CRASH

So, here I am, looking forward to going back to London, thinking about all the glorious reasons to be happy about it, messaging friends, when CRASH.

And just like that, my amazing friend and mentor, Moira Gemmill, was dead. She was the 5th cyclist this year to be killed by a tip truck in London, according to the BBC report. She died on Thursday, pronounced dead at the scene, her bike crushed under the wheels and that was that. As I don’t know anyone else who knows her, I found out from a newspaper article early this morning. If my husband didn’t read the paper, it would have taken months for me to find out, probably when I hadn’t heard from her after trying to arrange a meet in the summer to celebrate my return. It is fair to say I am in shock. I cannot comprehend the awfulness of what happened, or begin to process the idea that I will never see, or speak to her again.

My inspirational and talented boss who I worked with at the V&A museum for two years and have known another ten. Gone.

My funny, stylish, picture-straightener of a friend who I shared too many bottles of white wine with commiserating over the dreadful actions of the other 600-odd employees we worked with. Gone.

My long-term mentor, the woman who encouraged me to aim high, gave me my reference for my MA, who I trusted, who believed in me, who regularly asked me what I thought about her incredible career because for some strange reason she respected my opinion as much as I did hers. Gone.

All gone. There is so much sadness. I am finally coming to London (as she said when I told her, ‘about time too, missy’) and now she won’t be there. If it wasn’t all over the news, I would think it a lie. I keep hoping, stupidly, that it weren’t true. How can it be true, that my friend was run over and killed by a truck? How can she be an item on the news instead of a person sitting opposite me a few months from now, laughing and chatting and being alive? What a tragic, awful way to die. Not that there’s a good way to die. But this is a terrible, devastating shocker of a way to go.

She was in the prime of her life, with an amazing career behind and ahead of her. ‘I’m going to work for the Queen’, she’d emailed me, in January. I know she got a kick out of saying it even though she was always so super cool about everything. She was fifteen years my senior and I knew I would never catch up with her, or achieve half of what she did, but it was fun to try, and she encouraged me every step of the way. How do you replace someone like this in your life? The answer: I never will. I don’t think I could even bring myself to try.

The last time I saw Moira, last summer, she got on her bike after lunch and with a wave, she was gone. And now, just like that, she isn’t coming back.

London will not be the same without her.

Support the London Cycling Campaign at www.lcc.org.uk 

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Life, death and expatriation

It’s my grandad’s funeral today. I’m thousands of miles away listening to my son having his drum lesson before going home to cook dinner and head out to rehearsal for an improv show. Just another day. And the third time I have not made it home to say goodbye to one of my wonderful grandparents. Words cannot convey how desperately sad I feel.

The thing is, I could have gone back. I could have put us on a plane and headed back for a week or so. It’s the Easter holidays and we have the time. But my son’s starting a new school and I don’t want to disrupt him before we begin. In a few months we have to undertake seven weeks of travelling across the world (other people know this as ‘summer’) and I really don’t want to ship him overseas before then if I can help it. And it feels like I only just got back from the last batch of trips, dealing with the sudden and devastating loss of my dad. (Yes, 2014 has been an excellent year so far. Not).

So instead, I’ve elected to stay. I will get home from rehearsal tonight and log into the webcast, and watch the recorded version from the comfort of my living room. It’s great in one way, that technology means I don’t miss it entirely. But it’s a bit macabre watching a funeral on an ipad; it’s not the same as saying goodbye in person, and it doesn’t take into account the complete and utter loneliness of being so far away from everyone else, of not being able to hold my sisters’ hands, or hug my mum, or just have time to reflect and raise a toast with everyone afterwards.

Worse still, no-one who hasn’t had to make the decision understands. I’m sure that there are people reading this and thinking ‘well you should have got on the bloody plane then, if you feel so bad’ – or alternatively, ‘well you get to be away from it all, so it’s not as bad for you.’ Well, this year I’ve done both – made one, missed one. Neither is ideal. Attending your dad’s funeral and then heading straight to the airport because, between the emotional toll, two return trips and the ensuing jet lag you haven’t seen your 4 year old son for the best part of two weeks isn’t exactly a choice I enjoyed making. Not being there at all this time around just fills me with untold amounts of guilt and unresolved grief that I will have to store up for a moment in time when I’m not running about like a nutter or completely dog tired and have a moment to myself to think about it all. The third way – being there already so you don’t have to make all these decisions – isn’t really in my control.

