Chutney and cheese, but mostly hair

Yesterday evening, I spent £204 on my hair. This might seem like a lot. That’s because it is a lot. It’s an obscene amount of money, and sometimes I’m not sure why I pay it. I have my reasons – I assemble them every 12 weeks, when the wedge of roots at my parting is thick, but collected, on a page, in a list, I’m not sure they’re enough. It’s half my monthly rent. It’s what I paid for a pair of boots, eight years ago, when I learned that someone I loved had kissed someone I liked, and even then I could only bring myself to pay half (one boot, if you will), as a down-payment. And then I went to a lecture and saw them together, and went back the same day and bought the other boot. I still have them. The point of that being – it was so difficult for me to spend that much money on boots that it took two goes to do it, even when I was angry and sad and out-of-sorts, and now I spend that same money every 12 weeks on my hair.

George, though. When I sit in his chair and look at him reflected back at me, I feel the same way I do when I get on a long flight: like every responsibility I have at that time is gone, for a few hours. They’ve introduced WIFI on planes, now, but I’ve so far managed to pretend that they haven’t, so I can salvage those few hours of contact-free time, in which to watch a bad movie (preferably one I’ve seen before), and drink two glasses of wine, and fall asleep with my mouth open.

It’s not quite the same in George’s chair, because I do have my phone, and I do answer emails, and I do look at Instagram and Twitter. But I can’t go anywhere. I can’t really do anything. So last night I sat and watched my reflection (reddened nose from two days of a cold, eyebrows in need of attention, eyes completely free of eyeliner for maybe the first time in 15 years because I keep sneezing it off) as George applied pieces of foil to it for an hour and a half, then left me sitting under a heat lamp for 45 minutes, then rinsed and toned for another 30 minutes, then cut and finished for the final 30. When you tot it up, you understand why it costs what it does. I’ve spent more time with George in the last few years than I have with my Dad.

It’s never quite perfect, because I am very exacting. Turning hair that was born brown, and has been manipulated through varying shades of ginger, black, purple and red red red over all the years, blonde is not an easy task, particularly when it keeps on growing like it does. When you think about it, it’s some sort of chemical mastery: to take two inches of grown-out virgin hair, and paint dye on every second strand, and watch it take under hot lights, until it looks as close to the rest of the hair on my head as possible. Every two inches of my hair has been dyed at a different time. I’m a patchwork. I’m a mish-mash. I’m a lot of hard work.

Anyway, four hours isn’t always that easy to come by, not when your hairdresser doesn’t work every day of the week and you don’t finish work until six at the earliest and your weekends are packed full of birthdays abroad, and leaving parties, and brunches (this isn’t a plea for pity, obviously, only an honest appraisal of the hours of a week). So I took a half day – quite a decision when you’ve only got two days of leave left for the entire year, an inevitability when you have three jobs and nine overseas holidays in a 365 day period – and abandoned my work for George, and four hours of being massaged and tugged and stroked. Maybe I don’t pay George enough.

When I left his chair it was nearly 6pm, and very dark. I roll my eyes at every person who exclaims surprise at the darkening evenings, but I do it myself. It is very dark at 4pm, and 5pm, and still very dark at 6pm. Because it was very dark, and because I have the sense of direction of a rock, I walked down a different road to my usual, and I walked past a specialist condiments shop. It calls itself a deli, which makes sense because it is one, but all I saw in the darkness was a window stacked high with hundreds of different kinds of chutney.

You might not know this about me, but I really love chutney. I love it with a passion. There are limitations to this passion, because I really only love it as an accompaniment to cheese, but when the two are paired, my love knows no bounds. If I could eat nothing for the rest of my life but strong blue cheese and caramelised onion chutney, I would be content. Smelly, and slightly mouldy, and well-preserved, and content.

They were closing up, because it was after six, at least five staff sweeping and dusting and packing away big chunks of cheese. They all said hello to me. None of them said they liked my hair. I asked to be directed to the savoury chutneys, and the tallest one showed me the way. “We arrange them by brand,” he said. “But if you don’t know which brand you like best, try these.” A wicker basket, with a Christmas ribbon, filled with small £2 pots of chutney in all different flavours. He left me to choose, and I chose three: caramelised onion, Spicy English, and Christmas chutney. “Well done”, he said, as I approached the till. And I did feel like I had done some good work, that day.

