The Other Side Of Isolation…

Here we are, suddenly the end of May and summer is in its strange, social distancing swing in Portsmouth. The weather is beautiful, and a great many are seizing the day and swarming to the beaches and commons in their hordes. There have been a few SMALL relaxations to the rules, ‘now one person can meet someone from outside their household outdoors, as long as they stay more than 2m apart.’ Is allowed. Portsmouth citizens have taken this rule, and made some very flexible interpretations. On my walks out to the seafront for the sake of sanity, fresh air and getting the step count going, over the last few weeks I’ve seen beach parties of teens, large family picnics, football matches and gangs of kids on bikes all jammed together and having the jolliest of times, the 2 meter rule seemingly a distant annoyance of the past.

I don’t resent these people for their gaiety, nor their need to feel togetherness and enjoyment outdoors. I understand why they are behaving how they are. What I cannot forgive however, is the selected ignorance with which many seem to be acting. As if at once they deserve the space and freedom we’ve all been craving over the past few months, and a decrease in deaths by the hundreds from this virus in the news every day means… life is back to normal?

Many friends of mine I’ve spoken to lately have aired similar complaints:

‘I just want it to be over now.’

‘I just want to see my friends.’

‘We’re getting so sick of just the two of us doing nothing!’

‘I miss everyone so much!’

Believe me, I understand. As an extroverted introvert (my official Myers Briggs reading), there have been many, many hours and days throughout the lockdown where seeing people would have made me feel ten times brighter, when the welcome distraction of a drink with friends would have been bliss, and when I’ve frankly felt like I’m counting the hours to another sleep, followed by another day spent with… You guessed it! Me.

But, we as humans are designed to think higher than that of our most basic needs. To remind ourselves that the reason why we have been feeling bored, alone, frustrated and stir crazy is so monumental, dangerous, and historically singular for almost every generation living – we should continue to respect it, and act with caution for the sake of the many. The fact even prominent politicians have been caught out seemingly thinking they are not only exempt from the rules, but in no way accountable to answer for their actions in breaking them, stirs a rage within me when combined with what I see a few minutes from my own door. I feel the horrific inevitability of a second spike looming, if people are not more careful, and more importantly, considerate.

The positives? Well, there have been many if I’m being honest. The deadlines for our degree were finally handed in a few weeks ago, and it at once felt like Christmas, a birthday and the last day of school rolled into one. The same combination of unbridled joy in the moment, pride and excitement at the day having finally arrived after a three year journey, with the strange bitter sweetness that – this path on the journey is now over? No more lectures. No more coffees with pals either praising the merits or slamming the fumblings of that day. No more baked potato lunches before class, or seminars in which we’ll discuss the artistry, storytelling, history and social power of film, nor the technique, beauty, and epic effect of writing in all our lives. I’ll write a post on this when I graduate in July, to try and unroll so many more of these thoughts, which over the next few months I can only imagine will percolate and grow further, as they have been every passing week.

Dare I add more positives? I do. Over the past three months, I’ve proven to myself I am not only capable of cohesive and productive time management when left to my own devices, but that I indeed thrive and enjoy many aspects of this new way of life. I’ve stuck to my regime (for the most part… treat days every week are ABSOLUTELY necessary, as is a PJ day on the sofa emulating a sloth) exercising most days of the week – either yoga or a good stomp to the seafront, and cutting my calories so that for the first time in my adult life – I’m fitting into a size ten dress. This is a girl who was damn near a size 20 and weighing in at well over 16 stone at one point in her life. I feel comfortable in my own skin more so than ever before, and unafraid of being ‘the chubby girl’ in the room anymore. This to me is frankly up there with the degree as achievements go. Not because they both define who I am – or how people may perceive me – but because the greatest reward to come mutually from them is… I’ve proven to myself that I can do it, that I wanted it enough and have reached the goal line, if a little late, and with a few stretch marks… All on my own.

The following few months will see our final assessment marks being returned (can I get an eek…!), the last and most nerve-wracking of which comes out on the day of my birthday. There are nerves, always, about so many large milestones heading toward me – leaving Portsmouth, turning twenty eight, graduating (hopefully) with a good degree, and heading into a new chapter of my life, in what currently is a world spinning more than slightly off its axis. Right now though, in this strange in between stage of being neither working student nor a graduate, not working any shifts nor being unemployed, being separated yet still very much connected, all one can really do is wait… and enjoy the sunshine.

Quarantine a la Clementine

A few weeks later, and here we are. The PM is currently in hospital, the queen has given us a speech of stoicism and hope from the World War Two generation (I found it genuinely moving), and the fatality figures from Covid-19 grow in the hundreds day by day. The government has done its best to step in and help both businesses and individuals in this time of bizarre and surreal need for many, which does bring me a small sense of relief. Every social media platform is flooded with info from the NHS, support for medical and front line workers, and memes focused around isolation and how productive or unproductive, how gluttonous or disciplined, how lonely or together everyone is currently feeling.

In my little home for one, I genuinely hesitate to say, I seem to be doing relatively well. In the past when sloth and gluttony were an option (I just finished Stephen Fry’s Seven Deadly Sins podcast, bear with me) for an indefinite amount of time, I feel certain I would have taken them. But as with all things, I believe timing is key. Before the spread of the virus had begun, I knew there were several large goals and milestones looming in the distance. The final deadlines for our degree are at the beginning and middle of next month, I knew I wanted to reach a goal weight by both my birthday in June (28, quite looking forward to it🎈) , roughly a stone per each of the years I’d been studying, and having achieved all of this wanted to celebrate in slender style come July with Champagne. True, there will be no graduation ceremony for us- not until a while after at this rate, and the likelihood may be that my birthday will be spent either on my own or in a very limited celebratory fashion. However, some things do still matter and are worth working for. The marks I get for my degree, and the degree itself, will stay with me forever, well into the future when this strange cocoon of Corona is a (hopefully) distant memory for the lucky people left unaffected.

My body will never be angry at me for abstaining from alcohol for a healthy period of time, for doing yoga 3-4 times a week and getting into a healthy range of weight for the first time in my adulthood (fingers crossed). My face and neck will thank me in years to come for the (excessive) research and money I’ve spent in trying to find the best skincare products, routine and ingredients for a ‘glowing and radiant’ complexion (though hormones seem reluctant to ever let me be truly blemish free). And my brain will be all the healthier and fuller in the long run for having read lovely literature, listened to podcasts, audiobooks and music on some long, slightly lonely walks out on the quieter isolation days.

If others are having a similar experience to myself, they may know that perhaps the most joyous aspect of all this tragedy and change is the sheer amount that friends old and new, close by and continents away are reaching out and connecting at the moment. Never in my life have I sent or received more texts, videos, voice messages, photos and memes all with the singular purpose of making the person on the receiving end feel seen, connected with and a little happier that day. This has truly been the brightest light in a sometimes frightening, occasionally depressing time, and I hope our most vivid memory when all this is one day over.

