Monday, 31 March 2008

Books for the trip

I'm going to take some books with me on this trip. I realise of course that everything I pack will add to the load on my back but I reckon we'll have ample time to get stuck in so it'll be worth it, if only as a distraction from each other, plus reading whilst abroad or in transit has always been a hugely rewarding experience for me.
Any further suggestions would be much appreciated for this once 5-novels-a-week-but-seriously-lapsed traveller!

Here's my reading list thus far:

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Clocks go forward

We lost an hour in bed this morning and I woke up in a sweat. We've two weeks left, that's 9 working days and 4 days to pack! What the hell am I doing? And more to the point, what on earth am I going to do at the other end when I am running out of money and jobless?

Ric's dad has reminded him that travelling is 'not all that', that we'll miss our usual comforts and the things we have now (even the devils we know) and that we'll tire of the constant moving from place to place. He could well be right and we are not so foolish or naive to think we'll have exclusively good times but it's better to be optimistic than go with these thoughts in mind, surely?

A poem I wish I'd written myself

Sometimes obscure, often sardonic but always smattered with truths the work of the 13th Century poet Rumi never dates and seldom fails to move me:


The Friend comes into my body

Looking for the centre, unable

to find it, draws a blade,

strikes anywhere.

There is a light seed grain inside.

You fill it will yourself, or it dies.

I’m caught in this curling energy! Your hair!

Whoever’s calm and sensible is insane!

Do you think I know what I’m doing?

That for one breath or half-breath I belong to myself?

As much as a pen knows what it’s writing,

or the ball can guess where it’s going next.

We have a huge barrel of wine, but no cups.

That’s fine with us. Every morning

we glow and in the evening we glow again.

They say there’s no future for us. They’re right.

Which is fine with us.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Flange Talk

Blogs are strange things aren't they? I only started this one because I knew I was going away and wanted to share my travel experiences with my loved ones. It's something interesting to talk about isn't it?

Ric's on the other hand is actually a useful geeky one. He can share his knowledge of Flex, Flash, Actionscript and the like with other experts. The only language I know is this one, and I prefer poetry at that. I have always been of the opinion that blogs are essentially just published diary entries, ie. solipsistic uninteresting twitterings with no particular structure or meaning to anyone. Flange talk you might say. I find the tone of them disconcertingly chatty. Who are people talking to so informally and openly and sometimes so smugly? Do I do the same?

Since starting this blog I have read numerous articles about 'how to maximise you readership' and 'reach millions in no time' and of course about those who become rich off the back of theirs. Impressive indeed. But also time consuming? Some people must spend hours posting links, pictures, videos, sending messages to other bloggers to increase their traffic, etc.

I don't have time to do that. Or at least, I could find the time but I'd get nothing else done and therefore have nothing new to talk about. I imagine.

I must admit though, even if I don't expect mine to be of any interest to others, it seems a shame to spend all this time writing and allowing my words to be published without encouraging a just a few more people (besides my mother) to read them! So I'm going to have a go...

Fear and formal feelings

This isn't my favourite poem by Emily Dickinson but the first line is resonating with me quite strongly today!

After great pain a formal feeling comes--
The nerves sit ceremonious like tombs;
The stiff Heart questions--
was it He that bore?
And yesterday--
or centuries before?

The feet, mechanical, go round
A wooden way
Of ground, or air, or ought,
Regardless grown,
A quartz contentment, like a stone.

This is the hour of lead
Remembered if outlived,
As freezing persons recollect the snow--
First chill, then stupor, then the letting go.

I've been unable to eat or keep much down since Saturday. And now I'm calm in my exhaustion. Ric's had it too. We seem to have a knack for getting stomach bugs on our holidays having been laid up over New Year too!

It's my busiest time at work and I've been working like a demon to get stuff sorted out before the next poor girl takes on the role. Still, I'm bored. Ric's bored. Busy but bored. Not of each other I think (I hope!) although this would only be natural since both of us are part of each other's present circumstances. My feelings are laced with fear too. Everything I do right now in the lead up to leaving London feels finite and vital. I'm wrapping up loose ends and making vague plans for the unexpected. I am even more aware than usual of the mortal condition of everyone including myself. I wake up worrying about things I can't do anything about and haven't even encountered yet!

