Monthly Archives: March 2013

Birmingham

I meant to write this last week, but, as you will see, I got a little distracted yesterday morning by writing my previous post. Which was in no way related to anything about my life in the UK and travels and all the rest of the things that this blog is supposed to be about. But, hey, sometimes you just have to wake up one morning and write a viciously vindictive blog post before you can face the day. We’ve all been there, right?

Right?

Anyway, on to actual London life. One of my wonderful Irish friends has been visiting me since last Wednesday. Its been great having her around, though difficult juggling catch-ups with work and life commitments etc. We’ve had some lovely little adventures, though, out to Brighton on Sunday for a scratch show (which almost became a trip to Sutton because we got on the wrong train) and last Thursday we went to visit the artist we worked with last June as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival. He happens to live in Birmingham, which is a place I had never been (and my Irish friend had never been either) and neither of us had seen him for many months, so we decided to make a little excursion together.

I didn’t know much about Birmingham, to be honest. I knew their accent was called ‘Brummy’ and I had a feeling it was kind of an industrial place and there was a university and when I was looking for jobs last year, there was a position for a creative writing facilitator in one of the local prisons that I was sorely tempted by (but, of course, in the end, I went to London). I knew it was not a place that most people were excited about visiting. But, it had been a long time since I had been outside of London, and an even longer time since I had been outside of London to somewhere brand new (I think October last year was the last time I went somewhere new), so I was actually terribly excited. My English housemate found it slightly amusing/confusing.

Been scared off using the trains by the exorbitant last-minute prices, my friend and I decided the only option was the National Express, which is the UK’s national bus service. It took us two and a half hours on the bus, but I can’t really complain because I slept the whole time. I felt bad about not chatting to my friend, but I couldn’t actually help it. Something about the movement of buses and trains is very lulling to me – I’m like a baby. If I’m in anyway tired, its only a matter of minutes after I get into a fast-moving vehicle before my head is thrown back, my mouth is open and a little piece of drool is making tracks down the side of my face. I woke up in time to watch our approach into Birmingham, which I had been informed would show me the true awfulness of the place. I’m not going to lie. The drive past all that industry was pretty disheartening. But, I think, because I had been warmed and because I knew I was only going to be there for a few hours, the industry didn’t upset me as it might have. It just kind of fascinated me.

When we got into the coach station, we got a message from our friend saying his train had been delayed. We decided to do some shopping in the meantime. I had done my usual Spring/March trick of dressing for the weather I wished we were having, instead of for the weather we were actually having; and had dressed in a long-ish, cotton skirt with no stockings and a light jacket. The weather forecast for that night was 6 inches of snow. So, my immediate aim was to locate and purchase some warm stockings. We headed to the Bull Ring, which is the local shopping centre. I don’t quite know how to describe the Bull Ring. It kind of looks like an alien pod. Or a Pixar character. Or a conceptual art piece gone wrong. Or one of those things with the pins people used to have in the 90s and you’d put your face or hand or whatever into them, and it’d make a relief of your face/hand/whatever on the other side. Or, like its made out of glomesh. Whatever it is meant to look like or mean or inspire, it is the most oddly fascinating buildings I have come across in recent years. If the weather hadn’t been hovering around the zero degrees mark with a gale force wind blowing, I suspect I would have stood in the street and gawped at it for several hours. I don’t know if that would have helped me make sense of it, but I also don’t know that I would have had any power to resist. I mean, I’m serious guys, I think this shopping mall might actually have magical powers. Or the ability to hypnotise you. Or, at least, a magnetic force field that draws you, against your will and better judgement, into its capitalist bosom. Here, a picture:

We finally located stockings in the lingerie department. However, in Selfrdige’s Birmingham, a single pair of stockings will cost you more than the return bus journey to London. That’s right. Apparently, everyone in Birmingham is the wife of a Russian oligarch or some such. Well, that’s the conclusion we had to draw from the price tag on the stockings. We hurried out of Selfridge’s and into the next-door ‘Rag Market’, which, by its name, sounded much promising. In fact it was. It was much more similar to the Bull Ring we had down the road from my house in Dublin: a large warehouse type space with many different stalls set up inside selling everything from animal-shaped phone covers to mou-mous to Strictly Ballroom inspired fashions. I got 3 pairs of stockings (one made out of wool) for 9 pound. I was very happy.

