January: So much needs to happen this year, and it’s going to happen this year! Bring on the new decade! ***multiple muscley arm emojis***
February: All of your plans are going to be thrown into doubt by storms and floods. Get stranded in the North due to Storm Ciara, necessitating the need to buy awful, over-sized emergency underwear from Primark – and an extra room for the night – and believe it’s the most stressful thing ever.
March: Keep well away from everybody and get used to being over-zealous with the hand sanitiser. Gaze at a brand new toilet roll with the same awe you would a golden ingot. Batter remaining storage space on phone with a sudden wealth of necessary new Apps and awkardly log-in to random Houseparty rooms a thousand times by accident: “Oh err hello!”
April: Have around three conversations with people face-to-face in the whole month: two shop attendants, and a lady walking her dog by the allotments who’s anxious about the fact a nearby alleyway is less than two metres wide.
May: Hearing the couplet of words “online quiz” is beginning to feel akin to having rusty nails dragged across your eardrums.
June: Begin meeting friends again, but only outdoors and at a distance. Nonetheless, it feels like the greatest liberation ever. Re-learn how to be around people, just like a toddler at their first ever session of play-group, hiding behind a chair and waiting for the biscuit break.
July: Three hour walks every evening to try and experience at least some semblance of Summer 2020 whilst reflecting upon damage to mental health over the past four months.
August: Head out for a pizza with the family. It’s cheaper than normal to buy five pizzas this month, but best sit outdoors just to be safe. Have a Summer holiday in the UK, and it’s lovely, but the journey provokes a lot more anxiety to normal. Newport Pagnell Services is not the nicest place at the best of times, let alone when people aren’t distancing. Master the art of keeping the cubicle doors on public loos closed shut with one’s foot, rather than having to touch the lock. September: Just get on with it. We’re getting back to how we were. This IS the new normal. We’re through the worst.
October: The third month where things feel normal-ish, but it’s difficult not to be aware of cases rising ominously in the background. Birthday month. Have a nice meal (outdoors!) and swap the usual group outing to the pub for many beers with a bottle of Sauvignon in front of a bunch of faces on a laptop.
November: The second national lockdown. Everything is suddenly off the leisure menu once again, except for walks. Where would we have been in 2020 without WALKS! Order a tub of Bacon Dust off the internet to try and feel better about life. And it certainly does lift things a little, because all the smallest things do at the moment, and there’s a long-term lesson in that.
December: Clutch on tightly to heavily weathered elements of positive mindset: “The one good thing about lockdown has been the ability to save money on going out” *Notification pops up of puncture in still relatively-new car tyre prompting treble-figure repair bill*
Scream two days later when Christmas gets cancelled leaving you with all the festive cheer of a dead haddock.
Song of the YEAR: 11 Acorn Lane – Claudette
I discovered this complete ear-worm of a song in May and the clarinet loop has pretty much been stuck in my head at some point during every day since. That’s not necessarily a great thing, in fact quite an irritating thing after too long! But it may explain why it was towards the peak of my personalised “Your Top Songs of 2020” playlist on Spotify. I’m not sure the tone really matches that of 2020, but it’d probably be hard to find a song that truly does.
I can’t even really recall how we got on to the topic, but my mother and I were talking about a house in Ospringe that my grandfather had lived in, and before I knew it she had fetched this booklet and was placing it into my hands:
“Your great Uncle Len used to write poems about what it was like to grow up and live in Faversham, and in 1989 he sent a heap to The Faversham Society and they decided to issue a whole booklet out of them. You’re probably old enough to understand them now, but you certainly weren’t back then!”
Until today, all I could have told you about my great Uncle Len was that he had a stubbly beard and smoked. I think I only ever saw him twice. Once was at a family party at the RC Church on Tanners Street, Faversham, in the late 1980’s (though my memories are fragmented on account of only being about four years old at the time), and once was in my grandfather’s hallway a few years later as he arrived just as we were leaving. Great Uncle Len died around twenty years ago and I know shockingly little about him, which is why reading through his carefully crafted words this evening felt like a huge gift.
Inside the booklet are dozens of his poems about growing up in Faversham: the Summers picking hops, watching for barges whilst stood in the mud on the Creek at Hollow Shore, and the night he and his nine siblings, including my grandfather, had to move house in the dark because they didn’t want anybody else to see how few possessions they owned.
I think what got to me the most whilst reading those poems was the remarkable sense of gaining posthumous familiarity with Uncle Len, and the realisation that a lot of what he had to say in poems written thirty years ago could still ring true today. A lot of the buildings he refers to in the poems are still there. Some have changed hands, but others haven’t. In addition, all the land still remains, only it maybe has a few (or more) extra features now, like the ’70’s residential builds that now share occupancy with the meadows opposite his first family home. The picture below, if you can make out the words, is a poem Len wrote specifically about these changes and developments:
For those unable to view the image, the bulk of the poem rues what he perceives as a loss of the town he grew up in to the town he later returned to, ending with a bittersweet account of passing a former acquaintance on the street, which unexpectedly then wed both past and present together for a moment of contentment.
And no doubt most people when they reach a certain age, or even before, will probably feel the same way that Len did when they look around ‘the place called home’. To me, this poem, like the rest in the book, has served as a sobering reminder of the eternal nature of change generally, as well as in relation to the landscape. If it’s not the land or the people around us changing, it’s us ourselves. New buildings and new people viewed with new and enlightened eyes, leaving very little room for anything to stay the same.
But perhaps my favourite thing about coming across this booklet this evening was realising the magic of creativity and how, even long after they’ve gone, we can still find out so much more about people from acquainting ourselves with the things they left behind. I feel like I’ve now had my third ever encounter with great Uncle Len, and now I know that he had a beard, smoked, and wrote damn good poems that I’ll think of, and consider, during any future visit to Faversham. I’ll never see the place in the same way again…
Song of the Day:Bad Wave – 1955
The song is a pretty cool indie-synth pop number, but the song combined with the video is something especially amazing.
It was a bright, warm Sunday in June 1993 that my parents, my sister and I drove to a little farm in rural Bedfordshire, not far from Luton, to collect our kitten.
As any 7 year old who was about to collect a new pet would be, I was brimming with excitement. After months of boisterously pleading for a new cat, the parents had finally given in. In the days which had preceded that Sunday, I had excitedly been telling all my school friends, and even my teacher – a white-haired old hag with cerise lipstick called Mrs Ross, with whom there was a mutual hatred – about it.
It was very much my wish – rather than that of my brother or sister – to have a new cat. I had even named her Nutmeg, after the sandy-coloured cat puppet from schools t.v programme ‘Words and Pictures’, and I couldn’t wait to meet her.
When we arrived at the farm we had driven in with care. Nutmeg and her siblings – a bunch of brown and ginger little kittens – were scampering around the muddy track and I giggled as I watched their tiny heads follow the movement of our white H-reg Ford Escort as it slowly drove towards the reception building.
