Category Archives: UK

Here, but not here

If you’ve seen me in person over the past 2 – 3 months, you will have gotten a detailed explanation of the difficulties I’ve been having with my visa application(s) to the UK. It’s long and boring and I’ve told it a million times, but as the story continues to twist and turn and inhibit my ability to live a normal life in the UK, it’s difficult to stop thinking about it.

So, let’s get you all up to speed.

I’m married to a British man. The usual way of gaining entry to the UK if you’re a non-EEA citizen and married to a British person is to apply for a spousal visa (the EEA is the European Economic Area, which is slightly different to the EU, for an entertaining look at the differences, see this video here). There are a few problems with the UK spousal visa. First of all, it costs approximately £1200. And that’s not for the visa, that’s for the application – if you’re rejected, you don’t get that money back. If you’re in the UK and you want to get an on-the-day service (you go into the office in-person and get your visa that day) it costs an extra £400. My initial reaction is that on-the-day service doesn’t add much value. Except for the fact that most people seem to get approved if they pay for the on-the-day service and people who apply by post seem to have a lot of problems. Obviously I haven’t done any proper research on this, but anecdotal evidence from friends and reading migrant forums seems to support this basic breakdown. So, it sux to be you if you’re not already in the UK, not able to get to the UK to apply for a spousal visa and not able to afford the extra fee to see someone on-the-day (though, with the pound in free fall, the on-the-day service seems to becoming a bargain for many potential migrants). Furthermore, this visa lasts for just under 3 years, which is not long enough to apply for permanent residence. If you’ve been on a Tier 4 Youth Migrant visa (like many Australian migrants to the UK are), you cannot use the years that you spent on that visa towards your permanent residence application. So, after you’ve paid £1200 – £1600 on the first spousal visa, you have to do it all again 33 months later. After that, you can spend however much money on permanent residence and then, if it hasn’t broken your spirit and your bank account, you can then apply for citizenship a few years down the track.

So, that is the first issue. The second issue is that the British partner or spouse must prove that they earn over £18,600 a year. If you don’t earn above this amount on a salary, life gets harder. Not impossible, but harder. If you do not have an income or do not meet the income requirements, you can make up the shortfall with cash savings in the bank (property and other assets do not apply, much to the chagrin of London property holders). To be eligible, you need to have cash savings of over £65,000 in the bank for the past 6 months. Furthermore, the potential (or real) earning power of the non-EEA spouse or their savings does not matter – the British partner is the only person taken into consideration. This doesn’t really affect me, but the policy has unfairly affected British women, who are more likely to be in part-time work, low-paid work or be unpaid carers of elderly relatives or children. Explaining all of this to a Russian friend of mine, she thought it must contravene human rights law. I don’t know if that could be proved, but the policy certainly is pretty heartless and has been used to separate partners from each other at very significant times, like, for example, at the birth of their first child (see here).

That’s the story from the British side. Now, if you are an EU citizen and you want to bring your non-EEA partner/spouse to the UK, because of freedom of movement laws, there is nothing the UK can do to stop you. They charge a £65 administrative fee to issue you with a residence card for 5 years.

Obviously, a few British people got together and went, hang on. I am also an EU citizen. Why can’t I bring my non-EEA partner to the UK under freedom of movement laws? It was challenged in court and we now have what is known as the ‘Surinder Singh judgement’. So, if you’re a British citizen and you move to an EU country to work (thereby exercising your right to freedom of movement), live there with your non-EEA partner, when you return to the UK, you will be treated as an EU citizen and be allowed to bring your partner back under freedom of movement laws.

SO, A. and I obviously fit into the above category having spent 2 years living and working in Germany. In light of the price difference between the two visas and the fact that I would gain the right to live in the UK for 5 years on the EU permit (even after Brexit happened, as long as I get the visa before the UK actually leaves the EU), we decided to go for the Surinder Singh route.

However, what with the fact that Surinder Singh is a loophole that the Home Office is super unhappy about and also, in light of Brexit, this permit and residence card is getting harder and harder to come by. Processing times have increased on the residence card even for EU citizens and their non-EEA partners, from 3 -4 months right up to the legal limit of 6 months. Originally, British people could move to an EU country for 3 – 6 months and bring their non-EEA partner back easily. However, a later judgement specified that the British citizen must move the ‘centre of their life’ to the EU country (a conveniently slippery and hard-to-define term), meaning that it was unlikely for British citizens to be able to use the route unless they had spent at least 6 – 12 months in an EU country.

So, we applied for the initial 6 month permit when we were still in Germany, knowing that once I got to the UK I would have to apply for the 5 year residence card. As anyone who follows me on social media will know, that initial application was rejected. The reason given was that we had not proven A.’s identity. At the time of the application, A. was travelling from Berlin to London every week for work. We couldn’t provide his passport, so we provided a certified copy of this passport. On the visa application website, it said that a certified copy of the passport was acceptable if the passport couldn’t be provided. Our certified copy was certified by a German lawyer suggested by the UK embassy in Germany. However, the Home Office obviously decided it was not good enough.

Looking at our options in a panic-induced haze after this rejection, we were informed by an immigration lawyer that the permit could be granted on the UK border. Obviously, this was not a possibility if you were the citizen of a country that was not visa-free to visit the UK (say, if you’re from Afghanistan or Belarus or Iran), because the airline would most likely not allow you to board their craft in the first place without a visa. However, coming from a visa-free country like Australia meant that I could literally turn up at Stansted, Heathrow or Gatwick and demand the permit there. I don’t think the Home Office likes to advertise it, because I found out about this route via forums and lawyers, not through the Home Office’s website, but the option is there.

So, on the 31st of August, we arrived at Stansted Airport, documents in hand, shaking in our goddamn boots. If I was rejected for the permit, there was no likelihood that I could just enter as a tourist, because the border agent would have ‘reasonable grounds to believe that I would overstay my visa’. If I was rejected, I would be sent back to Germany  as my port of last call and as I had stopped working there, my sponsored work visa was potentially no longer valid. If I turned up on the German border alone, they might not let me in and, consequently, send me back to Australia. So, A. and I booked emergency flights back to Berlin on the day we arrived in the UK, in case he had to accompany me back to Berlin to get me back into the country (as the non-EEA spouse of an EU citizen, travelling with that EU citizen, we don’t think the German border agents could really have rejected me).

Anyway, the border agent we met at Stansted was… less than friendly. He took our documents (refused to look at our immigration lawyer’s letter) and made us wait in the ‘bad immigrant pen’ (this is my affectionate name for the little guarded seated area they make you wait in so all the other people in the passport queue can stare at and judge you. I think this name makes it slightly less intimidating). When he returned to us, he informed us that we’d ‘certainly done our homework’ and that he’d be letting us into the country today because there was ‘nothing he could do to stop us.’ However, he informed us that there’d been another recent decision (the McCarthy decision – ominous) that meant that he wasn’t going to stamp my passport.  So, if I was picked up by the police, it would look like I had just overstayed my visa. More importantly, I would be unable to prove to employers or the NHS that I was here legally, meaning I could not work and I could not access health care. He advised us to apply for the residence card asap.

We entered the country. I assumed that I would be able to get potential employers to employ me if I had a letter from my immigration lawyer and the documents that proved I was eligible to be here (marriage certificate, evidence that A. and I lived together in Germany, evidence that A. had worked in Germany). After a conversation with our lawyer, it became obvious that was not the case. So, I spent a few weeks sitting around the house, getting certificates in Google Ads and doing MOOC courses, trying to ‘up-skill’ so that when I was finally allowed to apply for jobs, I’d look like I’d been doing something useful.

We didn’t apply for the residence card straight away and I bet you’re wondering why. Well, in July, we’d booked a late summer holiday to Croatia at the end of September, back when we’d foolishly thought all of this would be over by September. The holiday was pretty much non-refundable and both of us were worn out from 4 – 5 months stress of sudden job loss for A., wedding stress, moving stress and visa stress. We were going to the goddamn Adriatic and we were finding a goddamn beach and we were going to lie on it and we were going to de-stress. Goddamn it.

