk on champagne!

This reception is simply fabulous!
This risotto is simply divine!
These speeches are simply hilarious!
Yes, I will have another white wine.
I'm sat next to your rib-ticklin' uncle,
and I'll try to catch the bouquet.
I've been eyeing up that fit groomsman, so
you'd better not get in my way.

It's the end of the night, we all stumble home,
it's been the most beautiful day.
It's a shame he snogged that northern bitch
and my vision is starting to sway.
Steve's being sick in the toilet, but still -
it's the British wedding way!


Another thick envelope's come in the post.
I think I know what this might be...
Ah yes! Another wedding! Well...
it looks like I'm probably free.
I guess I'd best buy another dress,
though could this one lead to less debt?
And I'll bring my trusty tissues along,
cos true love; well, it makes me upset.

The day is... here, we've all... turned up.
Is that groom coming out in hives?
The bride comes in, and she does look great,
it's the best day of their lives.
Another kid does another reading,
as I sneak a look at the time.
They say their 'I dos,' the guys look askance,
now let's all go get messed up on wine!

This reception is kinda fun, I guess,
though my risotto is a bit grim.
These speeches are going on a bit,
we'd better not run out of gin.
I'm sat next to your tedious uncle,
I'll escape to catch the bouquet.
The band's bass player's a bit of alright,
so don't bloody well get in my way!

It's the end of the night, and we've drunk the bar dry.
Steve's pissed and being a prick.
The bridesmaids are rowing out in the rain,
and the bride's tiara got nicked.
That bass player is snogging some skinny slut...
oh help... I'm gonna be sick!


Another thick envelope's come in the post.
Oh, dear god, it's not fair!
Another wedding I can't turn down.
Can I say I've been mauled by a bear?
Could I still fit into last month's dress?
It might zip if I don't do much sighing.
I'll need my waterproof slap because
I'll probably end up crying.

The day is here and we're all running late,
the groom's up the front looking smug.
The bride looks gorgeous, of course - bitch.
How long before we get drunk?
Another kid messes a reading up,
what are they taught in these schools?
They say their 'I dos,' but I bet it won't last.
Let's all drown our sorrows in booze!

This reception is never-ending.
This risotto tastes like dirt!
Who told this best man he was funny?
These speeches are making me hurt.
I'm sat next to your lecherous uncle,
and if this time, I catch the bouquet,
I'll use it to lamp his face in,
so for fuck's sake - stay out of my way!

It's the end of the night, and these shoes hurt my feet,
all of my make-up has run.
I'll end up snogging Steve at this rate -
my hangover's already begun.
I can't find a taxi - which way is home?
Oh, when will I ever learn?
I'll never go to a wedding again.
You guys... just wait til my turn.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

You have no power over me

The more enlightened of my blog fans will recognise that blog title as being, of course, a quote from the wonderful David Bowie film Labyrinth. Specifically, from the scene at the end in which all girls of my age died inside as a very young Jennifer Connelly chose her whiney kid brother over the beautiful Jareth, the Goblin King. I mean seriously, what was wrong with her? He re-ordered time, he turned the world upside down, and he did it all for HER! Ungrateful swine!

Ahem, anyway, excuse me, must stop before I get carried away with the goblins.

The blog title doesn't entirely fit the blog, but once I'd decided on it, I couldn't really change my mind and go for anything else. I wanted to write about why I've not been writing much lately. And why I've not been doing much of anything that makes me my best self lately: yoga, keeping track of my money, swimming, teetotalling, obeying the sleep rules, working hard enough at uni. This essentially boils down to experiencing a lack of control in one area of my life, which has leaked into a feeling of recklessness everywhere else. I have no power over it. It's weak, but it sorta works. Bear with me, I'm tired.

Keen followers of this blog (and I know, despite, the soul-crushing lack of comments on it, that there are some, as people talk to me reasonably enthusiastically about it at times in person. An aside... I know I come across all tough and emotion free (ah ha ha ha ha), but I am, after all, a mere creature of flesh and blood and I operate best with feedback... so if you like this blog, please can you leave a comment to say so? It will really make my day. Pitiful request for popularity over now) will know that I started a new job about four months ago now and that I'm not exactly enjoying it.

I'm not going to go into the details of said job here as I do everything I can to avoid thinking about it when I'm not there, but instead will talk about the effect that having a job I hate is having on me.

Well, actually, that's a bit of a lie right away there, as I have to start off by explaining why it is that I hate this job so very much. It's taken me a while to work it out, but I've realised it's come down to a total lack of control. Over ANYthing. Here is a list of things I cannot control in the average day at work: getting into the office; getting my computer to work; being able to find and recognise the participants I'm meant to be interviewing; the participants I'm meant to be interviewing arriving on time; the participants I'm meant to be interviewing arriving at ALL; the participants I'm interviewing telling me the truth; what I'm allowed to wear; which of three locations I'm going to be at at any given time; whether there will be a room or a desk for me at two of those three locations in which to do my work; what the end point of the project is.

It might not sound so much, but the combined result of all this is to make me feel as though I am trying to sail a big, complicated, scary boat, one with three sails and loads of ropes and cleats and creaking boards across a stormy sea entirely on my own. And Nancy Blackett, I ain't. It's scary and humiliating and very, very stressful.

The saving grace of all this is that the job is a fixed term contract and only part time, so I still have the majority of my life away from it and, as I type this, only 23 more weeks to go. And I am keenly, keenly aware that some people live in some circumstances whereby they have no control over any of their lives at all, and as a result, this is a total first world problem and I should be counting my blessings. Which I actually do, a bit, believe it or not.

However, back to the point... what has been my reaction to sense of being so out of control? Concentrating on making the parts away from my life as mentally healthy as possible, so as to ease the bits that are hurting so much? Doing the things I know are good for me, to boost my sense of self and grab back some of that stolen agency?

