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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A new chapter

The sun is out. I repeat, THE SUN IS OUT.

I just sat outside for an hour. I’ve used the washing line for the first time in months. This morning, I put sunscreen on my shoulders. Trivial, boring things that I never realised meant so much to me.

It’s been six months since I’ve seen the sun in London. Turns out, I missed it.

And with the sun shining, everything here seems a bit more magical. Flowers are blooming. Kids are playing on the grass outside the little brown brick house. The ice cream truck just did a lap of the street. And as I soak in as much Vitamin D as I can, I can’t help but think that I’m about to embark on a new chapter of this chick lit adventure.

The new job starts on Tuesday. I am beyond excited.

And I don’t know if it’s the sun, on the prospect of meeting new people, or just the simple fact that I’ll be earning money again, but I suddenly feel like anything’s possible. That I can make this story whatever I want it be.

On Saturday morning, I was struck by an urge to be spontaneous, adventurous. Two hours later I was on a train to Stratford-upon-Avon to celebrate William Shakespeare’s 449th birthday.

It was brilliant.

I took hundreds of photos of beautiful Tudor buildings. I got strangely emotional about marching bands and Morris dancers. I ate scones in the sunshine. I got a bit tipsy and watched the best Shakespeare I’ve ever seen on the banks of the Avon.

And, at the conclusion of ‘As You Like It’, when Rosalind, Orlando and company celebrated the changing of the season, I did too.

I’ve survived my first London winter.

It wasn’t easy. I’ve experienced cold I’d never imagined. I’ve set a world record for the number of pairs of socks worn by one person at any time. I’ve successfully navigated icy pavements without falling on my bum. And I’ve learned that hot chocolate with a sneaky shot of Bailey’s in it can be the secret to surviving any sort of outdoor event.

The winter is finally over. And from here on, things for this chick are going to be pretty different.

Bring on Part Two!

Rolling with the oldies, Stratford-style.

Rolling with the oldies, Stratford-style.

Here comes the sun

I’ve got a problem. And it’s pretty serious.

I guiltily confessed it to my housemate on the tube this week, glancing around so that no one could hear.

“I think I’ve lost my mojo.”

“Your mojo?”

“Yeah, my mojo. My sparkle. My shiny….ness. Basically, I feel like a big dork.”

And I do.

It’s been a gradual thing. But the confident, flirty, interesting girl who got off the plane in London all those months ago seems to have lost her touch.

None of my clothes seem to look as good. My makeup seems wonky. My stories aren’t as interesting. On Saturday night, it took me an hour to get served at a bar. AN HOUR. NO WOMAN SHOULD BE FORCED TO WAIT AN HOUR FOR A MARGARITA. And as soon as I’d drunk it, I decided I’d rather be reading a book instead, and went home.

Walking back to the little brown brick house, I pondered my situation with increasing anxiety.

What is wrong with me? Is this what happens when you get old? Is my face starting to LOOK old? Is it wrinkly? Oh God, is all this thinking GIVING ME WRINKLES? OK, hold your eyebrows still. Maybe it’s that I’ve been single too long. Have I lost confidence? Have I forgotten how to talk to people? Have I lost the power to charm men? That’s it, I have! Oh, why did I WASTE the power when I had it? Think of the THINGS I could I have got if I’d used it wisely! I could have DIAMONDS! And they would DEFINITELY distract from the wrinkles. I AM A HIDEOUS, WRINKLED, DIAMOND-LESS MONSTER THAT NO ONE WILL EVER LOVE!

Fortunately, back on the tube, my ever-wonderful housemate was there to stop my pity spiral.

“You haven’t lost your mojo. You’re just dealing with your first London winter. You haven’t seen the sun in four months. You’ve been shivering since August. It rains every day. We’re all used to feeling like crap for half the year, but we have the good sense to stay inside and drink wine. It’s just you, trying to pretend everything’s good when the winter is trying to beat all the joy out of you. Just hide under your doona, and everything will get better in April. Or May. By June, definitely. We will definitely see some sun in June.”

JUNE?

