Wednesday 29 February 2012

Read all about it

The last few weeks have been so busy that I've not only neglected my blog, I've also neglected my writing. With only two and a half chapters of my first novel left to write I had ground to something of a halt - with work being busy, selling the flat, looking at new properties, keeping on top of my volunteering commitments, learning to knit and enjoying my jollies stateside it really was a case of 'not enough hours in the day'. I also had a bit of a wallop round the face with self-doubt. A moment where my heart was in my mouth and I felt unsure. Was what I was doing any good? Was I wasting my time? Did I have false delusions of grandeur?

Suffice to say after a few weeks of reflection the answers - I think! - are yes, no and no. I have returned to the writing and planned out the remaining chapters. I have set myself the target of the end of March to complete it - then I plan to print it all out and at some point over the Easter break sit down with several cups of tea (or glasses of vino?!) and read it through from start to finish with red pen firmly in hand. I think a little break and a bit of distance has given me the clarity to be even more sure about the kind of work I want to produce, and what my strengths and weaknesses as an author are.

I have a submission currently with an agent, and I have also entered a writing competition to gain backing for your first novel in Good Housekeeping magazine so I haven't been completely resting on my laurels in the interim. I have also had an idea for my second novel - quite different to my first, a coming of age story about friendship based loosely on my experiences I had in my teens with one of my best friends, a boy called Tom who we sadly lost to leukaemia before his 21st birthday. We had many adventures together at an important time and I feel there is a comeplling story to be told there about a life beginning to blossom which does not bear fruition into adulthood but touches those left behind. I guess I really am a sentimental romantic at heart... but I still think of Tom a lot and I would like to find a fitting way to pay tribute to his character - hopefully with him as the inspiration for this story I can do just that. I'm going to try and sketch out what it might look like over the next few weeks.

I still have a huge passion to be creative and those of you who are interested can visit a website I have set up which includes some extracts from the first novel I am working on. I'm big enough and ugly enough to take any feedback and criticism so do feel free to share any thoughts. I'm well aware this will most probably end up as an indulgent hobby for me that won't result in anything actually being published - but the enjoyment comes from the crafting and the writing, so that's just fine for me!

Sunday 26 February 2012

Leaving London

I'm a little ashamed to see I've only blogged four times so far in February - a bit of a lame effort, but it has been quite a month so please forgive me. We've just come back from a week in New York which was just magical. The Boy and I have been lucky enough to have shared some great holidays together over the years and this one was right up there - sunny days making happy memories. My favourite kind.

It's also been pretty crazy on the moving front. As well as viewing lots of properties in Kent - and already experiencing angst when the ones we fall in love with are promptly sold! - our own flat is on the market and we've had some prospective buyers round. It's definitely a strange experience showing people round a flat you've lived in for a number of years and that you love. I feel defensive and protective of our beautiful home at every comment I perceive to be negative - but as with so many situations in life, it's about putting on my glazed PR smile and sucking up the nonsense in order to secure a positive outcome. I'm getting quite a lot of practice at this these days...!

I suppose it's started to hit me that we are leaving London. Don't get me wrong, this excites me and it is definitely the right time for us to make this move. But it means a chapter - a very significant chapter - of my life is ending. I've lived in London for over a decade, and had a mortgage on a flat in zone one (first Bermondsey, then Borough) since I was 25. I've built my career here, made lifelong friendships here, had my heart broken and fallen in love with my soulmate (the Boy, in case you were wondering!) here. I've done a lot of work on myself through therapy, then studying for a counselling diploma, and now seeing clients myself. I've found my independence, and I've found the key to happiness. I suppose, in that cliche, I've found myself here. Pockets of London are so familiar to me - I pound the pavements walking to work, to meet friends, to my volunteering placement every week... and it really is home. And I suppose because I prepare to leave London with such a positive outlook and in a happy and balanced frame of mind, it makes it a bit of a wrench on my heart.

There are so many thinks I love about London - the diversity of people I see on a daily basis as I go about my business; being able to walk to a fantastic theatre or see an exhibition at a tiny independent gallery nearby at just a moment's notice; living only 10 minutes walk from the South Bank and the attractions the river has to offer; being only a short train or tube journey away from Greenwich, Hampstead, Camden or Shoreditch; being able to enjoy a drink at a relaxed bar, or dine in an amazing restaurant at the drop of a hat; or being able to meet up with fellow London-based friends on a whim. I will miss this way of life, and while what replaces it will be just right for where we are now and where we want to be, the streets of London will always have a very special place in my heart.

