Man flu

My husband has just diagnosed me as having man flu. Having greeted me this morning by way of ‘you look like sh*t’, accusing me of over-dramatising a mild sense of unwellness seems like a compliment in comparison. But he’s right on both counts: I’m just ill enough to not function in any real capacity, but, with no fever in sight, not actually feeling bad enough to be officially sick; and I do look like sh*t. And actually, he’s been very kind and told me to rest up and get better, while he runs about with the boy all day. This is a luxury I am not about to say no to; I have taken him at his word and vanished as fast as my shakey legs will carry me. However, it being the weekend, I am stuck in our bedroom and can’t sit downstairs watching TV and drinking hot Ribena, which is how I would like to be spending my confinement. I’m tired, but awake. I’m bored but don’t want to do anything. I’m hungry but I don’t want anything to eat. Except maybe a chocolate digestive would be nice, if only we had any. Also, no one likes me very much. On my occasional forays downstairs even my little boy has been full of helpful comments like ‘go away mummy, I don’t want your germs on me’. So instead I’ve laid up here for hours wishing my headache would go away and making a list of things I need to do when it does, that finally got so long I started to go crazy. In a last ditch attempt to rescue myself from utter boredom I’ve grabbed my laptop and decided to write a long overdue post until my head gives in and falls off.

So, happy new year and all that. 2014 was a terrible year, all things considered, and I’m rather glad to see the back of it. When your 40th birthday is the highlight of the year, you know it’s not been a good one. Turning middle aged should definitely not be as awesome as I think it is. But there’s been so much loss and sadness in our family this year that I just can’t say I’ve enjoyed it, despite it being peppered with personal highs like finishing my MA and rocking the improv world (okay, maybe that’s a gross exaggeration, but I’m sick, remember, and taking that cold and flu stuff that makes your head go la la so cut me some slack). Looking back, I’m really just relieved to have got through it with my sanity intact.

Onwards and upwards. I’m totally excited for 2015. It’s a blank canvas for me, in many ways. No more assignments to finish, no feedback that has to be given by Monday night every week. No more milestone birthdays for at least 10 15 years. No more musing that I don’t know what to with my life. I know exactly what I’m doing with it and I love it. I have gasp – spare time. The boy is settled into school and I have successfully avoided all kinds of PTA nonsense this academic year that I so foolishly volunteered for the year before. I am working a few days a week doing something I love that earns me some money, and hit the theatre once a week to be applauded by strangers who think I’m funny. The rest of the time I get to write, and in theory, go to the gym and have a nice long swim in the pool. Mostly I just write. Apart from the possible collapsed lung I am suffering from, life is GOOD.

But it would appear that 2015 is not charming the pants off of everyone. Me, who is renowned for her generally glass half-empty state – or more accurately ‘what f-ing glass?’ – logged off Facebook on Thursday because it was full of grumpy people arguing, posting depressing news and statistics and generally being miserable. Where’s the happy, people? I know it’s January, and January is always a bit rubbish, and maybe it’s the weather, or the dark, or whatever…and I know there are things going on in the world that suck, but there are always things going on in the world that suck. We need happy in our lives to balance all that. Especially when you might have japanese encephalitis.

And that’s what I like about social media, or, at least, what I used to like about it. For every person bemoaning the evil in the world, there was another one in the wings waiting to fill your heart with joy. I know it’s not for everyone but I genuinely enjoy logging on in the morning and seeing what’s been going on around the world while I’ve slept – and I don’t mean ‘the world’; I mean the worlds of the people I’m friends with, who give me a window onto their lives. But those windows are open less and less, holiday snaps and snippets of personal news replaced by quizzes and newspaper articles and marketing. And yes, before you say it, this is a middle aged person speaking. No doubt something waaaaaaay cooler has already been invented that’s taken its place, like, three years ago, and I just don’t know about it. But I’d like to know about it, because I’m fast falling out of love with what I’ve got. Facebook seems to be more of a place to air your political views or promote your business or watch videos of cats than check out what your friends are doing these days. Linked in is just a convenient way to stalk people. Twitter – ugh – is there anything more exhausting than Twitter? – seems to be much the same as Facebook, but just 170,000 times more prolific and annoying. Instagram? Is this my only choice? Do I have to??

Where do you go these days to just hang out and be happy, make sure your friends are happy, and then log off? It may be the rabies talking, but come to think of it, I vaguely remember that it used to be called ‘the pub’.