Like with any stressful situation though, there are always those select few. The people who are naturally drawn to negative outlooks and a victim mindset, who even on the best days see the situation as ‘me against the world’, who thrive on the drama and seem far more apt to wallow in the darkness than reach for the light. The natural reaction to hearing about people like this is ‘Well, distance yourself from them! You don’t need that shit in your life right now.’ I quite agree. But sometimes, and I’m certain there are many other people in a similar situation- be it a significant other, friend or relative, you don’t have much of a choice. You have to pick up the phone to hear them slur and repeat themselves for half an hour. You have to hear the news from your sibling about how badly they’re being treated by this person, and not be able to do anything to help them. Hear about how little they’re caring for themselves, and how the time that could be well spent slips them by as they sleep through the day, and self medicate through the night.

I know it’s very complicated, and that these people are often ill in both mental and physical ways, but there is a part of me that knows that there is a choice- because more than once we have all had to make them. You can choose to go to bed early and try to get eight hours, or stay up and drink that bottle of wine. You can choose to smoke those cigarettes or chew some gum to give your lungs a rest. You can choose to listen to an uplifting podcast instead of letting your negative thoughts spiral. Every day we are surrounded by our choices, so to blame the world for our total unhappiness and circumstances is to deny our own power and agency. But enough of that, I’m old enough now to know that some people simply cannot or do not want to change, and all we can do is protect ourselves, and be grateful for the good that’s in our own lives.

That’s how I’d like to end this post I think, on a note of gratitude. Not the smiling at the sunset, ‘isn’t this a wonderful time to be alive?’ kind of gratitude, but the personal, intimate sense of thanks we can all feel, in those quiet moments when we know we are lucky in our own ways, and things really could be much much worse. I’m grateful for my own health, as it is right now, for the flat I sit in and the privacy it gives me, for my body that I can exercise and my brain that can (reluctantly) churn out the essays I need to succeed, for the friends who have recovered and the strangers that have helped them back to health, for the super moon that’s glowing tonight and for the sunshine we can still enjoy every day. I’m grateful for the progress I’m making and the lessons we’re all learning at the moment, and hope we all come out of this better, happier and more thoughtful people.

This Side of Pandemics

You may have heard, things have been a little eventful of late. Back in mid January when my niece came to visit, we first got news on the wind that there was a strange new virus sweeping through a city in China. At the time it felt distant, faraway, like most frightening things do on the news, and the bitching topic of the day was still Brexit. My niece and I are both notable alarmists when it comes to health, and fretted that perhaps… this possibly deadly new virus could make its way to the UK. It was said in the way that one does, as though acknowledging the possibility somehow makes it less likely to come true. How naive we were.

Fast forward two months. I sit, freshly showered and nighttime skin care done, in my quiet flat with Miles Davis playing as I write. What have I done today? Oh this and that. Listened to podcasts, went to the cafe downstairs for a coffee, watched a film, attempted to get my interminable laptop to wake up and work. How have I felt? I awoke with distinct feelings of frustration, unease, anxiety and generally counted the hours in between meals to keep me sane. This is not by choice, and there is also no one to blame. University lectures and seminars are suspended. The gym is closed. Fitness classes cancelled. Venturing outdoors in any unnecessary way is discouraged. My best friend’s wedding in Cyprus is cancelled. Her surprise Hen Do to Dublin, you guessed it. Money is being lost, and days somewhat limited. The first global pandemic in my and many other people’s lifetimes has hit, and in short, we are not in the same world anymore.

I am well aware I am one of the luckier ones. I have a roof over my head, and live (blissfully) alone. I have savings in my account and friends and family that care for me. I am relatively young and relatively fit. I am truly not the one I’m most worried about at the moment. I’m worried about the friends of mine from my degree who have caught the accursed virus, and are soldiering through their fevers, coughs and generally feeling as though they’ve been hit by two buses every day. I’m worried about the students having to share houses with others who aren’t taking the pandemic seriously enough, and think house parties and get togethers are STILL a good idea. I’m worried about my brother, who works with children in central London, rides the tube, and who’s housemate is now in hospital suspected to have COVID-19. I’m worried about the elderly, who now more than ever deserve our help, consideration and respect when the lesser beings in our society adopt a ‘dog eat dog’ mentality, panic buying every pasta packet, every loo roll, every hand-gel and every bag of rice so there is none there for those in need. I’m worried about those with pre existing conditions, who’s immune systems are sadly less able to fight this devious new invader.

I am also thankful. Thankful to the great comedians and actors and entertainers that are putting in so much effort to promote positivity, keep us laughing, keeping us busy and telling us eventually, this will all be ok. Thankful to the brave medical workers of all positions who are putting themselves on the front lines, working through days and nights to do everything they can to keep people healthy, and help those weaker and more vulnerable struck down. Thankful to the scientists and experts informing us of what salient and accurate information there is, as I’ve always believed even in dire situations- knowledge is always power. Thankful to my friends and close family members for checking in, showing they care, and offering to help as they know times are about to get very hard.

You see, I’m a girl who thrives on structure. As much as I’d like to be the sexy, bohemian soul who drifts through life and achieves great heights without a plan, I’m in fact a very different creature. I’m the girl who likes feeling in safe control of her life (to a healthy extent. There’s always room for nice surprises). I’m the girl who likes getting up at a decent hour (a new phenomenon in my later twenties), having a semi decent plan for the day, going to her lectures, going to the gym, and ticking her way down the list of things to do, feeling satisfied when they’re all achieved. It doesn’t always work, but it’s like mapping a path in front of you instead of walking blind. You’re less likely to stray off the road. I like planning what I eat, and knowing if I stick to the plan and get a bit of exercise in, I’ll continue dropping a few pounds. I’m the girl that functions well without alcohol, that strange best friend and worse enemy, who at once brings so much pleasure, yet so much regret- and will persistently lead myself and many others to go off the boil when left unchecked.

The most difficult part for me, during this very early stage of what I’m sure are harder times to come, is the loss of that structure. Or perhaps, the harder challenge of carving a new structure of my own whilst unaccountable to anyone else. I like that you get checked for your attendance at university, I like that you swipe your card at the gym noting you’ve been there, and I like that you have to print your ticket off to go to the evening yoga classes. It forces you to interact more with people, to see how they’re doing and to make sure you’re keeping up, to have social arrangements before or after these things when you can chat about your life and chow down a baked potato with a hot frothy coffee. Now, we are all islands. Sitting in our separate houses and flats, making our own routines, filling our hours and wondering how long all this will last. What headline will ding dangerously on our phone screen next? What numbers will the media summarise for us to be shocked/ depressed by in the morning?

Again, I know this is probably coming across as rather self absorbed/ ungrateful. But when forced to spend this much time alone, no housemate or significant other to chat with on the sofa, it’s difficult not to get a bit lost in your own thoughts. My worries are different than ‘I hope I don’t catch COVID-19’, in fact I feel it’s a near inevitability that many of us will have it, with symptoms varying from literally NONE, to extremely severe. I’m hopeful and will do all I can to avoid it for others sakes as well as my own, but I worry more about uncertainty.