I remember getting out and playing with the kittens. To me, they all looked identical, each one just as adorable as the next. Whilst I played, mum was stood with the owner discussing the formalities. She had one of the little kittens in her hands and I yelped with delight as she eventually lowered down to put it into the white metal framed cage we had brought along with us. That little kitten was my Nutmeg, and I was already in love with her.
Nutmeg cried and cried the whole way back from Bedfordshire, obviously perplexed as to why she had been separated from her brothers and sisters. I remember being sat next to her in the car and marveling at her beauty. Whilst strictly being classed as tortoiseshell in colour, she was like no other cat I had ever seen. A puffy ginger face was surrounded by a fluffy body of dark browns, blacks, and lighter – more reddy – browns. Her lips, I noted, were also brown, and she had a fuzzy ginger nose that was almost suede-like in texture, along with the most gorgeous bright green eyes I’ve ever seen. To this day, I have still not seen another cat I would consider to be as beautiful as my own, but then, all cat owners will say that…
The next day – a Monday – I was due back at school. The excitement of having Nutmeg in the house made me reluctant to go, especially with the witch Mrs Ross at the helm. I quite vividly remember walking down the stairs of our home and giggling at the sight of Nutmeg in the hallway, trying to catch her bearings and waltzing head-first into the walls in the process. Nutmeg often made me laugh, particularly as a child. These were the days when school holidays would enable me to spend weeks at a time with her around the house and in the garden, and this allowed for the creation of a vast number of memories. I used to love it when I would look out of my parents’ bedroom window into next door’s garden, and see her having a stand-off with the neighbour’s cat, Sonic. Whenever Sonic wasn’t looking, Nutmeg would stare at her and lower to the ground. As soon as her bum started to wiggle, we knew that she was about to pounce, resulting in a lively mess of fur tumbling around on the grass. She also liked any small creatures that would fly; birds were her favourite, and whenever she would scope one flying low, she would make a peculiar noise that we never quite understood – something like ‘ah-ah-ah-ah-ah’ – before trying to catch (and usually missing). I’ll also remember the time I laughed so hard that I had tears in my eyes, when she did a rather impressive back-flip in a failed attempt to catch a dragonfly.
Nutmeg (or should that be, ‘Claws Wunderlich’) before blitzing out a song
I was always very protective over Nutmeg. Maybe overly so. Before her, the other cats we’d had – Muffin… Gemma… Toby… – had only ever seemed to be with us for a few months before they had disappeared for good, one way or another. I was determined that Nutmeg didn’t follow the same fate. I would insist that she remain in the house overnight, and panic when she didn’t return of an evening. One teatime when I was about 12, there had been no sign of Nutmeg for hours – not even by mum as she’d stood in the garden to hang out the washing whilst I’d been at school. I was beside myself with worry – had she got lost? Attacked by a fox? Injured herself? I remember standing in the garden in heavy rain, in floods of tears calling out her name. I would prod at the bushes with a sweep in hope to see if it would ruffle movement, and shine a torchlight down the sides of the greenhouse in desperate search of a large, fluffy silhouette or the shimmer from a pair of bright green eyes. My heart would stop with the silence and stillness, until suddenly I would hear a scratching against the fence, and Nutmeg would jump up from the other side. It was at those moments that my heart would burst with excitement and relief. I would shower her in kisses and cuddles and in fact – thinking about it now – Nutmeg is probably the one living being I have kissed the most in my life.
I simply loved her so much… and I think she actually loved me too. I’ll remember one morning in 1996. I was about to go away for three nights with school on a field trip, and I wasn’t looking forward to being away from home. On the morning of the trip, Nutmeg had jumped onto my cabin bed and stood in front of my face. We were sat smiling intently at each other for 10 minutes – a 10-year old girl and her 3-year old cat sharing a moment of love. Her eyes always seemed so human to me, and I always felt as though I could sense her feelings from them.
Whenever I was at home, Nutmeg was never far from me. In later – more recent years – a friend of mine even termed her the “cat with separation anxiety” after I would describe how Nutmeg would follow me from room to room around the house. And then, each night at half past seven as we sat down to eat, Nutmeg would stare up at me until I would pull out a chair next to me for her to jump up and sit on. It wasn’t any of our dinner she wanted, as she knew that if we were tucking into a dish suitable for cats, there’d be a bit of it in her bowl already. Rather, she just wanted to be with us, and got into the habit of hovering around the dinner table at half past seven anyway, even if we were due to eat separately that day.
Nutmeg had three kittens in 1994. Nobody was at home at the time and she chose to give birth to them in an area of the house where she felt relaxed – underneath my bed
Nutmeg loved company. She hated being alone. If we would all go out for the day, we’d return and look through the living room window from the outside to see Nutmeg stood on top of the coffee table. She would do this so that she could get enough of a height advantage to be able to see out of the window at the driveway, where she would be able to see us arrive home. Once she’d spotted us, she’d leap off the table and emit the loudest of miaows as the front door was opened. It came across as a proper scolding, in human language – “where the p*****g f**k have you been?!” – and would result in a feeling of tremendous guilt that was atoned for only through lots of stroking and kissing.
She would also love it when guests visited the house. Over the years, I had a great many friends come by. With the exception of one or two, they all loved Nutmeg and looked forward to seeing her, provided they got her name right (Chestnut, Nutbag…). Nutmeg loved attention and would revel in the presence and adulation of guests, but that said she was pretty socially savvy. For my 18th birthday in 2003 I had an horrendous house-party which was the stuff of every parents’ nightmares. Gatecrashers. Smashed greenhouses. Theft. Belongings being thrown into the pond. Kitchen scissors being thrown around in the garden… it still haunts me to this day, but one thing I always marveled over was the fact that Nutmeg managed to stay away from it all. We didn’t see her all evening and she only re-appeared once the last of the guests had been thrown out. She knew she needed to stay away, and so she did. Other more peaceful times however, she would like nothing more than to be among the social soirees. In 2012 I had a few friends around for a barbecue, and Nutmeg featured in many of the photos that were taken that night. She also enjoyed the food; and the funniest sight was seeing her scamper away quickly with a lamb and mint shish kebab in her mouth, that she didn’t want anybody to know she had found!
We would joke that the above photo made myself and my friend, Chloe, look like proud parents at a Christening service…
When I sit back and contemplate Nutmeg’s age, I am staggered by the thought of just how much has changed since that Sunday visit to Bedfordshire in 1993. Nutmeg has been part of my life since I finished up at infant school, went all the way through Junior and secondary school, grew up, discovered partying and alcohol (Nutmeg would always be waiting up for me to arrive safely home from a drunken night in Watford as a 20 year old), went away to University, went travelling, came home… right up until now, as I’m pushing 30 and entrenched in a career. Since Nutmeg has been around, my brother and sister have given birth to six little children between them. My parents have retired and are grandparents.
