A pencil and a dream can take you anywhere

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

What if.....

Being myself an avid fan of ‘The biggest Loser’ and a moderate tolerator of exercise this led me to think of the exercise we all do. We all seem to hear contradicting theories about the amount of exercise that you are meant to do whether it is 5 hours of cardio and weights a week or as 'little as' a half hour walk per day. Some articles would even have you believe that sitting around burns plenty of calories or there are those that subscribe to the ‘why bother exercising, when tomorrow I could be run over by a bus’ philosophy. Seen as the buses seem to go slow round here (believe me I have followed them home) I have decided to stick with the ‘half hour to an hour a day of physical exertion’ philosophy.

As I was coming back from a gym class today it occurred to me that ‘Spinning’ would be way more fun if it was actually spinning, you know like spin and spin till your dizzy, spinning. I envisioned a large field (somewhat like my primary school playing field) and the class would be full of people arms outstretched just spinning (and trying not to bump into other people) till they are dizzy and they fall down. Then they get back up and keep spinning, well until the class is over, at least. No inhibitions, no ridiculously tight spandex outfits, no annoying ridiculously fit trainers- you could even do it in your lunchbreak. This idea didn’t seem out there ridiculous, I mean there are classes where people go to just laugh… that’s right, laugh. The people running it must be making a mint, I mean I am guessing there’s no training necessary. The people attending must be really miserable if they have tried everything else though, I mean do they not have access to E4 or comedy central? If we are taking sports names literally I think I would definitely avoid squash, as I do not care to imagine what pain that could inflict.

This morning I was feeling the pain of yesterday’s ‘Pilates’ (pronounced Pih-lah-tees) class and went downstairs to my mum in an effort to garner some sympathy, I realised the pain in my stomach was from a backward to forward roll I had done, Mum said she had looked up to our class, while she was sweating away on the elliptical machine, and said it looked like a lot of stretching and joked that there wasn’t a wooden sword or plank in site (for those wondering, it was a play on it being a pirates class) We imagined this great concept, I said we would go around the room, dressed up of course, and challenge people to a dual, using mock Pirate type accents à la Cap’n Jack Sparrow (so pretty much Keith Richards) Mum then asked whether I ever played ‘Pirates’ at school, running around with the sportsmats on the ground and the big mats were the ship and anything off the mat was the sea and there were teams and stuff (that was all I caught) I thought what great fun that’d be and how if ‘Pilates’ based on the methods of breathing, stretching and such that a man named Joseph Pilates created, was actually ‘Pirates’ a riilly riilly fun game with mats and running around (and I am envisioning some laughing and screaming too) I know which I would choose….

So what if exercise were as fun today as it was when we were children? When I was a child, I cycled most places, I spun for fun, I swam at a swimming pool we had at school and I played in the park most days just running around and swinging on the swings and jumping off and there was none of this parental supervision rubbish.
At my secondary school we had every (mind numbing, annoying) thing at our disposal, fells (mountains to non-Cumbrians) that we had to walk up and complete a certain amount of squares on a chart (oh how the matron miss Burns enjoyed filling that in). The chart was one square for every certain amount of feet and you had to complete 13 squares and climb a minimum of 3 fells. *A flashback to Mr Lonsdale my housemaster walking round the school dining room, hands in his pockets jangling… um something… trying to get people to volunteer to go fellwalking (by now I had a pretty good idea of the height of each individual fell) oh how I remember being volunteered by Emma-Jane every (single bloomin') time she volunteered herself and how I would then either walk way ahead of her or way behind (that’d teach her... or so you’d think)*
Oh how I remember queuing for all the things we 'needed': a bivvy bag (a glorified bin liner in a striking orange colour) that we could slide down the fell in should the (glorious)occasion arise- it never did (dang it) uncomfortable worn in old boots (that stank) and big thick socks and that’s all I recall, for I think some things were banished to the 'police line, do not cross' segment of my memory.

