Chick Tick Three: Pulling focus

The year was 2011. My mental state was fragile. I was fresh in the throes of a break up, and while I’d never been skinnier, I was also prone to unexpected crying, incessant oversharing and occasional sleepwalking. It was rough.

There was a ball coming up. A ball I went to every year. And, in a decision which I’m sure was made just to TORTURE ME, The Ex decided he would go, too.

So.

I needed a dress. A dress that made me look HOT. That showed The Ex just what he was missing out on. A dress that took advantage of my food and sleep-deprived body. An, “eat that, bastard!” kinda dress.

In other words, probably NOT a dress I bought while drunk shopping.

I’ve told you a bit about drunk shopping before. Basically, you go out for breakfast with your best girlfriend, and have a couple of sneaky champagnes. THEN you go to your favourite store, and try on all the pretty dresses. You dance around a bit in said dresses. You might even pretend to be a fairy. And if you’re just tipsy enough, you put on a black, sparkly frock, decide you look amazing, slap down $300 on the counter, and stumble out of the store, boasting about your fashion genius, and sudden desire for hot chips.

Needless to say, I awoke the next morning in a cold sweat. Sober, and terrified. The shopping bag sat in the corner of my room, seeming to shine like a beacon. WHAT THE HELL had I bought?

I gingerly pulled the dress out.

And it was beautiful.

Well, thank God for that. “Good work, drunk Claire,” I thought to myself as I felt the tulle skirt, and admired the splash of silver and gold sequins. It was undoubtedly fun, but classy and a bit sexy at the same time. It showed off my legs and my collarbone, and my new, super skinny waist. It was truly gorgeous. I was beyond relieved. And a little bit excited. This dress was the one!

The next day I picked up a magazine. And saw this.

Bindi Irwin

Yep. Bindi Irwin. The daughter of the Crocodile Hunter. The then, 13 YEAR-OLD daughter of the late Steve Irwin. A girl named after a prickle. IN MY DRESS.

Now, if a celebrity has the same dress as you, you ideally want it to be someone classy, elegant, awesome. Someone you aspire to. Cate Blanchett perhaps. Gwyneth. Megan Gale. NOT A 13-YEAR-OLD ZOOKEEPER WHO HAS HER OWN KHAKI LINE.

I’m not going to lie. Come the night of the ball, “Claire vs Bindi, who wore it better” became a trending topic on Twitter.

So there I was.  Being compared to a C-grade celebrity teenager. Avoiding The Ex from the other side of the ballroom. Bemoaning the shortage of champagne (SERIOUSLY, IT HAPPENS EVERY YEAR). Feeling generally miserable.

When I heard my name being called from the stage.

Looking back, I think the Universe was feeling sorry for me.

I’d won the raffle. And first prize was a camera. An awesome, expensive camera with a twisty lens, lots of buttons and serious hipster credential.

And you know what? If you’re having a super crappy night in an unfortunate dress, carrying a giant, free camera home does make you feel somewhat better.

WHICH IS A HELL OF A LOT OF BACKSTORY.

Here’s the point to all of this: I’ve ticked another task off The Chick List. This week, I learned to use that very camera.

I went on a photography course in East London. I learned words like ‘aperture’ and ‘depth of field’. I took photos of bread and boats.

And books.

London books

Most importantly, I learned something I have long suspected: I do not possess an artistic bone in my body.

But I can tell a hell of a story, right?

Really happy. New year.

I haven’t written in 13 days. And I don’t have a great story to make up for it.

I DIDN’T drink so much champagne at New Year, I had to be hospitalised, and have now emerged from rehab, sober, skinny and preachy.

I DIDN’T kiss a mystery man at midnight, fall in love, and run away to Greece for a two-week fling.

I didn’t even resolve to stop writing such self-indulgent rubbish, and spend a fortnight writing a worthy, world-changing novel.

Nope.

I’ve had my family in town.

It’s been really, really great. I am beyond happy to see them again. I am eating three square meals a day. I’ve done the Harry Potter studio tour, taken mini-breaks to Suffolk and Nottingham, and tried just about every cupcake in London. It’s awesome.

But it’s not very blog-worthy.

