Thursday, 30 June 2016

Home: London vs Paris

Like most people, I have many, many homes. There's the house I grew up in in Nuneaton, where my tiny mum still lives to this day, a place I instantly feel relaxed in the minute I walk through the door. I have felt at home in a miniscule French village named Millau; my nonna's house in San Donaci will always be a part of me; there was a time when I'd pass Runcorn on my way to Liverpool and feel like I'd arrived home... Home is a state of mind more than anything else. But you still have to go back somewhere at the end of the day. You can't live in your head. I mean, you can do whatever you want - we're all adults here - but you do need a roof over said head.

As one such 'adult' (ha) there have been three formative cities that have moulded me into the well rounded, adjusted (ha) individual you see before you today. Those are, in chronological order: Nottingham, Paris and London.

Nottingham was my uni city and the first place I ever lived alone without my aforementioned tiny mum. It was the scene of many a laugh, it introduced me to pretty much all the people I love (excluding the ones I'm forced to love or have known so long that I don't know any different than loving them), and it was generally an incredibly important place in my life. However, since I graduated I have only been back once and it felt so weird and unpleasant, I vowed never to go back again. Traipsing back through those well worn streets almost made me physically shiver. The thing with uni towns is that once you've thrown out all your Miss Selfridge body-cons and have learnt how to iron (I say this but I still to this day don't know where you put the water in an iron and maintain that if you fold properly you can truly live without one), i.e. once you've become a fully functioning real life human being, you feel like a bit of an outsider and it somehow, almost overnight, ceases to be your city. Other people need it more. Younger people with fresher livers. FRESHERS! GET IT?? Sorry.
So, as dear as I hold Notts, the only two real contenders for my fickle heart are Paris and London. Paris stole my soul within twenty minutes, London’s a slower burner. But I love them both with all their imperfections (and, contrary to popular belief, they have plenty.)

Let the sparring commence.


Contest 1: The people

I wouldn’t say that either city is famed for its open arms and hospitality. In that respect they’re actually quite similar: mildly unwelcoming, much too busy and important to stop and say ‘iya and a teeny, tiny bit terrifying when you first arrive.
When I touched down in Charles de Gaulle airport (first time round), twenty cases in hand, I was coming from the South of France, where smiles are gifted generously, croissants are buttery and as big as your head and your neighbours take it upon themselves to invite you to dinner and lend you their ski clothes unprompted. A place that even now I think of as the equivalent of an afternoon spent wrapped in a fuzzy, well-worn comfort blanket with a camomile and re-runs of Downton Abbey. Whereas when I moved to London I was coming from Nuneaton, where I can now count my friends on one finger, I still have to ask my mum for lifts into town and the height of entertainment is going to the Asda. A place that I think of as the equivalent of being stuck in the Departures lounge when your flight’s six hours delayed and you’ve already gone past Duty Free, and now all you’ve got is a pocket-sized W H Smith and a Burger King to keep you entertained.
Also bear in mind the following: I was anxious to live in Paris, absolutely itching to be there. With London, it was a necessity. After almost a year of interning for free I’d finally got a full time, paid (ha, only just) job in publishing, and in my haste to accept it, I’d conveniently ‘forgotten’ that I didn’t actually live in even the same county as my workplace. Cue six months of Virgin trains and delay repay forms and thirteen hour days. Commuting back and forth was never going to be a long term solution.

Both moves were urgent and desperate, with the difference that with one of them I urgently, desperately wanted to move, and with the other I urgently, desperately needed to move.
So let’s compare the citizens of each. Parisians in five words: cool, opinionated, angry, thin, aloof. Londoners in five words: polite, self-aware, sarcastic, busy, aloof.

I don’t know whether it’s a big city thing or just what, but there is a lot of aloofness around. Maybe it’s a survival technique and you need to retain some element of separateness just to get by, but somehow, I think not. The aloofness does eventually develop in you though, no matter what, even if you fight it, even if you think you’ll never be one of those people wearing a navy blue suit with Oasics running shoes and a permanent bad smell under their nose and a distinct air of do-not-speak-to-me-I-am-not-interested-in-making-any-new-friends-I-already-have-three-and-that’s-more-than-enough.
One of P.R.’s (a real born and bredder London friend) favourite stories ever involves me, an angry and busy Londoner and an escalator. It goes a little something like this: I was visiting P.R. one summer, making my way from Euston to Finchley (which is quite far and involves a number of changes to be fair to the version of me that features in this story) on the tube, pretending to know what I was doing and where I was going. I didn’t really know either of those things, and I think it showed in my whole demeanour (think trembling knees, excessive map checking and general uncertainty). Inevitably, there were some escalators involved in my journey. On one such escalator, I made the fatal mistake of pausing. You’re not allowed to pause on escalators. I know that now. Just like you’re not allowed to stand still on the left hand side, just like you’re not allowed to approach the barriers until your Oyster is out of your pocket and poised ready for a speedy exit, just like you’re not allowed to make eye contact with anyone else in your carriage. Unfortunately, 2011 Silv did not know any of those things. Up until that point I’d even hazard a guess that I’d probably fumbled around for anything up to ten seconds trying to find my Oyster in all my pockets, and attempted to smile in the direction of at least two people on the tube. And I paused. I paused right on the last step of the escalator to adjust my shoe (you know, to avoid tripping to an untimely death), and in doing so I caused the woman behind me a three second delay to her journey. People in big cities don’t like having three second delays to their journeys; they don’t like it at all. And this woman in particular, she really didn’t like it. She was mad. A usual Londoner reaction to something on this scale would look a bit like this: an eye roll, a tut, a muttered, tame insult – something like, ‘bloody amateur’ (but very, very quietly so as not to cause any real offense.) Rather than opt for the typical controlled reaction, this woman chose drama and intrigue: she pushed past me, turned to openly stare at me as she overtook me and shouted, at great volume, loudly enough to ensure as much offense as humanly possible, ‘you fucking idiot, watch where you’re fucking going!’ So there could be no doubt of just how much I’d inconvenienced her, she made sure to turn back around and shout, ‘fucksake!’ for good measure.
In a state of shock, I looked all around me to check I was indeed the intended recipient of her wrath. I was.

