A Melodrama Of Manners

"The only way to guarantee attention in this day and age," he said, "is to ensure that you will be wearing the biggest hat in the room."

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Le scene.

I remember when Joel was too busy to get his hands up my top to be mean to me, but apparently he's trying a new tactic now.
And I walk straight into it, every single time.

Me: GoogleEarth is actually amazing.
Rosie: I know! I mean, I can see my French house, and my parents' place in Guadeloupe and -
Me: - Yeah, and you can see the buildings in New York in 3D. Seriously, why would you bother going there at all?
Joel: Because pictures are different?
Rosie: Are they though?
*Talk over my head*
Joel: Think about it like this - Imogen could in theory, spend her nights sitting at home looking at pictures of white wine in plastic cups and pretty boys with gravity defying hair, but I kind of doubt she ever would.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I don't really know clouds at all. Daejeong.

I never quite got used to crawling through the attic. The windows were irretrievably caked with dirt, casting murky shadows across the dark room, in swirls that showed at some point, someone had tried to clean them. It was hopelessly dark. I'd go up from my bedroom, clambering up on my elbows. Once up, I'd sit with my legs dangling through the hole, eyes shut, for two renditions of Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, until my eyes adjusted. Like I said, I never quite got used to it; my heart would pound and my mouth would go dry. Once my eyes had adjusted - sightless as nightmares - I'd bolt through, often in such a hurry I'd scramble through the eaves on my hands and knees, with no further goal than to make it through the dark and into the light.

My. How very biblical.

I spent every free moment that summer sitting up on the roof. The roof formed an M shape, and the hatch opened out in the middle V part, which sort of flatttened off towards the tip, forming a comfy space to sit. I'd lean against the sloping part of the roof and read, or I'd lie flat on my back and watch the clouds.

It's been a long time since I whiled away an afternoon picking shapes oout of the clouds.

I went on a temple stay, while I was in Korea. Its something I'd had organised for a while - spur of the moment choice, heavily influenced by a desire to spend some time in Seoul and see some of the surrounding area - and then I successfully forgot about it until my plane tickets came through the post.

It was all very exciting. I thought they were a gift from a mystery admirer who wanted to whisk me away for a weekend of consolation sex and champagne, but obviously not.
What I got, though, was a week of meditating and Buddhist teaching, followed by a spontaneous fortnight worth of wandering around Seoul, where I got slapped round the back of the head by an old lady.

The temple stay was amazing. There was a question and answer session on our first night; we sat on the floor with cups of lotus flower tea, and I waited, and I listened, and I got all introspective and curious and asked, "What are we doing here?"

The question was roughly as out of character for me as the rest of the trip.

He gave me a wide beautific smile and said, "We are drinking tea."

Either that was a linguistic glitch - which I doubt, his English was better than mine, lots of multi-syllable words - or a hint to live in the now. Which is my default position, and unfailingly gets me in trouble.

But, for perhaps the first time in my life, I decided to take him at his word.

South Korea, chopstick master class and new friends. Japan, hot springs and a wedding invitation. Russia again, Petersburg and Moscow, a broken wrist. Eastern Europe, backpacking across Poland. Woring in Spain, au pairing and bar work, La Coruna and Madrid, some remembered kisses. Came back briefly as documented, month of absolute unlimited debauchery and good memories before the itchy foot syndrome kicked in. Ran out of money in Italy, where I discovered a side to the country I'd completely missed last time I was there - travelled up from Venice to a small town just up from Rome by public transport and plain luck, and was told that, actually, Italian men aren't rude in the slightest, because if I wasn't so pretty they wouldn't stare, so really it was all my own fault. Concentration camp hop, week of absolute sobriety. Switzerland hike, Oktoberfest, Bulgarian spa, herded sheep in Toulouse, helped thatch a roof in Hereford, helped break apart an interior wall in Hackney-
"Are you sure this is ok? I mean, that's a LOT of building going to come crashing down on top of us if we fuck up."
"Dolly, it's fine. Trust me. Just think about how much lighter it's going to be in here without this wall."
A good excuse if there ever was one to hoist a mallet and start swinging.

