Ten reasons to tidy the house

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1. Your parents are arriving soon and you would like to convince them that you are now mature enough to live in a clean and tidy house and that you have moved on from your messy teenage clothes-discarding, teacup mould-growing, chocolate-wrapper-strewing ways.

2. When you remember that you have wooden floors and the soft squishy ‘carpet’ you have been enjoying is, in fact, moulted cat hair.

3. You politely allowed an ant or two to pop in and make their acquaintance but now they have overstayed their welcome and rudely invited all their friends. It’s time for that colony to take the hint and leave already.

4. You are constantly late for work because it takes you at least an hour every morning to locate the second shoe that seems to have been subsumed into the general disarray (like a stapler dropped into a dish of jelly).

5. The laundry that you did and dried and then put in a pile to put away later, but later became too late once the cats decided to nest in your freshly laundered undies and now everything is covered in cat hair once again and you have to start the whole process from the beginning.

6. You remember that at the age of 30 you are supposed to at least be able to pretend to be a grown up and grown ups are supposed to be able to remember to tidy on a regular basis. You don’t want to be the one to dispel that particular delusion.

7. You have run out of clean plates and cutlery and are now eating your pasta straight from the saucepan with a wooden spoon. Soon you will run out of clean saucepans and wooden spoons.

8. Whilst there are undoubted benefits to practicing your contortionist, gymnastic skills as you navigate your abode, pirouetting around a trainer here and a box of recycling there, you shouldn’t have mistaken this for actual exercise.

9. You have run out of money from constantly replacing items (such as bike lights, batteries, matching shoes) you considered lost forever in the general melee.

10. You recall that your apartment was once a spacious cavern of roominess with room for swinging as many proverbial cats as you liked, but now resembles a squalid den of teeny-tininess and even the cats can touch both sides of the room from a sitting position.

Ten reasons to love the rain

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1. As a wise man said, in a book I read about the Dalai Lama, there are certain external factors in life you can’t change but you can change how you respond to them. Sadly, I can’t control the weather (although I would love that as a superpower) but there is no reason why a little downpour is any reason to get down in the mouth.

2. When you are in the midst of a month-long heat wave a bit, or even a lot, of rain is a refreshing relief. The sensation of feeling cold and wet from the rain rather than hot and wet from the heat and sweat is something that can be relished whilst those blistering memories remain fresh in your mind.

3. The rain makes you feel slightly less bad about the pot of lavender on the balcony you keep forgetting to water. Even if the upstairs balcony shelters said plant from nature’s watering can.

4. As my dad taught me if you have planned a picnic, then you have a picnic. Rain is no cause to stop play but, if you really have to, you can bring along an umbrella. Rain just turns an average picnic into more of an adventure activity.

5. If you aren’t going to work or somewhere else where you are going to have to spend the next 8 hours in soggy clothes then rain is just an extra shower for the day and it’s always nice for everyone to be clean, right?

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6. It’s pretty entertaining to find yourself with a friend, sat on a bench at the Geneva beach area at Bains-des-Paquis, a popular spot for sunbathing and swimming, drinking a beer, eating some Pringles and getting completely drenched whilst sensible types flee the premises in search of shelter and warmth. Add in a lunatic laugh every now and again just to convince any stragglers that you are as insane as they clearly think you are.

7. Running in the rain makes a lot of sense, are you sweaty, is it just rain? Who knows! But there’s much less chance of getting dehydrated when the skies are leaking, and if you are thirsty on route you can just open your mouth and look up for a little light refreshment.

8. Swimming in the rain also makes sense and I did this a lot in Cambodia. The women in my hostel clearly thought I was nuts as I’d be the only person in the pool pootling up and down but my thinking was swimming is already a wet activity, rain doesn’t change that so why should it put me off?

9. Rain makes it easier to get your cats in if you want to go out or lock up the flat before bed, without having to bribe them with kitty treats or wait hours for them to wander in from whatever catty business they’ve been attending to. It’s so much less of a battle to entice them away from the delights of sunbathing and birdwatching/killing if its wet.