Londoners are definitely not known for their approachability. But then, neither are Parisians. Case one, asking for directions in Paris on my first ever day as an honorary Parisian… The woman in question not only did not provide me with any help whatsoever, but also, so dismayed was she that I would even dare to ask, she positively growled at me, ‘I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS!’

Neither city really deserves the point for this one, but London gets it by a fraction, based on the fact that Brits are just bloody funny and weird, and I’m one myself so I don’t mind their bad bits quite as much.
Paris: 0; London: 1    

Contest 2: The weather
This is a short one, because the weather is atrocious in both places, and I’m finally at one with the idea that I’m destined to forever live somewhere where 21 degrees is cause for celebration.
Paris: 0; London: 1

Contest 3: Shopping
This is similarly a short one, because shops is shops, and, with the exceptions of Whistles for the UK team and the Sandro stock store for Team France, Bond Street could be in Paris and Rue de Rivoli could be in London, and you definitely wouldn’t even notice they’d swapped round. I like Zara and & Other Stories and Cos, and you get all of them in both places, and also, you know… internet, so I’m happy wherever.
Paris: 0; London: 1

Contest 4: Food
Oh here we go. Now it gets fun. Spoiler alert: Paris wins this one. I will give you a list of reasons why Paris wins this one (and they are all food shaped):

-Croissants

-Bread

-Cheese

-Cheap red supermarket wine

-Macarons

-Angelina Café

-Comme a Lisbonne custard tarts

-L’as du Falafel

-The sushi place next to my old apartment (best when bought to take away and then consumed in bed)

-Savoury crepes from Breizh café

-Coffee from La Cafeotheque

-Galette des Rois (mmmmm)

-Le Chalet Savoyard for the best (nightmare inducing) fondue

-Hot, chocolate drenched gauffres

-Shop bought aubergine riste

-Bistro burgers and chips and omelettes and salads and still-mooing steaks

-Pastrami sandwiches from Shwartz’s deli

-Moules frites

-Chouquettes

-Baguettes jambon beurre (trust me)

-Pink Flamingo pizza

London, I feel sly, but I’m yet to find anywhere in you that makes me want to write a gushing list like the one above. This is also not really all that fair, because when I lived in Paris my ‘kitchen’ consisted of a micro/oven combo that didn’t really do either task efficiently and one electric hob, so it was either eat out three (or four) times a day or die. In London I make most of my own meals, so, arguably, if I don’t enjoy the food here as much, it’s purely because I can’t cook.
Paris: 1; London: 1

Contest 5: Boys
Cristo. The Parisian lothario vs the charming Londoner. I can’t really comment on this with any great confidence, because, although I have dated in both cities, I don’t think I’ve actually been involved with locals from either place. I’m just thinking… (But I’m mostly thinking so that it seems as though I’ve been on enough dates to lose count…) Yeah, no, no locals here. What I can comment on with some degree of confidence is what it’s like to date in both cities.

Paris. Sigh. It’s not known as the most romantic city in the world for nothing. Sharing bottles of supermarket Cotes du Rhone by the Seine, strolling through the Champ de Mars at night, feeding each other snails and frog legs (I’ve actually done that in London too, but that was with someone who’d made a conscious effort to recreate a fake Parisian scene, and who failed spectacularly)… It’s bloody lovely to be in love in that bloody fancy little city! It just is.

London… Yeah, it's alright. Most of my dates here take place in the pub, and, in theory, that’s how I like it. But in practice… I do actually quite like being taken to hidden rooftops that look out over the Marais or rainy palace gardens. London boys, take note, I never, ever react well to the following invitation: ‘I don’t mind. You can pick where we go!’
However, even though English boys may well accidentally slam a door in your face and get their calculator app up on their phone to work out how to split the bill in proportion to your salaries, they're also far more likely to make you belly laugh, and when you're giggling fit to burst you don't really care about all the other stuff anyway, so London, you can have this one.
Paris: 1; London: 2

Contest 6: General Activities
I don’t do all that much here. Or anywhere. Me and activities don’t really mix. Unless by ‘activities’ you mean binge watching 90s hip hop videos on Youtube or filling your basket on Asos and then never actually purchasing anything, which you probably don’t. I am a girl of simple pleasures, most of which can be found in the comfort of my own home. However, sometimes you do need to leave the house, and for whenever that need does rear its ugly head, both London and Paris are queens.

The easiest way to judge this one, I think, is to list all the things that I love to do in each respective city off the top of my head and see which list is longest.

Paris activities

-Sitting/picnicking/thinking/snogging/daydreaming/writing/breathing by the Seine (anything by the Seine, forever)

-Trawling vintage shops in the Marais for a bargain

-Spending whole afternoons people watching in Montmarte

-Cheap(ish) cocktails in Bastille

-Waxing at Les Petits Soins (this may seem like a strange one, but the beautician who owned it was the sweetest lady in the world and it was always a joy to spend thirty minutes, legs akimbo, practicing my French with her)

-Reading in Les Tuileries

-Pretentious, overpriced films at Bercy

-Playing hide and seek in the park
-Penalty shoot outs
-Pokemon tournaments
-Watching Peppa Pig until my eyes dry up

London activities

-Pubs. All pubs. Just pubs

-Hampstead Heath. The loveliest heath in the land. Apart from Ledger, R.I.P.

-Primrose Hill. Again, the loveliest hill I know. Apart from Lauryn. Similarly, R.I.P.

-Flat hunting (that's all I ever do these days. Hold tight for the upcoming post about estate agents. The ones I've fancied - Stockholm syndrome? - and the ones I've wanted to stab in the head with a nail file repeatedly until they are no longer able to pronounce the words 'I'm not being salesy but...')

