Thursday, 23 April 2015

In which I dream

No one tells you that in the run-up to your wedding, you'll have nightmares. It's something the magazines and websites merrily omit as they flog you increasingly expensive trinkets and tchotchkes, and try to convince you that without this season's on-trend pudding room, your wedding will be a thoroughly damp squib,

I didn't expect it at all.

I was relatively (it's all relative...) laid back about the planning process, if dictatorially organised (no, the two aren't mutually exclusive). I thoroughly enjoyed planning our wedding. Given the nature of my current and previous jobs, a big event with lots of moving parts isn't out of the ordinary - and I didn't even have the pressure of Sky's live news feed at this one (the Sky journo was off the clock for the day).

But my outward lack of stress about the process only seemed to exist in my conscious mind - and no one had told my subconscious.

Because for months - in fact, since we started planning last May - I had increasingly intense, increasingly negative dreams about the whole thing.

The started pretty infrequently, maybe once every few weeks, and were relatively innocuous: bridesmaids not wearing the right dresses, the flowers being wrong.

But with less than a month to go, they became constant, night after night, throughout the night. My dad wasn't there to walk me up the aisle, natural disasters, The Writer deciding he couldn't go through with it...

One night, I woke up at 4.45am having scared myself awake after a series of particularly tricksy dreams and listened to my heart try to thump its way out of my body.

And it wasn't just me who was unable to control their subconscious: it became something of a ritual that TW and I got up in the morning and shared the previous night's terrors. Our own form of PTSD therapy, where PTSD happened to be Pre Tyingtheknot Sleep Disorder.

I'm half tempted to pitch a piece about it to You and Your Wedding. It's only fair that other people know to expect it amongst the table plans and dress fittings. Shame I didn't start a draft earlier: I could have made use of those sleepless nights...

Monday, 20 April 2015

In which I read

I’ve not dedicated as much time to reading this year as I’d have liked (wedding and work: the two Ws that seemed to take over my life), nor kept a proper note about what I’d read. The below is what I can remember, for better or worse, from the beginning of the year.

The Virgins, Pamela Erens.
I don’t remember an awful lot about this other than it irritated me most of the way through. There were several elements I found problematic from a feminist perspective. The short and scrappy note I did take on my phone says: unconvincing; dark but not dark enough; irritating omnipotent narration; don’t feel it to be true. It most certainly is nothing like The Virgin Suicides, which it was breathlessly compared to.

The Etymologicon, Mark Forsyth
I was bought this by one of my favourite book clubbers as a birthday present, and he has me down to a tee. Full of vignettes about how certain words and phrases came to be, and one of those books so full of fascinating facts that you become irksome in your, “Oooh, just listen to this!” as you read out passages while your fiancé desperately tries to get to sleep.

Blood and the Beauty, Sarah Dunant
I quite like chunky historical fiction, and had hoped that this would do for the Borgias what Wolf Hall did for Cromwell. It doesn’t, really. Diverting enough and probably worth putting on the beach read list, but with a subject matter of such infamy, it had the potential to be wildly compelling. Maybe Mantel has spoilt me forever.

Girl with a Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier
I picked this up from the hotel library and read it on a Thai beach in two sittings over one afternoon, totally unable to see what all the fuss was about. I remember the last two thirds as being particularly irksome, but I wasn’t in a position (in my hammock) to be making notes as to why.

Most of Nora Ephron, Nora Ephron
The late and divine Ms Ephron is high up on my list of fantasy dinner party guests. Even if you’ve read a lot of her other work, this is a book worth buying for the few bits and pieces which don’t appear anywhere else. There’s a section of screenplay from When Harry Met Sally, a most excellent diatribe about egg white omelettes and so much more that had me cooing with glee. I’d read the woman’s shopping lists, they’d be that well put together. Buy it, read it. It’ll enrich your life.

The Miniaturist, Jessie Burton
This is just lovely. Like all books that are enormously hyped, I had substantial misgivings about this, but it’s a gorgeous book, and makes for a great holiday read if you want something engrossing and not mindless. Evocative, slightly magical, enveloping in its atmosphere, this tells the story of the young wife of a Dutch merchant, and the miniature house that starts to reflect their lives. There’s domesticity and politics and truth and perception and obsession. Highly recommended.