Crawling slowly towards my goal weight (with many setbacks along the way) I’ve been more successful over the last month or so, going to the gym, yoga, disciplining myself and working for results. I’m worried the absence of the gym and classes and even socialising will slow this down, and I won’t be able to attain what I truly want to by the time I graduate. I’m worried I’ll lose focus on my uni work, though I’m consistently pushing it to the forefront of my mind- and my results will reflect the upheaval and mental space all this change and worry has taken up. My work hours, though never abundant, have been cut back, and I know it’s going to be far harder not to eat dangerously away at my savings through the next few months. I’m worried the absence of structure and company will lead back to bad habits, and I’ll lose the progress I’ve made. The phrase ‘getting my shit together’ has applied at intervals throughout my years, and right now I’m afraid the drama, alarm and illness that will continue to grow will throw me out of the this particular (and rather crucial) phase of it.

I know time heals all things, that this too shall pass and we live in an age of modern science when we can work faster and harder to fight this, but it is still an openly frightening and precarious time. We are watching history being written around us, and I’m at once curious and afraid to see how this chapter ends. For people’s families, their lives, their loved ones, their jobs, their homes. There is a large, hovering question mark over the vast majority of us right now. For now, it is one day at a time in this tiny world of one. I will continue to get up, to be a little productive every day, have a walk, get a coffee… I’ll even try an ‘at home work out’- something I’ve not done since I was seventeen, and little by little, make a new kind of normal. One in which I can more than just survive, one in which I can truly get to thrive, and achieve all the goals that feel not all that far out of reach.

Until next time, be healthy, be happy, be kind. ❤️

Table For One

Loneliness. It’s something I’ve always struggled with. Since I was a little girl, I’d have trouble sleeping alone, the quiet and discomfort of being left alone in the dark something I struggled with for many years. I still hate sleeping in the pitch black. There has to be a source of light, no matter how small, just so I can feel safe. Some might call it pathetic, and I wouldn’t blame them. But to me, it’s one of many ways in which my body and mind struggle with the feeling of there being nothing around me, no one to comfort me. Or care.

I ended my first long term relationship, ever, not too long ago. Less than a week actually. It had been just a little over a year. A year of great sex, trips together, meals out, cooking nights in, walks along the sea front, cuddles through the cold winter nights and strolls through the balmy summer evenings. It had also been a year of tears, of regular arguments, of jealousy and judgement, of paranoia and suspicion, and worst of all a lack of confidence and esteem in myself. I’ve gained weight and not taken good care of myself. I’ve not been the best person I could have been. For the first time ever I found someone who truly wanted to commit to me, and my mind is still struggling on many levels with the fact I’ve thrown that away. The inner doubts begin. What if you never find that again? What if you never find someone as good? As caring? As generous? With whom you shared such passion? All that may be the case. But I have to hope. Hope that I made the right decision for the both of us. That I took control and that will lead to both of our eventual happinesses.

He struggled a great deal through our time together too. With his past. With his fears. With a wall to his emotions that has been up for years and was always difficult for me to see behind, though there were a few glimpses. I learnt more about one persons struggles and the damage love, and even family can do to us on the inside, even when we seem perfect on the exterior. I loved that I was let in, and that he tried so hard to change. And it did work. To an extent. But my own imbalances affected us too. And no matter how hard I tried, my secret shame eventually showed it’s ugly face, and hurt the trust. It is my fault too, and I have to live with that. But I did love him, and I did truly try. I believe he did too. But I think we both knew we couldn’t go on like this forever, being in love for a month or so- until either he or I blew a casket over something seemingly trivial, though of importance to us. Being a writer, putting pen to paper, or finger to keyboard helps a lot. It all feels surreal, like it still didn’t really happen, and talking to friends and writing about it seem like the only ways my feet even come close to touching the ground.

I have to come face to face with the fact that I have broken his heart, and also mine. That we both now have to grieve, feel ugly and painful emotions humans never want to, have to take time processing our roles in this, understanding the good and the bad, and hopefully come out the other side a little bruised, a little raw, but having learnt something- and not hating the other person.

Understand, this is not a violent breakup. I do not hate him. In fact, I’m pretty sure I still love him, and those feelings are alive and well. I want to see him, talk to him, be with him. I am by nature a person who wants to give and receive copious amounts of affection and care. To make someone feel truly special and be made to feel the same. These days, I know that makes me a romantic- a most dangerous thing in the age of social media, when being a fuck boy is socially permissible yet girls are still looking for romance and commitment. I have never felt more fulfilled than in this relationship, when I could truly let that side of me shine and make someone else feel the best they possibly could. And he often did the same for me. To summarise, it wasn’t working, except when it was.

On some level I know I wanted him to fight when I ended it, to draw his sword and declare this would not be. That we should be together and that he was sorry, that it would be ok and we could get through this. Instead there was anger, some apologies, fear of the men who would come after him, that I was already looking, and worst of all tears that broke my heart into a million pieces, and that I’ll never forgive myself for. Right now, for both of us I think, it’s a day at a time. One baby step from morning until night, to survive, to work, to talk about it and make it to the next tumultuous night’s sleep. I worry. Worry that I acted rashly. That I was wrong. That he didn’t deserve it and I’m as insensitive as I am cruel. So I have to talk. Talk to the people who were there with me, on the outside, witnesses to the struggles and the tears, the good times and the terrible, and hope the truth comes from their mouths. My mind is not mine to trust right now, so I must depend on others, and a bit of self care and reflection, to light the way to another day.

You: A Defence of Guinevere Beck

(Spoilers ahead for the first series and book ‘You’)

First thing’s first: I didn’t expect to like this series. I tested the waters tentatively about a year ago, and for whatever reason the first episode did not capture me. I remember thinking that the protagonist and villain, Joe, didn’t seem intimating or frightening to me, and feeling insecure in the face of his obsession- Guinevere Beck, and her glowing beauty, yoga bending body and flourishing life as a twenty something in New York.

However, once season two had been out I gave in to the persistent Netflix screen and positive reviews I had been getting wind of. By the third episode, I was completely hooked. Not necessarily by Joe, who in-spite of his murderous and stalking tendencies has a hardcore female fan base, but for me was simply the unreliable yet tangibly real feeling narrator to the story. Along with the wonderfully intense atmosphere, the dripping gold cinematography of New York and entertaining supporting cast, it was Beck who truly drew me in to the story and didn’t let me go until her (untimely) end.

Many of my female friends balk at this. They find Beck inconsistent, self absorbed, hypocritical, and a pretty bad girlfriend to boot. I however, see her as much more. She is indeed all those things, and many other negative qualities evident in young aspiring writer or artist trying to make it in the big city. She is also however, open, talented, insecure, alluring, sweet, naive, glowing golden in Joe’s gaze, and painfully self aware of her own shortcomings. As a woman in her mid to late twenties (check), studying creative writing (check), living in a city and apartment she can barely afford (check check), wondering wether she will ever amount to anything (check), always feeling a little the outsider (check) and never to be as good as the friends she surrounds herself with (check), I felt myself connecting to this character whilst in the back of my mind knowing, she was inevitably doomed.