-Drinking in Shoreditch (this is basically reiterating Point 1 in a slightly different format, but I’m counting it as its own thing)
-Going to the big Sainsburys on Finchley Road
-Browsing Foyles until all the books start to blur into one

Okay. I admit it, I hold my hands up, put the gun down. The Paris list is slightly longer. HOWEVER, if you look closely, you will see that the Paris list is ever so slightly longer because of some unignorable reasons: when I was in Paris I was hanging out with a small child 70% of the time, and small children are inventive and fun and get very easily bored if you're not doing entertaining shit every second of the day, so forcibly, when around small children, you do entertaining shit more often. Whereas in London I have a normal 9-5 and during the day mostly hang out with teenagers and three older women, whose ages ascend in decades up to 60 and who therefore have their own lives and things to do, and the rest of the time I interact with other people who, like me, now find themselves spending 80% of their time working and making dinners and jogging around a park and keeping on top of their personal admin and remembering to check in with their grandparents every so often and making sure the fridge always has a bag of salad in the bottom drawer. So I don't think it's a fair contest, and for that reason both cities get a point, and it's my list and my blog post and my life, so I decide.
Paris: 2; London: 3

Contest 7: Looks
Ooh child. Everyone says that beauty is skin deep and in the eye of the beholder and fades with time, or whatever people say to convince you that you don't look rough, and even if you do that not everyone has noticed. But it is important; it's lidicrously important! I don't want to live somewhere ugly. I've already done that. I've served my time. Now I want to be surrounded by cute little streets and green, lush parks and well thought out Mary-Portas-curated shop windows. I deserve it.
So who's the fairest of them all? Paris or London?
Well, I mean, it's Paris. It's quarter to ten, and I really want to go to bed and watch Celebrity Masterchef with a cup of tea, so let's not drag this out any longer. London, you cute, but you also have a lot of fat days. Paris, you're a snobby little bitch, and know how gorgeous you are - a bighead of the worst kind - but that doesn't take away from the fact that every corner and crevice and back street of you is stunning. You are the city equivalent of Marion Cotillard, and how fucking apt is that?
Paris: 3; London: 3

Contest 8: Bonus Round
There's an extra point up for grabs for being part of the EU, and guess who gets it...
Paris: 4; London: 3

And that's it. Paris, you win. But, London, I live in you, and I'm warming to you more and more every day, and even though, on paper, you're second best, you're where I'm setting up my little life, and, really, if I'm being a truthful Trisha, you're not second best at all.

London, je t'aime.

Friday, 27 May 2016

The Library: My Expectations vs The Cold Hard Reality

My library job happened a little by accident and a lot by fluke. It had less to do with having a burning ambition to keep the Dewey decimal system alive and everything to do with how much I hated the job I was in at the time. Anyone who had the misfortune of knowing me in any capacity between the months of February and November 2015 will know that I was miserable. I hated my job so much that I would often quietly sob as I was getting ready to go to it. My housemate stopped asking how my day had gone because he knew it would never be good news. On the phone to my mum, I'd hear her breathe a sigh of relief if I said, 'today wasn't completely shit.' That was all I hoped for. For my day to not be completely shit. Anyway, woe is me, whatever. The point is: I wanted to get out at any cost. When you're in a state of acute desperation like I was then, you envy everyone who's not you. On lunch breaks with my lovely colleagues (they were my little rays of sunshine in the office and still are now in real life) we'd look at dogs running round the park without a care in the world and want to be in their shoes (paws.)
'I wish I was that dog.'
'I wish I was that tree.'
It was my first full time job. I was 24 years old. It was ridiculous that I was jealous of a tree.
I was constantly trying to work out how to get doctors appointments during the day, how many weeks it was until the next bank holiday, how best to use my generous holiday allowance of 16.5 days to give myself the longest possible break from the office...
I was all consumed with thoughts about how soon I could leave without completely fucking up my CV. I very quickly worked out that I wasn't up to doing a full year like I'd originally planned, and as time went on and I became ever more anxious, I started to think about what I could do that would pay more (most things) and give me slightly more holidays (anywhere.)
I was disillusioned with publishing - it wasn't what I thought it would be and I needed a clean break, but books and literature are all I know. I couldn't fathom working in any other field. So what could I legitimately do with my (limited) skills? I'd worked in schools before, and am good with children (I actually find them to be a lot less unpleasant than most adults), but I knew from how miserable my teacher ex was at the time that you should never teach unless your whole soul is crying out to you that it is your one true vocation in life. I was done with crying in the mornings. I wanted an easy life.
Books and kids... Books and kids... Where could I find both of these things under the same roof? A bloody school library, that's where!
I did extensive research, of course (as long as if by 'extensive' we mean me googling 'how much do librarians earn?' and 'schools North London' on my phone.) It turns out that the school librarian is dead. They are now known as 'LRC Managers.' Well that was that dream over, then. How could I jump from a 'co-ordinator' (a fancy word for slave) to manager overnight?! I wasn't qualified. But it turns out that LRC Managers earn salaries as fancy as their job titles, and I repeat, I was desperate. So I applied to an advertised vacancy. It was a half hearted attempt at escape and was completed as such. If I remember rightly (which I do) I filled in half of the application on my ex's tablet on his bedroom floor, sulking because he was marking books and not stroking my head, and half of it on my phone on the bus. It took me a week.
Against all odds, I was utterly convinced that the job was mine. It had to be. How could you want something so badly and not get it? In what unfair world would I not deserve to get the very first job I applied to? (Again, remember I completed the application on a floor and on a bus.) I checked my emails obsessively for a month, and then admitted defeat. As unjust as it seemed, it probably did make sense that someone with absolutely no prior experience of working in a library or any librarian qualifications (they exist! Check if you don't believe me!) would maybe not be entrusted to run a massive school library singlehandedly.
But then, two days after being cruelly dumped by the boyfriend who was too sad to stroke my head, when everything had got to the point where I was seriously contemplating moving back home and living off my mum forever, I got the email inviting me to interview.
This was it! My one way ticket out of misery and shit holidays!
I couldn't believe my fucking luck (and it was luck, nothing else, because I repeat, I wasn't even slightly qualified for the role.)
I was at Hell Job when I saw the good news, so I summoned my lovely colleagues to the kitchen or basement or one of the other many places we would use to cry or moan or hide, and showed them the email and we all hugged and danced around and maybe even teared up a bit (I mean, I almost certainly did. Don't know if you'd heard but I was crying quite freely at that point in my life.)
I prepped ferociously (watched loads of YouTube videos called things like 'misconceptions about the modern librarian' and 'why it pisses me off that people think librarians are sad and wear glasses and need to get laid.') I was ready.
I went into Hell Job on interview day with my Sandro dress hidden under a massive wooly jumper and felt delirious about my secret. Lovely Colleague 1 and 2 kept catching my eye across the office and winking. I had this in the bloody bag.
When the time came to toddle off to the interview, I completely misjudged just how far away the school was (I live in North London and Hell Job was central London and New Job is about as South as you can get and still confidently say you're in London.)
It took me an hour and a half to get there. I was late. I ran all the way from the bus stop, halting only very slightly as I approached the doorway so as not to look manic and red and deranged. I wasn't the only one interviewing. There were five other candidates, who had arrived in good time and didn't have stringy fringes and looked like your typical librarian. I don't want to be a generalising little twat, but my competition were not dressed in their best Sandro dress. My competition were dressed in cardigans and sensible lace ups and wire rimmed glasses. (I'm not just making this up for dramatic effect, all five of the other people at the interview were either already librarians elsewhere or fresh library degree graduates.)
But I felt good anyway. I literally had not one thing to lose. I liked being in a school environment. It was refreshing. The Hell Job office was stuffy and overheated and my heart sank every day when I swiped my way through the front door. The school was buzzing with life and activity and movement. I already knew I'd be working there soon. Not in a blowing-my-own-horn way, but I smashed the interview's head in. I was my most sparkly, charming, well spoken version of myself (and it didn't hurt my confidence any that another one of the candidates had a panic attack halfway through and had to put her head between her legs for ten minutes.) They said they'd let me know within the week.
They called me the next day.

