Bucket List

I’ve moved back to London and I still haven’t decided whether to go back to Perth for good at the end of the year, or just for a couple of months to celebrate my brother’s wedding. I kind of thought that being back in Perth would help me decide once and for all, and I thought it had, but when I got back to London I’ve become all confused again. The problem is that both options are good! I’ve got the ridiculous privilege of being able to live for as long as I like in two first world countries, and of course it’s the case that when I’m in Perth I feel like I want to stay in Perth, and when I’m in London I feel like I want to stay in London. I watched a TED Talk once about making decisions and upshot of it was that when two options are both objectively, quantifiably good, then the decision has to be made in terms of how each one relates to your identity. Which opens up a whole other can of beans! So, I’ve decided to live as though I might be leaving London for good sometime before November. And put off the decision until…sometime, later…

Obviously when you live in a place for going on 6 years, you start to take it for granted. You go to and from work, and if you’re me, you accept invitations to things other people have organised often enough that you’re busy and drunk enough to stave off any alarming (but necessary) introspection. You have so many proactive friends, that you change over time, from someone who used to actively pursue experiences that made you happy, to a passive participant in other people’s plans.

No more! I am the protagonist in my own life! she internally screamed as she bought a $30 notebook with BUCKET LIST embossed in gold on the front cover. If not now, when? resonated the tag line within her bones, bones whose age fell perfectly within kikki.K’s target demographic.

So far on the list (the G – M15+ rated ones):

  • Eat dinner at Dans le Noir
  • Go on the London Eye
  • Eat at The Ivy
  • Visit Stone Henge
  • Visit Bath
  • See the white cliffs of Dover
  • See a stag beetle
  • Hold a hedgehog
  • Visit 2 – 3 Eastern European countries
  • Feel in love with my room
  • Lose 5kg
  • Organise a night out and be the one ‘in the lead’ – navigate!
  • Do an oil painting
  • Visit the Tower of London
  • See the changing of the guard
  • See a show at The Globe
  • Go punting
  • Visit the Zoo
  • Flip the bird at Tory wax figures at Madame Tussauds
  • Visit some of the hidden Roman Baths in London
  • Do a copywriting course
  • Do a TEFL course

Updates as completed and any bucket list tips welcome!

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Standing Still

I touched down in Perth almost two months ago. To be honest there is not a lot I remember about the 5 months preceding the 31st of December 2016. I have some crystal clear memories – frantically handing over my caseload to a fresh new Speech and Language Therapist, trying not to cry; power walking down the road in Seven Sisters to pick up some sleeping pills for my flight; staring up at the ceiling from the floor of my friend’s apartment on Christmas Eve; a vet tapping my dog’s eyeball to check if he is dead. The rest of it is hazy – nights wrapped up watching Now TV in my new room, staying on ‘my’ side despite there no longer being a claim on the other side of the bed. My friends’ loving and concerned faces on the opposite sides of pub tables…more nights spent on their couches or in their spare rooms, politely asking for permission to do simple things like boil the kettle or charge my phone, wishes that are of course granted but nonetheless would have warranted no such enquiry in my own nonexistent home. There are other memories too – the faces of the clients I took on in those months, the parents I met working as a nanny, the date I went on and the nice way I turned him down. The moments I could have been nasty but instead handed roses to a man while he lit me on fire. The warm faces of the family I lived with between my separation and my departure from London, making a gingerbread house with their 3 year old and watching their 1 year old son start to walk. Lying on their couch at midnight screaming into an empty house after being turned away from the couch I had previously owned; walking aimlessly around Brixton for I don’t know how many hours wearing a giant faux fur coat, holding a cardboard box with some soap and half a bottle of red wine and my dead dog’s collar and a ball he chewed before he died, crying and wishing that somebody, anybody would see me and ask me what’s wrong. Wondering why the crazy people aren’t trying to talk to me and realising that tonight, I am the crazy person, the invisible one, the one you shouldn’t make eye contact with. Someone comes up to look inside my box and walks away. It’s finally happened – I’m not going to be OK. Calling my parents at 4.50am and not forming words, crying, wailing like I have never wailed before, so much that my Mum who never cries starts crying. I take a strong sleeping pill on my flight and chase it down with a whiskey, waking up with an alarming pain in my leg and on the other side of the world.

