Monthly Archives: November 2011

I Don’t Really Know What to do with Cleaning Products

Taking an abrupt U-turn back into my life as an au pair, and leaving greater questions of love, life, happiness and fulfillment behind me in my last posts, as well as doing some spectacular procrastination surrounding a performance that I have signed up for on Wednesday night (why do I do this to myself why why why why why??? it always seems like a good idea until it actually gets to a point when I have to produce the work I said I was going to produce and I’m all like, ‘Aw, yeah, well, the thing about that is, I’d rather watch excerpts of old ‘Friends’ episodes all night instead, kay?’), I offer you this post.
You may have guessed that this post is to do with cleaning (I’m not really into that whole idea of naming your story, ‘Captain Cat and his Magical Powers’ or something, and then not ever ACTUALLY mentioning a nautical feline with a magician’s wand, confusing and disappointing your readers, and when people confront you in interviews with this fact, you sigh and roll your eyes and say, ‘Well, most of my educated readers were able to pick up that the naval reference was ironic/metaphorical/allegorical/sarcastic/farcical and that further, by speaking of a cat, I was clearly referencing Ancient Egypt not contemporary America and who’s to say what powers are magical anyway, and wank, wank, wank…’ No, my titles mean something. They are clear that they mean something. They mean what they mean. Yes). So, anyway, this post is about cleaning. House cleaning, to be precise. And, the fact of the matter is… I’m not very good at it.
I never have been. Its not something that ever really got my engines roaring, so to speak, not something that I would choose to do over, say, an afternoon on the couch watching the latest BBC costume drama, or an evening with friends, or, even, say, completing my tax return, or picking the dirt out from underneath my fingernails. Housework is not something that ever really enters my brain as a possible way of spending my time. The only time that I would consider the need to do housework is when the state of my house actually prevents me from living my life or doing basic human activities. So, for example, when the piles of junk on the bedroom floor actually prevent me from opening the door of my room to allow me to go outside and participate in gainful employment, or when I have worn literally every piece of clothing in my entire wardrobe, sometimes some of the several times over, maybe even inside-out, and if I attempt to wear them again, people will think I am actually a homeless person when I’m sitting outside on a park bench, and may ask me to ‘move along’ or offer me their spare change. My best friend Erin will tell you that we were mates for a good 5 or 6 years, the majority of high school, before I would even permit her to see my room. Every time she came to visit, I would run screaming to my bedroom, slam the door shut and throw myself in front of it until she promised not to attempt to step inside. Eventually, one day, knowing she was coming over, I spent a day tidying up and putting things in order, specifically so that she could come inside and see what it (never) looked like. She must have thought I had dead bodies in there or something.
I always kind of hoped that when I moved into my own house, things would change, because it was *my* house, and I would feel some sort of pride and care for it. I had at least one good friend who went from being a messy-room occupier to a fussy, tidy house cleaner the minute he rented his first share house. But, for me it was not to be (I still sometimes think wishfully that maybe I’ll be cleaner when I own my house as opposed to just rent it, or live in someone else’s, but I have my doubts).
There were lots of reasons for the appalling state of my room. I was a busy kid: I spent most afternoons doing various lessons – Japanese classes, art classes, dance classes, violin lessons, and then my entire Saturday was usually taken up with Young People’s Theatre. Plus, there was still homework and practicing all the things that I was taking lessons for, and, of course, a great big chunk of time was needed to spend day-dreaming in front of the mirror, or dancing around the living room in ridiculous home-made costumes to ‘The Lion King’ soundtrack or something (a swimsuit and a bowtie on a little blonde Anglo girl? I mean, really, does that scream Africa to you?) But, apart from that, I kind of got used to my room being messy, and whenever I did clean it up, things became that much harder to find. I couldn’t remember where I had tidied them to, and the tidy room generally only lasted for as many days as I could survive living with only the things I had put within easy reach or on display. The minute I had to go scurrying under my bed for something, the whole delicate, tidy balance was disrupted, and I went back to storing my possessions in a deceptively chaotic looking mess on the carpet (I still maintain I knew where everything was in that mess, and I had strategic empty spots to walk my feet through from bed to door, so I never broke anything).
Anyway, the point is, that when your bedroom is that messy, when you can’t even see the floor for all the stuff strewn across it, actual ‘cleaning’ activities’ such as vacuuming, sweeping, dusting, polishing etc. instantly become much less of a big deal. Well, actually, when you’re just battling against piles of junk, clothes, old school notes, empty bags, boxes, CD’s, videos, mixed tapes, food packets, candles, blankets, pillows, photo albums, notebooks, diaries, textbooks, and random ceramic decorative things to get to the bedroom door, any actual ‘cleaning’ in the form of getting rid of dirt and dust becomes not so much unimportant as unnecessary. Impossible. So, I’m 27, and for a lot of reasons, I don’t really know how to do housework.
This has been a bit of a problem as an au pair, as housework is kind of part of the deal. Particularly in my current family, where the house is (to my untrained eyes), immaculate. It looks gorgeous, shiny, clean, at all moments of the day, and this is despite the two little munchkins running around trying to mess everything up to the best of their abilities. Making things much worse is the fact that I, me, the girl with the mess, was expected to keep this shiny, clean looking house in its nice, shiny, cleanness.
Tidying toys and things away is easy, I’m actually quite good at organisation when I want to be (despite the mess on my floor, my wardrobe was always organised according to type of clothing, and my bookshelves according to book height). The basic cleaning is easy enough too, I mean, I know how to use a hoover and a broom, though, I didn’t realise, until I started doing it every day, just how dirty floors get. Even if you look at the floor and can’t see anything on it, if you sweep it, you will find dust and crud and dirt and all sorts of other things coming up (though, a sudden thought – maybe I need to clean the broom? Perhaps I am making a clean floor dirty by sweeping it with a dirty broom? Hmm…. did not think this was possible. Will need to investigate further). The problem I find with both the broom and the vacuum is that no matter how hard you try, you will always, always miss a spot. If you insist on vacuuming or sweeping in your big, heavy-duty walking boots (as I constantly do – forgetting what happened last time), you will also tramp more dirt and grass and tiny, irritating little rocks over the floors you have just cleaned. I think, maybe another reason I avoid housework is that it brings out my OCD, perfectionist side, where I’m left thinking, ‘well, there’s no point in doing it unless its going to be perfect,’ which then means all these tiny little bits of crud on the floor (are they crumbs? are they dirt? granite? who knows, but they are so powerful they are able to resist the hoover, the broom the brush and the mop, and no, they are not part of the floor, I assure you) are incredibly anxiety inducing, and I spend my days walking around picking up various bits of dirt and, having nowhere else on hand to store them, put them into my jeans pocket. Which I then forget to empty. So, the next time I actually need to put something in my jeans pocket, I’ll go to retrieve it and my hand will come out covered in crap.
But the real problem is all the other accoutrements, the sprays and the polishes, the various towels and scrubbers, that all live under the sink. They look so promising, these bottles. There’s so many of them, all different shapes and colours, you think, the answer to my cleaning question must be housed in there somewhere! Its like the feeling you get when you open a newspaper (well, the feeling I get when I open a newspaper) – ah, knowledge! Clarity! Information! All the problems and confusions of the world are about to be solved by my reading of this newspaper! But, then, you finish the paper and you’re more anxious and confused then you were when you started and you begin to worry if maybe the answers were in a different paper, or if perhaps you just missed all the answers in this one, or, maybe you needed to watch the news on TV instead? Or listen to the radio? Or read a topic-specific blog? Its the same with those cleaning products under the sink. So many possibilities! But, then you start pulling them out and, its like, oh, crap, so many possibilities. You’re confronted with surface cleaner and bathroom cleaner and kitchen cleaner and Dettol and they all seem to do the same thing, but they’re so specifically labelled, you kind of get the feeling that if you, say, used kitchen cleaner in the bathroom, the whole house might explode. And, where are the surfaces you clean with the surface cleaner if they’re not in the kitchen or bathroom? May you only use ‘surface cleaner’ on non-specific-room surfaces? Say, for instance, the table that sits halfway down the hall and you’re not really sure if its part of the living room or the playroom? And, further, if you use non-kitchen-specific surface cleaner on your oven, will it turn a hideous brown-orange colour and smell of rotten eggs? And, if I’m caught using bathroom cleaner on surfaces in the kitchen, by housemates or friends or family, will this be… OK? Or will people laugh at me? Or, even worse, will people yell at me? Or, will I be thrown out of the house, told that such an incompetent house cleaner will no longer be tolerated in our share house/friendship group/family Christmases, and to take my non-specific-room surface cleaner and get out?
I had a disaster situation a month or so ago, where one of the roads up to our house was being newly paved. There was hot bitumen everywhere. There were also no footpaths (there are very few footpaths anywhere in Ireland), so I had no choice but to walk through the hot bitumen. I found this an interesting and not unpleasant experience. Squidgy, steamy and smelly. However, when I got home, I walked through the hose without really thinking about it. After a little while I did think, ‘hmmm… these floors seem to be unaccountably sticky.’ Then, a minute or two later, ‘oh, wait, I think its my shoes that seem to be a bit sticky’. A minute or two later I finally remembered the hot bitumen, looked down, and, sure enough, I had managed to track hot bitumen all through the house. I panicked, and went straight to the cupboard sink, grabbed a Dettol spray and some paper towels and went back to the first of the bitumen shoe patches on the ground. I sprayed it with Dettol, and attempted to wipe it away with the paper towel. It stayed put. Panicking even more, thinking that potentially I had just permanently bitumen-ed my employer’s floors, and the only way to get it off would be to chip away at it with a pick and hammer, I went back to the sink cupboard. Pulling out a variety of multi-coloured containers, I proceeded to spray the floor with everything I could find that didn’t come with a sign stating something like, ‘Warning: Contains burning acid and will horrifically burn and/or melt and/or destroy anything it comes in contact with (dirt as well as prized family possessions).’ Nothing worked. The bitumen stayed on the floor. Finally, in a last desperate attempt, I spied a scrubbing brush that looked like its past job may have been as a prop in a production of Cinderella: it was wooden, with heavy-duty, barely movable brush bristles. In fact, apart from cleaning bitumen off floors, I didn’t actually know what else such a brush could be used for. Burnishing steel, perhaps? Thankfully, the bitumen came off, with some Dettol and some determined Cinderella-like brushing and I cleaned up the mess quite successfully, all things considered, really. In hindsight, I’m not sure how much the Dettol contributed to the process, but I insisted on spraying it on to the bitumen anyway, just for effect and for the pine-fresh smell.
I am also responsible for cleaning the bathroom, which is a nightmare of shiny, shiny, clean, reflective surfaces. I went to wipe clean (with carefully chosen, specifically labelled, mirror cleaning spray) some specks of toothpaste I had flicked on to the mirror, and managed to transfer a pile of… well, I want to call it, lint? But, I’m not even sure what lint is. Does anyone know? And what’s the difference between lint and dust? I know you can buy lint-free cloths… or is it lint-free stockings? Or both? What is this lint and why is everyone so keen to be rid of it? Anyway, whatever it was, dirt, lint, material, string, an alien life form, it wasn’t meant to be on my shiny, clean, toothpaste free mirror. So, I wiped it again. With the same cloth. I then proceeded to continue wiping it with this cloth, for several minutes, getting grumpier and grumpier that the lint (?) refused to come off. I eventually wiped it off with the sleeve of my jumper (into the sink, but, hey, then I flushed it all down the drain with water, so what does it matter?)