And Nutmeg has been there through it all.
In March 2015 Nutmeg’s health quite rapidly declined to a point where it didn’t seem as though she could do much for herself anymore. No longer able to clean herself, she would walk around covered in her own excrement. Her back legs were giving way. She couldn’t jump onto our laps anymore. Once a massively large ball of fluff who was always eager to clean herself to the extreme, she was now just skin, bone and matted clumps of dirty fur.
The heartbreaking decision to have her put to sleep was made on the 16th March 2015. My parents and I went into the room at the vets with her, and held onto her as the vet shaved off a bit of the fur on her front leg so as to find a vein into which she could inject the needle of death. Nutmeg’s eyes remained open as the needle went in, and we kissed her on the head. Within seconds she had slumped completely and was placed onto her side, her bright green eyes remaining open as her once pitch-black pupils dilated into a foamy shade of grey. She now lay in a similar position to that in which we would normally find her asleep in the sunniest spot of the garden, but her chest was motionless. “She’s gone now“, said the vet. Or words to that effect. I remember staring into Nutmeg’s eyes in disbelief. It felt like she was still staring intently at me. The vet brought in a half-empty box of tissues and for that moment my heart resonated with all those many other people who had also stood in this room to go through this heartbreaking experience. I won’t regret the decision to witness the euthanasia of my beloved cat, I wanted to be there because I wanted her to be surrounded by loved ones, however – the sight of her lying motionless on the table will stay with me forever.
I was beside myself for much of the past week. My heart is broken, and it’s almost as though the child within me – who used to panic in the garden if she hadn’t been seen for a few hours – has resurfaced. In recent years, I had pretty much come to accept that Nutmeg wasn’t going to be alive forever, and the rational, positive adult within me had assured myself that this was fine, because we had provided her with the best quality of life we could have given. But what’s really hurting right now is that the above thoughts are bearing little solace on me whatsoever. I cannot yet see a positive from this. My little cat is gone and regardless of whether it was overdue, or whether or not we made the right decision, it cripples me to think that Nutmeg may not have understood why we did what we did. I often feel that she lived for as long as she did because she was content and didn’t want her adventure to end, and that too has tugged at my heart this week…
…But I also know that grief is something to which you must permit its natural flow, if you want to get through it. In life, you can’t just gather a select few of your emotions together in a box marked ‘Inappropriate’ and store them away somewhere, because they will always find a way of seeping out and clutching you. You need to embrace them there and then; and know that any other emotions which you manage to experience from other sources at that time… be they optimism, joy, amusement… have all occurred alongside your grief. Grief doesn’t have to put a stop to everything else, and only by acknowledging it, and letting it accompany you for a little bit as you gradually work through it, will you realise this.
So this week I’ve been grieving for my little pet cat, without shame. Because – quite simply – I need to, if I am to move forward. And then maybe I too will be able to finally believe in that idea I keep hearing – that we did the right thing, and that we gave her all the love we had, and that one day, maybe we’ll be together again…
Faithful furry friend…until the end, and forevermore…
Frequently in this blog, I’ve written about the dangers of life moving too quickly, and how hectic daily routines can make us lose sight of the things that are truly important. I’ve spoken of the need for us to have some ‘time out’ occasionally – an opportunity to press the ‘pause’ button and just stop for a minute or two.
Today – a Sunday – I have absolutely nothing planned – nowhere to go, nobody to see… and actually, it makes a nice change, and I’m reveling it. Time to read, time to write, and time to listen to music, allowing my senses absorb every single note (which somehow can’t be done as easily when you’re listening to music whilst ‘on the go’, detracted by whatever it is you’re doing). A large cup of coffee is steaming away on my desk, and from downstairs I catch the wafting scents of a roast-dinner that I’ll look forward to devouring in an hour or so’s time.
Moments like this are few and far between, and I know that that’s for the best. When I first came to Canterbury and was unemployed with no money and no friends, every single day was like this. I didn’t really have the means to do anything else, and it became tiresome. I grew increasingly bored and irritable and felt that nothing I was doing was serving any purpose. Thankfully things are very different now, and these moments where you need do nothing at all have evolved into precious opportunities to relax and refuel which simply cannot be wasted or dismissed.
I’ve always believed in this. When I was 15, I used to have a ritual every Sunday evening where I’d light an incense stick and some candles and lie on my bed listening to my sister’s gothic and rock-metal CDs, losing myself in tunes like the following (which I’m re-listening to now for the sake of nostalgia) as a means to re-energise for the week of school ahead…
I referred to these as my ‘Candles’n’Incense evenings’ (which amused a couple of my friends) and it was very much my time, and I’d get most perturbed if I was interrupted… usually by phone-calls from friends on the land-line, wanting to ask me about some homework or generally gossip about classmates and boys. Whilst my tastes have since changed, the sentiment of having some personal time on Sunday has very much remained. It’s almost become a dietary requirement for me, and I try to avoid doing anything on Sunday evenings if I can.
Why is the prospect of having nothing planned so appealing? Sometimes it’s just nice to be in a position where you can really absorb the creative stimuli around you. Today I’ll read ‘Blue Truth – A Spiritual Guide to Life & Death and Love & Sex’ by David Deida, a book which one of my favourite authors – Ryan Murdock – has described as a life-changing book that everybody should read. I’ll peruse Spotify and get nostalgic listening to bands I used to love as a teen – Faith No More, Bis, Teenage Fanclub… I’ll watch a representative from my collection of ’80’s movies whilst relaxing in bed… and then later I’ll take a trip to the Chartham Downs to see if the poppies by Little Iffin Wood have bloomed yet…
….Costless comforts. Exactly what Sundays are for.
Song of the Day:Bis – Popstar Kill
Bis – an indie-pop outfit from Glasgow – are – with their songs about confectionary shops and dinosaurs, one of the most unique bands I’ve ever heard. Most popular during the ’90s, they’ve recently returned from a long hiatus to release a new album. Reminded of their existence, I felt like listening to their older stuff, which I used to love as a 12-year old. This song – laced with infantile attitude and tuneful melodies – was a particular favourite, from an album which would often be spinning around my CD player… I used to want to be lead vocalist Manda Rin… Music just isn’t made like this anymore!
2013 was one of the first years in which I didn’t really set out any particular aims or targets at the beginning, and given that I’m still sat in my same old chair in my same old room – it shows. 2012 had been a very good year, in a number of different aspects of my life, and so I didn’t really see fit to change anything in the New Year – 2013 – other than to just carry on, and keep smiling. Throughout the course of the year, such targets did begin to emerge more and more, and I did try and work towards them, but here we are now at the end of the year, and I haven’t really achieved any of them. The moving-out-of-home thing hasn’t quite come into fruition yet (which is especially gutting since the amount of money I’ve spent on driving tests – another thing I was hoping to achieve this year – could probably be enough to purchase a small mansion!), and I’m still infuriated by South Eastern Trains on a regular basis. Generally speaking, not a lot has changed, and whilst that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it does leave me feeling a little underwhelmed at the end of the year, and disappointed that I haven’t achieved more, even if I have had a lot of fun.
