Time is on my side

Well well well! Six months since my last post…pa-bloody-thetic.

Where was I in my last one? Ah…Lithuania. And whinging about my (lack of) job prospects. I’m going to have to fish out my 2013 diary to remember what happened after that. My guess is that I continued being stupidly busy, blowing my money on holidays and stressing out about getting a permanent job. Back in a second…

Well WATTYA KNOW?! I was right. After hitting ‘Publish’ on August 26th, my life continued much on the same trajectory as it had been on for the whole of 2013 (which, the consensus seems to be, was pretty shit for most people?).

Don’t get me wrong, there were some pretty awesome events including both mine and my loved one’s 30th birthdays. Jim’s came in September, 3 months before mine, so I wasn’t really feeling the ‘pinch’ when we celebrated his. I made sure to pull out all the stops because I know I can be a bit shit when it comes to doing things for people’s birthdays, if I even remember them in the first place. So that’s why I arranged dinner in the gorgeous private dining room in The Oak pub and restaurant in Notting Hill for us and 10 of Jim’s friends. I also spent ten…yes TEN hours making a cake in the shape of a cricket bat. My housemate Heloise watched me for the last 2 hours or so, observing in some kind of transfixed horror my botched attempts at icing. In the end, I don’t think it turned out too bad! The little presents I got him as well as the party we had at our place were the icing on the…oh, I guess I can’t use that analogy now. Jim and I made hundreds of canapes for everyone which we were really proud of, though we were happy to finally serve the last ones and get on with partying.

Jim’s party was a double-fun-bonus as my very good friends from Australia – Casey and Charles – arrived in London that day and I saw them for the first time in years in my very own kitchen. They stayed with us and a few other friends during their trip, and I had an awesome time hanging out with them and remembering the good old days as well as making new memories. Casey, Bianca (who lives in London) and I have known each other since we were 14/15 years old through working at BIG W! Together we have such a bevy of ridiculous stories from our time there; we are the original disaffected fucks. I ended up staying for 6 years – well into my Uni days.  I still have stress dreams about not doing my night ‘routining’ (tidying) properly and forgetting my log-in code. Grim. To spend some time together, we went on holiday together at the end of November/start of October to a random holiday destination – Transylvania. We had a LOVELY TIME! Although we had grand plans to travel outside of our Transylvanian base Cluj Napoca, we ended up lazily wandering its pretty streets and spending time catching up in ancient squares, cute little cafes and bars. I would thoroughly recommend giving Romania a visit – people were so outrageously friendly and there were enough markets and tiny shops to keep our touristy selves happy. I feel so lucky to have those two people in my life (though I’m secretly a bit glad our impulsive and wine-fuelled plan to get some kind of tattoo to symbolise our friendship has not yet come to fruition).

Not long after that it was time to ‘pop’ back to Perth for 8 days to surprise my Mum for her 60th birthday! As far as I can remember I have NEVER surprised anyone, so I was pretty chuffed with myself when we actually managed to pull it off. My dad and brother were in on it, and helped to arrange the logistics so that I could casually walk in and surprise Mum at our favourite restaurant – Restaurant Amusé. We’ve been visiting them since they opened a few years ago, and all their staff were really on board with making the surprise work. I arrived in the early hours of Saturday morning, my brother David picking me up from the airport and kindly giving me his bed while he slept on the couch. He had even bought my favourite soft drink – Passiona – to help me feel at home. Aww! His lovely girlfriend Sofi had bought me the most gorgeous Salus handcream, which was wrapped and waiting on a lavender pillow on the bed! So thoughtful and relaxing after a long haul flight. I slept in while David played GTA 5 and his cat Cereal stared at me and occasionally tried to sit on my head. Later that evening after I caught up with a friend, David, Sofi and I got spruced up and arrived at the restaurant early. We made sure Mum and Dad had their backs to the door, and I was smuggled away down a hallway right next to the kitchen. Finally the maître d’ (who is co-owner with her husband and Head Chef), signalled that it was time and I walked out, casually sat down in the extra chair, and apologised for being late. I’d been a bit worried that Mum would keel over at this point, but luckily her blood pressure meds worked perfectly and she let out a scream of joy and shock 🙂 Seems I almost messed up the whole thing by sending a jet-lagged Facebook message from Singapore, which obviously then told Mum that I was contacting her from Changi airport! She told Dad in puzzlement, but he managed to convince her that Facebook was hardly ever accurate due to signals bouncing off the wrong satellites and…stuff… Phew!