I think that implies I'm as ready as I'll ever be to go.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Fact and Fiction with OCD

I've been alerted to something important about myself today. It concerns my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and the thoughts which come with that.

Most people are afraid of something beyond their control, some have irrational fears or phobias about things which can't or are highly unlikely to happen and which seem to have no origin. Others have superstitions. Some might call religion a kind of superstition. And people use behaviours to act on these superstitions and fears.

People assume that those with eating disorders are afraid of getting fat, and thus have a fear of food. This might be true, though it is rarely the cause of an eating disorder, only a symptom and a developed way of thinking in order to control one's environment. For me, food is a learned way to control the feelings and fears I have about other things, beyond ration and control.

I have spent a lot of time worrying about hurting others, thinking I am a bad person, fretting that I have it in me to become someone I'm not. It doesn't seem to matter that in all the 20 or so years I've had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, none of the scenarios I imagined have come true and I've never to my knowledge have I done anything to warrant such fears and so such self loathing. I've always thought that the fact that I am worried about such things in the first place implies that I must must have it in me somewhere. Thoughts don't come out of nowhere do they? Well not entirely but we also have powerful imaginative minds which can play tricks with us. We all have thoughts some are logical and some are not, this is fact, and mostly we can rationalise and puts the freak one to one side.

I am not so good at this. I suffer from a guilty complex, a belief that the things I do or even don't do can in some way affect others profoundly. I realise it's quite crazy and often I laugh at myself but I still have the fears.

I've never met anyone with OCD before. Not like mine. And I think that only exacerbates the belief that I am different and weird and worse, an evil person.

My fears are not of flying or spiders or heights or even tall people. They are something far less tangible but not that different from any other phobia which engulfs one's brain. And the I ask myself 'Has the person who is scared of spiders ever been bitten? Has the person afraid of heights ever fallen? No, well then why should I worry that I could hurt people if there's no evidence beyond my thoughts?) and when I start to think of myself like that, as someone who has a phobia rather than a bad person who wants to do bad things but doesn't know it, I start to think I'm not so bad, I'm a silly, irrational fool who cares too much, who is too conscientious and ultimately harmless. Why? Maybe because I'm the eldest child, maybe because I think with the right side of my brain, maybe because I have faulty synapses, a genetic defect, maybe it's because I stopped saying my prayers, maybe I am just used to it now. Who knows? Who cares except me? You can't help thoughts though can you? You just have to have some faith in yourself.

I'm not religious but sometimes I think the words of faith can be of great comfort whatever our fears or circumstances:

God, grant me the
to accept the things
I cannot change
to change the
things I can
and the
to know the difference.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

RIP Anthony Minghella

I am saddened by the news of filmmaker Anthony Minghella's death.

He made some wonderful movies in his short 54 years, my favourite as one might guess, being unashamedly dramatic and emotionally charged The English Patient, the agonising bitter sweet sadness of which tapped straight in to my then teenage psyche, haunting me for life and I might say giving me impossible expectations of what love should be!

I fell in love with Ralph Fiennes and wanted to be Kristan Scott-Thomas. I longed to find myself embroiled in an affair as overwhelming and yet as fragile as their characters'. Everything about the film was perfect to me, the setting, chronological layering, the soundtrack, the tensions, the doomed love, the scenes of lust, the great unfairness of death and war and misunderstanding etc. etc..

Then I read the Michael Ondaatje novel on which it was based (never a great idea to read the novel after the film), watched it win all it's 9 Oscars, grew a little older, became a bit more cynical and then too embarrassed to admit I had fallen- how like a girl!-for it's epic allure.

What a pity. There aren't many films which grab me from start to finish, make me weep or laugh or want to go home and write as Minghella's film did. And then there are his Beckett studies and subsequent productions, of 'Play' for instance in the 2000 Beckett on Film project. A man after my own heart surely.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

I can't wait to leave this filthy city!