Tuesday 14 February 2012

My funny Valentine

Today, and every day. Instead of marrying someone I could live with, I found someone I can't live without. My greatest hope in this life is is that we get to grow old together, and realise our fancy of racing down Eastbourne sea front on mobility scooters with matching purple rinses.

In celebration of my fine figure of a man, here are a few pics - the night we met, when he proposed and the champagne we drunk that evening, and our wedding day. And the reading from the Wedding Singer that we had at our wedding. Words become more true every day. Hopeful of many more happy times together to come...

Grow Old With You, by Adam Sandler

I want to make you smile whenever you're sad
Carry you around when your arthritis is bad
All I want to do is grow old with you.

I'll get you medicine when your tummy aches
I'll build you a fire if the furnance breaks
It could be so nice, growing old with you.

I'll miss you, kiss you,
Give you my coat when you are cold;
I'll need you, feed you,
And even let you hold the remote control.

So let me do the dishes in our kitchen sink
Put you to bed when you've had too much to drink.
I want to grow old with you.

You've got a friend

So, Valentine's Day. A day about love - not only to praise our partners, but also to celebrate the love we feel for our family and friends. Last night I had to say my goodbyes to one of my dearest and oldest friends Andy, who is leaving the UK to start a new life with his partner in Sydney. A hugely exciting opportunity for him and I'm sure he will be very happy, but I'm not very good at goodbyes, and I felt rather sad when the time came for us to finally part.

We've been friends for 20 years, since we were both at secondary school in Kent - Andy at the boys grammar school, and me across the road at the girls grammar. It feels like a lifetime ago now, and I suppose it was. The friendship began as a slow burn - partly as I had a rather awkward teenage girl crush on him - but we became very close when we were both at university in Leeds together and Andy was able to confide in me pretty early on that he had realised he had more of an eye for the boys than the ladies. Romantic aspirations firmly out of the window, Andy was to become one of the best friends I have ever had.

When I think about the times we shared together at university as young adults away from home for the first time and trying to clumsily make our way, I can't help but smile. Funny stories compete to be at the forefront of my mind - a notable one being us meeting for a 'quick' drink in the union bar around lunchtime. I needed to be on my best behaviour as my parents were making the four-hour car journey to come and visit me the next day. Fast forward to the next morning when they arrived and found me with my head down the toilet 'suffering with flu' - our quick little drink had turned into 10 pints, a takeaway pizza at mine, and then an evening spent at Planet Earth night club... a rather legendary Leeds nightspot back in the day. If I tell you it had a revolving dance floor and the entry fee was just £5 for all you could drink Hooch (one of the first alcopops for my younger readers!) or Carlsberg... well, you can probably imagine where my 'flu' came from.

Post university we both found ourselves working and living in London - Andy turning his back on his academic intellect and biochemistry degree to retrain as a nurse (a very telling sign of his generosity of heart, and the warmth of his personality) and me on the bottom rung of the journalism ladder, both of us light on money but heavy on ambition and determination, working part-time at the London Eye tourist attraction on the South Bank at weekends and evenings to help us make ends meet. We were poor, but they were some of the richest days of my life.

Again I look back at a happy blurred blaze of good times, the sun always shining on us and our group of friends even when the sky was grey. That fantastic feeling you have in your youth of being able to live completely for the day, feeling immortal and indestructible with little concern for tomorrow - really believing the world is your oyster and will open for you. I rather miss that... But one shameful story - on my behalf - inevitably wins out though and has become folklore in our circle of friends.

It was the conclusion of a rather heavy night in a salubrious pub by Waterloo station where we secured a lock-in, which saw me fall asleep (ok, I'll be honest, pass out) on the night bus back to Andy's (he lived in East Dulwich at the time) and Andy couldn't wake me up so had to get the bus driver to stop the bus and help him carry me off. I had of course insisted on sitting on the top deck so I could 'drive the bus' in spite of Andy's misgivings that we would be better placed by the doors downstairs - so the other passengers must have got their money's worth that night as I was carried down the stairs like a corpse.

