Skool dayz – travelling in time

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So recently I went back in time, around 12-19 years back. I went to my school reunion to once again spend time in the company of a group of people who, for better or worse, were such an important part of my life.

When I first heard about the reunion, I thought it sounded like a great idea, especially when it was going to be held in the same haunt that we used to frequent as teenagers: the local cricket club which could be hired out at reasonable costs for nights of youthful debauchery and sweaty walls.

However, as the date for the reunion started to loom closer, the apprehension kicked in. The reunion seemed less like a fun opportunity for reliving our youthful misadventures and more as a critical point in our lives when we would submit ourselves to the judgments of those who knew what our childhood dreams were.

We all came from the same background, more or less, but where were we all at X years from that fateful day when we (thought we had) finally left our school days behind us?

I tend to review my life, what I’ve achieved so far and where I’m going, on a fairly frequent basis, particularly around this time, as the year draws to a close. However, my self-imposed annual report is scary enough when it’s assessing what I’ve been doing for the last year. Did I really want to voluntarily put myself into a room full of people who would want a report not of the last 12 months but of the last 12 years! On a year-by-year basis my life doesn’t seem so bad, on this more mega scale, was I really going to live up?

Navigating the nervous explosions going off inside my skull I realised I was the one setting all these potential landmines. Would my old school mates really care for a blow-by-blow, marks out of ten, consideration of my life? Probably not. But confronting my reunion was forcing me to confront my worst critic: me. And not just current day me, who can be tough enough, but that youthful aspirational me who believed life would all nicely fit into place after university and I’d fulfill all those dreams I didn’t yet know I had. You leave school and you believe you can do anything. I still believe I can do anything but now I know that ‘anything’ entails a lot of work and sacrifice I’m not necessarily prepared to make any more.

If I want to give up on my current career and become a doctor, is it still possible? Absolutely! Is it worth it? Maybe not. Would I really be prepared to return to intensive education, take loans or find ways to support the costs of doing this and put myself through all the stresses and strains it would entail? Perhaps, if I absolutely wanted to be a doctor more than anything else. But this is the kicker, and the way in which I feel I’ve most disappointed 18 year old me; you see, life didn’t automatically all fall into place after university, I still don’t really know what I want to do and suspect there could still be 100+ interesting career options for me.

I might have narrowed the field a little bit but I still haven’t committed myself to a singular path. Whilst, this isn’t in itself a bad thing, I think my ability to be flexible and to continue to be interested in new avenues isn’t something to be ashamed of, nevertheless sometimes I wonder if it would be easier to have that one goal to rigorously pursue? But that isn’t me, I don’t think I’ll ever reach a point at which I can sit back and think ‘right I’m done now’.

Although my biggest concerns about the reunion were self-imposed I was still nervous about meeting up with a bunch of people I hadn’t seen since I was 18. I didn’t have any arch-nemeses at school and although there were people and groups I didn’t like, I‘d given up on worrying what they thought before I even left the institution. I was actually more concerned about confronting the people who used to be my friends, but for one reason or another I’ve fallen out of contact with. I don’t know whether this fear was motivated by guilt that I’d not made enough effort to stay in touch or a sense of rejection that they’d not done the same with me.

I generally think of my old school friends fondly, they were a great bunch who were part of an informative part of my life. And I have accepted that it is a fact of life that some friends we make are friends for certain times in our lives only and only a few are friends for the entire duration. However, it felt strange to be revisiting these old friends with the distance of over a decade between us.

I wasn’t the only one with butterflies in my stomach about confronting my past, pretty much everyone I knew who was going seemed to feel the same way. So we concocted a plot, we’d meet for dinner and a little dutch courage first, arrive en masse and, if it was terrible, escape to one of the many pubs in town. We had a nice dinner and I caught up with some old friends, some of whom I remain regularly in contact with and others who I wish I was able to see more.

After dinner we managed to work up the nerve to totter across to the cricket club. Inside it quickly became apparent that we can’t have been the only people worried about the reunion, of the 100+ who’d signed up, actual turnout seemed to be closer to 40.

I soon saw a few friendly faces, including some of those good friends I’d lost touch with, although the majority weren’t actually there, and…I had a really good time. It was great to see how people had and had not changed and it quickly felt like old times, except we spent a bit longer talking before hitting the dance floor than would have been normal in our sixth form days and I’m not sure we danced enough to make the walls sweat but it was a great night we didn’t want to end. After the official close many of us decamped to a nearby pub. The only thing that could have topped it off would have been if the kebab van was open when we left and I could have got cheesey chips on the way home.

 

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).

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.

 

Ten reasons you aren’t as civilised as you pretend

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1. In company you will carefully scrape off the yoghurt stuck to the lid with a spoon, at home you’ll just lick it off.