Happy new year everyone. Now log off, and may your year be filled with happy people and pubs.

Wanderlust

Meanwhile, in real life, I’ve been a bit preoccupied. Apologies for the prolonged literary silence. My MA is ramping up to the final hand in date, and quite frankly blogging has had to take second (or third, or fourth) place to writing an essay on narrative in memoir (more interesting, it turns out, than I thought), trying to get over the writer’s block and finish my book, (still working on that) plus quite a bit of performing thrown in. And that little thing called parenting. And dealing with the rather catastrophic decision to move into a new house four days before flying to the other side of the world for nearly two months. (That had just a bit of fallout to manage. Turns out boxes do not unpack themselves, the garden won’t ever grow plants in it unless I actually get it landscaped and we own a sh*tload of stuff we really don’t need)

But things seem to be calmer this week*. I have managed to create distance between me and chaos, which was a difficult parting of ways but not entirely impossible to execute. I have a small list of things still to accomplish (little things, like the final 35,000 words of a book to write), but what I really need to do is wrap my head around the business of being in Dubai again. I feel like I haven’t quite got the hang of being back yet, even though it’s been nearly two months since our summer hiatus. It’s almost like I’ve been too busy to acclimatise. I turn up to stuff and nod and smile in all the right places but feel a little bit uncommitted to the idea of life being here, of this being ‘it’. I’m surprised at myself and honestly, fairly confused as to why I’m feeling this way. Maybe the displacement from our home has left me unsettled – yet I love our new house, so I don’t think that’s the problem. More likely it’s the influx of new people who’ve arrived with enthusiasm and a sense of adventure I no longer possess. I feel a bit jaded, and groundhog day-esque, like there’s nothing new for me here. And yet that’s not true either – I have a life filled with theatre and writing and friends where, a few years ago, there was nothing. I love what I do and I love my life here. So what is the problem? It’s not homesickness per se – in fact it’s almost the opposite – dare I mutter it’s just a feeling that I might have nearly (nearly – I’m aware it’s awesome here) had enough of being in the same place.

Nomad’s curse. That feeling of wanting the next adventure, of seeing the next new place. I don’t get itchy feet very often but I feel like I’ve got them bad right now. I feel a need to see the world again, to be surrounded with the hum of a new city that’s alive with different faces, different ideas, different histories. I’m stifled; my frame of reference has shrunk to school drop offs and pick ups, negotiations with workmen, parties and play dates. Creatively, emotionally, this isn’t enough. I need to find somewhere or something new to fall in love with; to inspire me, to feed my soul and create new energy within. I need to change something before the routine becomes a rut. But I’m about fifteen years too late to just grab a rucksack and hit the road. So instead, I’m resolving to unplug the laptop, pick up my camera and a notebook and take myself to a corner of Dubai where I haven’t been before or at the very least, haven’t been for a while.  And then I’m going to write about it. It’s the best I can do, to shake things up and maybe quell the urge for something new. I need to see that there is a life outside of my bubble, to observe and listen to a wider world, even within my own city. I hope that it will quiet the wanderlust that is lurking, and allow me to see there is still plenty on offer here, if only I reach out to grab it.

Failing that, I’m going to have to steal the family air miles. Don’t worry babe, I’ll be back by Sunday…

 

*I wrote this on Monday. By this morning (Wednesday), the boy had been sick off school, given me his germs, and the gardener has just put an axe through a pipe in the garden, creating a rather picturesque mud lake and possibly cutting the water supply to our house. I’m currently waiting for the plumber to turn up and charge me a small fortune to nearly fix it. But not quite. That would be too easy.

Travelling without moving

…or, in the alternate plane of reality I appear to live in: ‘Hell, after all we’ve been through this year, let’s move house AND depart for a two month round the world trip all in the same week’.

Several people thought I was insane. Many more thought I would go insane. But against all odds, I survived, and despite a rather last minute approach to packing and a house so full of boxes I thought we’d never get out alive, I am now sitting in dear damp old London town, apparently in possession of not only my marbles, but, it would appear, all the necessary belongings required for our trip. (I even remembered my decaf tea bags and a sunhat. Years of list making and packing everything not nailed down for various long haul trips have apparently not gone un-wasted).

