A paramilitary tried to train me for a cross country run once. I thought running with someone else would be fun.
The clue was in the fact he was paramilitary. As a result, he thought barking at me to run faster, run backwards, slow down, go faster, would motivate me. I stopped about 2k in and said I wasn’t going to do anymore. He did the whole, “Don’t quit on me now!” soldier bollocks that might get a different person hyped up and grunting like a frat boy.
I just stopped turned around and started running in the opposite direction.
“I know you’re type.” he said when he caught up to me. “Don’t like being told what to do.”
He was right. I don’t like being told what to do. I don’t like being yelled at. I definitely don’t like the combo with the added stress of an increased heart rate when I am covered in sweat.
Before I could wheeze something offensive at him he pulled out some ninja death stars and a butterfly knife, and said we could go and practice being ninjas in the park instead.
Funnily enough I didn’t mind being told how to throw a knife.
My dad says I always have to be difficult. Do things the hard way. Or the weird way.
Maybe he’s right.
It’s unfortunate we seem to be so diametrically opposed in our approaches to life.
I never considered the tattoos, piercings, short hair, red hair, late nights, drunk nights, or any of the rest of it an act of rebellion. I was just doing what I wanted to do. It just so happened there was someone on the opposite side telling me not to do it.
Is that what makes it rebellion?
Discussing the topic with a friend she told me of her own rebellion: joining the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
It was a bizarre situation.
Her parents thought she needed spiritual guidance. Unfortunately it’s rare to get a Hindu priest knocking on your door.
Cue the change of religion.
I’m still not clear what they hoped to achieve by having the nice Watchtower ladies talk to her once a week. Maybe they thought they would calm her down enough for Hindu control. I bet they didn’t expect her to join the Jehovah’s Witnesses though.
It took two years before she felt her point had been solidly proven and returned to being a happy agnostic.
Was this a completely necessary point to prove?
But when you’re a teen there’s the need to assert who you are. Followed by the notion you will slow down, calm down, or grow out of it.
Now that I’m older, I feel somewhat obliged to behave in a sensible moderate way. But the need to assert who we are isn’t something confined to our hormonal teens.
There’s no one really telling me what to do anymore. Only my brain.
Things work always work out in the end. Even gastroenteritis.
All it took was one bite of the egg.
I heaved up the banana milkshake quicker than I’d drunk it. Then whatever else was left of the Tonsai devil burger I had at the start of my journey.
That’s what I get for eating a burger at the beach.
I was climbed out. Tired. And I had been eating pretty healthy for about a week. One burger couldn’t hurt. Plus I thought it would see me well on my epic boat, bus, plane and train journey to Ayutthaya.
But now it had me hunched over the toilet bowl of a tiny restaurant at 7 am.
My first instinct was to head back to bed. Or even better: Bangkok. But when would I get to come this close to Rama’s city of Ayodhya? That’s what Ayutthaya was meant to be, the city of temples, old capital of Siam. A slice of history, mythology and my childhood.
The Ramayana was one of my favourite stories as a child, stories of princesses, demons, flying monkeys and a city all lit up to welcome home an exiled prince.
I couldn’t just leave.
So I pushed myself to do a five hour walking tour of the temples. A tour which ended with me hailing a tuktuk to help me round the last leg.
I even went on a riverboat tour of the waterside temples. Each one filled with ornate Buddhas and crumbling buildings. There was a calm beauty to it all. But I was feeling out of sorts.
It could have been too much in a short span. I had temple overload and zero perspective to appreciate what I’d seen. More likely the food poisoning had muted the experience.
It wasn’t how I’d wanted my trip to end, but it was how I returned to Bangkok.
Funnily enough though, Bangkok was the real surprise. I didn’t expect to enjoy the tail boats and temples as much as I did. Nor that I would feel as peaceful and calm in the city as I had at The Sanctuary wandering around the temples and palaces that Ayutthaya had inspired.
Maybe I’m just a city girl at heart. Maybe I’d found some inner peace.
Or the parasites had changed me irrevocably.
The temple at Wat Pho fast became my favourite place for peaceful meditation and a massage. I’m addicted to Thai massage now. There is something strangely relaxing about being forced into yoga positions and cradled by a stranger who will then crack your entire spine.
It put a smile on my face.
Though I’m pretty sure it shouldn’t have.
I visited the reclining Buddha one more time before I left.
The immensity of it, filling a whole temple had me in awe when I first saw it. Looking upon it again I felt content and at peace before I left and ready for whatever might happen next in life.
Leaving countries is always so bittersweet for me. It’s like cutting a conversation short when you’re really getting to know someone.
