Adulting Round-Up: Quarter 4 (part 2)

PART THE SECOND.

Good husband
Well, I’m still not married yet, which is fine. I do have a diamond though, so I feel I’m making progress.

THIS IS A JOKE.

When I first met Fritz it was amongst two German families and we spent the first days getting to know each other surrounded by other German families living in London. One of my favourite things to do, because I am a monster, is to point out how many more diamonds UK wives have in relation to their German sisters. Traditionally in Germany the wedding band is also your engagement ring, you just wear it on your other hand, then switch it over at the wedding. Whether you want to look at this as a refusal to buy into the marketing and commercialisation of diamonds by jewellery companies or not, the very lovely German husbands I meet in my social circle tend not to buy their wives a lot of jewellery and certainly not diamonds. Diamond engagement rings are becoming more common, eternity rings are still aways off.

Personally, I’m not really bothered. I love pearls and opals and turquoise and moonstones. I think diamonds are pretty, but the ethics behind the diamond trade are dubious and disheartening. Vintage diamonds feel better to my social conscience, but come with their own problems.

For our first Christmas as a couple I was determined not to let things get out of hand. Friends of mine already know about the £200 kitchen bin I bought my ex-boyfriend because he spent a lot of money on my gifts and I’d run out of ideas after a few years. In my defence, he did love it, so I won Christmas that year (I won every year, let’s be honest). I set a budget of £50 which he forexed creatively to a higher amount of Euros. I bought him little practical things I knew he’d like that had relevance to Our Story and he bought me a tiny diamond necklace which I squealed over. And, when I discovered it was a lab diamond, I was even more delighted. It’s part of Our Story and he made a huge effort. It was lovely.

Since October we have also had to find our boundaries. Which has, inevitably, led to me being cross, our linguistic skills being questioned and a general frustration with long-distance relationships. Fritz has many many lovely friends. Many of whom have wedding or birthdays or big events they would like to celebrate with him. And now I’m included too. At the same time I also have many many lovely friends who would like me to celebrate with them. His friends are either in Germany or further abroad. My friends are either in the UK or ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE GLOBE. Realistically, I cannot go to everything. I just can’t. I haven’t the finances, nor the annual leave. Nor, if I’m honest, do I have the inclination. I know Fritz, I like Fritz. I like his friends. I don’t know the sister of his friend who is getting married in Morocco and I don’t like any of them enough to want to go back there when I really really don’t like Morocco.

We had a mini argument about how I “didn’t want to go on holiday with him” which was actually about how I want to spend time alone with him (rather than go on more holidays with his family and travel to yet more social engagements where he will be busy with an activity and I will be surrounded by strangers) and how he feels his free time and money is being dictated to by the calendars of his friends and family. It took us a long conversation to work out the subtext to that. It was interesting.

What I learnt was that I actually have to listen to what’s being said and to ask questions. Not to jump to the end of the sentence and guess what it is. That taking offence is GREAT but it doesn’t RESOLVE an issue. Where I GREW as a person, and a lady-person in a relationship, is in standing firm and saying “I like you, but I will be unhappy if I do XYZ. I do not wish to be unhappy because of XYZ. How can we make you happy with XYZ without me being there being unhappy.” Ultimately, it’s about what’s best for us as a TEAM of two, rather than a Me and a Fritz. I trust him to want me to be happy, so I know he’ll make sacrifices when he feels he should for that to happen, but I also know he will say what he needs. I have to meet him halfway and sacrifice some things for him to be happy, as long as I am not incredibly unhappy. Sacrifice is a balance, not martyrdom and that’s a new lesson.

Another heated discussion we had was about wanting-versus-needing someone. He made some off-hand comment about how I needed him and I was indignant that this was not the case. I’d be incredibly sad if we broke up, but I wouldn’t be destroyed. My life is not dependent on him. I function stunningly well on my own. I don’t want to talk to him and text him and visit him because I need him. That can’t be who I am now. I find a lot of my knee-jerk reactions now have developed since my ex-boyfriend and I broke up. A lot of my responses are reactions that I should have had to him. He was moody and I felt unsafe and I felt trapped, so now I do my very best to be stable, to be independent, to be free. Better late than never, I guess. That being said, it’s totally unfair on Fritz. I respond vigorously to things to Make A Point that I won’t stand for things, that this won’t be a pattern we fall into, that I won’t end up on a holiday in France clutching my passport desperately wishing I was at home, but instead suffering through another two days with someone so irrationally angry at me for not being psychic and knowing that when he said he wanted to leave at 11am, he had later changed his mind to 10.30am and not mentioned it. So now I have to learn how to have an immediate response, take a breath and see if it’s proportional to the situation. It very rarely is.