Hell no! For I am a weak willed human, and seem to have decided that the answer to my woes lies at the bottom of a chocolate wrapper and the end of the remote control. I can't be entirely blamed for stopping yoga, since my gym decided to use this summer to re-do the changing rooms so is, to all intents and purposes, unusable for me for the time being. I can't wait for the gym to re-open as I am really missing yoga. Not enough to do any at home, of course. Oh hell no. Not even enough to pick up the DVD I ordered from a nearby yoga shop about six weeks ago either. Good lord, what do you want from me? I have episodes of the Big Bang Theory to re-watch, for heaven's sake!

Everything else, though - the lack of writing, the money that's being spent way faster than it's being made, the boozing, the slacking off at uni, the endless piles of crisps and cheese - it's all being justified by my weak-willed brain saying oh, come on! This week's been hard; crisps, and crisps alone can solve this one. To the snack machine!

Every Sunday I swear to myself that this week will be different. I'll do some yoga in the mornings, I'll eat only vegetables all week, I'll stop drinking again... but even as I'm saying it to myself, I know it's not really true. I'm basically just clinging on with my fingernails until January 23rd, when my contract is over and I can have the power over my own life back.

So if blog entries are a bit few and far between during this period, please try to sustain yourselves by any means, fair or foul. I've written this one, and that's a start. 

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Growing Up At Gigs

Well, the first thing I clearly have to do, dear readers, is apologise for taking so long to write a new blog. I knew it had been a while, but I had no idea it had been so long. My only excuse is that, in late April, I started a job that I hate. Have you ever had a job like this? A job that you start dreading going back to the moment you leave at the end of the week? A job that you don't want to talk about because even thinking about it makes you cross? A job that makes you cry on a regular basis and feel sick even more often? Well, I have a job like that now and it's made pretty much everything - exercise, eating properly, not drinking, spending money properly, taking photographs - go out of the window. And it would seem that writing blogs is one of those things.

I have made a couple of attempts to start new entries, but they didn't really go anywhere. In particular, I was trying to write about not wanting children, but writing about an absence is hard, and doesn't make for terribly thrilling reading. The crux of that particular blog, if you are interested, would have been that you might as well ask a sated person why they don't want dinner. They could, if they wanted (although that would be a bit weird) think up all kinds of reasons that sound logical and make sense, but that isn't really the reason. The fact of the matter is, they just don't, because they are full. I have spent years telling myself that I don't want children because I have too much to do with my life or because the world is over-populated, and so on, and all of these reasons are, in their own way, accurate. But the actual truth of the matter is that I'm just not (and I know this sounds a bit weird) hungry for children. I have as much interest in having one as I would do in a plate of risotto after I've just eaten a roast. My friends' kids? Cute as kittens. My own? No thank you.

I've had a list of potential other blog topics swirling around in my head for a few months, but what with the hated job, all I've wanted to do when I get home is lie under a soft blanket, sobbing gently and watching episodes of Come Dine with Me. However! It is time to take myself in hand, and remind myself that writing is something I enjoy, not something to be scared of, so I shall ease myself back in gently by writing about something that's been in my head for about seven or eight months now.

So, the preamble will end and the actual blog will begin (are you ready?)... NOW!

1. Morrissey, Kilburn National, Kill Uncle, 1991.

The gig on which I cut my baby teeth was probably one of the most exciting things that has ever happened to me. I couldn't quite believe that I was going to be breathing the same air as my idol. I don't think I've ever thrown myself into a gig with quite such aplomb since.

Almost immediately that His Royal Highness, Sir Morrissey of Misery came on the stage, my brother, my friend Alison and I were swept asunder from each other, but I was so entranced by the music that I barely noticed. Alison lost a shoe. My brother caught a bit of Morrissey's red gauze shirt when he threw it into the crowd and was generous enough to allow Alison and I a small piece it. I framed mine and kept it on my wall for decades.

I couldn't now tell you for sure a single song that was played (although I'm pretty sure it was the Kill Uncle tour, so I guess both Our Frank and There's is a Place in Hell for Me and My Friends at the very least would have featured. What I do remember is the feeling of immense love for Morrissey, the feeling that I would die to defend his lyrics (well, possibly not the slightly dodgy is-he-being-ironic-or-is-he-actually-a-racist ones), and the feeling after the gig was over, as if I had just done something hugely important like give birth or write a novel. I was hooked.

2. Julian Cope, Kentish Town Forum, Jehovahkill, 1992.

I went to this gig with My First Boyfriend, TM. I think this gig particularly sticks in my head because Julian Cope was one of the first people I liked off my own bat. Most of my early music loves are directly inherited from my brother, who has immaculate taste in music. Said brother has nothing against Mr Cope, but isn't a big fan, whereas in those days, good ole' Droolian was probably Morrissey's biggest rival for my heart. 

I listened to Jehovahkill again and again and again at this time in my life, and this was the tour supporting that album. The gig was about three hours long (which must have been torture for the boyfriend, not such a big fan himself) and featured Julian playing most of the different instruments on stage and running into the audience dressed in a fox outfit during Reynard the Fox.

As I left the gig, I remember turning to the boyfriend and saying it was the best gig I had been to thus far - and at that point, being cheap as chips and fairly plentiful, I was going to gigs most weekends (Suede, Verve, the Sisters, the Mission, Verve again - I saw that something crazy like eight times around this period of my life), so this was quite a statement. And having gone to see My artist, with My boyfriend, this was the adolescence of my gigging days.

3. Madonna, Amsterdam Arena, Confessions, 2006

Yeah, so that's quite a leap forward in time, but I only want to write about five gigs, otherwise you'll all pack up your suitcases and go home (if you haven't already), so forgive the fast forwarding.

This actually was the greatest gig of my life - I can very comfortably say that nothing will top it. It was also a massive step in my growing as a person because I went on my own to the Amsterdam Arena, and, more importantly, got myself home from there as well.

I am terrified of navigating myself to new places alone even in London. Getting lost is one of my biggest fears, probably because it happens to me a lot. My head is teflon for locations and directions, and even thinking about things like that stresses me out. I'm a pretty timid, scaredy-cat kind of person who only speaks English, so trying to get about when in foreign climes on my own is super duper difficult for me.

However, it was so supremely worth it. Those few hours in the Amsterdam Arena were probably the best of my life. She had themed the show around horses. There were roller skating breakdancers. Even being on my own was actually pretty damn cool as I could squeeze into smaller spaces and not worry about losing people. It was just amazing. I cried pretty much all the way through it. And then nearly got on the wrong tube home.