This morning, after queuing for ages at 8am the Brixton Post Office collection depot with a whole load of other sleepy heads, which made me late, the traffic was terrible so in order to avoid sharing the Chelsea embankment with the hoards of green-warrior yummy mummies (some of whom are probably my clients) and their scootering, cycling, blazer wearing, organic fed sproglets I did my usual trick of weaving between the almost stationary cars to get to work on time.
Suddenly a splash of wet hit me, covered my head, face and chest and even my legs. In the heat of the moment I thought it couldn't possibly be what I thought it was, maybe it was just bird crap (bad enough). It wasn't. It was spittle. I turned round to see the driver of a van smirking.
I then had to cycle for another 15 mins before I could srcub myself clean.

So to that disgusting imbecile pikey van driver, thanks for making me feel so gross. You are a disgrace to yourself, your sex and all van drivers out there.

Windy Weather and Good News For Cyclists

It's very windy in London this week, and the rest of the country it seems. Aside from damage, floods etc. that means hard work for the few nutty cyclists who chose to commute regardless. This includes me. I have had to jump off my bike several times to avoid lurching in to the cars whizzing by. It's not cold though which seems strange. I'm sure that this temperate but gusty weather isn't typical in March.

People can say what they like about climate change being a myth, inevitable, unlikely, whatever, but when you're on a bike every day, you notice even subtle changes in weather. And there's nothing subtle about this!

If I'm honest though, I do find it pretty exciting. It's a challenge and hard work but livens up my daily commute enormously and a brief glimpse in to the eyes of my fellow cyclists tells me I'm not alone.

Better news for cyclists this week is that the government is going to hand out 10,000 safety mirrors free of charge to lorry drivers in the capital:

Not usually one to applaud The Evening Standard it seems thanks must be paid to the paper for demanding the mirrors in its Safer Cycling campaign. Lorries are certainly my biggest cause for concern and of cycle fatalities with over half of all cycle deaths on London being a result of collisions with goods vehicles who just didn't see them. So thank you ES.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

It's wrong to laugh at another's misfortune but...

I couldn't help chuckle when I read about the 'Penniless Pilgrim' who, as reported in The Times last week, attempted to walk to India without a penny in his pocket to restore his faith in humanity, only to find that the French basically told him to 'take a hike'. So he turned round and headed back to England less than a month in to his anticipated 2 and a half year trip.

Mr. Boyle, who is part of the Freeconomy movement which wants to rid the world of money altogether (???!!!) has said that:
"For 28 years I’ve been part of a world where money means security. That’s 28 years of knowing where my next meal is going to come from, 28 years of knowing I can have a roof over my head. But it’s also been 28 years of insecurity, fear, complacency and non-momentary living."

Now, although I don't wish to sound churlish and could sympathise with Boyle's predicament and do indeed agree with some of the good willed principles of Freeconomy, for him to be bemused as to why "no one...spoke the language" and that "they also see us as just a bunch of freeloading backpackers" suggests to me that he really should stay at home and do the walk round the UK instead, as he's now intending. Just don't come knocking on my door thanks mate.

Note to self, try to learn at least few foreign phrases before pilfering food off the locals on my travels.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008


Ok. Enough depressing talk. It's busy at work this week but my interest in Tarquin Double-Barrelled's GCSE Latin and Flavia I-Live-In-Chelsea-And-I-Can Afford-To-Be-Lazy's AS level Art, has gone from limited to pretty much zero. I'm eager to sort as much out as I can before I leave though as I do feel guilty for abandoning my boss.

As much as I long to leave it, the job has given me a fascinating insight in to British education, class, ethnicity and myself.