It is a nice world we live in where you can walk past a specialty chutney shop, and buy three different kinds for £6, and it felt like a nice world as I sat on my couch on a Friday night and tried my three different kinds of chutney with two different types of blue cheese (one from Sainsbury’s, one from Neal’s Yard, after I’d wandered in with with my departing best friend on a cold lunch break, and been taken on a spontaneous tour of the female cheesemakers of England). The onion one was the best, because it always is. The spicy one was good. And the Christmas one went perfectly with my female cheese. At the end, I was all crumbs and bits and perfect hair, licking chutney off my wrist. On the screen, Dakota Johnson ordered a quinoa salad.

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Glastonbury, again

Tomorrow I go to Glastonbury for the second time ever, and perhaps for the first time in the sun. The forecasts are divided on the latter – some, I feel, are deliberately skewing whatever the weather gods are brewing, simply to foster the fear of the myriad 20-somethings trying to stuff clothes for every clime into a single backpack. I don’t know. I don’t care. I will burn in the sun, and I will moan in the rain, and I will slip in the mud, and I will inhale the hot grey dirt, and I won’t care because I will be back in The Glastonbury Bubble.

It doesn’t exist elsewhere, at least not anywhere I’ve found. I’m sure people manage to recreate it by getting on planes to distant timezones and shutting their phones in bedside drawers and pretending to be people other than who they are (people without debt, problems, issues, deadlines). I’ve tried, lounging poolside somewhere glorious, or stomping the streets of somewhere cheap and foreign. It doesn’t compare, somehow, because for me, the Glasto Bubble exists within me, as well as without.

It doesn’t mean no cell-phone reception, or salubrious surrounds, or entertainment so utterly entertaining that my brain loses its ability to latch onto slights and sadness from months gone by. It’s some sort of haphazard intangible combination of all of them: me, standing somewhere strange but familiar, surrounded by all the people I love, with no desire to be anywhere else.

I just about always, just a little bit, wish myself somewhere else. It’s like having a brain laid out like City Mapper – this route is faster, but more crowded; this one gentle, but with multiple changes. There are many ways to get to where I want (happy, entertained, bladder empty, no ominous looming amorphous sense of guilt), but disaster strikes when I have to choose. I’m afraid of choosing the wrong one. I’m afraid of the road not taken.

Glastonbury is laden with choices but all of them are good. Eat haloumi on the grass, or down a cider in the shade. Watch this act, or that act, or the other one you’ve never heard of. Get side-tracked on a wooden bench with a dreadlocked hippy. Fall asleep in the Stone Circle. There is a sunrise and sunset, but there isn’t really time because nothing happens when it ought to. I know what I sound like. I’m a 29-year-old child of privilege paying £300 to go stand in a paddock covered in glitter. I don’t care. I wish I was there now. I wish I were there always.

Last Glastonbury was my first, and, arguably many people’s worst. I can’t tell you for sure, because it was my best, being my first, but: the mud was knee-deep and gelatinous, and while we were there, Brexit occurred. The combination is a gross one, physically unsettling and emotionally ruinous. Someone stole most of the money I’d brought with me. It rained a lot.

It didn’t ruin the mood, any of it, and I don’t know why. There was still this charge, an energy. Maybe it was even brought on by the brewing political muck, the knowledge that when we got out, we’d have to face it. It wasn’t a question of ignoring it, because that wasn’t possible: every group you passed was talking about it, and every performer who took to the stage mentioned it. Instead, it brewed.

I’d like to think that we were subsequently, on that Monday morning, released upon the world as a tide of political ferocity, but that’s shit. We were knackered and dirty, and we went home and slept for 16 hours, and when we woke up, we did what everyone else was doing: dealt with it in whatever way was easiest. It’s easy to be political at Glastonbury because everyone is on the same team. It stays within the gates.

I’d like to say that this year the worst has happened. Trump is in. The Tories might be in trouble but they still hold the power, and they’re trying to give some of it to the DNP. Manchester Arena and Borough Market and Westminster are all examples of terrorist activity that, in any other year, would stand alone as the most horrendous thing to have happened, except they happened within weeks of each other. Grenfell Tower is testament to the fact that it doesn’t take a terrorist to wreak horror. Surely, then, these 5 days stand a chance of being peaceful.