Also, being in Cumbria (lucky lucky me) we had rock climbing, canoeing, abseiling, crag hopping, netball, hockey, tennis, dry slope skiing (a great one for tearing clothes) and my true personal favourite- trampolining. Ah trampolining where we played games with names like 'scrambled eggs' and pretty much just bounced around, for fun (whatever happened to just bouncing around for fun?). I have three neighbours each with big trampolines and we have no garden so everyday I fight the temptation to jump on theirs. I am debating learning Dutch or improving my German just to forge a (admittedly shallow) friendship with them, one of them also has horses. “hello aardig om u, welke mooie te ontmoeten paarden u hebt, ik met uw trampoline kunt spelen? OoOoOoOoh en is dat een zwembad?” loosely translated from “hello nice to meet you, what beautiful horses you have, may I play with your trampoline? OoOoOoh and is that a swimming pool?” it could be the start of a beautiful friendship (for me).

These days most of us struggle to so much as walk anywhere, for the majority of people the gym takes more motivation than we are usually able to muster up, that or we are too burnt out from work. I know we don’t have as much energy as we did when we were children but more’s the pity eh?! Thank goodness for fun classes like 'Zumba', fun dancy aerobics to Latin beat music, that and other dance classes. There is a niche in the market though for proper spinning and a piRates class, I’ll have a word with the gym manager, I think I am more than qualified and I can do a wonderful impression of Elizabeth Swann… (be wooden, got it)

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Facebook Top Trumps

My friend and I, whilst swinging on a sofa swing (something that wouldn’t look amiss on a porch in America) in Roermond, Holland, chatted about inventions. We contemplated a swinging bed (an inspired idea) kind of like you get for a baby but for adults and envisaged how good it would feel to be rocked gently to sleep. We thought of other inventions and then got talking about that friendly foe ‘Facebook’.

Years ago I joined a particularly catty book club, a book club where most members reviled one another, shot eachother looks when one commented on a particular passage of a book, where the founding member insisted the meetings were minuted and oversaw the typing up of minutes. These minutes were used to insult other members of the group and I think I left not long after someone chose Daniella Westbrook’s autobiography as their book choice. N.B: For those reading fortunate enough not to be familiar with Daniella, she was an ex-‘Eastenders’ (an English long running soap opera) actress who is more famous for having lost part of her nose to a cocaine addiction, than for her acting skills. The one thing I remember about this bookclub was when we read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (it had been my friend Louise’s book choice) and when we had read it we convened in her house to talk about it and watch the awful 'working title' production of it with Ikea Knightly as the iconic Elizabeth Bennett and some bloke (whose only fault was that he wasn’t Colin Firth) as Mr Darcy. Louise had made these 'Pride and Prejudice' inspired top trumps, using all the characters from the book and I thought it was pure genius. So remember those Top Trumps and stick with me now.

Anyway back to that swing, so yes, my friend and I got to talking about facebook. I told her how someone who was in my elder Sister, Lynsey’s, school year at Keswick School, had added me as a friend on facebook. Making a withdrawal from my suppressed memory bank, I recalled sitting at the dinner table at boarding school with this girl, I was a fresh faced eleven year old who had barely left home and cried if I went away for the night (ah the many times my mum would wait for me to come through the door when I had gone to stay overnight at a friend’s house because by about 10.30 I had begged a parent to take me home). Well, this gal (we’ll call her Sherry) was sat at the same dinner table as me and she was thirteen and, well, just plain mean. We were placed at tables and had to sit at them every dinner time, she was good friends with another mean girl (let’s call her Regina). Every time Sherry and Regina would bitch about people at other tables, me (lacking tact or social decorum) would overhear (for it was pre-tty darn hard not to) and turn to look at the person they were talking about. One day they whispered (loudly) that I would always look when they mentioned someone- so they were going to ‘set me up’ (their tactics were sophisticated, I know) So the premise of this ingenious plan was that they would gossip about someone, falsely, and see if I would 'rise to the bait' and look over, to prove (to only themselves, I presume) that I had a penchant for doing this. I stifled a smile, for I was in on their highly sophisticated master plan. True to plan, they 'loudly' gossiped about someone and waited. I had finished my food and, instead of craning my little neck to look, proceeded to chase some leftover food round my plate with my fork and appear completely oblivious to their gossip. Foiled. In your face! I obviously still feel this was (a somewhat pyric) victory because it was about 20 years ago now.