I have never experienced such crippling jetlag as I did upon returning to London after being in Perth for eight days. It was awesome spending time with my family, catching up with friends and touching in with the little people who have sprung up all over the place from the loins of those I know. But, your parents only turn 60 once, and I’m glad I’ve been able to be there for both of my folks’ celebrations.

Once back in Perth, my attention turned to a certain looming milestone. I never thought I’d be the kind of person to worry about getting older, and in some respects I’m quite comfortable with it; I’m more confident, relaxed and happy than I’ve ever been in my life. But on the other hand there are certain things that I expected to have achieved by the time I hit 30. The choices I made throughout my 20s came into question – has all my travelling and loving been worth it? My peers from University are now running hospitals, or are married and have (numerous) kids. And here I am – living what feel like the right choices for me…but not the right choices in terms of where I’d dreamt I would be as a little girl. Getting a permanent job didn’t turn out to be as easy as I thought it would be. I’m not as skinny as I used to be, and there are lots more dark circles and bags and general wrinkliness than before. And above all, the biological clock is ticking. Shit! Probably for that reason, I became grossly neurotic about having as nutso a party as possible down in a rented house in Brighton for my 30th. This coming from someone who initially, honestly, did not want to have a party at all. Luckily my very good friend Shaun (who proves to me that boys and girls CAN be friends), was also celebrating his 30th and came over to London (his previous home), with his girlfriend to spend the weekend with the crew. We had an amazing time – “I’m Keith Richards bitch!”

I was immediately relieved upon actually turning 30 on the 8th of December; the anticipation was infinitely worse than the event. I had been asked numerous times ‘What does it feel like to be 30?’ I decided I should probably ask my friend Shaun the same question, since that seemed to be the done thing. “What a fucking stupid question”, he replied. And that’s why we’ll always be friends.

A bunch of stuff has happened since then. New Years Eve was great. I took a WHOLE MONTH off drinking alcohol, in order to test myself, be a bit more healthy, and most importantly raise £600 for the Epilepsy Society. I finally got a permanent job at a Highly Specialist level. In other words, I finally got what I wanted. It was a hard fucking slog and I know it’s odd that I add it on almost as a footnote, but perhaps I’m not keen to talk about how much it means to me. Perhaps I’m sick to death of talking about it since it felt like that’s all I was talking about with my friends and family for a while. My stress levels have dropped dramatically since the start of the year, and one of the biggest things about my newfound stability is the prospect of mortgages and maternity leave. Oooooo-err! 2014 is lookin’ pretty good so far.

Casey, Bianca and I in Cluj Napoca


Mum, Dad and I just after the surprise!
The day I turned 30.
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Lithuania

Despite all the ongoing drama with my career, I find myself back at work! This time I have a contract with the same employers via their ‘bank’ of temporary staff, rather than working for them as an external contractor. That means that while I get paid far less per hour, I get to work continuously through to 31st December, attend training sessions and go to meetings. It also means that I can apply for any internal NHS positions that come up. So, while I anticipate my first diminished pay installment with fear combined with morbid curiosity, I’m content to settle in and play the long game.

Anyway! On the 16th of July Jim and I jetted off to Lithuania. Why Lithuania you ask? Well, in Amsterdam I bought one of those world maps where you to scratch the gold top layer off where you’ve visited. One night Jim was helping me scratch out countries when he accidentally got rid of Lithuania. Clearly, this was a sign we had to go there immediately, and further to that we decided it would be my 30th birthday present to Jim. After a quick google search to make sure we weren’t likely to get hacked to death upon disembarkation, I bought us two return tickets. Jim was both excited and perplexed by this random act of spontaneity, and after some initial comments that I was possibly suffering from bipolar disorder, he really got into it! The most in-depth piece of research we did was to buy Lonely Planet’s guide to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. We purposely avoided finding out too much in order to fuel our curiosity and our belief that this would either be the ‘best, or worst holiday ever’. Jim told his Lithuanian work friend that we were going to visit her homeland, and her response was ‘WHY?!’ After Jim explained that it was basically due to geographical ignorance, she shook her head and gave him a dire warning not to eat potato dumpling. Mysterious!