Among other things, I have learnt that:

  • There are more multi-millionaires living in London than I realised
  • Many of the wealthiest aren't English
  • People are prepared to pay almost anything to get their kids through school
  • GCSEs and A2s are getting easier
  • There are students out there qualifying as lawyers who still need help writing their coursework and revising for exams
  • There are a lot of bored, rich, pushy, competitive mothers out there. Most have a nanny, cleaner, cook, dog walker and au pair. Thank God my mother wasn't one of them
  • Money doesn't make you a good payer
  • Money doesn't make you pleasant
  • Many students think it's OK to pay someone to sit their on-line exams
  • You can't believe everyone who says their child is 'gifted', 'above average', 'scholarship material' - that would be most of them
  • A mother who tells you you are their 'rock' one day is just as likely to shout down the phone at you the next, should a tuition session go wrong.
  • You can have an Oxbridge degree yet still have no common sense and employ the worst grammar, even in a CV
  • Stress is relative. I am glad I'll never have to concur with people who tell me things like: 'you'll never believe the grief I'm going through finding a good chauffer' or 'I'm in agony trying decide what shade of cream to paint the third bathroom in my new Kensington mansion'.

As for myself I have learnt that:

  • I enjoy managing people
  • I am a good negotiator (or bullshitter if needs be)
  • I am patient
  • I never want to work in education again
  • I need to be doing something far more creative
  • I want to work to live
  • I am glad I'm not at school now
  • To never underestimate the power of upper class 'chit-chat'
  • Working alone makes me depressed, morbid and neurotic

Friday, 7 March 2008

Battling the brute Bulimia

This might be a post I later remove...

I don't remember being a deceitful child. I recall being bossy, conscientious and serious from an early age, a goody goody, a teacher's pet, a worrier, obsessive and even depressive but not a liar. Lies scared me.

Then there was a change. To say I have become a liar would be over-simplistic as really there's only one thing I lie about and the person it affects most is me.

Eating disorders have a tendency to bring out one's worst self (especially Bulimia which is creates a real Jekyll and Hyde scenario). One can become the most horrendous liar and cheat. Secrets are kept, food hidden, lies are told to cover bigger lies, excuses are made and stories told about what you did or didn't do behind closed doors. A minefield of mind games

It's as if life becomes some sort of game you're playing against the rest of the world, the aim being to defy nature and trick everyone who loves you in to thinking you're 'normal' and fine. The saddest thing about it, aside from the obvious obstacles it places between you and those you love, is the fact that ultimately you are only really cheating yourself. It is you who will lose in the end.

I have thought of my future, possibly a lonely time when I find myself without a partner, without children, void of hope, aspirations, a career, health etc. and only because I have failed to enjoy being the person I am in the skin I'm in.

Unfortunately like any addiction, bulimia is a bastard to quit. Who ever said the hardest part is admitting there's problem seems to have a very limited understanding of such things. I've known I've had a problem since the day it started. It's a revolting, ridiculous, wasteful, expensive, exhausting, unnecessary, disgusting habit which scares me senseless. I know why it developed, what it's doing to me physically and emotionally, and what my loved ones think of it, plus there isn't much in the way of treatment haven't tried. Somehow though, none of this has ever been enough to make me stop.

Perhaps because I don't know what to do without it, how to let it go and eat normally. Perhaps because I enjoy it: dare I say my hedonism.

I know it's killing my love of life, my love life and my body and holding me back from doing the things I want to do in work and socially and when I describe it to people, the process, the reasoning, it does indeed sound ridiculous. It would make me very sad and angry to know a friend was courting the same demons. But it remains my emotional crutch, safe bet, security blanket, drug, buffer for bad news, a distraction from pain, thoughts, fear, it empties my head of thoughts and makes me feel invincible at the same time. It's been with me while boyfriends have come and gone. So in a sense absurd though it is, I have had some reason to allow it to persist. It doesn't seem matter how many times people tell you you could die, how it pains them to know the struggle and even how they've had enough of it and will leave you if you don't stop.

It's true that although I am dramatically better than I once was, I still don't treat anyone as badly as I treat myself. I may look fine on the outside but this is another lie. I wish I could look in the mirror and say 'I'm fabulous' and mean it and want others to think it too. I wonder how many women do.