But, there was no guarantee that, on our return, we would be granted entry. We kind of assumed that there would be a record of our original entry into the country and that it created a precedent for us to be allowed back in. However, we weren’t certain.

At Gatwick, we met a border officer who was, I think it’s fair to say, the complete opposite of the man we met at Stansted. He was friendly, kind, understanding, empathetic, helpful. He looked up my name but could not find any evidence of any residence permit or any previous entry on the 31st of August. He took my documents and we were put in the bad immigrant pen again. When he returned, he handed me my passport and said, ‘There you go. I’ve put the stamp in it that you should have gotten in the first place. We would have given it to you if you’d just provided the passport.’

AMAZING! Suddenly the whole of the UK seemed open to me. I had a passport with a stamp, I could look for work, I could register with a doctor. I started immediately looking for jobs and putting my residence card application together.

As stated previously, the residence card application takes 3 – 6 months, but what with Brexit uncertainty, things have slowed down. The application requires my passport and A.’s passport. My passport, the one that has the proof in it that I’m allowed to work and allowed to access a doctor etc. But, as that permit is only 6 months long and the application can take up to 6 months (I’ve recently seen forums and blog posts that suggest the UK has no right to kick out anyone on that visa after 6 months, but I don’t particularly fancy testing their keenness to do it), I need to apply for the residence card asap. The application is currently being looked over by our immigration lawyer before being sent off.

Today, I had a job interview. It was for a temp service, so nothing exciting, but as I’ve been going out of my brain with boredom and lack of money for the past 6 weeks, it was definitely making me feel happy. As I couldn’t bring my passport, I brought a certified copy of the passport and the visa stamp. Not good enough. I have to wait for the letter from the Home Office saying that I’ve applied and that I’m eligible to work. This is what the lawyer advised me back in September when the first border agent refused to stamp my passport. Employers have a list of acceptable documents that prove someone is eligible to work (it is provided by the Home Office). If you don’t have one of those documents, you’re not eligible to work. I kind of thought a certified copy of a recognised permit would be enough, but, no. As far as I know, the letter that proves I’m eligible to work could take at least 2 – 3 weeks to be sent to me. Providing everything goes well. They have to collect my biometric information before the application actually gets going and I know of one person who tried 3 times to give their biometric information to the Home Office and the system failed every time (not through any fault of this applicant). I don’t know if my acknowledgement letter gets sent before the biometric info gets taken or after.

I’ve applied for a quite a few interesting jobs in the last 2 weeks. I’ve been offered some interesting opportunities. But there may be no way of starting any of these jobs before I get this goddamn letter. So, I might lose the opportunities I’ve been offered because I can’t get evidence I’m allowed to work together in time. I’m in an enforced period of stasis, I’m in the country, but have no way of taking advantage of being in the country. It’s hugely difficult to get my life here off the ground without the ability to find work. If I can work I can earn money, I can meet new people, I can get out of the house. Without money, everything becomes harder – there’s a limit to how much I can enjoy here in terms of going to the theatre, using facilities, even going to cafes and having a pot of tea. But, because I’m not at work, I have endless idle hours to try and fill. Sure, Alex is earning. Sure, I have some savings. But not earning your own money makes you feel powerless, anxious and vulnerable.

On top of all this, the Tories had their party conference a few weeks ago and the level of vitriol levelled at migrants who ‘take our jobs’ was astounding. Even if I was able to prove that I’m eligible to work here (because I AM eligible to work here, I just have no acceptable way of PROVING that I’m eligible to work here), I’d be terrified that an employer would look at my passport, shrug and say, ‘seems more trouble than it’s worth, really.’ What if the government puts in place quotas of how many foreign-workers are allowed to be employed by a particular entity? What if the government takes away my EU visa? What if, what if, what if? Sure, it’s not that likely, sure they’re just trying to make the racists who voted for Brexit feel happy and safe and listened to, sure I’m a white Australian and even the Conservatives like us (to pull their beer), if only to have someone to make convict jokes at and feel superior to, but… I am a migrant. I don’t really ‘belong’ here. I’m not ‘British’. Therefore, those anti-migrant speeches were directed at me, along with all the other migrants.

My ‘welcome’ to this country has been so cold and so hostile. I didn’t really expect them to roll out the mat, but the fact that it has been so stressful, that it has been ongoing, that just when we think something has been sorted out, something else comes along to frustrate it, has been so disheartening. I have been working to get status here since July. And it will not end completely until next April. At some point soon (I hope) I will be allowed to work. People are probably thinking that if I didn’t go for this particular route, maybe things would have been easier. But a friend of mine has only just had her spousal visa application approved after a year of fighting a rejection. She was lucky because she was able to stay in the UK with her partner with a different visa. Who knows how long it could have taken if A. and I had tried that route and who knows where in the world I would have had to wait and whether or not A. would be allowed to join me.

There’s always a difficult adjustment period when you move somewhere new. Even if everything had gone right with my visa application, there would have been a period of unemployment, a period of loneliness, a period of idleness. But all of this has been exacerbated by the visa difficulties.

The distressing thing is that this is not a ‘bug’ of the system, or something that people want to fix. This is the system. It’s this difficult and painful and long-winded because it’s meant as a deterrent. It’s this complicated to try and stop people applying in the first place. It’s not meant to be easy for you. I thought, initially, that I could get through this without an immigration lawyer. I really, really, really didn’t want to pay for an immigration lawyer. I can’t explain to you just how annoyed it made me feel that I (or any person) couldn’t do it on my (or their) own. But, looking at all the paperwork for the residence card sitting on my table earlier in the week, I just couldn’t bear to be rejected again. I couldn’t bear to wait 6 months for a rejection. Sure it wouldn’t cost much money if I was rejected, but I couldn’t go through the inconvenience and stress of it all again. Having to figure out my rights (again), having to make new plans (again), having to make a new application (again).

And the fact that the system is so complicated for people who WILL NOT be deterred is ridiculous. It’s not like A. and I are about to turn around and say, ‘oh actually, this is all too hard, let’s just get divorced.’ And it’s not like we considered this system before we got married and it’s attempt at deterrence was in anyway relevant to us (‘Will you marry me?’ ‘Won’t that be really difficult visa-wise?’ ‘Oh, yeah, you’re right, I take it back’). I’m sure people (the government) would tell me that it’s about making sure the system is ‘not abused’ by people who are not in ‘genuine’ relationships. Well, I call bullshit. I want to see the numbers of people who have ‘abused’ the system vs. the number of genuine couples who have had their lives broken (far worse than what A. and I have experienced) because of the system’s unnecessary complexity and harshness.

Do you want to hear something funny? It was easier and less stressful to apply and receive my two visas in Germany, even though those applications took place in GERMAN, which I did not speak beyond a beginner level than it has been to get my UK visa. That, I think, should be a pretty massive indictment.

 

 

 

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The Reception

After the wedding, we headed back to the UK for a bit. The celebration was being held in a small pub in Cambridge, The Cambridge Blue and we had a few things to get ready ahead of time. Also, my parents were coming to the UK to hang with us and Alex’s parents.

The week up leading up to the wedding was fairly uneventful. We had a long and annoying trip home from Copenhagen, but made much less long and much less annoying be being given a lift from one of Alex’s friends. Alex and I argued hugely over what music was appropriate for dancing to and what music was only appropriate for background noise. We ended up with 10 hours worth of music for a day that would only require music for, at the most, 8 hours, but alt at least we didn’t end up killing each other.

I went on a trip with my Dad to Titpon, a small town outside of Birmingham, where an ancestor of ours originally came from. We went to the ‘Black Country Living Museum,’ which was all about mining in the area. I overcame my fears of small, dark, wet and cave-like places and managed to go on a tour of a mine, during which I must have seemed so confident that a middle-aged lady attached herself to me for the entirety of the trip. Literally attached herself to my bag every time we had to move off with a little, ‘Now, where’s my lovely lady?’ It was weird and also sweet.