The beginning of our trip was marred for me by receiving a phonecall just before the plane started taxiing, informing me that I hadn’t been successful in a job interview I’d done that morning. Argh! Again, it was one of those ones where I had done really well, they were tossing up between me and another person…and in the end the other person had answered the questions better. It was a Youth Offenders role and, more so than after any other interview I’ve done, I was gutted I didn’t get it. For the first time after one of those calls, I cried. I cried, in fact, for the entire duration of our flight to Vilnius. I just had time at the end to calm down and have a glass of red wine before landing. Personally I wouldn’t have served me alcohol, but I guess Ryanair are pretty despo for cash. In the end I’m glad I ‘got it all out’ as I was able to compartmentalise everything and leave it behind when we got off the plane. No sooner had we landed than I was hungrily exploring everything exciting and alien.

The gaggle of men waiting with single red roses for their sweethearts in Arrivals gave me a good first impression. The building also gave us a taste of the Baroque architecture to come, with peach walls and stucco decorations lining the numerous archways we walked through to get to the exit and the taxi rank beyond. I think a vital part of visiting a country is catching a cab. If you manage to communicate where you’re going and finish your journey without being ripped off or getting into an argument, you’re all good. If you manage to have a little conversation, even better! Too far the other way is just as bad though. If there’s anything worse than a ‘chatter’ in your own language, it’s a chatter in one that you can’t understand. Our dude was a guy whose stern demeanour, sharp haircut and high cheekbones made him look exactly like a Bond villain. He was slightly bemused when I said ‘Hello’ and showed him my iPhone with our hostel’s address on the screen. He said something confirmatory in Lithuanian and moved to get into the car, but first I had to ask whether he would turn on the meter. After some wild gesturing suggesting numbers rolling over (similar to the one for ‘travel’ in basketball or netball), repetitions of the word ‘meter’ and several emphatic points towards the centre console of the car, he nodded and we all climbed in. To my relief he turned it on.

We stayed at Down Town Market Bed & Breakfast just outside the Old Town borders, close to the bus and train stations. I loved the old wooden doors that opened up to the dark creaky staircase, with sensor lights that only came on after you had tentatively edged your way up a few steps. Our stay in a double room with ensuite was really comfortable, and as there was no communal dining area they brought breakfast to our room. Great coffee! Although it was late when we arrived we ventured out for a cheeky stroll to get an idea of Vilnius’ scale. It was wonderfully creepy not knowing whether you were on the right or wrong side of the tracks, a feeling that was intensified outside the Old Town by several abandoned/ruined buildings with gaping holes leading to their pitch black cellars. Mega spooky. We ended up at a very cool looking indie bar attached to the contemporary art museum. Typical. Although we could see hints of columned buildings around the corner, we decided we’d come far enough and contented ourselves sitting in the dark drinking box wine and realising how hot everyone is in Lithuania. On the way back we came across lots of cosily lit wine bars and restaurants that we promised ourselves we’d come back to and never did. The next day we stumbled across the absolutely breathtaking Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which was stripped back to its bare bones and in a state of (dis)repair. It didn’t look like much from the outside, but I’ve never walked into a place with such stark beauty…the dust in the air capturing the light flooding in through the windows and a simple crucifix hanging above the altar in a style I’d never seen. The kind of testament to faith that makes even an undecided agnostic want to believe in something bigger than themselves.

We decided that as we’d had a gasp-worthy church experience (that stupidly didn’t even rate highly on Lonely Planet’s guide), we didn’t need to seek out any more. Instead, we found the fantastic underground cellar bar Bambalyne, whose advert Jim spied on the edge of our run-of-the-mill map provided by the hostel. What a find! They boasted 88 different DELICIOUS Lithuanian beers and it was quiet enough to be intimate but popular enough to have atmosphere. And the beer was DELICIOUS. An afternoon nap saw us sober up enough to head out for dinner. A friend I met in Lisbon recommended checking out a neighbourhood called Užupis…which has actually declared itself an independent state. They even have a manifesto! The history is too much to go into here, but we had a great time looking around despite it pouring with rain. We had a delicious porky feast at a restaurant there, which was hilarious because of the meat-fatigue it caused and the fact that the power kept cutting out. We got back late, soaked, but happy.