Which one, which one? When did life get so complicated? Image from http://www.hsa.ie/eng/Your_Industry/Chemicals/Detergents/

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. I think the only answer is to watch more infomercial TV, because then, maybe, I would understand the use of all these multi-coloured bottles and cloths that live underneath the sink.

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All the Single Ladies: Or, What has Love Got to Do With It?

You might be sick of the topic of my single-dom and (lack of) love life, but, unfortunately, things seem to keep happening that gets me thinking about it all over again. The other possibility, of course, is that I’m thinking about it so obsessively at the moment, that completely unrelated things somehow seem related to the topic of my singledom, and I then spend hours making blog posts out of these random incidents and ideas.
Today, however, it was not me forcing anything on the world, it was the world that was forcing the topic on to me.
In the supermarket today, wandering about, not sure if I was hungry, not sure if I wanted to buy food and drink and take it home, or go out to a pub and have a meal there, I happened to spy the front cover of ‘The Observer’. In the corner, highlighted in yellow, with an intriguing looking women beside it, was printed an article title seemingly very related to my last blog post: ‘Why Millions of Women Like Me Will Never Marry’ by Katie Bolick. I was wary, as I must confess my virtual ignorance of ‘The Observer’ as a paper, and wasn’t sure if this was a terrifying UK tabloid, and that the article itself would be a highly offensive polemic about how the feminist liberation movement had turned all women into spoiled brats who didn’t want to have kids and do the housework, and were therefore refusing to settle for all the hugely decent, hard-working men out there, leading, ultimately, to the destruction of life and society as we know it.
But, with nothing else to do or buy, and intrigued enough to want to know more, I caved and paid my 2.50 Euro to see what this Katie Bolick had to say for herself. I sat myself down with a pot of tea in a local Kinsale restaurant, and opened the paper. Within the first paragraph, I was hooked. It opened with Katie Bolick describing the ending of a long-term relationship in her late twenties and the reasons behind it. The whole situation was scarily familiar to me, for a great many reasons, not least of all the question of whether or not this was the worst mistake of her life. I devoured her words voraciously: here was a woman who had gone through what I had gone through, but who was now 13 years down the track and living out my ‘worst fears’ (I’ve put them in inverted commas, because I’m still not sure if they are my worst fears or not). That is, to say, she is 40, has never been married and coming to the conclusion that she may never be.
To read the full article (and I suggest you do read the article, its completely fascinating, thought-provoking and compelling), go to The Atlantic Magazine: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/11/all-the-single-ladies/8654/?single_page=true Its apparently caused a huge stir over in the USA, and there are talks of TV series and movies and all sorts of other ridiculousness, which clearly means its hit a nerve.
For those of you who won’t read it (and I’m sure there’ll be a few, as its quite long), the basic argument is that marriage as an institution is breaking down, and, further, there are a whole heap of women out there who ain’t ever going to get married, for a whole heap of different reasons. However, where Katie differs from the hysterical right-wing, often Christian, conservatives, is that she doesn’t see this as a terrible thing that needs to be stopped, but as a function of our ever-changing idea of what marriage is, and what it means to be married. Our idea of marriage as being a reflection and celebration of ever-lasting love has really only being current for 100 years or so at the most. Before that, it was, as I’m sure you’ve heard, about the consolidation and protection of property. The article talks about how various other issues, such as the increasing rates of female education, the loss of construction and manufacturing jobs in the USA, gender-ratio imbalances and the rise of the ‘hook-up’ culture are also making it difficult, or undesirable, for women to settle down with the men that are available to them. It looks at ways other cultures and societies have organised the raising of children, have expressed love and dealt with sexuality or sexual desire and suggests that our hugely rigid way of thinking around these topics (and insistence of bundling them up together) is detrimental to the ever-increasing group of long-term singles, as well as people in ‘non-traditional relationships’, that are currently getting by, and doing fine in the Western world.
The article goes into a lot of other interesting side topics, but I can’t really summarise it all here (read it, read it, seriously, read it, its worth the time). What it made me want to think about, basically, was what are we, in our Western society, left with, if we don’t have marriage?
I don’t mean that to sound pathetically over-romantic and Charlotte-like. Its a genuine question, that perhaps other people in my group of friends, or in this generation, have already come to terms with, made peace with or got an answer for (I’m all ears, by the way). Because, well, look, here’s the thing: even if I say I’m ‘ok’ with the idea of not getting married, even if I am not particularly fussed on the institution of marriage, per se, I am interested, and quite fussed, on the idea of passionate, soul-crushing, world-changing, romantic love. I’m totally caught up in the idea of a soul mate. Its probably the influence of all those 19th-century novels I read as a kid. I blame Austen! I blame the Brontes! But, whom-so-ever’s fault it is, I do associate that sort of love with marriage, although, obviously, the two don’t go hand in hand: many of my beloved classic novels – ‘Anna Karenina’, ‘Wuthering Heights’, ‘Madame Bovary’ – were about people who found that love outside of their marriage. Now, this may seem like a stretch, and it is actually seeming more ridiculous now that I sit down and try to write it out, but if society as a whole ‘gives up’ on marriage, which, to me, is still about the hope, the search, for that perfect embodiment of everlasting love (even if it sometimes fails, or people sometimes make mistakes), then, where does that leave the rom-com film industry, the chick-lit industry (all of which only have endings because societal conventions dictate that once you’ve found the love of your life, the story ends: they may not state outright, ‘and they lived happily ever after’, but we’ve all heard enough fairy tales by that point in our lives to know that that is what is meant when the credits roll, the book ends)? But, most importantly, where does that leave the idea of the soul mate? That is to say, if we all acknowledge, that, actually, ever-lasting love is probably *not* something that is likely, possible or desirable for the majority of people, what is the point of all this dating, all these relationships, these hook-ups, this anxiety to get together, stay together, make it work?
The rational side of me, the part that is highly influenced by my father, makes jokes about a marriage partner simply being, ‘the most suitable person at the most suitable time’. The rational, cynical side of me likes to come out at a swish, university parties, whilst wearing black and waving a glass of red around. This cynical, rational side is fully down with the idea of ever-lasting, passionate, soul-crushing love being something that we trick ourselves into believing exists so that we can get through those marriage vows, start a family and, get ourselves a companion to (hopefully) last us til our hair turns grey. But, there is also the romantic side of me that still believes, or still desperately wants to believe, that, out there, somewhere, is a person like Aristophanes described, a person who is the other half of my whole, cut apart from me by the Gods, and when that person is found, finally, everything will fall into place. The interesting thing here is that, even the cynical side doesn’t actively attack the idea of marriage itself. Sure, it doubts the existence of romantic, ever-lasting love, but it still feels like, well, marriage is something that, usually, most respectable people do, even if there reasons for doing it aren’t as clear as they think they are.