I don’t really believe that, because I have my eyes open. I don’t believe that, because the security at Glastonbury has been stepped up. What a target, this liberal playground. If you wanted to wound me in particular, it would be the best target ever: both my sisters will be there, my boyfriend, my best friends. Stormzy, Lorde (not on the same level, but I do love them both).

I don’t really believe that, because I live on Stockwell Road, where sirens chime every five minutes, blazing up and down the superheated concrete. The night Grenfell Tower went up, I was woken by them, and I wondered, what now?

One thing I try to remember is this: some of the sirens are saviours. Look for the helpers, is the sentiment I hear most now, look for the ones rushing to aid the injured and subdue the cruel. They’re everywhere.

They’ll be at Glastonbury, too: Corbyn introducing Run The Jewels, my sisters holding hands in the rain and heat, the same friends who handed money to me, unthinkingly, to reimburse my losses last year, the volunteers, the drug-testers. The strangers who yank one another out of mud, lend tissues and gum, stand in respectful queues.

The Glastonbury Bubble isn’t real, not really, but I believe in it anyway. While I am there I won’t wish myself somewhere else or someone else. Eventually, I’ll hear the sirens again. But I won’t be listening for them.

Swimming with turtles

We join a group of 13: two couples, a family of three and another of five. We’re staying in an adult-only resort (next to a nudist resort, though I never see any errant nudes along the stretches of sand), where the only crying comes from the Americans who spent their first 4 hours in the resort lying in the midday sun, and have blisters on their backs like panacotta, and so I’ve forgotten that there are children in Mexico, in the other resorts, and now in our mini-bus, on our tour.

We are going to swim with turtles. Akumal, the turtle sanctuary, is closed to visitors, which probably means we should not be swimming with turtles, but they cannot close all the coastlines. I am wearing sunscreen, thick brown-tinted Elizabeth Arden stuff that costs £80 a bottle and which I did not pay for, and for the first time in my life this is not a good idea: we are supposed to be using biodegradable sunscreen, because of the film the chemicals create on the water; because of 10,000 turtles surfacing to breathe and coating their insides with £80 sunscreen. But I applied it in the morning, before I left the hotel, because I burn in minutes, because I’m still burnt from an hour in the sun in London the previous week. I cannot bring myself to scrape it off. I cannot bring myself to burn. I leave it on. I am a turtle killer.

It is 30 degrees and sunny but before we see the turtles, we swim in the dark.

Riviera Maya is home to upwards of 15,000 cenotes, caves filled with water, 15,000 that they know of, which, if you apply the same logic as I use for stars, means there are more than that, hidden and undiscovered. I think about it as I walk along the hot gravel pathway, dodging swarms of somethings that are only partially dissuaded by my chemical coating. A few feet of rock and then endless holes, into the centre of the earth. Logically, I know, they don’t go on forever, that there is more space above than below, and that that should comfort me but: once in the caves our guide points out a tightly-tied string that divers will follow down into the dark, and it makes me clutch for the edges, even though I am a good swimmer, in a wetsuit and a life jacket, with very little to fear from a cenote. The small British girl to my right asks how big the fish get down there, and our guide, Beatrice, says “not very”, soothingly, but I’m not sure it’s comforting to be so close to somewhere where not even a medium-sized fish wants to live. Beatrice has been diving the cenotes her whole life. I ask her if she’s been in all of them. Beatrice shakes her head. Beatrice thinks I am a moron.

There are piles of stones high on the ledges of the caves, stacked by Mayans some centuries ago, offerings to the gods as permission to enter the Underworld. Later I confess that I weed in the water, as I snorkelled above a cave that dropped too dark to see. My boyfriend thinks it’s sacrilegious. I agree, and I’m ashamed, and I want to make a  joke about a libation; and I think that at least five of the 13, and thousands before, maybe even the Mayans, must have done the same.