The real shadow over-hanging the week, of course, was the prospect of the UK referendum. We’d all been gobsmacked over Jo Cox’s death the week before. Alex’s father told us he literally couldn’t stand to talk about it. I felt heartbroken, which was strange because I had literally never heard of her before then. I think it was a combination of the extremity of the violence and anger directed at her, the fact that she had small children, that she shared a lot of the same politics as myself and just seemed like a hugely decent human being with ideals, drive, energy and passion. It didn’t help that when I first heard about the incident she was alive and being taken to hospital and I somehow managed to convince myself she would therefore be fine. I still can’t believe she died. There’s some strange childish part of me that still thinks that if she’d have survived everything else that happened afterwards would have been ok. Or, at least, not as bad. Anyway, driving around Tipton trying to find the Dudley Castle with Dad the day before the referendum, I spotted a UKIP bus and legions of overjoyed UKIP fans (in stupid hats. Why in stupid hats?) lining up to have their photos taken with some UKIP councillor. It was shocking to see them all in the flesh – up until that point they had literally existed as characters on computer or TV screen for me (me being from the London global elite, and all *dramatic eye roll*). My first instinct was, naturally, to roll out of the moving vehicle and give them all a right good kicking. Which obviously wouldn’t have played well, nor would it have made anything about Jo Cox any better. Sure it wasn’t Nigel Farage’s fault directly. But he has a lot to do with the current hysterical state of debate.

Anyway, Alex and I headed into London on the Thursday so that I could vote in the Australian election. (UK) Labour supporters at the station gave me a ‘Remain’ sticker and as we got into London, the number of ‘Remain’ stickers on people both young and old, from all walks of life, gave me hope. I met a friend for lunch at the Jewish Cultural Centre, JW3. When I went to buy a Snapple, the guy behind the counter saw my sticker and said, ‘thanks for voting to keep us in’ (not that I voted, of course, not allowed and all, but it seemed too complicated to go into at that point). When the woman ahead of me took too long to buy her lunch, the cafe guy who had thanked me told me to just take the drink for free. I got a free drink just because he thought I had good politics! I mean, I had the decency to feel pretty guilty about it all, but it really did feel even more embarrassing to explain it to him afterwards at that point. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just a bad person.

That night, as we were going to bed, an exit poll had Remain at 52% and Leave at 48%. So, when I woke up at 5am to find Alex staring at his mobile phone and he told me it was 52% Leave, 48% Remain, my sleepy brain, went, ‘oh god, no worries then.’ It took a good 60 seconds for it to properly process the sounds he had made, at which point I woke up completely. It was a complete panic. Not only was the state of the world very different to how I’d assumed it was, this decision seemed to completely upend Alex and my plans for the future.

That morning was difficult. We had so much to do. I had to buy flowers for the tables in the pub. I had to write a speech. We had to move out of Alex’s parents place and to the hotel we were spending the weekend at. I had to iron my dress. We had to go to the pub and check final details for the next day. But, neither Alex nor I had any desire to get out of bed. All we wanted to do was read more and more terrible stories about what the terrible future held and what terrible human beings we all were now that this was the way the vote had gone.  Alex said to me, ‘Have a shower. It’ll make you feel better.’ And all I could think was, ‘I don’t want to feel better. I want to feel WORSE.’

Somehow we got out of bed and got everything done that needed to be done. We went outside and the sky was not yet falling. People were walking around as if it were a normal day, instead of running and screaming and ducking for cover. It was all very strange. I kept trying to eavesdrop to see if I could find people who voted ‘Leave’ to hate or people who voted ‘Remain’ to commiserate with. But people seemed to determined to continue on as if nothing had happened. Had something happened? Surely something had happened. It was all terribly confusing. Had no one read the paper that morning?

Somehow we got to Saturday. I dragged myself out of bed (terrible night’s sleep) and started the whole process of getting pretty all over again. It was far less stressful this time. This time, instead of being stressed about being pretty, I was stressed about the speech I had to give. I didn’t want to give the speech. Even though Alex and I had both decided that we should give speeches, and it may have actually been my idea in the first place. Still, that was all irrelevant. Now I didn’t want to do the speech. I didn’t want to do a performance of love. I just wanted to be in love. I was in love with Alex, wasn’t that enough, goddamit, why did everyone insist on asking how it felt, it feels how it feels and you can’t describe it without resorting to cliche and making it sound cheap and ordinary and trivial and it wasn’t ordinary, not at all, so why did everyone insist I go ruining it by trying to describe it with my poor words, eh? Eh? Also, there was part of me that felt that if I got the ‘performance of love’ test wrong then my guests would all think, ‘well, that’s disappointing, isn’t it? The marriage is clearly not going to last. I mean, she’s clearly not REALLY in love. That was just not a good enough speech.’ Maybe someone would ring up Denmark and have our marriage made null and void. This is what my brain does to me.

Anyway, I managed to scrawl out something before putting my curlers in. Erin came round to help again and then we ‘paraded’ to the pub, less out of desire this time and more out of an understanding of Cambridge traffic jams. There was a jam and it wasn’t going anywhere. Still, a little child did stop in the middle of the footpath, gape up at me and yell to his mother (in Spanish): ‘The lady in red! The lady in red!’ That certainly made the walk worthwhile.

The pub had been beautifully done up by Alex’s parents, aunts and friends. We’d gone for a kind of ‘picnic’ feel so all the tables had kitschy, patterned tablecloths (made my Alex’s aunts and Alex’s mother’s friends), mismatched flowers and I’d made cheat’s bunting (strips of material instead of neat triangles). I’d been worried because we couldn’t put it all together before the day, but it looked super-dooper, even if I do say so myself:

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The first half of the wedding day was lovely until I remembered that I had to do a speech that I hadn’t even read through since writing it, at which point, it was panic-anxiety stations to the max. Petticoats and high heels and tight dresses to not assist when one is panicking, I must say. I got much advice ranging from ‘push on your lower abdomen’ to ‘have some more alcohol’ to ‘millions of people have done it before you and survived and you’ll be able to do it too.’ All of which was true and helpful but none of which calmed me down sufficiently.

Somehow, we finally got to the part of the day when speeches were done. My brother did a stellar job of MC-ing and Alex’s parents spoke beautifully to start. My own dad brought the house down with laughter and then, just to really stretch those emotional muscles, he made everyone dissolve into floods of tears, myself included. Alex’s friend Anna made, I think, the best Brexit joke of the day (in what was a hugely competitive field – I feel like a lot of friends treated our wedding as a wake for the EU, and that was ok, I completely understood and if it hadn’t been my wedding I probably would have done that too). As Wonderfriend Erin was taking to the stage, however, a huge clap of thunder made itself heard and the heavens opened, pounding our tiny marquee with hailstones the size of extra-large marbles. Poor Erin rose valiantly over the sound, but after she finished we took a 15 minute break. The hailstones provided an excellent distraction from my speech, especially as everyone tried to justify why the hailstones were ok. One friend explained that rain is good luck on your wedding day and what was hail but very hard, very concentrated rain, so this could only meanWh even better luck. Someone else explained that Zeus was angry because Alex had taken me as a bride and to be wary of any swans that might visit me in the evening time.

When the hail calmed down, Alex gave his (very sweet) speech and then I made mine. It was, of course, fine. People laughed in the right places, nobody called the Danish authorities to say a mistake had been made, we shouldn’t actually have gotten married, it was all ok. And that meant the only thing left to do was to enjoy the rest of the evening! We cut cake, we did a first dance to the Magnetic Fields’ ‘I’m Sorry I Love You’ (which I like to think of as the most British love song title ever) and all was good.

There’s not much else to say, really. It was a fantastic night with much dancing and drinking and talking and laughing. I danced so hard that the ribbon on the back of my dress came off somewhere between the pub and the hotel (poor vintage dress lasted 70 years in mint condition, it comes into contact with me and it lasts 2 events. Le Sigh). Brexit didn’t ruin it (though it tried damn hard and is still trying). It was so wonderful to have everyone there who was there and we hope they all had a fantastic time. The pub and it’s owners were great, made everything so easy with organisation and really helped us to get the best day we possibly could have. Everyone who helped out on the day or in the lead-up (and there were lots of them – friends who went shopping with me, friends who approved dresses, friends who picked up dresses, friends who did my hair, friends who attached eyelashes, friends who decorated on the day, friends who picked up cakes, friends who took photos, friends and family who made speeches, friends who organised Hen’s Nights and Stag Nights and Shag Nights, people I didn’t even know who sewed us 20 tablecloths, wrapped flower pots in paper and ribbons…) were incredible and the whole thing wouldn’t have happened without them. It was a perfect day only because everyone pitched in and it made both Alex and I feel so loved and cared for by our friends and extended family. So, to you, all of you, thank you.