In short, there is a very strong idea within me that feels like that everyone’s ultimate goal in life is to find their other half, of whatever sex, to then potentially have children. The creation of your own little couple or family unit is the ultimate achievement, whether or not you believe this is based on the finding of your soul mate, a need for ongoing companionship, the need for a stable family unit to raise children etc. Whatever the reason, and whether or not it is eventually made official through marriage, the creation of this little unit of people, which is never meant to be torn asunder is presented to us as the only thing that will ever bring you real happiness in life. The idea is constantly repeated to us, through films, through books, through TV, through interviews with famous people (Tom Cruise on Oprah’s couch, anyone?), and through the hounding, questioning, mocking, ignorance and distrust of those people who choose to live their lives differently. And, I for one, have been well and truly brainwashed.
Katie Bolick’s article points out that, with people getting married later and later, not getting married at all, or having multiple long-term, short-term and other forms of relationships, the idea of the couple, of the two separate halves of a whole is becoming obsolete. Its not just marriage that is becoming outdated, but its the idea of the couple itself as our dominant, expected and most constant state of being that is becoming problematic. You’re probably going to end up spending a lot of your life, if not most of it, as a single: as an uno, rather than as a duo. And through all this chopping and changing, the constant switch from single to couple, to single again, it follows that the most important relationship you’re going to have throughout your life will be with yourself.
That’s maybe not much of a revelation, nor is it actually a physical change in the way we live our lives. Of course, you always had to live within your own body. But, it is a huge change in perception. Instead of viewing yourself as a half who is searching for the other half to make them complete, you view yourself as complete, happy, finished, whatever, just as you are. I’m aware that these is a whole movement out there that would say, you can’t find a partner without feeling complete in yourself anyway, but I find it distinctly ironic that this sort of advice is still given in the context of trying to find that long-term partner.  There’s that horrible old cliche that people often parrot at you as a single, ‘How do you expect people to love you if you don’t love yourself,’ once again, making the goals of loving oneself and feeling complete in oneself only desirable in relation to how they will help you to eventually find a partner.
But, as partners come and go more easily these days, as the relationships we find ourselves in are less definable and stable (one-night stand? affair? friend with benefits? summer fling? boyfriend? partner?), liable to change at any point, and based on the different needs, wants and expectations of the people within the relationships, then, it seems that the relationship with yourself as an individual becomes not a temporary state of being, not as a stepping stone towards the coveted state of ‘couple’, as it once was seen, but as our primary way of existing in the world. Partners become optional extras, like chiropractors or acupuncture on your health cover: nice to have, if you’re into that sort of thing, but, by no means necessary to your overall health, wealth and happiness.
So, what’s my problem then? What’s my problem with letting go of this idea of the soul mate? Of ever-lasting, perfect love? What’s my problem with all these new relationship-types? What’s my problem with looking at myself and what I do, individually, with my life, as the only place to find contentment, peace, happiness and security in the world? In some ways its very liberating, it allows people to create relationships with other people that are unique and special to the individuals within them, it also potentially saves people from making vows of ’til death do us part’ and then cheating, or divorcing and all the pain and existential angst that comes from these abrupt changes in ideals and promises. Over the course of your life, you may have a series of fulfilling long-term relationships, meaning that you get to know intimately, a whole group of people, instead of just the one. I’m not saying its necessarily better, but why do I consider it to be inherently worse?
Well, I think there’s an element of the negative brainwashing. I worry that I’ll be, above all, lonely. Potentially crazy and eccentric (and not in a good way, but in a crazy cat lady, empty jam jar and coupon collecting way). But, I think the negative stereotypes wouldn’t be nearly so persuasive if there were positive examples or role models out there to ‘follow’, so to speak. To look up to, and to show us the way. Of course, there have always been single people in the world. But most of them (not all), are portrayed, or portray themselves, as being single, not through choice, but through a series of unfortunate events and poor life decisions. That ending your life single is a mistake, something to be avoided at all costs, the greatest regret of their lives. These are people that live on the outside, who were never good at relationships, who were alcoholics, players, slightly too weird, unattractive, and so have ended up alone and sad. Their singledom is something to be pitied. What if it were something to be rejoiced in? Is it possible to find happiness and contentment as a single person? And if so, what would that look like? What sort of relationships (romantic or sexual, but also platonic or familial) would that pave the way for? Because, I’m not saying that we need to give up on intimate or sexual relationships – I still think they are important, necessary, but what form would they take, how would they be shaped, constructed or justified without this idea of the search for ‘The One’? Certainly, as a single, as a free agent, you have the opportunity to be more open, more giving with your time, your love, your energy, because its not directed inwards at your personal relationship and family unit. It gives you the opportunity to be more dedicated to your friends, your community, your world.
Once again, I’m not trying to tear apart marriage, or the long-lasting, romantically involved couple. I’m just curious about this idea that has taken over Western society that this is the ultimate in emotional and spiritual fulfillment: the obtaining of a single, everlasting ‘soul mate’. I’m curious that it never occurred to me before that this desire was most likely culturally, rather than biologically determined, and I’m curious about what emotional fulfillment you aim for in life if you give up on the idea of that never-changing soul mate, of ‘The One’. Happiness and contentment, is surely what you aim for. But what does that happiness and contentment look like? For so long, for me, the short-hand has been the image of a loving couple, married or otherwise. Other goals may have come and gone, but that was a constant desire, expectation and comfort. What happens when I actively give up on that image? What is it replaced with?
At this point, I honestly don’t know.
A room of one’s own?

Image from http://www.panoramio.com/photo/11985124

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All My Friends Got Married When I Wasn’t Looking