We didn’t know we were seeing caves, going under. The tour is a turtle tour, so I pictured us on the surface, in the sun, while turtles circled below. I hadn’t pictured the wetsuits and the darkness and the stacks of stones. There is something new about a beach and something old about a cave. If I were the family of 5, burnt and British and with at least 2 kids under 4, I would be mad, because the children are scared, and out of their depth, under the earth. It is nothing at all like Finding Nemo.  They refuse to enter the last of the caves and remain in the sun, feeding empanadas to the dogs. If I were two years old clad only in a pink swimsuit because there is no wetsuit in the world small enough for me, or mother to a three year old, I would not be clambering down the slippery stone-hewn stairs either.

At the beach, the boats are small. I had pictured wading out into the water and floating on calm seas, flicking my fins like the fishes, but that is not how sea life works: we motor out to the break, where the waves are metres high and white, where the reef is and where the turtles are. If I were the family of five, burnt and British and with at least two kids under 4, I wouldn’t be happy here either, because the sand is at least two metres below, and the sea is full of thrashing swimmers and turtles, surfacing for bits of fish flung down by the Mexican guides. The children that do make it into the water reach out for the turtles, because how can you not? But you are not allowed to touch the turtles.

A single ray, a large one, scuds across the sand, deeper than the turtles, but rearing up for the fish. This is a better way to clear the water than weeing, or by conjuring two-metre waves. We are here for the turtles, nor for something that looks like it might want to kill you, though my brain tells me that a turtle, with its little nippy beak, could hurt me more, more quickly. The guide has told me to remove my jewellery for this exact reason, but one, made of two snakes curled over and about, remains on my middle finger where it has been since I was 13. I could not blame the turtles for going for it. It is probably my most delicious finger.  The ray stays at the bottom.

20 minutes, and we’re out, and done. £70 does not buy you more time than that with a turtle, not when you’ve have two caves and a bottle of water and an empanada to boot. 20 minutes, and I’m tugged back on to the boat to join the father with his two under four, who has not even touched the water, because who in his right mind pitches his two youngest off a boat in an old lifejacket, when there are waves and rays about? £70, plus whatever it costs to take two children to cry in two caves and get burnt on a boat.

2 minutes back shore, a vault over a bank of sun-hot seaweed, and then 20 minutes in the line for the toilet, with a woman from Vermont who does not want to be the line for the toilet. She asks Beatrice, “Are there any more toilets?” She is exasperated. She should have weed with the gods, in the dark, above the tunnels.

Beatrice says,”No. So much of the coast is built up. Here is a reserve. Here, they keep natural. Like it should be.” Beatrice is brown and strong and wearing earring she will try to sell me later. Beatrice is wearing biodegradable sunscreen. Beatrice would trade me in for a turtle in a heartbeat.

My four jobs

I am 29 years old, 30 in September, and I have had four jobs.

  1. McHughs

Devonport, where I come from, is small and postcard-perfect. People know each other, and people stay. Families I knew there 25 years ago live their still. One man, John McHugh, owned three of the biggest restaurants in the village, making up some absurdly large section of the wealth in the area. One restaurant, big and white and damp at the seams, positioned on the beach with big, wide, white windows that offered panoramas of a volcano and a beach and an ocean, was where everyone had their weddings. My parents were married there. This was my first job: waitressing at weddings and birthdays and ordinary lunches, and for big bus loads of Japanese tourists who ate the oyster buffet dry. Fifteen years old, highlighted hair, working late, vaccuuming. I met my first boyfriend there. I met my second boyfriend there. John McHugh is dead now, but the restaurant remains, the site of weddings and birthdays and first meetings.

  1. Finc

Wellington, where I went to university, south of the north, has the largest number of restaurants and bars per capita of any city in the world – that is a fact which might be true, or might be made up, maybe by me. Finc was one of the many cafes in the city, dark wood and copper and crispy potatoes. I met some best friends there, and I met some cruel people there. I learned to talk and to charm. I learned that people disregard waitresses. I learned that Alice Cooper is not a woman. I learned to up-sell, and that people have strong feelings about the size of salt crystals, and the softness of butter. I was not sorry to leave.

