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

Thursday, 19 March 2015

In which I consider my comfort zone

In an attempt to be more disciplined in my writing, I've bookmarked a year's worth of prompts. When inspiration fails me, there'll be a word, or a phrase, or a topic to fall back on. And I'll write, whether I feel inspired by the word or phrase or topic or not. Today's was comfort zone: more comfortable with routine and planning, or laissez-faire spontaneity?

Dull and boring and frankly tedious as it sounds - particularly to me - I function much better in a state of at least partial planning.

I would love to be the opposite: a laid-back, go-with-the-flow, laissez-faire, spontaneous kinda gal, carefree enough to drop everything at a moment's notice to jet off to a European capital on a whim, or come home one afternoon with a suddenly-acquired puppy.

It sounds so much more glamorous, so much more fun to be the sort of person not to care what might get thrown into a day, and where you might end up when it's over; the sort who gives no thought that whatever plans they might have had are in disarray around their feet, superseded by something entirely unexpected.

But self-awareness is, I suppose, something to be grateful for, and I'm quite aware that I'm happier when there's a vague shape to a day, to a week, to an idea.

I like to know if I'll have a chance to get to the gym, to see friends, to ride a pony. If I know that I'll spend a Sunday battling the four worst words in the English language (rail replacement bus service), I'll pack an extra novel and a series of snacks. I appreciate knowing that a long day will be buoyed by the friends I'm closest to in the evening, rather than hoping a colleague will maybe have the freedom to hit the pub. It gives me a low-level sense of comfort to know what I'm aiming for in a day, and a small sense of satisfaction if I achieve what I set out to.

But despite knowing all that, despite being a fan of a plan (Stan), I also know that sometimes there's very little better than waking up on a Saturday morning, stretching out in bed and knowing that you've no obligations until you hit the office on Monday. A week's holiday with no more idea of a couple of good books and a sense of 'see what comes' sounds, right now, like unimaginable bliss. There's enormous freedom in not being prescriptive about what's ahead, in being open to possibilities, to saying yes...

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

In which there's comfort in the everyday

It's not the done thing to admit how attached we become to inanimate objects. We're always told that people, rather than stuff, is where we ought to find our fulfilment. And while I absolutely do just that, it doesn't stop me deriving enormous comfort from some of the material goods that I own, and with which The Writer and I have filled our flat.

I won't be alone in saying that the objects I treasure most aren't particularly those with the most monetary value (my engagement and wedding rings notwithstanding...): the trinket pot my grandfather brought back from Christmas Island after the war; the drum my Tanzanian pupils gave me when it was time to come home; and various kitchen implements that belonged to my late Granny all have a special place in my heart.

One thing which sits on our kitchen side that gives me enormous comfort every time I look at it is particularly run of the mill: nothing out of the ordinary, a birthday present from my sister, and not something that I'd ever have bought for myself.

It's a small white porcelain dish, about 6cm across, shaped like a teapot. It's printed with the words "Where there's tea, there's hope", and is quite often piled higher than it should be with teabags that have been there longer than they should have been, cold and damp and crusty around the edges, before someone scoops them into the small green compost bin by the door.

And despite its mundanity, its lack of glamour, every time I look at it and splodge down a steaming bag of cast-off Earl Grey, it represents a familiarity that's hard to replicate or manufacture.

It's something that TW and I both use every day of the week, without thought or consideration, but would both notice if it weren't there. It represents a level of comfort, of moments and days and lives shared. Of home. And because of that, it's priceless.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

In which there are words

There are so many reasons I've not written in months.

I've put pen to paper, sure: lists mainly (guests, menus, to do, to buy, to pay, photography, still to do, to organise, to pay). Thousands of emails, either work- or wedding-related. The occasional tweet, almost exclusively wedding-related. But nothing - bar a few cards distributed on the morning of my wedding to my parents, bridesmaids, imminent husband - of note.

And because I was so busy with a promotion at work and a wedding outside of it, I didn't really notice that I hadn't written anything.

But one dreich February Monday night in south London, the glorious joy of a wedding behind us, I sat in front of a fire with The Writer and listened to a bunch of strangers, and The Redhead (very much not a stranger), stand up in front of a microphone in the back room of a pub, and tell stories that they'd written.

Stories about gin, about job interviews, about a dad they didn't know and ultimately chose not to, about a box of magic artefacts found in the woods behind a golf course, about surprise parties and prisons and a man they'd never love.

Something twanged (I'm not sure what: maybe I'd just been sitting too close to the fire). But I suddenly realised that the endless scrappy shopping lists in the bottom of the jute bags under the kitchen side just haven't been cutting it, and that I missed writing things down.

I missed finding the right word, using the process of organising words to make sense of intertwisted thoughts that never quite reached a conclusion on their own but were far more straightforward once they'd been committed to paper.

And the reasons (a glut of fear that somehow I'll say something stupid that'll see me fired sharpish) and excuses (a lack of time and discipline and inspiration) seemed partially to diminish (still trying to err on the side of not too stupid, though) and suddenly, there came the words.

Monday, 20 October 2014

In which I consider what's in a name

Once, it was just what you did. But marriage - and the decision to get married, and the act of getting married, and everything that goes with it - in 2014 feels like a political choice, a statement of intent. And no element of marriage is that more so than in the case of changing one’s name.

Once, it was easy. Once, you went from your father’s name to your husband’s, assumed the title of Mrs, and that was that. Now, not so.

Do you keep your name? Do you take his? Whichever route you pick, one option will produce askance looks either from elderly relatives who didn’t realise they had such a radical in their midst, or your feminist friends because you’ve betrayed the cause.

All of which is quite academic until you come to do it yourself and then you realise - I mean, you knew it before, obviously, but now you know it, it’s hammered home in a very real way - that your name is a critical part of your identity.

It’s easy - or, easier - if you objectively like one more than you do another. A former colleague won’t ever change hers, she says, because she doesn’t like her boyfriend’s name. Job done. But when you don’t have an aesthetic objection it’s harder.

My name is important to me. It’s part of who I am, and very much a part of my identity. Some colleagues at work call me by my surname. I’m attached to it. I like it. My father doesn’t have boys, and I don’t want to let our name just slip into the past when it needn’t.

At the same time, I want to have the same name as The Writer once we’re married. And should we ever have kids, I want us all to have the same name (if nothing else, it sounds like it’s FAR easier to deal with life that way).

I could take his name in my personal life, and keep mine in my professional - it’s an option that seems to work for a lot of people. But I’m not sure that it would work for me: my two identities aren’t quite that distinct, and although I certainly have a ‘work’ persona, I’m not a completely different person when I’m there - and quite a lot of how I define myself in my entirety comes from the professional skills that I have and the job that I do.

He could take mine, of course - and it’s something that we seriously discussed. There’s no logical reason why, if someone’s name has to change, it shouldn’t be his. But, being a journalist, there’s a byline to consider, and he’s built up an extensive body of work under the current one. There’s also the more prosaic point that my current surname just doesn’t really sound right with his name.

So, we’re going to do something I’ve previously not been a massive fan of, but which in this case seems to be the best compromise, and we’re going to double-barrell, both of us taking the new name.

Starting off with a compromise that suits us both seems to be a good way to go into a marriage.

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