I am no Joan Didion, but lately I have been thinking about her 1961 essay on self-respect. I came across it while watching the recent documentary of her life: The Center Will Not Hold, shortly after arriving in Perth and finding myself awake in the early hours of the morning. I was feeling shit from screwing up an interview for a permanent job two days before I left London. I knew I wasn’t doing as well as I should have halfway through the ordeal – I had entered that purely terrifying state of anxiety wherein nothing you say makes any sense and the more you talk, the more you exit your body to look upon yourself with a sense of horror. Typically, as soon as I left the room I pored over all my omissions and realised what answers they had expected me to provide. What made things worse was that the job was at a lower banding than I had been working at for the last 4 years – I had decided to take a cut in my pay and my status because I enjoyed the job and the NHS Trust so much (I had been working in the role as a temporary staff member for a few months preceding the application). My fears were confirmed a couple of days later when I was told I hadn’t been successful at securing the position.

That’s it, I thought. Your life went off track in 2016 and it’s never coming back. You’d better look for another career because you clearly suck at this one.You think you’ve made all this personal progress over the last year but you haven’t gone anywhere. You can’t even get a job below the level that you’re apparently supposed to be. You should never have even been at that level. You don’t care enough. You’re lazy. You need to stop this now. You haven’t been suffering from Imposter Syndrome. You’re a genuine fraud. 

The thought of going back to the office when I returned from Australia and having to face all the people who expected me to get the position crippled me. I sent an email to my boss apologising for letting her down. Which is pretty embarrassing. The paralysis of shame was, in a way, comforting because it felt so familiar.

And then… something changed. I think I had a moment where I looked in the mirror and thought Well, so fucking what. What is this compared to the other shit you’ve dealt with? Maybe I’m not supposed to be a Speech and Language Therapist anymore. It’s not because I’m not smart or lack the aptitude. Maybe I’m just not as interested anymore. It’s been 12 years, that would be completely understandable. Or maybe I was so consumed by anxiety in the interview because I was daring to go for a job I would actually really, really enjoy. Perhaps I am so used to applying for higher banded jobs that I wasn’t sure how to pitch myself and forgot to mention the basic things that I do on a day to day basis. Maybe it was this, maybe it was that. The point is, it can’t be anything too terrible, because I’m not terrible. It’s OK, I fucked up on the day and I forgive myself; the journey continues. It felt so good to speak to myself kindly. I had a cry to my Mum, but then I said the words I needed to hear to myself instead of turning to a partner, or over-burdening my friends. That might not sound like a big deal to most people, but it was to me.

As Joan Didion said, it is a myth that having self-respect – an intrinsic knowledge of one’s own self-worth – will keep one “out of strange beds, ambivalent conversations, and trouble in general.” It won’t. But it will determine whether you have the resilience and responsibility to look at these situations square in the face and make, in essence, a measured appraisal of your part. Self-respect is having a strong self-image rather than desperately trying to live out the roles and expectations that other people have assigned to you. Joan thought of it as a discipline that can be trained, and though I am still a fair way off presenting myself to certain people as I truly am (a flawed, imperfect human being with my own needs), I am a hell of a lot closer than I was a year ago, when my opinions of myself were based solely on how others saw me and the first thing I said to my therapist was “I have no idea who I am.” I have walked that “devastatingly well-lit back alley where one keeps assignations with oneself” and I have learnt that unlike in my youth, doors will not magically open for me without hard work, I am no more lucky in love than anyone else, and sometimes I will fuck up things that mean a lot to me. I will lose things. People will leave. I will let others cross my boundaries and I will give them too much. I may not even be a very good person sometimes. But there is now an acceptance of myself running through my very core that not many external situations could shake. I fucking respect myself.

Oh yeah and a few weeks later, my work emailed me to say they’d had a change of circumstance and offered me the job. Pffffft.




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.


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.


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!


Gosh, it seems like a lot longer than 3 months since I wrote my last blog post. I thought about just ending it there, as everything seemed to have come full circle, and I’d achieved everything I’d set out to do when I first started this. I can remember writing my first entry at my parents’ computer a few days before I left Perth (for what was supposed to be 10 months), feeling excited but scared and wondering what was going to happen. I had so many questions about myself and life that I wanted answered, and really, when I think about it, most of those particular questions have been answered. Win! So no need to write anymore, right? That’s a wrap. Plus, the other day I read a column in the paper (an actually respectable paper with no boobs on the third page), about the trend of blogging: everyone’s a writer and no one’s a ‘reader’. The journalist quoted some statistics about the number of blogs that exist versus the number that are actually read. She reiterated the familiar point of view that attention spans are devolving and we’re lucky if people bother to read anything beyond the 140 characters allowed to us in a ‘tweet’. She made a kind of assumption that because of those statistics, the people who were producing the excess writing weren’t consuming any writing. She wrapped up the article by urging people to read rather than produce, and praised the reader of her own piece by labelling them ‘national treasures’ for bothering to read to the end. A nice bit of condescension there. So that was all a bit… concerning.