Anyhow this Sherry, never civil to me at school, added me as a friend on facebook. Why? I don’t know. All I know is, I foolishly pressed ‘confirm’ (I have since learned to ignore people I had a mutual dislike for at school) One day she got chatting to me (via status comments) and asked whether I had any kids yet. YET? Yet?? Is there a time limit? Did I miss the fascist memo that demanded by 30 that I meet some loser, have a couple of kids, ditch the loser and bring up my brats single-handedly? Yes, yes, it would appear I did. No, I don’t, I calmly stated, adding that I haven’t met Mr-right-for-me just yet (said I, quite bitterly) For the purposes of this paragraph I have made sweeping suppositions about this other person.

Which, in the spirit of inventions, led us to invent the game of ‘Facebook Top Trumps’. How would this game operate, I hear you ask? Those of you familiar with top trumps will know that you play against at least one opponent, you each have an equal number of cards and you lose or win cards on whether you can ‘trump’ your opponents statistics and the aim is to try and win the whole pack. So your opponent may choose the category, for example ‘Superpowers’ and reveal their number or statistic, someone like Spiderman may have Superpowers: ‘89’ your opponent may have Batman so theirs may say ‘0’- so you would win their card. You usually lead with your strongest as you are hoping your high statistic ‘trumps’ theirs. There is a great deal more to this, but that is for you to spend a wasted childhood finding out. What I am trying to lead you to enquire is: Say, isn’t facebook a lot like Top Trumps? Yes, how very astute of you, I would have to agree it is and I'll tell you why....

The categories could include ‘amount of foreign holidays taken this year’, 'what job you have' (and perhaps whether you like it) ‘places you have visited’ (we decided that Sydney may equal a high score whereas, Skegness or Dagenham may be quite a low score) A big one would be ‘how many facebook friends you have’ (let's say 1007), then ‘how many (of those are) real friends’ (this could mean you have to minus about 1000 of the last statistic) ‘how many wall postings you may receive in a week’, ‘how many groups you are a member of’, ‘what your relationship status is’ (a seemingly important one) and ‘whether you have any children (yet)’ ‘Where you live’ could also feature but we are yet to finely hone this and couldn’t figure how it would be regulated etc etc then I think that is about how far we got with the game because we then carried on swinging and developing the idea of a King-size bed that could rock.

I began to question why people add us as friends and then proceed to make that cardinal sin of not even so much as saying ‘hi’. Not even a howdy, good to see what you are up to, haven’t seen you in years, my you look different (i.e. you’re way uglier than I remember, or didn’t you get better looking with age) etc etc. When those people you disliked at school add you purely to see what you are up to- I wonder whether they may feel they would win this round of facebook top trumps? Or, whether they would feel worse when they get a look-see at what you may be up to? But surely the bar is different for every person. I don’t feel bad when I look at others lives, sometimes I am thankful I am not married/divorced already with a few kids. I must be honest I felt sad when this ‘Sherry’ said she ‘relied’ on her kids and didn’t know where she’d be without them and claimed they were her ‘lifeline’, I genuinely felt sorry for them. I did realise (broodingly one day) that, amongst my peers, I am one of the only ones who isn’t married with at least two children. That said I am not sad about it I am capable of being happy for them and other people. I have many friends who are loving being in that position, but it’s not me, not yet.

Sometimes I update my status revealing what I am really happy about, upcoming holidays etc and realise I have genuinely supportive friends. They comment ‘have a great time’ ‘Lucky you, have fun’ and I sometimes feel a pang of guilt, as it could appear I was trying to rub something in. I try to regularly update because once I didn’t update my status for about 4 days and an ex student of mine, Boris, wrote acting genuinely concerned that I had dropped off the face of the earth. So I update for your sake. I am not so quick (not that I have never done this) to write every negative thing I am feeling, not to hide it, but rather that I feel there is a time and a place. I have written stuff in the past and had a sympathetic word in return and it felt good to know my true friends genuinely care and want the best for me.