Everyone has baggage, it’s just whether you drag it behind you with a broken wheel and the insides bursting out, or whether you buy a new case and carry on with your journey, smoother and more efficiently. I guess I’m in the store choosing between a soft case and a hard shell.

Braver
You guys, I went to Seattle on my own and I loved it. To be clear, I went to visit my gorgeous friend and her husband and to spend Thanksgiving with her family of origin in Oregon. You guys, I love the grid system. I got lost at least 15% less than usual. I went places by myself, I gave directions (what?!) and I hung out with my friend’s lovely friends and adorable family and did not embarrass myself socially. I even spoke to a Trump Supporter and didn’t have a meltdown and ruin Thanksgiving for everyone.

Everyone go to Seattle. It is lovely. Don’t go now. Let’s all wait four years and if the Hunger Games aren’t still on over there, we’ll have a group trip.

Other BRAVE things I did last quarter include going to a wedding where Fritz was the best man, the Bride and her family were Chinese (with minimal English) and the entire wedding totalled 24 people. And was partly on a river boat on the Thames. Despite knowing NO ONE, I threw myself into the role of usher (there were not enough people for there to be ushers!), I powdered the groom’s father’s face for photos, I popped champagne for the first toast after the church wedding and I kept the marriage certificate safe for the whole day. EVEN WHEN I FOUND OUT THE GROOM’S FATHER VOTED BREXIT.

Possibly the bravest thing I did was go on a skiing holiday with Fritz’s entire (German, skiing for decades)  family, despite declaring I would never ski in my life, despite having the coordination of a beanbag, despite not knowing his family or really wanting to bunk up all together for a week sharing a bathroom, despite being mortally afraid of dying on a ski slope. This is obviously a whole story on its own, but let the record state that I went, and I tried, and it was painful and scary and minimal fun and stressful. But I went. And I tried. And in the end I was marginally better than the fourteen year old Croatian girl in the group who couldn’t speak German, even though she fell down a lot less than I did and I still have bruises a month later.

Healthy Mind & Body
Well, I still have a mind and a body, so that’s a plus. I’m still going to the podiatrist once a month and still having her [GROSS ALERT] scrape my feet and paint them with silver nitrate. And I’m still, once a month, apologising to her for having to touch my gross feet while she reassures me there are really a lot worse things that she sees. I’m upping my vitamin intake and virtually inhaling mushrooms (the cooking, not hallucinogenic, kind!) for the vitamin D which is important for the immune system.

I’ve also kept up all my dental and medical appointments and am flossing like a mo-fo. I love flossing. It’s so good. It’s so rewarding. I feel like such a responsible adult. I have an electric toothbrush, interdental brushes, floss and a mouthguard. It takes HOURS for me to be ready for bed in the evening, but my teeth are GOOD. Also, there is nothing quite like a new toothbrush head. I discovered this the other night.

I’m eating fewer carbs and cooking for meals because it’s good for my body. I am still eating sugar and drinking whisky because it’s good for my soul. I’m using the good moisturiser, drinking the nice hot chocolate, not eating the sweets I don’t like just because they’re there. I’m trying to turn off my phone at ten pm so I can sleep better, I’m reading the good books I was gifted so my brain has something to be happy about, I’m wearing the cosy jumpers so I feel better and warm. I’m burning the expensive candles so I feel worthy of good things.

Adulting Round-Up: Quarter 4 (part 1)

Oh good grief. It’s February. Nearly halfway through February by the time I finish this post. I don’t know that I can go back and do Round Ups from October, so I shall not let Perfect Be The Enemy of the Good and I’ll just charge ahead.

I’ll Round Up the last quarter with January in stages and then move on to new material.