We went outside and caught the end of the fresh food market, where the bargains continued. 3 rounds of cheese each costing less than a pound, and a huge bunch of grapes that were each, individually, the size of large lychee. I absolutely adore markets like this and I am sorry I have not yet located one in London (there are markets. They’re just middle-class snooty organic artisan handmade markets, which are still nice in their own way, but are, also, hellsa lot more expensive).

About this time our friend called and we met up with him. We took a taxi back to his house, which was probably the most charming thing I’d ever seen. He has a beautiful black rabbit named Doris that rambles freely across the living room and kitchen, as well as gorgeous artifacts from various shows, travels, friends and just general living, artfully arranged. There is amazing retro furniture he found on the street. There is a bird house made out of a toy camper van. Out the back there are chickens. We had a beautiful afternoon eating cheese, enormous grapes, drinking wine and catching up. We had pots of tea and drank them out of gorgeously delicate tea cups, which was appropriate considering our project together last year. He introduced us to a song about the National Express (to which we did an impromptu dance number), which can be found here: (song from 37 secs in). Which is a hilarious big band number. He also gave me a great idea for a new show/story, which involved me marrying his rabbit. It was great.

Around 9pm we made our way back to the coach station and got back on the (now much more amusing) National Express. Despite feeling wide awake (having drunk at least 4 cups of tea during the afternoon), within 20 minutes I was dosing again and managed to sleep most of the way home. Of course, when I actually got back home and into bed, it was impossible to fall asleep. Meaning I got about 5 hours sleep before work the next day. Awesome.

All in all, though, it was a fabulous little trip and I very much enjoyed Birmingham. It seems a delightfully eclectic place and I would like to go back on a day when they weren’t expecting 6 inches of snow and wander around a bit.

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10 Ways to Wreak a Terrible Revenge

10. Start dating a very large, very intimidating, heavily tattooed man. You know, someone who looks like he could snap a person’s neck in two the way that other people snap pretzel sticks. Of course, he WOULDN’T do that, but he COULD do it if he wanted to. Have tattooed man constantly around you, thereby creating a general sense of constant unease and anxiety in the subject of your revenge.

9. Start dating an incredibly hot person (of either sex). You know, someone that looks like they should be on the cover of Playboy or Playgirl. Have said hot person constantly around, thereby creating a general sense of constant, stomach-churning, self-hating envy and self-doubt in the subject of your revenge.

8. Win the lottery. Buy an island. Build an island resort. Invite everyone except the person on whom you wish to wreak a terrible revenge. ALL THE PEOPLE. ALL OF THEM.

7. Create a highly-popular cultural work that depicts exactly how you feel and think about said person and how your point of view is completely right and how they are THE WORST HUMAN BEING IN THE WORLD (see, for example, ‘Eat Pray Love’ or Noah and the Whale’s ‘The First Days of Spring’). Distribute said-cultural work widely. Preferably sell the movie rights and create a follow-up and/or sequel/prequel. Give many public interviews in which you explicitly state that said person was the ‘inspiration’ for said work.

6. Discover what person’s favourite food is. For example, burgers. Insert something into favourite food that should not be in said favourite food. For example, horsemeat. Or, mad cow disease. Create national health and safety panic which gradually fades into national health and safety unease, so that, even 10 years down the line, the subject of your terrible revenge is still unable to completely enjoy said favourite food.

5. Accidentally, on-purpose run into them at the supermarket. Pretend not to see them. Or, see them and act aloof. Or, pretend that you’ve actually completely forgotten who they are. Do a big act of trying to remember their name. Then, with great fanfare (and much volume) announce that you remember how you know this person now, wasn’t this the person who had uncontrollable diarrohea on the school excursion/graduation day/national television that one time?