Which brings me, pretty much, to where I am now. Which is working in a call centre in Old Street, living in highly embarrassing circumstances in London Bridge and trying to scrape enough money together to move into a flat, pay off my overdraft and be able to stop living off soup and reduced Sainsburys food.

It's certainly something of a comedown for a North London princess such as myself.

I'm back at my mothers' place, house-sitting for a few days, and in a fit of inspiration borne from the fact I'm not smoking this week had me scrambling up into the attic and out the window.
As it turns out, I'm not scared of the dark any more.
It looks like nobody's been up there since I was a child, a good many years ago now - the window was jammed shut from dust, cobwebs and general neglect, and by the time I managed to cajole it open I'd forgotten it was still daylight outside. The light pouring in around the edges of the window made me blink a little, and fall back a step.
I'm not sure I like metaphors.

And on some days that were the very finest of all days she could feel only sunshine and see just a strip of blue sky.

I spent the afternoon lying on the roof in the delicate Autumn sunshine, alternating reading some of my favourite books from my teenage years - sometimes, a little humourous comfort reading is essential to ones emotional survival - with just lying back and watching the clouds pass.

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Friday, June 29, 2007

Bringing class where class has never gone before

Second day in Madrid - the scene.
Imogen is sitting in the beautiful hostel lobby talking to her mother on the phone. She is in a very good mood. Her mother is notably not finding the following exchange amusing in the slightest.
Imogen: So yes, so we're engaged and I'm going to marry him and we'll have lots of little unemployable Polish plumber babies of our own.
The Mother: Imogen. Are you pregnant?
Imogen: Yeah, the abortion laws in Poland are a bit odd, so we figured we might as well factor multiple small children into our plan for future bliss, because he's been married about five times before, and says that nothing ruins a marriage more than the unexpected. Or a free thinking wife.
The Mother: You're coming home, right now.
Imogen: Yeah, he wants to meet you, too, but I told him to wait until after the wedding, because then we may have a small child all of our very own, and then, you know, you could do the whole babysitting thing.

Is it at this point Imogen becomes aware she is being stared at in an utterly brazen manner by a hot bloke wearing the same Led Zeppelin t-shirt as her and a pair of skinny black jeans. Not unlike hers. She terminates the conversation - I must leave off now mummy, she says, ignoring the screeches from the other end. She wanders over towards the lobby vending machine that spits out a can of San Miguel for one euro. Turning away, she is caught by the hot bloke.
Hot Bloke: Was that your mother?
Imogen: Yeah. I had a spare half hour and I like to keep her on her toes.
Hot Bloke: *pauses* You're really fit and I fucking love your sense of humour.
Imogen: Oh. Nice t-shirt.

Ten minutes later. Imogen ad the hot bloke are dancing. The hot guy is coming across as more and more stoned. They are talking about one anothers travel plans.
Hot Bloke: I'm just here for a few days to see Bad Religion play.
Imogen: *scrunches nose* Oh. Right.
Hot Bloke: *catches nose scrunch and enthusiasm* They're awesome! Hey, are you up to much tomorrow night?
Imogen: No plans. No plans for tomorrow, no plans for the next few months.
Hot Bloke: Nothing at all? Hmm. Need somewhere to crash?

Imogen agrees. They book her flight back to London there and then.


This was, like, three days ago or something, and now I'm back in London - Holloway, to be more precise - and living with the hot bloke, who from this point on shall be known as Johnny.

It's all very surreal; that first night we went wandering all over Madrid at four am in search of somewhere to have sex (note; on the concrete floor of a building site underneath the lowest tier of scaffolding, might be handy and well hidden, but if you end up on bottom due to limited head room, your back is going to be scratched to shreds and you will, wandering back home through the city at dawn in your white summer dress, look like a rape victim).
By contrast, my first night ack here I was persuaded to go wandering around Holloway with him at four am in search of lemons, toilet paper and cayenne pepper.