Delightful living conditions
Over the last few months I have made a real effort to stay on top of housework and keeping the place nice. I’m a big fan of descaling (shout out to white vinegar!) and general bleaching (shout-out to Domestos!) and, I’m happy to announce, that the bottle of Zalo (“one drop is enough”) washing up liquid from Norway is finally finished. I sued more than a drop, because that is what cleanliness requires. We’re onto the ever reassuring Green Fairy with the red top for the moment. I use that on everything. I’m not one for single-use cleaners. There’s not much you can’t do with bleach, Fairy up liquid and white vinegar.

I also excelled at replacing weird lightbulbs, looking up things on youtube and making small repairs to things that weren’t worth getting a handyman out for.

When Advent rolled around, I busted out the Christmas decorations and festooned everything in tinsel and corralled the many many angel decorations my mother has given to me through the years into a sort of display above a radiator. I made a point of pulling out the festive-but-not-cloying candles and having the place smell of incense and fir. It was quite lovely. In keeping with tradition, and to ward off bad luck for the rest of the year, I had all the decorations down by the sixth of January. It struck me then that I have two boxes of decorations, back from when I had a three storey house to decorate and, actually, some of this tinsel is getting a bit ratty. Before I put it all away, I went through and had a good old cull of dead tinsel and brown (why?) glass teardrop baubles that never stay in the box. It was nice to have a proper look at everything again before wrapping it up safely: the fancy fragile glass baubles I bought on sale after Christmas one year in John Lewis for decidedly less than the original fortune they would have cost; the little yellow wooden horse that was on the tree when I was a tiny girl; the thick bruise coloured tinsel that goes with nothing, but I can’t bear to part with and the wide variety of angels my mother has sent – the tiny smiley ones with neon orange hair and a harp that reminds me of my sister , the delicate glass one from the fancy shop in Belfast, the clunky ceramic one with a sparkly halo, the wire silver one that sheds glitter all over the house.

Fabulous friend
Reassuringly, I have seen a lot of people since the end of September. I’ve had dinners with people, afternoon tea with people and spontaneous (for me) visits to people’s homes. I made a real effort in the last months of the year, despite the fact I was travelling so much. To be honest, there were moments when it seemed a bit too much. But, when I came home after every evening out when faced with the pile of laundry growing by the day, or the epic stack of paperwork winking at me on the floor, I wouldn’t have traded that time with my friends for organising or sleeping.

What I have found, in the months following Brexit and Trump, is that I have now very firm boundaries in my head for what’s acceptable. Life is short, my free time is precious and the time I do have to spend with people I want to spend it with people I enjoy, and who enjoy me. An old friend who I loved very dearly took me out to the ballet and a fancy meal and while it was a delight to see him and catch up, I was horrified at what he thought was okay. He thinks Brexit is better for him (as a white middle class man in middle England), but not the country, so voted to leave the EU and didn’t think much of Hilary and claims Trump will actually make America great again. I was so shocked I actually cried.

This was someone I held very dear, with views I find abhorrent. He’s not a terrible person and I know why he thinks the way he thinks, but the evening had a melancholy, final air to it after that. I knew it would be the last time we spent any meaningful time together. It’s not that I don’t think we should engage with people who see things differently from us, but that sometimes, it is better to let someone go than be hurt by who they are now. My opinions, and the fervour with which I hold them, won’t change his mind.

This makes it sound like I have somehow grown to have reserves grace. I have not. Once I left him (and his very young used-to-be-his-intern girlfriend), I immediately texted a former girlfriend of his to confirm that she had dodged a bullet of epic proportions.

In other, better, friend-being activities, my best friend from home got engaged to her lovely man just before Christmas. The very night she told me, I went home and ordered two wedding planning books to be delivered to her. Not because she needed to GET ON IT, but because I knew she would be overwhelmed with questions from well meaning people and lists of things she “had” to get organised and these two publications would be perfect at calming her nerves, giving her space to feel her way and provide practical lists as well as published evidence that she didn’t actually need to organise chair covers if she didn’t want to. Finally, my years of reading wedding blogs at lunch have paid off. Plus, I am going to be a bridesmaid now at age 33 and I feel I may just ace that. I’ve studied for this test. I’m ready.

