A year in sensible shoes

I can’t believe it. I’ve been in London A WHOLE YEAR.

Well, aside from the month back home. And all the little travel adventures. But much like an anniversary in a relationship, you pick a date AND STICK WITH IT. And for me, it was a year ago this week that I stepped off that plane at Heathrow, my body clock in limbo and my emotions high. I had no job, no clue, and a very inappropriate selection of shoes. In fact, at that point, the only thing I was sure of was that I needed a taxi, STAT – the Spice Girls were due on stage at the Olympic Closing Ceremony – and I NEEDED to be in front of a telly.

And for a girl whose entire life-plan at that point was based around watching five girls look slightly awkward on double-decker buses, the year that’s passed doesn’t seem that surprising.

It’s taken me A YEAR just to be gainfully employed. I live in a laughably tiny cupboard-above-the-stairs. I walk an obscene distance to the tube every day. London has given me a weird rash. I spend a lot of my working day covered in mayonnaise (which you THINK might help the rash, but no). And I STILL haven’t met Mr Right.

In the books, they all live in fab apartments in Notting Hill and Stoke Newington. They have glam jobs in fashion and marketing (which, for the record, DO NOT PAY ENOUGH FOR SAID APARTMENTS). They stumble across the good-looking, aloof Darcy-type in a supermarket, or at a trendy party, or (SHOCKER!) he was there for her the whole time. They all have enviable hair. And no contact with mayonnaise of any kind.

Yep. So far, life is not quite the chick lit dream I envisioned.

BUT.

Stuff is happening.

Just this week, I got another new job. Yes! Finally, I have that job fannying about with press releases I always dreamed of. Just like those chick lit girls!

(Don’t worry, I’m keeping the hot dog job too. I would never want to deprive you of hot dog stories, and all my condiment-related gags. Prepare for more SAUCY material!)

My social diary is looking impressive. Yes, I know that in the books, when our heroine arrives in a new town, she is quickly adopted by a host of zany characters. But in real life, where people are busy, and have no money, and have to spend half an hour on the tube to get anywhere, making real, new friends takes AGES. Lame, but true.

I’ve been shopping. After a year of scrimping and saving (oh, OK – spending my money on wine), I decided, finally to treat myself. I bought The Prettiest Dress In The World. And as pathetic and stereotypically female as it may be, buying a new dress really DOES make life better. I’ve been sleeping with the shopping bag beside my bed for a fortnight.

And while a job, some friends, and a dress doesn’t seem like a whole lot of achievements for a year (in the book she would have done this by page four) – in real life, in a brand new city, it’s something to be bloody proud of. Life moves a little slower in the third dimension.

To summarise my year, á la Bridget Jones:

Weight gained considerable (mainly cake and wine), weight lost considerable (walking an obscene distance to the tube), countries visited 6 (v.g), trips to the gym 0 (but surely the walking counts?), blog entries 39 (not bad),dresses bought 1 (v.g), hangovers 15+ (ugh), haircuts 3 (too poor), jobs 3, boyfriends 0, breakdowns 2, shoes bought 3 pairs (but all very practical).

Not the dream shoes, but the ones that've got me through.

Not the dream shoes, but the ones that’ve got me through.

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Return to Aus

I’m back. Frecklier, and happier.

It was a month in the sun. With family, friends, dancing on the grass, cheese-filled picnics, sunsets at the beach and ginger beer. A cardigan-free month where I didn’t have to say ‘courgette’ instead of ‘zucchini’, ‘flip-flops’ instead of ‘thongs’, and ‘trousers’ instead of ‘pants’. A month of driving a car, wearing heels and eating icy-poles. A month of happiness.

Perth, my home city, is everything that London isn’t. It’s clean. It’s spacious. It’s warm. The people are friendlier. The houses don’t match. No one takes the train. The moment I stepped off the plane, the first thing I noticed was how GOOD Perth smells. Like salt, and eucalyptus. London, on the other hand, smells like car fumes and fart.