  1. Sapporo High School

Sapporo, where I moved, when I decided not to be a lawyer, the coldest and furthest removed of all the cities, contains many high schools. I worked in one, with very long dark cold corridors, and scuttling students and banks of lockers and bowls of noodles and foreigners finding ways to be friends. I squatted over strange toilets and sounded out consonants, tried to win students over with my own strangeness. I am no teacher, not really, a sweating student myself trying to learn: the rules, the ways, the manners, the customs, the proper way of doing things. Unlearning: my crudeness, my Kiwiness, my dependency on the familiar. There is so much snow. So many crows. Beer, karaoke, two very cold Christmases. Another language – and, a man.

  1. Beamly

London, where I was born, where I came back to, tugged on a string I’d long acknowledged. And this job an entry point into a real life I’d long avoided: desks, and commutes and digital. Expenses, and a small (small) salary. A boss. A lunch break. Free apples on the table, Toblerones as big as my arm, Christmas parties in tunnels and hotels I could never afford. At first, any job, I-don’t-care-I’ll-do-anything, that kind of job and then: a best friend, a career, a family, more friends, connections, a grounding, a base. And then again: uncertainty, itching, moving.

It says something about who I am, this stickiness, this four-jobs-in-fifteen-years thing. You can spin it any way you want, as with anything: I am loyal. I am lazy. I am well-liked. I am boring.

Here is something that won’t be spun: I am leaving. Job #5 on the horizon, on the Northern Line, in the calendar, in the pipeline, in the offing. I am sorry I am leaving but not sorry I am going. I am grateful. I am growing.

An incomplete list of the things I love

Wine. For drinking.

Marian Keyes. For her humour and her brilliance and her rawness; for making me laugh more than any other books can; for an irrepressible voice.

Gilmore Girls. For speed and boldness and cultural references that fly over my head and for comfort when other things provide none.

Baths. For total immersion in water, for floating and warmth and the ability to lie very still behind a locked door.

Hair dye. For letting a human be a chameleon, for letting change be impermanent, for a box of a bit of something different.

Leather. For making me feel a little bit more exciting when I walk down a road on an early morning when I haven’t slept enough and don’t look like much.

Jewellery. For being gifted. For being different. For making a black outfit look like something. For being an easy birthday present.

Makeup. For hiding, for experimenting, for playing, for confidence.

Prawns. For being delicious.

Steak. As above.

And cheese.

Food needs its own list, really.

Neil Gaiman. For imagination and strangeness and not running away that time on the banks of the Thames.

Family. For safety and certainty and being around, always.

Change. For making things happen.

Friends. For love and for rants and martinis in dark bars; for holidays in familiar places and ideas and suggestions and possibilities. For shared interests and complete difference and never indifference.

Boyfriends. Singular. Boyfriend. For keeping things together.

Balsamic vinegar. For making everything taste better.

Blue cheese. FOOD GETS ITS OWN LIST.

Airplanes. For making distance nothing.

Snapchat. As above.

Skype. Same.

Afternoons in the park. For beer and grass stuck to skin and lying down and clouds and leaves and sitting in circles and tree trunks.

Endorphins. For climbing out.

Sports bras. For making breasts possible.

Late nights. For the things that can’t happen anywhere else.

London. For long walks and for distances; for everyone in it, even the bad ones; for food and drinks and smog and salt, for sadness and the cracks in the pavements. For the tube, and the bridges. For the small bits of sky between the buildings.

Water, anywhere. For life, obviously. For forming a margin. For finding an edge.

Books. All books. All the time. For escape and for comfort.

Grey’s Anatomy. For a reminder that life isn’t that bad.

Beds. For hiding.

Couches. For hiding, slightly less.

Rainy afternoons. For writing and sleeping and watching three movies in a row, all at once. For coffee and pizza and Pringles.

Writers. For writing.

In which I discover that I am not too cool for Pokemon Go

I am much too cool to be playing Pokemon Go. It should be obvious just from looking at me, in my high-waisted trousers and the Nike shoes with the big gold ticks on the side. Sometimes I just sit and look at them on my feet, and feel pleased about my life. People with shoes like that, as cool as that, they live good lives. I am much too cool to be playing Pokemon Go.