I am not getting drunk. I am not flirting with boys. I am not making questionable life choices. I am not sitting on the tube, wondering what the point of it all is. Or just watching people lick each other’s faces.

I’m just really happy. And it’s great.

Technology’s a bitch

Twitter is playing matchmaker. And I don’t like it.

Every few weeks, Twitter sends me an email. The email suggests people I should follow, people that Twitter, in all its technological wisdom, thinks I have a lot in common with. That I would get along with. And you know who tops the list every single time?

My ex-boyfriend.

Yes, Twitter, I KNOW. We have a lot in common. We are friends with the same people. Our profile pics look good together. I certainly thought we were a good match, BEFORE HE BROKE UP WITH ME.

And you know what, Twitter? For months after we split up, I still had myself convinced he was the only man for me. It took a long, long time for me to get over it, to tell myself there might be someone else out there, better suited to me.

IT DOESN’T HELP IF YOU KEEP TELLING ME THERE’S NOT.

Twitter, why tell me this? If you’re so invested in us being together why don’t you bother HIM instead? Send him a memo. Hell, tweet him! Break the cold, hard truth to him, in 140 characters or less.

Idiot. You guys are a perfect match. Apologise, buy her many pink things and promise never to buy a dog. You’re welcome! #TwitterKnowsBest

And, it turns out it’s not just Twitter that’s playing back-to-the-future-matchmaker. I was complaining about the latest email to my housemate, when he told me about his experiment with internet dating. Turns out, of the thousands of women looking for love in London, the dating website hooked him up with not one, but TWO ex-girlfriends.

So what’s the deal? Is the internet REALLY unimaginative? Or have my housemate and I both missed out on the bona fide, technologically-proven person for us?

While you ponder that depressing thought, why not follow me on Twitter?

Here comes the bridesmaid

I’ve received two proposals since I arrived in London.

My first happened on a perfect summer’s day in Stoke Newington. The sun was shining. I had a bag full of new books and a belly full of cake. I was truly, deliriously happy. Unfortunately, the proposal came from a complete stranger.

“Can you spare some change?”, he asked, from his blanket on the side of the street. I gripped my bag tightly, smiled and politely declined. My beau peered keenly through his matted hair, looked me up and down and asked me the next, obvious question – “Will you marry me?”. Well, of course I was swept off my feet. We got married there and then, have bought a beautiful new box to live in, and are raising a litter of stray dogs.

Not really.

My second proposal arrived in the mail this week:

I received this beautiful gift from one of my very best friends, along with a card and message that made me cry. It’s the second time I’ve been asked to be a bridesmaid for one of my girlfriends and it’s a job that I love – not the least because I get my makeup professionally done, get to hold a bunch of pink flowers and am contractually obliged to pose for many, many photos.

Of course, I accepted the proposal with happiness. During a long text exchange with my girlfriend, where we discussed colour schemes, dress cuts and cocktail arrangements, I asked her about her plans for the weekend. Here’s what she texted back:

Having breakfast at the markets with another couple, then going to a native plant sale.

Here were my plans for the same weekend:

Friday night: Wear a really short skirt, get drunk and flirt with boys. Saturday: Stumble out of bed by midday, eat some bacon. Sunday: Play drunk Monopoly.

I was struck by a startling, worrying epiphany: my friends are growing up. And I seem to be growing down. In the three months since I left home, my friend has got engaged, AND bought a house. I have moved into a share home, stocked my cupboard with Berocca, and have decided I can legitimately wear Converse to a bar.

What’s going to happen when I get back home? I’m scared I’ll call my friend for a spot of ‘drunk shopping’ (an awesome game we invented where you go out for a champagne breakfast and then try on all the dresses in a store. It’s fun. You end up with a lot of dodgy purchases) and she’ll tell me she’s too busy darning her husband’s socks. Or renovating the kitchen. Or, GOD HELP ME, looking after the babies. Twins, because that’s where my nightmare-ish imagination is taking me.

It’s not that I don’t want good things for my friends. I do. But am I in danger of being left behind?

I’m on my way back to Stoke Newington. Maybe I should accept that proposal after all.

It’s raining. Men.

The weather has turned. And my sunny Australian optimism is slowly turning a little grey, too.