Bring up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel
I was prompted to read this before the staggering televised version hit the screens earlier in the year (holy moly, but Mark Rylance is a god): given that I absolutely adored Wolf Hall, it’s going to be no great surprise that I chomped my way through this in a matter of days. Eagerly anticipating part three, and so hoping that Mantel turns her attention to other maligned historical figures in due course.

The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
A tip: don’t read this shortly after getting married. The thought of having to cope with the death of one’s husband is quite traumatic enough without thinking about doing so when one has only just acquired a husband. Didion’s writing is, as ever, beautiful – if brutal. How someone could be suffering such pain and put words like this to paper is beyond me. It’s as emotionally hefty as it sounds, but one to get swept up into – if only as a reminder to tell the people you love that you love them while they’re around to hear it.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

In which blogs got dull

I started blogging ten years ago. It was during the Spring of my first year at university, a self-indulgence, and a way of keeping note of the various scrapes in which I found myself.

Blogging was in its infancy back then. Mainstream media was yet to accept it. Facebook was still in twinkle in the Winklevi / Zuckerberg universe, and Twitter was years away. Which made the blogosphere a much more intimate place, one that was more open and that had a deeply confessional tone - a very different place to how it is today.

It’s great now that you can tell someone you have a blog and they won’t look at you as if you keep dead bodies in the cellar. Everyone and everyone’s mother understands Facebook. A good proportion of people who use it have made honest-to-goodness, real and close friendships on Twitter. But the blogs out there have changed.

There used to be a whole raft of blogs that fell under the category of ‘personal’: spaces people - including me - used as confessionals. Mostly anonymously, we poured our hearts and souls and bad decisions and heartbreaks out onto pages of the internet that other anonymous people would read, and comment on - and they’d do the same in their own corner of the web. It provided a space where through the sheer power of words, there grew a community of people who knew a lot about each other’s lives, and became friends; and it provided huge catharsis for those who found it easier to write down what was going on in their lives than to talk about it.

The world changes, though, and with the popularisation of social media, that personal space has diminished. The blogs people used to write about their love lives, their flatmates, their careers, the neuroses they weren’t willing to vocalise have been taken over by the rather more nebulous “lifestyle” blogs.

And while it’s easy to look at a perfect world through the rose-tinted lens of nostalgia, god the new blogs are boring.

I understand that it’s not 2005, and you don’t want to commit to the virtual page that terrible sexual misdemeanour you made, or what you really think of your boss - because the likelihood is that these days they’ll find it. People being much more cautious about what they put online isn’t a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination, especially given the way the internet has changed (vile comments simply because you’re woman ring bells with anyone?).

But GOD, so many of the blogs out there these days are JUST SO DULL. Marketers have cottoned on to a new audience, and are dishing out “review products" left, right and centre to people who see their little space on the internet as, if not a money maker, then a way to blag free shit. If that’s what toasts your marshmallow, go for it. But it’s so dull to see page after page and person after person parade their free bar of chocolate, or hair straightener, or perfectly Instagrammed shot of whatever today’s freebie is. If I wanted to spend my time reading advertising, I’d buy a print mag, enjoy some properly subbed copy, and keep a few more trained journos in their jobs.

And before the accusation is levelled, I know I’m in a minority. It clearly works for a lot of people, or sales teams wouldn’t be falling over themselves to throw products at the self-styled “lifestyle bloggers” whose readerships and Instagram feeds attest to the fact that their glossy hair and parade of endless designer bags have an audience that can’t wait to be updated (despite their quite blatant, er, flexibility when it comes to ASA guidelines).

But I miss the spaces where people used to flex a writing muscle, to put into written words what they weren’t sure they were feeling until those words hit a page, stories of people’s lives - however mundane - that connected you to a person on the other side of the city, or the country, or the world; someone you didn’t have to know to be able to empathise with, because real words will always be more powerful than advertising.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

In which I go off the radar

“Oh thank GOD, you’re alive.”

“What? Of course I am. What’s up?”

I’d not heard my phone go; it was only as I’d shoved my bag out of the way with my foot as my colleague returned from the bar that I saw the screen flashing from the depths. 

“Nothing. You’re... out for drinks this evening, aren’t you?” The Writer didn’t sound quite his normal self as I accepted a second gin and tonic. 