If I’m your friend, here’s what I bring to the table: constant chat, a wild accent, care packages, unnecessary post, undeclineable snacks, a willingness to clean your house when you can’t, a wicked enthusiasm for culling, the ability to justify any decision you make and well-meaning but misplaced comic lines.

Great hostess
On the hostessing front, I wouldn’t say I have upped my game, but I have become slightly more relaxed. Fritz has been to stay a few times and hasn’t starved while he’s been here. I call that a win. I’ve had a few low-key mid-week suppers with Carrie and not stressed that everything is perfect. I’ve had the girls round for Book Coven (book group had a re-branding!) and stopped quizzing them every five seconds on whether they need everything.

Granted, so far I haven’t made anything that has had multiple elements that needed to be ready at the same time. I tend to do things in one roasting tin (as my ex-boyfriend once disparagingly remarked. True, it’s in one pan, but it’s never contained floating bones or surprise gristle, so I’d wager that’s preferable) or two saucepans. I’m never doing anything with gravy or a carving fork. It’s rare that anything I make can be burned. But that’s something I can think about.

Confident in the kitchen
Quarter four was when I rediscovered bacon. I don’t quite know how that came to be, but suddenly I was eating a packet of bacon a week and frying it in butter and putting it in everything. My god, bacon is delicious. It may have been around the time I realised I don’t eat enough protein and that bacon adds more to a dish than just meat- it’s salty flavoursome goodness. Not that I want to start on the bacon bandwagon. There will be no bacon jam or bacon soap in this house, thank you very much. One of my favourite things is to mash an avocado (and I used to hate them!) with salt and chilli flakes, stir in some chopped baby plum tomatoes, throw in some chopped fried bacon and smear it atop a slice of sourdough bread that had been heated in the buttery-bacon-fat frying pan. It is, without a doubt or a caveat, delicious.

Quarter four was also when I ramped up hiding vegetables in my food like I was feeding a fussy toddler. The reason for this was to up my vitamin goodness and also to be able to cut back on the other things I usually make a meal with. More vegetables means less room for cheese. Or, at least, that’s a theory that a person could have.

Just before Christmas I got food poisoning, which obviously ruined Christmas. It also left me a little afraid of food, because everything I ate made me so stunningly sick. Then I went skiing (“skiing”) in Südtirol, where every meal was CHEESE and FRIED SOMETHING and WINE (sure, we’ll just work out how to get down the mountain LATER with these things strapped to our feet). When I finally returned to London I was craving vegetables like I never thought possible. The days are long, I have very little time and I’m loathe to buy ready meals any more – with the exception of soup. For me, making soup is the most boring thing in the kitchen. Plus, you have to clean the blender afterwards and I oddly resent that. I resent cleaning machines. I am furious that even when you take them apart, they always feel like you could have cleaned them a wee bit better.

Anyway, frozen peas are now my go to. There’s very little I won’t throw a frozen pea into. Frozen peas, baby plum tomatoes, frozen spinach. They were actually all the ingredients of a frittata [sidebar: I cannot remember the word frittata. My brain has to go throw a rotation of tortilla-tostada-paella-burrito before I reach frittata. It’s ridiculous and irritates me every time] I made last week. It was good. Oh! And eggs. Eggs are my new emergency protein.

Sorry is not actually the hardest word, but it is contentious

20160201_222846It’s almost a reflex to start a blog post with apologies and excuses as to why there hasn’t been a post in a while. I’m not going to do that this time. I’ve been busy. Who hasn’t? I’ve been busy and my priority has been living and managing life, rather than analysing it online.

That’s not to say I haven’t been having Deep Thoughts, but this is the first time in ages I’ve done my nails (I’m handing out badges at a work event this evening and red sparkles may be the only entertainment I have. Unless I can send an intern to fetch me some Glühwein…) and I need to not touch anything until the topcoat is dry.

Apologies are funny things. I’ve been doing a lot of work on what the British say and what the British actually mean (see: Very British Problems for the definitive guide) and “sorry” comes up a lot. Sorry as a softener to bad news, an interruption, a disagreement, etc etc.

Women say sorry a lot. Women apologise a lot, generally. We are the gatekeepers of society, constantly patrolling the emotions of a situation and protecting our wards from discomfort.

Men don’t bother with this emotional labour.