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, ‘But, wait, Jenny, I thought this was a blog complaining about children, not marriage! You just got me going into one groove, and now you’ve U-turned and started on a whole over topic. I’m not sure I’m fully prepared for this change in pace!’
Well, ok, maybe that’s not what you’re thinking. Maybe you’re actually thinking, ‘Oh God, don’t let this be like another crappy rom-com inspired blog post, or a cheap imitation of a Bridget Jones-type book’ (to which I reply, its free! You can’t get mad at me when you’re not paying anything for it!) Or, maybe you’re actually thinking, ‘Hope she gets on with it soon, I’m really sick of these loopy detour things she does, in fact, I might just go improve my land holding on Farmville instead of reading this,’ or just, ‘I wonder if there’s any birthday cake left in the fridge, and whether chocolate cake lasts for upwards of 3 weeks if it doesn’t have a cream centre?’ (I’d say, go for it, by the way, as long as it doesn’t smell bad and there’s nothing growing on it – I think the sugar would pretty much keep away any bad boy germs)
Anyway, whatever you’re thinking, (I honestly don’t know what you’re thinking), the topic of today’s discussion is marriage.
Marriage is what brings us here today.
Why is today’s topic marriage? Well, the easy answer is that, whilst meditating yesterday evening, when I should have been chanting Buddhist mantras to myself, or concentrating on the nothingness, or attempting to achieve nirvana, or approach or nirvana or acknowledge nirvana, or whatever, my brain was instead contemplating all the people in my life who have recently gotten hitched, or decided to get hitched at some point in the near future (and exchanged great big rocks to seal the deal). And, once it started down that path, my brain started realising that, lately, when men start to talk to me, within the first 2-3 minutes of meeting them (if they’re an attractive, personable sort), I have inevitably glanced down to check their ring finger. More distressingly, most of the time, these days, that finger has a nice, manly gold band wrapped around it. My brain started to wonder when it was exactly that I had started looking for this mother-of-all ‘back off’ signals, because it certainly wasn’t a conscious or deliberate decision. It thought back nostalgically to lovely teenage days when most any boy you met could be a potential boyfriend, even ones that had girlfriends (because, let’s face it, they’d usually only been going out for a few weeks) or ones you met in musical theatre (because, even if they eventually turned out to be gay, they hadn’t actually worked this out yet, or, at least, hadn’t told anyone yet, so there was still reason to hope). My brain then jumped back to somewhere near the end of last year, when I had taken to wearing a fairly cheap, thin, silver band, that I had picked up somewhere along the line, on my wedding ring finger as the other ring finger is always occupied by a very sentimental silver ring that I never take it off (actually, these days, I CAN’T take it off without some serious hand cream action – that’s how much weight I’ve put on…). I wore this ring, confident that people would realise it couldn’t possibly be a wedding ring, as it was thin, and silver, and, well, CHEAP. However, after 3 or 4 men asking (in the same week) if I was married, I decided to stop wearing it (or only wear it around men who I was keen to avoid romantic overtures from). My ‘meditating’ brain very slowly started to piece all these things together (it might have been the incense in the room that was keeping it moving at such a slow and nostalgic pace), and gradually came to a conclusion.
I’m getting old.
I must be. Because only old people get married, right?  That’s what I always thought as a kid. I can remember asking my Dad (inspired by the movie, ‘Father of the Bride’) what he would do if I told him I was engaged at the age of 21. His reaction was rather far removed from the description, ‘happy’. It got less icy as the conversation moved on, and I asked how he would react if I got engaged at 23, 24, 25, 26 and he visibly relaxed from the age of 30 onwards, and, ever since then, I’ve kept that number (both consciously and unconsciously) in my mind as the only appropriate age at which to get hitched (as a side note, Dad was probably around 30 – 31 when he and Mum got married, so he was only preaching what he practiced).
But, back to being old. I must be old if my friends are getting married, the men I’m interested in are married, and even other people are assuming I’m married. And it all seems to have happened all of a sudden. One minute, I was in my mid-twenties, newly single, with a few friends in long-term relationships. And then, without me even realising it, I was in my late twenties, ‘not-even-close-to-newly-single’ with a whole bunch of married or engaged friends. Every few weeks I look through another friend’s wedding photos on Facebook, ‘liking’ pictures of the bride and groom, judging the dresses, the marquees, the photos, the ‘event’. Now, I hope I’m not giving the impression of a desperately sad singleton here (I certainly can do one of those impressions, but its not the point of this post…yet…), I’m merely commenting that life seems to have (suddenly) stepped up a level. People are making commitments that are, to all intents and purposes (unless you are Kim Kardashian or a similar C-grade celebrity), meant to last the rest of their lives.
Meanwhile, I’m still struggling to commit, from one day to the next, whether or not I am a dog person or a cat person (see, the problem is, that I love how friendly and happy dogs are, but I don’t like their barking – big, barking dogs are scary, and little, barking dogs are annoying. I always loved cats, they’re so cuddly and conveniently sized, but they’re kind of snooty, really, and they eat little birdies and things… and, oh, I don’t know, maybe I’m more of a dog/cat person… or a cat/dog person…). So, anyway, to have friends that, whatever their views on divorce may be, are, at this point in their life, able to state, absolutely, unequivocally, ‘I think I can spend the rest of my life with this person,’ and, further, ‘I want to spend the rest of my life with this person,’ is, to me, a pretty amazing thing. It’s a pretty astoundingly wonderful and exceedingly terrifying, mortality-confronting thing, they’ve got going on there.
And the strange thing is, that with all of these ’til death do us part’ vows going up and out into the atmosphere, I guess it starts you thinking, ‘And what do I have to look forward to til death does me part from this world?’ That is to say… it seems to me, that… (and here comes the desperate, sad singleton side of me coming out), the more of my friends that get engaged, the more lovely men I meet who wave their gold band in my face; the more I become aware of a slightly uncomfortable feeling, encouraged by a tiny, but determined voice (which will presumably grow louder and more desperate as the years pass me by), that ‘all the good ones are getting snapped up! If you don’t get someone now, you’ll never get married!’
When I’m not listening to it emotionally, when I’m not allowing its pathetic pleas to make me ever-so-slightly anxious, I find this desperate little voice very interesting. Firstly, I don’t know when or where or who I got the idea from that I ‘had’ to get married. That marriage was something that I ‘had’ to ‘achieve’ or my life would be worthless, pointless, incomplete. This voice makes marriage seem like another box to tick, another thing to cross off the white, middle-class life ‘To-Do’ list: ‘Tertiary Education: Tick. Mortgage: Tick. Marriage: Tick.’ Certainly no-one ever said this to me outright (maybe it was all those years spent playing, ‘The Game of Life’ where it wasn’t possible to move through the game without getting a qualification, a partner and a house?). I mean, I consider myself a feminist, whatever that means – a romantic, sure, but still, also, a feminist – and it disturbs me that, even with my belief that I don’t need a man to complete me, even with my belief that I’m perfectly capable of living happily on my own and being an eccentric grand aunt in the style of Jane Austen or Miss Marple, that I should still be hounded by this determined little voice, yelling, ‘You’re not getting any younger, you know! If you don’t find someone, chop, chop, you’re NEVER going to find someone! Tick, tock, tick, tock!’ In fact, so determined is this little voice, that I have, recently, under its influence, begun to get the determined feeling that I ‘won’t ever get married’, and that I should just ‘give up now.’ When I caught up with another (single) friend recently, we commented that we were both ‘coming to terms’ with the fact that we may never get married, we may never have kids, and that we’re ‘ok with that’. There’s plenty of other things that we could do. Become Prime Minister of Australia, for one.
But this brings me to the second thing that I find really intriguing about this voice, and this feeling, which is that, in all honesty, I don’t actually feel that old. When I think about it rationally, 27 seems to be an awfully young age to be giving up on love, companionship (maybe marriage) as a lost cause. I mean, sure, at 27, Anne Elliot in ‘Persuasion’ was considered by Austen to be completely over the hill. But, its now the 21st century! I thought women weren’t supposed to feel that way at 27 anymore! Isn’t that what ‘Sex and the City’ was supposed to give us? The freedom to be ‘single and fabulous(?)’ well into our 30’s and 40’s if we so desired? Isn’t that why we clung so desperately to the series, forgave the appalling movies, ignored the women’s slavish idolatry of wealth and fashion, because, underneath it all, at its heart, this was a series that told us women we were now allowed to do what we want? Get married if want, not get married if we want, live with a partner, have sex with many people? That it captured some sort of changing social mores, some Zeitgeist? But, here I am, talking sadly with my other 27 year old friend about what other possibilities there potentially might be ahead for us, if we don’t get married, commenting that we’re ‘ok with that’, that we can ‘deal with it’.
Maybe the fact that we are ‘ok with that’ is a step in the right direction. I certainly don’t feel like I would be bringing shame or unnecessary financial burden onto my family by remaining a spinster aunt for the rest of my life, as so many Austen heroines were threatened with however many years ago. Of course, the fact that I can name other possibilities in life that would fulfill me aside from getting married is also a right that Austen’s heroines wouldn’t have enjoyed. So, you have to admit those are improvements. And, in all honesty, I often look at all the destructive things that happen between two people within a marriage, and think, ‘is it really worth it? Is it really all its cracked up to be?’ So many divorces, affairs, separations, estrangements, lies, abuses: does anyone actually end up staying together happily for the rest of their lives? Is it in anyway possible to predict at the age of 30, what you’ll be like in 20, 30, 40 years time and whether or not you’ll still be in love with the person you’re in love with now? In which case, why bother pledging that you will be? But, still, the reigning expectation is that you want to get married, so if this looks like it might not be on the cards, you are required to state, bravely and heroically, that you’re ‘ok’ with this possibility. You need to assert it, to reassure people you’re not sad, that you’ll be ok, that it actually might be a life choice, not an unhappy circumstance. I think that’s kind of crap. I mean, its not like, you’ve made a life choice to go around strangling puppies, or anything like that. Its not like you’ve decided to do something completely immoral and despicable, so why does it need to be defended? And, if marriage is really not the be-end and end-all, why do you get pitied if you’re single, why do people start to get an anxious look in their eyes the older (and more single – oh, yes, its possible to get ‘more single’) you get, why do you get offers to set you up, take you out, blah, blah, blah, why does your own brain start to manipulate you, to intimidate you, to make ticking noises at you every time you admire another friend’s wedding photos? (On a side note, I’m aware that I’m babbling a lot about how tough it is to be a straight woman dealing with the assumption, that as you’re a single woman, you must want to get married, and your single state is probably due to some hideous deficiency on your behalf, which you must be both embarrassed and mournful about. I can’t imagine what it would be like as a gay woman, or man, who has found the love of their life and isn’t legally allowed to get married)
Anyway, that’s a lot of questions on a very big topic that I don’t think I have successfully man-handled into a single blog post yet. But its kind of late, and I think I’m going to turn in, as the post has turned much more strident, shrill and possibly offensive than I ever intended. Married folk, I’m not meaning to bag out marriage. I’m an old-fashioned romantic, and I love that you’ve gotten married, really I do. I always cry at weddings. I love oohing and aahing over the photos and would like to see them more of them on Facebook, please. Its just that, as an old-fashioned, idealistic romantic (and I mean that in the larger sense of the word), sometimes things don’t happen in the real world the way you would like them to, and that includes both being married and being single.

