I appreciate that it is wholly unreasonable to dislike an entire county based upon a few days experience but frankly, I gave it a good chance and it failed to deliver. Today is day seven of my holiday here and as I’ve had to stop by a cafe with very unreliable net access in order to send some emails, the sun has finally decided to shine. I’m confident it will obnoxiously retreat when I re-emerge onto the street.
For six days it has been grey and chilly. I’m used to grey and chilly - I’m from Yorkshire after all - but where my home county doesn’t pretend not to be a grim and up North (look at Haworth, home of the Brontë sisters and you’ll see we positively sell ourselves on it!), Norfolk claims to be sunshiney. While the last time I checked, Whitby was devoid of beach huts (but had lots of pubs with cosy fires), Cromer has its beachfront studded with them. Their colours reflected the colours of the stepkids; blue skin, red noses...
Of course it’s not just the fact the weather is rubbish, it takes hours to get anywhere because nobody drives above 40mph! And the stupid flatness means it’s hard to judge the shape of the road for overtaking. I guess it’s pretty but it’s too flat to tell.
I write this from a coffee shop in Holt and I have to hand it to Holt. It’s a pretty perfect little town but I doubt I’ll be welcome back. Yesterday the fiancé and I bought a painting for our bedroom and when the gallery owner asked to put me on a mailing list in case we ever headed back this way, it was (according to the fiancé) with a mix of horror and disgust that I informed her I’d never be coming back to Norfolk.
I must work on my filter.
Actually I’ve been very good. I’m not here with just the fiancé and the kids, there are another eleven of the fiancés nearest and dearest family members! It was a little over a week ago when drinking white wine on the Embankment in London I mentioned this fact to a couple of my girlfriends and was met with a look of incredulity. It was not so much the case that Jo wondered why anyone would want to go on such a holiday as why would the girl Stef (one of the nicest people I know) describes as rather obnoxious and grumpy want to go?
Obviously it’s about the kids. They hero worship their older male cousin (who tolerates them most admirably) and I’m firmly of the belief that children gain much from being around their grandparents (and in our case, great grandparents). And it does make our lives easier what with the babysitters on tap that allow for an adult only lunch and chance to cook/shower/breathe with minimised interruption.
Still, much as I get on with everyone its hard work. I have to try to be nice and not tell my favourite joke (I failed and got funny looks).
What’s red and noisy?
A peeled baby, rolled in salt.
It’s now Saturday. I ran out of time in the coffee shop because there wasn’t a single plug and my battery died down. I would have posted this last night but it took forever to get home because until you pass Leicester there are no motorways (what the hell is with that?) and the whole experience left me wanting to get the kids fed and in bed so that the fiancé and I could hit the rum. Hard.
I usually aim for 1,000 words but my garden awaits and after a week in jeans I want to run about in a sundress and try not to ponder too much why, when we live on the edge of the Cotswolds in a city with wonderful pubs and a short drive from the Forest of Dean (where tonight we’re watching Around the World in 80 Days at the Dean Heritage Centre), we ever leave.
The pier at Cromer
It hasn’t quite sunk in that I no longer have a job (in the traditional sense) and I doubt it will for a little while given that tomorrow I head off on a family holiday and that technically I’m on annual leave until the 29th of July. But I’ve said my goodbyes, completed my handover and handed in my keys. I have a lovely card, a beautiful bouquet of flowers and have experienced a slightly surprising bear hug courtesy of local legend Dave Harvey. He insisted on a farewell embrace and proceeded to lift me off my feet while I squeaked and wondered how on earth such an instance was covered by HR policy. It wasn’t that I minded and it is of course lovely when people declare their fondness for you but it was a little disconcerting to be off my feet and pondering when I’d be put down! I do of course have plans for what I do next but need to summarise them into a sufficiently succinct sentence or two that can answer the question ‘So what do you do?’ Unfortunately I’m going to be doing lots of things that don’t necessarily fit together. For instance, I have a meeting next month to plan a series of articles I hope to have published in academic journals. I will be teaching a couple of courses. I will be writing all kinds of things including a book I’m travelling to Istanbul in September to conduct research for. I’ll also be managing the work that’s being done to our house and planning the fiancé and I’s wedding. When I set up my twitter account I used the phrase “Writer, researcher, girl about planet” as my bio. I created an About.me profile the other day and went with “Aspiring to a life less ordinary as I navigate through academia, teaching and a wealth of words and pictures with my eye on the horizon and my feet planted in Gloucestershire” which I quite like as it incorporates geography but really it’s a bit flowery.