10. Rain is really no reason not to do stuff but it does provide a great excuse not to do stuff if you are feeling a bit anti-social and would prefer to spend the next few hours huddled up with a cup of tea/wine and some chocolate and watch endless episodes of the latest Netflix obsessions (I’ve recently discovered Orange Is The New Black).

‘No, thank you, I don’t want to call my mother’

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This weekend we were back in the UK for our final wedding of the year for what has been quite a hectic couple of months, nuptials wise. We have been absolutely delighted to be a part of so many wonderful celebrations and have some fabulous memories of all the weddings we’ve attended this year. This last marriage of our wedding season was a family affair and involved our basing ourselves at the fiancé’s parents and then travelling to the venue from there the night before and returning the day after.

We set off from the fiancé’s familial homestead (and in case I’m not being clear by ‘fiancé’ I am either referring to my fiancé or the imminent groom to be, I did say it was a family shindig) and our journey took us past our old neighbourhood, the lovely London borough of Greenwich, where our two-bed flat, now rented to strangers, lies. As those in the car pointed out various local markres I decided to avert my eyes and stare fixedly at the foot-well of the back passenger seat. As my fellow travellers tried to engage my attention as we passed the turning leading to our road I quietly mumbled ‘I don’t want to look’ and fervently hoped I could avoid having to explain why. Fortunately there was enough excited pre-wedding chatter to save me from having to admit the truth.

On the post-wedding return journey on Sunday morning as we again neared the approach to our old flat, the question was innocently put ‘would you like to drive past your flat?’ At this point, as nonchalantly as possible, whilst trying to be clear and audible, I again politely declined the offer. I then decided that, to be on the safe side, I would stare fixedly at my phone, in case the driver hadn’t heard and decided a drive-by was something we should do.

The desire to avoid seeing the flat I no longer live in reminded me of when I took part in a French exchange visit arranged through school when I was 13 or 14 and on my arrival the mother of my host family asked me if I wanted to call my mum.

In my best schoolgirl French I politely declined, however my best schoolgirl French was far from fluent and I could see the host mother trying to work out if I just hadn’t understood the question. In fairness my answer was probably something like ‘no thank you, I no mother call’, which I understand could be open to interpretation. Perhaps she thought I was worried they’d charge me or that I was trying to explain I’d like to call my mother but not understanding they were offering for me to do so. She eventually ascertained that I didn’t want to but now accepting that my French was enough to understand the question, she clearly couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to call my own mother and kept asking me, every day, if I wanted to call.

After a week in to the two-week exchange I thought I’d better accept the offer so as not to raise suspicions of being some sort of wayward, sociopathic, anti-familial devil creature residing in her house and corrupting her daughter. So, unwillingly, I caved and called home. My mum was pretty surprised to hear from me and instantly wondered if everything was alright, after all why else would I be calling unless something was wrong? I reassured mum, exchanged a few words, finished the call pretty quickly and then decided to bide my time, in the room they’d suggested I use for privacy during my call. I waited until what I thought host mum would think an appropriate length of time for natural daughter-mother exchanging instincts to be satiated and returned to my French family.

The reason for not wanting to call my mother, was very much the same reason for not wanting to see my flat. It isn’t that I’m an unsentimental hard-hearted wench, who couldn’t give a rat’s behind for my family or the first home I’d bought with my fiancé. It was rather the opposite, I knew that in going to France for two weeks there would be certain things about parental home life I would miss, and I knew that leaving the country there would be certain aspects of London I’d miss. For me out of sight out of mind, is something of a survival technique, I know who I am in that respect. I also know that these partings were not forever and that my best course of action is to live in the moment, get on with the current situation and perhaps occasionally indulge in the odd pondering of possible familial or architectural reunions in the not too far distant future.