Yesterday, I took the bus home, rather than the tube. There are many feasible reasons for this. The Tube is London’s armpit, a dark, festering, hairy, prickly, fetid space, moist and sad and sticky and awful – and for that reason I avoid it when I can. The bus is less expensive, which is good, since I just bought an entirely unnecessary bomber jacket, covered all over in palm leaves (nothing necessary in your life ever comes covered all over with palm leaves). The bus drops me much closer to my house than the tube – it’s all relative, since the walk from the tube station to my house is 5 minutes, and the walk from the bus stop is 40 seconds, and so neither journey is likely to involve a ring and some elves, but even so, even so.

I could tell any of these reasons to anyone and they would believe me, while also wondering why on earth I was telling them about my commute when they really wanted to talk to me about how best to market their new mascara with a magnifying mirror embedded on the side of the tube (why did no one think of this before) – but they are not the reason. They are not my reason.

My reason is three electronic eggs, green and white, which I am incubating, quietly. This could be a comment on my fertility, an oblique clue to my mother, but it isn’t, since any offspring I ever have is unlikely to bear any similarity from what is due to hatch from these eggs: a blind grey bat fluttering frantic wings, a small yellow electronic mouse. My children, since you asked, will be unusually good looking but humble; academically gifted but also able to ace a serve even in bright sunlight. Since you asked.

If you asked me which Pokemon I most relate to, I would have to say Jinx, the hovering frantic frightening woman, with round red breasts and long blonde hair. That might be why I’m disappointed when I see her, but still try and catch her. There’s a teaching in that.

Sometimes the bus goes too fast, through the London traffic, and my app won’t be tricked into thinking I’m Usain Bolt, sprinting through the crowded streets to hatch my egg. It stops and waits, stalling the distance tracker, as Trafalgar Square and Regent’s Street flash past. I’m slightly judgmental of the hoards of tourists with yellow bags, darting between the buses like they want to die. But I’m not really watching them, not really, as my avatar sprints through blue streets, sometimes lost, sometimes pausing.

She and I have things in common. We both carry more than we need. We both like shorts and tights. We both get lost easily in the streets of London, waiting for an arrow or a sign to draw us back on track.

I toss balls with abandon on the bus (not really. London drivers wouldn’t have it, though no one complained when an old man spat throatily into my hair, once). This is the virtual part of my reality, watching white and red balls spin and tumble past children in prams and the hunched hoods of teens. And yes, in case you’re wondering, I’m not very good. I miss a lot.

I’m much too cool for Pokemon Go, but I’m still sitting at my desk with my app open and my phone plugged in, slowly heating up from the pressure of all the Pokemon; a man named Rob has set a lure in the office and I’m waiting to fill in all those shadows with forms, with my own coterie of Pokemon.

I was much too cool for Pokemon, but then I thought about it: I have a pocket full of monsters. Comparing that to Tinder (a pocket full of assholes), I’m doing all right.

A short and incomprehensible note on love

Here is what I do: I worry, I fret. You forget to reply to one single email; you neglect one text; you bypass me with empty eyes and I know immediately a number of things – that you hate me, that I have wronged you, that we are over and through and done with, and that nothing I can do will fix things. Things are broken forever.

Things are not broken. Things are very rarely beyond fixing, unless, of course, they are, which is a more than useless thing to say, it is the worst thing to say. If things are approaching beyond fixing you pull back on the beyond, you push down on the brakes, and say wait – we will pull over, we will stop, we will prevent the thing that is going to send this old car over that there cliff.

 

The thing about the people you love is that they probably love you back.

 

Unless you’re terrible (you’re not terrible), unless they’re terrible (they’re rarely terrible), unless you’ve vastly, embarrassingly, awfully misinterpreted things, and actually they think less of you than the man at the reception desk or the boy who stood on your new white shoes (rarely happens, outside the movies). What comes with experience (I have none) is the knowledge that love comes in a hundred forms, and that some of them are abrasive – that it can be love, actually, if they turn away, stand aside, stop, fail, fall. Love, unfortunately, doesn’t always means large-scale physical embraces in public locations. Roses, chocolates, balloons with your face on them. Love is not all heart-shaped lasagnes and awkward poetry.