As I stood there watching the young man writhing on the floor, lip locked with a rubber IKEA oven mitt, I wondered what the hell I was doing here.
My friend Abner has been encouraging me to go to auditions, to network, make contacts with script writers. “You’ve got to get out there and follow your dream!” He was right.
Consequently, I’ve been signing up for auditions and taster classes. It’s been something to get me out of the house at weekends. Plus it’s free, which sums up my criteria for entertainment these days.
It’s definitely been entertaining.
At the writer’s workshop, I felt like a moody teenager. I was sat at the back, all dressed in black, screwing up my face every time someone bleated at the opportunity to read their work out.
I was grateful for the pair work. At least then the other person could strain their arm enthusiastically in the air, while I continued to slouch apathetically in my chair and text.
The activity was a silent dialogue, set at a party. Pradeep and I commenced our silent conversation. Needless to say, in real life Pradeep and I would a) Never be found at the same party b) Would never have commenced to converse because I would have been able to see his conversation coming a mile off and hot-tailed it to the bathroom.
Writing classes and workshops are a great place to meet a writing partner; your lobster.
Pradeep was not my lobster.
There weren’t any lobsters. Just people trying to figure out what their ‘love’ was. But maybe loving something wasn’t enough. Nor was Marcela. She gleefully shared her comedy creation, Paul: an extremely fat man good at his job. “Fat isn’t a character flaw. What’s his flaw?”
“He works too hard? But sometimes it’s difficult because… he’s fat!”
“So it’s funny because he’s fat?”
This went on for a while before we all just gave up.
The following weekend I was amidst a group of actors. Some of whom found it hard to mask their disdain at the fact I was a tourist. ‘It seemed like fun’ is not what the competition want to hear at an audition.
They want the part.
They will even use a five minute break to try and get it, as I found when I was faced with the ridiculously energetic Eva. Her heart-rendering performance of the day she fell over in the rain went sadly unnoticed by the director. I think I’d asked her if there was a Tesco nearby.
I couldn’t bring myself to participate in the improv. The group of people on the floor fighting over a toilet brush, while one waggled his tongue in and out his heat protected hand, left me speechless.
I have no problems looking like a fool. I just won’t fight other fools to do it.
They really wanted this. I needed to have that ‘willing to pretend to make it with a glove’ type of desperation. But I couldn’t even make eye contact with anyone. Every line I delivered was aimed at someone’s crotch or my own cleavage.
I was their Pradeep. Their Marcela.
My friend got a part in the play, without having to romance homeware. I signed up for the comedy writing class.
I think my first piece will be a drama about a woman trying to write a play about an overweight man trying to make it as an actor.
Maybe IKEA guy could play him. He seems like he would commit to putting on 20 kilos.
John Lewis and shiny stuff would lead most of us to believe that this is the most wonderful time of the year. Christmas can be pretty wonderful: friends you haven’t seen in years, time with family, spreading joy, giving and receiving, great food, the list goes on. This year my attitude, normally on a par with Buddy the Elf, is a bit more like the weather: lukewarm.
Christmas comes but once a year. At least that was my mantra in past years when I forced a smile when being nagged by my parents about when I was going to meet a nice boy. Or when I was being nagged about when I was going to move closer to home. Or when I was wincing at drunken shouting and trivial arguments. Or when I was joining in on the shouting. I still managed a smile because a week down the line I would be back on a plane and far away. Future conversations could be tolerated. Or at least muted.
This year Christmas feels like it is building up to be Wrestlemania. All the previously small bouts that have taken place lover the last four months will now culminate in this one off spectacular event.
There is no tapping out.
A chair may be employed as a last minute act of desperation.
My plan to hide in the gym was thwarted. I may no longer have any idea what day of the week it is, but most of the normal working world have been counting the sleeps until they could go out, get battered, safe in the knowledge there was no getting up at 7 am the next morning.
This is my life.
Maybe that’s why my cheer isn’t as cheery. The biggest factor in my love of Christmas was desperate relief. The winter term was the longest one at school. After seven weeks of crowd control, marking, observations and prising kids off windows and walls, I wanted to sleep for two weeks. It’s like the Eddie Murphy joke about the cracker you get offered after weeks in the desert.
Christmas was the best cracker I had ever eaten.
Every day is like Christmas now. In the sense I get to stay at home watching bad television, balancing my finances and drinking anything mulled. All I’ve been missing over the last four months was a festive hat at a jaunty angle.
The traditional Christmas dinner is also a festive selling point.