Perhaps I should just say I’m a writer. It’s a less sleazy option than parodying Pretty Woman and purring ‘What do you want me to be?’ (Sorry, I’ve no idea where that came from beyond the possibility that hey, I’m a bit sleazy).
You can argue that it shouldn’t matter, that a sound byte answer isn’t necessary but earlier in the week I met up with a couple of friends I hadn’t seen for over two years and while we’ve kept in touch, plenty has gone unsaid. And the first thing we all asked was ‘so what are you doing now?’ We were in it for the extended answers but a quick overview was still needed.
I generally see finding a job you enjoy to be one of the most important goals in life and I simply couldn’t work for 45 years doing something I hated. But perhaps I lack vocation in nevertheless seeing work as being tied to money rather than my identity. What I am is someone who likes good food and high heels and for the last 18 months have paid for such things by doing jobs I enjoyed in heritage marketing. I was not someone who worked in marketing; that was merely my source of funding.
So when people ask what I do I’m often tempted to answer that I cook risotto and wear Chanel No.5 even when I’m just staying at home, that I take photos of flowers and am reading six books at the moment. Much as I enjoyed my job, I was far more myself today as I chatted to the fishmonger and mused whether to add shallots and cream to the prawns I was buying for dinner in an effort to evoke a memory of moules mariniere.
In essence, what I’m doing with this new direction my life is taking is to try and reconcile my foodie, creative and impulsive personality with income generation. As far as a job was concerned, heritage marketing suited me very well but the problem with a job is that is entails a commute and set hours. I only like driving for adventures; as a daily activity it exhausts me. I like long lunch breaks. When I was a full-time student I’d put in a few hours in the morning then take a couple off and watch some trashy TV before returning to the task refreshed. You aren’t allowed to do that in an office and yet when working from home I’m more productive.
For a long time I’ve been daunted by the idea of not having a job. Not because I was concerned about my ability to make money but because it seemed a bit too enjoyable. I think part of it goes back to my ex-husband who envied the fact I “sat about at home all day” and downplayed how hard I was actually working on my studies (and doing all the laundry and housework because I didn’t “work”). I like pottering around the house and am quite happy to do the laundry but part of me started seeing that as a cop-out even if combined with bloody hard work.
I owe much of my change in attitude to the fiancé. When I started working a 4 day week I started using my Fridays to do things like plan the changes to our house and when he came home and asked what I’d been up to and I confessed I had only been short listing sofas, he’d be pleased. Eventually it occurred to me that he was happy I was doing things for us and since 80% of my previous salary wasn’t too much of a drop in the household income, it was a pretty good use of my time. And perhaps more importantly was saving him a task he really didn’t want to do.
As it turns out as long as the bills are covered, the fiancé doesn’t care much what I do with my days as long as I’m happy. If I want a job then great, if I want to make money in other ways then that’s ok too. Nor does anybody else seem to care. And so I’ve given myself permission to not have a job. I’ll be working as much as before (more most likely) but I’ve left the 9-5.
I suppose I should be daunted by the challenges faced by the freelancer but for now I’m in celebratory mood as finally, I’ve given myself permission to be me. It’s a very exciting time!
There’s something a touch odd about you if you didn’t like Friends. It tapped into such a profound idea of a group of people just being on your side. The theme song was a perfect accompaniment and in itself captures a most wonderful idea.
I’ve been thinking about my friends a lot this week.