But then I started to think about all the things beyond the surface. I started to look at things in greater depth, and I realised that whilst I may not have necessarily achieved very much this year in terms of what general society tend to define as ‘symbols of success’ (a relationship, children, a house, promotion at work, car), I’ve still learned a lot of things from life, that have helped me grow as a person, and right now… I consider that to be a success in itself…
Here’s what 2013 taught me…
1) The Value of Mistakes
Nobody likes to make mistakes. We fear the repercussions, and when those eventually manifest they have the ability to completely stifle us. We can feel guilty and stupid and disappointed in ourselves, especially if our mistake has let others down. It’s never a nice experience, but if a mistake we have made truly affects us then we will always do our best to learn from it, and try to ensure that it never happens again. I have slowly become to appreciate my mistakes more and more. I’m not afraid to acknowledge any of those moments when I know I need to get my arse in gear following any errors I’ve made – be it something specific, like forgetting to do something at work – or something a little deeper than that – like when I’ve perhaps jumped to unfair conclusions, or judged somebody too quickly. Guilt can be a rough ride but all mistakes can make you a better person, provided you don’t allow your pride to get in the way. They teach you how you can do things better.
I try and imagine a world in which nobody ever makes mistakes, and all I can imagine is a place where complacency has diminished peoples’ values and appreciation, and where comparative ease has slowly removed the incentive to take risks or try and improve at things. I think I prefer the way we have it here, even if it is a little harder.
2) The Value of ‘Shitty Times’
Aaaaand similarly. Most of us will have experienced shitty times at some point or another, albeit to varying extents or reasons, but we all know what they’re like. Shitty times are those wonderful moments, perhaps days, weeks (or maybe even more!) in which we feel that nothing we can do is right, that we’re never going to achieve anything, that the world is made up of 95% horrible people and that everybody hates us. For us women, we often like to attribute this to our monthly cycle, (a.k.a, ‘The Monthly Nutfuck’) but it’s not always that vague or general a feeling, sadly. Tragedies are more than just a genre of ancient old Greek stories, they actually do happen – and suddenly. Life does not always deal a fair hand. None of us are immune from being hurt or heartbroken. Being kind to others does not always mean they will be kind to you. Shitty times can spawn from all of these damning realities, and some in particular can be exceptionally hard to deal with. There is no quick fix, nor magic potion that can ever make any of these experiences easier to bare, but there is a value within them somewhere. And this is it: Whenever you manage to overcome a shitty time, no matter what kind, you become so much more than the person you were before. You are wiser. You are stronger. You find appreciation in the smallest things… but perhaps even more pertinently, you know you can get through it should it happen again, and that’s a little bit less fear to live with, at least…
Similarly to how I imagine a world in which nobody makes mistakes, I am just as underwhelmed by what comes to mind when I think about a world in which everybody is happy all the time and nothing bad ever happens. I am underwhelmed because I don’t think it could ever exist, even with the aid of all the magic needed to eradicate all the despair in the world. That’s because without shitty times, we don’t really understand happiness. Without shitty times, happiness means nothing.
I can’t pretend that I enjoy shitty times. I dread them with a passion and hate the way they make me feel, but deep down I do see the purpose in having them every once in a while. They can remind us of our focus and values, and sometimes even instigate the changes that deep down we know will make us happier but for whatever reason have been reluctant to go through with.
3. “If you don’t like something, change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. ”
When something doesn’t quite match your expectations, you can either run yourself – as well as others around you – into the ground with ongoing whinging or negativity, or you can shift your perceptions in order to focus on the positive aspects of it all. If you don’t think there are any positive aspects – search for them. If you still can’t find them – try and create them. If you can’t do that still, then accept that it is not something you’re destined for and do whatever you need to do to escape, but don’t let those around you also be brought down by your negative sentiments. I appreciate that this rather simplistic idea cannot be applied to all circumstances, but it certainly could during the experience that prompted me to take this away as one of the key things I’ve learned in 2013.
Ometepe Island, Nicaragua – October 2013
4. The Value of Just Being Yourself
Okay, I actually realised this several years back, so it’s not a new lesson learned as such, but in 2013 I’ve become an even bigger believer in this. There’s an all too infamous quote by Gandhi; “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” I’m sure you’ve all seen it before (probably in the form of some kind of twee internet meme) but in recent years I’ve understood this sentiment to be so true. There is simply little point in pretending to be somebody that you are not, for whatever reason may be behind that.
For many years I tried to deny to myself that I have a bit of an anxiety problem. It’s hardly anything uncommon (basically – I’m just one of those people that has the ability to over-analyse and worry about particular things way too easily, and when I do I tend to go very quiet and hide myself away without explanation, probably appearing as distant or nervous to others). Thankfully, it doesn’t interfere with my life as often anymore, but it’s still a part of me that for many years I was too ashamed to acknowledge – even to myself. It was that failure to acknowledge it that caused it to have more of a noticeable and negative impact on my life. Through feelings of guilt about being affected by something that I considered just ‘a stupid problem’, I tried so hard to pretend to myself that it didn’t exist – but pretending – as I discovered, was just a huge and tiring waste of energy which could instead be used on actually combating the issue. My experiences with anxiety are still not the kind of thing I’ll shout about unless asked, even to my loved ones – some of whom I know regularly read this blog – but I have definitely benefited from acknowledging it within myself. And that’s been the most important thing. Now that I’ve acknowledged it, and started to try and both understand and combat it completely, I’ve stopped giving myself as hard a time about it, because I know I’m aware of it now, as opposed to trying to sweep it away.
It’s so much easier just to be the person you are than the person you think that others think you should be – like feeling comfortable in something larger rather than trying to squeeze into an ill-fitting dress that hasn’t seen the light of day since 2007. (Likewise, as much as I enjoy glamming up, I see little point in doing it just to reign in the opposite sex with a Clinique-inspired mask that doesn’t accurately reflect the buck-toothed scarecrow face behind it)
Much of society opposes the concept of public nudity. I agree that it would probably be a bit inappropriate for everybody to walk around naked, but it does seem a slight shame that our most natural state of being is also one so commonly met with disapproval. In a superficial world like ours, where one’s possessions, wealth, number of social media ‘friends’, visual qualities of partner and whatever other stupid things there are out there, have – so horrifyingly – become the symbols of ‘success’ as perceived by society at it’s shallowest, it seems that many have taken the instruction to “Cover Up!” way too literally. If everybody could just focus on self-acceptance and being content with themselves as they are, there’d probably be far fewer instances of self-esteem issues than actually exists and is responsible for so many incidences of Depression existent in British society today. Be real and be raw and don’t waste any precious time on people who can’t like you for who you really are. The likelihood is they’re covering up too much too.