I have also had what is termed a ‘friends cull’ on facebook, those people I added when they wanted to know about my life, that never initiated any other contact, no doubt scoured my photos (did a bit of what is termed ‘facebook stalking’), made suppositions about my life and then seemed to forget all about me. Like someone I was at uni with, she fell out with me (over someone else: see Psycho Essex girl in another blog) and I befriended her on myspace a couple of years later and I was sure to say hi. She accepted my friend invitation, then deleted me (the cheek!!). A couple of years later she then added me on facebook…. Pour quoi? Je ne ce pas! Today we are no longer facebook ‘friends’. I found myself worrying what she would think of my latest photos and what I was up to and realised I couldn’t live under that scrutiny and pressure (albeit perhaps self-perceived and almost certainly self-inflated)

Worse still are those that add you, you send them a message and they insubordinately ignore it. Why bother adding me?? Huh, huh? Ah the immense joy I feel pressing ‘deleted’ on these peeps. Now I just ignore people like ‘horrible girl who once spat in a drink then offered it to me’. Yes this girl spat in a can of Lilt and offered it to me- I, being polite (and a maybe a bit too trusting and dense), gratefully accepted only to have her laugh in my face with her friends. Oh, the strength it took to shrug my shoulders at her and say, “ah well, still tasted good”. The same strength rose in me again when I pressed ‘ignore’- if someone is that vile at thirteen what the heck are they like now?? I know people change, I know I am sure not the girl I was at twelve but if you were 90% pure evil at thirteen I can only imagine you took that into adulthood. We were never friends then, what would we have in common now? The inclination to gob in other people’s drinks? No, ignoring her felt good, I mean I wouldn’t want her spitting on my facebook page and having all her friends laugh at it.

Don’t get me wrong there are lovely people I am genuinely glad I am in touch with from school or other places, friends that are happily married and living in family bliss with their gorgeous children and I genuinely don’t begrudge them. Sometimes they are the same people that coo over the pictures of my niece, nephew and godson and always write encouraging messages, the friends I worked with that always write witty comments on my facebook status, or friends that are genuinely happy when I book the holiday of a lifetime or visit Swindon for the day. The friends that bless me daily with their encouragement, a quick message to say hi or a notification to say they ‘like’ my status update. I know I have enough real friends and rest assured that this would be a competitive category in my imaginary game of Facebook Top Trumps

Sometimes it is good to remind yourself (especially when you are feeling down) that facebook can feel like a constant, never-ending, cyclical, revolving, eternal Highschool reunion. At a school reunion you would want to show the best of yourself, look your slimmest and prettiest, be able to say you are truly happy and love your job and show only the best, best, best of everything in your life, to be able to say: Look at me, that weedy tactless spit drinker- look how far I have come- I am sooo sooo amazingly delirious with how good my life is. My good friends remind me that not one of us shows horrible or not-so-flattering photos of ourselves (especially us girls, you know I am right- I, myself, have been known to press ‘remove tag’ on some highly questionable photographs).

As long as you remember all this, instead of holding others’ lives up as a standard to which you can only hope to aspire. Remember that it is best to just be who you are and, most importantly, to be true to yourself. If you just remember that we can all feel like that, then you, my friend, are already ahead of the game.


Sunday, 4 April 2010

Meet, stay, move

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of ‘eat, pray, love’, in this controversial book of hers, wrote all about the first year after she divorced a rich man that we all dream of or wax lyrical about. Lizzy left this hubby of hers and moved out of her Stepford-wife big house in the burbs and wrote about ‘eat’ing in Italy, ‘pray’ing in India and then falling in ‘love’ in Bali.

This blog has nothing whatsoever to do with that.

