I’m uncomfortable with how close this is to the last roundup, but I shall soldier on!
Delightful living conditions
Well. This got a result, let’s put it that way, but not especially glam. Our loo is in a weird separate room from the bathroom, where the toilet unit is on a sort of step (painted gold) and the tank is on the adjacent wall at head height (and part of the flush mechanism has been painted with glitter). One wall is decorated in postcards under a perspex sheet and the other is decorated with a 2002 map of the artic circle and a NYC subway map. There are four slightly aggressive spotlights in this room the size of a wardrobe.
Now you have an idea of the scene, imagine, if you will, that the skirting board has been slowly moving away from the wall over a period of months and a clear damp patch is marking the wooden floor boards.
I cannot locate a leak. I am, however, not a plumber. I mention this to our letting agent and am assured, in that confident way middle aged white men have, that this is not a problem. I insist that it could well be a problem. A plumber comes out to see the boiler (which is making a noise “like an angry monster” according to my Norwegian flatmate) and says there is no problem with the WC.
I mention that there is now a water stain on the other side of the wall. Still there’s no problem apparently, but another plumber is sent out. I’m starting to become irked.
Downstairs send a note saying they have water marks on their wall underneath and would we mind getting it checked out. Now we’re getting a new WC.
We have a brand new modern cistern-seat-attached toilet. Hurrah! Plus the neighbours don’t hate us anymore because I brought them flowers and assured them it would be sorted out.
Reflecting on last month I am struck by how little I actually did for my friends, yet how much I benefitted from them. I was very lucky to have friends host me in Stratford-upon-Avon for a stunning (and MASSIVE) Greek meal and a day of Christmas baking (in September, yes, don’t ask) and then later in the month to be taken for afternoon tea by a friend and former colleague who was visiting from Austria. I dined very well this month.
Still, I’m going to claim points for this because my natural reaction to almost every invitation is to decline (not because I don’t like people or activities, but because my own flat is so cosy and nice), but I said yes instead.
Other points were acquired by printing out photos and having them framed for friends who I knew wouldn’t have time to do it themselves and could do with the odd lovely photo of themselves around their house.
In September I managed to get myself organised to have some fabulous girls (I think of myself as a girl. In a sort of Britney-Spears-Crossroads-music way. Not yet a woman. Should I refer to my friends as women? Probably) over to talk about books. There was pizza, wine, hummus and crisps and a DIY berry-yoghurt-meringue Brexit (aka Eton Mess). We talked about books, reading, london, travels, mothers, daughters, fiction, non-fiction, careers, hopes, dreams all of it. We had fiction, non-fiction and Jackie Collins on the table. It was ace. I also kept my hostess-goblins (the mean ones that try and ruin everything with fussing and anxiety) subdued if not banished. Wine helped, obviously.
Confident in the kitchen
I gave a few more recipes a bash from my tidied up recipe book. Nothing momentous, but nothing memorably disasterous.
WELL. Obviously, having Fritz appear on the scene meant that Fate decided to throw a spanner at me, hoping it jam it in the works. Cob on, Fate, I’m onto you.
I was bustling through Leicester Square one evening to meet a friend when a pair of stunningly ugly yellow shoes caught my eye. I looked up and realised that across the street was the worst of the three Tinder dates. The young irritating one. Which, on reflection, does not narrow it down. The first one. I watched this chap STROLL through Leicester Square in a terrible basketball outfit (he doesn’t play basketball) quietly grinning that – honestly quite creepy, how did I not notice at the time – lazy smile to himself. I was so shocked that I had to follow him a bit just to make sure he didn’t see me. And then I stopped, leant against a pillar and THANKED GOD, JESUS AND ALL THE SAINTS for delivering me from that bullet.
What kind of psychopath strolls through Leicester Square at rush hour? In yellow trainers? Smiling? I mean. That says everything about this man-boy.
Next up in Fate’s arsenal was Young Irritating Tinder Date 2 – the guy who wouldn’t take no for an answer. There I am in Stratford, full to the gills with delicious Greek food, when I get a message from the chap who refused to believe I couldn’t be interested in him. He was miserable and had no one to talk to.
Now, I appreciate that it probably wasn’t ideal to answer him, but really, if you are SO SAD and SO LONELY that you have to contact a tinder date from six months ago, you’ve got pretty low. If it had been me, I would have hoped someone would reach out and help me feel a little less lonely. And so we got into a chat about how his life was shambles and how he’d made mistakes and then, for the next few days, I’d try and make him feel a bit better about whatever was going on, be generally supportive but emotionally distant. I would provide possible solutions to his self-made problems.
After a few days of this, I realised I was making a mistake. We weren’t friends, he was arguing with all my suggestions because his life was so terrible there was always another problem around the corner and I was getting tired of it. I told Fritz about it and he was fairly straightforward in suggesting I just cut him loose. Which I would, but not because anyone asked me to.
Basically I felt uncomfortable with this non-friendship. He wasn’t feeling better and I was feeling frustrated. We were going round in circles which was exactly why I ended it in the first place.
Mallory Ortberg writes a fantastic advice column under the Dear Prudence banner. People write in with questions and problems and she gives very balanced, respectful advice. The advice is generally along the lines of “tell this person who is causing you such a problem about the problem” which is exactly what the writer doesn’t want to do. They want an alternative solution where no one has to hurt anyone’s feelings and everyone just does the right thing.
And so I wrote a friendly but firm message saying that I couldn’t help him any more, that we aren’t friends (which he declared first! He wanted me to be a sort of sponsor to him!) and that I wished him well. Then I got on a plane.