It’s too much to bear.

Which is why I write to you from Changi Airport, Singapore, halfway home to Australia.

I AM going back to London. But I’m just taking a little break in the sun. A few weeks to hug my cousins, drive a car, eat potato salad and not have to deal with black snot (one of the more disturbing aspects of London living).

Who knows, I might even find my mojo.

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.

Chick Tick Two: Rolling with the oldies

Remember when I dyed my hair red? Turns out I should have dyed it grey.

Because I’m starting to think I might actually be an old lady.

I’m slowly working my way through my Chick List. For those who need a recap, my list of challenges included:

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

Well, my hair is definitely red. And this week, instead of starting an exercise regime (because, frankly, that doesn’t sound that fun) I skipped ahead to number seven. I went on a holiday. ON MY OWN.

And where did I go on this brave, exciting trip? Somewhere exotic? Somewhere warm? Somewhere packed with young, hot, eligible bachelors?

No. I went to Bath.

Bath is a beautiful, clean, English city. It has rolling green fields and beautiful architecture. It’s freezing cold. And IT’S FULL OF OLD PEOPLE.

And I fit right in.

The oldies and I had a fabulous time rejuvenating in the thermal waters of the Bath Spa. We all rushed the Jane Austen Centre, for a lecture on the town’s most famous resident. We discussed the merits of afternoon tea, as we indulged in Bath’s renowned Sally Lunn bun (I went for lemon butter topping, while the old gent next to me chose scrambled egg). And we all made sure we were tucked up in our hotel beds by 7pm, after a sneaky Bailey’s in the lobby.

I swear, I didn’t see anyone under the age of 50 the entire time I was there.

And you know what? I bloody loved it.

The famous Sally Lunn bun: afternoon tea choice of oldies (and awesome 29-year-olds) everywhere.

The famous Sally Lunn bun: afternoon tea choice of oldies (and awesome 29-year-olds) everywhere.

It’s not the first time this has happened. A few weeks ago I decided to take myself out for the day. And like most normal, cool 20-somethings, I chose to see the West End musical ‘Top Hat’. It’s a staged version of the old Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movie, and features a lot of tuxedos, tap dancing, and Irving Berlin standards. It was me and a bunch of pensioners in the audience. And we ALL smiled, sighed and sang along as each new classic began. I mean, who DOESN’T love ‘Cheek to Cheek’? It’s a wonderful song!

So, what’s going on? Am I an old lady in a 29-year-old’s body? Am I two steps away from playing Mahjong and wearing socks with sandals? And am I ever going to find a pastime that puts me in the path of age-appropriate, single men?

Oops, got to go. It’s time for bingo!

Animal instincts

OK. I’m going to admit something. And a lot of you are not going to like it.

I don’t like pets.

No. I REALLY don’t like pets.

I’m not a dog person, I’m not a cat person. I am a, “Oh God, get that thing away from me!” person. The kind of person who crosses to the other side of the street if they see a dog walker approaching. The kind of person who leans away awkwardly when someone asks them to pat their cat. The kind of person who gets disproportionately annoyed when people post pictures of their pets on Facebook. I don’t like the way pets smell. I don’t like their fur. I don’t like the fact that they hang around all the time, but don’t talk. What’s the fun in that?

I blame my parents. Growing up, we never had a pet (apart from a brief dalliance with crazy crabs foisted on us as a birthday present. We didn’t feed them. They died). My Dad, when he was a kid, conducted experiments on his pet cat, in an attempt to disprove they theory that they always land on their feet (he grew up to be a doctor, not a serial killer, by the way). My brother was allergic to dogs. As a family, we didn’t look fondly on pets. And with three siblings to play with, I never saw the need for a four-legged friend.

It wasn’t until I reached adulthood, that I realised that not liking pets was something of a social faux pas. You are meant to tell people their dogs are cute, even if they’re slobbery, barking, dirty, pooing, well, DOGS. You are meant to pat them. And not rush to wash your hands immediately afterwards. You are meant to find a story of a cat bringing home a dead bird amusing, rather than HORRIFYING (the only thing worse, for me, than the thought of an animal, is the thought of an animal with another dead animal in its mouth).