 

 

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Filed under Dating, UK, Wedding

Things I Have Discovered in 2 Months

So the blogging has gone down the tube recently and its far too late to catch you up on everything that I have been doing, thinking and feeling (and I do know how you like those feels), so instead, please be satisfied with this list of things that last December I did not know and now I do.

1) Owning a dog is the only life goal I have can actually hold on to day-to-day. Everything else (what country should I go to next, what should I do for work, should I go and study something and if so, what should it be, should I become some kind of nomad or buy a house and settle down, am I city person or country person, should I keep dying my hair or not) is ripe for change on a daily basis (sometimes hourly! Sometimes minute-by-minute!) but having a happy fluff ball that loves me unconditionally (as long as I keep feeding it) is a no-brainer. I WANT ONE.

2) There used to be a place called Bophuthatswana. My friend used to live there. For reals.

3) There is an animal called a capybara, which is essentially a giant hamster. And it is also real:

OH MY GOD, LOOK AT IT, ITS HUGGING A CAT AND THE CAT LOVES IT from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/20/capybara-hugs-cat_n_3475268.html

OH MY GOD, LOOK AT IT, IT’S HUGGING A CAT AND THE CAT IS TOTALLY INTO IT  from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/20/capybara-hugs-cat_n_3475268.html

4) I have developed a strange desire to be invisible, which I can’t say I ever remember feeling before (I’m an actor – it would kind of be a hinderance). I don’t know what this entails, or why this feeling has come over me, but it seems to have prevented me from blogging things and also meant that I was that terrified bridesmaid at my friend’s wedding whose shoulders are up near her ears and who is gripping so hard to her bouquet that her knuckles have gone white.

5) You can sell your eggs for 750 pounds in the UK.

6) There are far far far FAR more white shirts and ‘distressed’ jeans on sale at GAP than you would have ever imagined. They have confusing numbers of differences in finish and material so you suddenly find yourself passionate about white yarn as opposed to bue yarn, which is something you can’t ever remember worrying about before.  Also, ‘distressed’ jeans is a supremely funny image. I mean, think about it.

7) There are Masters that you can do in Germany and Austria FOR FREE. And they are TAUGHT IN ENGLISH. HOW HAS THIS NOT BECOME A BIGGER LOOPHOLE IN THE INTERNATIONAL HIGHER EDUCATION MARKET??

8) Hampstead Heath is the best place on earth. I already knew this, but then I found out many other reasons why it was even better than I ever thought. Including the fact that you can actually LIVE IN THE HEATH. Not around it, not with a view of it, but IN it, surrounded by mud and trees and ponds and ducks and dog-walkers. The collection of houses in the Heath is called ‘The Vale of Health’, which is also amazing and adds further evidence to my ‘best place in the world theory’ and why aren’t you all now going to buy houses there immediately (oh is it because of the certain-to-be terrifying astronomical prices of the properties, yes, well, I guess that makes sense).

9) In Tottenham in the 1950s, the smogs were so bad, children had to walk to school with their hands trailing along a brick wall, as there was no other way of telling where they were going.

10) London plane trees were planted to soak up the pollution from the air into their bark – which would then peel off the trees

11) In the 10th century there was an English King named Alfred and he burnt some cakes, apparently.

12) Parakeets come from the foothills of the Himalayas and that is why their flocks have done so well in the UK, as the weather is not really all that different.

13) The problem with so many people not telling the truth in the theatre industry is that even when people assure me they are telling the truth, I don’t believe them and have no way of telling whether or not they are actually telling the truth because most of them are: a) so practiced at lying in theatre bars that its second nature b) actors c) my friends and are therefore really nice people who don’t like to criticise anything (especially nothing a friend would do).

14) British people have no idea who ‘The Nanny’ is

15) A 3 years Bachelor’s Degree from Australia is in NO WAY EQUIVALENT to a 4 years Bachelor’s Degree from the USA. Furthermore, History is in NO WAY RELEVANT to the field of creative writing (hope you’re listening, Hilary Mantel) (oh, #snap)

16) Smartphones are bloody expensive creatures to keep on a UK pay-as-you-go plan. They eat up data the way locusts swarms eat up crops.

There’s probably more, but I can’t think of anything else right now.

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Grantchester (and others)

Yeah, yeah, yeah, so I haven’t written in 2 weeks. But you could all see that coming, couldn’t you? I mean, if it wasn’t obvious that I had given up from the fact that my last post was written drunk and ABOUT A HOT WATER BOTTLE then you must have been able to interpret all the, ‘oh, God, this is so boring, oh God, I don’t want to write, Oh God, why don’t I just reduce every day’s experience down to one teeny-tiny sentence so I don’t have to do anything anymore’ writing that I was very close to giving up the ghost (giving up the goat? I am no longer certain which term is right. Or even if that is the right term for this particular scenario. Don’t judge, I only had 4 hours anxiety sleep last night). Well, you would have been able to realise that if I had been bothering post any of that crap to Facebook, but since I stopped doing that (because it was all crap and ABOUT HOT WATER BOTTLES) you probably all just think I died in the past four weeks and someone neglected to tell you.

I have also been working hard fo’ da money and also writing ACTUAL THINGS (like PLAYS), so I have had to neglect the blog. And, look, in all honesty, I think the neglect was probably a good thing. I wouldn’t want to spoil the blog with too much love and attention. Giving into its every whim and desire will only make it grow into a selfish and demanding blog with unmeetable expectations that no partner blog will ever be able to fulfil at a later point in life. You know? Yeah, you know.

Ah, goddamn, this was going to be a thoughtful, serious and introspective post. Something that I could post, with pride, to social media. And now look at it. I apparently can’t help myself. Also, how now to segue into seriousness and contemplativeness? Or… I could just sneakily change the title and do the seriousness somewhere else entirely, where it won’t be sullied by silliness…

BOOM. Done. This is now a different post.

So, last week, after I had worked 14 days in a row fo’ da money (no weekends! 10 hour days!) I got 3 days off. I decided the best use of those 3 days was to squish 14 days worth of activities into 72 hours, so I visited my brother in Oxford on Wednesday, visited my cousin in Cambridge on Thursday and went to Brighton for a show on Friday. I don’t have a car, and these places are best reached through London, so I did 3 day trips in a row and spent a lot of time on public transport. Which I don’t mind at all, because it gives ample time for staring out of windows and listening to music, but it was tiring.

Oxford was lovely – my bro is (sadly) heading home this Tuesday after completing his degree, so it was good to see him before he left. I will miss him. I am sad he is leaving because I have never seen him happier than when he was in Oxford and, also, more selfishly, I liked having an excuse to visit Oxford now and then. Oxford feels about 2 hours and 50 years away from London.

Cambridge was up next and it was a stupidly pretty day, so we decided to walk to Grantchester, which is something my cousin and I had attempted previously, but the weather turned and so we ended up eating carrots on a park bench near a canal and bitching about academia and the arts instead. But this time we were actually going to get to Grantchester!

Grantchester is a sillily English place. It is unbelievably Cambridge-esque. Apart from the river that you can punt along from Cambridge to Grantchester, there are blackberry bushes you can pick fruit from; rolling green hillsides filled with leaping frogs; gamboling dogs with country folk dressed in tweed; and styles that you can climb over. According to Wikipedia, Grantchester has the world’s ‘highest concentration of Nobel Prize Winners’ (bet you didn’t think that was a demographic that people measured). People who used to regularly hang out there included Rupert Brooke, Virginia Woolf, Wittgenstein, Keynes and E. M. Forster (who, with others, made up the Grantchester Group). But, none of this I was aware of until later. All I was aware of was this:

The Cam (river), Grantchester

The Cam (river), Grantchester found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grantchester

And this:

Grantchester Orchard. Found at: http://www.orchard-grantchester.com/

Grantchester Orchard. Found at: http://www.orchard-grantchester.com/

And this:

When we arrived at The Orchard at Grantchester it was 3:05pm and we discovered that they had stopped serving lunch at 3pm. Not to be discouraged, we turned our attention to the large selection of cakes. I asked my cousin’s boyfriend if it was silly to get two scones. He answered it was silly to NOT get two scones. Which made me like him all the more.