Homesickness would be a possibility only if I let it and I would prefer to choose not to especially when I knew that in a mere 14 days of French exchange I’d be back in the heart of my family, and I know (or at least tell myself I know) that when (quietening that inner voice that replaces ‘when’ with ‘if’) we return to London, our lovely flat will still be standing and ready and waiting for us. In the meantime the rent is being paid, the place is being lived in and taken care of by our tenants and any concerns on that score are relieved by six monthly reports on the property condition from the managing agents.

So thank you but no, I didn’t want to call my mum right then and no, I don’t want to drive past my house right now and just in case I’m not being clear in English ‘merci, mais non’.

 

 

 

Are we nearly there yet?

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‘Are we nearly there yet?’ is that annoying question all children like to throw at their parents on any journey. Best timed 30 minutes into a several hour journey and then repeated at 5 minute intervals until ceasing abruptly when actually close to the final destination and so denying long-suffering parents even the smallest satisfaction of finally being able to answer ‘yes’.

The same question isn’t asked quite as frequently as an adult but I’m pretty sure people are now starting to wonder this about me. Is she nearly there yet or does her journey have no foreseeable end in sight?

I haven’t lived in the same place for more than two years since I was at school. In the last 12 years I have had 13 different addresses in three different countries and four different UK counties. Not only have I absolutely ruined my aunt’s address book but I’ve begun to wonder whether this constantly moving around isn’t purely related to circumstances, as I’ve always tried to convince myself, but is in fact due to some defect in myself where I just can’t stick in one place for long.

Definitely some of the moves have been circumstantial. I well and truly didn’t want to be evicted from our lovely/dingy little basement flat in Blackheath. The eviction wasn’t because we were horrendous tenants but because our landlord had outstanding debts and legal action had been initiated against him before we even moved in.

The first we realised there was a problem was when the fiancé thought he’d open a letter with the Eversheds logo addressed to ‘The Occupier’. (I had assumed these were from some sort of DIY company and was just another junk-mail flyer offering discounts on a great range of garden sheds but in my defence we did used to get a lot of junk-mail). The notice that we opened advised that we would be evicted in a week.

I called  who were very helpful and advised us how to get a stay of execution on the eviction order. The bearded one filed the paperwork at the local magistrates court and a few days later we presented ourselves before the judge to plead our case. The judge was pretty relaxed and allowed us a bit longer to clear out but this nonetheless resulted in a hurried move from Blackheath, a beautiful area of London, to Chislehurst in Kent, primarily chosen as somewhere we could afford and were allowed the cats.

The move from Chislehurst to Greenwich was sort of circumstantial too in that I hated Chislehurst so spent hours trawling property websites dreaming about the day we wouldn’t be subject to the whimsical world of renting. When I spotted a flat in a London borough I loved, that we could actually afford to buy (with a lot of help from various relatives), moving again made sense.

The moves around Warwickshire as a student were also mostly dictated by circumstance, staying in University accommodation for three years wasn’t an option so the move to a house big enough for eight of us, which we did at least stay in for two academic years, wasn’t really a conscious plan.

After Uni a brief stop-over at my parents in Oxfordshire couldn’t be a permanent solution (they wanted me to pay rent!) so London, where I was working at the time, made sense. But I should probably accept responsibility for the constant relocating around London with different friends and then forcing my way into the bearded-man’s flat and then forcing him to move somewhere I liked more.

Capture d’écran 2015-06-05 à 14.33.39It occurred to me I might have a problem with settling anywhere when I remained eager to keep going even after we moved into our very own flat in Greenwich. I love Greenwich, it is a great little enclave in it’s own right with good markets, beautiful parks, easy access to the river and a vibrant atmosphere, not to mention the convenient access to central London and work. However, I was there for a year before I applied for the Cambodian internship and it was just a few months after returning from Phnom Penh that I thought applying for a job in Geneva was a good idea.

In a 30th birthday card a friend joked that I kept moving further away and my next stop would be somewhere in Africa where post could only be delivered by parrot. It’s that kind of humour  which is tossed around jokingly but may not actually be that funny because it isn’t completely beyond the scope of what’s possible. Not that I’m planning to move to somewhere with parrot postal deliveries (pretty sure my beloved would draw the line at somewhere with lack of internet) but I do find myself thinking what and where is next?