Love, sadly, for some people, is unkind, because the very fact of the existence of this form of very unlovely love means that they must be cold, they must be cruel, because love has opened them up when they very much wished to be closed. Locked, in fact. Far away from anyone, including you, in fact, and so this love, that has served them up to you, is a bad thing that must be frowned upon and walked away from and that you are the form that this particularly intrusive love has taken means only that you are the body in which the arrows embed.

Love is not Cupid, though I’ve borrowed his arrows for my lengthy metaphor which has ended with you, lover, punctured all through and bleeding that lovely red blood that has love immortalised in every bit of it, the pricked finger, the pulsing heart.

 

But they do love you. That is what we call it, though it doesn’t always come.

 

There’s an awful lot of terror in loving someone, as much as there is in being loved, maybe more. You can’t break off from it, or cool off from it. It demands you.

Here is what you should do, if you love me, lover – and I don’t mean lover in the naked on the floor way, I mean it in the open way, the giving way, the way you love any thing or person or being or it: email. Message. Call. Be as open as you can, even if it lets the bats out.

Opening isn’t breaking, you see, though it feels like it when the air rushes in. The cracks in things, where the light does the getting in, and the bats do the getting out.

Thinking about university

I was a good student. Have always been. Teacher’s pet, hard-worker, bit of a suck-up. Also, though, corner-cutter. Short-cutter. Not interested in any extra miles, in any direction, except maybe for English, because that felt less like running and more like moving.

But still: there’s something that you know if you’re quitesmart but not verysmart and actually prettylazy, and that is that you could actually be a lot better if you really tried, but finding that motivation to really try is really hard in itself, and so you really don’t, and then you find yourself in the same spot. The secret is: the person who finishes assignments ahead of time isn’t necessarily the good student – they’re the rushers and the pushers, and they’re not the ones doing the extra reading. Tell someone that they’re smart, and they’ll believe it, smartly, and to the core, and stop working because smart people are smart already, and smart people know enough to know that they know enough. Nobody tells me I’m smart anymore.

I was a good student, see, but not a great student. Motivated, but not compelled. Above average, but not impressive. By-the-books, as long as reading them didn’t take too long.

All of this to say: I’m back at university, and it all comes back. Not proper-back, life-changing back, in the way of my friend who’s thrown it in on his good law job and is backing himself for a Masters. Lazy-back, average-student back, in the way of my company wants me to upskill and is putting me through a short course (9 weeks, which two weeks in, feels long). That kind of back.

So, one day a week now, I set aside copy and promo lines and spreadsheets and get my teeth into it – a digital marketing course complete with videos and readings and tutorials and class discussions led by a small blonde woman with dark roots and hands that she clenches tightly in front of herself.

You revert really quickly, is what I have found.

There’s an element of gratefulness that I didn’t have before, one that I recognise from the mature students in my own law lectures, absorbing things and asking questions and contributing. I thought they were really fucking annoying. I’m probably still not quite mature enough to be a mature student, though my 22 year old sister might disagree. Old as the hills. Past it. But apart from that small element, which largely comes from Not Having To Do Real Work For A While, I’m the same student I was: competitive, easily frustrated, rushed.

I’ve done some growing up since my law school days. I ask more questions. I’m more willing to get involved in group discussions (20-year-old Scarlett wasn’t giving away her insights into the material, no way, no how, though she was quick to latch on to the cleverness of others, if it would help. Thanks, Conrad, for getting me through that summer paper). I’m also a lot more willing to read the additional resources, though I’m also more dismissive of poorly written articles. I’ve become a sponge – I blame Twitter, you can read forever on Twitter, though that’s how you come to believe you’re living in a left-leaning-Euro-loving-feminism-friendly-fantasy – and I always want to know more.

Probably inevitable, then, that doing this will make me want to go back. Reading and writing: they’ve always been the bits I loved best.

I still remember the first time I got a D on a paper – law, of course, public law, taught by a woman who so clearly thought us all stupendously stupid that I, in rebellion, began to believe I might know more about public law than she did. And then that paper, which confused a class of 300, and resulted in 70% of the class failing. Still, a D is a D, the teacher’s pet failing is still an unheard-of horror.