Užupis

Slightly sore-headed the next morning, it was time to catch our train to Klaipėda, to be followed by ferry and bus to Nida. Where Vilnius is in Eastern Lithuania, Nida is on the far West coast, at the far end of a glorified sandbar called the Curonian Spit. Although our departure was fraught with Jim’s ‘being early anxiety’, and we somehow got those seats on the train that don’t actually match up to any windows when I had daydreamed about inspecting Lithuania as we clickety clacked through, we were still in high spirits when we arrived in Klaipėda 6 hours later. After an awesome lunch including pig’s ears, herring and pickles, we boarded the ferry over to Smiltyne. The ferry was as disappointingly unromantic and practical as they always turn out to be. On the hour or so bus trip from Smiltyne to Nida the fatigue finally kicked in and we slept like logs as we were propelled through the pine forest. Thankfully Hotel Jurate (which I think means ‘mermaid’) was smack bang opposite the bus stop and we were able to fall straight into bed. The building had another use in Soviet times and one of the remnants is the super stylish glitter cement on the corridor walls.

Glitter cement in Hotel Jurate

We roused ourselves about an hour before sunset and took a stroll along the concrete promenade. Pretty little houses and stalls selling amber clashed with the huge bar/restaurant on the pier spewing forth Eurovision-worthy pop. Ahhh, the serenity. Luckily we found a nice beer garden upwind with a view of the gorgeous ‘Golden Dune’, which sloped steeply down to where its extreme angle met the sea. I was particularly in awe because it reminded me of a recurring dream I have that involves me fleeing from a tidal wave up a loose, sliding, steep-as-hell sand dune at an agonisingly slow pace. There are always other people struggling alongside me. Sometimes I make it, sometimes I don’t. Always the dread is worse than the submersion. A few years ago my friend El and I realised that we were having the same recurring dream…weird! While in Morocco a few years ago I had the experience of trying to run up a huge sand dune in the Sahara, and it was hard…real hard. Terrifying. Anyway…the beer garden had several racks of smoked fish that the area is known for, and the smell from the smoking ovens was mouth-watering despite the fish looking like something from Saw. We sat on beanbags in the fading light and ate a plump, juicy smoked mackerel with crusty bread Ahhh, sweeeet.

Smoked fish in Nida

Looking back I wish we’d bought more amber from Lithuania…funny how you take things for granted when it’s available by the truckload in whatever country you’re in. But really, who wouldn’t want a piece of ancient amber with an ant stuck inside?! That’d be one to show the Grandkids. I have to go back! We got an early night, prompted by the only English channel switching to Playboy at 10pm. WTF?! Breakfast in the hall the next day felt a bit like a communist The Shining, but again the coffee was delicious. After the lady in the tourist office laughed in our face when we said we wanted to see elk, we caught the bus to nearby Juodkrante, walking a couple of kilometres out of town to see the slightly less exciting largest heron/cormorant colony in Europe….oooo! Upon first sighting we were a little underwhelmed, but after a while the sheer breadth of it was quite impressive. On the walk back to town we decided to duck into one of the overgrown dirt tracks leading into the pine forest. I knew the spit was only 1.5km wide at that point so even though it got a bit spooky we decided to keep going to see the Baltic Sea. I kept an eye peeled for elk, but alas the closest we got to fauna was seeing a slow worm that a Lithuanian Granny was showing some kids. When we reached the beach we thought it was odd and kind of stupid that people were picnicking on the black dirt on the side of the dunes NOT facing the beach, but as soon as we reached the crest we realised why. The wind howled and whipped the sand into our legs to the point where broken skin was feared. However, we couldn’t just leave without dipping our toes into the infamous sea – ‘Man it’s freezing!’…’Yeah, Baltic!’ – so down we ran to the water’s edge. As predicted it was pretty damned cold, and to add to the horror, when I tried to collect some of the brown rocks at the tideline I realised they were BUGS. A whole beach of bugs…sand made of bugs flying in our faces! Grrossss! After taking some parting snaps we left the crazy Eastern Europeans to continue freezing their bollocks off in the water, found our way back through the forest trying desperately to see some elk, before getting the bus back to Nida.

We’re all going on a…summer holiday?!

Our last night in Nida was spent pigging out on cheese, ham, bread and wine in our hotel room while the weather took a turn for the worse outside. That’s enough for now…more next time!