I’d been warned about the London winter. Former Londoners had gleefully described it as ‘hell on earth’, ‘soul destroying’ and ‘the single most awful thing you will ever experience’. I laughed. I had my heart broken last year, remember? A little cold weather is hardly likely to get me down!

But you know what? Those smug ex-Londoners were right. IT’S BLOODY COLD. The sky is actually grey. There’s so much water in the air, my hair tuns to frizz the second I walk out the door. The other day it was so face-freezingly cold, I wore two coats, and a scarf wrapped around my nose. It never, never stops raining. And you know what the worst thing is? It’s October. IT’S NOT EVEN WINTER YET.

It’s a source of constant amusement to my cocky, acclimatised housemates. They sit in t-shirts and shorts, laughing at me as I wrap myself from head to toe in a cocoon of blankets just to watch the telly. Forget the Heathrow Injection (that layer of fat all Aussies get when they move to curry-loving London), I’m looking bulky enough thanks to the three or four jumpers I’m wearing at any given time!

Which is surely not going to be a great look when it comes to meeting my Mr Right. Unless he has a thing for thermal-wear?

So far, I still haven’t found him. But I have encountered a WHOLE HOST of Mr Wrongs. I don’t know if it’s an English thing, but I have met some hilariously rude and inappropriate men since I landed in this wonderful city. Some highlights:

Mr Racist: A very proper British chap who I met at a volunteering gig. He was the epitome of politeness, until he gave me the hot tip, “If you ever date a black person, don’t worry about being on time. They never turn up to anything when they’re supposed to.” Charming.

Mr Aggressive: A man I sat next to at a dinner, who didn’t talk to me ALL night. Until very late, when he turned around and barked, “Are you single?” When I said yes, he told me it was probably because I was a terrible girlfriend. He then told me, “well, I would give you my number, but my phone is broken”. What. A. Shame.

Mr Literal: A guy who wore a t-shirt with ‘C*NT’ stamped across it. A bit too honest with the advertising, perhaps?

Mr Snob: A young, rich, unemployed toff. When I told him I was keeping myself really busy with lots of social events, he confidently replied, “Well, they will definitely dry up”. Cheers.

Mr Druggie: A man who, when listing his attributes, included, “do you like coke? Because my brother is the biggest coke dealer in Essex”. No. No, I don’t.

Mr Offensive: A man, who over the course of one evening, told me my accent was “terrible”, that he had two girlfriends, and I that I looked about 36. I am appalled and embarrassed to say this guy’s charms kind of worked on me. I blame Bridget Jones. And tequila.

Or maybe it’s just the cold? Could the freezing temperatures be messing with my head, as well as my hair? Yes. I’ll blame that.

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.

Seeing double

As you get older, it’s a fact that more and more people around you get coupled up. Scrolling through Facebook, you find that one of your few remaining single pals is now ‘in a relationship’. Your ‘in a relationship’ friends have suddenly changed their status to ‘engaged’. Just today, I saw a that a boy I went to primary school with, who I once asked to marry me (he said no, because he wanted to marry his cousin. The rejection!) is HAVING A BABY. Not with his cousin mind you, but shocking all the same. I knew him when he was five years old, and now he’s having a child!

It’s a good thing. I am really happy that everyone is finding happiness, blah blah blah. But sometimes, all this ‘coupleness’ can make you feel very, very single.

When I moved to London, part of my decision was to get away from Couple Land. Don’t get me wrong – I really, really love my married friends. But I know I’m not going to meet MY Mr Right, playing Scrabble and drinking wine with my grown-up buddies as they stay in on a Friday night. I thought London might be an escape from that – a chance to meet up with a different crowd, hang out with some fun single people, flirt, hook up, and all that jazz.

But as I put together my guest list for my birthday celebrations on Saturday night, I realised the location may have changed, but the situation is much the same. Just about EVERYONE I know here is in a serious relationship. Of a group of ten people invited to drink margaritas with me for my birthday, just two other guests were single.

Depressing, but I’m not alone, right? There were two others sharing my plight! Three out of ten – that’s almost a third! Safe in that statistical justification I put on my prettiest dress, threw on some hot pink lipstick and prepared to have a wonderful night, reveling in my single (and totally normal) fabulousness.

Yep, those other two singles? They totally hooked up.