4. Death Cab for Cutie, Hammersmith Apollo, 2011

I had heard the name Death Cab for Cutie for a few years, but didn’t really know anything by them. I came to them via my love of the Postal Service, a duo made up of Ben Gibbard from DCFC and a guy called D’ntl who makes electronic music, kinda like a souped up Pet Shop Boy, in my humble opinion, on his own. My love of the Postal Service was something of a whirlwind romance – we looked into each others’ eyes and immediately eloped. I stayed up late at nights pouring over Gibbard’s amazing words and being thrilled when I spotted solutions to his lyrical tricks. I listened to that album until I had worn it out but, as is often the way with whirlwind romances, I find I’ve now gone off it a bit. I still love four or five tracks on it (most notably Clark Gable, Such Great Heights, that heart-wrenching duet), but some others (This Place is a Prison, Recycled Air), I could take or leave, really.

However, I the main thing that stuck with me from my Vegas wedding to the Postal Service was that Mr Gibbard joined the pantheon of Stephen, Lily, Mike, Leonard, Tom and Richie et al (points if you know all of those surnames!) of Lyricists Who Somehow See Into My Soul. And so, even though I was pretty anti-guitar music at the time, I decided it had to be worth looking up Death Cab, who have albums and albums and albums to their name, as opposed to the one Postal Service effort.

It’s really hard getting into a profilic band late in their career. I have all of their albums on my iTunes now, but I really only know three of them, and it’s very hard trying to get to know the others as it’s all a bit overwhelming. Albums are much better when they’re fed to you one at a time, over a period of years, not when they all arrive on one day and confuse you. In my experience, some will always get forgotten about when it happens that way! However, what I do know is amazing, and actually, I think, has more longevity than the Postal Service stuff. 

So when I went to see them (feel very grateful for my seat as standing up at gigs totally does my back in these days… plus, where do you put your bag and coat? Annoying!), I estimate I knew about half of the songs – and to my eternal shame, what with Mr Gibbard having lost a lot of weight since the I’ll Follow You Into the Dark video (the only time I’d looked at him properly) and seeming to effect a quite different voice – I didn’t even think it was them when they came on. I thought it was a really late support act.

Oh, the shame!

Is this what being old means? That you’re happy to go to gigs where you sit down, only know half the songs, and don’t even recognise the singer? I had a brilliant time. Those boys are amazing musicians, regularly switching instruments without even turning a hair, and so it didn’t really matter that I didn’t know all the songs. And it meant I could go to the toilet without worrying I was missing something. But… it felt so different to that Morrissey gig. Different isn’t bad, necessarily. It’s just… striking.

5. Paul Simon, Hyde Park, 2012 – 25 years of Graceland.

This is the gig you go to after you die? If the afterlife feels like a voice that is so deeply ingrained within your soul that listening to it feels like the warmest hug you ever had (which I really hope it does), then yes. Bring on the sweet release of death!

I’ve been wanting to see Paul Simon for pretty much as long as I can remember. My dad is a huge fan of Simon and Garfunkel, and so we were bought up listening to it all, from Wednesday Morning, 3am up to Bookends… from the Paul Simon Songbook up to Rhythm of the Saints, which was the last solo album to come out when I still lived with the aged Ps. I gave Surprise a go, but didn’t really love it… I was keener on the new one, whose name I can’t even remember (it had Rewrite on it – was I the only person in the park disappointed he didn’t play that? Probably so!), but have still only listened to it two or three times. Bless him, he jumped the shark with Graceland (although my own personal favourite has always been Hearts and Bones, the album before it), but I still will never hear a bad word said against him.

I went to the gig with a group of buddies, but with two of my best friends in particular. We were winning from the moment we got into the park, joking around and drinking a shot of jager to get things going. We had a particularly epic trip to get sustenance in which two of us got undercharged at the bar and another found a £20 on the floor, so we came back with drinks, chips, a hotdog and a tidy profit. How often does that happen?  

We started off near the front, but it was rammed and quiet, so we ended up nearer the back, watching on a big screen, and singing and dancing our hearts out. We counted ways to leave your lover (five, actually, Paul, not 50). We pondered what the sign of a teaspoon actually is. We looked back on all the crap we’d learnt in high school. We slip slided away. We listened to the sounds of silence.

As the sun came down over the crowd that was of all ages and all walks of life, I don’t think I saw a soul who wasn’t grinning fit to bust. Yeah, Hyde Park is way too quiet a venue for gigs (I was pretty disappointed to not be able to hear Madonna over the chatter of morons when I saw her there two days later), but at Paul Simon, the volume of the crowd singing along to every last word helped things along. If Paul Simon’s voice is like a cuddle, the sound of Ladysmith Black Mombazo’s collective voices is like a duvet teamed with the best mattress that you ever lay on. The words, the music, the people – it was pretty special.

Yeah… I would be happy if the afterlife was a big Paul Simon gig in the sky. Wouldn’t you?  

Tuesday, 17 April 2012


So, as I mentioned in my last blog, I recently joined a dating website. It feels like a cross between Facebook and eBay. A Facebook which is only populated by boys who might possibly fancy me, and I have to bid against other girls to try to win them. Given that Facebook and eBay are like peanut-butter coated crack to me, you can imagine my delight.

For a long time I was quite opposed to the idea of dating websites. Not for the general public, I’m not a Nazi, people may do as they wish, but for myself, over-inflated snob that I am, I wasn’t so keen. The reasons for this were twofold: one, I am a hopeless romantic, and I want the story that gets told at my wedding to involve eyes meeting in crowded rooms or hands brushing as we both reach to pick up a fallen pen or some other such Harlequin romance novel nonsense, not that we met online, desperately clicking through pictures of the opposite sex in our underpants and praying to stop being alone. And two, I find (or think I find) talking to new people anxiety-inducing hard work, so the thought of deliberately heading out to sit opposite someone I don’t know for an hour or two seemed preposterous – I’d sooner die alone, I thought to myself, letting the cat (I don’t have a cat, but details, details) eat my face until I’m found three weeks later.