“Yes - I mentioned it this morning before I left. Is everything ok?”

“I’d forgotten. I’ve had a bad day, and I… er… I might have panicked a bit.”

In a sheepish voice unbecoming to a man of TW’s stature, he ‘fessed up: a vastly stressful day and no reply to a text he’d sent me when he’d left the office had combined to take on a life of their own when he’d got back to the flat that evening to see an ambulance parked in the street, lights flashing, and paramedics slamming the doors.

And, when I’d not arrived home some half hour later, then subsequently failed to pick up my phone, having not heard it from the bottom of my bag, the over-active panic reflex in an already over-active imagination (ah, being married to a journalist) had been hot-wired.

“I didn’t know whether something had happened to you, and the guys wouldn’t tell me who was in the ambulance, so when you didn’t pick up your phone a couple of times…”

“Hah! What do you mean, tell you who was in the ambulance?! Of course they wouldn’t…” I was starting to get the picture that, bless him, my apparent disappearance for all of two hours on a mid-week evening had rattled him rather.

“So I phoned Best Mate, and she didn’t know either.”

“Ok… It is only half eight on a Tuesday, though.”

“I know, but I worry.”


“So it might just be worth letting her know. And The Equestrienne, because I think Best Mate called her just to check. Oh, and your mum.”


“Well no one had heard from you all day.” He paused before laying down his trump: “AND you hadn’t tweeted.”

Once I’d assured him I was live, kicking, and drinking Tanqueray and tonic, I hung up the phone where notifications blazed across the screen: 15 missed calls from TW, a text from BM (“I’m sure you’re fine, but could you please call your husband? He’s panicking.”), and a missed call from Ma Blonde all attested to his apparent conviction that I was lying dead in a ditch somewhere on the way back to Brixton.

As I was putting the phone in my back pocket to avoid missing any more calls, it bleeped with a final confession.

“You might want to let your colleague know: I called the office to ask the person on duty to see whether you were still there, and she didn’t know either…"

realise I sound beyond ungrateful, and it really shouldn’t: it’s absolutely wonderful to be loved, to have someone care enough to worry, to want you to be ok. It’s wonderful that TW feels he can call BM if he thinks there’s a problem. It’s slightly less wonderful to have interrupted four people’s evenings by proxy when you’re minding your own business in the pub. And let’s not get into the fact that, despite my being 30 years old, safe and sound on a Tuesday evening and in possession of a gin and tonic, MY HUSBAND CALLED MY MOTHER.  

Sunday, 29 March 2015

In which I go feral

"So, it's getting pretty drastic. I basically need him to come home immediately."

Over a cup of tea, a colleague and I were stealing a few rare moments from the blurry haze of mania that has been our office of late. It was towards the end of a week during which The Writer had been in the Middle East on a press trip, leaving me at home, alone and left entirely to my own devices.

You would think that, as a grown woman in possession of all her faculties (most of the time), this wouldn't be too much of an issue. That I could be trusted. After all, it wasn't so long ago that, for a number of years, the household was just me and the cat, and I managed not to get scurvy, or (bar the odd houseplant) kill anyone.

You'd think then, that it wouldn't be such an issue to spend a week unsupervised. That maybe I'd use the time to catch up on reading, tidy up, have an early night or two. Basically act like a mature adult.

But it turned out that on the first day of his absence, by the time I'd read the paper, tidied up, and done a bit of washing, I was entirely disinclined to do anything else of worth, and spent the evening catching up on the sort of excellent telly that normally incites TW's acerbic commentary, in the company of a particularly delicious fish finger sandwich.

Which was essentially a blueprint for how I spent the next six days.

When I wasn't at work (which was quite a lot of the time), I was at home in pyjamas and a pair of slippers that TW takes particular exception to, watching Grey's Anatomy, or Fortitude, or Poldark, eating fish finger sandwiches. One particularly memorable evening, a couple of colleagues and I sank a few gins and tonic in the pub near the office and I went home to a supper of wedding cake. Just cake. With a healthy layer of icing. Then went straight to bed. Rock AND roll.