But as one of my friends is fond of saying, life isn’t a movie with a clear beginning, middle and end. Yes, I found what I was looking for. Does that mean life stops asking questions? Of course not! And yes, perhaps people are producing more. Perhaps some of it is rubbish. But some of it is good! There are so many stories out there. Who decides what’s rubbish anyway? Through my work as a Speech and Language Therapist, particularly in inner-city London, I’ve come to value my level of literacy, I enjoy it; I want to celebrate it! Clearly people are producing more written work, because we’re all humans who want to create and connect with people. Does it matter if people read it or not? I think because blogs are intertwined with social media, and most blog sites now tell you how many visits you’ve had, what starts off as a personal project for your own satisfaction becomes a search for external validation of your writing skills/experiences or whatever.

Recently I put some of my old drawings up on facebook. I deliberated for a long time before doing it, just as I’ve deliberated for a long time about continuing this blog. I enjoyed producing them, I enjoy looking at them privately. So why put them up? I guess ‘art’ has always been displayed and as long as you strike a balance between wanting to produce things for your own satisfaction, because you enjoy it, and gaining some sort of validation from people viewing it, then that’s fine. Previously people’s art would have had to pass some kind of standard to be viewed by an audience, and now anyone’s old shit is out there (including mine). I suppose if you don’t claim to be an expert, it’s all good?! Who knows.

So here is my non-expert drawing of Jim that I did on the plane, what I am pretty proud of.

Moving on… in the last few months of last year I went on a couple of great holidays.

I have to admit, I wasn’t feeling overly excited in the lead-up to my trip to Croatia #firstworldproblems. I had foolishly booked an 8-day holiday a couple of weeks into the September school term, which (as well as the previous term’s paperwork panic) had led me to worry about my contract being renewed. In fact, I had all but resigned myself to job-hunting for a position that was non-reliant on the structure of the UK education system and seeing it as as a positive that I was sort of pushed into aiming for hospital work. I had even told my agent that I didn’t really want her to put me forward for the position again. But… when my agent called and said that my previous workplace had asked for me again, I considered returning… but only if my agency upped my pay. Which they did! So here I am, another two terms under my belt, meaning I’ve been there for over a year. Hurrah! They’ve made some major changes to the way they carry out their services which means I actually have time to do admin during the day and I feel far more effective than before. Ergo, I am way less stressed than at the end of July, it’s great. The upshot is that enjoying my days and having time to do my job properly means I’m valuing my professional self and what I do far more. It’s no secret that locums get given the ‘difficult’ schools that the permanent staff don’t want, and I feel like I’ve taken some pretty hard schools to work in and done a reasonable job. Job satisfaction… what a pleasing, alien state!

Anyway… Croatia! After working like a madwoman and being exposed to all of the disgusting lergies carried by hordes of mucous-filled children, I was exhausted and sick (actually becoming one of those people who just dose up on pseudoephedrine and run around London like wired zombies because they just ‘have to get this done’). The last thing I wanted to do was then partake in organised fun for over a week (me and a friend had signed up to a TravelTalk sailing tour). In fact, if I weren’t going to let down my friend I would have cancelled. I’m so glad I didn’t! As soon as the sun hit my face and the sea air filled my lungs I felt like my usual self again… in fact way better than my usual self. It made me all the more excited about basking in the sun in new Zealand and Australia over Christmas. On the beautiful deep blue Adriatic Sea, we visited Split, Hvar, Dubrovnik, Lumbarda, Korcula, Makarska and Brac. I loved Croatia, and feel so  lucky to have visited before it joins the EU. Its cities are paved in marble with gorgeous buildings and its history is proud and rich. It was the little, ‘untouched’ (except by hordes of English, Aussie and NZ tourists of course) places that really charmed me and formed the most lasting memories.

Docked in Brac, I decided that alone time and exercise were needed (not to mention giving my liver a break). Instead of turning left towards the tourist markets and the harbour, I forked right to some lonely looking basketball courtsl. After sitting on a bench in the shade, eating chips and writing postcards, I put on my hat and wandered off into the neighbourhood. Beautiful stone houses sat nestled into the hillside overlooking the cathedral and the shimmering bay. Overgrown cobbled pathways wound in between them, creating quiet corners that seemed hundreds of years old. I found myself climbing upwards, always choosing the incline over the decline, and soon I had to make a choice – run through a swarm of hornets to continue to the top, or turn backwards. Repeating the phrase ‘they won’t bother me if I don’t bother them’ repeatedly in my head, I ran through the hornets, totally bothering them. Emerging unscathed and trying not to think about what would happen if, typically, I got stung and died of anaphylactic shock on a lonely Croatian hillside, I kept going ’til I reached the top…whereupon I was greeted by this sight…

“Holy fuck” I thought. A fig tree! Figs galore! Figs ahoy (particularly apt as I was travelling on a boat)! Whether it was fate, ‘God’ or whatever that led me there I didn’t care… all I knew was that a beautiful fig tree growing out on a crumbling wall on a sunny day, with some handy steps thrown in for good measure, said ‘Sit here and contemplate’.

So I did. About which figs I’d chosen in regards to work and love. The main thing I came away with was this: I’m not a squirrel. I’m not even a human who’s good at climbing trees; I’m a clumsy human with no upper body strength. That is, once I’ve somehow managed to pick a fig I need to climb down, sit under the tree and eat it. If I try to pick too many I’ll drop them, squish them or end up on the ground myself. I used to say I could have all the figs… and I guess you can, just not all at once. And that’s the way I like it – because luckily I’ve chosen some damned delicious figs.

Next time… Berlin!

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.


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.