4. Get better than them at the one thing that brings them joy and happiness, the thing that makes them feel like a worthwhile human being. If they pride themselves on singing, then you should win X Factor. If they are an excellent kick-boxer, you should become the WORLD CHAMPION KICK-BOXER. If they are the 5 time Mars Bar Brownie Champion of the Mudgee Country Show, then, GODDAMN IT, if you don’t go off and buy yourself a 10 pound bag of Mars Bars and get your arse in the kitchen and start making brownies until you are the 6 time Mars Bar Brownie Champion of the Mudgee Country Show.

3. Have a huge argument with said person, in which you detail exactly how they are a horrible, horrible human being, list all the terrible things they have done and how you will never, ever forgive them. And then run off in the rain and get hit by bus. Not, deliberately, of course, but preferably right in front of them so that for the rest of their life, not only can they never argue back or defend themselves from your depiction of them, but they will have to feel guilty for having made you run out in the rain and get hit by a bus.

2. Become Prime Minister. Create a national day in which all people must express their hatred for said person. Preferably in the form of burning effigies. Think Guy Fawkes Night.

1. Win the Pulitzer Prize. And an Oscar. And a Tony. And a Grammy. And the Nobel Peace Prize. Or, actually, any of the Nobel Prizes.

OR ALL OF THEM ALL AT ONCE ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

ALL THE PRIZES, ALL OF THEM.

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Emotional Rollercoaster (or No Set Topic)

You can probably guess from the title that this post is going to be a bit all over the place. But its been so long since I’ve posted and I feel I should just write something, even if I don’t know what that is (I really have been quite lazy the past two months. Well, truth be told I’ve actually been quite busy. I’ve been writing for other blogs and things and I just haven’t had much to say. London is grey. London is rainy. There is much rushing about, but its all kind of same-y same-y now. Nothing to write home about. Ha ha ha).

The truth is that the past month or so has been a bit of a rough one. Starting late January, early February, I somehow lost perspective. On most things. My stress levels went through the roof (evidenced by the fact that I was grinding my teeth in my sleep. Evidence  by the fact that my jaw was so sore and stiff during the day I couldn’t eat anything but soup, bircher museli and egg mayonaise. And they get pretty old, pretty quickly). There is/was a lot to blame this on. I was, of course, beating myself up spectacularly over any mistakes made in my new position at work. Or, anything that I didn’t know how to do. And, in the meantime, I was panicking about what else might possibly turn up that I wouldn’t know what to do about. Then I started making mistakes in my old position, probably because I wasn’t doing it as often, and, oh, goodness did I start to feel awful.

The weather has been, it is uniformly agreed, pretty shit for February/March. And yes, yes, yes, I know, I told you all I liked the winter and the cold and the snow, but as we have previously discussed, I am a changeable person and I prefer the weather to be constantly in flux (thereby reflecting my persistently mercurial nature). So the fact that it is now almost the end of March AND IT IS STILL NOT NEARLY SPRING-LIKE makes me despair. There aren’t even daffodils (except the brooch ones for Marie Curie). And, in February last year, there were daffodils EVERYWHERE. One of the posts I recently wrote for a different blog was talking up London’s parks. I figured it was a lovely and appropriately Spring-like topic to be writing on. You know, because it was Spring, and it was almost Summer and so therefore, outdoorsy topics were appropriate. I visited 4 parks with my camera and my high hopes. IT SNOWED.

My February/March. Artist's impression. Found at: http://www.wearegoingup.co.uk/2011/08/19/all-aboard-the-palace-rollercoaster/

My February/March. Artist’s impression. Found at: http://www.wearegoingup.co.uk/2011/08/19/all-aboard-the-palace-rollercoaster/

My personal life has been a bit all over the place (when is it not) and its not something I really wanted to discuss on the blog. So, I kept talking around the topic, under it, over it, or just not posting at all. Two related incidents about a month apart from each other has ultimately ended in some major Facebook surgery, if you get my drift. The past few days, in particular, have involved a lot of use of hot water bottles, DVD’s, red wine, comfortable, oversized clothing and suddenly bawling my eyes out in public places whilst listening to sad music. Of course, naturally, it’ll all work out in the end and in a year or so I’ll feel much better for having gone through this and it probably needed to happen and blah blah blah, insert comforting platitude here, but right now, quite frankly, it’s all shit.