Now I generally float through life thinking of myself as an antisocial person. The closest thing I have to a gang of mates consists of my brothers, their partners and the fiancé. And in that I’m very lucky. At the end of August my mum is renting a big house in Wales that we’ll all be staying in together in for at least a few nights and I’m hugely excited. The antisocial thing extends to horrible self-doubt and I’m genuinely thrilled over and over when my eldest stepbrother invites me to his mates-only 30th Birthday, when my brothers girlfriend wants to meet me for afternoon tea, when my stepbrothers girlfriend expresses enthusiasm about attending my hen do. I’m not sure where it stems from but I often feel like they have to include me and so they do but frankly, it’d be easy for them not to and the turn out for my 28th Birthday surely cements the fact they see me as one of them.
I have it in my head that I struggle to make friends but this week I had lunch with my friend Helen who I worked with in my last job. We kept in touch and although our schedules can be tough to reconcile we both make an effort. Next week I’m visiting my friend Stef who I met online and who invited me to live with her in Brunei when I was heading East as my life was falling apart in 2008 (I’m visiting her at her London base!)
There is no logic to this lack confidence when it comes to friends. Ex work colleagues don’t keep in touch if they don’t like you. Strangers don’t offer their spare bedroom if you’re a repulsive person. In August I’m going to Durham to meet my former PhD supervisor to discuss my future academic career and I’ve extended the visit to last a week in order to visit my mum, have afternoon tea with her and my brothers girlfriend (who will be my maid of honour), see my ace friends J and Samantha whose wedding I recently attended and then stay with my Grandad and see my mate fab Trev. Oh and my friend Simon recently got in touch to ask when the fiancé and I next wanted to do dinner (that’s booked for the end of August).
I have friends!
The issue clearly lies with me. I’m uncomfortable admitting I need help and feel that expressing a desire for something from someone puts them in an awkward position. I hate making the first move. I met my friend Samantha in a university seminar that was agonisingly dull. We found ourselves seated together and she made me laugh but we were in different departments and unlikely to see each other again. I awkwardly asked her for coffee and she agreed. We sat talking for four hours and haven’t stopped talking in over four years.
Put like that I’m actually quite brave. If I meet a kindred spirit I tend to pursue them but I struggle enormously and even when friendships are well established I eternally wonder why people are my friends. I guess I’ve had more than my share of friendships go sour but as I’ve become more discerning, I’ve been able to recognise what doesn’t work for me.
I’m not a girls girl. Not that I don’t have girlfriends, I have quite a lot. But they are all one on one friendships. Female cliques and I are a very bad mix. I am terrible at female politics. My female friends are also utterly brilliant. I don’t mean to downplay my male friends but the girls are all very smart and very funny. The guys I’m less judgemental of perhaps. And I’ve always spent time with groups of lads. From my time in Basketball to my recent karting trip, I’m happy as the token girl sitting back and listening to boys get technical. I like that I can talk or not and nobody minds. Men seem more able to take you at face value.
The nicest thing about my friends is that I have the girls to get hormonal towards (Jelly is my go to girl for all things relationship and parenting) and the boys to help with useful solutions. Take my car getting slashed last week. I got lots of support but crucially the boys told me to get some duct tape on the roof to get it watertight asap.
But ultimately where I’m luckiest is that I fell in love with my best friend and the fiancé is so great that when I’m upset he asks me whether I want Mars or Venus (as in men are from, women are from) and gives the support I want/need. And makes me tea/pours me wine and gives me cuddles/stuff that doesn’t need putting explicitly but puts a smile on my face and leaves me relaxed.
I’m trying to focus on that. The fiancé is a lovely man. He’s kind and loyal while being enough of a twat that he doesn’t irritate me by being like some character out of a bad romantic comedy. Truly he can be a full on idiot and I’ve had to ban him from using the phrase “sweating like a rapist” around my mother. Anyway, if someone as fantastic as him can love me then maybe I should allow for my friends liking me.
After all, can so many fun, bright brilliant people be wrong?