And when you meet a potential partner, you should do the same. Act interested when they tell you about their pet. Pat said pet when introduced. Go along with talks about the future, which involve a house and a dog. Try not to recoil in horror at the thought of a house with dog hair all over it. A future where you have to get home early, to feed the cat. A future that involves shovelling dog poo. For some men, the pet question is more important than the baby question. A future, with a pet, is non-negotiable.

So, I’ve been pondering this point a lot lately. Wondering if I should tone down my pet hate. Seem a bit more flexible about my future, be more polite about other people’s animals. Bury the fear and disgust, and just chill out.

Because this new me should be able to do it, right? Think about all the brave things I’ve done this year, the acceptances I’ve made, the maturity I’ve shown! Being cool around animals is just another self-improvement I can make!

Well yesterday, the universe decided to test me.

I was sitting inside, working on a job application, when A CAT JUMPED THROUGH THE WINDOW. INTO MY HOUSE.

And what did the new, chilled out, pet-accepting Claire do?

Screamed. Shouted, “Go AWAY! Go AWAY! I don’t LIKE YOU!” Decided I could probably touch the cat with the bottom of my shoe, without getting cat rabies. Tried to push it tentatively towards a door. Shouted some more. “Go AWAY! Get out of MY HOUSE! I really don’t LIKE YOU!”

After five traumatic minutes, the amused cat decided to take pity on the crazed blogger and wandered outside. I collapsed on a couch, heart pounding, vowing to never open a window, EVER AGAIN.

Yep, cool as a cucumber.

Making a connection

It’s been too long since I last wrote… but that’s what happens when you don’t have an internet connection.

But I have an excuse – I moved house! Yes, this chick lit novel now has a setting. A brown brick semi-detached house on the top of a hill in north-west London. It’s too small and too far out of town but it’s got big windows and a big backyard and I already love it.

I’ve got flatmates, too. One of my best friends from Australia has already been here four years – she’s the wise Londoner guiding me through this crazy adventure. She organised the place – I’m living with her, her rock star English boyfriend, and HIS single best friend. I KNOW. THIS CHICK LIT NOVEL IS WRITING ITSELF.

So obviously, I’m going to end up with this guy, right? I mean, it’s so predictable. Even more predictable, because I really don’t think I will. You know how in the chick lit novel, the girl doesn’t really like the obvious guy, because she’s infatuated with Mr Wrong? And Mr Obvious is clearly pining for her throughout the novel, but the Chick doesn’t really notice how fabulous he is, until Mr Wrong breaks her heart and Mr Obvious is there for her?

Well, I haven’t found Mr Wrong yet. And I’m pretty sure my poor housemate isn’t pining for me. But if this really WAS a chick lit book, I’m pretty sure that’s how it would end. I’ll keep you posted.

But back to the internet thing. You will never know just how reliant you are on the internet, until you don’t have it. And when you’re living in a new house, in a new suburb, in a new city, in a new country, you need the internet more than ever. Especially when your phone is busted.

Since I arrived in England, my phone has been on the blitz. Things came to a head last week when my Mum texted me to ask if I could Skype. Homesick, and newly depressed about my lack of internet, I sent her a long, detailed message about how crap everything was. AND THEN IT DIDN’T SEND.

It’s funny, when you’re on edge, what little things set you off. Six days of internet cold turkey, and the fact that that simple text wouldn’t go through sent me over the edge. The iPhone was thrown. There was shouting. There were tears. In the midst of my hysterics, as I listed every little thing that was wrong with my life, including my uncomfortable pillow, the fact that I didn’t know what to have for lunch, and that my hair will never do what I want it to, I added, “AND I’ve been here a month and no one’s fallen in love with me!”

After the drama had passed, a list of priorities was made. Number one on the list was getting my phone sorted. Love, I thought, could wait at least one more day. So imagine my surprise one man offered both services later that very day.

Yes, I was cracked on to by the phone repair man.

Ring a ding ding!