I’ve sort of reached the end of my tether with it, to be honest. I’ve actually become known at work for (rather counter-intuitively) harassing our female interns to stop entering rooms and apologising

Scene:
Office. Knock on door and intern enters.
Intern: “Sorry, can I just..”

Me: “STOP! Don’t apologise for your existence. Don’t begin our interaction being sorry. Would a MAN do this? He would NOT. He would knock, enter and then state his business! Take up space in the world! Let’s do this again – go back out there and then come back in!”

Cowed intern shuffles back outside, enters and looks sheepish.

Me: “Now, what would a MAN do? Declare your intention!”

Intern: “Umm, here’s a thing…”

Me: “If you feel you need to say something at the start as an introduction, you could try “hello, do you have a moment?” Okay, what do you actually need from me?”

Cowed intern then delivers papers or whatever.
Scene ends

Let’s be clear here, I was exactly the same. I will still say sorry when someone else stands on my foot on the tube, but I’ve made a conscious effort to stop doing it at work unnecessarily. I saw a tote bag with the words Have the Confidence of a Mediocre White Man and it struck me as pure genius. Mediocre White Men don’t walk into rooms apologising.

Mediocre White Men are the status quo. It feels like everything is in relation to them.

For example, in this country we’re generally required to throw the word “female” round as an adjective when describing careers because the standard is male. No one is saying “male politician” or “male doctor.” Our nouns don’t have genders the way European languages do, so few of our words have suffixes to show what gender a role is.

Some of those with suffixes (actress, for example) are slowly being eased out (not without complaint from the ridiculous anti-PC bridgade) for equality, but this still requires an adjective or the declaration of a person’s name. “Nicole Kidman, actor, bought a new house” or “Female lawyer makes complaint against colleague for harassment” because the assumption is that an actor is otherwise male.

There’s not much I can do about equality, but encouraging my younger colleagues to have the same levels of self-confidence when entering a room feels like a start.

September: Adulting Roundup

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.

Fabulous friend
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.

Great hostess
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.

Good husband

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.

Brave (braver)
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.

Organised finances

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.

Decidedly relaxed

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!

Career plan

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.

Finishes projects

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.

All Quiet On The Fritz Front

The Lost Art of Keeping SecretsOrdinarily, I share what’s going on in my life like I am Hello Magazine and people in my life have organised a daily subscription. HERE is everything I have done since you saw me last, THIS is every thought I have had about everything since I last spoke to you, etc etc.

This Fritz Business isn’t something I have volunteered. In fact, I’m slightly taken aback myself by how private I have been.

Granted, I have told a few people before now. The people who see me most often or who guessed something was up (so many plane tickets, yet so few photos on Facebook…what gives?).

I guess the main reason is that I didn’t want to have to EXAMINE what was going on. I didn’t want to have to discuss where this is going or what kind of a future does this have or but you live here and he lives there and BREXIT.

I didn’t want to poke holes in it. I wanted to keep it safe in the packaging and enjoy it before it got bashed about.

I also didn’t want to have to be mortified if it all fell apart. Embarrassed for having mentioned a boy and have my friends remember enough about him to ask about him and then watch their faces reconfigure when I say he’s no longer on the scene. To hear “well, I didn’t think he was right for you” or “but we knew he wasn’t a serious option” from friends who had previously been enthused about him. As a single person, there’s an element of self-preservation, even with your friends. Your own disappointment you can handle on your own with some wine and low-level misery. Their disappointment for you – or worse! Lack of disappointment because they knew better – is harder to manage.

I mean, he lives in Munich. I don’t.

I also didn’t want to talk about how he’s very good at his job and his job is more important that mine (he has a career, I have a job) and not get into a feminist argument about equally valued work. Or how I don’t WANT to move to Munich and wouldn’t ASK him to move here.

I didn’t want to have to think about how he’s GERMAN and I swore blind I would never end up with a German, or that he’s VERY Catholic and I am suspicious of that (not in him, but in people) because where I come from you never mention your faith, you just get on with it and, if anything, are bashful about it. I didn’t want to think about how he genuinely wears Lederhosen, not as a costume, but because he is proud of where he is from (patriotism is NOT something I am familiar with). Or how he’s nothing like my type.