5. Think Before You Throw…
There aren’t many things in life that can’t be replaced somehow. In many ways this is a good thing, but in another sense, I fear it sometimes leads to needless disposal.
In 2013 I came very close to throwing something special away on the basis of a couple of things that had occurred within a proportionately small period of time and upset me. Knee-jerk reactions paved the way for belligerent opinions and fabricated insistence that I didn’t need this thing in my life anymore; that I was happy enough without it. Life is busy and we don’t always get the time to sit and think properly about our thoughts and actions; and often we make decisions based only upon the whimsical emotions prompted by the irritable fatigue that can come about as result of our hectic daily routines, and prevent us from thinking properly. It was only when I did take that time out, that I realised the magnitude of difference between those belligerent, knee-jerk opinions… and how I truly felt deep-down. I realised that I didn’t want to let go of this special something after all, as it had meant so much for so long, and instead I wanted to try and repair it. By simply waiting a while, and reviewing the situation from more angles, I prevented myself from making a huge mistake.
We are lucky that in this part of the world we have access to so much which is good, and that we have so much choice and freedom; but that shouldn’t allow us to lose grip on the relationships and possessions which truly mean the most to us. We shouldn’t be any more willing to dispense of something on the basis of impulsive reaction and the belief that it can be easily replaced with other wonderful stuff, because all that ultimately does is question the value of everything else that we will ever hold dear. I’m not saying that we should never release ourselves from particular things, but if we do then it should be on the basis of a timely and fair assessment, not just a whimsical reaction.
And so there we have it, five of the main lessons that were either learnt or reiterated in 2013, and will be used to combat 2014. Hopefully this year I’ll achieve a bit more than I did last year, and maybe those five lessons will be the thing that help me do it…
Song of the Day:Swing Republic – On The Downbeat
A final epiphany of 2013 was the discovery of a musical genre of which I had previously never heard: ‘electro-swing’ – which is basically a fusion of early to mid 20th century swing with 21st century beats. This is a great style of music to listen to during the daily commute!
…With Christmas almost upon us, I felt that really it’s about time I went ahead and submitted an appropriately festive post. I had a few ideas… some short, some long, some deep, some…just ridiculous. In the end I went down the slightly more personal route. I began by asking myself what Christmas represents to me, personally, rather than what it may mean to society as a whole.
I found myself having flashbacks to Christmases gone by, and from those I noticed no singular meaning become apparent. I realised that Christmas only means as much as those random memories of it which have remained, and the best ones I’ve ever experienced were as a child, when the excitement was real and raw and there was more time to enjoy it all. Since adulthood, Christmas has pretty much been about the same thing: a hangover, a day off work, food, spending lots of money on presents, and just having good times with the family and friends… which is all very nice, but arguably, a bit same-y too.
Below are the main memories from some of the first Christmases I ever experienced and can remember, from the ’80s, ’90s and ’00’s, written down just as they appear in memory (with a little help from the diaries). The recollections are brief, with details missing here and there to the extent where they may not even make sense, but these are the things that have stuck… are they similar to your first Christmases, too?
Merry Christmas everyone 🙂
Christmas 1988 – The first one I can really remember, aged 3. Spend the time bouncing up and down on my new trampoline at our house in Rickmansworth and intertwining pieces of purple and green plasticine to form ‘snakes’ with which to try and scare mum. Watch Raymond Briggs’ ‘The Snowman’ and fail to understand why he disappeared at the end as not old enough to know about the various ways in which water can change states. Enjoy the imagery, though!
Christmas 1989 – Enjoy arranging Christmas tree with older siblings. Annual appearance of god-awful decorations that have been a part of the Kemsley family Christmas since the 1970s. Much laughter ensues following the emergence from the decorations box of ‘Moody Fairy’, who we ceremoniously prop at the top of the fir once the rest is complete, ready to glare down upon us for the rest of the season.
Left: ‘Moody Fairy’ a.k.a plastic, flame-haired angel with stern eyebrows, produced from gluing turquoise feathers onto a blue cone. Probably purchased from Woolworths in 1971. Right: ‘Grey-haired lady in car’ a.k.a ‘Pauline from Eastenders’ aka most un-festive tree decoration ever. Still features each year to this very day.
Christmas 1990 – I receive a set of marker pens, colouring-in book, and my first ever Walkman, which for the first year or so will play nothing beyond my Winnie the Pooh cassette during road trips to Kent. Creep into sister’s bedroom at 2am to open our stockings. Sister delighted with New Kids on the Block album and variety of new floral scrunchies. Tuck in to the token giant tube of Smarties before taking a quiet trip down the stairs to see whether or not there are any presents under the tree. Yes! Unable to get back to sleep due to excitement. The first one to be awake and dressed, for the last time ever…
Christmas 1991 -Starring role in the infant school nativity as ‘Narrator #2’. Also have an additional musical responsibility; clear instructions given on at what particular moment to tap single xylophone key to add dramatic effect to virgin birth. Dozens of six-year olds all running around using the word ‘virgin’ with no idea what it means, but consider it most probably linked to mode of transport experienced in recent Summer break. Mrs M’s face turns a shade of puce when asked how the baby Jesus came into being. Show starts. Mum sits proudly in the audience, probably at the back due to insignificant casting of daughter. Mary and Joseph’s parents most definitely along the front row.
Spend Christmas Eve watching ‘Father Christmas’ cartoon the whole country is raving about. Looks and sounds like big fat Barry who lives next door. Start to wonder if Santa is my neighbour…
Christmas 1992 – A Boxing Day trip to Kent to see the grandparents. In Sittingbourne, Grandma B is plumping up the cushions as we arrive. Her second husband, the retired army major, sits slumped on the settee in a mustard coloured knit jumper looking thoroughly fed up with the company and itching for us to leave. We eventually oblige.
On to Faversham next, to see Grandma and Grandad L. Smoke from Grandad’s tobacco pipe filtrates around the whole house. He plays The Entertainer on his organ, as the rest of us sit around on the claret velveteen sofas tucking in to a tin of Quality Street. The fudge diamond lures me in with it’s pretty cerise foil wrapper, so emblematic of Christmas in its own little way. To me, anyway.
Finally we stop off in Seasalter to see Nana and Grandad D. It’s the last time we’ll share a Christmas with Grandad D although we don’t know that at the time. Nana is preparing one of her roasts and repeatedly suggests I go and help myself to a chocolate from the tree, which looking back was probably just a ploy to keep me out of the kitchen and out of the way.