Handing in my notice at Hell Job was one of the happiest days of my life. I'm not exaggerating. My lovely colleagues bought me flowers and I couldn't, not even for form's sake, keep the smile from my face when I asked to speak to my boss 'in private.' I was so excited I forgot to delete the 'Monster' logo from the template I'd used to write out my Notice letter. My boss noticed and made a massive deal out of it, doing a fake tinkly loud laugh, and in my head I just kept thinking, 'after this month I never, ever have to see your face again, and it won't be a moment too soon, you life-ruining horror woman.'
I walked on a cloud for the next four weeks. I still cried a bit (quite a lot), for the other thing, but I clutched my impending new job to my chest like a talisman. I'd made a change, I was in control of my own life again, and I was going to be happy (happier) one day soon. Plus let's not forget all those glorious school holidays I was about to qualify for. Fuck you, dog-in-park! I can run around and be fancy free too!
I was so giddy with not working at Hell Job anymore that I almost entirely forgot that I did actually have to go and start a new job and do everything that comes with that. I didn't really know what to expect. The closest I'd ever come to working in a library environment was when I applied to Camp Hill (a less than desirable area in my hometown) library for a Saturday job and my feedback post interview was 'enthusiastic but probably not equipped to handle the trickier, occasionally aggressive patrons.'
Instead, my first Saturday job ended up being as a waitress at my local football stadium, tripping over people's handbags, dropping plates of food and forgetting to ask whole tables to pay. I have weak wrists and the crockery was heavy. I've never worked in hospitality since.

Things I was maybe expecting to do as a school librarian:
-Recommend books
-Catalogue books
-Instill a love of reading to impressionable young minds
-Start a book club
-Use my contacts from my time in publishing to get authors in to chat to the students
-A poetry slam 
-Potter around, organising the shelves
-Generally be a Miss Honey/Dead Poets Society/Coach Carter hybrid inspirational human being

Things I actually do day to day as a school librarian:
-Say 'shhh' until my face hurts (if only this cliche wasn't so true...)
-Crowd control
-Break up fights
-Reconcile friendship fall outs
-Give out pens like they're going out of fashion
-Fix computers
-Litter pick
-Whistle blow (not literally, although I do have one in my top drawer for emergencies)
-Hand out hair, friend, relationship advice (even though I'm not sure I'm qualified to preach about any of the above. The extent of my hair adventures is a home dip dye in summer '13 and a fringe that's taken me nine months to grow out, I have approximately six mates that I plan to keep until the day I die, and I always bring up my high cholesterol on first dates. But they ask, and when I suggest things they listen, so I must be doing something right)
-Lend something like two books a week out (and this is often only because I physically thrust the titles that I think particular kids will like into their unwilling little paws)

Conversations I thought I might have with the library users:
-'Miss, have you got the new Malorie Blackman?'
'Sure thing, Khadejah! Have you read her earlier stuff? Why not try the Noughts and Crosses series?' (A few of the younger girls will actually ask me for books, but always very quietly and discreetly as if it's a dirty habit they need to hide)
-'Miss, can you possibly help me with my English coursework?'
'Sure thing, Jeremiah, one A* coming right up!' (This too, does in fact sometimes happen, but unfortunately I'm little to no use as I can't remember any of the shit they're studying, not even A Streetcar Named Desire. And I loved A Streetcar Named Desire (well, I fancied Marlon Brando in the black and white film, even though he was a midget and a misogynist, and it felt important to be studying a play, so I guess that's the same as loving A Streetcar Named Desire)
-'Miss, can I confide in you about a juicy, interesting, but not life threatening, personal problem, please?'
'Sure thing, Egypt, pull up a seat!'

Things that students actually ask me, in order of frequency:
-'Miss, how old are you?'
Quickly followed by:
-'Miss, aren't you a bit young to be a librarian?'
-'Miss, where are you from?'/'What's your heritage?'/'Where do you live?'/'Was that you on the 196 to Brixton speaking in a foreign language on the phone?'
-'Miss, did you go to uni?'
Quickly followed by:
-'But if you have a degree why do you work here then?'
-'Miss, have you got a good man at home?' (Only ever phrased like this. 'A good man at home.' I mean. First of all, if I did have a boyfriend, he would not be a 'good man at home,' for a number of reasons. For one, he wouldn't be at home, and he definitely wouldn't be at my home, and then he also wouldn't necessarily be 'good', just quite nice and good at kissing and picking where to eat. So.)
-'Where did you get that?' about every single item of clothing I ever deign to wear. I always lie because sixth form can wear their own clothes and I really could live without Tanequa in Year 12 coming in in the same trousers as me on Monday
-'Are you staying next year?' said cautiously, as every librarian they've had before me has gone running for the hills after a few months. Can't think why.
-'Can I have a pen/paper/scissors/kidney?'
-'The printer's out of paper.' This is, admittedly, not a question, but I still have to deal with it, so it counts.
-'Can I leave my bag with you?' NO. I AM NOT A CLOAKROOM.