I didn’t want to talk about how I actually really like him, that he stands up to me and my big mouth in a nice way that makes me feel safe. Or that I really like him a lot, enough to get on a plane for a first date when I generally think Brixton (about three tube stops) is too far away for some BOY.

That he’s not actually Some Boy. That he might be quite special. That if he IS special, what am I going to DO about it? How do I KNOW he’s special? Remember how I thought this other person was special? Remember how I spent/wasted all that time on that other special person?

For once, I just wanted to be, rather than think. Even if it felt like a secret and I didn’t want it to be. I’m not ashamed or hiding it, I just kept it for me for a little bit, rather than put it out on the Front Page.

 

I think I shall call him Fritz

Chancing ItWell. This feels very odd. Most of the people who read this blog know about this already, so I don’t really know why I feel so odd about it. Anyway, cutting to the chase, I am a girlfriend. I am with boyfriend. That’s not an expression. This is just how awkward I am.

The Confirmation in the summer with the German Catholics? The chap in Lederhosen? He’s the boyfriend.

Scottie has been telling me for months and months that when someone is properly interested in you, they make an effort. And for months, I had been doing what most single girls do when they meet someone – interpret disinterest for interest. He’s busy, he’s artistic, he’s foreign, he’s actually not that bad.

Somewhere along the line, I realised that I wanted someone I wouldn’t have to explain or use the word ACTUALLY about. I know it sounds awful, but ACTUALLY he’s really sweet. Yes, we argue all the time, but ACTUALLY we’re having fun. No, he doesn’t read books, but ACTUALLY he’s quite bright.

And so to F. I haven’t thought of a pseudonym for him yet because his real name is so German and has distracted me. F doesn’t need an actually. He just is. We met, we enjoyed each other’s company and at two consecutive parties we just…held hands under the table whilst we talked with everyone else. When we drove him to the airport, I was struck by how wrong it felt that he should leave. I kissed him goodbye. He texted me. We texted every day, he called on my birthday, we spoke all the time, he sent me postcards from his holiday, he sent me photos of his brother’s wedding, he told his grandfather about me.

He was interested. He made his interest known. I didn’t have to INTERPET anything.

THAT was difficult. I didn’t really know what to do with that. I’m not used to that. All my old gremlins kept popping up to torture me a little bit. My Britishness came out and didn’t want to deal with directness or anyone actually liking me in an obvious way. Where was the friendly banter that was essentially insults in a pleasant tone of voice, easy to brush aside and pretend was nothing?

F is lovely. He’s tall. He’s smart. He lives in Munich. He’s German. He’s a lawyer. He’s very Catholic. Some of these things could be off-putting, but here we are some months later.

I always said I couldn’t be with someone who wasn’t from the same linguistic background as me – it’s too hard. I talk fast, I try to be funny, I have an accent. F went to university here in England, studied in London and is a qualified English lawyer. His English is perfect. He’s lived here enough to have enough of the same references. My German is sufficient that we can talk in German if we prefer (which I do not!).

The language issue is working to my advantage. My advantage, our advantage. I’m being very careful to be clear and transparent when I speak. His English is perfect, but I’m not going to be able to pull those kinds of stunts with words that leaves things open to interpretation. I actually have to say what I feel and what I think and be straightforward, rather than hope he possibly understands the 90s pop culture reference I have just made. If I did that, it would be unfair and mean. I don’t want to do that.

It is so incredibly odd to be so direct and clear. It feels very alien to tell someone that you like them and not couch it in a way that, if they don’t respond favourably, you can deny.

Also, he’s in Munich and I’m in Berlin and most of our interactions are on Whatsapp or phonecalls. There is even LESS room for manoeuvre there. Transparity and clarity are the watchwords.

Whilst I was in Denmark, I was bumbling about looking at postcards and whatnot. I thought about picking him up a souvenir and instantly thought “oh no, you don’t want him to get too comfortable” and stopped dead in a department store.

What a ridiculous, horrible thing to think. This person, who I like very much, I would like to be uncertain of how I feel about him. I do not wish for him to be assured of my affection.

What the actual f*ck.

How broken is my thinking?

This had happened before as well. We’d had a conversation about our first date and how someone would have to book a flight. I took a mad risk and booked a flight. We were both very pleased about this. I, obviously, was inwardly pleased but not brilliant at putting this into words. I went so far as to put a caveat on the trip that if we weren’t still friends in a month’s time, I could visit other friends, it would be totally fine.