Cousins are in the bedroom playing Super Mario on the Nintendo, and the bungalow reverberates with a regular chorus of the menacing sounding 8-bit music whenever Mario goes underground. Serious, studious faces fixated on the screen to match. In retrospect, how the hell did people who played or witnessed this game not end up institutionalised from the insanity provoked by overexposure to this particular sound? Offending musical piece below:
Christmas 1993 – Annual attendance at the Christmas Eve service at St Peter’s church in Rickmansworth. Fusty smell, much like the one in the old hall in which we do Brownies, engulfs nave. Parents and sister whisper away about people they recognise from living there in the eighties before moving to Watford. Knock the knitted hassocks that are hanging on the hooks of the pews in front with my feet due to boredom… don’t understand a word the vicar is saying. Yawn. Want to go home… Do go home – eventually. Brother – who didn’t join us in attending church – has had an unfortunate incident with the chip fryer. House smells of chips and there is a smattering of grease on the ceiling, which in fairness may help with Santa’s descent into the house. Brother goes out to a party and the rest of us eat ham and chips and bemoan the smell.
Christmas 1994 – Santa has brought me a plethora of Playmobil, and a plush toy dwarf from Snow White. In addition, mum has bought me the video of the Disney version to go with it, but when we try to play it, it switches and jumps on the screen proffering only the grainy vision of a castle and nothing beyond. “Will need to go back to Our Price…” says mum, sorrowfully. I am secretly relieved. More interested in the Playmobil anyway. Mum only bought me the Snow White video because she wants me to be less of a tomboy. Pah to that. I have also received a strawberry-scented candle that will fumigate the whole house for the next year.
Christmas 1995 – Play Donkey Kong Country on the Super Nintendo with my sister from dawn to dusk whilst she tries to revise for her A-Level mocks. Disinterest in Christmas Dinner due to eagerness to reach next level. Sister just as enthused as I. A swift exit from the dinner table with a pause only for the Eastenders Christmas special. Frank Butcher has returned to Albert Square and the obvious chaos has ensued. Dad lets me have a little glass of Baileys provided I don’t tell my classmates. Grandma L suddenly dies a few days later, a piece of news which will be served in the form of an unexpected phone-call from Grandad during the middle of spellings practice with mum, and the fond memories of this Christmas are suddenly obliterated… the soundtrack to Donkey Kong now synonymous with funerals and tears and the unfathomable thought that I’ll never get to see her again.
Christmas 1996 – I’m in the school Christmas production, and this time playing a much more significant role, opposite Ben B. The rehearsals wear me out and I’m terrified of laughing on stage. On one occasion the laughter reaches the unfortunate point of no return. Tie pink fleece around leggings in valiant yet ineffective effort to disguise. Oh dear. Manage to keep a straight face during the live performances due to being blinded by the coloured Christmas bulbs that are strewn across the ceiling of the school hall. Can’t see a thing, which makes it much easier to perform. Get to go home from school early after watching ‘Cool Runnings’. Enjoy the consequential attempts at Jamaican accents with classmates. Spend the entire Christmas holidays watching random films on Sky, like the 1970s version of ‘Freaky Friday’ starring a teenage Jodie Foster complete with cropped nutcut. Delightfully receive bright orange Spice Girls t-shirt and silver mini-rucksack from Santa.
Christmas 1997 – My first Christmas at secondary school. Go and stay with Grandma B for a few days and have a day out in Sittingbourne. She buys me a tamagotchi and a strawberry milkshake at McDonalds. Spend the Christmas evenings listening to Ben Folds Five and start wishing I could play the piano better. Plan to ask Mr C about learning contemporary things rather than classical. Spend much of my time working on my history homework… a big old pastiche on peasants that I hope Miss B enjoys assaulting with her red biro once I’ve handed it in after the holidays. Miserable old witch. Disappointed that mum has considered the awful flame-haired fairy which has sat atop our tree for over two decades as no longer worthy of being there, and has replaced it with a boring, normal looking one. Even more disappointed that she has thrown original fairy in the bin and we will never be able to giggle at her synthetically coiffured ‘do again. R.I.P Moody Fairy.
Christmas 1998 – A seasonal German class to end term with. Teacher is a terrifying Welsh lady with luminous yellow hair moulded to her head like a walnut who spits out her consonants and shouts a lot:
“SHUT UP AND LISTEN TO ‘KLING GLOCKCHEN KLINGELINGELING’!” she orders us, before firmly pressing on the ‘Play’ button of the large, angular 1980’s cassette player with her wrinkly, chipolata-like forefinger. A traditional German Christmas song starts. As die kleine Helga sings – her jovial tones muffled through the speakers of the aforementioned antiquated equipment – the class sits very still and solemn underneath teacher’s big grimace of glee. All the 13 year olds in the room agree that this is a stupid song. Lunch bell rings. Song thankfully becomes lost amidst the sound of everybody shuffling together their books and pencil cases whilst packing away, “FROHE WEINACHTS!!” spits teacher happily as we dash out the room.
Nobody able to get ‘Kling Glockchen Klingelingeling’ out of head for remainder of day. Manifests into cathartic lunchtime singing sesh the teacher would be proud of.
Christmas 1999 – Was overshadowed by the arrival of the new Millennium. Most frequently asked question of the festive period is, ‘How many L’s are there in mileninimum?[sic]’ , and everybody everywhere is planting a time capsule as though it’s the in-thing to do! In 2010, there are due to be a lot of Polaroids and Alien Babies excavated from the ground…
For the first time, the question “What are you getting for Christmas?” is asked less frequently than “What are you doing for New Years eve?”. My answer, if anyone cares: Staying over at Emily R’s house with Rupal and Emily H, eating and drinking all evening, and poking fun of the name ‘Vladimir Putin’ each and every time it’s mentioned on the news, which remains on tv in the background in order to capture celebrations in the capital. All make individual oaths to go on London Eye. Wake up in another century and realise nothing much has really changed. Physics homework still to complete. Computer geeks across the world celebrate the lack of impact of the Millennium Bug. School-kids like ourselves are disappointed, on the other hand. We were hoping all computers everywhere would die. Forever. Most particularly those ones in the IT labs at school… could’ve resulted in an easy way out of the impending test on how to use ClipArt to maximum effect.
Christmas 2000 – Sister’s (now ex) boyfriend living with us. All on best behaviour at Christmas. The entire congregation of St Peter’s nearly passes out during the Christmas Eve ceremony thanks to the never-ending nature of ‘The Shepherd’s Farewell’ – a long, grim carol being sung by the choir – for which it is compulsory to stand. Believe the song has finally reached its cessation when after a short pause in which all had slowly started to crouch down, the organ repeats arduous four-noted bridge into yet another verse. This prompts giggles between sister and I to which lady behind gives a disapproving glare which is noted by mum, who promptly nudges us to behave. Grandma B is also with us this Christmas, and she too is at the church. Her hearing Aid interferes with the induction loop and a high-pitched whistling noise can soon be heard. Grandma B oblivious… rest of the congregation very much aware.