Oh, wait, now I see why people want to get married…

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Two Funny Things Today

I had two funny encounters with the boys today. The first one was with the older boy, Little Man. Poor Little Man. He’s a bit of a stubborn little boy. Verging on OCD, sometimes, really. Today (and this isn’t the funny incident), he started having a massive tantrum because there was a tree in the middle of the garden, where he wanted to drive his tractor. Now, let me be clear. That’s a tree that’s always been there. It grows there. Its stuck in the ground. Its not like it was a tantrum brought on by a ‘sudden, surprising tree incident’, where a tree came flying into the garden by a big gust of wind or anything like that. No, it was just the regular old tree, in its regular old place, which it must have occupied since before Little Man was born. But, for whatever reason, today Little Man found this fact unbearable.
‘WHY? WHHHHYYYYYYY? WHHHHHHHHYYYYYY? WHY IS THE TREE HERE?’ He screamed to the heavens (Little Man’s tantrums really do take on epic proportions sometimes. With that many heartfelt WHY’s yelled in a row you would think he was dealing with existential angst on a ginormous scale, something akin to Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’, perhaps. But, well, then, maybe when you’re three years old, existential angst is created by trees growing in the wrong place and your au pair being having a shower when you want to go to the toilet). It was very hard to take him seriously and stop myself from going into hysterics, but I explained that the poor tree had always grown there, and perhaps he should consider driving his tractor through the empty space (approximately 4 metres of it) on either side of the hated tree. This wasn’t good enough, and it wasn’t until I had soundly abused the tree for growing where it was, and demanded that it explain itself (a demand which, the cheeky tree refused to comply with), that Little Man started to calm down.
Anyway, that wasn’t actually the funny story. That was just to help you understand that Little Man is a STUBBORN Little Man, who likes things to be exactly how he wants them to be at any given point in time. You must realise, of course, that 5 minutes later he might have decided he wants them to be a different way, though, he probably won’t inform you, he’ll just start screaming, ‘Why, why, why’ again, doing an impressive impersonation of Marlon Brando’s ‘Stella’ speech from ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’.

Presumably, this is what Little Man wanted me to do to the tree, so that he could drive his tractor. Image from http://idiotsandgenious.wordpress.com/2011/02/23/a-tree/

ANYWAY. When I went to pick him up from school, he told me he didn’t like me, and that he hadn’t wanted me to pick me up from school. He’ll often do this if he was expecting someone else to pick him up (no-one should ever dare mess with Little Man’s plans – not even trees). Now, this has been going on a lot recently. He doesn’t like me, he doesn’t like Baby Brother, he won’t listen to me, he won’t do as he’s told. Its getting quite frustrating. I’ve been laughing it off, as I figure he’s 3 and he doesn’t really know what he’s saying all the time, I think a lot of its picked up from those people around him. But, today I got quite annoyed. I just couldn’t put a happy face on it anymore. So, after the 100th time of him chanting, ‘I don’t like you’ at me, I snapped. ‘I know, Little Man! I know! You’ve told me over and over and over again, you don’t need to tell me anymore, so just stop it! Do you understand? Just stop it.’ He must have picked up on the seriousness of my intention, if he didn’t quite understand the phrasing, because he went all quiet and looked a bit shocked, stopped his whining. He didn’t say anything for a few minutes, and then piped up with, ‘Can I have a treat?’
I was still quite grumpy with him, and I realised that he’d gotten into the habit of getting treats at any time of day, for any reason at all. I figured I would take the opportunity to play a bit of hard-ball with him.
‘No,’ I said, ‘Treats are for good boys and girls.’
‘I’m a good boy,’ he said.
‘Yes, you are,’ I said, ‘Usually, you’re a good boy, but this morning you have been very naughty and very rude, and so you don’t get a treat today.’
‘I’ve been a good boy today, ‘ he said.
‘No, you haven’t,’ I reiterated. ‘You’ve yelled and screamed, you’ve bossed me about and you’ve told me you don’t like me. Do you think that’s being a good boy?’ No reply. ‘Do you think that’s being a good boy, Little Man?’ He shook his head.
Pause. He smiles.
‘I like you.’
‘Well, thank you, that’s nice to hear.’
‘Can I have a treat now?’ I chose to ignore this and keep going with my cleaning. A few quiet minutes go by. He squirms in his chair.
‘Can I have a treat now because I love you?’
I couldn’t ignore that comment. He never says ‘love’, not even to his parents, let alone me, so the fact that what had gotten him to say it was the promise of an ice-cream was just too much. I had to laugh. Of course, it was totally my fault, as I didn’t make clear the sort of behaviour I wanted from him. I tried to get him to sit it out a bit longer, but in the end, after I’d cracked up at him, it was too hard to keep saying ‘no’. It was actually one of the best afternoons I’ve had with him in a while, though, so I should probably take a harder line more often.
The other incident today was with Baby Brother. I spoken before about how gorgeous it is to watch Baby Brother watch the world, or to play with something new. Today, though, was on a different level. Baby Brother had just finished lunch and we were sitting together, waiting until it was time to pick up Little Man, and I was making silly faces for him to pass the time. I was probably sitting closer to his high chair then usual, and I stuck my tongue way, way out, as far as it would go. Baby Brother’s eyes went wide, and he did the little grunt sound he makes when he’s a bit delighted by something and wants to play with it. His hand went up, and before I know it, he’s prodding my tongue with his tiny little fingers. Then he’s scratching it with his little baby nails. This probably sounds disgusting, but it was actually really interesting, because I was pretty close to his face and could see all the different expressions cross over it. Fascination, delight, amusement, concern, confusion and many other tiny gradations in between. It was so funny, I couldn’t stop myself from laughing every minute or two, which took my tongue away from Baby Brother’s tiny fingers. He’d give me this look like, ‘Oh, why’d you do that?’ which would make me laugh even more, and then he’d start to laugh too, and I could see him thinking, ‘I have absolutely no idea what is so funny, but you look like you’re having fun, so I think I’ll join in too, and, besides, maybe if I’m nice to you, you’ll show me that weird bumpy thing that sits inside your mouth again.’ When I’d finally composed myself, I’d stick my tongue out and he’d start prodding it again, with all the seriousness of a scientist. The funniest moment, however, was when I twisted my tongue round to the side, so that he could see underneath the tongue as well as on top. Baby Brother’s eyes suddenly went as round as saucers again, and he made this tiny little surprised ‘ooh’ sound, like twisting my tongue around was the single most amazing thing he had ever seen in his entire life.
And you know what? It probably was.
Which is why babies rock.