Geneva hasn’t always been the easiest place to live in but now it has started to become normal with a work life balance and weekly routines. This should be, and on some levels is, a good thing, it’s just ‘normal’ sounds decidedly unappealing. 

The same friend who sent the card asked me recently where I thought I’d eventually end up and I couldn’t give a straight answer. I don’t know if my future lies in the UK, Switzerland or some distant realm I haven’t even thought of yet, but there is something about that concept of staying still that terrifies me.

Perhaps it is just the thought of a long determined future without surprises that seems alarming, that idea of reaching a single point and thinking ‘this is it’, although I know that life won’t stand still even if I manage to do this for a while.

I’m sure my aunt is hoping that I’ll stay still long enough at some point to lay down some roots that become so enmeshed with a geographical location that I won’t be obliged to invest in a constant succession of guiltily offered address books. Or perhaps I can just get her some sort of electronic planner that will allow her to keep track of me without making such a mess of things?

One thing I am certain of is that I wont be able to tell you if I’m nearly there yet until I’ve already been there for some time without realising.

Ten reasons to love weddings

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1. The groom’s expression when he first spots his bride. I haven’t been disappointed with any of these yet. So grooms if you think no-one is watching you when the bride marches in then think again! On the plus side if your tongue hangs out, you make an eyes wide and circular mouthed ‘ooo’ response or just produce the sappiest grin you never knew you could make, those of us watching you will think it’s rather endearing. If you roll your eyes at your bride’s firework tiara or zombie make-up then maybe rethink whether or not this is the woman for you before you commit yourself with the vows.

2. Everyone is so happy. Or at least at the weddings I’ve been at. I’ve yet to attend one where the bride’s divorced mother and father try to set each other alight with romantic candles or the best man punches the second usher who happens to be the brides brother-in-law after some inappropriate remark, but I’m sure these things must happen.

3. That moment of suspense when the vicar or registrar or whoever asks whether anyone has any objections. Although I know this is unlikely and recognize it really would spoil the wedding I can’t help but eagerly squirm around in my chair to see if anyone is feeling objectionable or hope that the groom’s pre-existing but previously unknown wife comes bursting through the door or something.

4. The wedding dress. I’m sure some brides wear terrible outfits for their own wedding, but on the whole the bride tends to look the loveliest you have ever seen her before. Truly worthy of the ‘ooo’ face the groom is making at the other end of the aisle.

5. Wedding outfits of everyone else. Generally men all look rather dapper in a suit but there is a whole range of options for female guests, members of the bridal party etc that are a feast for the eyes and a source of much amusement as you bravely voice loud approval of the bride’s mums outfit or silently whisper to a friend your condemnation of something another guest is wearing.

6. The ceremony. I like every part of this, I like thinking about why the couple have chosen the readings they have and why certain people have been asked to say certain things. I like hearing the vows and noting the way the couple support each other as they do this. I like heartily agreeing, with the rest of the guests, that we’ll help support the newlyweds in their marriage and really meaning this. I like feeling the love.

7. The free food and drink. Given my passion for eating and drinking you’d think me remiss if I failed to put this in my top ten. Obviously it’s not the best thing about a wedding (if it is that doesn’t say a whole lot about the special day) and I’d still want to go even if I had to pay for all my own beverages and refreshment but I like the drinks on the arrival, the wine at the table and a nice meal shared with happy people whom you may or may not know.

8. The singing. Not always a component of every wedding, tends not to feature so much in civil ceremonies but I do love the opportunity to belt out a song in unison with others, which I tend to otherwise only get the opportunity once a year with Christmas Carols. So long as everyone is singing loudly it really doesn’t matter if you can’t actually sing or not, it’s just fun to all do it together.