Summer

As I sit here on my crisp white sheets, bright hot sunlight pouring in through the window onto the pink peonies my new housemate brought home for me, it’s hard to imagine that the last 6 months have been so grim. I feel like I’ve surfaced from underneath grimy bathwater in a sharehouse tub; the weather having the same affect on my outlook on life as it does on the London streets that in the sunlight look cleaner, longer, wider, and invite you to look up rather than down at your (wet) feet.

This ‘Blah’ period started back in January when Jim and I touched down in London after our 6 week amazeballs holiday to Singapore, New Zealand and Australia. Leaving the warmth, love and cuddles with the mini versions of my friends that had sprouted in Perth made the sting of the London chill even harder to handle. Still, Jim and I instagrammed the shit out of our huge jumpers and laughed about what a shock our bodies were going through transitioning from temperatures upwards of 40 degrees (Celsius), to subzero, ear-biting, nipple-hardening conditions (even through layers and layers of clothing – what’s with that?!).We even looked forward to the prospect of snow, since it’s still a novelty for me and really, who doesn’t like snow? I decided to try my hand at reviewing some of the exhibitions, films and theatre productions I have the great privilege to see on a regular basis, and my new goal solidified in my mind – finding a permanent job.

I enjoyed the fact that I had a couple of days off before returning to my contract work. In fact, if I had gone back the day after we returned, I probably would have died when a helicopter crashed into our street after colliding with a crane atop a high-rise building. It hit the ground at 8am, the exact time I would have been walking to the tube and passing the usual people, considering saying ‘Hi’ and not doing it. I heard it happen and at first thought the strange metallic boom was a piece of metal falling off a truck, or even worse, a piece of infrastructure falling off the railway lines that pass overhead near the crash. Then the sirens started, more kept arriving, and the traffic stopped flowing past my window. I dragged myself out of bed in curiosity and looked in amazement at the fireball burning a couple of blocks from my window. In the next couple of days it was announced that two people had died – the pilot and one pedestrian. People told stories about how they had seen the helicopter catapulting towards them and had run for their lives, narrowly avoiding death. The main footage used by the BBC was shot by my friend’s boyfriend who had been knocked off his bike by the impact. I wondered who the victim could have been, and worried in particular that it had been the bin man. On the way home from my first day back at work, I opened the Evening Standard on a busy Hammersmith and City Line train and saw the face of a man I walked past on my early starts. He was notable for his neat beard and for being morbidly obese. As the article explained that everyone who knew him thought he was a fantastic guy, I tried not to cry. I started to wonder what the point of everything was – one minute you’re walking to work, the next you’re burning to death in a pool of aviation fuel. I realised that, like the survivors, he may have seen the helicopter coming but had been unable to run away because of his size.

After the road opened up again I walked to work every day as usual, except this time through the charred remnants of the crash and the photos of the victims pinned to the buildings’ temporary walls. I diligently avoided the mysterious blackened circle on the foothpath. The crane was slowly rebuilt as every day I ducked and weaved my way through commuters into the tube. There’s something about the Underground that can really grind you down if you’re not particularly sure about your decision to be in London. I remember cramming myself into a carriage, feet barely touching the floor, the train trundling forth while everyone desperately tried to block out their surroundings with kindles, phones or bad morning papers. I was face to face with a glum (as in actual upside-down-smile) looking woman in a grey pant suit wearing ill-fitting Apple earphones that loudly blared Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go by Wham! The juxtaposition between that catchy 80s party fave and the picture of abject human misery before me made me want to either burst into tears or peals of laughter. I found out that day that my so-called accountants had been acting dodgy and had fucked off back to Australia. This meant that a) I had a massive tax debt, b)  my finances were an incomprehensible mess that I had to find another accountant to take on and c) a few of my friends were in the same boat. Great.

A few weeks after the helicopter crash, a 16 year old ex-student of one of the secondary schools I work at was stabbed to death in a street near the school in the middle of the day. I didn’t know him, but the thought of that happening to one of the kids I work with and just the fact that it happened at all made me feel sick. Some of the students put up a poster of the boy in the corridor and I couldn’t help but look into his eyes every time I walked past. There is evidence that youth offenders and people getting excluded from school largely have undiagnosed speech, language and communication needs. Obviously it’s not the only reason that kids have behavioural, emotional and social difficulties, but it’s been established that people with trouble communicating are at a higher risk for those kind of things. For a while I was looking at the young kids I work with and wondering What’s going to happen to you? I felt a bit helpless. To round it all off, Jim came home one day and told me that a lady in his office had gone down to the basement, locked herself in a rarely used disabled toilet and killed herself. My usual resilience and ability to deal with crappy things was on the verge of disappearing. One day I looked out of my kitchen window and thought Fuck this God forsaken place. I flagged with my Doctor that I wasn’t feeling the best.