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Sometimes, Kids are Hilarious

This gave me the first genuine laugh of the week, since coming back to Ireland. I had been chasing Little Man around the house with his inflatable crab all morning, then I told him the crab was tired and needed to have a rest (ie, I was tired and needed a rest). I walk out to the hallway and find this:

Its not strange religious offerings or anything, Little Man just decided the crab needed energy to continue the rest of his day.

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Rule Britannia!

I realise the irony of the post title considering I am living in Ireland. Well, maybe not irony, unless we’re talking about the definition of irony when used in an Alanis Morrisette song, but… something. Insensitivity? Crassness? The point is, I’m living in Ireland, this blog is meant to be about the great time I’m having whilst in Ireland, and I’ve headed this blog post with a title that celebrates the colonial power across the water. And not just any colonial power, the colonial power that did some seriously shitty stuff to Ireland over the years, including, oh, not helping out during the potato famine, taking away the native language, burning down all their churches, sending much of their population to Australia as convicts, and just basically not letting the Irish people rule their own country for several hundred years.
But, the unfortunate fact of the matter is, I went to London on the weekend and it was pretty freakin’ fabulous. And if that makes me a totally worthless, ignorant, pro-colonialist, pro-military, royalist, conservative, right-wing, panderer to the established classes, well, then, so be it.
Rule Britannia!
I have been looking forward to this trip for a long time. Ever since I booked it in fact (bada – BOOM). But more so since about late September, when I began to think I didn’t want to be an au pair anymore (and even more so since October when I finally admitted I didn’t want to be an au pair anymore…. Au Pairs Anonymous: ‘Hi, I’m Jenny, and I… don’t want to be an Au Pair anymore. Its been about 6 weeks now since I last found something a kid did ‘cute’…..’). So, its been a while. Of course, a watched pot never boils, and a watched calendar never… turns its pages, or something, but every few days I would take down the calendar, or type ‘2011 calendar’ into google and then count the days and weeks left until my long weekend in the UK.
I left on Friday night, straight after work. My host dad rushed me to the bus, which was very lovely of him, considering there was absolutely no rush, I had plenty of buses to catch, plenty of time to catch my plane, but it did mean a glorious few hours sitting around the airport, drinking a glass of wine, eating dinner in peace, reading my books and/or newspapers and just generally being a grown-up adult type person (who has no children).
We flew into Heathrow, which I prefer to the other airports, not only because its closer to the city, but because it doesn’t have the ‘cut-price airline’ tag that is attached (in my mind) to Gatwick and Stansted. That’s right. I’m an airport snob. I bet you didn’t think it was possible to be an airport snob. But, that’s just another benefit of reading this blog – to find out that its possible to be snooty about things like which London airport you fly into. I want to make a joke about first world problems here, but I am also aware that the first world problem of cheap air travel is something that genuinely worries and upsets me in a broader sense (in terms of the damage its doing to the environment), whilst still not wanting to change my own current habits and opportunities (did I tell you all I’m going to Amsterdam in December???) so its something I’d prefer not to be flippant about. Should I make a flippant joke about first world problems, or should I not make a flippant joke about first world problems? Ahhh… #firstworldproblems.
Anywho, I flew into Heathrow and took the express train into Paddington station, where a friend was meeting me. I was being put up in a creative Antipodean flat in East London (apparently there are more artists in London per head of population than anywhere else in the world – fun fact!), to be specific, in London Fields, just near where a lot of the riots happened in July. That didn’t really weird me out. What DID weird me out was when I got to the apartment and they had been having interviews for a new housemate, and they were talking about one of the people they had interviewed, and I thought, ‘Hmm… he sounds familiar,’ and I asked what he looked like and it turns out they had interviewed my buddy from Actors Centre. It then turned out that one of the girls knew many other folk from the Actors Centre, at which point I had a great desire to talk about 6 degrees of separation, Kevin Bacon and sing, ‘Its a Small World After All.’ All of which I resisted, as I was in an uber-trendy East London flat with creative Antipodeans and I didn’t want them to think ill of me.
The next morning, I got up early and headed to King’s Cross station, as I was off to Cambridge to do an improvisational storytelling workshop with Shon Dale-Jones from Hoipolloi (oh, why, yes, I do sound like a wanker). Beforehand, however, I met up with a friend from high school, who had very kindly invited me out for breakfast before my workshop, to swap stories on the past 10 years, particularly as they related to men. Not that we women only talk about men, of course, before all you men out there start getting big heads/start getting paranoid, but there were some strange coincidences cropping up in Michelle’s ‘men stories’ and my own ‘men stories’ (not of the 6 degree of separation variety – thanks be to God), and we needed to compare notes. Breakfast turned out to be not even close to long enough (though it was deliciously French), but, luckily, we had arranged to meet for a cheeky drink afterwards before I headed back to London, so there was still time.
The workshop itself was wonderful fun, with some lovely people, and I ended the day feeling I had learnt something. The problem, I find, though, with going to workshops with people I admire is that I’m always kind of hoping that at the end of the workshop, they’ll turn around to me and say, ‘You! You are wonderful! Talented! Amazing! You must be in my next play/film/book/radio piece etc! You must especially be in the etc!’ And I will modestly agree. When it doesn’t happen, I always end the workshop feeling slightly depressed, even if the workshop itself was great fun and a big success. So, I know to check myself early these days, and stop attempting to get the workshop leader’s attention/approval/praise/love/adoration at the beginning of the day, and at the end of the day, I tell myself to stop being silly and to just leave and to stop hanging around the door in case the workshop leader was just waiting for everyone else to go before telling me that he wants to cast me in his next play. Having a friend to meet and drinks to consume straight afterwards certainly helped.
I missed (deliberately) the train I had been intending to get back to London, and then missed a few more, as Michelle and I were having such fun in the lovely Cambridge pub with lovely fairy lights and creeping vines and attractive young intellectual folk. She told me I was welcome to stay on her blow-up bed (which you can inflate with a hair-dryer! Though, once the air gets cold, it will deflate a little. Gosh, the things they teach you at Cambridge!), but the lure of the city was too great, and I jumped back on a train to East London, where a creative, Antipodean house party was in full swing. My ACA buddy was there, and it was kind of delicious to be surrounded by Australian accents for a night. A little too deliciously comforting for a person who considers herself to be a committed and experienced traveler and searcher-outer of different cultures, lifestyles and people, but I gave in and had a fabulous time. I even went for a peaceful walk through Peacer’s Park at 3am and saw three foxes and kicked up the gigantic fallen autumn leaves.
Except, that, of course I didn’t go for a walk at 3am around the area in London where the riots were, Dad. And, if I did, I wore a bullet-proof vest and went with a large group of very trustworthy, burly men, all of them highly- trained in the various martial arts.
Ahem.