Roast potatoes, Turkey, Christmas pudding, even sprouts, there’s something about that Christmas spread. It warms the heart.
As I sit staring at the swede that will be the crowning joy in vegan Christmas, I find it hard to get excited.
My brother is an excellent cook. It will be a Vegetarian/Vegan delight. But it’s not quite Christmas this year.
I nearly went full Scrooge when Facebook asked if I wanted to see what 2015 looked like. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
The Ghosts of Facebook Statuses past have helped me to gain some perspective this Christmas Eve.
This hasn’t been my worst Christmas. Not by a long shot.
There was the Christmas Air France lost all my luggage. The Christmas I lost my phone in a taxi on the way to the airport. The Christmas I nearly lost my hand and had to have surgery. Last Christmas, when I was sent blow by blow details of how my then boyfriend liked to get down in the bedroom, and then had to spend the day comforting him.
This has been quite an uneventful festive season in retrospect.
Christmas has it’s good points. I get to make it magical for my nephew. I stay up watching cheesy movies and playing board games with my siblings. It’s the only time of the year when I can hit reset with my parents and start afresh. I also get to see friends I love and laugh. Drunkenly.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. If I let it be.
So I’m going to get me some wine and listen to Jingle Bell Rock until the spirit of Christmas, or Christmas spirits restore me to my normally hyperactive Christmas state.
Happy holidays. Get merry. ’tis the season.
Making a decision doesn’t come easily to every one.
The other day I was watching Master of None when Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar came up. It has been years since I read the book. It sticks in my mind because I started it on a comedy improv night. Unsurprisingly, all the suggestions I yelled out were pretty bleak as a result. They had to work for the laughs.
The fig tree has been playing on my mind a lot. For those of you unfamiliar with the book, Esther’s life is compared to a fig tree. Each fig is a choice she could make. She envisions herself sitting below it, unable to make a choice and watching each fig drop, black and dead; no longer an option. Hardly the stuff of which improv is made of. A good metaphor nevertheless.
I was 21 or 22 when I first read the Bell Jar. My attitude to life was to just let it carry me where it may. I made my choices on a whim. I would take a bite of the closest fig. There was no painstaking decision. My life was a series of happy coincidences. Until things started to go wrong.
As I got older and the decisions carried more consequences, it just became increasingly harder. Poor decisions can age you. I repeatedly made the same poor decision with an abusive ex. When I finally made the right choice I felt a hundred years older, and had no faith in my own choices.
From then on my go to move for any choice which carried a real consequence was to survey all my friends, until someone offered up an option that seemed manageable. I would then mentally decide to defer all my future life choices to that person, hoping they would just live my life for me because I was so terrible at it.
This was not a plan.
My decision making is non-existent in relationships. The people pleaser in me comes out then all of a sudden every decision I make revolves around making someone else happy. I’m always looking after someone else’s tree, or eating the fruit they hand to me. When you are offering that much power over your life to the wrong person it has disastrous results.
Over the years, I have met so many people that would happily micromanage my life for me, and a few that returned the decision to me. Thank you to the latter for withholding judgement, and forcing me to adult. I feel like I am doing it more now than ever.
After my last break up I was bothered that no one had warned me about the immaturity and drama that came with him. As if I could have been better informed in my decision making. Transparency wouldn’t have changed anything. I would have given him the same chance. It had been my choice to make.
It had made me laugh when he informed me that I had no right break up with him without consulting him. He didn’t seem to grasp that I was allowed to make my own decisions. Maybe because I had spent a year letting him sway all of mine.
I still hadn’t understood there was so much power in a choice.
I empathise with Esther’s anxiety about making the wrong choice. I have to remind myself it’s equally bad to randomly choose anything, or to make do with the options people give you. It’s such a fine balance. So dependent on luck.
At 35 trying to get into a writing position is hard. I get told I am brave a lot, which makes me feel like I have some kind of terminal illness. Stupidity perhaps. I am sometimes overwhelmed with panic and shake that tree hard, scrambling to see what options I have managed to shake down. But that isn’t the way I want to live life, and I calm down soon enough.
My choices are simpler these days. I am learning to have more faith in myself.
I have to just trust my tree still has a few good figs left.
Image from Zen Pencils.com Check the site for the full illustrated extract from The Bell Jar.
Over the last few few months I have been trying rewire the way I look at life and focus on the positives rather than my relationships and other failures.
It has been a mourning period for me in many ways. I have spent months putting to rest my expectations. Trying not to be angry about the plans that I had given up so easily, and the life I had chosen to leave behind.