The needle returns to the start of the song and we all sing along like before. Don’t we? My view is that the death of the News of the World is largely a much-needed rebranding exercise, a fresh start before everything can return to as it was before and the clean slate can be smeared with fresh filth. What interests me is how people have reacted. Those celebrating simply highlight their naivety since the crucial thing about the News of the World was that people bought it and they are now waiting passively to be sold the replacement product. And those rolling their eyes at the naive should perhaps ask themselves why things are the way they are. For to select a position (such as my own view that it is rebranding) is only part of the issue and the focus of the issue is surely why does our society have machines that appear to run without us? I posed the idea on twitter this afternoon that perhaps the smooth marketing of TED that unnerves Jennifer Jones is hiding an Icke nightmare of lizard elite. I share Jones’ view that TED can be a little unnerving but ultimately the idea of secret ruling classes is silly. Such conspiracy theories fail to ever really account for complexity and instead take nuggets of ideas and simplify and package them until they are digestible by the type of people that read the News of the World. But while the majority of people ignore conspiracy theorists, a great many nevertheless seem to believe in a certain inevitability of power structures. Perhaps that is why so few vote and why when offered a chance of change, more voted for the status quo of first past the post than something that might actually shift the construction of political power. I’ve made my peace with the situation. I’m not an activist but I do vote (and voted AV). It’s a middle ground I’m comfortable with for the most part as I’m not ashamed to admit that at least on a day to day basis I’m more concerned with what colour to decorate the living room and writing the copy that will pay for said decoration. If I was to feel more strongly then I’d enter politics and do something about it. This is the usually the point at which someone who has never done something about anything chips in and says it’s not that easy. And yet all the people I know who have stood up and done something (truly and with genuine effort) have felt they’ve influenced change at some level. It’s hardly surprising that those who believe in inevitability are those that haven’t tried. It’s an excuse they can comfort themselves with I suppose (not that I’m buying it). This needn’t be grand scale stuff, I hasten to add. If we step back from national politics and dodgy publishing and look on an individual level, those that have faith in change and see a world full of possibilities tend to be the people who have travelled, who have taken risks and who have refused to live a life within the narrowest of parameters. Those that believe in inevitability are those that don’t try; subscribing instead to self-fulfilling prophecies of failure. The interesting thing about failure is that these two camps of people perceive it differently. I said to a co-worker this week that I thought I failed well in that when things don’t work out I learn from the experience and move on. She shares my outlook and argued that perhaps rather than referring to it as failing well, one could simply talk of realism. Such is the talk of those with faith in change and their own power to create it. I’m sure those believing in inevitability would stick with the word failure and probably not even think of the possibility of failing well. The brilliant thing is that if you want to cross over from inevitability to change, you have the power within you. The fiancé comes from a culture of inevitability but has embraced the notion of being able to create change in ways that have amazed me. He inspires me with his ability to pursue his potential. Are we changing the world? Of course not. I think Rick said it best in Casablanca when at arguably the highest emotional point of Ilsa’s life he points out that ‘it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.’ For me there is freedom in that, since nothing matters much anyway, why not pursue the great path, the exciting path, the romantic path? What are you waiting for? Permission from Rupert Murdoch? I don’t mean to make light of the phone hacking. I don’t think anything has sickened me quite so much as the idea of someone deleting personal messages from a missing girl’s phone to make space for new messages. It reflects a callousness that is horrifyingly apart from true evil and must require the kind of emotional distancing from an act that I can’t begin to imagine. Perhaps because I feel so thoroughly sickened I can’t write about the topic directly. I shirk few topics but this I just can’t manage. It’s unimaginably horrible. The positive is that few of us will have to deal with having our lives intruded on in such a way and for me that is another reason to set out and pursue the life path I want. I’m lucky in that I’m neither famous nor newsworthy. As it happens I did had my privacy invaded this week when someone decided to slash the soft hood of my convertible in order to ascertain that yes my stereo was as unimpressive as it appeared from outside the car and yes, the glove box is indeed too small to have anything in. I love my car and between the incessant ringing of the phone at work and the ever presence of the fiancé at home (I can’t really blame him, he does live here), my car is my refuge. Whole months go by without anyone else so much as sitting inside it. It is a cocoon of ripped CDs, spearmint chewing gum and very little else. Small, tidy, me. And somebody tore into it, rummaged around and cast it aside. I feel violated. But it wasn’t personal and I need to keep it in context. It’s not big bad world in action so much as an impulse act by someone whose life I’m blessed not to live. And the needle will return to the start of the song. So what will you do differently this week?