Yep, I was pretty taken with Perth and its awesomeness.

UNTIL.

I’d been home half an hour. Thirty minutes. I thought I’d read the paper, and catch up on the local news.

And there he was.

My ex.

Smiling up from the social pages, sporting a checked shirt, his arm around some girl. Looking older, but happy. And real.

I nearly spat out my cornflakes.

The thing is, in London, it’s been very easy for me to pretend that people like my ex-boyfriend don’t exist. No one here knows him. No one cares. In London, I am my own woman. A woman unburdened by a backstory and a broken heart. It’s very easy to move on with my life in this brand new city, without any restaurants that remind me of those first, exciting dates, mutual friends that have to avoid mentioning that they still see us both, or GLOATING PICTURES IN THE BLOODY SOCIAL PAGES.

I urgently texted my friends, who checked the paper and were quick to inform me that my ex-boyfriend now looks like a prematurely-aged lumberjack.

Girlfriends are the best.

So here I am. Back in London for the next phase of my chick lit adventure. I’m wearing flat shoes again. The jumper is back on. And the weather man is predicting snow.

But you know what? This huge, smelly city still fills me with absolute excitement. Here, the possibilities are endless. I can do anything I want to do.

And I can look at the social pages without a care in the world.

Flying solo

It’s easy to spot the single girl at the airport – she’s the one wheeling all her luggage into the toilet cubicle with her.

Traveling solo is no easy feat. First, there’s the tear-soaked family farewell, before taking a deep breath, hoping like mad you haven’t forgotten your hair straightener – or your passport – and walking off, alone, through the international departure gate. Then it’s just the simple task of sitting in a tiny seat for the next 20-plus, hours, watching back to back crappy rom-coms (yes, New Year’s Eve did suck just as much as I’d hoped) and praying desperately the girl sitting next to you might get up for a pee soon, so you can go too.

Needless to say, it was an economy ticket. I dream of one day being told I’ve been upgraded to business. Imagine, spending the whole trip being waited on, sipping champagne and lying down flat for a sleep! Hobnobbing with celebs and smirking at the cattle class passengers as they walk past! Friends have told me it’s happened to them. Even my beautician back in Perth had a story of a kind lady at the check-in counter granting her an upgrade. But how do you make it happen? The only thing everyone seems to be sure of is that you can’t wear jeans. No denim, instant upgrade. Bull, I reckon. I’ve made the less-than practical choice to wear dresses for all my recent trips, smiled winningly at the check-in chick, and been rewarded with diddly squat.

Which brings me to my prevailing thought of the trip – it is impossible to look good for a long-haul flight. Well, impossible for me, at least. I got on that first plane with my hair straight, some makeup on, even a funky little scarf to brighten up my outfit. Twelve hours later, with the first leg done, my skin was flaking off my face, my hair was defying gravity and the scarf was abandoned in the wake of alternatively searing and freezing temperatures – though my outfit was dressed up by a nice smear of something that the flight attendant assured me was scrambled eggs.

As everyone knows, it’s at this point, when you’re looking your absolute worst, that you run in to someone you know. Usually someone you’re desperate to impress. In this case, a popular girl from my high school, who I hadn’t seen for more than a decade. She looked great, of course. As I self consciously tried to smooth my hair and cover my dress, I grinned like an idiot and talked loudly to try and distract her from my state of appearance. Only later, in the toilets at Dubai, did I realise I’d had a massive bit of food between my teeth the whole time. Awesome.

Seven hours and another three rom-coms later, I finally started the descent into London. The descent into the unknown, really. No job, no family, no idea what’s coming next. I was hit by delirious, exhausted panic, wondering what the hell I was doing and wondering why my hair had gone from sticking up, to being plastered to my face.

But I’m here. Jet lagged, scared, and just a little bit excited. The Spice Girls sang last night. The sun is shining (though I hear it might rain later) and cute British children are playing in the park across from where I sit.

Let the adventure begin.