We sat under the orchard trees with their dropping fruit and their disconcertingly bold wasps and discussed the state of the world, and in particular, left-wing politics, in a manner that I hoped was suitably ‘Cambridge’ or ‘Nobel Prize’, despite that fact that none of us were actually students at Cambridge (anymore) and none of us have (yet) won a Nobel Prize. It was a beautifully restful afternoon and my (two) scones with jam were in no way a mistake.

My cousin then headed out to a cafe for a proper dinner (which I couldn’t actually eat because I had recently eaten TWO scones with jam) and chatted for hours. She fixed the play I had been trying to write for the past 3 years by making me realise that the reason it wasn’t working was because it all hinged on one character coming in and demanding something that they would never ever demand. Like, ever. So, we talked more and more about it and it became even clearer that I’m going to have to cut 3 characters, change the plot entirely and salvage what I can of the 180-odd pages I have written since 2010. It’s one of those things that makes you break out in hives when you first consider it and then, gradually, gradually, you come to realise that this is an incredibly liberating feeling, that you’re going to hack through all the crap ideas and thoughts and feelings that you tried to hang on this flimsy plot and narrative and finally express what it was you actually wanted to express all along. It seems like I do this a lot with my plays – for the first draft I put absolutely everything I possibly can think of into it that is in someways related to what I want to write about and as the days go on, I keep having more ideas and put them in too until the play is so big and ambitious and unwieldy that I doubt even the most experience of playwrights (Stoppard! Chekov! Shakespeare! Kane!) could make sense of my ideas. And, then, just when my frustration with all these competing strands reaches a fever-pitch, there is a burst of light and my brain goes, ‘Actually, all you want to write about is x. Go, go now and write! Write!’ And I do. And it gets done in record time. And it is good (usually). Usually this happens on my own, this time around I had help. My darling cousin let me ramble on for a good hour, told me lots of useful things as well as making excellent suggestions (my play happens to be around her area of research) and put me on the bus with renewed enthusiasm for my script and hope that it might, one day, turn into an actual play that people would pay actual money to see on an actual stage.

On Friday I saw the dress rehearsal for an actual ‘play’, but one that will not be on an actual ‘stage’. Or, Brighton is the whole stage. It is a hugely ambitious play-game using digital technology in the form of mobile phones and earpieces to keep the game-players in contact with their team leaders and hearing the story. I’ve been involved in the trials that led to the production getting to the stage its at and it’s terribly exciting. Combining game-playing with theatre is quite a new and exciting thing that I’ve only become aware of in the past 2 years or so and I’m really happy to have helped out, in some small way, for this production. It’s on in Brighton this weekend and also in York in early October. I’m hoping to travel to York to see it.

Saturday I actually managed to spend in London. But, that is all for my serious, contemplative piece later on today. See you there!

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Edinburgh: The Start

So, yesterday after my final shift at work, I packed up my things, jumped on a train to King’s Cross and headed to Edinburgh.

Oh if only it had been that simple, friends. If only.

Do you know what the worst thing about packing is? Usually, you can’t do most of it until the actual day that you are leaving. So, though I had been gradually packing my bag over the past week, washing clothes (particularly knickers) and packing them away, many of the most important things (laptop, chargers, iPod, toothbrush, toiletries) that I use day-to-day had to be remembered on the day I actually left. And because I am me and I prefer everything to be done in a mad rush, I always forget this important fact until it comes to the day that I am leaving and I realise I haven’t actually left enough time to get everything together. It’s the same instinct that convinces me that everywhere in London is only half an hour away on the tube (everything in London is not half an hour away on the tube). By some amazing twist of fate I had left myself a couple of hours between finishing my last work shift and my train to Edinburgh, but instead of taking advantage of this, I instead chose to go home and eat all the food I had left in the fridge. Fair enough, I hadn’t eaten since the morning and I didn’t want the food to be wasted. But I then followed this up by watching my favourite BBC bonnet drama of all time on YouTube (it’s The Buccaneers, if you’re interested. About 4 American girls who go to England specifically to marry British aristocrats. Please don’t read too much into that). Why, you may ask. Well, because I had tried to watch it the night before, you see, and the internet wasn’t working properly and that had annoyed me, so, of course, I had to watch *just a little* whilst I was packing to ease the irritation of the night before. Of course, watching my favourite bonnet drama of all time whilst I am packing turned into watching my favourite bonnet drama of all time whilst my suitcase sat, open, in the hallway, being ignored.

Now, the suitcase with my clothes wasn’t the only thing I had to drag up to Edinburgh, unfortunately. The other thing was my props basket, of which I had grown so fond and attached to that I had bought a garden trolley with which I could drag around my props basket (it being too inconvenient to carry from my house to the venue every day), instead of, say, transferring the props to some kind of easily carried bag and then buying another, similar basket up in Edinburgh. Of course, I immediately became extremely fond of and attached to the trolley and chose to ignore the fact that the trolley was cumbersome in its own special way and I should possibly have bought one in Edinburgh, instead of carting one up from London. Nevertheless, I had the trolley and it was here now and it had cost me 23 pounds and I had to deal with it. However, me being me, it didn’t occur to me until an hour before I was supposed to get on the tube and head to King’s Cross that perhaps I should have done a test run with both trolley and suitcase and bag-with-tape-player (and backpack for important things) to see if it could be managed. I pushed the hall rug out of the way and attempted to drag the trolley and the suitcase behind me down our approximately one and a half metre long hallway. Even in the short distance, it didn’t really work. So, then I piled everything on to the trolley, suitcase, basket, bag-with-tape-player. Tape player bag immediately slid off. I reached a compromise, whereby I kept the basket and suitcase on the trolley, carried the bag with the tape player and had my backpack on my back. So far, so good. So, more Buccaneers. Obvs.

After this short YouTube break I glanced into the hallway, which was currently housing the trolley with its basket and suitcase, the backpack and bag propped against it. I then thought of the stairs out of my apartment. I then thought of the stairs going into Clapham Common station. I then thought of Clapham Common’s escalator. I then thought perhaps, perhaps I was out of my mind and I should just call a taxi. But the thought of paying a taxi almost the cost of one of my one-way train tickets to Edinburgh hurt too much and I pushed the thought immediately from my mind and watched *just a little* more Buccaneers.

Now 15 minutes past the time I had decided to leave the house by, I immediately started to panic and think that I had forgotten everything important. When I couldn’t think of what those important things that I had forgotten were, I immediately stuffed a variety of not-so-important-but-possibly-useful-if-everything-goes-wrong things into my suitcase (extra shoes, scarves in case the heatwave suddenly turns into a cold snap, a last-minute shirt, more books etc.) Now convinced I had absolutely everything I could possibly need, I pulled my trolley and bags out the door. Standing at the top of the stairs, I realised things were going to be difficult. Very difficult. Sure, it was easy to drag everything behind me on the trolley, but going down stairs? That was another matter altogether. I took the bags in shifts and tried not to think about how I would have to leave my bags unattended at Clapham Common station to do the same thing later on.

Now, my trolley is cute, but set up the way that I have it set up, the handle is very low. Think of one of those childrens lawnmowers that spit out bubbles instead of cutting grass. The handle is about that height. About the height of my knees. So, to drag it along I had to lean to the side, backwards and down. Apart from looking ridiculous, it was terrible for my back. Only a few metres up the street and I was starting to ache. Not only was it was awkward, I had to keep stopping and checking that my screws were all in place (the one and only test drive I had done the week previously ended in disaster when I picked the trolley up at Clapham Common station and it fell apart in my hands because I had not tightened the screws with a spanner – I had only used my hands. This time I had used a spanner, but I still wasn’t taking any chances). It took me 15 minutes to get to Clapham Common station, when it normally takes me 5.