When I came back, I had a bunch of angry hurt messages about how disappointed he was and how we should have agreed to end things together, rather than me solely making the decision.
If anything, both of these encounters made me appreciate Fritz more. There’s no weird emotional manipulation, I don’t feel uncomfortable around him, we don’t argue (even in that fun banter-y British lad way), I don’t feel frustrated or awkward around him. If the universe was doing anything, it was showing me previous mistakes I had made with boundaries and giving me another chance to put them in place. It was showing me how I behaved – and allowed men to behave towards me, which is possibly worse – and asking if I was sure I knew what was right.
Thanks, Universe. I got the message.
Carrying on from earlier, I’m saying YES to things I would ordinarily shy away from. YES, I will come and see you, YES, I will make dinner, YES, I will get on a plane. Yes.
I also travelled to Denmark on my own for work and stuck on an extra day to have a look around. I am very happy in my own company, but I don’t like travelling. Travelling scares me. I hate not speaking the language, or knowing what the food is, or how the public transport works or having to offer a handful of money to shopkeepers (retro word. Where did that come from?) and letting them pick out the correct money like reverse begging (Rob Beckett’s joke, not mine). I hate feeling vulnerable abroad. It feels so much scarier.
But I went. I went and had tall Scandinavians be rude to me, stayed in the most expensive budget hotel (see: Denmark and also Post-Brexit Exchange Rate), wandered around looking at a map most of the time, took photos of everything, didn’t get too lost, made it back to the airport.
I did have a slightly terrible moment on the train into the city from the airport wherein a man engaged me with conversation, DREW ON MY HAND and then suggested we meet up. I tried to avoid conversation and gave him a fake email address. Telling this story later, furiously, I got two reactions. From men: Why did you let that happen to you? From women: Let me tell you a weird thing that happened to me one time.
This is why I don’t love travelling on my own. When you’re in a pair, you have safety in numbers and your togetherness does not invite strange men to engage you in conversation. Travelling on your own leaves you vulnerable and travelling somewhere foreign to you means you’re not as confident in telling someone to take a hike. You don’t quite know how to read a situation. Is this chap going to turn nasty? And that’s why I let him draw on my hand. It was the lesser risk than having him react badly to my NO. Sometimes men refuse to hear no. Sometimes that ends badly. Women know this. Men who do go around harassing women know it too. Men who don’t go around mildly harassing women don’t know this and later ask why you permitted yourself to be harassed.
Healthy Mind & Body
This month I had my podiatrist appointment at EARLY O’CLOCK in the morning with a lovely Australian doctor who treated my feet. When she bandaged them up, I awkwardly asked if she is good at wrapping presents what with her experience wrapping feet – which are an odd shape. She said no. Naturally I kept talking and making the situation socially more difficult.
On the positive side, I read a lot this month. God, but I love a book. I love throwing myself into a story and characters and experiences without having to leave my own bed, chair, sofa. My library card has been wearing thin this month. My totebag has been stuffed full every week.
Art and culture
Through very little effort on my part, I absorbed a LOT of culture this month. The start of the month was spent at Friendsfest in Chiswick with some super girlfriends as we took approximately nine bajillion photos in the Friends sets and tried to stay out of the rain. These girls are immense fun, so gradually becoming colder and damper did nothing to reduce the fun-levels.
Next up I went to a sold-out Prom with a gorgeous friend from Oxford. I will be the first person to say that I don’t understand classical music. I wish I did. I really ought to try harder. That’s not to say I don’t like classical music, but I’m unfamiliar and a little intimidated by it. Luckily, Bex just powered on through and explained things to me as we went. Prom 69: Staatskapelle Berlin and Daniel Bareinboim performing Mozart (who I’d heard of) and Bruckner (who I should have) was glorious.
The week after that was a comedy night organised by Fee, which was predictably excellent, then there was a spontaneous and exclusive concert by Emilie Sande that my friend Red had won tickets to on the radio. We got quite lost trying to find the place in Chelsea Football club and a man with a familiar face (but I don’t know football, so I can’t tell you who) gave us directions.
Finally, Carrie and I took out hearts in our hands to see Bridget Jones’ Baby and it was screamingly funny. Thank goodness. We had had concerns.
I’m still working on my accountability project with Fee, emailing her my spending every week with a commentary on how I think I have done. I can’t seem to stop buying snacks when I am in need of cheering up, but I have got better at buying random shampoos or lipsticks. I still spend a bit too much buying people things they don’t need, but if it brings me joy, it can’t be too bad. I’m slowly saving bit by bit.
Given the amount of time I have spent in trains, planes and airports, I have got a good amount of reading done. I’ve got back into reading fiction again, which really gives me brain a rest. I’ve also been lucky to be gifted a stack of books, so I have plenty to get on with in the next few months before Christmas!
I forgot to mention in the last round-up that my boss and I gave the new staff at the Embassy cultural training. While I don’t love presenting, I’m fine at it once I get started and as long as I know what I’m talking about. My boss had a lot on last month, so I took over the organisation of this project and made sure it was water tight. I really enjoyed researching and putting together a comprehensive presentation. People claimed to have loved it.
On the way back to the office, I was struck by how much I enjoyed the work. It could well be something I look into as a next step. That felt pretty good.
My plan had been to work on my next collected book – a collection of the emails and texts between my dad and me. While I have most of the material together, I seem to put it off. There’s always something else to do. It may well be that it’s because when I’m finished, I can’t think of another Dad thing I have left. And that’s not something I want o think about too much. There’s no rush on it, so I’ll not push myself too hard.