Now I am standing still. There are no longer three jobs to do across three counties. There are no pets to look after. There is no relationship to tend, no baby to keep trying for. No house savings to add to. There are friends and family who keep me alive. And there is me, slowly coming out of survival mode and wondering where to put all of this adrenalin, these memories and this anger.

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Transition

Once again I come back to my humble blog after a long absence, like returning home to see a friend. I haven’t had the ‘voice’ for it for a while – for me it was always about being filled with wonder and excitement about the changes I was experiencing in my life, and for a long time things have been static. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, but plodding along with a settled in predictability. After going through a transformative time leaving Perth and settling in London 4 years ago (earning buttloads of cash as a locum Speech and Language Therapist and therefore travelling loads), last year I took two part-time jobs with normal salaries and began the same daily grind as most of the other people who live here.

Life is no longer a holiday; short-term hedonism has been replaced with long-term goals and sacrifices in order to land the end result – higher up the ladder, spread across more rooms and up the duff. I may not be able to go out to nice places for dinner as often as I used to, but I have jobs where people actually know who I am and where I have the same ‘rights’ (locums aren’t allowed to access training, work in the holidays or get any leave entitlements), as everyone else. I have cred, I have gravitas. I commit to things and I can wish my colleagues a happy holiday and know I will be there to see them when they get back. I have been off my anxiety and nerve pain medication for 6 months and I am managing it well because I do grown up things like exercise and meditate and do therapy and eat healthily and buy milled flaxseed.

In a way embracing long-term goals has in itself been exciting. Never before in my life have I looked further than, well…. 0 years ahead. Money was for spending on things that you wanted right then. You could just get more if you ran out. I’d never had a boyfriend where marriage and children were more than just abstract, millions-of-years-away things that happened to other people. My disdain for authority and work politics meant that I never wanted to be involved and competitive. Settling down and being earnest was for losers. Swoop in, shoot out the lights and leave. Hurricane Jill.
Now though…what’s changed now? I want children and a big fuck off house and an awesome job that gives me enough money to be able to live like a grown up. I guess this just happens naturally. I’ve lived in London for three and a half years and in the last year I have halved my income and doubled my rent to live just with my boyfriend in a flat in Zone 1 so he can commute up to Bedford and even though we are both professionals we have no money and no space and WHY DID I LEAVE AUSTRALIA WHERE I COULD BE RICH AND HAVE A 5 BEDROOM HOUSE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DESERT?! What have I done? I’ve delayed growing up and now suddenly here I am in the middle of what was supposed to be a huge adventure, grown up and in the words of Snap!, as serious as cancer. Is this a good place to be grown up? If it weren’t for my fizzling out ovaries would I be growing up? Why didn’t I save some money to freeze my eggs? Why didn’t I save any money for anything? Where are those anxiety meds again?!
So fine, if I have to be a grown up, then I will plan out our new grown up life. You want long-term plans? I will give you the most comprehensive grown up plan you’ve ever fucking seen. I will get my coil taken out in February, then we will be pregnant by April. I will finish my 3-day a week fixed term contract in June and then in July we will move to Bedford. I will keep my 2 day a week Highly Specialist job in inner-city London and get some locum work in Bedford and because the rent is 50% of the price for 400% more room we will live like a King and Queen and we’ll have enough money saved for a house in no time! Growing up is easy, I will own it like I’ve owned everything else. As soon as I want things, they happen. That’s how it’s always been.
But the thing I’ve learnt about plans is that they don’t go the way you want them to, even (especially?) if you are sticking to them with laser-like focus and an all-encompassing, scary-to-other-people rigidity. You realise that doing locum work again means that you will be the expendable person at work who is far more experienced than most people but who is as distant and invisible to the team as a satellite circling the Earth. Even though you now want responsibility, you won’t get it. Anyway, ignore that feeling. You didn’t save any money and now this is what you have to do. Suck it up. You still have that two day a week job in London.
But then you find out that you and your partner are going to have some trouble conceiving naturally. This was not in The Plan. I bought a baby shirt on sale and it’s past April. Oh well, we’ll take some vitamins and change the way we eat and make sure we exercise properly and look I’ve bought an ovulation app and there’s this fertility gel and did you know X, Y and Z had trouble and now they’re fine and if we just try enough it will be fine…then your boyfriend breaks up with you.
Oh. The Plan. The Plan has taken over everything and snuffed out the spontaneity and light. You’ve been ignoring the fact your boyfriend has feelings and you’ve been so focused on The Plan that you haven’t been listening or acknowledging anything he has to say that doesn’t support your version of the next few years. You’re still together but all of a sudden you’re in couples counselling so you can actually see each other as people. Blergh. This is why I never tried to look ahead.
So, that’s where things are at now. Trying to find a balance – a moderate path that lies somewhere between floating aimlessly through life and squandering my eggs and my place on the property ladder, and being so preoccupied with these things that I can’t enjoy my life and I secretly resent my friends for having these things when I do not. When does the easy bit of life happen?
I’ve realised that immediately before I came to London, I spent a month in Edinburgh then went on a two week Camino de Santiago through Portugal with my friend El. As I come to my final months in London, I have unconsciously and serendipitously planned the same ritual – going to Edinburgh for a couple of nights for the Fringe then going and doing a shortened version of the Camino in August with El again. I think it will be good to compare how I feel about myself and my life to last time I did these trips – my body and mind are stronger and in a lot of ways I feel I’m a much better person than I was back then. Although I have a new set of challenges and a new unknown facing me, I am once again in a state of flux and am wondering which of those figs I can actually have. This way of being is scary and uncertain with no guarantees, but somehow, I feel as though I have woken up and am relieved that life refuses to be predicted and controlled.
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig-tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions… and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig-tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest,and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
– Sylvia Plath (The Bell Jar)