2. You tell people you joined a martial arts class because you like to try interesting things and wanted to meet new people, but really you just like having an excuse to hit other people without getting in trouble.

3. You pretend you watch Eurovision because you are an ironic spectator of a regional mass-entertainment event, actually you just love the cheesy tunes, over the top outfits and ridiculous antics of the competitors.

4. You get ridiculously excited about free stuff, you have no qualms about accepting giveaways, you gleefully take free pencils and paper rulers from IKEA and you shamelessly eat other people’s leftovers (when offered to you, you wouldn’t go as far as steal people’s lunches from the fridge or raid their trash or anything).

5. When someone takes two of the four sandwich squares you’d carefully saved for lunch, from an event you worked at until 9pm the day before, and you then discover that of the two remaining sandwiches one has a big dead fly in it, rather than expressing disgust at the dead insect and throwing the offending article away, you express disgust and then quietly flick the fly away, along with the piece of aubergine it had met its demise on, and then continue to eat both sandwiches. You may tell yourself you’d have been pickier if your lunch hadn’t already been halved for you by some unscrupulous sandwich thief, but you doubt it.

6. You would never dream of leaving your apartment in jogging bottoms (unless actually exercising) but would happily spend an entire day inside the flat in the same pyjamas you sleep in.

7. You really can’t tell the difference between Champagne, Prosecco, Cava or any other variety of sparling wine. If it’s alcoholic with bubbles, then you are happily going to drink it.

8. You can only tell the difference between a fake and a genuine Louis Vuitton bag by location. You assume if someone is sporting an LV bag in Geneva it’s genuine, in Greenwich it’s fake.

9. You would never dream of expressing obscenities directed at a stranger in face to face scenarios, but from the safety of a car (or a bike helmet with visor), when no one can hear to judge, you will unfailingly shout all sorts of rude words at the twat who just cut you up.

10. You wouldn’t belch or bottom-parp in a meeting but yet have no trepidations in letting rip in front of your fiancé or friends and then giggling like a child afterwards whilst trying to blame the outburst on the cat.

Happy Bloggaversary to me!

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Apparently I’ve been at this blogging game for a whole year now, so it’s time for a little reflection. Please imagine a suitably reminiscingy tune (doo de doo doo, doo de doo do…) and maybe a hazy wavering of blog imagery back in time, one whole year ago…

I started all this with the idea that one day I might want to write a book but that probably wouldn’t happen if I didn’t practice writing on a more regular basis and, so, this blog was born. What I hadn’t expected was how much I’d enjoy blogging for blogging’s sake. At first I found it pretty scary to put myself out there thinking why would anyone be interested? What if people hate what I have to say? What if I get laughed out of the blogosphere, blocked from using the internet and ridiculed in person by those who happen to know me in the flesh?

Fortunately my fears were unfounded and people responded pretty well to this, not only friends and family, who probably feel a bit obliged to be kind, but so many other great people I’ve met throught blogging, that this time a year ago I had no idea existed. Because of this initial support I think I now to be able to keep going in the face of any hostility I might attrat in the future (should this thing ever become popular enough, or I ever become controversial enough, to attract trolly types).

I set myself the challenge of blogging once a week, which I pretty much stuck to, and a few months ago tried to up this to twice a week. At times I’ve found it hard to meet my self-imposed blogging deadlines and on more than one occasion I’ve forced myself to sit at the PC and write with absolutely no idea of what I’m going to blog about. Often, even when I’ve an idea of what I want to post, I’ve no idea how it’s going to finish and sometimes the results have surprised myself.

I’ve tried a bit of fiction and a bit of poetry here and there and I’ve uncovered a previously unrealised talent for computer art (just need to skim a few of my posts to see what I’m talking about!.

But, best of all I’ve realised that this blog isn’t actually as much about me as I’ve thought it would be. I’ve discovered countless awesome bloggers and blogs that I’ve really enjoyed reading and engaging with. I’ve had 181 bloggers (not related to me) deliberately sign up to follow my blog. I’ve had friends and family telling me they enjoy my ramblings and encouraging me to keep at it.

So I’d like to take the opportunity to thank each and everyone of you who have decided to follow me, like a post, make a comment, respond to comments I’ve left on other blogs, reblog me and recommend me to others in one way or another. Every interaction has motivated me to keep going even when there may have been times when I just wanted to give up on this demanding monster I’d created. But because of all of you I’ve kept at this for a year and hope to continue for many more years to come.

To borrow a line from ‘Lock, stock & two smoking barrels’…(to be read in gravelly Vinnie Jones voice)…it’s been emotional!

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?