Sunday was blissed out and peaceful, starting with a great, big, long sleep, and when I finally got up, it turned out to be a beautiful, sunny day in London. I headed straight out to the park again, but it being too small for my purposes, I started to wander further afield. I found a canal and followed it for about an hour and a half, listening to ‘The Clash’, going past lovely riverboat houses, parks, apartment blocks overlooking the water, and generally being happy and whimsical and excitable. The one thing I will say about London that is a bit sad, is that nobody smiles at you in the street. Even if you smile at them! Even if its clear you are having the best day of your life and absolutely everyone else should be included in your joy! No! They look at you as if you possibly have escaped from a nearby mental institution, or that you’re about to attempt to sell them a series of books about Ancient civilizations, or that you’ve just found Jesus or something. They scowl, or they look away quickly, or they look confused, as if they feel they should know who you are but they can’t remember. Its a shame. You can smile at everyone in rural Ireland when you walk down the street, because even if you don’t know them, there’s still a sense that you share something. Somehow, in some bizarre twist of fate, out of all the people and the places in the world, the both of you have found yourselves walking towards each other at the same time, in a tiny little Irish village on the Celtic Sea, and that deserves to be celebrated with a smile. In London its like, ‘Oh, you’re here too? Yeah, so’s 10 million other people. Get out of my way.’ Ah well. I continued to smile at every passing stranger in the hope that I might brighten their day a little. At least they’d have something to talk to their kids about later that night. ‘You know, in the street today, a girl smiled at me.’ ‘No? Really? Did you know her?’ ‘No! That was the weirdest part! I’d never seen her before in my life! At least, I don’t think I had… ‘
Sunday night, I managed to catch up with an au pair friend of mine (we met in Bandon, but she’s now working in London) at my favourite frozen yoghurt place in Leicester Square – ‘Snog’. I’ve had more ‘snogs’ in winter than in summer, and this should prove to you how good they are. Even if you’re lips are turning blue, if you’re in London, you have a snog (ha!). I then headed to Brick Lane to meet another friend, but I was pretty wrecked by that point, due to my traverses across the city, and she was pretty wrecked due to housemate interviews all day, so we kind of slumped in chairs and drank water and talked instead of going out or doing anything more complicated.
The next day I saw my brother!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Which, the amount of exclamation marks should tell you, is a very, very good thing.
I haven’t seen my darling brother Chris since I left in January, and I was exceedingly excited about seeing him again, IN LONDON on the weekend. There was a slight problem, however, in that in my walk and snog induced haze the night before, I had left my mobile at my friend’s house in Brick Lane, and meeting up with someone in a city you don’t really know suddenly becomes that much more difficult without a mobile. Having a mobile phone around has clearly made me lazy and ruined my survival skills, as I forgot that if I wrote down my brother’s mobile from his Facebook message before I left the house, it would be relatively easy to call him from a pay phone at Victoria station and work out where he was. But, I went forth to Victoria station thinking there was NO WAY IN THE WORLD TO NOW KNOW MY BROTHER’S NUMBER, as I no longer had my portable phone and address book. I thought, ‘Well, it was easy to find my friend at Paddington, hopefully Victoria is similarly easy. I’ll just wait near the bus stop from Oxford.’ No. No, no, no, no, no.
Anyone who has lived in London, or even, possibly, just visited London, will be shaking their head in frustration at this point. Victoria comprises of the Underground, the train station and the bus station. In a place like Sydney, that might be doable, if you don’t know where you’re meeting someone, you can kind of find a central place, vaguely related to the place the person you are meeting is coming from and hang there until they arrive. At Victoria, the underground is separated from the bus station by a walk of some 15 minutes. On top of which, the departures of the bus station are separate from the arrivals. My only hope was that my brother would get to Victoria and NOT MOVE until I finally found where he had arrived. Of course, this did not happen, and eventually, I had to find an internet cafe, get his number, ring him on a pay phone (with my credit card – I mean, who carries around spare change these days??) and then head back to near the underground. The important thing is that we got there in the end, and it was absolutely delightful to see my brother, who is fit, exceedingly happy and totally absorbed with his new life at Oxford (and no, I’m not at all jealous. NOT AT ALL).
We had a lovely catch-up in a cafe with the slowest service in all of London, possibly the UK. Luckily, this suited our purposes, as we had 10 months of activities to catch-up on. We then headed back to Brick Lane on a search and rescue mission for my mobile phone, and spent the rest of the day around East London/Shoreditch/Hackney, where my brother had never been (thus suggesting, for only the first time in our lives, that perhaps I was cooler than him), I bought a beautiful, bright red flapper-style hat with what appears to be a Christmas flower attached to the side from the ‘Hat Man’ at the Spittlefield Markets and felt exceedingly happy, so happy that I refused to take the hat off whilst we went for a drink in a pub, probably breaking all sorts of proprietary and etiquette rules, meaning I won’t be allowed into the UK next time I try to go there for a holiday.
Unfortunately, though I was having an absolute ball, feeling like a million pounds (of money, not weight – that would be a whole other feeling), this was my last afternoon in London. The later in the afternoon it got, the less light, the more desperate my thoughts became. ‘Just call them, and say you’re not coming back to Ireland! You’ve got all the important stuff with you, who cares about all the stuff you’ve left there!’ Or, ‘Don’t call them! Just stay in London and switch off your mobile phone and no-one will ever need know!’ Or, ‘Don’t call them, go back to Ireland, but just don’t go home!’ Or, ‘Just, please, miss your plane or something? At least, just miss your plane? And go back tomorrow? Please? Please?’ The thoughts were getting more and more pleading as I got off the Heathrow Express, walked through Terminal 1 and headed to the check-in counter. The thoughts got very angry at the Aer Lingus sign, even angrier at the sound of Irish accents. They were furious by the time I was heading towards security, and even when I had gotten to my gate, they made me sit there, staring at the gateway to my plane until the very last minute, til the ‘All passengers to Cork, this is your final boarding call…’ They made me sit there, staring angrily at the Irish stewardesses in their emerald green uniforms because the voices couldn’t quite believe I would go through with it. ‘You can’t be serious!’ screamed the voices. ‘You can’t seriously be going back there? You are absolutely insane! I have no respect left for you!’ The voices kind of felt that if they started abusing me, they might get a better response. But, to no avail. I boarded the plane, and actually shed a few desperate tears as we flew off from Heathrow and I watched the lights of London disappear below me.
The week since London, it is fair to say, has been going slower than all the weeks leading up to London combined. I’m continually doing calculations in my head. How many days until Christmas? How many days minus the weekends? How many hours? No, that can’t be right, try again. Count with the calendar. No, it has to be sooner than that. Little Man, when he’s been grumpy with me has been telling me to ‘Go back to London’, which I feel is just rubbing salt in the wound (he also asked me, ‘When do you leave?’ I said, ‘Christmas.’ He said, ‘No, go now!’ I snapped, ‘Little Man, if I could go now, I would. Believe me, I would march out the door, right now.’ I’m hoping he thought it was a joke and won’t be scarred for life by my grumpy mood).
So, anyway, next year’s destination is now, most definitely, London. I had a brief fling with Edinburgh, but I can’t deny the long-standing passionate and heartfelt love I have held for London, a love that has stretched from my childhood days, watching ‘Yes, Minister’ with my parents and admiring the grand watercolour drawings of Big Ben, Westminster and the Thames. I feel a little grumpy that I’ve decided to go now, I have to say. So many brilliant years behind London and the UK, and so many hard, hard, miserable ones ahead. Why did I put it off until now? Sometimes when I get really low about it all, I figure maybe I’ll be able to make great art out of it (always my consolation when bad things happen) and I’ll be like that filmmaker who made ‘This is England’, who only ever makes films about Thatcherite England, and that living through the collapse of the Euro whilst in Europe will somehow be the making of me.
Nonetheless, for whatever the reason, whether its my bad luck, bad timing, my stupidity, my fate, something to do with the Olympics, my Saturn’s Return, or because it’ll be the making of me, 2012 is the year for London and the UK and I’ll just have to make the most of whatever happens when I get there.
I can’t wait to get there.