At the station I was confronted with the problem with the stairs. Just as I was about to abandon half my bags and go down, a gentleman asked if I was alright. It is always my instinct to tell a stranger that I am fine (friends are a different matter, but strangers shouldn’t have to deal with all my shit), but this time I decided to take the help offered. He carried my suitcase down and I took the trolley with the basket on. Very pleased with myself (and the stranger), I rolled down to the barriers and looked at the screen of approaching trains. And that’s when I remembered the sign I had seen earlier in the week. Trackwork. Rail replacement service. The worst three words a Londoner can ever hear. Not to mention a Londoner who had a suitcase, a basket, a trolley, a bag-with-tape-player and a backpack and had just dragged all of them down a flight of stairs to get to the station. I cursed myself for forgetting that I had told myself to remember to look at this information online earlier in the week, when I had seen the sign. I asked a station manager how I could get to King’s Cross. He told me I needed to get the overground to Stockwell, then get on the Victoria line to King’s Cross. My whole plane had revolved around the fact that I would not need to change trains. So, in a panic, running even more late and exhausted, I decided to drag all my things back up the stairs, out of Clapham Common station and get the damn taxi anyway. This time, two gentlemen helped. Amazing. ‘I have always relied on the kindness of strangers’, I felt like fluttering at them, except for the fact that I was sweaty and grumpy and they were already gone.

Safely in a mini-cab, my things in the back, we sped towards King’s Cross (well, we sped as fast as London city traffic will allow). The trolley rolled around in the back, making me cringe every time it smashed into the side of the car as if it were trying to escape by breaking through the window. I swore the next time I went to the Edinburgh Fringe from London I would hire a freakin’ car (the next time, oh, the next time).

The cabbie dropped me off at King’s Cross and I started my strange procession towards the station. Somehow, I started pushing the trolley instead of pulling it and everything suddenly was much easier. I mean, sure I was bent over ridiculously (keep in mind the height of the handles) with my arms squished together, making my cleavage if not scandalous, at least overly noticeable; and sure the fact that I was now pushing the cart meant it was going at a speed just-the-other-side-of-manageable, but at least my back wasn’t hurting. Quite so much.

I got my tickets and headed to the train. Next hurdle: getting all my luggage into the luggage storage areas. An Indian family was way ahead of me and was proceeding to pack their own over-large suitcases (and trolleys) into my carriage. I sped around and went to the other side of the carriage, nimbly jumping ahead of a girl coming at the storage area from the other side of the carriage and proceeded to take up all the space with all of my shit. I didn’t even notice the little judgemental pause she left as she stared at my things in the luggage area and then attempted to put her things in as well. Well, I kind of didn’t notice. I pretended I didn’t notice.

Then followed 4 and a half of hours of bliss on a train. Those of you who don’t yet know my love-affair with trains, well. Let me just tell you that it is a deep, meaningful and, I expect, everlasting feeling. I love the time I spend on trains. I love feeling separate from the ‘real world’. I love listening to my music and seeing the world go past. Putting wi-fi on trains was a big mistake, in my opinion. I pretend it doesn’t exist. If people ring me, I’m all, “oh, I’m so sorry, I would do that for you right now, of course, but you see, I’m on a train’. Trains are the freakin’ bomb. Closely followed by planes. Trains win mainly because planes are scarier. And travelling on a train makes me think I am in the nineteenth-century. I read my book, I listened to music, I stared out the window, I napped, I ate, I laughed, I cried (I honestly did), I experienced all the things that it is ever really necessary to experience in a single day in the life of a human being. You don’t need anything more than a train.

The closer we got to Edinburgh, the more melancholy and vulnerable I started to feel. I don’t rightly know whether or not it was the approach to Edinburgh and THE FESTIVAL or if it was because I was tired and hungry (no vegetarian sandwiches left at the train cafe), or if it was the fact that I was listening to Frightened Rabbit’s Fuck This Place or a combination of all three, but I suddenly wished the train journey was three times as long (to be honest, I tend to always wish that train journeys were three times as long). I got off at Waverley station with all my bags feeling very sad and very scared, very small and very intimidated. Drunken Wallys (I mean the character from the Where’s Wally books, by the way – 4 of them, all in very shiny blue tights with pockets over the groin area for… well I don’t know, really. Money, maybe? The pockets were all on the outside of the tights, so they couldn’t be for their penises. Unless they had all, collectively, put their tights on inside-out accidentally due to the excessive consumption of alcohol before getting dressed) caroused in front of me and attempted to steal the roses sticking out of my props bag. I then took the lift up to the street and stepped out into Saturday night Edinburgh, pushing my trolley in front of me. The drunken people were very amused by my attempts to push my trolley over the cobblestones. I was not so amused, especially once I got to the hostel and realised a) one of the goddamn screws had fallen out of the goddamn trolley a goddamn second time and b) there were more goddamn stairs to be tackled.

Once I had everything stored safely in my hostel room, I decided that even though it was 11pm, I wanted to head out and see beautiful Edinburgh. Because I love Edinburgh. It’s a beautiful city. If I could find some beautiful Edinburgh man with a beautiful Scottish accent to marry me and whisk me away to an Edinburgh house to live in, I would do so. I would do so right now (that may be the cider I am currently drinking talking, because last time I remember talking about this I was adamant I was going to be a happy spinster living on a Australian outback farm with two dogs and a lot of crocodiles). Even with all the tourist crap everywhere. Even with the kilts and the whiskey and the red beards on everything, it is a magical, magical city. I walked up the Royal Mile towards the castle and hey, if you want somewhere quiet and a little creepy and a little special and a little bit ‘significant’ and inspiring, I can recommend the Royal Mile at night. There are surprisingly few people about, and the shadows just add to the atmosphere. I wandered and stared into buildings, down alleyways, at historical interest signs, picked up pennies and recited that poem to myself about picking up pennies and having good luck. It wasn’t much, but it at least it all did seem to be mine.

Today, I relished a small sleep-in (to 8:53 am!!!) before heading towards the Underbelly for my first day of training. Did I forget to mention that I’m working up here for a venue as well as doing my show? Did I forget to say that? Did I forget to tell you HOW INSANE I AM? Oh, I forgot, did I? WELL, I AM INSANE. Anywho, today really marked the start of my Edinburgh experience. I was kind of regretting it when I woke up, to be honest. I really would have preferred to sleep in and then go and sit in some of my favourite Edinburgh cafes  and eat scones and watch the rain rather then go and be trained and get messy working for Underbelly. I had to be there for 10am, which would have been fine, except for the fact that the streets in Edinburgh are constantly changing names. For no reason at all, it seems. So, I had memorised a whole heap of street names from my Google maps, which turned out to be the COMPLETE OPPOSITE STREETS of where I needed to be (here’s a tip, if you ever find yourself in Edinburgh – and who wouldn’t find themselves in Edinburgh? It’s utterly delightful – and you are using Google maps, if your map shows a little blue path going down one street, don’t read the name of the connecting street over the intersection that seems to continue on from that little blue path and expect it to be the right name. It’s not. Inevitably, it’s not. Even if the streets seem to follow on from each other, it seems that an intersection changes the name of a street in Edinburgh. And many other things also change the name of a street. Like, a bridge. And, traffic lights. And, like, they were just bored of that name so, like, they decided to call it something else from this random point onwards, and, just, like, deal with it, ok?) We had training and then we had an afternoon of assisting with the set-up of all of the Underbelly venues. I spent a good hour sorting screws into different sizes. Never done that before! Luckily I was doing it with a very nice English girl, who sounded American, who had grown up in China and now studied in Scotland, so there was plenty to talk about. There are some fab sounding shows in the Underbelly program (oddly enough, half of them seem to be Australian), so I’m looking forward to seeing some of them, in between flyering and working and doing my show.

Agh, good God, there is no time, none at all.