Really horrible/incomprehensible things the kids have said to me:
-'You're jarring, man' x 500
-'You're so extra' (yeah, I'm not sure what that means either...)
-'Shhh' (it doesn't work quite as well this way round)
-'I'm dead' (this confusingly doesn't literally mean that they have passed away whilst visiting the library and that I'll have reams of follow up paperwork to fill in and that they are miraculously telling me about their new state from beyond the grave. Rather, it means that something is funny or unbelievable or generally worth an exclamation of some description.)
-'Why you being a little snake?' (Said after I called for assistance during an actual bonafide physical fist fight.)
-'This woman!' (Me) 'I'm going to slam this laptop off her head!' (Not only did she not slam said laptop off anyone's head, I also got her excluded for the rest of the day. Snake fo' lyf.)

Really horrible/incomprehensible things I have started saying to the kids (I am almost definitely now my grandmother):
-'If you're just going to socialise then you can take it outside!'
-'Unhand that girl!'
-'Who's rustling? There's crisps in here! I can smell them!'
-'We are still way too loud!' (Don't know why I choose 'we' as my pronoun of choice; I'm never the one making any noise.)
-'That doesn't look like work to me!' (Said while looking at students having any form of fun, ever.)
-'I know books, not computers.' A lie. I know computers just as much as the next person.
-'You are all horrible and I hate you.' This makes them laugh, and then I laugh, and then at least we're all laughing for a second.
-'Let's all try to live in harmony, shall we?' (Who knows.)
-'What are your intentions today?' (I want to throw myself out the window whenever I hear myself say this one. They're 15-18 years old. They have no intentions.)
-'Shhh' (Often said at the top of my lungs, which, really, completely defeats the object.)

Really lovely, thoughtful things the kids have said to me that make my day and make me so glad I filled in that application on a floor and on a bus:
-'Miss, you're my favourite teacher.' I used to be pedantic and correct them, but then I realised it's not worth the effort. If I can be someone's favourite teacher without doing any teaching of any description, then I'll take it. 
-'Miss, you could do loads better than this job.' Not too sure what to make of that one, but I'll also take that.
-'Miss, you've got the best style.' This is said to me at least three times a day no matter what I'm wearing. I mostly wear jumpers and an array of high waisted trousers. I've worn the same loafers since January. They say 'I see you!' every time I do absolutely anything different with my appearance (I've worked out that this does not simply mean that they have 20/20 vision, but that they approve of what's in their eye line.)
-'You're cute.' (Said by the cutest 14 year old girl ever, so it means even more.)
-'Miss! I see you with your eyeliner on! Who you seeing? Where you going? Looking peng!' (Peng is still a thing, apparently.)
-'You've got a great face, miss.' That's all I've ever wanted. Some twat I was seeing when I was 19 once text me that I had a 'weak face' so fuck you, Saarah in Year 13 thinks quite the opposite. 
-'Miss, you look like Lucy from Made in Chelsea/Dakota Johnson/that goth in Eastenders.'
-'Miss, loving the new hair!' (I'd simply changed my parting.) 'Your baby hair's looking buff.' (I hate baby hair. Why are they even noticing baby hair? Why don't they read a book and stop looking at my scalp?)
And my favourite ever was when a little tearaway tapped his urchin friend when he'd raised his voice at me and said, 'don't speak to her like that. She's really nice and just doing her job.'

Hear hear.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

'You're a 10, and he's a 2' and other well meaning lies your friends will tell you when you're 'back on the market.'

I dunno if you'd heard (and I mean, you have, because I mention it frequently), but it wasn't my choice to be single. However, a matter of months have passed and in the interest of remembering that my ex is not the only person on the planet and also of not becoming a hard hearted, jaded, cynical ice queen, I have put myself back on said market. With a little encouragement from my harem of supportive friends.
I was in dire need of this support, because, alone, I was very lost indeed. I thought I was doing well if I made eye contact with a stranger on the tube.
It started out innocently enough: a suggestion of a single friend that I might get on with.
'You both like books!' one of my gal pals squealed with glee as she showed me a selection of his carefully curated profile pictures. 'And he's tall.' (That all important criteria, that seems to swallow any other unattractive qualities, such as emotional unavailability and a contagious skin disease.)
'Okay...' I said, already terrified.
'He has a weird relationship with food though.'
'Oh.'
'And I think he's a little bit autistic.'
'Babe...'
'Just a tiny bit!
'I don't think-'
'He's a really nice guy though!'
This phrase was repeated endless times as she listed all manner of other inappropriate matches for me, of which some she seemed to fancy herself and some seemed destined to die alone. Somehow, almost completely against my will, she talked me into giving autistic overeater a chance.
'It won't be some weird thing. I'll just invite him to my party and you'll be there too, and we'll just SEE WHAT HAPPENS.'
Nothing happened because he couldn't make it due to a suspected nervous breakdown.
I didn't lose much sleep over that one. She's still keeping an eye out for me.

Another one of my friends took me out to Shoreditch a lot post breakup. I assumedly like boys from Shoreditch. Not sure where this idea came from, but that's what had been decided. She got fucked out her face, made up a dance routine based almost exclusively on pretending she was underwater, and did laps of the bar to find suitable bachelors for me. I had no say in this whatsoever. She came back triumphantly ten minutes later to tell me that she'd given my number to 'Adam from New York' who was in town for the weekend. He joined us at our table, was perfectly charming, and we all proceeded to bond over endless games of Heads Up. His hand was a bit snakey, and had to be slapped away a couple of times, but nothing major. Until we got outside and he whispered seductively in my ear, 'I'm half Jamaican, you know. I could really stretch you out.' I so wish I was joking. I grabbed my friends, ran for the hills (the kebab shop) and my matchmaker friend's still apologising now.
To make it up to me, she told me that I should have a fun French fling with her best friend from home. He was undoubtedly attractive, sounded eligible and had also been shown pictures of me and not been displeased. It was perfect.
'So, he's not planning on coming to England for a while. But if you visit next summer I'll definitely introduce you!'
I can't do much with 'if's and the summer's a very long way away. We chalked that one down to a 'probably not worth the hassle.' She is also keeping both eyes peeled for me.