Obviously some good things must have happened during that period, but misery breeds misery and my frame of mind only allowed me to see the shit. I suppose I went into survival mode, just keeping my head down and focusing on one thing at a time. Which was scarily similar to the state I was in before I left Perth. Our prolonged winter didn’t help at all – icy winds from Russia combining with grey skies sent from on high to irritate and oppress. I wrote a few pieces and waited to become the next famous blogger in London, which would obviously cure my existential funk. I went for a couple of job interviews and despite getting good feedback and gaining enough points to get the jobs, ONE OTHER PERSON would do better than me and get them. Inconceivable! I realised that up until now – all the way through high school, university and my early career (thinking about it, probably back to primary school as well), things have always come easily to me. I achieved academically whilst distracting everyone around me and misbehaving. I did well at Uni without having to try too hard and I had never, ever been turned down for a job. How things had changed since I bragged about how easy London was for me. What a naive, patronising twat.

Slowly the days got longer and the layers of clothing required to step outside grew less and less. Gradually my usual frame of mind crept back – I decided to see the position I was in regarding my career as a lesson to be learnt – instead of avoiding challenges and coasting along at a B+ level, I had to lift my game and learn perseverance and patience. On the surface I had assumed that as soon as I wanted something I would get it…though I guess deep down I had always worried that if I tried for something I really really wanted and didn’t get it that it would break me. I guess that happened on a lesser scale, but despite being rattled I was OK. And what’s more, I realised that everyone else had similar things happen to them after living in London for any period of time, and you just have to suck it up, get over yourself and get on with it. It still hurts not getting something, but it just makes me want it more and makes me try even harder. I want to do anything I can to stop kids in London going down that horrible path to crime and substance abuse, even if sometimes it’s hard. I want to dedicate myself to them and make sure they’re alright. Jim and I have finally moved in together and now instead of Sainsburys and a main arterial road, I open my window to the sounds of birds singing in the garden and kids laughing over the fence (it hasn’t gone all gross and suburban though – we’re still in Zone 2!). I understand tax better and am with some great accountants, and have finally paid off my debts. Importantly (for me) I have been on a couple of holidays, one of which I will be writing about soon. I’m writing again because it’s for me and I love it, rather than wanting to grab the attention of anyone in particular. Instead of taking the sunshine for granted I love and revel in it like other Londoners and keep in mind how different things can look in the grey. I’ll keep applying for permanent supervisory roles and when I get one I’ll appreciate it so much more. Things aren’t perfect but they’re OK and I feel like I’ll be better mentally prepared when winter rolls around again. Phew.

 

It’s all about the cash… or is it?

My contract at work fnished on the 18th of July. Not that you’d have known it, since I was there until the end of the day on the 20th and also went in to do more after an angsty first week off. The NHS Trust I was working for used to employ locums (contract workers) like me over the holidays to get their masses of paperwork done, as locums receive exactly the same workload as permanent staff members (who are able to work through the holidays to catch up on everything). Unfortunately because of the recent cuts to the NHS locums are no longer funded to do this and when the changes were introduced a bevy of locums ‘stood up and left’. Stories abound of locums having near panic-attacks trying to get everything finished or, doing as one lady did and simply thinking ‘fuck this’… walking away leaving huge amounts unfinished and unfuriating everyone. Not to mention putting their registration with the Health Professions Council at risk. Will they ever get employed by the NHS again? Probably not. I was their longest serving locum this year, lasting three school terms. Because it was the end of the UK school year, there was a far higher volume of paperwork to do than in previous terms and the lovely South African lady who was contracting alongside me was working long into the night and over entire weekends. I, on the other hand, could not manage such long hours at a desk and ended up working three (unpaid) days after my contract ended to get (almost) everything finished. Am I slightly bitter? Yes. Is there a healthy dose of self-loathing when I ponder my inefficiencies during the term? Yes, but if I had done things differently it only would have only meant that I had to work an extra two days instead of three.