Self Portrait April 2015 – put through the How Old Robot website. London has aged me 56 years.

Spornwall

It’s probably once in a lifetime that your holiday in Spain ends with your Spanish neighbour joining you on the street to help your friend contain a drunk, elderly Russian man on crutches who has pulled up outside your villa in his car. I’d say it happens once in TWO lifetimes that the neighbour is wearing only a bath towel, and once in three lifetimes that there is a handgun tucked into the back of it. Frightening enough, but what happens when your Russian friend kindly ups the ante by starting to rant about Spanish fascists? My knowledge of the Spanish civil war is limited to what I learnt from watching Pan’s Labyrinth and reading Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls, but it doesn’t take a war fact enthusiast to know that a Spanish man with a gun might get a bit pissed off at a Russian man calling him a fascist outside his own house at 2am. Our randomness rating reaches the lofty heights of once in four lifetimes when the neighbour, once satisfied with your friend’s ability to manage the Russian man, tells him he’s heard us all making noise and hands him a huge amount of weed so we can ‘keep quiet’. Jim says I happen to run into weird situations, but I never really thought he had a point until looking back on that holiday gem.

To put this into context I should tell you that at the end of July, immediately after my contract finished for the school year, I joined in on a plan hatched by my friend to hire out a villa on the Costa Blanca in Spain. Seven people originally from Perth ended up going, with people arriving and leaving at different times throughout the week. We hired a villa set into a steep and rocky hillside, with an amazing view over Pueblo Mascarat. It took around 6 hours for me to get from the airport to the villa via buses and taxis, but the long journey was worth it and I did some light exercise to help with the nerve pain caused by sitting down for hours on end. The setting was idyllic and it felt like we were starring in some holiday special of Bold and the Beautiful. The seven of us settled easily into each others’ company, despite some of us not having seen each other for  years. Some of our group still lived in Perth and were on short holidays, one of us had been living overseas for years and was quite used to catching up with transient groups of Australians passing through the UK and Europe. The rest of us were in various stages of being or becoming emigrants. After being on the move for so long and meeting lots of new people, it felt really good to be around familiar folk who you don’t have to ‘try’ with. I think because most of us seemed to be at a transitory stage of our lives, we managed to bring enough prior knowledge of each other to feel comfortable without including presumptions or rigid expectations that sometimes come with long-term friendships. We swam, drank, played games, explored, ate good food and enjoyed the sunshine; the stark landscape with its tough scrub and bright reflections reminding me of home. At the end of my four days there I was feeling more optimistic than ever about returning to Perth and seeing everyone.