My third mismatch was suggested by someone who should know better. She knows what I like and she's been on the scene long enough to have witnessed my varied arc of love interests in all its glory.
She was so proud of herself when she showed me a photo of the boy she had in mind. It was her boyfriend's best friend.
'We can double date!' she said.
'Christ,' I said.
'You'll love him!' she said.
I didn't.
She couldn't understand why I wasn't into it.
'He looks just like your ex! Look, he's even got the same shirt. And he's a teacher!'
Sound logic. If I was trying to go out with my ex again. But I'm not. That would be psychotic and I'm not Rachel in Friends, dating Russ.
Also, all the qualities I liked in my ex don't necessarily translate into general qualities I'm looking for in anyone.
I refused to comply. She still brings him up from time to time. R.I.P. Russ.

I sometimes let my friends reply to messages from boys on my behalf. P fucking lives for evenings in with my phone. If I dare to reach for it back she gets scratchy and screechy, so I've learnt it's easier to just leave her to it. I'll hear her cackling to herself and just quietly despair. She gives compliments that she herself would like to receive, but that unsuspecting boys in their 20s don't quite know what to do with.
'I like your COS aesthetic!' she typed frantically to one such critter.
'Ah thanks,' he said, because what the fuck else could he say?
'Do you know what COS is?' she said, unsatisfied with his lack of enthusiasm.
'If you mean the store then yeah.'
'I get the feeling you're not really digging me though,' she said, and looked around at me, both thumbs up, proud of the work she'd done.
He never text us back again.
She absolutely delights in general trolling. If she deems someone a 'dumb-dumb' she will openly mock them.
'Hi hun x' someone once dared to say.
'Hi hunni x' she text back.
'Wat u been up to?'
'Not much babes, u? x' she typed back and laughed like a drain.
'Just been the match. Wat u do at weekend?' This sent her over the edge.
'Chill at home. What u do?' she text, just so pleased with herself.
'Sweet! Same :)' he said. Harmless enough.
'(Smiley poo emoticon)(Bride emoticon)(Sassy flamenco dancer emoticon)(Crying emoticon)(Plane emoticon)' P text him, with no apparent relation to anything else that'd been said.
I glared at her. She winked back.
'He won't even think it's weird. Watch,' she said to me.
Sure enough, he text back straightaway. One word: 'lol.'
She raised her eyebrows, triumphant.
'Delete his number,' I said.  

The matches I organise all by myself are no less of a shambles, don't get it twisted. I get it wrong even more than they do. One boy I was speaking to had suspected alcohol/drugs dependency/AIDs and would only ever suggest coffees or walks. The less said about him the better.
There was the guy who was trying to be my boyfriend after two dates. He will go down in history as the boy who went out to buy me breakfast and came back with two types of Tropicana: one with bits, one without, because he didn't know what I liked. I don't know why, but this caused mass hysteria.
'What a sociopath!' each and every one of my friends said when I told them.
He also made me dippy eggs and soldiers and watched me eat them without having any himself. But that's a story for another time.
It's worth mentioning the fact that my friends also couldn't stomach the fact that he was completely bald but with the biggest beard any of us had ever seen. He was no Common though. 'Pubey' was the general consensus. I stopped texting him back the day he lost his job. An unhappy coincidence. And not my proudest moment.

It's not all doom and gloom though. I found myself a promising one. Just so promising. We had five and a half excellent dates and I started to think that everything was going to be fine. There are fun boys with unusual faces that will make me snort laugh and suggest normal dates at bars and that will make me feel safe enough that I won't have to keep my phone clutched in my hand under the table all night, finger hovered over my ringtone in case I have to pretend that someone's calling and I have to urgently leave! Or so I thought.
He got weird. Fast. He disclosed that he'd gone through every single one of my Instagram photos and knew things about me that I'd never told him. He took me to a gig and didn't talk to me until it was over. He took a piss on my doorstep in some kind of weird dirty protest and then admitted to it the next day with something close to pride. All my friends without exception hated this one. Comments ranged from 'he has a triangle head' to the simple 'SICK'. One of the girls physically recoiled in horror when I showed her a picture of him and then apologised profusely, saying, 'honestly, I just wasn't expecting it.'

For now I'm going to be a good sport and keep my well meaning, lying friends vicariously entertained with all my disastrous mismatches. Safe in the knowledge that there are definitely a few fun boys with unusual faces that will make me snort laugh and suggest normal dates at bars out there somewhere. They can't all be fucking awful, can they...? 

Friday, 11 March 2016

You're having a baby and I'm still a baby myself (or why we should never compare ourselves to our peers when we're all completely different entities with diverse hopes and plans and timelines)