Our departure from Dubai for the summer draws a line across what has been the most tumultuous six months of my life. Never have I been so glad to see the back of time, to be so relieved to move on and away. There’s guilt about this as well as relief: I’ve neglected people, near and far, as I’ve buried myself in my own life trying to cope with it all – and in spending large amounts of time lurching from one disaster to the next I fear one of the worst crimes I’ve committed is that I didn’t stop to notice a lot of the growing up my son did while I wasn’t watching. But now, suddenly, I feel like the worst is over. And although I was already beginning to feel better as the list of horror got shorter and the time away from it grew longer, getting on a plane has purged me and left me feeling lighter, able to enjoy myself at last. The immediate future is bright, filled with adventures to have and memories to be made and time away from normal life that our little family unit of three badly need to have. And when we return again, refreshed, it will be to a new home, which I know when the teething pains of moving house are over, will be a joy to live in.

I understand now that it takes time to heal, to regain strength when so much happened to take it away. I appreciate I’m not there yet, but I’m on the way. Sitting listening to the rain fall outside and watching my son manage his jet lag with (mostly) good grace, I feel like I am, in this moment, travelling without moving. My heart and mind float slowly to surface to breathe the fresh air and I feel a peace I haven’t felt for months. I can look outside myself again. My summer will be filled with vibrant cities, country lanes and quaint seaside towns; culture, art, the sand between my toes, glasses raised with friends, the joy of family – and I plan to make the most of every minute, knowing the moments will pass without me if I let them. But I won’t, now; I’ve let enough of them go by.

And they all lived happily expat after

Once upon a time, there was a Prince who came from a far off land, and married a girl from Essex. The Prince and Princess hung out in London for a while but soon they became tempted by the treasure-laden lands of the Middle East, and decided to move there for a couple of years. Two years turned to five, and a young Prince was born to them, who turned out to be smart and funny and handsome and not at all bothered about living in England. So although the Princess still yearned to go home, in time she learned to accept her new life, and filled her palace with gold shoes and Jo Malone candles and other fineries as her Prince permitted (and several he probably didn’t).

After eight years, the Prince was declared King of the Middle East (Office) and the Princess realised it might be a while more before she got to go home. She didn’t really mind; she had built a very happy life for herself by now, and had a career she loved, and a hobby, and some dear friends, and the little Prince was doing very well at school. So she resigned herself to another sweltering summer and began arranging for her annual trip to the old Kingdoms to see her friends and family.

Except this year, something was different. She had suffered terrible losses to her family, and many old faces would not be there on her return. Many of her friends who she had so diligently missed all year were not around, due to the fact that all the children were now of school age and everyone was decamping to Spain or France or Italy for the holidays. Everyone was busy and she felt as though she had somehow made a big mistake, staying away for so long, and that people were beginning to forget her. All the old feelings of loneliness and abandonment came flooding back and she wondered if she would ever feel happy again.

Then she remembered what an amazing life she had lived all those years in between, and that her old friends wouldn’t forget her just because they were all busy with their children right now, just as she hadn’t forgotten them because she was busy with her life too. And she gazed out from the turret of her castle at the city she was growing older in, and realised that it is possible to have the best of both worlds, as long as you choose one of them to live in, and stick to it, but remember to love everyone still, and miss them just the same. She paused for a moment, and decided she was fine with all of it, and would simply enjoy the summer exactly as it happened, without worrying to much about the future, as it had tended to look after her and the King and the little Prince pretty well so far.

And so, they all lived happily expat after.

The Chicken Song

Cast your minds back….(this one might be for the Brits amongst you, sorry everyone else) Remember it, Spitting Image fans?

‘Its that time of year, now that Spring is in the air
When those two great gits, with their girly curly hair
Make another song for moronic holidays
That nauseate-ate-ate in a million different ways’

Etc. etc.

Why do I still know all the words to this? Because it was played in every bar and club in every holiday town in Europe for the best part of a decade of my – er-hem – ‘formative’ years. And today it’s back, running through my mind with the ease of an olympic sprinter and driving me slowly crazy. ‘Why?’ I hear you cry. Well, it’s that time of year. (‘It’s that time of year….’ see?) Despite the rain (yes, RAIN) this week and the glorious resurrection of jeans and t-shirts just when we all thought bikini season was upon us, the pre-summer buzz has begun. And with it, the inevitable annual friend cull. This year I’m losing a few acquaintances, and, as seems to happen each time I think it’s safe to come out, one very dear friend, who has the audacity to return home just when I’d got used to the idea of her being a permanent fixture.