Andy pretty much gave me a fireman's lift back to his house, holding me tightly and only relinquishing his grip on me for a moment to put his front door key into the lock - urging me to manage to stay upright on my own for just one minute. Of course, when he opened the door and turned around to usher me in, all there was to be seen was me upside down head first in his rose bush with my feet pointing out towards him. But he didn't give up on me - and used his nursing skills to valuable effect that night, plucking a variety of thorns from my legs with his tweezers, while I snored away oblivious to the drama.

Friends like this aren't ten a penny - in fact I can count on one hand the friends that know me as well as Andy does, and that includes my sister and the Boy. He has been there on some of the happiest days of my life, and I will always hold close the beautiful reading he did at my wedding - but of course real friends aren't just there for the good times. He has also seen me when I've not been at my best, and he's never judged, never neglected me, and never held a grudge. He's always been honest with me and has sometimes had to say the words I haven't wanted to hear - but he has never been unkind. He's been a constant in a life full of variables, and was a very good friend to me through the troubles of last year. While there have been periods when we've been very close, and then other times when our contact has been a little more disparate, inevitably like the proverbial boomerang we have found our way back to each other.

Thanks to the internet, Facebook and Skype, I know that Andy won't seem too far away from me. And I hold him in my heart so I can always carry him close. He is an incredible person - generous, loyal, passionate, caring, spontaneous, reliable... I can't think of anything that he wouldn't do for someone lucky enough to be his friend and I couldn't begin to count the times I've seen him go above and beyond for someone he cares about - in fact I aspire to be a little more like him myself. I wish him all the joy and happiness in the world as he begins a new exciting chapter, and while I am saddened that I will have to watch this unfold from the edges and the shadows of his life - with someone as warm and bright as Andy, even the shadows are a brilliant place to be.

Thursday 9 February 2012

Start spreading the news...

It's already been a week since I was last on here - the time seems to be flying past me even more quickly than normal at the moment.

I've been struggling with a bug this week so have spent several days laid up in bed feeling pretty sorry for myself. I'm not a good patient - I'm someone who likes juggling balls, plates, hats... regardless of the cliche, you get the idea, so to be poorly and confined to bed rest is my personal idea of hell. Especially when I've not had the energy to be able to read, write or knit (the latest hobby!) and I have instead been consigned to daytime TV. Is there a crueller fate? Thank goodness for Miss Marple re-runs on ITV3...

But I'm pleased to say I'm finally feeling more human - which is just as well as a week today the Boy and I head off to the big apple for an extra special holiday. The Boy works for one of the Virgin companies and therefore benefits from a tasty discount on their holiday packages - hence we have the luxury of six beautiful days in New York to celebrate five happy years together. Perhaps not that long in the grand scheme of him and me, but it is increasingly hard to remember a time before him. We're both really looking forward to our adventure together - although as a nervous flyer, I can feeling the beginnings of anxiety about the flights forming in the pit of my stomach. I know the trip will be more than worth the stress of the travel for me though.

I've been to New York before - the year before I met the Boy I actually won a competition run by a national pub chain, and my prize was a trip over there, with limousine transfers from the airport, a luxury hotel, a helicopter flight over the Statue of Liberty and tickets to see Burt Bacharach and Rufus Wainwright perform together in a small jazz cafe off Broadway - one of the most amazing gigs I have ever been to. That time I went in the summer and enjoyed a picnic in Central Park. This time we'll be packing our thermals! Although it probably won't be as cold as it has been in the UK this week... our venture into house-hunting in Kent last weekend left us almost snowed in at my parents house as the flakes slowed tumbled down overnight, covering everything in sight in crisp white powder.


The house-hunting was quite an experience. We saw seven houses in Otford and Kemsing - some so terrible I couldn't wait to escape from them, but some so lovely the Boy and I were mentally moving our furniture in and planning our lives in that house in the village together.

On the whole it was an inspiring day, and I'm confident that our finances will allow for us to make the move we want. It's exciting to think that for the same price as our three room one-bedroom flat in central London, we can afford a house with two receptions, three bedrooms, good-sized gardens and in some cases ensuite bathrooms and conservatories. The thought of owning a flight of stairs is almost beyond my comprehension having been in a flat for a decade. If we are lucky enough to get our first house I may just spend afternoons on end lying on the staircase in blissful happiness!