But it does have something to do with getting something from the places you live or stay. There was an incy sigh of relief when my friend invited me to join a facebook group, now, let it be noted I don’t just join any group you know. I don’t want to know what Cheryl Cole/Tweedy wore in one of her concerts that shocked people (I am going to venture that it was clothes) and I am not fussed about getting someone to a million fans so their newly pregnant teenage sister will call their firstborn child ‘Burberry’ or 'Fred Perry'. Nooo, this group particularly peaked my interest: ‘Cross cultural kids everywhere’ finally a name for my ‘condition’! You may have read a previous blog about identity and where I am from, well this explains it, I am a Cross cultural kid(ult) Or, more affectionately perhaps, a 'Global nomad'.
Having perused the discussion board on that page I have finally found people like me, yes me (can you believe it??) There was even a discussion thread with the heading: ‘Where are you from? The question that nags us all’. Heck, I may even call this group my home from now on. That said, I never see this cross-cultural ness as a burden, quite the opposite- I am considerably blessed. When I looked at a list of qualities we ‘Global nomads’ possess I found myself practically nodding, putting aside the ‘linguistic ability’ (Spanglish, I am told, does not count) there was ‘maturity’ (quit laughing at the back), a self confidence (not to be confused with arrogance), ‘family closeness’- like how close I am to my sisters Lucy and Linda (or whatever their names are), ‘international orientation’ (and my teacher said it was a good job I wasn’t taking GCSE Geography!), I am not blowing my own trumpet when I say I nodded, rather it is an acceptance of qualities I feel this nomadic lifestyle has awarded me.

I found the discussion board interesting and I am sure I will come back to it. It has always been tough not only explaining where I am from (earth?) but also explaining that my family were born in many different places, no not the back of a Ford Escort or a backalley- Mum was born in Singapore, my sister in Cyprus and my nephew in Germany. Even my mum struggles to say she is from Oldham (where she lived from 3 till she was 18) she has lived away from there far longer than she ever lived there.

What hit me the most was when one of the group members confessed

“I jokingly refer to ‘Starbucks’ as home - I'm 29, have no idea how many addresses I even have or where I would ever call home. Starbucks has been the same in every country that it’s in - and the comfortable chairs and smells have taken a "homey-familiar" smell. (Starbucks became a refuge when I went to college-I don't think I had been to more than two before then :) But yeah - how do you explain?”

This triggered an ‘Aha!’ moment for me (no, not the 80s band). My friend Shazia, who gets ill from Starbucks products, actually said she had never met anyone that loved Starbucks as much as me (all my friends will vouch I have a strange affinity to this loveable- albeit it fairly unattractive-mermaid) Shazia may have said it with an incredulous tone but I wore it like a chav wears an ASBO, with sheer unabashéd pride- it is a badge of honour to me. I mean, heck I am making my wonderful friends, Sandi and Paul LeBlanc, visit the very first Starbucks in Seattle this year- the infamous Pike Place Starbucks (I’d like to add that we are going to Seattle anyway- otherwise that would be ridonkulous) This woman hit the nail on the head, like people gravitate towards Maccy Ds in any country they visit (even if I have made them watch ‘Super size me’- Tvrtko I am talking to you) I gravitate to the familiarity of Starbucks. In a world that has constantly changed for me, Starbucks is familiar, it is my constant- I know the drinks, the staff are always friendly and you can sit with your book and just feel at home no matter the city. I would liken it to a non-nomadic's grandmother’s front room (unless of course for you this implies the smell of denture cream, tinned salmon, madeira cake, the stale stench of talcum powder or vitamins, or indeed- an aversion to saucers)

This is also the same reason I am never a ‘tourist’, yes I have been on red-bus tours in many cities and I have visited a ‘tourist’ office but I am never truly a ‘tourist’, I always walk round a city, or a new place, like I have been there before. I like to think I have a confidence in my step even if I don’t know where (the blooming heck) I am. Plus if you are from nowhere in particular, how can you ever be a tourist? Yes, I do possess city and country guides, that I occasionally consult (hint: download the iphone app for the place you're visiting and it just looks like you’re checking your phone) My advice is to always have a rough idea of where you are going before you set out and, particularly if you are in skyscraper cities, try and avoid the propensity to look up constantly. Walk with purpose and don’t be seen taking tons of photos in crowded places. That last bit of advice is one I seldom take (my mum is convinced that should anything happen to the Washington monument or statue of Liberty, they could be rebuilt using our photographs alone). Learn to be happy with the first photo you take, I have this down to a fine art (*ahem* which I am well aware does seems to contradict my previous sentence).