"God, I'm exactly the same," my colleague said, as I confessed to her that I was afraid that if TW didn't return soon, I might never eat a vegetable again, and be found dead in pom-pom slippers under a layer of old Tatlers. "When my husband goes away, I basically go feral."

Reassuringly, she told tales of eating cereal for three meals a day, not getting out of bed in the morning until the last possible second and generally indulging in behaviour that is best kept to oneself. It's good to know I'm not alone in these matters.

Better still that TW came back safe and sound from his trip, and I'm now not alone full stop, really.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

In which the world is a very small place

It is, as the saying goes, a small world.

(I remain to be convinced of this, because the maths suggests otherwise. I have a sneaking suspicion that it's more to do with the fact that privately educated people with degrees from Russell Group universities in a number of selected professions is small enough, but that they are proportionately over-represented in the social and occupational fields in which they move, and that's why both an old university friend and a woman with whom I ride at a yard well outside London both turned up on different floors of my office building a few weeks ago.)

Anyway, to dinner.

Before Christmas, The Writer and I headed into the wilds of north London for a friend's birthday supper. It was lovely: a large group of us took over the upstairs of a small French restaurant, and more red wine was had than is ever advisable on a school night.

There were old university friends, the girlfriends of old university friends, and colleagues of girlfriends of old university friends: lots of people chatting and laughing and having debates and trying to work out what each other actually do and when the last time was that some of us saw each other.

And there, at the end of the table, in the middle of all those people I know well, and some that I know less well, was a shipping lawyer whom I'd met once before. A shipping lawyer with whom I went on one terrible date circa 2008.

Because apparently before I met The Writer, I dated approximately all the men in London, eligible or not.

Said shipping lawyer and I had had one dinner at a tapas bar on Charlotte Street, which started promisingly until, ten minutes in, I realised that there was no sign at all of basic social conversational skills, let alone sparky repartee. Once he'd spent some half hour talking about the recent bathroom refit he'd had done, complete with difficulty of tracking down the perfect malachite bathroom tile, not even a decent patata brava could hold my attention.

When the realisation dawned in all its gory horror, all the claret in the world couldn't save me from the desire to claw my way out of the situation. Fast.

"I, er, I went on a date with that man," I confessed to TW as we made an earlier-than-other-people exit and headed back to the tube later on.

"Which one? Oh my GOD! HIM?!" The whoops of glee were not quite the response I had hoped. "The REALLY BORING one? How did you date HIM?! God, no wonder you love me so much."

The world. Not really that small, in the grand scheme of things. And yet plenty, but plenty, small enough.

Monday, 23 March 2015

In which a hobby isn't universally popular

The fact that I hunt is a bone of contention amongst some family members and friends.

I can understand it: hunting is a divisive issue. I come down on one side of the fence (mercifully so far not literally, but it's only a matter of time), and they happen to come down on the other.

The arguments for and against hunting are well-trodden, and it's one of those subjects that it's hard to change people's minds about once those minds are made up. A lot of conclusions are reached based on emotion and gut and surroundings and way of life and politics and society, and a whole heap of other things that aren't necessarily related to experience.

For Pa Blonde and The Writer, the primary objections are safety-related. It's entirely fair enough: I don't like the idea of my father travelling to dangerous countries with work (semi-retired my FOOT), much like I don't like the idea of TW skiing without a helmet, so I can see why they're not mad-keen on my hunting. Statistically, riding isn't the safest sport at the best of times. They don't ride, and the idea of getting on a horse to gallop at terrifying speed across country, jumping ditches and hedges and whatever gets in the way, with the ever-present danger of, at worst, coming off and having a fatal accident, understandably scares them.

For some friends, it's an issue of animal rights, which is a legitimate stance, and for others, I think, although I haven't discussed it with them per se, it's a matter of politics. They're not perspectives I share, obviously, but they're positions I can respect while not agreeing with.

And I don't know what it says about our friendships that this bone of contention is rarely mentioned. If I was being deeply pessimistic, I'd say that my hunting is so controversial a topic, we dare not talk about it for fear that there'd be a chasm left in our relationship that we'd never be able to overcome.

I choose instead to believe that my friendships are so strong that even the controversial topics - the ones that could come between us - are acknowledged; that differing positions are respected; that life, if we all agreed with everyone all of the time, would be very dull indeed.

Prompt: bone of contention

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