Which brings me on to the subject of love. It has often been said that you can't really love others until you love yourself. I still wrestle with that notion, perhaps because I have yet to identify much self love. Perhaps it is true. Perhaps not. It's certainly hard to believe someone can love you if you don't love yourself and that doubt alone plants a seed of insecurity and even neurosis in a relationship.

So when people ask me why I'm going away, sure it's to be with my dad and to see the world and to hopefully open my mind to new cultures and do some fun things etc. but it's also to break this deadly chain. I'm not kidding myself that I will miraculously morph in to something I'm not, or leave my eating disorder head behind but I have tried nearly everything else, bar hypnosis, and I have to do something pretty drastic. Going away with Ric will mean my routines will change completely. This is a terrifying prospect but also something I can hardly wait for.

Sometimes I see myself in a new light. I see a vulnerable human, just like everyone else. This morning I caught a glimpse of the backs of my knees, a place I never really see. The sight of this patch of soft pale skin made me sad. An eating disorder tricks you in to thinking you're somehow subhuman as if you can con nature and beat yourself up ad infinatum; there always being a 'tomorrow' for things to change.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Cycling and Friends

I love my bike and I love cycling. Together they can make me very happy. That is until something goes amiss. Then I can become VERY frustrated, then angry and then when all else fails, tearful. If it ever gets to this stage I usually phone my mother. I'm sure nearly every cyclist has at some point been covered in grease, surrounded by bike parts, tools and buckets of water and realised what you're doing just isn't working.

No one likes a whinging cyclist and I generally try to avoid engaging with any 'them (ie. taxi drivers, bus drivers, van drivers, motorcyclists, every other sodding motorist oh...and pedestrians) versus us' banter or describing my falls, scrapes or other road grievances. And although en route to work, I regularly witness scenes of apoplectic rage between cyclists and drivers and have myself been known to swear louder and more coarsely than I thought possible when others endanger me and themselves with their thoughtlessness, I am not easily riled.

Having said this, as with general bad luck which people often insist comes in threes (incidentally I think it's far more random than that and the stuff of children's nursery rhymes anyway- the three little pigs, the three blind mice, the three bears etc.), my own bike related dramas and annoyances do seldom happen in isolation. Last night being a case in point.

Whilst cycling home after a particularly tumultuous day in the office (during which I was variously praised for my efficiency, skill and even kindness by some clients and criticised, patronised and verbally abused by others) I found myself struggling first with a freak wheel jam, then my brakes popped, then I had not one but two punctures (one in my brand new inner tube) and to top it, all my formerly trusty track-pump failed to work.

Usually, these kind of events don't phase me: 'I can fix my own bike and don't need no man to help me do it'. But when it means I end up having to down tools and take the underground to work because no bike shops are open after 8pm or before 7.30am (now there's an idea) I do get pretty grumpy. How on earth do people do it every day?! 'It really is no big deal, at all' says Ric, annoyed by the pained look spreading my face as I realise that I will have to get up early to join the sour-faced masses in the morning, pay for the privilege and possibly catch their bugs. The last time I commuted by tube was shortly after an accident and even then I struggled to decide whether concussion and double vision were justifiable grounds for using public transport.

But wait, this is turning in to a diatribe. The point I really wanted to make was that aside from the hassle and grief these seemingly crappy circumstances bring, unexpected rewards usually occur too. Because I didn't cycle today and didn't feel compelled to rush home as I always do, I spent three hours walking and talking with a dear friend instead. I had forgotten how powerful a stimulant the act of walking can be for thought and conversation. I had also forgotten just how walkable London is having spent so much time whizzing about or underneath it instead. I wonder if I might one day miss it.

Monday, 3 March 2008

4 Weeks Left

Monday morning. Alone again in the bunker. As I sit at my desk with the blinds drawn shut, deleting Spam messages urging me to 'Forget about erectile dysfunction problems!', 'Enjoy sexual rebirth!', 'Make women want to sleep with you immediately!' I contemplate how far away from here I will be in just a few weeks.