Me and my girlfriends send each other a LOT of screenshots. We have a Facebook group imaginatively called 'the love message' and it sees all kinds of action. It is relentless, arguably one of the most time consuming commitments in my life. You can have one evening away from your phone (you know, to live your life or whatever) and by the time you've checked it six hours later you have 256 delirious messages to catch up on: one of you's had a pregnancy scare, another one's struggling over what brand of biscuits to take into work and another's flirted with, and since abandoned, the idea of getting a bob (these examples are only very slightly exaggerated.) Amidst these dramatic declarations, often all in capitals, you will find dozens of the inescapable 'ugly baby pics'. Let me start by saying that no babies are ugly; they are all, of course, tiny miracles. BUT that doesn't mean that they are quite as cute as you think they are when you're uploading a picture of them taking a shit, smashing banana all over their heads or screaming. Your mum would love to see those pictures, your partner would probably want to frame them and scatter them artfully around his office, your very own 'love message' would coo over them endlessly, but me? I could live without them.
Don't get me wrong, I am beyond sure that there is an equivalent 'love message' out there somewhere that sends screenshots of my constant stream of book cover photos and oversharing Facebook statuses, declaring to their friends 'what a boring cunt!' But that's okay. I am well aware that my ramblings won't be to everyone's tastes, just as some people's statuses aren't to mine. Gemma (name changed. I know no Gemmas), who I haven't spoken to in real life since year 10, yes your 'other half' is a 'star' for running you a bath and making a shepherd's pie from scratch while you were working a late shift but tell him, don't tell me.
I'm getting sidetracked, and the real point I'm trying to make isn't really about Gemma and her bubble baths.
Everyone feel free to express yourselves! I certainly do.
The real issue is that we should never look at these posts and compare our own lives with everyone else's. THIS IS VERY, VERY DANGEROUS AND DESTRUCTIVE AND UNHEALTHY.
I just turned 25 and have next to nothing in place by traditional (and my nonna's) standards. I've almost definitely had something of a quarter life crisis (see previous post where I talk of drinking gallons of wine and crying a lot on the sofa). I am unexpectedly newly single (can I still say 'newly' six months on? I think I can), in a job I quite like but don't plan on doing for the rest of my life, and renting a place that drains around 80% of my income. I will be renting for a long time (possibly forever?) and that makes me sad for a number of reasons, but mainly because I really have my eye on so much stellar furniture and there are quite a few pictures that I'd actually like to hang on a wall with a nail one day. But that's fine too.
We are all different, my friends, and I am not panicked in the slightest about my situation. Why should I be? My great grandmother lived to 105, and that is an unspeakable amount of years to fill. If I tick everything off in the first quarter, what am I going to fill my time with for all the rest of the long years?
I don't eat quite as well as my great grandmother and the air I breathe is nowhere near as clean, so I might not still have 80 years in me, but I hope to have SOME, and I want to do everything in due course. I have reason to believe that I will never be this young again, and I'm often not very youthful in my chosen activities as it is. I already stay in 4-5 (sometimes 6) nights a week and if I were to have a young family I'd be far too tempted to just stay in all 7 nights. All I need is an excuse and I'm staying in. But I don't WANT to be old before my time. I want to be old when I'm old.
Some people do want to do it all now though and that. is. okay. If all you've ever dreamed of is being a homeowner and you can afford to be, do it! Prune your roses, hang your drapes, pay your council tax! Live your dream!
If you've been dreaming of having a baby since you were a baby yourself, stop taking the pill, put some spirulina in your smoothie, pop them out like there's no tomorrow!
Thankfully I'm surrounded by people with very diverse timelines and for that I am SO GRATEFUL. My mother had her first and only child (me) at the arguably mature age of 36. She is the best mum I've ever had or met. That is not necessarily an objective viewpoint but she just is.
My ex employer had her baby boy through IVF at 40 and once confided in me that she still thought she had him too early.
One of my 'love message' girls got married late last year. I would never have predicted that she'd be the first, her husband is quite a bit older, and yet I do not for a second doubt that both of them got married at precisely the right time for them. I was ecstatic for them, but I never wished it was me (I don't mean me marrying her husband, obviously, I just mean getting married in general.)
Maybe I'll get married, maybe I won't, but it's not on the horizon, and I'm glad about that.
I am definitely not having any babies for a while. Not on purpose anyway. Fuck. Touching wood everywhere as I type that. I want them, I want loads actually. But not yet. I'm still far too selfish to dedicate my life to another soul, and I still have many childless boxes I want to tick off my to-do list.
I'm toying with the idea of going back to school. I had a brief moment of panic where I thought, 'stop being ridiculous, you're too old to go back to education!' But then I got a hold of myself and realised that 'too old' is a made up concept. If I don't get in, it won't be because I'm too old. That's almost definitely against the law. If I don't get in, it'll be for one of two reasons:
1. I haven't applied
2. I'm not good enough
My cousin did her masters at 30, my dad got his at night school in his mid 30s. There's a cherished photo we have of him, balding, in his cap and gown and he looks as proud as punch. They weren't too old.
My housemate loves his job and will stay in it for as long as he can. I could not do his job. I'm yet to 'love' any job I've done. He thinks it's hilarious, but I can't help thinking that no matter what job I do I'd probably realistically always rather be doing something else, like reading or lying in bed or trying on clothes in Cos. You know, fun, non-work things.
Maybe that also comes with time. I'm waiting patiently.
One of my friends has just emigrated. Scratch that, two of my friends have emigrated. One of them really wanted to, one of them would much rather have stayed in London. Both sets of Facebook photos will be just as stunning; behind the lens the stories are very different. YOU CANNOT TELL WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON IN PEOPLE'S MINDS AND HOMES FROM WHAT THEY CHOOSE TO DISCLOSE ONLINE.
If I were to post about the minutiae of my real every day life, my statuses would look like this:

Sitting on the couch, staring into space, every now and then coming back to life to change the song. The playlist is Ciara and Amerie and Usher and I'm doing a bit of a dance but could similarly do a bit of a cry.

Wondering whether I can get away with not washing my hair for another day if I scrape my forelock out the way and use that last little bit of Batiste.

Feeling a bit anxious that my salmon's going to go off before I have a chance to eat it.

Scrolling through someone I used to go to nursery with's mum's cousin's Facebook profile with no real idea of what I'm looking for or why I care.

Scratching my elbow.

Having quite a mediocre day. Nothing to report.

You get the idea. Real life is often pretty boring. This is why we mustn't get caught up in checking what other people are doing. They're liars. They're truth stretchers, deceivers, cover-uppers. If they have a house and a kid and a live-in lover, they're probably looking at you with your nights out and disposable income and Zara spending sprees and thinking, 'fuck, that's the life.'
Meanwhile, you have freedom and travel and no roots, and you're probably looking at them, the settled souls, and thinking, 'eugh, if only.'
So stop scrolling and envying and calculating how long you've got left to get everything together, or the time you'll have to wait before you're free again, and enjoy the stage you're at right now. Right this second.
You'll be nostalgic about it one day when you've got a bun in the oven and a toddler tugging at your hand and a pot-bellied husband in your previously uncluttered bed. You know you will.
This weekend the 'love message' are coming en masse to my overpriced rented flat in London for an out of control drug fuelled party (read frozen pizzas, a tame night out, prosecco and topping and tailing on the sofa). One of us is a homeowner, one of us is a wife, one of us has recently graduated and got her first office job, and one of us is me. And in all our various life stages, every last one of us has our moments of panic and insecurity, and guess what? We're all completely fine!

Sunday, 24 January 2016

A case as to why crippling heartbreak in your mid 20s is arguably the most character building thing that can happen to you

Sidenote: there will be absolutely no trash talkin' about the person who inflicted said heartbreak. He is perfectly nice and we still get on and really, you are always well within your rights to want to be with someone and then not want to be with them at a later date. So no passive aggression from me!