It’s hard to move on. As terrible as you might feel in the place you’re in, you get used to the misery in a way. I’ve been as positive and active as I can, but it sneaks up on me.
My ‘ex-rages’ were a symptom of the fact I wasn’t over it yet. I could be in the middle of a perfectly nice evening, travelling, or out drinking with friends, and then a wave of anger would sweep over me. It was like Tourette’s. Anyone close enough would get a comprehensive list of grievances against him, and a demand for an answer to where the hell did he get off texting me to call me a ‘waste of his time.’
When I wasn’t raging, I was trying to just get on with life. Being as busy as possible. Remembering my life wasn’t defined by a man. Then I’d find myself in tears because this wasn’t how it was supposed to have worked out.
Between the bitching and crying my observant six year old nephew chipped in his two cents worth.
The infant was right. But how do you move past it?
Our break up had been quite abrupt. We hadn’t seen or really spoken to each other in weeks. The last act had been a death in the family.
There are certain expectations around death and how we should treat each other, and behave when someone passes away. It’s a time to be sympathetic, to come together to put your differences aside, and offer your support.
I had wanted to do all these things. But after endless fights, unresolved issues and his go-to-move of ignoring me for three days at a time I just couldn’t find it in me. People can kill your sympathy. Especially when they demand it of you constantly.So I left him to it. He had expected me to be there to support him, but after so much drama, I just didn’t have it in me anymore. I ended it the following week.
In true dramatic fashion I was told never to contact him again. ‘Cross the road and pretend I don’t know him’ style break up.
Relationships with people you love can end abruptly. I learned that young. My little brother passed away when I was five years old. From one day to the next someone I loved had disappeared from my life.
My parent’s generation are not great believers of discussing ‘adult’ topics with children. We never spoke about death. It was just something that was innate knowledge.
After my brother died, his pictures were put away. His clothes were given away. I didn’t get to go to a funeral, or a memorial. Three years of my life with another person just disappeared and I wasn’t to ask any questions, and didn’t get to say goodbye. We couldn’t say his name in the house, or speak openly about him for fear of upsetting my parents. It was something we got used to.
My parents were trying to protect us and themselves. They bottled up their feelings and were ‘strong’. But I could see you couldn’t stay strong that way. We suffered silently. The pain seemed to last forever.
Life carried on, but I felt like he was being ignored, despite him clearly being on everyone’s mind. The only remaining signs he had existed were the crying, or the look that clouded faces when his favourite song came on the radio.
I needed Day of the Dead when I was a child.
From October 31st to November 2nd in Mexico and other countries around the world, Dia de los Muertos/Day of the Dead is celebrated. The belief is that the spirits of the dead reunite with their families and loved ones. They honour them with offerings or ofrendas, and put together on an altar for the deceased. The altars are often illuminated with candles, decorated with cempazuhitl (marigold flowers), their favourite food, drinks, photos and memories. The family will celebrate together, often lighting candles, eating, drinking and sharing anecdotes. They reminisce and celebrate the lives of the deceased fondly.
Day of the Dead helped me to come to terms with ideas of death and loss and move forward in a healthy way. It gave me a chance to celebrate my brother’s life, and the lives of the people I loved who were no longer with me. I looked forward to the beautiful ofrendas and rites that took places. From scenes of the floating of candles on the Patzcuaro lake, to bringing food, drink and even Mariachis to the graves of loved ones so they could enjoy their favourite songs with family.
This year the British Museum put on an impressive exhibition. They had huge skeleton sculptures towering on either side of the entrance. As you entered there was an authentic Atlanchinolli dance troupe, performing a pre-hispanic Aztec dance ritual to remember the dead. There were also workshops where children could make their own marigold flowers to hang on a tree sculpture with their messages for their loved ones who had passed away. It was particularly child friendly. Helping them understand this concept and view on death. Something I think all children should be given the chance to do.
This weekend gave me time to reflect. I hadn’t been honest about how I was feeling. I was pushing myself to be over things. I hadn’t given myself the time to get over it, to feel sad about it, be angry or upset about it. Which is why it kept creeping up on me despite all my attempts to be happy and act like things were back to normal. They weren’t.
There is a reason why you have a mourning period. It helps you to come to terms with what happened and make your peace with it. You get to say your goodbyes and move on.
Margaret smiled at me. She looked very mum like. I always run into well meaning mother figures when I’m abroad.
She and I were the only passengers on the airport shuttle into Budapest. We got talking about the plane delay. Complaining is a great way to start a conversation it would seem. We got on the topic of why we were in Hungary. She was there for work. I was there because I could be. I was lucky enough to have friends there, the time, and no responsibilities.