However, I started thinking about some of the things I’d quite like in a boyfriend, some of the things the fellas I keep falling for don’t ever seem to have… stuff like, you know, a job, and preferably a job they don’t hate. Enthusiasm for the things I’m enthusiastic about. Someone who challenges me. Someone who – forgive me for the hideous arrogance but - has the ability to keep up with me, mentally and physically. Don’t get me wrong, all of the boyfriends I’ve had have had some of these things, I’m not so self loathing I’d go out with people I have absolutely nothing in common with, they’ve all been delightful and lovely little devils in their own strange ways, but none of them had all of those things and so the fit was never right. I was no more right for them than they were for me. I wake up too early, I expect too much. Wouldn’t it be nice, though, to find someone else who also wakes up early and who also expects a lot? There must be more people like that out there.

And when it dawned on me that if I went on a dating website, I could type these attributes in and, quite literally go shopping for boys who fit the bill, it suddenly all started to seem a lot more attractive. Yeah, it might not be the most romantic way to meet someone ever, but 90% of my friends come from the internet, so I might as well embrace that. To a large extent, I live on the internet. My online persona is the best me, the me that I long to be. Meeting someone on the internet makes a huge amount of sense for who I am. I am funnier, bolder, slicker, prettier, cooler online than in person. Of course, this runs the risk that when the poor fellas meet me, they are in for a huge disappointment, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

And while I have this image of myself in my head as someone who can’t do small talk and is rubbish with new people, that’s simply not true and I think it’s about time I got over myself and stopped making excuses. I counsel people I’ve never met before every week, and I do a good job. I interview people I’ve never met before and draw them out about really difficult things, and I’m good at that too. I don’t like meeting parents, but parents always love me. I’m a lot better at this stuff than I think I am. Everyone gets nervous, but I think, due to my own narcissim, I’ve always thought I had it worse than everyone else. I don’t. It was time to man up.

So I did a bit of research into various dating website (the upshot of my research – don’t bother with Guardian Soulmates, it seems most unfriendly and mean, don’t go on the free ones as they are full of creepy guys, don’t believe eHarmony’s nonsense about finding you the perfect match) and signed up to match.com, mostly on the premise that they say they have more relationships and marriages than any other site (which of course might just be because there are more people on there – they don’t talk percentages), but also because I read a few positive reviews, and it seemed like a good place to start.

I originally signed up without paying any money, as I just wanted to see what the deal was. This means you can look at people, and people can look at you, but you can’t send any messages or read any messages you get sent. I genuinely thought I’d be waiting a month or two until I had a bit more money before I paid the fees and joined up properly, but almost immediately I received an email telling me that ‘someone,’ that’s right, a mysterious ‘someone’ had sent me a message.

I tried not to sign over money I didn’t have, I tried to resist, but the lure of knowing that ‘someone’ had sent me a message was too, too much. What if SOME one was THE one? What if that someone was a yogic, poetry writing, vegetarian, dreadlocked boy with an excess of ponies in his back garden, just looking for the right girl to give them to? What if he was actually a prince, laden down with cash and ennui, waiting for a princess of psychology to save him from his doom by teaching him how to love again (and, just incidentally, spending all his cash for him in the mean time)?

By the time I’d got home that evening, I had convinced myself that the message was not only from a prince, but was probably from THE Prince, Prince Rogers Nelson, pint sized pop star and ruler of my heart, who had fallen on hard times in the dating world and decided to turn to British match.com to find a 35 year old who hadn’t been ruined by fame and could reconnect him to his roots, and that I was that woman and so I’d better pay the damn money and save poor Prince before he threw himself off a bridge with the remorse over my rejection.

You’ll be shocked to learn that the message wasn’t from Prince. It was from a young, fairly cute whippersnapper (far too young – one of my new rules is that I’m done with toy boys… it never ends well) asking if I was a man because my profile seemed too perfect, so he suspected it was written by a man trying to fool other men by being the perfect woman, or at least, I think that’s where he was going… maybe he just thinks I look like Victor Victoria – he had a bet going with his friend, so he claimed, as to my true gender identity.

I was charmed by this, but not charmed enough to be bothered when he stopped replying to my messages… partly, I’m guessing, because I flat out told him I was way too old for him, and called him Sonny Jim. I don’t think some boys like that level of cheek.

To begin with, I was swapping messages with a few guys, but no-one I was going giddy about. I had to make my first flat out rejection right away, but this was fairly easy as the hapless guy, who still lived with his parents in his late 30s and was so seeped in desperation I could smell it through my monitor, had said he wanted kids, and I don’t, so I was able to blame it on that. Handy!

(Dating website dilemma number one: when one gets messages from someone one is really not interested in, do you reply, or ignore? Of course, a polite thanks but no thanks is the correct and Gold Standard answer. But in reality, it is not always that easy. Sometimes, people sound so offensively arrogant that you don’t want to talk to them at all. Other times, they just send such a tiny message that to send back a long, excuse filled email about not being interested seems like you are placing a great deal of importance of yourself. Of course, you could reply to that one message that then tell them later that you don’t like them, but really, where does that end? I have taken the policy of saying I’ve met someone else to the people I don’t like, but ignoring the creepy/nasty sounding ones. Oh, and the guy who told me I had a unic smile. You may judge me if you like.)

Does one ever forget the first internet dating guy one falls in love with? I would guess not. It’s so easy, when all you see is their very best photo and the very best words they have chosen to write about themselves, to imagine that this other person has no flaws, that this is the person you’ve been waiting for your whole life to meet… and of course, even at the time, a part of you knows how ridiculous it is… but the first guy I got properly hooked on, the first guy I went out with, seemed, on paper, like he’d been fashioned for me out of a piece of clay. Brainy, tall, good looking, musical, kitten-loving, Friends-quoting clay. The only thing to suggest there might be a problem was that for some reason, he used commas instead of apostrophes in his text messages. So he,d write like this, which I didn,t like very much.

(An aside… What is that, is it some bug with phones or something? I notice this happens a lot on people’s pages on match, that they used exclamation marks instead of apostrophes, so that they look really excited and yet like they can!t use grammar for toffee all at once. What is that about?)

