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.

Forward, backward

So, things aren’t really going to plan in this chick lit life right now.

A fortnight ago, things were barreling ahead. The warmth from home was still in my bones. I was optimistic, excited, refreshed. And I finally, FINALLY had some work.

When I started this chick lit adventure, getting a job was the least of my concerns. I just imagined it would fall in to place. I’d wear fabulous outfits, write some press releases, make fun, interesting friends, and head out for post-work drinks every Friday night. The job would be the background to my new, exciting London life. Just like in the books.

But getting a job has been harder than I ever imagined. I’ve spent six months applying for jobs that I can do with my eyes shut, jobs that pay half of what I made at home, and NOT EVEN GETTING A REPLY. It’s been a massive dent to my ego. And without a job, it’s been hard to settle in. It’s been hard to meet new people. And it’s been REALLY hard to afford to buy wine.

But a fortnight ago, it all started to happen. I went back to work in a newsroom. I got to pull out my favourite frilly pink work heels. I was carrying a notepad and pen again. I got to wear a lanyard around my neck, and say smug things like, “Sorry, got to get to bed, I have WORK TOMORROW”. And for two, glorious weeks. I EARNED SOME MONEY. It was awesome. Suddenly, I was thinking about shopping for new clothes. I started planning my next mini-break. And I started to make some new friends.

BUT.

After two weeks as a freelancer, turns out the company I was working for doesn’t want to hire freelancers any more. It was a total, unexpected kick in the guts. And now, I find myself back to square one. Jobless. Job-hunting. Filling out endless applications forms. And watching my savings dwindle away.

Of course, just as unemployment has hit again, I’ve been struck by my latest London cold. I swear, sometimes I think I’m actually allergic to this city. So I’ve been lying in bed. Wallowing. Feeling totally, pathetically, sorry for myself.

“WHAT HAVE I DONE?” I wailed to myself yesterday. “Don’t I deserve to be happy?”

And then, I had an epiphany.

You know those chain emails you used to get? Those ones that talked about how important friends are, blah, blah, blah, and then warned that if you didn’t forward to seven, eleven, whatever number of people, you would be CURSED FOR LIFE?

Well, I never forwarded them. The over-confident, cocky 20-something that I was, I thought that I was immune to computer curses. I didn’t think that a bullshit email could really have any impact on my life.

HOW WRONG I WAS.

You know what, I never ‘like’ those cause pages on Facebook either. Heartless person that I am, I never click to show that I hate cancer, or love the armed services, or support gay marriage, or want someone to name their child ‘iPod’. What a fool I’ve been!

Well, the lesson has been learned. Maybe, just maybe, if I start being a better online citizen, some good luck will come my way. I’m gonna click everything, forward everything, like everything. And when stuff starts to go right, I’ll know who to thank.

‘Like’ this, just in case. You can never be too careful.

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.

Irish, to be sure

I write to you healthier, happier, a bit madder, and a lot fatter. Yes, Christmas has been and gone. I’ve eaten four turkey dinners in three days, drunk a very merry helping of wine, worn a fabulous Christmas jumper and binged on Bing Crosby and Wham.

Pretty normal, right?

I’ve also been to two church services within 24 hours, witnessed a sick woman be ‘cured’ by Guinness and seen my 75-year-old great aunt mime Boney M songs in a wig.

Why?

Because I celebrated Christmas in Ireland.

Ah, Ireland. The home of rolling green fields, stone fences, and men in funny little hats. The home of potatoes, Michael Flatley and alcoholism. The home of Marian Keyes. And the home of my wonderful, slightly mental, extended family.

Now technically, I’m half-Irish. My mother was born in Dublin. I am the grateful holder of an Irish passport, which was key to this whole crazy adventure. But apart from my unnaturally pale skin and bizarre obsession with potatoes, I’m about as Irish as Vegemite. I’ve never lived in Ireland. I know nothing about its history. I don’t like beer. Or tea. Or Riverdance.

But I tell you what: I long to be Irish with every fibre of my being. To me the Irish are the loveliest, friendliest, merriest people in the world. So it’s probably no surprise that within two hours of my arrival, I started to talk like an Irishman.