Anyway, that’s the long and short of it. I’m currently trying to find another contract to start in September and have registered with another agency to increase my options. I have been offered the same NHS contract that I just whinged about and have managed to negotiate a higher rate of pay (from the pockets of my agency, not the NHS Trust), however I am not sure if I will sign it. If I can find another, more appealing job before the end of next week I would prefer to take it.

This summer I have had to think about the future for the first time in roughly two years, planning out what I intend to do for the long term as opposed to just living from one contract to the next. Until now it’s been completely acceptable in my mind to work for the sake of going on the next holiday, living a lifestyle I enjoy, leaving the future for another time. It also means that I haven’t gotten too deeply involved with work; the convenient thing about working as a contractor is that you don’t tend to align your ego and self-worth with your performance and office politics. In one sense, for me at least, it means I do a better job. The pressure that comes with identifying yourself through your work on an ongoing basis is sometimes too much for me to take to the point where it’s paralysing. On the other hand though, it means that you don’t progress professionally and you don’t get the same benefits as a permanent staff member, some of which I mentioned above. I have gotten very good at doing short bursts of impressive work, thinking of it as something that lines my purse, and walking away with a good reference.

As my roots here grow deeper, so too does my desire to be permanent, to be recognised professionally in more than a ‘You’re a good locum, here’s your contract back for another term’ sense. I want to progress, be senior, supervise others, go to training, deliver training, be able to have some… I can’t believe I’m about to say this… JOB SECURITY (eep). Once again I’m at a crossroads. Am I someone ‘permanent?’ Or am I by nature transient, temporary? Never have I been so happy as when I’ve earnt money, blown money and moved on. But does that make a life? Is it just a social construct that’s telling me to look for something that sticks, to push myself for that hard-to-get neurology job, to not just keep on doing what comes easy and where people don’t ask too many questions? Is it biological, do I want to make a nest? Am I bored, lazy? Most of all, why can’t I just get on and do something without asking myself all of these questions? Most people just get on with it and work fulltime without asking too many questions. But if I don’t have to, why should I?

Variety is the spice of my life, and the repetition and drudgery of full-time work is a massive downer, a pile of stodgy mashed potatoes in comparison to the flavoursome feast that has been my life for the past two years. But to stride around in a hospital doing excellent neurology work is what I want, and getting that through being a paediatric community locum is unlikely. So many figs, which one to choose?

 

The one year mark

I can’t believe it’s been over three months since my last entry… very shabby effort indeed. I guess I’ve gotten into a routine and have been working fulltime in a job that leaves me exhausted at the end of the day.  However! I am now on school holidays and have had plenty of time to a) sit around and do nothing and b) do things that I enjoy.

So, not long after posting my last entry (in which I announced how great everything was and how rich my life is here), I got hit by a wave of homesickness that lasted around a week and a half. It was quite strange as I’d never felt homesick before…and there wasn’t one particular thing I was missing. I guess I just felt lonely and was lacking the company that I’m so used to having at home. I come from a place where there is probably one degree of separation between everyone aged 20 to 35. For a while I’ve seen that as a negative thing… and in some ways I still do. But  I’m beginning to realise how special that is and how lucky I’ve been over the past 10 years. Conversely, my desire to move back has virtually disppeared. It’s quite confusing. I have a couple of friends that have permanently moved away from Perth and return for extended visits every now and then. I always suspected it was a bit hard for them, and I’m beginning to grasp how bizarre it would be to return and have things essentially unchanged on the surface, but for dynamics to have shifted enough so as to be quite alien to you. I guess if you love a place and the people in it, even though you don’t want to live there, you go back and have a good time and deal with any weirdness. Having always been the person based in Perth welcoming back so many visiting emmigrants, I know that when I return I’ll be dealing with my friends  being excited initially and then it being like I never left. Again… both a good and a bad thing.

There are so many things to say about my life in London… I suppose one way to look at it is through the infallible opinions of Kelly (Deborah Mailman) from the Australian TV series The Secret Life Of Us (circa early 2000s). It was supposed that a person in their mid-20s should have the TRIFECTA; if you have happiness in your work life, home life and love life then you have achieved a trinity guaranteeing satisfaction. My work life is positive overall… I work as a sole Speech Therapist most of the time and can feel a bit professionally isolated. I’m aware that I am not getting the same Professional Development opportunities or admin time that I would as a permanent staff member. On the other hand, I have been working in schools for 7 years now and this job allows me enough autopilot ‘I know what I’m doing’ confidence whilst casting up enough challenges to keep me learning. For the last term and a half I’ve worked in a secondary school as well as in a couple of primary schools, and I’ve really enjoyed it. I am interested in the prospect of working with adolescents in the future now (particularly the inner-city, highly multicultural population of the past 6 months), and perhaps even getting involved with youth counselling/pastoral care. I do a lot of paperwork (can’t escape the fucking paperwork), but I work hard, I get paid pretty well, so I have a comfortable life here.