So I went out with this dream guy, and we had a mostly lovely time (although it was a bit awkward towards the end of the evening), but he killed it somewhat by insisting we go down an unlit street to kiss. Now I genuinely think this came from a shyness around public displays of affection rather than some kind of murderous intent, but for a second, it sure felt like murderous intent, and it left me a bit floored… do I say, no, I’m quite happy here, under the streetlight, and reveal that I’m worried he might have a machete in his pocket? Because that can kill the mood, and really, when it comes to kissing, we don’t want any killing at all, neither people nor moods. By the time I realised it was too late, and the mood was already killed for me (which is better than being personally killed, so let’s look on the bright side), it was too late and I was kissing him, though it didn’t feel like a first, thrilling kiss should. We said we would see each other again, but neither of us contacted each other, and he seems to have deleted his profile now (all his messages have vanished from my inbox, as if I actually dreamed the whole thing, although I’m pretty darn sure I didn’t), so I’m guessing he was as under-whelmed by the kissing as I was. I hope he’s found someone nice. And I hope he didn’t drag her down a dark side street and kill her.

Then there was the guy who apologised for everything way too much and I had to leap away from when he lunged to kiss me. Then there was the guy who had cool hair, but was shorter than Kylie and told me that definitely wanting children actually meant he probably didn’t if I didn’t, which should have warned me he was a bit too lily livered for my blood.

(Dating website dilemma number two: What I have learnt is that often, you can tell instantly it’s a no. These are the people who, if you had met in bars, you wouldn’t look at twice. This is an interesting moral dilemma. If you have discovered some common bond online, should you make yourself give it more of a chance? In many ways, it seems like yes, this should be the thing. But in other ways… if you don’t fancy the person, the most they are ever going to be is a friend, and if you already have enough friends and are looking for a boyfriend, then it’s pretty dishonest and teasing to continue, really. Right? I’ve gone out with a boy I didn’t want to do the nasty with before, hoping that intellect would overcome, and it made both of us utterly miserable. These things are important! And yet there is no protocol for arriving on one of these blind dates and at once saying I’m sorry, but no. One must stumble through a few hours of awkward chit chat before making an excuse and leaving. Unless any of you guys can suggest a kindly alternative…)

There are three suitors on the scene right now. One of them, I’ve been talking to for a while about books and music and photography, and seems clever and funny and cool. He lives right on my doorstep and he was edging his way towards perfect when he mentioned playing Scrabble, but it turns out that was just a tease. I’m meeting him tonight. We will see. Another sings on a cruise ship and cuts hair, and called me fabulous, and so I cannot take seriously, though he seems to want to travel from Wales to meet me. Actually, I’m a bit freaked out by him as he’s awfully intense for someone who doesn’t actually know me (text messages a go-go) , so I might put him off (update... yeah, he was crazy, when I told him I was feeling a bit pressured he said I'M NOT PRESSURING YOU, you've really upset me, I was looking forward ALL WEEK to meeting you, apparently not spotting the inherent contradiction in placing these two statements side by side... zoinks!). And then there’s the guy I went out with last night, who I didn’t think was going to be the one, but who I actually talked non-stop to about writing and London and writing some more, and who I have actually arranged a second date with. I will keep you posted, blog fans…  

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Catching Up

Oh, dedicated blog readers, I have neglected you. I haven't written in this blog for a long time. The reasons for this are dull, and mostly revolve around having to work very hard to earn money and therefore not having enough time to do any writing, so I won't dwell on them. But not writing in here has been nagging and nagging at me, so I'm going to write an entry now, although I don't really have a plan for it - beyond talking about Five Things That Have Happened to Me Recently - and, hence, it might be a fairly sporadic mess. Are you ready? Then here we go...

1. I went to Goa. 

Those of you who were concentrating might have noticed that my last entry talked about going to Goa on my own, and being pretty darned nervous about that. Some of you may even have been fearing that I was swept away by a monsoon or, better, a hot yogic boy while I was out there, and that's why I've not been writing. Neither of these things happened, for better or for worse. 

In Goa, I made a great friend. I did some oddly not-very-satisfying yoga. I ate loads of lovely food. I watched a hundred tiny crabs run away from torchlight as I walked down the beach at night. I felt my beach hut shake at night as a stray dog climbed up onto the balcony and howled. I got up early one morning to take photos of the sunrise, made friends with another stray dog, but missed the sun as I was sitting in the wrong place. I stalked a beautiful green bird with my camera, but I had the wrong lens on, so I didn't get a good photo. I followed a family down the beach taking photos of their reflections in the water. I went to a market and took photos of boys playing in boxes. I missed my friends and cried. I watched as a mountain blazed with fire after someone threw a firecracker at it. I swam in the warm ocean and dried out in the 35 degree heat. It was ok, I guess. 

2. Twisted Kitten (plus bitches) went to Romania

My DJ life partner and I got offered an awesome gig from a friend who lives in Romania, and for a long weekend, we got to pretend that we were famous. We were flown out there, put up in a hotel, and we DJed for two nights in a row. Which counts as a residency, right? Carl Cox, eat your heart out! 

I think the highlight of being in Romania has to have been playing indie records on the Saturday night, when I was so hopped up adrenalin and over-excitement that Elaine had to talk me out of fighting the actual resident DJ when he wanted to come back onto the decks. 

For a hilariously translated account of our adventures, have a look here: 


Reading this line:

"We believe that DJ-IALA is the most fun thing you can do with your clothes on" , is the motto of the two threads DJ who managed to propose a set fun hobby "more different""

is possibly the best thing that's ever happened to me. 

Friday's night set was less of a happy memory, given that I was recovering from the world's most horrific hangover. We had started drinking at 6am on Thursday and didn't stop until passing out some indeterminate time many, many, many hours later. My top tip to you - if you have a major gig in a new city at midnight tomorrow night, do not drink wine and gin, interspersed only with shots of Jaeger from noon onwards without even a glance at a glass of water for sustenance and only a bar of chocolate for dinner. It will not aid you in your mission. 