Besides wishing I had even a tenth of the actresses beauty (Elizabeth Lail), there were more similarities between myself and the object of Joe’s affections than I could keep count of. At first I thought I was deluding myself with this parallel, complimenting myself that I was in anyway similar to this creative beauty, and object of many men’s (and indeed women’s) desires. Once I recommended the series to my brother however, the similarity was confirmed. He called me on the phone to rave about the climax of the first season, myself very keen to hear his thoughts on the entire thing. Yet, the first words out of his mouth were ‘It’s like this series was written for you!’. My brother is a working psychologist in London, so my ears are always pricked to his insights and views on characters and the human condition. When I asked what he meant, he went on ‘You realise you are basically Beck?’. I was immediately and guiltily flattered. Someone else thinks so too. I demurred in the only way you can when you’re actually thrilled with the feedback you’re hearing. He continued, ‘You even look like her- how can you not see it?’. I felt flooded with a mix of emotions. Being compared to such a central character and gorgeous leading woman barely ever happens to me. And the parallels of our lives were undeniable, down to even a few of the romantic dynamics between her and Joe (both negative and positive). It felt so refreshingly good to feel like for once, I had a mirror to view myself in a popular series, someone I can in a way feel connected to and aspire to, in spite of her many flaws. Yet, underneath all that, I felt the uneasy truth that she is not the victorious heroine in which I can place my hope for a grand future. While she does in fact realise her great potential and writes an (unfortunately posthumous) bestseller (see her heartbreaking monologue in Ep 9 ‘Blackbeard’s Castle’), she is brought down by the end, alone, fighting for her freedom, Joe’s hands grasped around her neck in the dark basement of the bookshop.

Her end is that of the tragic heroine, and makes me wish for so much better for her, myself, and every other woman out there. Whilst imperfect, she is unfailingly hopeful in her own talent, her love affairs with men who use her for sex (and who at times she uses too) and her unending search for her own true Prince Charming. It is this hope that keeps her with Joe, and leads to her tragic demise, and yet also contrasting artistic victory under the saddest of circumstances. I suppose what I would like to say, is that yes, there is a fair amount of Beck within me (down to the face and golden hair), but that there is probably a Beck in so many other young women out there too. Let us treasure her loving heart, her search for success and adoration (both romantically and creatively), and talent, but have our stories end in the daylight, after a life well lived, with our true prince by our side, not with our captor in disguise, down there in the dark.

Back again. Third year begins.

Hello again. I’ve left it much, much too long haven’t I? Trust me, there has been more than enough self flagellation for my lack of writing and consistent blogging, though I have started a food/ Portsmouth review page on Instagram, so not entirely static thankfully.

However.

My word.

How life has changed since last we spoke. I sit now in my relatively new, slightly chilly flat in the centre of Portsmouth, where I now live on my own and even pay my own bills. The building is as central as they come, but old, with single glazing and one brick thick walls. I wish the journey into solo-living was as animated and empowering as everyone imagines, but honestly much of the time is spent wanting to keep the place pest free, thinking about your electricity and heating costs, wondering if the building is even secure, and not feeling entirely comfortable with the fact that I am, genuinely, alone here.

Of course there are the perks. I have to put up with no one’s mess but my own, so for the most part it is very tidy. I don’t have to share any communal areas (the no1 reason I wanted my own place), so the lounge, kitchen and bathroom are totally my domain. My gym and sports centre both sit a stones throw away, as are my lectures, library and the centre of town. I know I am privileged to be able to afford this, and felt frankly at the age of 27, I deserved my own space after sharing accommodation in one way or another my entire life, bar my year spent teaching when I had my own apartment on school grounds. For the most part it’s a mixed bag, but I am grateful, and think the more I use the space and enjoy it with others, the less lonely or wasteful it will feel.

I am also in my final year of university. Several weeks in now. HOW?! How did we get here so quickly. This last summer is a total blur of again- preparation and painting before my big move, clearing out an entire house, times spent with my significant other (both good and bad) and the hard final push to meet my deadlines by the end of June. By the time I moved in here in mid August, the summer felt like it was already fleeing, and I again felt far away from myself. I cannot tell you how much I hate these times when I lose my anchor. I feel like I’m drifting, unattached to the world and not sure what I should be caring about or where my motivation and passion have disappeared to, only recognising the feeling of dread that- perhaps, they may not return.

Last Christmas was a fright. After making the six hour treck to Suffolk to stay with my mother and spend time with my brother, it seemed at first all would be well. For the first two days, my mother was sober. We visited the wild and chilly Suffolk coast for a meal in the rustic Harbor restaurant she had been promising to take me to for years. We ate buttery lobster and drank crisp Prosecco before a windy walk on the Suffolk sand dunes. I waded in the waves in my purple wellies and let the bright winter sun warm my face. I was healing a broken heart at the time. The blossoming romance about which I last wrote here, that I had been so afraid had been too good to be true, ended up being just that.

I confess, I naively put all my romantic eggs in one basket, and hoped in spite of some signs to the contrary that my Hollywood style romance would inevitably blossom. It did not. After experiencing my first ever few weeks of ghosting in November (a move where if a person is so emotionally inept/ retarded they simply all-but stop talking to their partner instead of facing the perhaps uncomfortable conversation of honest feelings) I was unceremoniously dumped, via text, during shift whilst they knew I was at work. With the shoulder of my darling brother on the other end of the phone, my wonderful few friends and coursemates both here and faraway, I cried for a few days, took a hot bath, and got back up in time for Christmas.

Over the Yuletide and surrounding weeks I decided to spread my bets, talking to a few different suitors whilst safely far away in my Suffolk homeland. Like I said though, the peace didn’t last long. For whatever secret reason, because of whatever trigger, on the third day, my mother removed her safety ring and jumped off the deep end. Jekyl well and truly began her all too familiar alcoholic transformation into Hyde. By Christmas Day, the only reaction we got from her once my brother and I cooked the Christmas roast and laid out the silverware, candles and crackers on the table, were garbled screeches of expletives from the lounge, and demands for alcohol though she had at this point drunk the house dry and the shops were all closed.

My heart was now broken double-fold. Not only was I wounded from my first romantic rejection in a long time and the loss of that hopefulness, my mother now broke it once more. Instead of joining us in joy and wanting to spend some rare time with her children, she refused to come to the table, or even touch the food we cooked. I decided to leave the following day, comforted only by my brothers company and our shared warmth and friendship which never falters. When my mother was told of my plans to leave, luckily it was enough to wake her up. She realised for once, that she was throwing everything back in our faces, came to the den to apologize, and asked me to stay and not leave her yet. I did.