It was pointed out to me (by someone who knows us both) that this wasn’t the best behaviour. And so I sent him a message saying that I really was looking forward to the trip and that I liked him very much. He instantly replied with an agreement and plans for when I was there, and when did I want to eat, he had three restaurants in mind and and and and.

He likes me, I like him. I can survive heartbreak. I’ve done it before. I mean, my DAD died and I’m still walking around breathing, so there’s very little a mere boy can do to touch that kind of heartbreak. Protecting myself is bullshit. It looks like indifference and rudeness. That’s unreasonable. I gush over new friends and tell them how excited I am to see them and how great they are, but this lovely chap gets different treatment? Nonsense.

Anyway, I went to Munich and he didn’t murder me. Hurrah! I also brought him liquorice from Denmark (and have you SEEN the exchange rates at the moment?! That says a lot). I’m getting better.

I’ve realised over the last few months that romantic relationships are not a competition. It’s not about who stays least hurt, or most closed off whilst also getting kisses and compliments. It is a co-operation. We both win if we both try. We both win if we work as a team. Your team mates should understand you. You should help your team mate understand you. I knew this before, I just didn’t really understand how it worked before.

Adulting: August Roundup

When was it even August? I’ve forgotten it even existed. I’ve been travelling a lot and busy a lot, so I haven’t had much time at my laptop. By the time I get home, I need to either do laundry (Bold liquitabs with softener, if you’re asking), prep my lunch (a lot of vegetables) and scrape the eyeliner off my face before bed.

There has not been much time for reflection. But still, NO EXCUSES!

Delightful living conditions
Somewhat embarrassingly, I washed the windows properly for the first time this month. I only recently worked out how to open them inwards so as to clean the outside. Everything is sparkly now!

Fabulous friend

To be brief, I was pretty good this month. I caught up with old friends from university and from my travels, made the effort to meet a friend for breakfast on a weekday, travelled to see people and made skype calls to keep in touch.

I’m so very lucky to have met such funny, warm, generous people throughout my life and to be able to pick up with them after long stretches of time with nary a stitch dropped in the embroidery of our friendship (wow, that got flowery!). I am grateful for them and the brief snatches of time we can have together when our schedules and lives collide.

August is also a pretty birthday heavy month and I was sufficiently organised to have cards and presents sent out on time.

Great hostess

This month I had my friend Carrie over for dinner. I was actually pretty pleased by this. The aim was to have a Mid-Week Supper, like you see in recipe books and think “who on EARTH is inviting people to their house mid-week? I don’t live in Downton Abbey, this is ridiculous!”, but to actually do it. The brief is that there’s to be no tidying up, no major effort and the time slot is 7pm to 9pm. Luckily, Carrie lives around the corner from me, so it’s perfect. I’d planned a dead easy pasta dish (Crack Pasta from Ramshackle Glam, and LET ME TELL YOU, IT ABSOLUTELY IS) and a crumble for dessert. There was wine, but we didn’t drink it.

For me, the main thing is to think through the evening and work out what the pitfalls. Carrie brought flowers, so I asked her to vase them up for me – that took a bit of pressure off me trying to talk to her and cook at the same time. I had the table set and the crumble (apple and tinned rhubarb, because apparently I have no idea when rhubarb season is) made before she arrived. We hung out in the kitchen chatting while I put things together, we had seconds of pasta (BECAUSE IT IS THAT GOOD) and it was just terribly easy. I think I’m starting to nail it.

I had scheduled a Book Group, but everyone was away and I was a bit relieved to have some quiet time, so that probably gives me minus hostess points, if anything.

Confident in the kitchen

With my new recipe situation (see below), I have tried out a few new bits and pieces. I have noticed that my usual problems still occur – I try and do washing up, laundry and stir-frying at the same time and there is a WORRYING tendency to just sub in other ingredients than stipulated, plus I always make way too much. I make way too much because I am a single person making a dish for 2+ people, plus I tend to just ignore certain quantities. I round up, so 100g bacon becomes ALL THE BACON in the packet, because I don’t want to waste the remaining bacon (which would be wrong on so many levels).