It’s that time of year. (It’s that time of year…arghhhh) The bit where I am trying not to write off the ones who are going but at the same time knowing I will have to fend for myself when they are gone. A cloud of aloneness wafts over my skyline and although I know I will be fine, and there will be others come (and probably go again), the friends that truly have become part of your life are hard to let go of. It’s difficult to accept starting over again. Again. And when you’re as picky as me, losing a few friends actually creates quite a hole in life.

This year is the first year that my son is losing friends too. He’s sad, that a few people are moving away who he’s got to know and like. He wants to know why they are going home and we are not. He doesn’t understand why they are leaving, and is insistent we will visit them in California/Oklahoma/Switzerland/Australia. He is asking about his other friends, and whether they will leave too, one day, and if we will see them again either. He says we can skype them but I’m not sure he believes we will.

He’s starting to sound an awful lot like me.

So to cheer him and me up, and for the rest of you who weren’t living in the UK in the 80s and therefore have no idea why I’ve called this post ‘The Chicken Song’, here’s a link. Listen at your peril, it’s not one that’s weathered the passage of time particularly well (although unless you’re on your seventh pint in some hell hole in Magaluf, I’m not sure it ever did).

It’s might be a bit soggy in my desert world this week, but I feel it. The heat is on, the crazy is coming and the goodbyes are looming. It’s that time of year.

Best laid plans

Here it comes, lurching onto the horizon like a drunken uncle at a wedding: Summer. The time of year I have sworn, regularly, might be my breaking point on how long I can keep up this expat life. The six to eight weeks of living out of a suitcase, dealing with jet lag, the ceaseless activity of sitting on planes, trains and in automobiles;  the horrendous amount of money it all costs to torture ourselves with being away from home just to avoid the torture of being here. The grand tour planning department has opened its doors once more and I am its reluctant operations manager.

But this year there is a twist. Because this year, on top of finishing a masters degree, changing my son’s school, and figuring out what to pack for a summer that most likely includes every type of weather and setting you could think of, we are also moving house.

I’ll let that sink in a little. And then if anyone can come back to me with some valium, that would be good.

Our house will go up for sale this week after four happy years living here, to celebrate it finally being worth what we paid for it back in 2007. We will be the proud recipients of approximately $10.47 profit, which is better than nothing. I’m fine with the concept of moving, but I’m getting that niggling sense that it might be a while before I recover from it when you bolt on the fact we will most likely be moving house and then leaving for a couple of months to assume our gypsy lifestyle in the west. And – yippee! – I get to spend my time away mentally adding to the bulging list of things to do which will no doubt bug me the entire time until I can get back and do them: curtain hanging, garden landscaping, pictures to go up on the wall, shelves to put in, boxes to unpack, THE KITCHEN OMG THE KITCHEN…I was up at 5am yesterday thinking about all this and we haven’t even advertised the house yet.

And I worry, that the upheaval of the summer and moving house might send my son over the top as well. Poor little man. It’s not as though he’s going to grow up in the same house his whole life – we knew that already. But it seems particularly unfair to turf him from his room, make him camp in seven different places, then tell him we’re going home to a completely different house from the one he’s been in since he was a baby.  Also I can’t imagine I’m going to be a salad cart of giggles; moving in fifty degree heat and 80% humidity will be the least amount of fun EVER, and I’m not relishing the struggle through box loads of accumulated crap to try and find a summer’s worth of clothes, books and toys with which to bundle us off to Blighty and beyond.

Maybe I’m just seeing problems for the sake of it, though. The upside is that we will come back to a new adventure, another part of our journey as expats. I will get to go shopping for new stuff for the house because inevitably, the old stuff will fall apart in the move or won’t fit (except the sofas: I promise I’ll keep the sofas). This time, I am not moving with a six week old baby. That is just so 2009. No, this time will be different: less hormonal, more experienced. This house move WILL take three days, no matter what the movers tell me about it only taking two. I am prepared for this. I will not be packing anything myself ‘in case the movers break something’, because through experience I know that they are insured, whereas I am not. They are also very good at their job, whereas I am not. Anything we don’t want to take with us will be gifted to our housekeeper, put in a crate and sent to Sri Lanka. It will not be saved ‘just in case we need it in the next house’, only to rot in the garage after a few years. A bottle of something will be waiting in the fridge for the end of days one, two and three.  I will get the curtains put up and shelves installed and pest control round before we move in, not two months after. And then I will get on a plane, and hope that my rose tinted spectacles are still working well enough to ignore the enormity of the trip before me.

In the meantime, if anyone wants to help with the logistics spreadsheet I’m creating, do drop me a line.

 

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.