Our flat is now on the market with the housing association, so we have fingers and toes crossed that someone will snap it up, and we can revisit some of our preferred houses with a view to making an offer. It's a big step for us, but one - as always - we take together. I feel already that this year is going to be kinder to us than last year was. My cup is half-full once again. Cheers!

Thursday 2 February 2012


Somehow February has crept up on us and the year is already beginning to slip through my fingers. I'm feeling really happy, 2012 has been a good one so far. Dry January was very good to the Boy and I - we had a month that was almost like a second honeymoon as we spent so much time in each other's pockets. Normally we are quite independent and while we are conscious to always make time for each other, we can end up having different social routines. In January we did everything together, hiding from everyone who was drinking we saw little of family and friends, but instead spent lovely evenings together - twice at the theatre (including Hamlet at the Old Vic which was outstanding, Michael Sheen I salute you), a ghost bus tour of London, a night at the opera (my birthday present and the Royal Opera House blew me away!) as well as catching both of our football teams live and four trips to the cinema.

I didn't need any reminding, but I remembered how happy I am with the Boy and how he alone is more than enough for me. I know it's not a very femininst or populist thing to say and I know it's not healthy to rely on one person too much, but in the Boy I really have found someone who continually fascinates and intrigues me. I can't imagine ever growing bored in his company - and I actually long for a life together long enough where that could be the case. I'm always learning more about him, and the longer we are together sometimes the truer that feels.

And now February is here. A month that marks five years since we met. I am such a different person now than I was then and I credit him with pretty much all the positive changes. With him by my side I seem to have had the courage to grow into the person I always wanted to be. I am happier than I ever thought I could be - and the big improvement is that I have learned to relax and be happy in the moment. In the past I've been guilty of looking ahead, and thinking 'if such and such happens, then I'll be happy'. But I've learnt, with his help, that happiness shouldn't be conditional. I've learned to celebrate the here and now - and yes, while I'm always going to be a planner and I love having holidays and gigs to look forward to, a day spent with the Boy doing our weekly shop and cleaning the flat is still a day that can bring much to smile about.

But having said that, I'll put my tongue in my cheek because we do of course have plans, and I think this year will pan out to be an important one for the Boy and I. We head to New York a fortnight today for a week to celebrate our anniversary - with tickets to a New York Knicks game on the actual big day! How romantic - foam hands and hot dogs! Actually, I can't think of anything I'd rather do! And we are still very much hoping this will be the year that sees us move from a flat into our own little house. I've had mortgages on two flats before so the thought of owning a flight of stairs just seems so exciting. I think if we get our dream, I may well spend hours just lying on the staircase, or even sleep there! It feels such an exciting prospect...

The surveyor came from the housing association this morning, to value our flat. We part-own and part-rent, so this is how the selling process works for people in our situation. She made a lot of nice noises about our flat and commented several times on its size, light, and happy feel. We receive her report next week and fingers crossed we get the valuation we need, to make the move that we want to. The signs are good - but I'm sure waiting for the post and opening her report will be a nerve-wracking moment or two for us! But I am excited too, and I figure we deserve some good luck. Apparently we're in the Chinese year of the dragon, and that brings good fortune to many. We'll see!

One thing I have noticed though in all my good feelings is that I am becoming more sensitive than I used to be. Throughout dry January we had some friends be very supportive of what we are doing - but we also got quite a lot of teasing and ribbing that ranged from the mild and gentle to the actually rather nasty. Previously I've always let jibes go and they've washed off me like water from a duck's back, but they seem to get to me more these days. I guess I probably think too much - and then I wonder why people's first instinct is to make fun, rather than offer support, when really I'm over-analysing and folk are just doing what comes natural to them. Most people don't think as much as I do (how lucky they are!) and aren't away that what they say could cause upset.

It's become the same with the football team I support (which has recently come into money, but for 23 of the 25 years I have followed them has been a disaster zone!) and what I do for a career. It seems to be open season on poking fun at things which I hold dear or are important to me, and I'm not responding well. I am proud to work for a well-known national organisation, but almost everyone I know has their view on what the organisation does and what it stands for, and is happy to point this out to me regardless of whether there is any factual basis in their argument. I used to be able to laugh it off, but now it irritates me... So, is my skin getting thinner - or are those around me becoming less subtle? Perhaps I'm becoming less patient and less tolerant... I don't know. I'm not normally a prickly personality, so it's certainly one to watch...