I was suddenly telling stories that went,

“Ah, your man, God bless him, he was down at the pub, and I tell you what, he had a grand time. A GRAND time. He was GAS!”

A couple of hours later, I was no longer bothered with pronouncing the ‘h’ in ‘thirty’. Later still, my stories were littered with a liberal use of the word, ‘feck’. I suddenly became prone to blessing myself for emphasis. And every offer of a wine refill was welcomed with another exclamation of, “GRAND!”

By the time my great aunt donned her wig and started lip-syncing to ‘Rivers of Babylon’, I was ready to dance by her side (without moving my arms, of course).

So Ireland, God bless you. I leave with a belly full of potato and sore cheeks from all the laughter. You’re grand, I tell you. GRAND.

Bridget burnout

So, last week I re-read Bridget Jones’s Diary. And then proceeded to have the stupidest weekend of my life.

I felt a sudden urge to diet, and immediately cut breakfast and dinner from my daily meal plan. I didn’t alter my wine intake to suit. I got horrendously, terrifyingly drunk. I got lost in central London at one-thirty in the morning. I got in a fight with a taxi driver. Yep, another one. I went on a mini-break where I packed three pairs of tights and a tube of toothpaste, but no toothbrush, deodorant or spare knickers. I went to a party as someone’s fake date. I tried to awkwardly flirt with a man who wasn’t said fake date. I offended both guys and then had to act like I didn’t mind dancing both parts of ‘Summer Nights’ on my own. And I ended the weekend alone, in my track pants, eating a whole block of fudge and weakly singing along to Christmas songs on the telly.

When Bridget does it, it’s funny.

But you know what I figured out this weekend?

BRIDGET JONES ISN’T REAL.

Bridget Jones is awesome. And hilarious. And very possibly my spirit animal. But she’s also fictional. She doesn’t really have to deal with the hunger, or the hangovers. She doesn’t have to deal with the shame, the confusion, or the embarrassment.

And I do.

So, Bridget. You and I are having some time apart. You are no longer going to be my inspiration. The New Year is coming. And I am going to be a brand new, healthier, happier person. I am going to be responsible. I am going to drink less. I am going to flirt with appropriate men. And not fall for any of the following: alcoholics, workaholics, commitment phobics, people with girlfriends or wives, misogynists, megalomaniacs, chauvinists, emotional fuckwits or freeloaders, perverts…

Ah crap.

The Chick List

One of the best things about writing this blog is the fact that I can read as much chick lit as I like.

Once upon a time, chick lit was my guilty pleasure. When book shopping, I’d always force myself to buy a ‘serious’ book. It was usually award-winning, and usually excellent, but guys, reading it was HARD WORK. The prose was always beautiful, but vague and convoluted. The characters were usually terrible people. The ending never satisfied. I was culturally enriched, but secretly more excited about the OTHER book I’d bought myself – the one with the beautiful pastel cover, featuring a picture of a shoe, or a handbag, or a dress. My reward read. Where the main character is flawed but lovely, the dialogue is current and witty, and while they’ll face some obstacles along the way, the main characters will always get a happy ending.

Now though, chick lit counts as research. If it’s not pink, I won’t even buy it. On the tube, I proudly hold my chick lit novels up for all to see (even though they have the most ATROCIOUS names – ‘Where Rainbows End‘? ‘The Brightest Star in the Sky‘? Come on, Marian Keyes!). If anyone asks, I can tell them I’m working!

And now, all the reading’s paid off. I’ve found some book-to-life-life inspiration!

Even from the title, I knew this book would be a good one – Lindsey Kelk’s ‘The Single Girl’s To-Do List‘. It’s a great read. Charming characters, gorgeous, muscly men, a painfully realistic break-up, and a journey of self-discovery. As the title suggests, the main character, Rachel, and her friends put together a ‘to-do’ list to help guide her through her newly single life. Scrawled on a napkin, Rachel’s list includes:

  • Get a makeover
  • Start an exercise regime
  • Bungee jump (or similar)
  • Find a date for Dad’s wedding
  • Get a tattoo
  • Write a letter to the ex
  • Buy something expensive and selfish
  • Travel somewhere new
  • Contact your first crush
  • Break the law

Frankly, I think a couple of these ideas are terrible. A tattoo? No way. Write a letter to your ex? Just move on! But the book did make me wonder if it might be that simple. Write a list of things to do, check them off, and find true love.