9. The dancing. The little ones running around in circles or playing hide and seek behind their mums, the dads breaking out the dance moves, the increasingly drunk guests bouncing around and pretending drunken stumbles were part of the moves they were trying to pull off.

10. Speeches. These are best enjoyed if I’m not giving them. Even if speeches are awful it’s fun to dissect them afterwards and talk about just how awful they were. The Best Man definitely has the hardest job in trying to be amusing without upsetting anyone, remembering to acknowledge the bride and resisting the urge to go too much into a bromance ode of love to the groom, a bit of emotion is nice, wailing throughout the duration so that no-one can hear what you are saying isn’t fun for anyone. Tough gig.

 

Cat trauma (or how not to meet the neighbours)

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One lovely sunny evening I returned home from work at a reasonable time and thought it would be nice to relax out on the balcony, which truth be told doesn’t get all that much use but is nicely situated overlooking a big common green space.

I swapped sensible work shoes for flip-flops, used my super American fridge to crack some ice into a glass at the touch of a button and poured some orange juice over the frozen water, picked up my book and phone and tootled out to the balcony for a chance to unwind in the fresh air.

The cats soon came out to join me and, happy in my presence, jumped across the balcony to stalk pigeons (Jasper) and happily chew the cud (Buttons) (this isn’t a metaphor, they actually like to eat grass). I thought before I settled into my book, I’d give my mum a quick ring and catch up on the news from Angleterre. Idly chatting away I didn’t realise there was a problem until Jasper came bolting across the balcony and streaked into the living room.

It was then I spotted the two pitbull-terrier type dogs. Sadly Buttons wasn’t as quick on the uptake as her brother so didn’t spot the canines until they were charging towards her. Terrified, she tried to launch herself back across our balcony wall, but in her panic didn’t quite make the jump and bounced off the wall. With no time to try again she went haring off in the other directions trying to outrun the dogs.

I started shouting obscenities whilst still on the phone, before quickly hanging up and hurling the device down. Buttons was zigzagging back and forth across the grass with the wall to her back, she was outnumbered with nowhere to go. The dogs’ owner was trying to call them to heel but they were clearly having too much fun chasing my kitty. I quickly bounded over the balcony, which I’m sure would be a much harder feat if I wasn’t in cat-parental protection role, and ran into the fray.

Buttons isn’t the brightest spark in the box, or perhaps didn’t trust me enough to provide adequate protection from what she probably assumed were the beasts of hell, so didn’t run to the safety of me. But my entry into the chaotic scene afforded her enough of a distraction to squeeze through a narrow gap into the shelter of one of the underground caves. Not an actual cave, in case you think I live in a remote mountain wilderness, but a communal storage area for bikes and whatnot.

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The dog-owner had got one dog under control at this point and had just about rounded up the second. Relieved that Buttons had made it to safety my next concern was to go and rescue her from her hiding place. Getting back over the balcony into the flat was a lot harder than the other direction, as there’s a bigger drop on the garden side of the balcony and I was no longer operating on adrenaline. Bear in mind I’m wearing flip-flops and now trying to scale a vertical wall, which although not massive is too high to simply swing a leg-up. It’s mid-climb with feet up, bum sticking out and desperately trying to use my feeble arm muscles to help pull me up, that the dog-owner tries to talk to me.

This is not the best way to try and meet the neighbours but I manage to huff out ‘it’s okay, she’s okay’ in response to her apologies, but then promptly ignore her as I continue to try to swing myself up, and I’m still preoccupied with the cat now stuck in the cave.

She seemed mortified, I seemed rude, this was unlikely to be the beginnings of a beautiful friendship. The situation wasn’t her fault, the dogs were off the lead in a communal space and I don’t think they actually wanted to kill Buttons, they probably could have done her some damage if they tried, they probably just thought it was a hell of a lot of fun to chase her, sadly my little cat wasn’t to know that and I lacked the language skills or immediate concern to try to communicate this to the dog lady.