As it was grey and cold today, for lunch I decided on ‘Mum’s Comfort Food’. That is seriously the name of the cafe I went to. And, let me just say, that if you ever go to Edinburgh (and why wouldn’t you go to Edinburgh? It’s delightful), you need to go to this cafe. It was MADE for grey, rainy Scottish days. Everything is old-fashioned comfort food – mac and cheese, burgers, sausage and mash, pies… As a vegetarian, I often miss out on these comfort foods, because they usually involve meat, but ‘Mum’s’ caters beautifully to vegetarians. I’ve never really had sausage and mash in the UK (having been vegetarian for 9 years now and a diet-freak weirdo before that) but Mum’s not only has sausage and mash, it has vegetarian sausages! It has a CHOICE of vegetarian sausages! It has a CHOICE of vegetarians gravies! It has a choice (of at least 12) different types of mash! DIFFERENT TYPES OF MASH! OMG DIFFERENT TYPES OF MASH. I got 3 veggie sausages with tomato and thyme gravy and chipotle and cheese mash which I couldn’t pronounce, but I could appreciate. Oh, yes, I could appreciate it. It was the perfect meal for a girl who was cold and hadn’t eaten breakfast and was about to spend the afternoon lifting heavy things in the rain (I am so hard-core. I LOVE being hardcore. I should like, totally get something pierced or something). They even gave me a marshmallow chocolate covered biscuit because I agreed to share my 4-person table with another woman that I didn’t know. See, kids? That’s what happens when you share. You get marshmallow chocolate covered biscuits. Someone should let Kevin Rudd and the Australian public know re: letting refugees arriving on boats claim asylum in Australia.

Anyway, I am now in the wonderful over-priced bar that I always go to when in Edinburgh and I have enjoyed a pint of my favourite Scottish cider, Thistly Cross, which is twice the strength of other kinds of cider and is therefore twice as good and is making it twice as impossible for me to type correctly and recognise how to fix spelling mistakes and everything is good because I am also perving on the cute bartender and pretending that he is perving on me too, when really he is just watching the people coming in the door, but I don’t care, I don’t care, because I am in Edinburgh and I am so so excited and everything is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful and everything feels possible and I’m sure everything will be different by the end of the fringe, but right now everything is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful and I can’t wait, I can’t wait, I can’t wait.

EDINBURGH!!!

 

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The Amaze-Ball Part 2 (or, Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother Probably Knew What She Was Talking About)

So, I told you all the good stuff about the ball. And, it was mostly good. But, do you remember how I said it went ALL NIGHT LONG? Remember? Well, it did actually go ALL NIGHT LONG. The sun started to come up again and everything looked a little less charming in the daylight. People’s faces had started to melt (ok, their make-up had started to melt, but I think ‘people’s faces had started to melt’ sounded much more excellent). Their hair was falling out. Bits of their outfits were falling off. Bodies were folded-in on themselves and slumped over each other in strange origami type piles on the grass. Their were cups and rubbish everywhere. Everyone’s energy was flagging. The music was going and people valiantly attempted to bop, but their movements were slower, tireder, didn’t seem to stretch as far and looked far more ridiculous and far less sexy in the early morning light than they had in the darkness.

My mood was going downhill fast. I decided all I wanted to do was sit down and people watch. Actually, I was very happy about the idea of lying down on a comfy piece of grass and staring at the ever-lightening sky. It had gotten to the part of the night when all I wanted to do was listen to mournful music, stare into the distance mournfully and consider how mournful life was. I would start composing mournful poetry in my head (that I would never write down) and mournfully acknowledge that I was the only person at this party who truly approached the mournfully deep nature of life and existence. If only someone could see straight into my mournful soul right now they would understand the true meaning of life.

Basically, I was too exhausted to do anything anymore and really needed to go home to bed. But all the flashing lights and activity and noise and sugar and alcohol and morning sun was confusing me to the point that I thought I was wide awake and didn’t need to sleep. FALSE. I needed to sleep. There is no better mood enhancer than a proper night’s sleep. But, I spent a good half hour still wandering about the ball aimlessly and mournfully attempting to convey the sadness of my soul to drunken people who were clearly to drunk to understand

(Example conversation with Drunk Man –

Drunk Man: Are you tired? (Jenny shakes head mournfully) Drunk Man: Are you depressed? (Jenny shakes head mournfully) Are you hungry? (Jenny shakes head mournfully) Drunk: All this can be resolved very easily if you come this way (Jenny shakes head mournfully) Drunk Man: Ok then. Byeeeeeee!!!! BIIIIIITTTTTCCCCCHHHHHHHH!)

Luckily for me, other friends realised what was needed, even if I didn’t and took me home. Sometimes it takes an outside observer to know when enough is enough. Which is why I think that the reason Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother put the midnight time limit on her was not because her magic couldn’t last past midnight, it wasn’t so Cindy could make a dramatic (and memorable) dash from the Prince. No, its just that Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother was well-aware of the end-of-party-blues and she wanted to make sure Cindy didn’t go through it. Cindy’s Fairy Godmother knew when enough was enough. Because, no matter how amazing dodgem cars and cheese rooms and Ballerina Petting Zoos are, there comes a point when even they are no longer exciting.  

My new thing for Thursday was still part of the ball (because it was a new day, ok?) I smoked a shisha. I’ve recently decided I’m allergic/highly-sensitive to cigarettes because every time I have one I inevitably end up with a cold to end all colds. But, the shisha was actually divine. Incredibly smooth. We smoked a mint and grape flavour, I think? The effect of the tobacco was pretty heavy-going after so many drinks and so little sleep and after a few rounds (and me and Michelle taking it in turns of doing impressions of the caterpillar in ‘Alice in Wonderland’) I fell back on the pillows and decided I’d had enough. I couldn’t even get enthusiastic about a Nutella crepe. The shisha broke me. But, I didn’t have a cold in the morning, so you gotta take the breaks when they come.

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The Amaze-Ball Part 1 (or Hanging Out with the Smart and Pretty Kids of Cambridge)

I have a friend who studies at Cambridge. Actually, I have had a few friends who study at Cambridge. Also, my brother studies at Oxford. A few other friends have or do study at Oxford. This makes me smart by association. It unfortunately doesn’t actually MAKE me smart, as I learnt when I hung out with a bunch of Rhodes scholars and my bro on Christmas Day a couple of years ago, but I still like to brag about them. I like to drop it casually into conversation as if it ain’t no thang (some people actually act like it ain’t no thang, to which I say, ‘what do you mean you aren’t impressed? It’s mother flippin’ Cambridge and I KNOW people who STUDY there. I know people who are PAID to study there they are so smart.’ I mean, I also like them as people, but I also like them because they are very very smart and I like to hang around in the same air space as them, hoping that some of their smarts will waft out of their mouths and I’ll breathe it straight through my nostrils into my BRAIN. Yeah. That’s How Brain Smarts Work. I know. I did my Bachelor of Arts at the University of Sydney, which is… not an un-reputable place and highly relevant to the study of brain smarts.)

I feel like I’m getting off track. Perhaps its because I’ve drunk approximately 3/4 of a Stella Artois Cidre.

The point of this post is I have smart friends in high places. And, more importantly, one of them invited me to their oh-so-special-and-pretty-May-Ball. You can only go to these extravaganzas if you know someone in the college (I think. And that is what I will continue to think because it makes me feel oh-so-special) and my friend invited me, because she thought I might enjoy it and because she is oh-so-lovely-and-pretty herself. The May Balls, held at various Cambridge colleges, are quite the ‘thing’. They have themes, they have fairground attractions, they have alcohol, they have food and they go ALL NIGHT LONG (which I didn’t quite appreciate until I got to Cambridge on Wednesday night and I was given my ticket and it said that carriages would arrive to take us home at 6am. 6am! As in, on AN ENTIRELY different day to when the ball started!)