Weird things always happen when I try to quit smoking.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

We're getting maaaarried in the morrrrrning

I rather fancy the idea of being a divorcee before I'm twenty-two, I told her.
What are you talking about now?
Oh, yes. Didn't I mention I not only got unceremoniously dumped, but also jilted? At the very altar, so to speak?
What on earth are you talking about, Dolly?
Oh. So I forgot to tell you we were going to get married?

I had it all planned. Hallo, I'd say at those awkward family gatherings and when meeting up with old friends. Did I mention I got married at the weekend? And then I set to work pursuading the groom-to-be, which took remarkably little effort.

Toby said he could think of more sensible jokes. Yes, but with the same amount of comedy potential? I asked. He went on to suggest a plastic flower that squirts water at people, or an electric shock ring.

At this stage, I rather feel I have nothing to lose. Anyone fancy getting hitched? Tickets for Las Vegas, booked and paid for by the absent original fiance. Suitably seedy registry office affair intended, and non-negotiable. Bride-to-be is twenty, a size eight, brunette and a good catch. Even if the original groom-to-be is of a somewhat different opinion.

I used to be a feminist. No point anymore now I'm engaged.


Sunday, June 17, 2007

"The great cat burgular of Santiago de Compostela"

The longer I know you, Alice told me switching from sympathetic to grumpy in a heartbeat when she realised I was focusing on entirely the wrong aspect of the story, the more of a caricature of yourself you become.

I have been mugged four times in the last year.

Thats a nice statement to stand alone, isn't it? First time - Nepal, last summer. I wasn't too embarrassed about it, as he was much bigger than me. I instantly threw myself into exploring all the dramatic outlets of the situation - in terms of police, emails home to friends and family alike, a trip to get what Joel refers to as a Refill but I prefer to term Getting a New Passport, which felt uncannily like I imagine applying for a bank loan would feel, complete with suspicious glances and difficult questions about What I'm Doing With my Life.
The second time was in Yemen last Decemberish. Not very exciting; no verbal interchange, no split second moment of eye contact compounded by heart stopping panic as you wonder exactly how much this is going to hurt. But one knife that struck me even at the time as being somewhat bigger than necessary. But, in all fairness, a pair of nail scissors waved in my general direction in a threatening manner would probably have had me handing over my handbag.
My bad. My tendency to wander around the less touristy areas of a city gets me into trouble fairly often.

I rather felt, at the time, that I was becoming quite the connoisseur of varying mugging techniques. I mean, twice does seem like quite a lot, doesn't it?

I was mugged again in Seoul a few months ago (post on Seoul - intense - and the Buddhist temple retreat - uncharacteristic and a half, but very cool - is forthcoming) by a very big man with hairy knuckles who used my hair to good advantage as leverage to bully me out of my Manolos and my money.

I felt rather like Carrie Bradshaw, except I wasn't in my home town and got to walk home in my barefeet. Ten minutes, but nonetheless.
My fucking Manolos.
Five minutes later, I fished a cigarette out of my jacket pocket and lit up. Nerves, you know. I smoked a lot when I was first learning to drive - high stress situations, both of them. Feeling less like crying I did another inhale - and got whacked round my head by an old lady looking downright furious. I choked on the smoke, had a slight panic attack, then realised my social faux pas.

I found, in the aftermath of that day, a huge amount of dramatic resources to exploit, finding the possibilities endless - you know; teary victim, outraged label queen, indignant fashionista, wry amusement, dry acceptance.

And then, very much more recently, I was in Santiago de Compostela and I got, if you can imagine this, mugged. A-fucking-gain. This time wins hands down over the others though; he was very pretty - I'm a bit cross that about that. Men that pretty don't come along everyday. Or rather, they haven't since I started working in a teeny tiny Galician village you'll never hear of, near Pontedeume which you might hear of one day, near La Coruña. Which is Google-able. Because the only men who've hit on me in the last four months were old men in the street, various inbred looking blokes from the village and the elderly caretaker. More of whom later.

So I'm understandably a bit put out that when a beautiful man does pop up in my sphere, he wants to steal my money.