Finally back in the flat, I darted out to the cave, accessed from the other side of our building, and managed to locate the cat. However, she’d firmly wedged herself into a small gap between a pipe and I couldn’t reach her or coax her out so that I could easily rescue her. After fifteen minutes or so, she calmed down enough to consider her next move, carefully checked the way she’d come in, to ensure the dogs had gone, and darted back out of the cave, over the balcony and into the flat.

I feared she’d be traumatised for days, but she seemed to recover fairly quickly. In fifteen minutes she was happily eating snacks again but she didn’t cross the balcony again that evening and followed me around the flat a bit more closely than usual. She must still have been sending out sad vibes though as her brother even came across to nicely lick her on the head (normally he chases her around the flat and pulls out her hair, which he started doing again about an hour after the incident).

I thought now would be a good time to call my mum back, thinking she might be slightly anxious to know what was going on after the alarming way I’d terminated our previous call. But I made the call from inside the flat as the balcony hadn’t proved to be the relaxing spot I’d had in mind.

Ten reasons my 30s will be better than my 20s

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1. I’m turning 30 tomorrow, whether I like it or not (unless I don’t, which would be a whole lot worse than the alternative), so no point in clinging on to those rose-tinted memories of my twenties, when I indulged myself in feeling mightily superior to teenage me, but still young enough to be called ‘youth’ by my brother.

2. Compared to a volcano I’m still super young!

3. I might not be quite so youthful anymore in human years but I’m not actually any closer to getting old, in fact the more years I have, the further ‘old’ moves away. I can prove it too: when I was 10 – 30 seemed old, when I was 20 – 60 seemed pretty old, but now I’m 30 – 90 seems old. Clearly old is just 3 times as far away as your actual age so, by that logic, although I might not be so young anymore, I’ll also never be old.

4. In my 30s, people will assume I am mature and experienced so I expect I will be able to bluff my way through challenging scenarios more competently and can pass myself off as an expert on certain subjects on the basis of age, rather than actual experience (if this isn’t true please don’t disillusion me now).

5. I had a surprise birthday party at work today and one of the girls, for the first time in her life, made Apple Crumble in honour of my Britishness (she is predominantly Belgian). I never had anyone make me nationality-themed desserts in honour of any of my 20 something birthdays so this is already an improvement.

6. In my 20s I did lots of interesting ‘experience-gaining’ type things (like studying Human Rights and then the law conversion course, interning in Cambodia and moving to Switzerland). Whilst I regret none of these things I hope that now I’m older, and therefore must be wiser, I’ll be able to just know stuff without the challenges of having to acquire information. So for the time being we’ll ignore any evidence to the contrary, like the fact I’m itching to start studying again and that the world doesn’t actually work like that.

7. In my 20s I never had much money (see point 6 above for various reasons why) but now all that crazy stuff is behind me, I’m confident my 30s will be the decade I actually start to enjoy having money. In a couple of years my student loan will finally be paid off. Hopefully I won’t have to accept any more loans from my parents and may even be able to pay them back at some point in the coming ten years! I might finally become a real grown-up (said with a tear in my eye)!

8. In my 20s, I spent a surprising amount of time caring what other’s thought about me, worrying about how I was spending my time and wasting my youth. Well now that youth is wasted I actually no longer care if people think I’m ‘cool’ or not, which I just as well as I’m definitely not cool. Unless we are talking in some sort of ironic, British in a land of expats, uncool-cool sort of way, but we probably aren’t.

9. In my 20s, I worried about how I would achieve so many life goals before I was thirty, like establishing myself as an expert to be revered in my chosen career, getting married and having kids, exploring every continent and mastering at least one other language (apparently being able to talk with my mouth full doesn’t count). Now that I’ve missed the deadline for these things, the pressure’s off.

10. I’ve come a long way since I turned 20, I’ve done some things I’m pretty proud of, met some awesome people and had some great experiences and although there have been some not-so-good moments too, these are far outweighed by the positives. So I’m pretty confident that I’ll go a long way in the next ten years, in ways I haven’t even considered yet. Cool, eh?