It’s the worst, most terrible thing about being an expat – being torn between two lives and knowing that commitment to either at a time like this will always, in some way, be the wrong decision. It’s been a long time since I felt this way about being here: this deep sadness that the choice we have made makes some things harder than they need to be. I know it will pass, that the rawness will fade and be replaced by small, less intense moments of regret. But for today, I think it’s okay to feel sad.

 

A note on karma

I feel the karmic powers are conspiring against me, and I’m not quite sure what I did wrong. If someone can explain to me how, merely in the last ten days, I have managed to rack up a child with an ear infection, flu (me), a violent, hideous stomach virus (also me), the cat peeing on my BRAND NEW SOFA, and a root canal (me again), I would be most grateful.

I’ve been racking my brains, and the thing is, I really was a good person this year. There have been years, I admit, where I have been less than delightful. But this year I have helped friends in need, I’ve done people favours, travelled the world for my family, and generally been a solid, dependable person. A positive influence, even. For crying out loud, I’m even still on the PTA despite three unsuccessful attempts to resign from a job that doesn’t even pay me. Yes, I’ve had the occasional wish to slap someone who was being foul, but I didn’t. I didn’t (unlike former times) even pick a fight (mostly). I’ve worked hard, played hard, studied hard, and I’m actually happy.

So why is my parade being rained on? With cat urine? My husband assures me bad things happen to good people all the time, but if that’s really the case and there is no upside to wearing pastels and smiling all the time, I might go back to being an evil old witch. But the black cat can take a hike. There’ll be no peeing in my cauldron, my ungrateful four-legged friend.

 

The Hardest Part

What’s the hardest part of living away from home? For me, as I imagine for 99% of expats, it’s a close run thing between missing family and a decent cup of tea, but I’m guessing family win out for most of us.

I’ve spent the past decade flying around the world to visit family – my sister in New York  Hong Kong New York, my mother in law in Florida, brothers and sisters in law in MA and NH, (with a stint in Maine for good measure), plus of course my parents, grandparents, siblings and so on, that are sprinkled across the south east of England. It’s all good fun until someone gets hurt, and then, like a one night stand in the cold light of day, living thousands of miles from your blood relatives turns out to be not such a great idea after all.

This has not been the best of years for my family. The events that have passed, and are still passing, are not my stories to share, so I’m not going to – but suffice to say that all plans to sit in sunny Dubai for the winter and enjoy the time in our little unit of three are being systematically abandoned as the responsibilities that come with being a daughter, a sister and a mother slowly rise to the surface.

Is it possible to live away guilt free? I have never managed it. Dragging myself, and on occasions my husband and son across the globe and through several time zones costing thousands of pounds is just part of life as far as I’m concerned. Times like these turn my mind into a war zone, a battle between what’s right for my family unit here versus what is the right thing to do for my family there.  It is the hardest thing in the world, to figure out what is more important, who has priority, and know that due to sheer limits of time and space, all decisions are final. There is always a compromise to be made, and it’s impossible to keep everyone happy. By everyone, I am including me, but I wonder if I should, because all the logistical planning, cross-continental communications, and normal life in between leave very little time to consider ‘me’. In fact, if you asked how I felt about everything going on in my life right now, my only answer would be that I really don’t have a clue.

Part of the pleasure/burden of having a small child is that they don’t give you time to process very much. You tend to only deal with things in terms of ‘stuff I can explain to a four year old’. Which simplifies things, I admit, until your very adult brain catches up and bites you on the arse with all the things you were supposed to think and feel days, weeks, or months ago. Combine that with living away from home, and people tend to think your actions and reactions to events at home are a result of being either a) extremely calm, b) extremely good at acting, or c) being a cold bitch. The truth is that the combination of being time-poor and distanced from events not just by miles, but by GMT+4,  means dealing with stuff has to happen in super-intensive chunks, preferably when everyone else in the world (including said four year old) is in bed, so that you don’t turn into a snivelling mess just as you have to do the school run or go out to dinner, or when you are trying to sleep.