Strangely enough, before I left home, I did start a list of my own. I hadn’t looked at it in months, but inspired by the novel, I took a look at the quick list jotted down on my iPhone under, ‘London life list’. Here’s what it said:

  • Dye my hair red
  • Buy Doc Martens
  • Wear scarves
  • Learn to use my camera

Yes, it appears that three months ago, I had a secret longing to turn myself into some sort of moody, gothic artist. Where did that come from? I’m not even sure I like Doc Martens!

But you know what? I’m inspired. I’m putting the lists together. And I’m going to see them through. Here’s my very own Single Girl’s To-Do List. My Chick List.

  • Dye my hair red
  • Try a new (and preferably strange) type of exercise. Tai Chi, capoeira, handball, something like that
  • Take a photography course (and put some pictures on the blog)
  • Buy some Doc Martens. And wear them
  • Go speed dating
  • Buy something expensive and selfish
  • Take a trip on my own
  • Make pastry
  • Try tuna
  • Break the law

Some of these make me nervous. The thought of eating smelly fish is downright terrifying. Will the list make me a better person? Will it help me find true love? Or am I just setting myself up for a terrible new look?

…I’m calling the hairdresser right now.

Almost 30

Tomorrow I turn 29.

Firstly, I have no idea how this happened. I swear to you, it was just yesterday I was drinking champagne at my 21st, celebrating my youth and fabulousness, with my whole exciting life ahead of me. Now, suddenly and seemingly without any warning, I’m staring straight down the barrel of my thirties. MY THIRTIES. Guys, I remember my Mum’s 30th. Mums are 30. Not me.

And let’s face it, my life on paper at 29 isn’t looking that great. If you’d asked 21 year old Claire what she thought her life would be like as she neared 30, she probably wouldn’t have gone for single. Or unemployed. Or prone to blogging on a Monday afternoon in her pyjama pants.

But this is how it is. It’s not perfect, it’s not the dream scenario. But you know what? Things really are OK. So in honour of my 29th birthday, here’s a list of five things I’m really happy about after almost 30 years on the planet.

1. I’m looking good.

No, not just good – the best I’ve ever looked. Sure, I’ve found a couple of sneaky grey hairs, and all the London cake-eating is making my pants a little tight. But after 29 years, I’ve finally found my style. I know what clothes look good on me – I’m not trying to be anyone else. I am more confident in my skin than I’ve ever been before. And you know what? People notice that. I’ve got more compliments about my looks in the last year than I’ve ever had before. And it’s nice.

2. I can cook.

I really, really enjoy cooking. And after almost three decades in the kitchen, I’m getting pretty good at it. I love feeding other people food that I have made. Or myself a whole batch of brownies just because I feel like it. When I’m in the kitchen, I’m really happy.

3. I’m getting better at navigation.

I’ve always been hopeless at finding my way around. On one tragic day, when I was in my early twenties, I couldn’t find my way home from the shops after buying some ingredients for lunch. The combination of extreme hunger and total and utter displacement resulted in some truly pathetic public crying. But these days I’m getting better. Sure, the GPS is helping. But I finally have faith in the fact that I really might know where I’m going.

4. I am unapologetic about my love of musical theatre.

It used to be a guilty secret. When someone asked me who my favourite singer was, I’d defect and ask them who they liked. “Madonna? Oh yeah, me too.” But now, I am past the age of apologising for my camp and questionable taste. If someone wants to get to know me, they will also have to get to know obscure facts about little-known Broadway shows. I am a musical theatre nerd. And I am proud.

5. I am braver than I’ve ever been before.

In the last five years, the number of new foods I’ve tried has gone through the roof. I now eat prawns. And mushrooms. And falafel. Just this week I ate a mussel. And I didn’t die. Two months ago I resigned from my awesome, stable, secure job because I knew I needed a change. And ever braver than that, I got on a plane to a city where I’d never lived before, thousands of kilometres away from the family and friends that I love, and the safe and secure life that I knew. For me, that was pretty bloody brave.

Yes, I’m unemployed. Yes, I’m single. Yes, I’m almost 30.

But I think I’m going to be OK.