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‘No Matter Where You Go…’ The Blog Entry

I haven’t blogged in a while. I’m not particularly enthusiastic about doing it now either. All I feel like doing is sitting in a darkened room and staring at the wall. That’s another, un-bloggable story. Yes, its true. I do believe some things are un-bloggable.
But, I’m making myself blog. Its probably good for me. Good for me to think about something else. Good for me to do something other than stare at a black wall. It doesn’t feel good right now. It feels… I don’t know what it feels. Sorry, coming up with complete sentences right now seems like an unnecessary effort. I’m not trying to be melodramatic or self-pitying here, I’m just trying to describe my mood. So, don’t be surprised if this post isn’t the most amusing of ones.
My mood has nothing to do with the blog post subject matter itself, though, let me be clear on that before I get a whole heap of messages attempting to cheer me up via comments on how amazing it is that I performed and wrote a show whilst in Ireland.
So, last Friday, my director, Yvonne and I travelled to Wexford, Co. Wexford to put on the Irish half of ‘No Matter Where You Go, There You Are.’ It’s been an interesting experience this whole play. Certainly very challenging logistically, but also challenging emotionally as well. It became very personal and I’m still not sure that people wanted to hear about all of the stuff they ended up hearing about in the show, but, hey, its done now.
Logistically, the Irish half of the play has gone through more than its share of disasters. At one point, I did think I might have been part of Terry Gillam’s famous disaster ‘The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,’ as our luck just seemed so bad and wouldn’t get any better. Last Wednesday (keeping in mind, we opened last Friday), I got an email from the manager of the venue we were planning on using telling us that the time slot printed in the Wexford Fringe programme wasn’t going to work with them, as security closed up the grounds 15 minutes after our show was due to start. Our show was 75 minutes long. So, unless myself, my director and our audience were willing to sleep at the venue overnight, just for the glory of having seen the show at the Agricultural Museum, we had a serious problem. Our venue manager wanted us to bring the performance time earlier, but we figured that we would effectively lose one performance then (on the Friday), where most of our audience would turn up at 4pm, when we would have just been finishing.
So, instead, we decided to find a new venue. With one day to go.
Now, I’d be lying if I said I had anything to do with the miracle that was the Talbot Hotel. The last minute find of venue was due entirely to my amazing director, Yvonne, whilst I lay on the couch with my eyes closed and my arm draped over my forehead, like some sort of pathetic nineteenth-century damsel in need of her smelling salts. The wonderful Talbot Hotel, right in the middle of Wexford, agreed to let us hire some rooms (one for the first two performances, and a second one for the last day) at the same cost as what we were going to pay the other venue. So, Yvonne contacted the Wexford Fringe, told them that we had to change venues and asked if there was anything we could do to get the word out. They said, ‘oh yes, tweet the details at us, and we’ll retweet them.’ But, apart from that, ‘Good luck!’
So, we were heading off on Friday morning to an unknown venue, with a potentially non-existent audience to do a brand new show in which I told total strangers pretty much everything they’ve never wanted to know about my insecurities, self-destructive behaviour and anxieties. So, pretty much this blog on stage.
To say that I was nervous is an understatement. I had set the goal of being happy if 3 audience members turned up for each performance, so that I didn’t have to get upset when hordes of people failed to show up, but was also kind of secretly hoping no-one turned up so I wouldn’t have to tell people these things that I had decided to tell them.
Of course, the nature of the show was that I had actually already told people these things in Melbourne, but there is a large difference between recording your deepest darkest secrets and fears and sending them off to a stage on the other side of the world and having someone else play them for an audience that you can’t see, and actually standing in front of people, attempting to make eye contact with them (or avoid eye contact as the case may be) as you tell them what its like to struggle with eating disorders for the majority of your adult life, to lose your mother at 8, and how all this ties in with why you’re on the other side of the world to your friends and family.
ANYWAY. We got to the Talbot, and the first room they had for us was wonderful. It was a tiny part of their big ballroom, and it suited our needs perfectly. Enough entrances, dressing rooms, space etc. We had trouble with the projector, but I seemed to be able to fix it miraculously after 30 minutes of fiddling, so we were ready to go. The problem with fixing things miraculously, of course, is that you don’t actually know which of the 100,000 buttons and switches you pushed or flicked actually fixed the technical issue, so if it ever happens again, you’re screwed. But, that is a story for day number two of my very own ‘Lost in La Mancha’ movie. 
It got to 4pm, which was when our play was due to start, and nobody was even looking like they had turned up to see it. It was only then (after 7 months of planning) that I realised what a terrible time 4pm on a Friday was for a performance. Not everyone is taking time off work for the Wexford Fringe. Whoops. You live you learn. It was about 4:15pm and we were about to start and call it our ‘final dress rehearsal’, when a woman came running in. She’d been all the way out to our old venue and had now headed in to the new one. What’s more, she told us there were two more people following. My goal of 3 audience members was reached! Hooray! Psychologically, however, I had just shifted from ‘performance’ to ‘dress rehearsal’, so it was more than a little intimidating to shift gears again.
One of the women started to talk to me, as I was getting ready to start (I began in the audience), about how she felt she and her husband should get a discount because they had to drive all the way to the other venue and then come back again. It was not the most promising start to a performance I’ve ever had. Especially one in which people kind of have to like you to engage with you and the performance.
Anyway, I did the show. It started well, but as soon as we started getting more personal, I pulled back. I was scared and intimidated, and was worried that these 3 elderly audience members didn’t want to hear me swear and get upset and angry, and were potentially getting bored. So, I tried to pretend it wasn’t happening. I said the lines and tried to think about other things. Not great, really, but I got through it.
And the feeling of relief when I had actually gotten through one show successfully! Well, that was definitely worth it. The audience were very kind and stuck around to talk to Yvonne and I afterwards, interested in the project, interested in how it had differed greatly from what they had expected etc. Turns out a lot of people thought it was meant to be more ‘lecture’ than ‘performance.’
So, Yvonne and I went and had dinner, some wine (tea for me – I was still hoping vainly that my throat and nose might clear up) and then headed back to where we were staying in Old Ross. Yvonne’s friend’s mother was putting us up for the weekend, which was incredibly kind and incredibly wonderful. We went home to a roaring fire, more wine, a friendly welcome and warm beds. I slept so soundly. I slept so long. That morning, we had originally thought we would go out and spruik the show, but then realising that it was much more difficult than spruiking a show, say, in the Edinburgh Fringe (where everyone in the city is there for the fringe), we decided to rest up instead. It was a good choice. I lay in bed, in the quiet, and the warmth, and read a book. It was one of the most relaxing mornings I’ve had in a while and it made me realise how much I need to do a lot more of that, as soon as is humanely possible, before I lose my mind and sense of self.
We finally got going that afternoon around 2pm, after having the loveliest, most delicious, most nurturing home-made breakfast I’ve had for ages (Home made granola, home made brown bread, scrambled eggs, fried tomatoes, fresh orange juice, tea, coffee, fresh scones, oh my god, it was amazing and made me want to move to a farm straight away and start making jam and bread). We knew that we had the room all set up, so weren’t too worried about getting in the space too early.
Oh, how wrong we were.
Remember how I said the trouble with not knowing how exactly you fixed something is only problematic when you have to go back and fix it again? Well, that was the trouble we had that afternoon. And, no matter how many of those 100,000 different buttons I pushed and settings I changed, just as I had done before, the projector refused, point blank, to read my computer’s screen. It was 4pm. We had an audience (we had an audience!!!). We told them, calmly, that we wouldn’t be starting for another 15 minutes due to the technical issues and the fact that we were waiting on people from the other venue. People from the other venue turned up. It was 4:15pm. We explained we still had technical difficulties. We tried changing computers. Now the projector would read the screen, but the sound wouldn’t play. Finally, we gave in and played the video on the tiny TV and DVD player we had.
Who knows why, maybe it was a combination of stress, having people I knew in the audience, having a bigger audience or what, but that Saturday show was the best one I did. Sure we had technical issues, sure I switched some words around (‘That couldn’t happen in a bus on Sydney’ – what, Jen?), but I felt the whole thing this time. I was on the edge in every moment. It was terrifying. But it was also good.
Saturday night we went home to veggie curry, more wine, more fire and another amazing sleep. Sunday morning we couldn’t hang around very long as we had to move our stuff to the second room. So, we headed out and began the move. This final show was ok, but not as good as the Saturday. The second room was difficult as it was much smaller and had no places to hide costume changes, exits etc. I was feeling a little unwell, and had to go on a search for Nurofen (which, I was told, only after visiting the 4th shop, that you can only get in chemists now, most of which were shut, as it was Sunday, so I had to walk to the other side of town to ‘Boots’, turning a 10 minute errand into an hour long one). Whilst a baby-faced 19 year old waiter had showed us how to fix our project/computer problem the night before (after the show, of course) we had more technical issues, of a different kind, during the production, with the DVD skipping. We had another small audience of 3 (2 other people turned up, but then left – they had also thought it was a lecture). A journalist came to interview us for the Wexford Echo, but didn’t actually stick around to review the show, so that was disappointing too.
But, we got through it! We came up with a pretty amazingly complicated and ambitious idea and instead of just talking about doing it, we actually did it. We’re going to take the show back to Cork and Kinsale (where people actually know us) and we’re hoping that the show itself will develop further with the addition of other people, other countries through into next year. We’re also going to be more careful about the places that we take the show from now on – for example, the Wexford Fringe is actually the fringe of the Wexford Opera Festival, so its got a particular clientele and is generally more community based arts. We didn’t really realise this until we got there. In the end, the show is probably more of a ‘fringe-y’ Fringe show, if you get my drift.
So, that’s the wrap-up of the the first outing of ‘No Matter Where You Go, There You Are.’ I’m glad I didn’t just spend the last hour staring at the wall. In fact, I’m now not wanting to finish this blog post, because that would mean I might need to actually get out of bed and have a shower, get dressed, that sort of thing. Its midday on a Wednesday, I really should be out of bed. But I just can’t face it. Unbloggable reasons. Sorry. 

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