Christmas 2001 – We temporarily have no kitchen whilst a new one is being built. Basic food for the timebeing only. Mum spends weeks working out how to manage this over Christmas. Discover incense sticks and spend a lot of time chilling out in my room under a new, blue-tinted lighting system with home-made hanging foil stars which I am exceptionally proud of even though upon greater reflection they look absolutely shite. Revise for GCSE mocks but get sidetracked by brother’s Playstation 2 and celebrity editions of ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’. Eat lots of chocolate and any other foodstuff which doesn’t require cooking. Listen to System of a Down a lot and revel in being the cliche of a moody teenager who hates “aufori’ee” and exams. Send Christmas wishes over MSN Messenger to anyone who cares and try to get my head around the NEAB poetry anthology and whether or not Maya Angelou is indeed frightened of anything at all.
Christmas 2002 – Receive an electro-acoustic guitar for Christmas and do my best to try and learn some Christmas songs. Mum unaware that I have been playing the guitar secretly during the run-up to Christmas whilst she has been at work, and has clearly not spotted the fingerprints that are already all over the neck. Receive chocolate fondue set from brother’s then-girlfriend which I manage to break within the first few minutes. Awkward. Feel very foolish. Swiftly change the topic of conversation to Popstars: The Rivals and debate who will do better out of Girls Aloud and One True Voice. Trivial Pursuit is brought out again. Sister wins and takes great pride in doing so. Nobby girl.
Christmas 2003 – Go Christmas shopping with sister and mother. Young chap in Gadget Shop flirts with sister and tries to kiss her under the mistletoe in store. I go into grumpy, typical 18-year old mode and complain that it’s “always her and never me”. General self-pitying mood lasts throughout Christmas. Sister tells me off for being miserable during otherwise lovely walk around Cassiobury Park on Christmas Day. Huff. Watch childhood favourite Lady and the Tramp for a bit of nostalgia and virtually shit self at the Siamese cat song. Had forgotten how scary it is. Grumble grumble.
18 now, and Christmas is nowhere near as fun as when I was a child…
Roll back the clock two years and I remember an incredibly depressing point of my life in which – whilst all of the important things (family, friends, health) were thankfully intact, I was struggling to cope with being in a new town where I had no job, no friends and no money to do anything with. Much of the Summer was spent at home, trawling through job websites trying to find something, anything to apply to. Lack of employment meant I didn’t have the means to go back home to see my friends often, meaning that I seldom did anything social and over the Summer pretty much forgot how to orally communicate with people unless I’d known them for considerable time, due to the lack of opportunity to interact with people in person.
In that kind of situation, you are very limited with the things you can do to pass the time. For me, it seemed as though every day would revolve around waking up at noon, eating some breakfast/lunch, going for a coffee in town – “table for one, please”, maybe reading a book, having dinner, listening to music and then watching The Simpsons in bed with an ice-cream… I generally worry about things a lot more than I should, but seldom do I feel dispirited to the extent of tears, yet back then crying was something I did every day. I always knew my problems weren’t the worst in the world and that one day far worse things will happen to me, but it was hard to get any joy from that all the whilst I felt as though I had no idea when things would change. Canterbury is one of the most beautiful places in the UK yet for a while I really struggled to like it; at least back in Watford – the ugly duckling of English towns – I could find work, and had friends.
Yet there is one thing about that hard, sweltering Summer of 2011 which I will always be grateful for. Indeed, as with any difficulty or problem that seems to stick around for much longer than you’d like, you eventually have no option but to try and find a solution – or if you can’t ‘find’, you ‘make’. Not every problem will resolve itself in time; you have to take action. My solution of choice was focused upon trying to understand myself a bit better; to be at peace with myself and be on my own team rather than repeatedly taunting myself with negative thoughts about how crap a person I must be for being unable to sustain a conversation with somebody I don’t know very well, or for failing to land that part-time job as a window-cleaner which had seemed like such a beacon of hope one desperate, grotty Friday morning at the Job Centre, or ‘Nob Centre’ as I preferred to refer to it.
Towards the end of this unhappy phase, after a small little journey of self-discovery, I had managed to re-discover a sense of positivity about everything and find pleasance in even the smallest or simplest of things. The facts were that the people I cared about the most were all still alive, I had a roof over my head, there were some great people in my life albeit not around here, I’d learned that Chom Chom in town does the most amazing panang curry, and that the sun-setting over the North Downs Way is one of the most beautiful environments in which you can cycle: a thrill that is not only free, but natural. I still had no job, and no friends in Canterbury, but finally I was looking at the larger picture as opposed to the smaller, day-to-day one. It’s funny how you can attribute such varying levels of value to something depending on your personal circumstances at the time. Once I felt as though I had embraced the initial difficulties, I began to find that the more time I had to myself, and the harder the difficulties I felt like I was going through, the more I was beginning to appreciate even the smallest of things around me.
Which is what leads me to the main point of this post, which is essentially to emphasize just how quickly we can begin to take things for granted the second we get tied up in the regular, day-to-day, rat-race life that is so prominent here within our society.
Two years on, my life is very different. Contrary to the Summer of 2011, time to myself now feels like something of a rarity. Indeed, the time which I do spend alone is normally spent thinking about the concerns going on immediately around me – this piece of work, that piece of work, arranging that outing, why did the man on the train look at me strange, setting my alarm clock for tomorrow, wondering what that message really meant, preparing my bag, what train do I need to catch to get to such-and-such place on time, I think I’ve pissed so-and-so off, I need to book a hair appointment, the money hasn’t reached my account yet, how much longer do I leave the potatoes in for, I can’t find my purse, I don’t enough have enough pairs of clean tights to last the week, I’ve run out of butter…
If we’re not careful, then the busier life becomes, the more we take for granted. The bigger picture can quickly become warped into a sense of tunnel vision whereby we focus only on the most immediate things around us, simply because they appear to become the most urgent of our priorities. We have more things to do and as our spare time consequently shrinks around us there is less opportunity to think about anything else, and it becomes much harder to find that fifteen or so minutes a day where you can sit back and take some deep breaths whilst breathing in the relaxing vapours of a joss stick named after some kind of magical entity from a faraway country whilst reflecting on the truly important stuff. The daily grind swallows us whole and we have less time for the basics. It becomes a big-wow moment if we can spend a few hours a week amongst nature, and we have to schedule in appointments with our friends months in advance. Before we know it, it’s Christmas again and the start of another New Year in which we will make resolutions only to find that a couple of weeks later, it’s time to make them again.