Early February I idly picked up my passport off the windowsill to gaze nostalgically at all my travel stamps and realised that condensation had absolutely destroyed the picture (rest of the passport was JUST FINE, by the way). By the time the condensation was done with my image, it looked like the special effect for some science fiction movie, where the evil person is, like, stealing my soul or sucking out my personality through my photo. If you get me. There was this kind of empty, dead face, with a few black lines where the eyes and eyebrows used to be, then all the colours seeping through to the other pages. Anyway, the upshot is, I had to get a new passport (which made me unreasonably upset – I was getting quite the lovely collection of stamps and visas in the old one). And the upshot of that is that I had to get my visa transferred to the new passport. And the upshot of that is I had to pay an arm and a leg to get the new documents (Though, it was quite enjoyable going to Australia House, simply to discover that EVERYONE they employ is Australian. Right down to the security man who checked my bag before allowing me inside). However, it has meant that I’ve been stuck in England with no way of getting out of the country for the past month and a half. Which wouldn’t have been such a big deal, except that my cousin was in Paris in early February and I was desperate to take the Eurostar to visit her. I am determined to take the train to Paris AT SOME POINT. Just, clearly not anytime soon.

I’ve been a little obsessed for the past month or so with the idea that I’m going to have to leave London next year. I know it might seem far away to all you people who are not currently on a visa. You know, you people who live in the country you were born in, or, alternatively, one of you lucky bastards who has a Passport and/or Ancestry visa and/or Leave to Remain for whatever reason to stay in the country of your choice, even if you weren’t born there. But I feel like I am mentally checking off every day, thinking, ‘Well, that’s another London day I’ll never get back’. And if it wasn’t a great day, or an interesting day, or in anyway amusing or particularly ‘London’, I get a bit panic-y. I think its probably being made worse by the fact that this is the time of year when my plans for the next 9 months become clear. I’m going to be doing some exciting things, but a lot of them involve leaving London for weeks at a time, and I’m getting a little desperate at the idea of wasting any more of my London time somewhere else. Of course, I’ve had some very generous female friends offer to pretend to be in a de facto relationship with me in order to get me leave to remain, but I’m really not that ballsy/stupid (no, seriously, Border Control. I’m not that stupid. Though, I did just write about it on my public blog. So, I’m at least THAT stupid).

Of course, February and March haven’t been all bad. I discovered a cute new theatre, called The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond. I got accepted into the Last Frontier Theatre Conference again in Alaska. Old friends visited, new friends were made, wine was drunk, nights were had. And, in the end, like Kristen Wiig’s mother says in ‘Bridesmaids,’ at least, if this is bottom, well, there is nowhere to go but back up.

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Filed under Introspection, London

The Hidden Talents of Your Wait Staff

I’ve been meaning to write this one for a while, but I haven’t had a chance, for many and various reasons (really, the amount of times I write that at the start of a post, I should really just stop making excuses and write the damn things).

Anyway. I have been working as a waitress for a while now and I feel that there are a few things you should know about your waitstaff. People seem to think this job is just a matter of writing down orders, bringing out food and taking money. I’m here to tell you it’s a lot more complicated than that. Obviously not all waitstaff you come in contact with actually have the following skills (I’m particularly reminded of Phoebe’s sister Ursula who waitressed at the cafe featured in hit comedy ‘Mad About You’ – yes, my knowledge of early to mid 90’s NBC sitcom comedy is that detailed). I’m not trying to defend those really, truly terrible waitstaff who bring you the bread basket in their pants (‘Friends’ reference there, for all you playing at home), but next time you’re in a busy restaurant and you catch sight of your waitstaff consider that, if they’re doing a good job and you are enjoying yourself and your food, it’s likely that they have some (or all) of the following skills:

1) Diplomacy

Think of it this way. The kitchen is Israel and your little table of two is Palestine. Now, I’m not suggesting that the kitchen staff are going to enter the restaurant and start building an illegal settlement on your table, but you and the kitchen have conflicting goals, aims and beliefs (some dating back many hundreds of years), which essentially boils down to the fact that the kitchen wants to cook your food the way they always have and always do, and you want things different and slightly personalised (no onion, no pepper, extra crackling… you name it, you want it). Your waiter is like Sweden or Norway at a UN-sanctioned peace conference and is the go-between in negotiations between the kitchen and the table. ‘We can’t replace the goat’s cheese with parmesan, but I can offer you extra feta.’ The better the waiter is at getting the kitchen on side, the more likely it is that you will be able to enjoy the food you want to enjoy the way you want to enjoy it.

2) Language and Descriptive Skills

You see something on the menu. It sounds kind of interesting, but you are puzzled by some aspect of it. You ask the waiter a follow-up question. The waiter’s answer at this point is going to help you decide between taking a risk on something exotic or going for the burger. Also, your future enjoyment (or not) of your meal will depend a great deal on the accuracy of their descriptive powers (eg Your waitress tells you that you get five thin sausages with your mash. It comes out with three fat ones. If thin sausages are a particular passion of yours and their inclusion in the description therefore played a role in your decision to order said British staple meal, then you will, most likely, be sorely disappointed in your waitstaff). I’m not saying all good waitstaff are also potentially Pulitzer prize winning authors just waiting for their chance to shine… but, oh, ok, well, perhaps I am hinting that.

3) Intuition

The best staff know what you want before you want it. They offer you starters and sides you never knew were essential to your dining pleasure until they were offered. They get you a full water jug before your old one runs out. They fetch sauces before you ask for them. They print the bill before you have to mime for it. The best staff even know what you’re feeling before you’ve processed and understood the feeling yourself. From across the restaurant, I have registered a look of unhappiness on the face of a customer who had just bitten into their meal and, in a matter of seconds, rushed to their side to rectify the situation. I think you’ll find that good waitstaff actually combine the empathetic skills of a Mother Theresa, the mind-reading abilities of Derren Brown and the rapid-fire response of Superman.

4) An Eye for Detail

You may not care that the water glasses on your don’t match, but I DO CARE. And furthermore, I WILL DO EVERYTHING IN MY POWER TO PREVENT SUCH A TRAGEDY OCCURRING. See, though you may not realise you care, you will, at some point, glance at your table (maybe there’s a lull in the conversation, or some joke has fallen flat) notice the mismatched glasses, and even if you’re not conscious of it, part of your brain will register, ‘hmmmm… something’s not quite right. Something looks a bit scrappy.’ And then, on some level, you will start to feel uncomfortable. You will feel awkward. Unhappy. Like, life is no longer worth living. You will leave the restaurant displeased by something you can’t quite put your finger on. I am so dedicated to my job as a waitress that I care about whether or not all the people sitting on your table have the same size water glasses. I care about whether or not all the tables in the restaurant have the exact same layout, even though people at Table x will never see the layout at Table z. I care if you’ve been given two entree forks instead of a mains fork and an entree fork. If, when setting up the restaurant, I had enough time to measure the gaps between the napkin and the cutlery with a ruler, I would do it. What I’m trying to say is that, at work, I am actually Carson from Downton Abbey (at work, mind. At home it’s another story all together. I just switch that part of my brain off. It gets tired, you see).

5) Strategic Planning

On a busy afternoon or evening in the restaurant, you need a plan of attack. You need to work like a chess-player, always thinking two or three steps ahead. Or, like a boy scout, always being prepared. Or, like an ARMY GENERAL ORDERING HIS TROOPS INTO BATTLE. You need to know what all your tables are doing and all your tables are going to want not just in the present moment, but in the FOLLOWING fifteen to twenty minutes so you can make certain that all things happen at the appropriate time. And, if that’s not possible, then you need to make sure that the most important things happen first and the least important happen sometime afterwards. For example, a lot of meals are being brought out from the kitchen for Table No. 1, just as you’ve just taken a coffee order from Table No. 2.  It might seem like the coffee order is more pressing (because you have to make it yourself), but it could take up to ten minutes to get it all done. In that time, Table No. 1 could discover they don’t have their sides, one of their party is missing a meal and another’s meal is cold. If you ignore Table No.1 for 10 minutes to make coffee you can be assured that for the rest of the afternoon, you will genuinely feel like a soldier under attack from one particular quarter.