Once returned to Portsmouth in the new year, I decided to start afresh. I love January. It feels like the month in which anything is possible and the greatest diving board from which to jump with all your aspirations for the year. I was happy to be back in town and safe from family woes. I joined a yoga studio, began eating well and decided to get in shape ready for the spring and summer. Beyond the few others I had been talking to, I had been getting on extremely well with one person in particular. From our first conversation our dialogue had been easy and fun, our humour clicked and there seemed to be for once, that elusive spark. I dated two others before I met him, for the sake of protecting my heart from its last mistake of putting all hope in only one, but from the moment I met the bike rider, we both knew there was something there. Very quickly we began seeing each other every week, and a few months in he asked me to be exclusive, then soon after to be his girlfriend. I’d longed for this to happen all this time, for someone to reach out and say ‘I want you to be my person’ and for me to feel exactly the same way back- that I quite literally shrieked with joy when he asked me that very thing on top of a hill, over looking the sea and sunset as it shone down on Southsea.

The best adventure since my last entry was not in fact with him, but with one of my best friends and fellow student, when we packed our bags in April and took off to Florence. I’m planning on doing a separate blog post about this trip (only six months late), but suffice it to say it was a dream come true, for the most part, and the highlight of my year.

For the rest of the year, life consisted of going to yoga classes, the gym, to lectures, slowly losing weight and spending more and more time with my new biking beau. However, as both deadlines and my birthday approached, life began gathering a negative momentum. Signs of insecurity and anxiety began to show in my beloved, with my own bad habits resurfacing around the same time. I had to extend for my last big piece of coursework in order to attend my aunts funeral, for which my brother got the wrong day, so made me do the trip to Eastbourne (4 hours + on the train) twice. My biker beau and I continued doing wonderful activities together, he took me to my first music festival and got us VIP passes, we ate sushi, visited Arundel, walked through fields of bluebells, took trips to London, Cornwall and Brighton for my birthday, eating wonderful food and embracing being together. As wonderful as each of these sounds, and in many ways they were- they all bare the tint in my memory of having been ruined by a bout of anxiety, jealousy and even paranoia at points. It’s like holding a memory in your hand like a glistening gem stone. You look at it and see it’s beauty and preciousness, but you can never forget or ignore the ugly chip that’s hidden from all other sight but your own.

I’ve learnt over time that these things are not all his fault, or mine. I’ve learnt that we are two very imperfect people, both with separate demons and insecurities just like everyone else, trying to find love and acceptance in another. All we can both do is try and make ourselves better, as indeed we are, and keep faith that the other will get back to that wonderful best you saw, when first enthralled in each others light and personality.

In any case, here we are. A little into third year, with the looming prospects of a two part dissertation, 30 minute script, pitch, presentation and critical essay all ahead- just for now. Not easy days these. My fingers are cold as I type, and a lot of the time I feel distant and far from the person I would like to be. I know the most important thing for me to achieve, and my reason for even being here, is my degree. I know it will not be easy. I know that I will struggle and there will always be days when I doubt myself and if I should even bother. But for now putting pen to paper/ finger to phone has felt good. I feel like I’ve purged half a year of ups, downs, drama and sorrow in a way I could not even to a counsellor/ therapist. Perhaps that is always what I go back to.

Writing is my therapy. Maybe that’s why I should do it more often. I’m going to head downstairs and try and do some writing in a warm coffee shop. Wish me luck, I think I’ll need it for this year.

Love, a new term, a new job, an old me.

I sit writing this at the desk in my new bedroom and relatively new house, looking out into our humble garden and the bright blue autumnal sky shining above. Life is hard, at the moment, but also very good. When I come to write on here it always feels a little daunting, like entering a confessional with yourself and knowing that people will hear whatever it is that may come out. I’ll be quite honest, I’ve barely written over the summer. All my energy was going into moving houses, saying goodbyes, attending graduations, family dramas, and most of all trying to get my own head screwed on straight again. To an extent I both failed and succeeded with this. I had some wonderful times away with friends in early June and got all my travelling done at the start of the season. I’ve lad long lapses of indulgence and feeling anxious and blue, but always find my way and an incentive to climb out of them and back into the sunlight- though I never know for how long.

I felt very lucky to have had friends spoil and love me when my birthday finally came, something that my family struggles to really do in the midst of their own universes now my father is gone. July felt like one long day of packing and painting white walls, of saying goodbye to the sweet girls I lived with last year and moving myself into an entirely new house in a different part of town. By far the best part of the summer was, however, the unadulterated luxury of having a house to myself for a month and a half. Once the initial anxiety and exhaustion of moving subsided and I’d unpacked my surprisingly large amount of nik naks and clothes, I suddenly realized I had room to breath. To be. To think with no eyes around me. My new bedroom is much larger than most I’ve had before, and the large windows let the light in through the day, always giving me something to look at as I sit and think in front of my now ancient laptop.

It was as though now my setting was right, I was able to start building myself again. I joined the Pilates studio around the corner (something I’d only ever seen beautiful american girls in films or my very glamorous older sister do), began eating well again and exercising (my propensity for sitting and feeding myself when blue is truly something to behold) and finally got a job at a family owned restaurant just around the corner. So far, so good. Whilst many people were away for the summer or had left permanently, my lovely friend who lives in Fratton was here to experience some of the fun of the summer with me before the year began again, and we christened the house cooking, watched Big Little Lies, celebrated my getting published in the paper together and spent a day rain soaked and laughing at the Victorious music festival. As though written in the early draft of a short story, in the midst of all these things slipping gently into place, he appeared. I’ve dabbled many times with dating Apps, never usually to much avail. The only way I can really explain it to someone who’s never tried finding a date through their phone is: imagine your standing in the middle of a bamboo forest absolutely stifled, with a slightly blunt machete in your hand. Through the thick leaves and criss-cross of trees you think you can see a glimmer of sunshine and a way out, but to do so you must hack, saw and be generally attacked by the undergrowth as you stagger your way through to the light. That’s tinder. You are positively surrounded with men, faces upon faces pop up on your screen, most not to your taste or not attractive, so you swipe left. You swipe left, left, left, left. This can go on for weeks. Then just as you are yet again about to throw the picture automatically off your screen, you stop. You see a face that charms you. He seems nice- maybe even attractive- you think (though you’ve obviously no idea). So you breath in, and make that monumental swipe to the right, the swipe of consent. You sir, may speak to me. Then there’s a pause- have they matched with you too? Have they not seen your profile yet? Have they, dare you even think it… thrown you on top of the pile of corpses to their left? And on it goes from there.

Sometimes they’ve liked you too but you never speak, sometimes they start the conversation and it simply never gets off the ground, sometimes you simply don’t fancy it after a while and they become belligerent and hurt (never a good sign from a stranger) or sometimes you simply never match (‘their loss’ you think with a slightly bruised ego, readjusting your under-eye mask and eating a few more quavers on the sofa). Then one day, lightning strikes. Magic happens. The clouds part. Someone attractive- nee- handsome, has liked you back, but not only that- they’ve started a conversation, not only THAT, they seem to be a genuinely interested, interesting and funny person.