The word ‘distance’ weighs so heavily on my mind at times like these that I wonder if it’s only in moments when you want to erase it that you can understand its true meaning. I can only hope that in the coming months, I can balance distance and time and family in both my worlds, and maybe use the flights in between for figuring out how I feel about all of it.

Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

Popcorn

Dinner, anyone?  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Apologies for this fleeting post, and for the completely unoriginal title, but it’s been that kind of week. Just when I thought this place couldn’t give me anything else to laugh/scream/sob about, it comes up trumps once more. I kid you not, here are some of the completely stupid things that have happened to in the past seven days that just make me want to bang my head against a wall.

– I tried to mail a birthday card to my aunt in Mallorca and the post office informed me that they no longer deliver to the Balearic Islands. EH? I thought the point of a postal service was that they mail ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD. They helpfully suggested if I put ‘Spain’ on the envelope, it was nearby and might get there.

– Overheard at a party on Saturday:

“I ordered a pizza and a salad the other day and they told me they couldn’t deliver the salad because it was raining.

“What about the pizza?”

“Oh yeah, they brought the pizza.”

EH?

– On the subject of pizza, our local take out place made waves this week by encouraging people to take photos and text whilst driving. Their genius ad campaign, later removed from their website after several complaints and an article in the local newspaper, read, “Catch us on the go! If you’re on the road and spot us, snap a pic and share where you were!”

– Our gas bottles were replaced on Tuesday and the regulators on the bottles changed at a total cost of Dhs 750 (about $200). The oven has since performed its own comedy show every time I use it and I am only able to light one gas ring OR the oven at any one time, or it all trips out. This is making cooking tricky and I have visitors arriving in the morning. Not an auspicious start. Upon recalling the gasman to sort it out, he blamed the electrics and told me to call the electrician. The electrician came and told me there are NO ELECTRICS to fix and it’s the gas regulator inside the house that is the problem. The perfectly functioning regulator that went wrong on the very day the bottles were changed, what a co-incidence. No-one can tell me who the hell fixes these but clue: It’s not the gasman and its not the electrician. Is there a regulator-man I wonder? Answers on a postcard please.

I’m sure there were more; these are the stand-out moments. It is no small wonder I look as deranged as I do, if you throw in hours devoted to PTA, the 2 days of acting work that meant I had to entrust someone else to pick up my baby from school for the first time (emotional stress = 8.5/10), the guys that were supposed to come and remove half a ton of broken furniture from the house and forgot after I waited for 4 hours for them to show, a monologue to write and about 400 pages of reading to get done by the weekend. Did I mention I have visitors arriving, or that my husband is away until Friday morning, meaning I am completely sleep deprived, slightly grubby and suffering from mental exhaustion due to single parenting the ‘Child Who Wouldn’t Stop Asking Why’? I would worry about the lack of food in the house but there is nothing to cook it with, so, you know, whatever.

I refer you to the title and bid you goodnight.

 

 

 

Cream crackered

I love being busy. This new episode of my life where I’m doing things all the time is much better than sitting about moping (although there is less time to shop or have manicures, and this is a downside). However, the nature of my new ‘work’ is such that I spend much more time at the computer and less time doing everything else. I sit and sit, in what is probably the worst posture of all time, with my shoulders hunched and my legs crossed, and I read, I write, and I catch up on the relentless influx of emails that invade my computer (everyone on the MA course writes so much my inbox can be filled with up to 70 or so emails a day, containing musings, feedback and so on from my fellow students which although interesting are somewhat over-prolific), and I don’t seem to do a lot else.

I’m feeling pretty mediocre at everything too, probably as a result of trying to be good at everything and failing because I’m simply not ready for that yet; and tired, because I’m just not used to all this concentration. My life is usually a little more ‘free’, a little less chained to the desk – and I seem to be thinking an awful lot, which hasn’t really been my thing for a while. I am struggling to keep my mind on the everyday aspects of life, like grocery shopping, and remembering to send birthday cards and – if you were to push me – parenting. Not that we’re having a bad time – I just know my mind isn’t really on the job of being ‘mum’ at the moment and I’m starting to feel a bit guilty about that too. I have found myself struggling with the  ‘who, what, where, when, why?’ questions several times this week, and failing to come up with my usual satisfactory answers to the major social, emotional and moral dilemmas my three year old poses. This includes the “Why do we die Mummy?” bath time quiz which left me floundering as I tried to think of ways to explain that wouldn’t leave him a)confused or b)depressed. I’m not sure I managed either.