3. My friend Sam Hiller died

Elaine and I heard about this on the Friday morning in Romania, when Elaine looked on Facebook and saw another friend's status. To say that we were both shocked is a complete understatement. 

I didn't know Sam that well. Not anything like as well as I would have liked. But I have always had huge fondness for him... in fact, unrequited as it would always be, I had a massive crush on him. For those who didn't know, Sam was a unique individual. He sang in the choir at Greenwich chapel every Sunday. And he put on a night called Tinnitus. He was so kind, so wry, so funny, so gorgeous. 

The first time I met Sam was at the Glade in 2004. My (fairly new) boyfriend and I had been dancing in one of the tents, but I hadn't really been enjoying the music much. I saw my fella leaving with a friend of his I didn't know... Sam, as it turns out. I ran after them as I wanted to sit down with them. 

Immediately, being me and a bit of a wuss, I started worrying that James (the bf) wanted time with his cool friend and I would be getting in the way... I knew Sam was part of James's gang of squat party mates and I was a bit intimidated, thinking they would think I was a posh little rich girl with nothing sensible in my head. So I was busily fretting away as the three of us sat down in the ID Spiral chillout. 

James and Sam started chatting, and I looked at my phone to see if I had any texts. I had one from my mum, who was looking after Walrus, my hamster. She had texted me as if from Walrus, telling me that he'd climbed the stairs and had some adventures. I giggled and squealed like a girl, and Sam asked me what I was laughing at. I was very embarrassed and thought he would think me the biggest fool alive, but told him that Walrus had texted me, blushing to the roots of my hair. 

I was so surprised when Sam basically started squealing too, saying how much he loved hamsters, and then telling me about his rabbits that (I think) he'd had when he was a kid. I immediately realised that he was no-one to be intimidated by, and that was when my crush on him began.

I can't believe that he's not here any more. I can't believe I'll never see him sloping late into a party again, staying for two hours dishing out kind words and wrong music, before leaving for his next social engagement. I wish I could say words that would actually do him justice, but I can't. So I'll just say that we will all miss you forever, Sam, and I'll stop there.

4. I decided to get back on the wagon again, again

The too-ing and fro-ing of my drinking has fascinated and entertained you all many times in the past (no? really?) so I won't go into the whole alcohol/sleep/I don't need it/I do like it saga again. But the special occasions on which I let myself drink have started to seem a bit like 'days that end in a y' and I don't like it, so I'm putting the kibosh on alcohol again. I'm not going to drink at weddings, at hen dos, on dates... I am going to be the straightest of straight edges and maintain sleep and good mental health, and all will be well. 

What I can't quite decide is whether starting to drink more bothered me because it was interfering with my sleep or whether it's just because once I've decided something, I have to stick to it. Because everyone knows that changing your mind is just a fancy way of saying failure, right? 

I am a terrible one for sticking with things once I've decided on them. Sometimes, this is good. I decided at some point in the first year of my psychology degree, for reasons I can't even really remember now, that I was going to get a first, and I did. Sometimes it's a bad thing. When I've decided I hate someone I cannot, even when it's rotting me from the inside out, even if I try with both hands, stop hating them. I now have an image of myself in my head as someone who (generally) doesn't drink, and I like that picture, and I don't want to go back on it. So I'm getting back to that. 

5. I joined a dating website. 

I suspect this truly will be a blog topic all of its own one day. But here's a teaser, as it were. I've always been pretty opposed to dating website, being a romantic fool and believing that love should jump out at you from across the street when you're not expecting it, bowling you over and making you see stars, and all that nonsense... a bit like being knocked over by an articulated lorry. 

But... you know... I'm 35 and no-one's getting any younger, and I'm bored of waiting for someone who meets all my terribly realistic requirements (wink wink) to come knocking at my door. If you factor in the fact that all of my spare time is spent at Jenni and Rachel's house, where not even the cat is male, then shopping for a boyfriend on the internet suddenly becomes a sensible option. 

And you know what? I like it. It's like a cross between Ebay and Facebook, but everyone is a boy who possibly might fancy me. I've bid on loads of boy auctions and most of them I'm outbid on by some shinier girl right away, but a couple of them I seem to be winning. Some of the boys, when they turn up in the post, turn out to be the wrong size, but then you just put them back onto the marvellous boy/Ebay/Facebook world and sell them on to some other lucky female bidder, like you would an under-sized skirt. I know I should probably be coy about this, but... it's AWESOME! 

So yeah... that's what I've been up to. I have lots of ideas for more coherent blogs that I'll write soon, but I wanted to splurge all of that out before I could move. Forgive my indulgence. But enough about me... what have YOU been up to? 

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Reasons to be Fearful

This time next week, I’m going to be on a plane to Goa. As I write this, we should be just taking off. Around 17 hours later, I’ll be arriving at the yoga retreat where I’ll be spending 10 days doing downward dogs (not a euphemism) in 27 degree heat, interspersed with lying in the sunshine, taking photographs, reading novels, writing my book, paddling in the sea and dozing off whenever I like.

I should be ecstatic, right?

I mostly am… well, I partly am… but what I am more is terrified. A large part of me is wishing I had never had this idea, never spent my tax return on this crazy trip, that instead I was going to be in freezing London where I’m safe and I know people. Pathetic, right?

The thing is… I’m doing this holiday on my own. That’s what the difference is. And one is the loneliest number, right? I asked various friends of mine if they wanted to come on this trip with me, but no-one could afford it. I wouldn’t normally be able to afford this but, like I said, I got a tax return. At the time, I had this crazy idea that perhaps going on my own might be better anyway – more character building. This was when it was so far in the future that it felt like it was never going to really happen… now that it’s next week, I’m not so sure. I think my character is actually built plenty enough already, thank you.

As you may have picked up, oh constant reader, I am a very anxious person. If I tell you that I get nervous going on buses because I’m pretty sure I’ll get off at the wrong stop and then get so lost that I have to become a street person and live off the crumpled tissues that reside at the bottom of my bag (and trust me, as close as dammit, this has happened several times... sort of), that will give you an idea of how many, many things there are to be nervous about on this trip.