It can become so easy to feel like a passenger in your own body; going through the motions without really thinking about why you’re doing what you’re doing. Doing life rather than feeling it. Why? Simply because you have a billion other things to think about, too.
All this does is serve as a reminder as to why it’s so important to have that time out to ourselves occasionally, a time to re-connect with ourselves and our values and make sure that they’re not being lost within that grand melee of day to day activities that can so often fool us into thinking that there is ever anything more important than those root things without which we would truly struggle – our nearest and dearest, our key values, our dreams and desires and our passions.
Whilst I wouldn’t wish to experience the Summer of 2011 ever again, I am grateful in a sense for the opportunity to have had that ‘time-out’ to work things out and understand myself a bit better and realise what’s truly important in life. If you can only whip that bigger picture out at intermittent points throughout the day, week or month, you’re still keeping check on what matters the most. Just make sure you give yourself the time to do so…
Song of the Day: The Grammar Club – Underbeard
This is a novelty U.S band singing a novelty song about unwelcome facial hair. It has been stuck in my head for weeks. Hopefully now it will be stuck in yours:
I was delighted to find my Indonesia videos tucked away somewhere in My Documents recently. I had forgotten all about them because I didn’t think they worked on my computer… but watching them brought everything back – the sights, the sounds, the scents…the reasons why I fell in love with that country…
I’m a big advocate of living in the present moment as opposed to the past, but the truth is, two and a half years on, I still cling on to those memories so tightly because that trip taught me things I can’t imagine my life without. And I will never let go of those.
Like…learning the traditional Minangkabau dance and performing it at the Donation Day event in Universitas Andalas. It took so many rehearsals in the hot, humid heat. That song that would be oscillating round in my head each and every day…ding ding ba ding ding….and even each night as I tried to sleep….ding ding ba ding ding…
I remember the frequent rehearsal breaks to go and eat kentang goreng barbecue (barbecue chips)in the restaurant next door, and how thirsty the practice had made us, and how concerned we were over whether or not we’d be able to do a good performance at the event.
And how itchy the fabric of the traditional Minangkabau dress felt against my skin.
And how much I felt like a confused bowl of jelly up on stage.
But how much I loved that experience.
I see this video again for the first time in years and it brings it all back.
This week marks a whole year since I moved down to Canterbury. The past year has been… good, difficult, but at the very least – interesting.
We humans are a fickle bunch, aren’t we? Hating monotony, yet shirking at the prospect of changing the routines we’ve become so accustomed to. ‘Change’ seems like either a sunrise on the horizon indicating a new dawn, or a thunderstorm in your back-garden when you’ve locked yourself out of the house. When we need change, we never have enough in our purse, but when we don’t need change we are aggravated by, and just can’t seem to get rid of, all the copper-coins which litter our desks and pockets.
The move to Canterbury is a change which seems to have provided all weathers, certainly a year of four-seasons. At this one-year point I look back and truly acknowledge that.
I grew up in Watford always knowing that one day my parents would move back down south to Canterbury – back to their childhood, back to their identity. Fortunately, I’d always liked that sweet little town on the River Stour, recognisable instantly by it’s looming cathedral spires, visible from the A2 motorway. Whenever we went to Canterbury, the sun shone and colourful pansies on the riverbank of the Westgate Gardens would greet us as we walked through the medieval archway of the city Towers into the main streets, so cobbled and cute. I loved the presence of history, and how the vast amounts of tourists gave a walk around the city the warm feeling of being on a vacation of your own. By contrast we’d later return to the grey, congested streets of Watford, a town recognisable not from a World Heritage site like the Cathedral – but from a YMCA, a few kebab-houses, and a ginormous Tesco in which I once had the great fortune to work. It’s true, I’d grown to take the place for granted, it’s well-oiled cogs falling asunder to aesthetic displeasures.
When my parents revealed that they’d sold the house that had been the family home for 22 years and were moving to Canterbury, I was delighted. Great, I thought. Pretty town. Lots of culture. Lots to do, I can go sunbathing next to the pansies! Lots of nice places to eat. Not too far from the sea. I’ll never get bored living in Canterz! I didn’t plan on living with my parents for much longer, anyway. (That’s still something I’m working towards!)
We moved down and for a few weeks I was enjoying not only the great weather, the wealth of new places to discover and the pleasure of living somewhere green as opposed to grey, I was also enjoying the novelty of not having to get up for work every morning. I’ll have another job soon anyway, I thought to myself, a thought which wasn’t arrogance, just bare complacency from the fact that there had always been plenty of jobs in Watford. That place had the London factor. More businesses, more job opportunities – very different, I would discover, to down here, where tourism, catering and academia are the most prominent sectors. It actually took me several months to find paid work down here, but the wait was worth it, I ended up with exactly the kind of job I was looking for, and a volunteering opportunity I love too. I am thankful for this, but by this point, the arduous search for employment had made me realise that lovely though a place may be, there are so many other important factors involved in really settling in to somewhere new. Pretty pansies on riverbanks are of little solace if you are dissatisfied with the other aspects of your life, and being in work is important to me. It’s what gives me a purpose. Life without work may sound luxurious when you’re waking up to catch a train at 6am, but in reality it is one of the hardest, most soul-destroying ways to live. I never want to be unemployed again. Because of this, the first few months in Canterbury were exceptionally difficult but I kept myself busy through exercise and sitting around in parks reading spirituality books which would drum into my head that everything happens for a reason! And they do.
There were other things that were stopping me from feeling at home. I hadn’t met anyone new and was depending on my old life too much; going back to London in order to socialise with friends and constantly thinking about the past; putting too much emphasis on good memories rather than seeking to create new ones. Meeting people in the area, and having lots of visitors, has helped give my new life it’s new identity. So too has seeing my parents settle in here so well and get so involved in the local community. Finally, I’m focusing on the present as opposed to missing the past. All that’s left now is for me to make my first trip back to Watford itself, my real home. Once that has been done, and the two lives overlapped, the move will really be complete, and I really will be fully settled here. Not to mention, of course, one of my best friends moving into a house just a few doors away from mine.
When I think back to the difficulties that have arisen at points in the past year I remind myself that if things never change, they just stay the same. Would I want to have stayed in Watford forever? Well, it would probably would have made life easier, but where’s the fun? Where’s the challenge? I often bleat on about wanting to live abroad but that would be even more dramatic a change than moving a couple of hours down the M2.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all of this, it’s that the more changes we make in our lives, the easier that ‘change’ becomes to deal with. When things are difficult, we just deal with them, and when we’ve dealt with them once, we know how to deal with them again. I doubt this will be the last place I ever live, and next time I move, I’ll be a lot more prepared.
So – year 2011/2012, you have probably been one of the most difficult years I’ve ever experienced, but I’m glad I have.
Song of the Day: The Pixies – The Navajo Know
I wish I’d been a lot older in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s. That is all.
This song is so New Mexico.