You are immediately suspicious. Possible rapist, serial killer or pervert, you think whilst carrying on the friendly banter, as though you hadn’t a frightened or cagey thought in your head. As time goes on though, they dispel the majority of your fears with elegant words, quick humor and easy charm. You agree, unbelievably, to actually meet the person. In such a tricky, awkward and sometimes plain dangerous world of online dating, trusting your gut can feel at once to be the stupidest thing you could do, but also the sharpest tool at your disposal. You agree somewhere public and safe to meet and a time to do so, continuing to chat or occasionally rescheduling in the meantime. You begin to get quietly excited as the day approaches, but a tempered excitement. You know how badly this could go. At a minimum it could be awkward. At a maximum it could be excruciating. You put on your dress in spite of it all, wave your hair, make your face as pretty as you can and head out, toes, fingers and everything else crossed, keeping the quietest hope in the back of your mind that this could genuinely be a fun evening…

These evenings have been so diverse, awkward, painful, funny and intriguing in the past I’d learned to go in with an open, hopeful, but guarded mind. You make your way to the restaurant and wait, emergency call on stand by if you need to escape. As you distract yourself speaking to the staff or looking around the room, you finally see them. They appear as if out of the air. A being that up until that point had only ever existed on a two dimensional screen is now a living, breathing, smiling tower in front of you, and you smile back. I believe you can know from an initial instinct when you meet if you are going to experience a journey with a person, if they have a part to play in the theater of your life. I felt it then, and since then it’s been a blooming, twisting, laughing whirlwind of a ride, peppered with moments of pain or worry that it’s all too good to be true, that life isn’t meant to be this lovely, and that people aren’t ever truly this good. I refuse to let my mind think that way though, I read a quote once that said ‘my past is what I’ve been through, it’s not who I am. It has helped mold me, but it does not define me.’ and I believe that to be true. I’ve collected many scars by a relatively young age, both internal and external, and it can be a daunting prospect to have someone see them- but to act out of fear and run from a beautiful thing because you cannot be sure they will accept you would be letting the ghosts of pains past control your future. I’ve been reading a little philosophy of late and watching some lectures with some preeminent thinkers of today, and whilst they are not religious in nature, they have no issue in taking the best of the teachings in many faiths and directing their positive instruction and message into a secular life. A favorite of mine is a teaching of Buddha’sftlnemo that goes ‘do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.’ Now, that is not an easy list to follow. But to live a happy, calm, productive and loving life, I think it may be well worth a try….

Terror stuck.

I have had some wonderful times this year. Periods of stability, productivity, happiness, even romance at times, not to mention moments of absolute clarity that I am in fact on the right course for me and surrounded by the right people… But all these things seem to have disappeared with the blow of a feather over the last few weeks- one disappointment/ unexpected turn leading to another. I can’t seem to locate my balance, wherever I look. Can’t seem to spot that anchor that only a few months ago, meant I was feeling my happiest, lightest, cleverest and most comfortable self. I’m leaving for my main summer holiday the day after tomorrow (Budapest and Prague for a week), and all I’ve been able to do over the last several days instead of work out, eat healthy and prepare is- comfort eat to its unhealthiest max, avoid phone-calls, overthink romantic relationships and generally try to escape my current reality. I know there are several large landmarks looming and having happened over the summer already; my first year of uni is over in a blink, my darling niece who I’ve lived with over the last year has left for the trip of a lifetime with her delightful boyfriend having finished her degree, the main person in my life is in and out of the country with less than a shrug, my 26th birthday is less than a month away (over the hump between 20 & 30- its an odd but still very fortunate one), I’ll be moving into a house of strangers in a few months, I’m looking for summer work and my mother is more unwell than she has ever been before. I know that everyone deals with personal problems and turbulence every day- I just wish I had another, more productive/ supportive way of dealing with my own at the moment. I miss the feeling of having foundations under me. Of having comfort and company around me. I’m afraid of the future and what I may lack/ be unable to bring to it. I know that this too shall pass, but when things feel this truly bleak, it feels like a truly lonely and desolate road to walk. I can’t wait to feel like myself again, but until then, it feels like the only honest outlet is through my fingers on my iPad screen. Silly, but at least it’s something.

A cheerier one next time, I promise.

C

Escape/ Vienna

Back in the country and back on track. Easter seems to be sprinting past, and the glorious hour of final deadlines is heading into view. It’s been a little while since my last post, the ebb and flow of student life taking over as it sometimes will, and truthfully just wanting to immerse myself completely whilst I was abroad. It had been nearly a year and a half since I had left the UK, doing a tightly budgeted trip around Europe for a month with my wonderful Australian friend, who as we speak is studying successfully at one of the top drama colleges in the country. We tripped and sprinted from Lisbon to Seville, the deep orange sunset blasting through our bus windows as we crossed the boarder into Spain. From Seville we travelled to Barcelona (a highly anticipated return visit), and bathed in the art, music, tapas and sand coloured stone. Germany next felt like a different galaxy, it was late November so Munich was alive with the lights of the Christmas markets and bitterly cold. The hot Gluwien steaming in my hands and first tastes of real German Wurst stick in my mind as the most vivid sensory memory. We visited Neuschwanstein Castle built by King Ludwig II (and the inspiration for the Disney castles and logo), riding up the side of the mountain in a sturdy German horse and trap, with the most friendly and chatty driver you could hope for. Being up in those mountains was the most alive I had felt since my father had passed away five months before, the colossal vistas from every angle and the silent heaviness of the mountains making one understand the dark German myths and Wagner’s music, reminding us how majestic the world and its creations truly can be. After Germany we finished in Amsterdam, a place I could have spent months as opposed to days in, its polite liberation, elusive history and calm irreverence for the norms of the rest of the world felt like a blessing and guideline for many other nations to follow. As always though, I’m left with the more vivid feeling of the return home, of going back to my fathers house which was then being sold and echoing with a cold emptiness without him there. I remember the deflation of normality as it seized my soul. The realisation that I wouldn’t return to the lakes where I had been living before, that for now I was distinctly cash strapped post travel, and that soon I would be living with my incredibly loyal and kind best friend in Bedford (not a place I would recommend visiting for any reason), with no clear idea or direction of what I would be doing next. Even now the strange sickness of despair is threateningly easy to recall, a glance over my shoulder reminding me that not too long ago, life was not the active and positive river I’m currently wading in the middle of, but a hopeless and desolate place that I wouldn’t wish on anyone- a landscape I wish never to return to.