Weirdly, it’s not so much the flights that are worrying me as I'm told it’s pretty much impossible to miss your stop on a plane. Plus, you’d have to be trying really hard to get on entirely the wrong plane… so that’s most of my worries on the travelling front out of the sealed shut window. Once I’m on the plane, I’ll be fairly happy with my book and my bag of snacks. I am feeling pretty worried about the six hour stopover in Mumbai on the way, mostly because I can’t stop picturing scenarios in which I fall asleep and miss the second plane, or in which my bag gets nicked… but the flying itself doesn’t worry me.  It doesn’t help that I called the airline yesterday to check something strange on the ticket they had sent me only to discover that all my flights had been cancelled and I’d been booked onto new ones without anyone telling me, but actually, this means I’ve got longer out there, so it’s a good thing really.

No, my fears are all based around when I get there. Here is a selection of some of things I’m fretting about:

  • What if I can’t find the transfer coach that's taking me to the resort and have to eek out the rest of my days roaming a Goan airport with only security guards for friends, like that Tom Hanks film?
  • What if I don’t like the yoga teachers, or the yoga is really hard, and I feel like an idiot compared to all the sleek and pretty yogis that can do pigeon for five hours and glide straight into headstands as if they're walking up the stairs?
  • What if I can’t find any vegetarian, wheat-free food with no chilis in it? (This is a real worry... perhaps I have been pretty stupid going to India when I really can’t stand spicy-hot food… Part of me is thinking maybe I should suck it up (literally) and try to get used to chillis, after all, they would probably help me lose weight what with their, ahem, side effects, but the thing is, as well as me really not liking them, they make me hiccup, which is just not cool at all! I really don’t want to spend the whole 10 days hiccupping!)
  • What if I go out somewhere and get lost and can’t get back ‘home’?
  • What if I get ill while I’m on my own out there, and no-one is around to look after me?
  • And this – the big one – what if I don’t make any friends?
To a certain extent, I am fond of my own company. I need a bit of time to myself each week, or I go a bit crazy. But something I have learnt about myself over the past few years is that if I’ve been alone all day, and then I have to be alone all night as well, that, too, makes me go a bit crazy from listening to my own thoughts for too long, since my own thoughts inevitably turn to despair sooner rather than later. And that’s just for one day… ten days like that might actually push me over the edge. That’s my biggest fear. And that’s what makes me keep wondering why I decided to spend an extortionate amount of money on potentially making myself feel ridiculously lonely and depressed and far away from anyone who loves me.

People keep telling me I’m going to meet people and make friends, and my god, I hope they’re right. Everyone always says that they made loads of friends ‘when I went travelling,’ which is craziness as 10 days in a yoga retreat is clearly not travelling… and I’d sooner tear my ears off with my bare hands than go actual travelling, imagine the kittens I’d be having on a daily basis… but still, I’m sure people will be friendly. And we can all talk about yoga, even if nothing else, right?

Hilariously, the other thing I’m worried about is that some people will want to be my friend too much and I won’t be able to shut them up while I’m trying to read. I’m not looking for much out of these mythical holiday friends… just people who will be happy to lie in the sun next to me and alternate trips to the bar during the day, and then go out for dinner at night. Maybe people who want to go shopping, or find a prettier beach. I’m not big on going exploring all over the place.

People hear me say that I’m not planning on going sight-seeing (and this is whenever I go anywhere, not just Goa) and they look at me like I’ve just stabbed their baby. We talk about, I don’t know, racism against Romanies or discrimination against chubby people as being the last taboo, but I swear to god, it’s actually the idea that you could go on holiday and not be very interested in seeing the sights. People get personally upset by it, as if I’ve dropped my trouser and pants and had a wee in their church. Come now! To each their own, surely?  

Here’s my thinking… to me, the very very best thing in the world is lying in the sun with a book. This is better than anything else – sex, DJing, good food, being drunk, taking photos, writing… it cannot be beaten. So to me, the idea of wasting the tiny amount of days I have a in year where I can do that by trekking around somewhere getting too hot and worrying about being ripped off for tourist tat that you don’t even want anyway seems like the crazy idea.

It’s true that I want to take some beautiful photos, and I might go further afield for that, but the main things I like taking photos of are skies, sunrises, sunsets, water, beaches and, sometimes, people… I’m not gonna need to go very far for all those things. I’m perfectly happy to get up at 4am a couple of mornings to get some great photos on the beach that will be outside my window, but I’m a lot less interested in carrying all that heavy camera stuff somewhere busy to again worry about stuff getting nicked and look like a horrible rich tourist (which I clearly am, but I'm not in any rush to look the part) while climbing up mountains or going to markets or churches or whatever else it is you frenzied sight seers love to do.  

One thing is certain, and that’s that I’m sure I’ll be writing blogs aplenty about my trip. Here’s hoping they are full of sunshine and happiness rather than gloom and fear. I’m sure they will be… after all, nothing is ever as bad as you think it’s going to be, is it? And I’m going to be in 27 degree sun… even I can’t feel too sorry for myself there.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Chimney Cat

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. I used to think that cats were one of those more equal animals, but I have changed my mind. I would now always choose dogs over cats, without a second thought.

The reasons for this are threefold. Number one - I fell in love with a dog called Jac Custo. I could write a whole blog about him, but I won't, because it would be on a level with mums cooing about their newborn babies, and no-one would read it.

Number two - I had a lodger who had three cats. I was more than happy to welcome said cats into my home, and they were very sweet animals, but having cats in the house was not the happy dream I imagined it would be. They had a smelly litter tray and were forever bringing dead mice into the house. When the cats moved out, I was actually quite happy to have the bathroom smelling better and no chance of standing on a desiccated mouse when I opened my bedroom door of a morning.

The third reason for my about-face on cats has a name. A name that strikes fear into the heart of all who know it... and that name is Chimney Cat.

Chimney Cat (who, for the purposes of this post, I shall assume is a he) is a chunky fella. He's black and white and built a bit like a tank. He frequently jumps down from the neighbours' fence onto our outside window sill and always lands with enough of a bang that we can hear him quite clearly over the telly. I don't want anyone getting the wrong idea... Chimney Cat is not a waif or stray who needs feeding up. Chimney Cat can clearly look after himself.