6) Interpersonal Skills

This one is a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how little it is appreciated – probably because everyone thinks they can do it. There is a difference, however, between good interpersonal skills (mine) and excellent interpersonal skills (some of the girls at work). The trick is to make everyone think you are their best friend. And the best way to do that is to try and believe it yourself. Laugh convincingly at jokes that aren’t funny, or you don’t like or that don’t even make sense. Your customers are the most fascinating, interesting, delightful, entertaining people you’ve ever met (and, hey, sometimes its genuinely true). You learn to handle difficult customers (who may not be interested in being handled). You notice when customers want to be left alone and when they want to have a chat. On my whimsical days, I like to think of the restaurant as my own grand 1950s manor, in the style of an Agatha Christie novel, and I am the lady of the house, graciously welcoming this eclectic bunch of dignitaries into my home (of course, I never run it so far into the novel that a mysterious murder occurs). I am the hostess with the mostess, so to speak, swanning about in a flowing chiffon gown, making chit-chat with all my guests and making sure they are as comfortable as possible.

Yes, I know, I’m totally bonkers, but it gets me through my shifts.

7) Mathematical Ability

There are a lot of people out there who don’t even look at their bills at the end of the night (who are these people? How much money do they have? Where did they get it? Can I have some too please?) They just hand over their cards and say, ‘oh, just split it equally.’ Just split 106.93 equally between 6 equally? Umm…. ok, give me a second. I have used my 5th grade maths skills more in the past 6 months than I have since the 8th grade when we were suddenly allowed to use calculators for exams. You can’t really carry a calculator when you’re on the floor (well, you could, but there are so many other, more vital waitstaff tools that need to be carried about – pen, pad, bottle opener etc – that, by the time you start adding calculator to the list you may as well just grab a backpack and bring the till and wine cellar with you), so when someone hands you a bill and some cards and says, ‘oh, just split it equally’, you have to do some pretty quick (and accurate) maths. So, it may not be essential to do it manually, you could walk away and get the calculator, but in my personal experience, suddenly looking anxious and rushing off to get a calculator can make a customer nervous. And, the last thing we want to do is make a customer nervous. The less the customer has to worry about pesky, routine things like money and cutlery and condiments throughout a meal, the happier they are when they leave.

Look at all those happy waitstaff! Found at: http://www.keene.edu/kst/2007Fall/memories.cfm?I=16

Look at all those happy waitstaff! Found at: http://www.keene.edu/kst/2007Fall/memories.cfm?I=16

 

 

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Nostalgia

In the past year I’ve had some seriously powerful nostalgic moments. And I don’t mean those passing pangs that hit you when you’re looking at old photos, like ‘Remember My Little Ponies?’ Or, ‘Oh, my best friend from second grade! I forgot about her!’ Or, ‘Hey, how nice was it when I had a flat belly and wore midriff tops all the time?’ (though, I do reminisce about that particular time more than is probably strictly good for me).

No, I’m talking about powerful, space-time continuum kind of moments where it seems like all the years of your life are collapsing in on themselves and you’re experiencing a place in the past, present and the future all at once; as if you’re seeing that place for the first time and the last time whilst standing somewhere in the middle.

There’s joy, of course, at going back to a place you haven’t seen in years. There’s joy in rediscovering somewhere that once meant so much to you, where you have so many happy memories. The scariest thing, though, is how easily you regress to that previous self, how quickly and completely you’re transported back. All your old hopes and dreams flood over you, intoxicating and enticing in a way that they haven’t been in years. You see your life as your past 12 year old self (or 18 year old self, or 21 year old self, or 26 year old self…) would see it and things that you’ve steadily grown accustomed to suddenly seem like the greatest injustices, the saddest failures, the bitterest disappointments. Needless to say, it’s an overwhelming experience, one liable to leave you on the verge of tears and/or giddy hysterics and/or headspins and/or nausea.