I’m living in a light, airy and spacious two-bedroom apartment in Vauxhall which is immediately south of the Thames and therefore in Zone 1…hurray! My housemate is lovely, I live opposite a massive Sainsbury’s and I use the huge kitchen to cook a lot more than I ever have. I finally have a room that feels homely to me and  I can take my time to decorate it, knowing that I’ll be here for a while (well, if my 6 month lease gets extended past June). Finally, I have been with a lovely guy called Jim for the past 4 months, which has made my time in London all the more special. So, for the moment, the trifecta is complete! Though I would argue that there is more to life than those three areas… I have been making friends slowly but surely, and trying to recognise and do the things that make me happy. It would be a shame to be living in this amazing city and not be taking advantage of all the opportunities here. It is sometimes all too easy to fall back into old, unproductive habits and behaviours and I had to remind myself to be proactive during that malaise of homesickness a few weeks back.

I’ve sort of given up on writing the Portugal diaries at the moment, just to keep up with what’s been going on lately! I’ll try to summarise some of the fun things I’ve done over the past few months:

 

Cute store in Reykjavik

ICELAND! A friend from work, one of her buddies and I went to Iceland for 4 days in February. We stayed in a 4 star apartment in the city of Reykjavik, and huddled our way through the coldest weather any of us had ever faced. I was able to fulfill all of my winter wonderland fantasies in the beautiful snow. We went husky riding, did the Golden Circle Tour, walked around the picturesque city with loads of cool design and fashion stores, and of course went out looking for the Northern Lights. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see them, but we agreed that it just strengthened our resolve to get out there and see them one day, maybe even from somewhere in the Arctic Circle! It was good to get to spend some more time with new friends and see a place that is like no other. I also ate whale, and puffin, so also feel a bit guilty as well as happy when I reminisce… which is sort of standard for me anyway.

 

Huskies!
Geysir
Walking north to Sacre Coeur

Another month, another holiday! Towards the end of March I caught the Eurostar to PARIS to meet Jim for a few days. He had just finished attending a conference and I wanted to take full advantage of a romantical holiday. So, I searched and searched and found one of the hottest boutique hotels in Paris – Hotel Amour. Just to give you some examples of its chic nature, check out this tittilating calendar and the New York Times write-up. We had a great time, wandering around the city in GORGEOUS weather, not pressured by sight-seeing requirements as we had both been there before, and revelling in some straight-up hipster douchebaggery with our Lomo cameras. We ate well, drank well (with probably the best bottle of Bordeaux I’ve ever tasted, a 1999 vintage) and enjoyed ourselves immensely. Check out some Lomokino videos here and here on Jim’s Flickr.

 

Me innit
Our subtle hotel room

 

Shaun in the red light district

Lastly, I went to Amsterdam for a few days last week to visit my friend Shaun, who has been studying in the Netherlands for the last 2 years. It was his girlfriend Alice’s birthday and she had just returned from Italy the day before I arrived bearing kilos upon kilos of delicious food. The weekend was full of partying, eating, drinking, gawking at red-lit windows and of course, a tiny bit of coffee shop smoking. I got a good insider’s view of the city as well as doing some touristy things. I only had one near miss with a tram and only came close to rolling my borrowed bike into a canal once… which I thought was pretty good! Being in a big group of Shaun and Alice’s European friends was so refreshing and reminded me how much I love meeting new people, something I need to focus on more in London.

 

Canal loveliness
Rooftop salami
I have very vague memories of this.. in front of the Eye Film Institute

Last but not least, here are three of my favourite fun things I’ve done in London recently:

– The Lucian Freud Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Amazing.

– A Taste of Creative Writing, a one-day course at CityLit, hopefully my new London hang-out zone (did I just say ‘hang out zone’?).

– Swamp Juice – a play that sold out continuously in Edinburgh last year and is now having a run at Soho Theatre. A wonder-filled funful performance.

Beaut.