Previously I mentioned that Jim was going to show me where he spent every summer as a child, and that we had already bought a car hire voucher from STA when we bought our tickets to Australia. About a week after I returned to London, we put aside 9 days to brave the wilds of Cornwall. We had a rocky start, both of us traipsing to Kings Cross from our respective homes via public transport, me laden with the camping gear not already transferred to Jim’s flat. We arrived at the car rental place only to be told that our insurance policy was a bit dodgy and that we should cancel it. Terse phonecalls ensued, my anxiety rising due to memories of paying 800 pounds excess thanks to a dented wheel arch the last time I hired a car in the UK . After all of that was sorted and I was certain that I wouldn’t pay a single pound even if I somehow managed to completely demolish the car due to my own stupidity, I stood waiting to be handed the keys. Then the man behind the counter asked for my passport. Which was in a drawer. At home. Around an hour and several tube rides later, we finally hit the road. We cleverly avoided the congestion zone and slowly and terrifyingly made our way to Jim’s house in Queens Park. We threw armfuls of CDS and the rest of the gear in the car (sans bedclothes thanks to someone!), and set off again towards the motorways. We suffered the same communication issues as any couple would when one person doesn’t drive, one person hasn’t driven in over a year and all they’re armed with is an incomplete google maps printout and an iPhone3 that is rapidly going flat. However, we managed to talk about why we were both a tad snappy using excellent ‘I feel…because…’ phrases and finally ended up barrelling down the M5, blood returning to our knuckles and jaws gradually unclenching.

Driving in central London was already a tense reintroduction to the joys of driving, but as the weather grew worse and we drove deeper into Cornwall, I was challenged anew by the narrow, winding lanes, impatient local drivers and eventually the thick fog that descended upon the claustrophobic landscape, decreasing my vision to zilch. Somehow we made it to Wadebridge alive, where Jim’s Uncle and his wife had left a home-made shepard’s pie and a bottle of french red for us on their dining room table, over which we finally unwound and realised that we were far from London. Due to the weather and the welcome insistence of Jim’s family, we extended our stay with them from two to three nights. Jim and I went on day-trips to Lanhydrock and Padstow after long breakfasts with Chris and Anne, returning in the evening after they had left for their night shifts. One of my favourite nights involved wandering down to The Swan pub after our early dinner, once again kindly provided by our hosts. We drank a bottle of Chilean Sauv Blanc and played rounds of rummy, and I FINALLY beat Jim at something, ha! On day four of our trip we bid Chris, Anne and their (literally) braindamaged cat Gandalf goodbye. Gandalf had fallen off a balcony as a kitten and as a result, moves like an unpredictable, malfunctioning rubber robot with seven legs. I am the least cat-friendly person (mostly due to being allergic), and had avoided him all the more after finding out he’s a biter. Anne loaded us up with food and wine and we set off for the southerly village of Coverack.

Jim was facing the particular problem that I’ll be facing in December – how do you recreate the nostalgic experiences that you hold so dear for someone you love? To show them the way things are done, to let them inside your past and hope that they accept it at the very least, or at best love it too? Do you try to stick to the formula and make the new fit the old, or create your own new memories on an old stomping ground? In the end I think our conclusion was to have a mix of both. It was so much fun camping again, and we had some sweet gear thanks to my friends Bi and Nick. Amazingly, another family who Jim saw every year as a child were continuing to camp there every summer, so we spent some lovely time with them as well as doing our own thing. Cornwall is such a unique and awesome place, and it was a really special trip for both of us. There’s so much to say about what we did (I literally have a whole noteboook full of things and this is long enough already), so I’ll just list my highlights:

– BBQ on the beach at sunset with Jim’s family friends and walking back to town with headtorches in the dark
– Huddling in our tent as it poured down with rain, eating freshly cooked whole crab from Cadgwith Cove
– Walking to the pub in the evening as bats swooped for insects overhead
– Feeding some horses mandarins (if horses could say WTF, these totally would have)
– Eating Roskilly’s icecream
– Watching everyone in the village have fun at the Coverack Regatta, even though we didn’t win the raffle
– Seeing Jim so happy about showing me this special place