I’m so busy concentrating I can’t concentrate. I keep forgetting to do things, or go places. This week alone I have forgotten I was getting my hair cut and that my husband was going to Oman. Both are in my diary, I have looked at it several times, and yet still failed to take in the information well enough that I wasn’t totally surprised when my hairdresser turned up at the door on Sunday, or that my husband was toting a suitcase this morning. I have PTA issues to deal with and summer holiday bookings to make and a whole host of things in between that really do require attention that I am failing to give. I do a little bit of each every time I remember and then have to drop it all to get something else done before a deadline passes. Take this morning: I know I need to book restaurants for when my visitors come, call my mother, and get the maintenance guys in to do their quarterly checks on the house, but I just don’t have the energy for any of it. I am lurching from day to day in a daze, going to bed late and rising early and not sleeping well in between. My face is full of spots (WTF I’m nearly forty, when does this END?) and each day when I drag my sorry butt out of bed I think about how I still haven’t been to the gym in three weeks but simply can’t summon up the enthusiasm to go. I feel like I need to sleep for a thousand years. And I’d quite like to go shoe shopping when I woke up, if only all this ‘work’ was paid.

I’m fully aware that this is just a period of adjustment and that my brain and my body will figure it out soon enough. And I know there are ways of making it easier on myself in the meantime (drink less, go to bed earlier, get off the computer, stop procrastinating in a blog and get on with it). I just need to relocate my motivation for all of this and I’ll be good to go. Sigh.

Nobody’s perfect all of the time

I am a Virgo. It’s important to me that you know that. Virgos, as a rule, take their star sign very seriously – probably more seriously than is acceptable in modern day society – and expect you to take it seriously as well. That they are a Virgo. They couldn’t really give a hoot what you are. Unless you are a Virgo too.

White&black

How Virgoans see the world  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m pretty certain Virgos come across as some of the most irritating people on the planet. We are the picture-straighteners of the world, the perfectionists, the hyper-critical, overly-logical, self-analyzing, right-angled, alphabetising, colour co-ordinating junkies of the human race. Black is black and white is white and there is officially no such thing as grey. ‘Change’ is a dirty word unless it has been planned that way. Achieving perfection is not the stuff of dreams, it is a way of life. ‘Trial’ is fine; ‘Error’ – not so much. And if all that wasn’t enough pressure, of all the Virgoans I have met and befriended over the years, many, if not all, have been actors, photographers, designers, and writers – i.e. creative. Creatively challenged, actually – because all that super-organised, self-critical think-in-straight-lines stuff gets hugely in the way of the fuzzy-wuzzy-dolphin-music-hippy-dippy-shit we like to immerse ourselves in. But somehow, magically, it works, and when a Virgoan manages to finally tap into their unconsciousness to get the creative stuff out before the conscious brain sets to work on recalibrating it to make sense, they tend to produce great (if not completely perfect) results.

So when a Virgoan screws up, particularly one who is of a slightly more creative nature (one might suggest the term ‘drama queen’ as appropriate to insert here) it is nigh on impossible for them to adopt an ‘oh well, never mind’ approach. It is, in fact, the end of the world. Which is about where I have been most of this week.

If you read last week’s post you will recall that I started off my dalliance with imperfection whilst cooking for a dinner party. Never before have I cocked up so much food in such a short, important space of time. That was last Friday. It should have been an indication of the greater incompetence that lay ahead.

Last week, shortly after posting my blog, I waited for a delivery to show up. A new, longed-for mattress with an all singing all dancing memory foam topper that would hopefully put an end to broken sleep and bad backs. When it arrived, it took them half an hour to get it upstairs due to a rather tight spot between the ceiling and the stairwell. Not wanting to think the worst, I ignored the fact that I didn’t remember this being so much of an issue with our old bed when we moved in, and instead blamed it on the general incompetence of the delivery team.