I have learnt to be content, no actually strike that- self satisfyingly smug, with not being like everyone else. At one point I teetered dangerously close to (sharp intake of breath) ‘fitting in’ somewhere but luckily not long after felt the overwhelming urge to get the heck out of there. I have come to believe that I just wasn't designed to 'fit in', I am fortunate to be able to relate to most people I meet. I once met a girl who was from Oxfordshire, having spent six months there in between moves, I asked “whereabouts?” she replied (slightly too assuredly for my liking) that I wouldn’t (possibly) know it, “try me” I pushed, resignedly she admitted “Wantage”. Yep, ironically, that was the little place I’d lived in and for that six months. We learnt that we were in the same school and she was in the year below me. In these particular situations people either think they’ve met someone they can relate to or a belligerent and pathological liar. Worst case scenario they'd (perhaps rightfully in your case) suspect you'd been stalking them for the past few months.

I have learnt to laugh off being called a ‘gypo’ or a ‘pikey’ (whilst notifying and giving names and addresses to the local funfair-related caravan dwellers) and just accept that mine seems like an unusual lifestyle to people who aren’t from a similarly blesséd background. There were times I longed for somewhere to call ‘home’ (that didn't have chickens living under the floorboards and tin for a roof) but home is just a far out concept to me (you know, like lunar landings and peace in the middle east). I have to answer questions regarding where I call home, where I am from, where my parents are from, whether I am a Southerner or a Northerner and what accent I have (um, English, which may seem unusual to you, what with you being from England un’all) Yes, people pretty much stop short of asking whether the last three generations of my family were true Aryans.

I am a confessed sentimental but as the years go on, I am used to getting rid of stuff and trying not to become too attached to certain things (apart from my thirty something year old ‘tatty teddy’, Johnny).
I feel I have become ‘aware’ of great moments as I recognise that ‘things are fleeting’, that ‘good things really must come to an end’ I've learnt that friends are ‘for a reason, a season or a lifetime’ that ‘absinthe truly does make the heart grow fonder’ (or was it absence?) and that 'you can count your true friends on both thumbs' (or something) . I appreciate that ‘you really never know what is round the next corner’ that, if you allow it, ‘the world can really, yes really, be your lobster (or is it Oyster? I know it's seafood related...). I have realised in the last few years not to take for granted all those amazing times I have with my friends, that you have to make happiness happen and not expect it to just ‘come’ to you. Most importantly, I have realised that you have to ‘Bloom where you’re planted’. I am learning to live in the ‘now’ and I am trying not to always dwell on the past or look to the future for neither of those truly exist (I did say learning…) These are things it has taken years to learn with all my moving, once I had got over initial more pressing concerns like Father Christmas not finding our house, especially as air force issued houses don't have chimneys (mum assured me last year that he knows where I am) or keeping the Easter bunny fully aware of any address changes. (I got my mini eggs Easter egg today-phew!)

Without all my life experiences, my meh-huh-hany addresses (curse you application forms for asking for every address in the last 5 years) the many rooms I have slept in, the many views I have had from my window, the many neighbours I have had, the friends I have made in many places, the schools I have attended, the many jobs I have taken, the times I have stuck out as an alien in another country- like that sales assistant job I took when we emigrated temporarily to Aberdeen, I have realised I truly would not be who I am today- the Louise that you all know and loathe. I used to try and be a wallflower and just fade into a background but I was clearly just not designed that way, no God designed me to be that pestilent weed that you are always trying to use every (dang) product to get rid of.

I like to (delusionally) think I am like Vianne in one of my favourite films ‘Chocolat’(just without Johnny Depp on my arm)- I go where the north wind takes me. What people don’t understand about me is, after a few months/years (read: days) in a place, my feet start to proverbially itch. I wasn’t born to stay put and it is like a beacon goes off and parts of the world ‘call’ me. As I get older I am beginning to finely tune my ears to try and see whether it is a true calling aswell as checking whether it is really the north wind blowing and not just a dodgy air vent.

When I visited New York last year I found a card with this on:

Your Journey has molded you for your greater good, and it was exactly what it needed to be. Don’t think that you’ve lost time. It took each and every situation you’ve encountered to bring you to the now. And now is right on time’ Asha Tyson

It was like this card was written for me.

So, until I find that global nomadic tribe that have lived in the same places as me, have numerous freckles, medium brown hair, speak ‘received standard English’ and are willing to constantly move to places I want to go- then I will just have to go it alone and remind myself that my journey has molded me for your greater good.