“For £500 you could buy a Eurorail pass. Travel around Europe for a month.”
It’s around £500 if you’re 18- 25. If you’re 26 or older, it’s closer to a grand to get a Eurorail pass. It wasn’t a bad idea though. When I got out in district 8, Margret told me to do it while I was still young. I thought about how ‘young’ I was. I was strongly considering it.
It had been four months of applying for jobs I didn’t really want, and getting no where.
One morning I woke up and I contacted my agencies and said I was having a crisis and wouldn’t be available for work until the new year. This may be the only time when I’d have the money to travel and no commitments. When I could take a last minute deal. Buy a cheap ticket and see some more of the world.
I’ve realised I have quite a good network of friends around the world. I’m off to Brazil in November. A weekend in Paris in December. Perhaps Singapore in the new year, or China. I also know a lot of teachers scattered around the world in schools that need an English teacher. Maybe the life of a travelling teacher could be resurrected in Europe or Asia.
My friend Diana was right. I wasn’t fat and toothless. I did have options.
There is a lot to be said for having your gap year in your 30s. On the plus side, I have some money saved. I can do it in a bit more style. Hungary was a whirlwind of G&Ts, steak dinners and strudel. It beat my pizza pie budget when I was in New York.
On the downside, my mum and dad think I’m having a mental breakdown, and my savings are starting to dwindle, while my credit card balance gets bigger. It’s all I want to do though.
I didn’t have a gap year before uni. Well I did, but I was living at a mates house after my dad had kicked me out, working three jobs and desperately trying to lock down a job at Topshop #ambition. It was hardly ‘See the world before uni’ It was more ‘Prepare yourself for how much your life is going to suck when you have bills to pay and nowhere to live.’
I didn’t save a lot that year. Enough for a ticket to New York. I managed to meet my friends at the end of their travels, listen to their adventures around the world. We all still travel. Alone most of the time, I’ve noticed. We’ve even met up in different countries.
I think it’s something in your blood, wanting to be out there in the world alone, on your own adventure. Some people can’t live without it.
I like travelling alone. It’s never been something I thought was unusual. I always had a friend to meet somewhere, or I would make friends when I got to where I was going. I’ve never felt lonely. I’ve felt lonely at parties, in relationships, stuck at home. Traveling is something I’m happy to do by myself.
The reactions I get when I tell people I’m travelling alone make me smile. The concern, the sympathy. Did I have no friends to go with? Surely I’d enjoy it more with other people? Next time I could ask them to come along.
Being a woman makes it seem dangerous, but it’s just as risky as it is for men. I have been mugged three times, but I’ve made it out unscathed and often with most of my possessions.
The first time was at knife point and I was able to talk my way out of it. His pen knife was an embarrassment. I’d rather have been stabbed. The second time I was being an idiot, and wandering around at night with my headphones in. He got my iPod. But only as he ran away after i beat the shit out of him with an umbrella. So British. The last time I was mugged, it was at gun point, so I couldn’t really fight my way out of it. I managed to hold onto my shopping. It was worth more than the crap in my purse. Suckers.
Ok, it may seem uncertain. But it’s no more dangerous than your own back yard. You take the right precautions, you’re careful who you trust, and it all works out, most of the time. Occasionally you get a bit of bad luck, you wander into a bad area, fall asleep on the night bus with your iPod out; or date a man who thinks it’s acceptable to hold your possessions hostage because he’s teaching you a lesson for breaking up with him.
There are risks in everything we do.
Over the years my travels had introduced me to wonderful people, some of whom I’m lucky to still be in touch with. Sometimes you just spend a few nights having a good laugh, going to bars and wandering naked into the ocean. Other times you make travel buddies and end up at reggae festivals, or crossing the border into Panama.
I have had hand made pizza straight out of a make shift oven in a friend’s cave. It even had a door. The cave, not the pizza.
I’ve soaked in thermal baths under the stars. I’ve hiked up a mountain in Andorra, cooked my own dinner and then hiked down into France for breakfast. There were parties on the beach, night swimming in lagoons, and once I jumped on a motorbike to a ghetto in Belize to shave a man’s beard off.
Traveling has been good to me.
There was never a trip I regretted. Not even this one back home. It took me to Hungary, a dick fountain, dear friends and the knowledge that Hungarians will not budge in a bar. Soon it will take me to my nap buddy, caipirihnas and samba.
I was told I couldn’t live like this for the rest of my life. Maybe what they meant to say was that they couldn’t live like this for the rest of their life. It’s not for everyone.
If you have a travel suggestions let me know. I live out of a suitcase.