Not so. In fact it was MY general incompetence that was at fault, as became blindingly obvious when the mattress arrived in our room and was -oh – a good ten inches bigger than our bed. I had forgotten to measure and had guessed when we ordered. And I had guessed wrong. Oh the shame. So much so I blamed my husband in the ensuing phone call to the mattress company and with lots of eye rolling and pretend-crossness at his incompetence (sorry babe) I convinced them to exchange it for the correct size.

But what was it I was ashamed of? Not getting it wrong, per se, but that I had guessed. GUESSED. No Virgo GUESSES anything. It is simply not in our vocabulary. Something was going very, very wrong.

This morning we were due to be on a plane to Sri Lanka. I know that because my travel spreadsheet (oh yes) says so. But instead I am typing this in my study and we are clearly not on a plane anywhere. In a conversation with our housemaid, who hails from Colombo, I discovered that not only was the country still at the tail end of the monsoon (a fact I had known about but chosen to ignore up until now) but that there were ‘bad mosquitos’ in the capital city. Upon further inquiry it transpired these ‘bad mosquitos’ were called ‘Dengu’. Hmm. That sounds alot like ‘Dengue’ to me. So I did a bit of Googling and what do you know, there is a pandemic on. Who knew? Not wanting to be put off entirely (although by this point I must admit I was going a little cold on the idea) it got me thinking about all the other diseases we might pick up. We knew malaria didn’t affect the thin sliver of coastline we were visiting, but in full confidence that was all I needed to worry about, I managed to entirely forget to check our vaccination records until a week before we were due to travel. It turns out my son hasn’t had a typhoid jab and although the nurse was vaguely confident it would be ok for him to travel five days after the vaccination, she did mention that ‘before four weeks is best, ma’am’. Given typhoid is spread through water and the monsoon is still finishing up, it would only take one dodgy washed vegetable and that would be that.

So we cancelled. And being a Virgo, I take it as a personal failing that 1. I didn’t research the weather patterns and disease issues properly in the first place, 2. I didn’t organise our vaccinations in time and 3. I didn’t worry enough.

I didn’t worry enough. How does that even make sense? That’s how perfect I want to be, that I am worried about not being worried. It is extremely stressful being this self-critical. It takes up huge swathes of time and energy, being cross with oneself for not being ten out of ten ALL THE TIME. (A score of ‘ten’ being most sane people’s ‘eleven’, of course.)

So this week, in summary, the thoughts running round my little twisted mind (at 90 degrees, obviously), go something like this: 1. I can’t cook, 2. I guessed something and that is a BAD THING and 3. I didn’t worry enough. As I result, we ate ice cream, haven’t slept well and aren’t going on holiday. I’ll leave it to you to work out the order of disaster rating.

Things have taken a turn for the better since I realised I had dropped the astrological ball and gave myself a stern talking to. It’s Thanksgiving next week, and in an effort to pull my Virgoan socks right back up I am currently surrounded by shopping lists and schedules for preparation and cooking. I have already been out and purchased a soup tureen, turkey grippers and extra pie dishes in anticipation of producing a meal for ten nothing short of utopian. I have bought a new tablecloth (I measured the table first), done an inventory of glassware, plates, napkins and suchlike to ensure we can cater for a crowd, and assessed the state of the decorations hidden in the under stairs cupboard for the past twelve months. I have candles, name place cards and have already printed menus for the buffet table. The turkey is ordered and my housemaid is on standby to help with peeling vegetables and washing up. I am determined this meal will look perfect, taste perfect, and run like a well oiled machine, so that I can kick back and have a glass of wine by the time the pies (plural – apple, pecan and pumpkin) are served. In fact, I am so demanding of my own organisational excellence that I am considering booking a manicure for the day before, so that I can look immaculate too and really test out just how perfect I can be. I need to get my Zodiac groove back and there is only one way – to get back out there and give it all I’ve got at being great.I am in competition with myself. Tragic, but true.

If it goes wrong, fellow Virgos, I promise I will change my birthday.