What I’m saying is, I failed to follow the instructions for a SALAD, but it turned out fine.

Good husband

Erm, I’m going to write a post on this.

Brave (braver)

I threw myself into social situations where I did not know people. I did not die. This was a relief. I didn’t do terribly well at speaking to the people I didn’t know- and in one case I did really badly speaking to someone I knew of vaguely a long time ago, but he didn’t remember me- so I should probably work on that a bit better.

Healthy Mind & Body
I wore a lot of sunscreen and sunglasses this month. I was pleased by this. Every year I get sunburnt despite investing half my earnings in sunscreen and knowing FULL WELL of the risks of sun damage. This year, I was only slightly pink (not burnt) the odd time.

Art and culture

My Vogue subscription brings me such joy. I love it with my whole heart and want to shyly shake Alex Shulman’s hand. I can afford less than 1% of what is on the pages, but to me, it isn’t about purchasing, it’s about inhaling the gorgeous art on each page. The writing is excellent, the photography breathtaking. It’s over two hundred pages and less than £5. It doesn’t matter to me that I would never wear the outfits from a shoot. What matters is seeing the models, styled, in beautifully imagined and constructed pieces.

This month I sat with coffee and three issues and inhaled the beauty of the glossy pages. This was my art for the month.

The culture this month was the Undressed: A Brief History of Lingerie exhibition at the V&A. As is standard with the V&A, it was brilliant and intimate and delivered on the brief. Moving through the decades with men and women’s underwear, the fabrics, the technology, the marketing, the class indications and the messages portrayed, I actually went round twice.

I’m not entirely sure why I am so fascinated by lingerie, but I am. I’m horrified, but enthralled by the tiny-waisted corsets from Victorian times (there were x-rays of corset wearers demonstrating just how badly they damaged women’s’ bodies), the fabrics and fastenings catch my attention, the embroidery and fixings my imagination.

Organised finances

For Christmas, I go home to Belfast. If I leave it later than the summer, it becomes ridiculously expensive for the 55 minutes of flight time. This month, I stopped procrastinating and booked flights for just shy of £200. Hurrah! I’m not going to work out how much that is per minute. I’m not a masochist.

Decidedly relaxed

Every summer I have notions of sitting in a park somewhere and reading quietly in the sunshine for hours. The best I did this time was sit in a bench, batting away wasps, internally screaming at the accordion player who took up residence three benches along from me for twenty minutes until I could take it no more and stomped off. I don’t think I did especially well this summer – I had very few ice cream cones.

Career plan
Needless to say, I didn’t really work on this. It was the summer, it was nice and hot (and then HORRIBLE AND HOT) and it’s not the time. That being said, I was a Good Employee and attended our work Sommerfest with minimal complaints. I went, I networked, l left at a sensible hour. I resented giving up my free time a little, but I also lent my phone to the DG and now his wife’s number is in it, so that may have earnt me a few brownie points.

Finishes projects

My book came! I was  D E L I G H T E D  with it. Seriously. I made two mistakes – one on the centring of the cover text (but really only noticeable to me) and one in getting the first page wrong. I thought I was cleverer than the system. I am never cleverer than the system. Best money I have spent in a long long time. The quality is excellent and I get a thrill seeing the blue (obviously) spine on my bookshelf amongst the Real Books.

The other completed project this month was that I finally tidied up my recipes. Having dithered for years over the Best Way to store recipes, I had a notebook (with run ink stains and a broken spine), a plastic wallet of recipes snipped out of magazines and a folder of haphazard scribbles and photocopies.

Perfect is the enemy of the good, I reminded myself. And so I set about converting everything I had into photocopied A4 pages, hole punched and but in a standard ringbinder with weird German dividers (imagine a10cm wide strip of thin card that just sits in the middle of the pages. You cannot determine the different sections, it just marks out that there are different sections. It’s useless).

It’s not pretty, it’s not terribly robust, but all twelve of my brownie recipes are in the same format and easy to find. It’s easy to flip through, will be easy to add or remove recipes, it does the job.

Finally, I sat down with all the receipts and brochures from my Canada trip and glued them in a scrapbook. Utterly satisfying. I even decorated the cover with Canadian flag stickers. Hurrah.