But, to be fair, girls with character flaws like mine will always have the potential blindspot that makes them likely to give guys who look quite that beautiful all their money.

It's ok. I'm used to it now, I told my mother. I normally adhere to the 'Never tell your mother anything' rule, but . . . dramatic possibilties, you know. He was very gentlemanly about the whole thing, letting me open my purse and just give him the money. Which saves me the whole fuss and bother of canceling my plastic collection. Again.

I hate that this has happened to me so many times I can judge Gentlemanly Mugging Behaviour. Marks out of ten - did they take anything unnecessary? Did they have obscene amounts of body hair on their fists and, perhaps due to some hitherto unrealised hatred of those with decidely less body hair, feel it necessary to inflict pain upon them by tearing out a handful of their own glossy locks? Did they have a very big shiny knife that was waved in your vague direction that means you can't quite remember what they looked like but are pretty sure you could pick the knife out of a line-up?

I hate to admit it but Alice may well have been right. A variety of reactions that I can pick and choose from has always been my default position. It's all to do with defining a sense of self, something I'm working on.


Friday, June 15, 2007

Wallowing in my gaping character flaws

I remember thinking I was a people person. These days, I have absolutely no idea why.

JOEL: I don't think you're going to be happy with anyone.
ME: So, what, your advice is…? Shack up with someone I’m not happy with and be happy?
JOEL: No, my advice is much more subtle than that, Cupcake. *steals cigarette* Stop being a twat.
ME: *meaningful pause* Well, gosh, why didn't I realise that was the reason? Thanks for being so succinct.
JOEL: I am trying to help you out, you know. You always do this, conjure up some tiny little flaw which you then use to push people away.
ME: Oh fuck me, we've progressed to people? Like, in general? I thought we were talking about boyfriendlies. *fliches cigarette* That must be why I've had trouble following your train of thought.
JOEL: *pissy look, snatches fag back and puts it out* You have a history of this.
ME: Why are you pissed off? OK, OK. *raises hands in mock surrender* Just be sure to let me know when I decide to push you away, then.
JOEL: You're just annoyed because you had the perfect person, you panicked and you blew it.
ME: What are you talking about? He finished with me. Remember that tiny little insignificant detail?
JOEL: We're not talking about him right now. You know you pushed him into it.
ME: *ignores him, lights up, tries not to throw a tantrum* I liked you much better when you were too busy trying to get your hands up my top to psychoanalyse me.
JOEL: Just admit he was the perfect guy for you, get back with him, and then I'll get back to my default position.
ME: *finally realising I'm in over my head* He is so NOT perfect.

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Reasons why - I am au-pairing. In rural Nw Spain. Oh yes I am.

Because you have new boots and a broken heart, because that last big heist didn't go quite to plan, because you accidentally unleashed the forces of darkness, because you can see for miles up here, because you can hear echoes and want to gain perspective, because you want to know just how loudly you can sing, because you want to do a pirouette standing on top of a large sticking up stone on top of a mountain, because you can go days without seeing anybody, because you need to keep moving forward, because the hound of the Baskervilles is on your tail and you sure ain't no Sherlock Holmes, because your boots are dark green and flat and leather and you can wear them with a long warm dress that fits in all the right places and pretend you're a Toast model, because you've spent too many days hiding under the sofa craving toast, because your liver can't handle anything else, because you have new jeans that need wearing in, because you can, because running for the hills has become a default position, because for the first time in a long time you can do this without feeling bad about the people you've left behind, because you've lost your eyeliner, because you think you've lost all your confidence, because you hear fresh air is good for mending weeping wounds, because you can feel yourself closing back up again, because you want to run until your lungs burn and your cheeks turn pink, because someone once told you that in their dreams sheep are heroes, because you want to stop and stare and leave the habitual asking questions part of you at the bottom of the hill for later, because you're damned if you're going to go back there again, because you'll never come back here after this one last time, because pirates have big swords and sharp parrots, because just for a little while you want to be transparent or opaque, either one will do, but you want to stop living as a reflection.

We must all still work these things out for ourselves.