The first time I experienced this powerful nostalgia was in Ann Arbor, Michigan last June. I hadn’t been there since 1996 – a good 16 years ago, for those of you with slow maths skills (or ‘can’t-be-arsed-maths-skills). Walking into the same house where I had spent 4 weeks when I was 12, I was overwhelmed by the fact that the place still smelt exactly as it had 16 years ago (my friends thought this sounded a little insulting, but that was not at all my meaning!) A distinctive wood-y kind of naturalistic smell: not one that you buy in an incense stick or aerosol can. The whole place was crazily, gut-wrenchingly familiar. It was a place that I thought about all the time, re-mapping it in my memories over and over again.

Sometime last year I went to visit a friend in Kensal Rise (North London). As the bus took turn after turn, I realised with a sudden jolt that I knew exactly where I was. The first time I had visited London in 2005, I had forced my then-boyfriend to stay at a hostel way out in the sticks, because it was the only place I could find that had rooms for under 10 pounds (I also forced him to agree to dorm rooms instead of a private double, for the exact same reason – he was an awfully obliging and ‘money-anxiety’-understanding boyfriend). On a non-descript road next to a large cemetery, the location certainly wasn’t the picture-postcard London that I had been dreaming about for a good 12 years. However, it didn’t bother me. I was loving myself sick just for finally having reached London, I would have happily slept in one of those smelling-of-piss red telephone boxes, as long as I could stay in the city. However, in the years following this trip, I had forgotten the name of the tube station the hostel was located near. Resigning myself to the fact that this particular corner of London was now lost to me forever, I never attempted to find it again. And, yet, here I was, heading towards it on a cold, wintery night on a red double decker bus just like one of those nights back in 2005 (I had also forced said boyfriend to travel by bus the entire time we were in London – I said it was because I liked the buses more and you could see everything that was going by, but I’m sure he knew the real reason was another attempt to save money by avoiding the oh-so-expensive tube). The sudden recognition of Kensal Rise and the hostel spun me out and distracted me all night. I tried to make fun of myself, made jokes about being in some sort of movie montage, but at the same time, I genuinely felt disconcerted, genuinely felt lost and overwhelmed.

And then, last weekend, I went to a friend’s birthday party in oh-so-trendy East London. The friend was from uni and I hadn’t seen her in at least 6 years, which was going to be strange enough. Until she showed me the back of her house, which happened to open out on to the Regent’s Canal. Staring at the street art across the canal (the ‘carrot of judgement’ as she and her housemates had dubbed it) I had another sudden thunderbolt moment. I had been there before. I had walked past her house, a year and a half ago, on one intense weekend visit to London (whilst I was still living in Ireland). I had gone on some insane November afternoon walk down the canal, thinking I was walking towards the city (and I only realised this week that I was actually walking the opposite direction), ended up two hours from the apartment of the friend I was staying, completely exhausted and no idea where I was. And, at some point, I had passed the carrot of judgement. I told my uni friend, who was mildly interested (and that’s putting it mildly).

I mean, really, what was she going to say? How could I possibly explain what was going through my head that day when I had passed her (not-yet) house a year and a half ago? I could I explain what it meant to suddenly find myself back there and be so forcibly and unexpectedly reminded of that afternoon again?

Nostalgia is a funny old thing. A place that, for you, is special and unique, turns out to be completely everyday for someone else. It’s like drunk when everyone else at the party is sipping water. You’re standing somewhere, having a mind-numbing, out-of-body experience high on nostalgia, whilst the person next to you is going about their daily business. It’s a confusing, isolating feeling and I can only assume that it gets worse as you get older (which explains a lot of highly-emotional looks Dad would shoot me over the years, when I, you know, graduated from high school, or wore one of Mum’s dress or something…)

 

 

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Filed under Introspection, London