With kindness, patience, and a great deal of determination however, I began to recover myself. I stopped trying to drown my emotions and block my ears stubbornly to the torrents of grief I did not want to hear, and by my 25th birthday I was something close to myself again. With university beckoning in September, I enjoyed the summer at my mothers and went on a weeks holiday with another great friend to Cornwall. I desperately wanted to get away, and with the memories of Europe still warmly and firmly in mind we decided to start exploring at home as well as abroad. English holidays hold a totally unique feeling, one is at once a local and a stranger, our little island holding so many niches and coves of culture and beauty, something I have always loved and continue to feel proud of in-spite of some of our less charming spots. So, when the opportunity was offered by the same friend to go and explore a new city in Europe- Vienna- I jumped at it like a jack rabbit. I think genetically a timer goes off in my mind when I haven’t been out of the country for 12 months of more; something niggles and reminds me how little of the world I’ve seen, how much is out there waiting for me, how many views I’ve yet to see, how the time is now when you’re young and able and free of heavy commitments. So we booked it in January, and at alarming speed April came and off I went to London to sleep over at my brothers, then to fly.

I consistently reassess myself whilst I’m abroad. With social media and the ‘trends’ constantly being promoted of what one is supposed to enjoy repeatedly hurled at us through memes every day: sleep, food, booze, youth, Beyoncé and of course on top of them all, TRAVEL. The familiar sensations hit me as I prepared and arrived at the airport, that kinetic buzz of energy and business through the air (with a sprinkle of high security and alertness as well), and I wondered how I would feel once we’d left the safe hub of the UK once more. I was not disappointed. We landed late- our flight was at 8.30, and I had spent a great deal of the flight reading and rehearsing German from my new phrase book. We dragged our tired selves and suitcases down the totally empty and silent main streets (it is not a city that values nightlife, party culture or rowdiness in any way), and found our neat and budgeted hotel about twenty minutes from the city centre. After a heavy and hot (the temps over there are currently and around the mid/ low twenty-something degrees, clear sunny skies and warm nights- heaven!) sleep, we had brunch at Café Central- I chose it because it came highly recommended as a breakfast spot, only finding out later it was a favourite haunt of Lenin and Trotsky’s for many years. From then on we took the city by the horns, making one brief shopping stop for yours truly to purchase some new trainers (my much more stylish but impractical boots were giving me fresh blisters by midday) as we were topping around 25000 steps a day via my friends Fitbit.

For the next three days we took a free walking tour and visited palaces, galleries, and the Danube. We ate mountains of bread and pastries, fresh sausages, drank cream filled Melange (typical Viennese coffee) and viewed the apartments where Mozart had died aged 35. We saw the balcony where Hitler declared his absorption of Austria into his great new order, and stood in the square where the crowds had cheered for him. We learnt of the royal history and strange romances, deformities and scandals that made the two empires there so completely bizarre and grand. We slept contentedly and heavily in our room with aching feet, sore legs and happy hearts. We went for drinks in Le Loft, a cocktail bar so black, shiny and slick it would do Tokyo proud, with a view of the entire city and hand painted effervescent ceilings that shone like technicolour. On the last day we rode the Viennese wheel in the oldest amusement park in the world- The Prater (which also featured in Orson Welles’ The Third Man, sending my film lovers heart fluttering) and rode to the top of St Stephan’s Cathedral as they held Friday mass in solemnity and song. Obviously three days and a first visit are never enough to see a whole city and know it well, and while we got to do a lot, there is so much left to return to and see one day. As I arrived back and the plane hit Stansted’s familiar worn tarmac, I felt the old longing return to my stomach. I want more of this, I thought. It sounds ridiculous, but when travelling, I believe it’s the closest to feeling like a truly alive person I can feel. We are alert and aware of our surroundings, because we must be. We are teaching ourselves a new language, seeing new sights, tasting new foods and smelling new scents. We look at people in a fresh way, and every day is an opportunity to cram as much life, food, beauty and fun in as we possibly can. So as I sit here, back in my white room in Portsmouth, with my snuggly jumper and slippers and green tea, I am surrounded by a new comfort as the short term goal of deadlines approaches: there is an enormous and beautiful world out there, when the madness calms down. I am surrounded by a continent filled with fascinating streets, art, people and tastes, and when all is said and done, that’s something to be positive for. I want to be a part of it.

North vs South

Sometimes at university, you’re able to spot divides between people. Lecturers vs students, older vs younger, boys vs girls… in the most harmless sense of course, it’s natural that we have loosely different categories. In Portsmouth there are a great many students have have either been born and raised in Portsmouth itself, or a town or two away. This is actually quite lovely, as it makes the place feel all the more homely knowing locals don’t necessarily flee as soon as humanly possible. Then, there are the number of us that have come from elsewhere: Southerners, Londoners, Northerners, people from Malta, New Zealand, America, Spain and countless other places. All in all, we seem to find our way and rub shoulders together on the course just fine, enjoying the diversity of each others journeys, stories and pasts (or what we tell of them). My observation comes more from the social aspect of intermingling as well as the time we spend briefly conversing and bonding during lecture/ seminar breaks. It’s that beyond the foreign sense of otherness we observe in those who have travelled from a different county, nation or even continent and are trying to decipher exactly how to live in a new city and get on well with those around them beyond their own nationality- it’s the bizarre and quite ancient sense of rivalry that still exists between people who hail from the North of England and those who come from the South. I confess to being one of the most southern of southerners myself: born on the outskirts of London, schooled in Suffolk and living in Cambridge for several years, you barely get more tweedy, plummy or country than that. I’ve always been proud of my routes, and the way my family and father raised me to behave and speak… It has though, as my life has moved around and become less glued around the nations capital, set myself and my family members apart sometimes. Mostly not in a negative sense- people delightfully pointing out ‘you’re so well spoken!’ Or, on slightly less pleasant occasions ‘you’re well posh…’ in an unabashedly accusatory tone. Again, I try not be embarrassed or sheepish and simply respond ‘ Thanks. It’s how my Dad taught me to speak’, hopefully closing the subject as quickly as it opened. Occasionally, this response is not enough. People will act as though it makes me odd, pretentious, or in some way ‘other’ to who they are, or where they’re from. Where this rivalry and nit picking can come in the strongest however, is between northerners and southerners in general- I thought this bizarre gap would have closed generations ago, we’re such a diverse and open country now, accepting people from all over the globe and making it their home to, how can we possibly still feel a sense of defence, rivalry or history between the north and south ends of this relatively tiny island? Well, evidently we can. Don’t misunderstand, most of the time the subject is bantered over in good humour. Cracks are made about each others accents, the lacking in either side’s cuisine, the landscapes, the attitudes with money, the manners, the honesty… the list goes on and on. What I never expected was for this tradition of barbing each other to have trickled down to students today, and I’m consistently surprised whenever the issue is brought up or pointed out in an unnecessary or aggressive way. I suppose what I hope is, if we can overcome what must have been a strangeness at first (many years ago) of accepting different colours, cultures and accents from around the world onto our island home, why can’t we put to rest the petty squabbling between the North and South, that besides when we were literally fighting over farmland in centuries gone by, is 100% pointless, and 100% irritating?