A weekend of sleep, being at home and a few inspired meetings with friends, one of whom has nearly finished her first novel(!) has motivated me further and as it often is at this time of day after the adrenaline rush and muscle burn of cycling to work, my resolve to be positive, healthy and effective is strong. I wonder what factors, what faulty brain wiring, cause me to fold as the day wears on. I am no fool surely? I am aware of how fortunate I am and how much I have to look forward to but bulimic beats have a logic of their own and it is a constant struggle to overcome them.

I also consider how narrow my world view has become, how everything that comprises my daily routine, my cushy job, my cycle journeys (on which I know every pot hole in the road and every traffic light timing), my visits to the shops, my skimming of the easy read leftie newspapers, my evenings at home, has made me feel safe, meant that I have behaved 'as a responsible adult should' even, but has also held me back and actually exacerbated the self-destructive traits and behaviours I have tried for so long now shake off.

I see a picture of a smiling fairy and feel pangs of sadness for the troubled little girl she was yet to become.

And so I find that my anticipation of going away and fear of what the future holds is enforcing my desire to leave. My job has now been advertised, so there'll be no coming back. This is a very good thing.

Wrong About Rom Coms

I never thought I'd say this but I'm becoming something of a fan of, even an expert on Romantic Comedies - the film sort as opposed to the books. At least I've watched a hell of a lot lately.

Generally considered light-hearted and aimed at 'chick' audiences I used to deride and avoid them in favour of more 'profound', high-brow, artistic movies. The very term Rom Com suggests schmaltzy, mass produced, unchallenging, clichéd flicks. 'Give me my depth, my drama, my passion, novel adaptations and my ne'er do wrong Gael García Bernal' I'd cry. Sure enough, these films fulfill most of the above criteria and they're repetitious (when you've seen one you've pretty much got the gist of them all). They also tend to conform to a somewhat limited white, middle-class, middle-of-the-road and often Jewish American family view of the world. They're unlikely to ever win any Oscars, nor are they particularly comical or for that matter romantic but it would be wrong to rubbish them on these grounds.

The reason for this, as I have somewhat reluctantly discovered, is that they are for the most part highly accessible, easy to relate to (even the actors are pretty average looking), thought provoking, reassuringly predictable and rather addictive. Perhaps it's a sign of my age that they also appear to raise the concerns, frustrations and desires that affect us as we progress from our heady, uncertain, selfish twenties to purportedly more settled, responsible years with committed relationships, mortgages and even children to boot.

With their absurd antics and good-guy-gets-the-girl-in-the-end format, they're even something of a relief amidst the esteemed film award winners, the special effects blockbusters and even (dare I risk sounding trite?) in a wider context, in this fickle, brutal age of cyber networking, quickie divorces, step-families, terrorism and even potential earth meltdown. If they are didactic it's in the warmest possible way as they never attempt to teach us anything that we don't already know anyway. They tug on our sentimental heart strings and tickle our bellies rather than subvert our expectations or slap us about the face.

The facets of a good Rom Com are obvious and it would appear hard to get the formula wrong: Unlucky-in-love, immature and/or self-deprecating man (sometimes woman), in their late 20 to early 30s, attempts to meet Miss or Mr. Right, they do, complications arise, sometimes involving outdoor pursuits, smarty pants children and injury, failure is imminent, families get involved, but then they hook up and live happily ever after. In a way they are very similar to Shakespeare's tragi-comedies in which blood must be shed and events reach the brink of disaster before happiness can ensue. How satisfying.

Unfortunately, one does occasionally chance upon a real stinker of a Rom Com, proving how even the best ingredients (star cast, interesting plot, funny script etc.) don't a perfect cake make (see Heston Blumenthal for that). And I'm sure there can be few things in film worse or more depressing than a crap Rom Com. I’m afraid the Brits are good at those, Love Actually being as case in point. One such duffer is the boring, smug unconvincing turkey I watched last night as I recovered from the latest shots of vaccines instead of seeing my friend's play. It was called Dan In Real Life (2007). Drivel. Would have had more fun cleaning the bathroom.