Picture the scene... this was the day that my aforementioned lodger had moved out. She had gone during the day while I was at uni, so I came home to a very empty house - albeit a house with the catflap still in operation. I was on the phone to my the Best Male Member of Team Ginger when I came in the door. I sat myself down on the sofa and continued to gossip with my venerable friend when a kerfuffle, as yet undefined, suddenly seemed to be happening in the periphery of my vision.

I whipped my head round, expecting to see at worst a mouse or at best an armed burglar... what I actually did see was, I maintain to this day, the most unexpected thing I have ever seen in my life. What I saw was the back half of Chimney Cat - lower back, bum, back legs, tail - disappearing up the chimney (hence the name).

This happened so cleanly, so easily, that I swear to god it looked like someone was lurking in the chimney, waiting, hands out-stretched, to pull the cat up there. It seemed as though he'd stepped onto a lift that zoomed him up to the next floor. It was like he had been beamed up, Scotty. It was the weirdest thing I had ever seen, this cat I hadn't even known was in the house vanishing cleanly and vertically up the chimney.

I, of course, screamed like a girl and deafened my poor friend on the phone. I wasn't scared, I was just really, really surprised. And also a little concerned that the cat was going to stay in the chimney forever and die in there, the way that lost birds do sometimes.

After some conversation with my friend, I got on my knees and had a look up the chimney for Chimney Cat, and to my amazement, saw him perched on a ledge which I hadn't even realised was there, looking as at home as Stig in a dump and staring coolly back at me.

Clearly, this cat had been in this position many, many times before without me realising and considered this His Chair.

I ended my phone call and concentrated my efforts on getting this cat out of my house. I was a bit reluctant to stick my arm up there, as waving your hand at a cornered, unhappy animal is never really the best idea, so I got some water and flicked it at Chimney Cat, who couldn't have cared less.

At this point, I got a broom and very, very gently (don't go calling the RSPCA on me, it was done with love, honest) prodded the cat.

THIS had an effect. Suddenly, Chimney Cat had become a banshee, flying out of the chimney and around the walls of my living room, soot and fur following in his wake like pollution from an oil rig. Foolishly, I had imagined coaxing the animal gently back out the back door from whence he had come, but I could now see that this cat was not going to be coaxed anywhere. He ended up sat on the front window sill, clawing at the window, so I had to just let him out that way, whereby he went flying into the road and I sat back on the sofa nursing a minor heart attack.

I was slightly worried at the time that the cat would be hit by a car or not find his way home, but I am now convinced that a ten-ton lorry couldn't kill this cat... and with his usual not-so-light footed thump he landed back outside the window some days later and looked inside. This time, I could tell that he was eyeing the living room up, wondering why he couldn't get back to his chair.

The second encounter with Chimney Cat was somewhat more terrifying, I must say. This was some months later, in the middle of the night. I'm going to prefix this part of the story by pointing out that, as part of my bid to sleep better, my room is, thanks to some black-out blinds, pitchy, midnight, opening-your-eyes-makes-no-difference dark at all times. Well, at all night times, not during the day - that would be silly. This makes it very hard to work out what's going on if anything a bit remiss happens.

So when another kerfuffle happened - waking me out of a pretty deep sleep - it was very hard to see what it was. It was loud enough to make me sit right up in bed, though, and I then saw what was probably, this time, the scariest thing I've ever seen in my life.

One of the aforementioned blackout blinds was being pushed forward, suggesting that something - or someone - was climbing in the window. It was the whole blind moving forward (they're reasonably stiff, so move as one), suggesting that the thing climbing in through the window was roughly the size of a person. I was completely certain that this was going to be a burglar with a knife gripped between his teeth, and that I was going to be stabbed in my bed. It was genuinely terrifying.

Acting purely on instinct, I shouted out 'WHAT!', and then there was a noise, and then something dashed from the room and out the door (my door doesn't shut very well), and I was left utterly confused.

I managed to get myself out of bed to go and look behind the blind (which took some nerves of steel, I'm telling you), but nothing was there. I couldn't even see anything knocked over. I was too sleepy and confused to check downstairs, so I decided it must have either been a mouse, in which case I really didn't want to find it, or a figment of my imagination, in which case I would never be able to find it, and  so I went back to bed.

Some hours later, I woke up in somewhat better circumstances and went downstairs. I sat myself on the sofa and started telling the internet the story of what had happened (after all, everyone knows that nothing has actually happened until you post it on Facebook), drawing the same conclusion that I must have dreamed it.

I pressed send on my post, and decided to pop the leg rest out on my sofa, which has Lazy-Boy seats at either end of it (jealous? You should be). I did this, and then what I can only describe as an earthquake exploded under my chair, rattling it up and down so that it was actually lifting it off the floor - bouncing and bouncing and not ceasing.

My first thought was, again, serial killer, but I quickly realised that this was actually an animal. I got as far as wondering if it could be a fox, then rabbit (neither guess makes much sense, I realise) before deciding I'd better get myself off the damn sofa as the bouncing was clearly never going to stop until I did... so I bounded up and over towards the kitchen door...

And out from under the sofa, so louche he could practically have had a cigarette hanging from his lips and a trilby tilted over one eye, strolled Chimney Cat - clearly, it had been him behind the blind all along.

Things all went a bit quiet on the Chimney Cat front for about 8 months after that. He would still thud onto the window sill, at which point he would have fists shaken at him, and he would still eye the living room up, but he didn't make it back in until one night last week.

On this particular night, only my boyfriend and I were in the house... he downstairs with insomnia, me upstairs with it, oh the joys. I'm realising, as I'm writing this, that we're going to end on a bit of an anti-climax, as this is really more the fella's story to tell than mine... he was the one who, this time, was scared half to death by Chimney Cat (how is he getting in? How? How?)... and he was the one who had to try to get him out the house... on this occasion the bloody cat ran all the way upstairs and chose to exit out of a first storey window... I just heard the noises and was told about it. So I cannot retell the story with my usual over-egging of detail. All I can do is keep an eye on the chimney, and keep you updated with That Cat's exploits...