I wasn't at all expecting my heartbreak. It came very much out of the blue. One day I was sharing every single aspect of my every day with him and the next he was no longer in my life. I'm yet to work out if this was a blessing or a nightmare. Do you really want a warning?
First warning: 'You're getting on my nerves now.'
Second warning: 'I won't tell you again.'
Last chance: 'This is your last chance...'
All out of luck: 'Naughty step for you.'
Probably not.
Although you also don't want to be having to ask, 'are we breaking up or are we just talking about breaking up?' because it's such a shock. These things kinda need to be spelt out clearly.

So that happened and I had to get on with being alive and going to a job I hated every day. I didn't go to the job I hated for the first few days, actually, and when I eventually did, I mostly just stared into space and went to the kitchen every ten minutes to do a bit of breathing and crying. Luckily, within about ten days I heard back from a job I really did want and was able to put every single ounce of concentration and energy into getting and keeping that. Another sidenote: it really is ungodly to expect people to go to work after a breakup. Once there, all I did was send about three emails, bring general office morale down and spend 50% of my day chatting to Karen in HR over camomiles.

My friends were out of control good to me. Obviously. They never (outwardly) lost their patience when they were receiving copious amounts of daily texts and weepy phone calls ranging from the simple, 'I don't think he means it' to 'our toothbrushes are... sob... sniffle... nose blow... still touching in the holder.'
They gritted their teeth and said soothing, 'I know, babe, I know's when I rang them hysterically after the first post breakup shower to say, 'in the time it's taken for my hair to get dirty he doesn't want to be with me anymore.'

People going through a break up are needy as fuck. They really are.

'Babe, what are you doing?' I'd say, trying to remember that in friendships you have to show an interest in the other person too.
'Oh not much. Just watching Masterchef.'
'Me and ____ used to watch Masterchef,' I'd say, tears catching in my throat.

I drank a lot of wine. A lot. Let's say about one less bottle per day per days it took me to stop crying at anyone holding hands in the street.
I also ate a lot of pies. I don't usually eat pies, but I guess I needed the starch to fix some interior issues or whatever.
I rewatched Sex and the City all the way through from start to finish, gazing at Sarah Jessica Parker's evolving variations of curly blonde hair and ghetto fab gold chains with fascination. It made me feel so much better that I had ten years head start on Carrie and co. We were going through the same things but I was young as fuck and they were starting to push it, really.
I'm completely in bits, but at least I'm not 36 and still going to da club (Samantha, I'm looking at you.)

My girl group's chief event organiser moved to the other side of the world so I've taken it upon myself to fill her little hiking boots. I've suggested about 500 trips and we're yet to find any dates when we're all free, but that's very much besides the point. So far we've talked about weekends in London, Manchester, Nuneaton (!) and a pretend hen do in an undisclosed beach resort. I'm still holding out for us to all go visit said chief organiser on the opposite side of the world together, but I'll get back to planning that once we successfully manage a simple night out. Start small and all that.

You have to fill your weekends somehow when you lose your main partner in crime. I mostly solved this by spending a lot of money. My mother actively encouraged this.
'What are you doing, sweetie?'
Sheepishly: 'Just in Zara. Again.'
'Good girl! You deserve it!'
I'm not sure why I deserved it (just for coping?) but I was more than happy to agree with her.
End result: I've never had so many nice clothes. That's not character building as such, but it's a pleasing side effect nonetheless.

Another plus: I give a lot less shits about a lot more things. At the start, if anything ever went wrong, I would often think, 'well ____ left me so what does it even matter?' But in time it's matured into a more healthy, 'I got through that, I can get through this!'
Admittedly, this does relate to the stupidest of shit such as forgetting my lunch at home or being overcharged at Sainsbury's, but it's good to have perspective.

This also, unfortunately, translates into acute cynicism. Whereas before I'd see couples in love and my heart would beat a little faster on their behalf, now I think, 'N'aw, you're so happy now. Just wait til you get dumped.'
I do not envy anyone in love, because they still have all the worst to come. I've come out the other side already (kind of). Ceebs doing it all again.
And don't even dream of saying anything annoying to me like, 'you have to take the risk.' No I don't. Although, I do think that now I've got this massive heartbreak out the way, the others can't possibly feel as bad. So there's that.
I am wildly inspired to write. I feel as though all the best writers have been irreparably heartbroken at some point. There are no good books that do not have some sort of angst seeping out of every other page. As the author, you have to have felt that angst, otherwise you will never be convincing. I am a lovelorn misunderstood heroine! I am Miss Havisham! I am Cathy! I am Bridget Jones!

Happy people are not fun. Well they can be. But they don't make as many funny jokes. In hindsight I was sickening. Nobody but you wants to talk about how happy and in love you are. But bring up how much you want to throw yourself from a great height and watch how people flock to join the conversation. Within reason, of course. By the third time you try to recite the last conversation you ever had with your significant other word for word people lose their patience, but if you judge it carefully you can totally turn it into a little skit. Twenty seconds after ____ left, I came out with some hilarious gallows humour, which I will not repeat here, to my housemate and we both cackled for a good minute and a half. I then promptly burst into tears, but I'd still made my little joke! And that's the main thing.

I want to do everything. All the things. I'm not, of course. I'm far too busy watching loads of tv, but I want to. And that's more or less the same thing. Maybe I'll move abroad again. Maybe I'll finally get my novel published. Maybe I'll get round to visiting my little pal H.W. in Vietnam. Maybe I'll stay out later than 11pm mid-week like I'm in uni again! Maybe I'll grow my fringe out (did that one.)

I'm doing weird shit that I didn't think I missed. I take myself for coffee, I sleep diagonally across the bed, I send stupid texts to stupid people.


This isn't a blog post to say, 'look at me, I'm doing so well! I am an Independent Woman Part II! I am a modern day hero!' It's just a few little thoughts that were swimming around in my head, and that my diary could no longer contain.


When you start thinking you're okay, you're generally about ten more temper tantrums from being okay. And then when you really do start feeling better you realise how un-okay you were feeling before.


And if you get dumped out of the blue, you can look at this glowing example of how mostly-okay-still-sometimes-weepy-for-no-real-reason you can be too if you just thug it out and dive headfirst into a bucket of white wine and a series you haven't watched since you were 15.