The day started with a horrific bus trip on the National Express. I had never taken the bus to Cambridge before, but when I checked the  prices and found out it was a good half the price of the train ticket I thought I couldn’t really justify the extra expense. All those bloody toiletries in Morocco were essentially the difference between my bus ticket to Cambridge and the train tickets. I thought, how much worse can it be? I take the bus to Oxford all the time. Well, it can be much much worse. The Oxford tube (the bus service to Oxford) is a lovely double-decker thing, reasonably new, comfortable and properly ventilated. The National Express is none of these things. It is a regular ol’ single storey bus (boo) and seemed to have it’s heaters on (it was 22 degrees outside, if not more) working in some sort of duel to the death with it’s completely ineffective air vents. The air vents weren’t cooling in anyway, they were just re-circulating the overly warm and humid air already stifling the bus. I ended up taking off my shoes, socks and wrap, pulling up my pants to thigh height, rolling up my sleeves to my shoulders and then collapsing in a dehydrated and sweaty heap across two seats, glaring at anyone who hovered near my extra seat in an attempt to suggest that perhaps I should move and let them sit down (MOVE ALONG, THERE ARE PLENTY OF SEATS FUTHER DOWN THE BACK). A mother sat herself and her screaming baby down in the seat in front of me (WHY WHY) and it then took us an hour and a half to get out of London (it was meant to take us 2 hours and 15 minutes to get to Cambridge). When we finally got to Cambridge we hit more traffic, the bus slowed to a crawl and crept into the centre of the city after the longest half hour of my life. WHY, NATIONAL EXPRESS, WHY?

My friend met me at the bus stop and as soon as I was off the sweaty steam bath that was the National Express bus I immediately started to cheer up. It’s hard not to cheer up in Cambridge. It’s too darn pretty. Pretty people in pretty clothes ride pretty bicycles with pretty baskets everywhere. I mean, its all very self-consciously pretty, but, hey, if you were that pretty you’d be pretty aware of it too, wouldn’t you?

I had been worried about arriving too late at my friend’s house and be rushing around to get ready, but apparently the ball didn’t get going til around 9pm, so I actually had heaps of time. In fact, I had so much time I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. So, I just wandered around in full make-up and dressing gown, read the London Review of Books (and its hilariously and previously unknown singles section!) talking to my friend’s housemates, her friends and just generally making a nuisance of myself as they did useful things like did their hair and ironed their clothes and cooked dinner. I did enjoy swanning around in a dressing gown and make-up though. It made me feel like I was an actress waiting on set for her close-up. Ah, the simple things.

After dinner, we all put on our costumes/black-tie ball gowns and suits, which made me painfully aware of the fact that going to the USA and eating omelettes the size of hub-caps and smothered in cheese sauce; or going to Morocco and eating pastries for three meals a day actually DOES have an effect on your waistline. Never mind – with some ingenious squishing down of my boobs, some deep breaths and my friend’s determination, we got the zip up.

And, we brushed up pretty nice, all things considered:

Me and Michelle, ready for the Pembroke May Ball

Me and Michelle, ready for the Pembroke May Ball

On a side note, how AWESOME is my dress? The theme of the ball was The Tempest, so I had originally wanted something blue and floaty, something Miranda-like or Ariel-like or fairy-sea-like. But, then I walked into a charity store and saw that thing and I was like, ‘Shiny tartan with a demi-train? Well, I have to try that on.’ And then when I did try it on and I realised it matched my hair colour and was a 1980s dress trying to do the 1930s and it was from New York and it had boning and also beading on the back (which you can’t see in this photo), I was like, ‘There are so many good things about this dress I CAN’T EVEN HANDLE IT.’ You’d think that with so many amazing good things the dress would explode in a ball of ugly, like when two beautiful people have a kid and it turns out to have a mono-brow and a really prominent chin, but, no, no, this was actually the most awesome dress of awesome and to top it all off the charity store lady gave me some earrings that matched for free because they didn’t have backs and because I didn’t haggle over the dress’ price (seriously, dudes, who haggles in a charity store. Really.)

The one annoying thing about the ball is that there is a big long queue to get in. So, though the thing started at 9pm, we got in a taxi around 7:30pm and headed off to Pembroke College. The line was already forming, but we had luckily got there just in time – a large group of people arrived just after us and the line continued to grow at an alarming rate. The main entertainment of waiting in line was watching the other people arrive (and judging them harshly on their sartorial choices), taking photos of each other and attempting to remember lines from The Tempest (despite being in the bloody play at acting school I couldn’t remember anything. We ended up quoting Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo And Juliet instead. And then we moved on to ‘Ten Things I Hate About You’ and ‘Clueless’. Because Cambridge kids are smart, but they’re not above a good film adaptation of a classic text, as long as its amusingly and wittily done). We also spent a lot of time talking excitedly about all the things we expected to find inside. Oysters! Champagne! Dodgem Cars! (YES! DODGEM CARS!) We discussed our plan of attack in detail, which mainly involved who should go to the coat check at what time to ensure that we all managed to get as much of the good food and alcohol as possible before going on the dodgem cars.

When we finally made it inside, the first table we encountered was the champagne. It wasn’t our fault, it was right there as we walked past. We downed a glass each. Then grabbed another (please understand – the tickets were very expensive. We were trying to get our money’s worth). Off we went to explore. A jazz band was playing covers of everything from The White Stripes to Emelie Sande. Paper cranes hung in the trees (I later found out they were made out of pages from The Tempest – excellent attention to detail, Pembroke College, excellent). There was a fountain surrounded by a fake grass lawn and white picket fence. Ballet dancers frolicked on the lawn, tapping a tambourine and doing pirouettes (one of my companions affectionately nick-named it the ‘Ballerina Petting Zoo’ – I told him he’d probably get in trouble if he partook in non-consensual petting or if he offered the ballet dancers money in exchange for petting them. He continued to use the phrase). We got vegetarian paella and admired the chocolate covered fruit (but decided, in the end, we couldn’t get that straight away).

There was so much going on it as hard to take it all in. There were drinks tents everywhere. Jaegermeister, Absolut, beer, cocktails, VKD (oh boy did those pre-mixed drinks ever take me back to my days at college…). Food of all types – 6 or 7 different types of burgers. Hog Roast. Popcorn, fairy floss, ice-cream and doughnuts. Things kept changing at different hours, new rooms would open up, new activities. A casino with a grand piano and whiskey tasting, which was then following by gin and tonic tastings. A circus arts class. A laughing class (seriously, kids, is is that depressing at Cambridge?) Giant puppeteers on sticks dressed as alien-type beings. More dancers with fans and scarves. A photobooth. A silent disco. A room of cheese. A ROOM OF CHEESE (oh and did it ever smell in there – did it ever smell DELICIOUS in there). It kind of felt like being a kid on their first visit to Disneyland – ‘ooh, Mum, can we go there? Ooh, now can we go there? Ooh, now can we go there? Can I eat that? Can I drink that? I want to do that! No, I want to do that! Now lets go here! No, there! Now here! Now over there! Now I’m tired and have to lie down on the grass for a little bit. OOH, let’s go see what that is over there now!’ I hardly feel that I got a chance to take anything in properly, we were always looking for the next thrill, the new fun thing to be doing, the new person to talk to, the new place to be. It was completely hedonistic and over-the-top and utterly ridiculous and, yes, ok, just lots and lots of fun.

There were plenty of ‘new’ things to nominate as my ‘new’ thing for the day and really the whole experience could just count as one new thing, but I feel the top experience was going on the dodgem cars in a ball gown. I mean, who gets to do that (except for all the pretty and smart kids of Cambridge)? My pastry belly didn’t even stop me. I was going to sit down in those dodgem cars even if it resulted in serious bruising of my internal organs from the boning in my dress or a split zipper (it resulted in neither – thank God). As we were in the dodgem cars as duos, we divided up duties – I used the pedal and my friend used the wheel. My job was pretty easy. Just keep my foot to the floor. I was highly impressed with my friends’ bumping skills (both friends – I went twice. It was important to make the most of the dodgem cars) and oh my how I giggled. It was pretty ridiculous. I mean, it’s actually a pretty uncomfortable experience (like I have subsequently realised about many things I loved in my childhood – jumping castles, climbing trees, somersaults, cartwheels, trampolines…). Even when you bump into other people, you also get bumped. It can hurt! It seems like a particularly inefficient way of wreaking a terrible revenge on a person (unless it’s a metaphor manifested in physical form about the damage you do to yourself when wreaking a terrible revenge on someone else? OH, MAN, DODGEM CARS ARE DEEP). But I think it you go into it thinking its going to be fun, the fact that you’re getting a little beat up in your highly uncomfortable metal car is just a bit of a joke. And it perhaps it serves as a valuable service for adults – a good venting of all your pent-up road rage in a safe environment.

So, that was the ball. Well, that was half of the ball. More to come.

 

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Filed under 29, UK