You can be heroes…

Long time now speak… my apologies. Life has somewhat overtaken for the last week or so as a student- but I’m back to report it’s all going rather nicely, if a little bit of a shock to the system. Different priorities and changes seem to gather momentum in the university at this time of year- deadlines appearing closer in the distance, solid study groups forming and lecturers hurling evaluations at us left, right and centre. What I’ve come to take away from the last few weeks of both uni and social interactions of one type or another, is not to underestimate your effect on other people. The scale of difference for example, that I’ve experienced in my feelings and observations from module to module that we’ve been studying over the last half a year is astounding. When asked this last Monday to fill in what was one of the first of the evaluations, I felt slightly stumped (thankfully for all the right reasons). How could I convey with the ticking of boxes and a few lines here and there, just how much this lecturer and their chosen area of expertise had or had not enriched or effected my education/ studies/ life here in Portsmouth? Luckily for this one, I had nothing but the most positive and effusive praise to present. I honestly declared it to have been the best module I’d been on so far, and praised their humour, passion and thorough academic style when it came to the content. My companion in the lecture was also in complete agreement, and as we were walking out having delivered our thoughts and bid the lecturer farewell, we were both surprised at the amount of thankful nostalgia we were taking out with us. So often on this course, it can feel like both the life and education of a first year should not be taken that seriously (regardless of the sheer scope of the fees we are still paying for this portion of our education). After all, it’s only the second and third years that really count- right? Wrong. So, so wrong. A first year is (at its best) a specimen of a university student so ready to absorb, so sensitive to both criticism and encouragement, so wanting to prove themselves to both peers and course lecturers, and so acutely aware of when they’re being either dismissed or minimised for the sake of ease, that it can and will shape a lasting memory in their mind of whether or not as a student- they truly matter at all. In a university this large and diverse, it is incredibly easy to feel as if one goes unnoticed- or is at least barely noticeable. The chemical reaction that happens when a lecturer has not only thoroughly researched and prepared the module through which they intend to guide you, but also motivates and devotes a fair and non-reluctant amount of time to you– as not just a student but an individual, is astounding. It releases waves of happiness, a sense of being cared for, a steam of motivation to prove them right and a stream of productivity that would otherwise perhaps have remained stemmed. I don’t write this post as a criticism of anyone in particular- but a hopeful reminder to any lecturer/ supervisor that you, your attitude, your knowledge, your passion, your humour and your organisation can positively make- or negatively break- a students spirits. All in all- please inspire us. It’s why we’re here. Thanks.

Let’s Misbehave…

I had a thought this last Saturday morning. I finally allowed myself a long booked in advance night on the town with my entire house (it was a friends 30th birthday, which I classed as a ‘special occasion’). I thought it about time, what with deadlines drawing near, my friends already planning to leave Portsmouth permanently in just under a month, and feeling confident in my own behaviour and sense of well being at the moment, to indulge in one of the few ‘why not?’ nights I allow. I also- genuinely- needed some fresh experience, stories and first hand knowledge of Portsmouth partying a la 2018. To say that the evening escalated not only quickly, but quite wonderfully for my purposes, is an understatement. We got fully and relatively warmly dressed up to the nines (lots of tight jeans and spangly, floaty tops), curled piles of hair and put the champagne in the fridge to chill. So far so good. Very civilised jovial ‘pre drinks’ were had- a bottle of wine between a few of us and a few shots to spare, and off we hopped into our Uber shaped carriages to the Wetherspoons evening ball.

When we got there- about 9.30, the place was suspiciously quiet. The floors thus far unsticky and bar lacking enormous queues or nameless gropes from behind. The calm before the storm. We ordered bottles of wine, found a nice central table near the dance floor, and off the evening kicked. I’d be lying through my teeth if I said it wasn’t a wonderful time, and a well needed change of perspective to bring student partying culture into a different point of view for my usual old-lady self. For a while. When we got in and started the festivities with the main birthday group, I promised myself I’d be observant but enjoy it as much as I could. What would the point be of going out with my soon to be distant dear friends if I didn’t throw myself into the experience as much as they were? The group that included the birthday boy- five hard drinking males all averaging around 30 years old- made this task one I would soon find challenging to the extreme. What I realised differentiates the elegant jollity of the pre drinks or more socially relaxed glass or two of wine at the bar with friends from a student night is of course, the pace.

What starts as a relaxed excitement when we first arrived turned into the most Olympic series of shot and drink buying I’d seen since my days in Cambridge. Unbidden boyfriends, girls and the accompanying guys all began procuring little black trays crammed with untrustworthy looking potions. Jäger bombs. Sambuca. G&Ts. More wine. Beers. On and on to the table they were brought, and the chemical madness picked up its pace as it always does. At this point, I began to slow down as much as I could to try and pick up the changing dynamics around me. When others are getting royally sloshed and you have the foresight to get a glass of water and tell everyone it’s vodka lemonade, it’s incredible the quite unsubtle behaviours people will let you see. When I previously googled the genuine effects of alcohol on the mind and its thought process, a key quote from a prominent scientist in the US solemnly reminded ‘the obstacles that the sober, more active mind would usually flag up for us and warn us against are no longer there. We feel and see what we want to do- throw a punch, have another drink, tell a secret, and what would logically deter us from pursuing this is no longer of importance. The danger here is where those decisions can lead.’ This quote reverberated in my ears as I looked around the now rammed club at about midnight- music crashing in on my hazy brain, friends shouting into each other to be heard. The dancing was getting wilder and the security more prominent and hands on. The young people chatting each other up at the bar were getting sloppier and closer to each other by the second. At least two arguments within the group had already broken out and subsided. Eyes were lingering more fervently and lazily on each other, and hands now no longer caring or nervous about where they rested or wandered. I’ll not bore you (or shock you) with the gory details of where this evening ended and how (4am, tears, laughter, mozzarella sticks, lips locking- not necessarily in that order) but as my ‘night off’ from health and self care came to its end and I hazily reflected on what I would perhaps use in my future writing piece, the only word I seemed to be able to spot in the alcoholic distance of my mind was: permission. When I looked around the club at the end of the night, just before the lights where switched on and everyone was well and truly (as they used to say) ‘loose’, I realised why at least the majority of people may have been there. They were letting themselves out of their usual restraints, and giving themselves permission (via alcohol metaphorical tying their sober hands back) to let their inner, truthful, more decadent selves do exactly as they pleased. The married men were somehow unmarried by the volume of tequila they drank, the women no longer modest or restrained in their emotions once the cosmos hit their bloodstream. It truly makes me wonder- may be that’s what it’s all about- at least here in Portsmouth last Friday. You want to have a fight? Want to have a fling? Want to eat fast food? Want to call that person you don’t like out on their BS right then and there? The solution is easy. Get together with your friends, make yourselves clean, well shaven, made up, smelling wonderful, looking quaffed, and watch the veils of social decorum and restraint fall with every sip. I did, and I can assure you it was most entertaining.