I rang my mother and cried, 20 years old in a heap on the hallway carpet, watching my career as a lawyer going up in smoke (only kidding, that had been smoked away months ago, the second I realised how much all the other people in my class wanted it, and how deep the depths of my particular apathy towards it all were). From a landline, because making calls from mobiles was expensive, and I wasn’t going to sob my heart out for $1.99 a minute. At least if I get a D this time around, the call will be cheaper.

There’s a freezer in my foyer

This is not an old house, by English standards, the standards that scoff at anything that’s been standing for fewer than two hundred years. It’s modern inasmuch as modern means “not very well put together”, with awkward corners and creaking floors. It has a green gate. It has four bathrooms. People are impressed by the number of bathrooms. “One between two,” I say, “and one for guests”. It feels nice to have a guest bathroom, even if the toilet roll holder falls to the floor every time you try to get some toilet paper. A small price to pay.

These are the things that are broken in the modern-ish house with the green gate: the freezer (we have two – there are higher numbers of most things in this house than is usual; Australians, X Boxes, televisions, vases, cupboards, copies of 50 Shades of Grey) (and also lower numbers of other things – spoons, bowls, wine glasses, full boxes of laundry powder), one of the four hobs, the washing machine, the dishwasher, the upstairs shower, the fan, the toilet roll holder.

Other things aren’t broken so much as old. The television, which hums. The couches, on which the leather peels like so much old skin. The paint job. The microwave. Whatever dripped slimily from U-bend when I unscrewed it to recover a pearl earring.

Things break one by one, toppling, as if the failure of one contributes to the load of the next, though the dishwasher did not have to freeze our ice cream, and it was never the job of the upstairs shower to keep control of the toilet paper. It’s become a bit like a tolerance test. You can handle a cold shower, but what if it’s coupled with no clean plates? The rankness of a dead freezer isn’t the worst thing in the world but if the television then doesn’t turn on when you want to watch Love Island… well. You don’t have to be an unreasonably intolerant person for that to rankle.

Of course, when something breaks, it gets fixed or replaced. Slowly, because this is London. Unwillingly, because of the same. We had a rat trapped in our dishwasher for 24 hours, which throws the 2 weeks without a working freezer into perspective. One stays with you; the other just makes for a room temperature gin and tonic, and there are worse things. I know bartenders and blondes who would disagree with me on the last, but they’ve never had a rat with a broken leg crying in their dishwasher, so they don’t know.

It’s almost a badge of honour, the breaking, when they’re simply worn through. We’re  a few in a long line of people who have resided in this space, bounced on these springs, stood beneath the sporadic spray and wondered, again, why seated showers weren’t more of a thing. The fridge has been stuffed with their choices (me: four different types of cheese and a brown bag of kale), their cupboards with the same (7 jars of canned tomatoes, 2 bags of chili flakes, some jam). We’re all just passing through, breaking things. We’ve broken the most, I feel certain of it. I know because there’s not much left to break.

He said to me the other day, “This is the nicest place we’ll ever live”. I scowled because plastic plants, and purple bath mats, and weeds on the balcony and the Christmas tree we’ve not taken down since 2014. Because our room has no windows and is built of cinder blocks, one stacked on the other like the work of toddler destined for not much. Because I am not a car even though I sleep in a space intended for a car and don’t mind it most of the time. Humans are smaller than cars, for the most part. Having a car’s bedroom as your own isn’t so bad. It’s about the same as a room temperature gin and tonic. The dangerous levels of carbon monoxide are intoxicating.

I don’t think I’m going to be a billionaire, exactly, I haven’t pictured a house on the Thames and a flat on Old Compton street, with a timeshare in the French countryside for good measure (except I did just then), so it shouldn’t have been a shock, being informed that I’ll probably never do better than 1/6th of a £3 million pound property in Marylebone.

But: we spent the weekend away from London, in a 16th century house with low beams and a spinning wheel on the staircase and casement windows – with lawns the size of London parks and a private cricket pitch and it suited me quite well, in case you were wondering. I’m not what you call an outside person, but I wasn’t against the space. And the lights. Cars don’t need sunlight to survive, but I’m beginning to suspect that I might.

It’s not that things were perfect. There’s plenty of falling apart in the putting together of a 16th century house, held up by scaffolding and the skin of its old wooden teeth. It’s just that: if it’s yours, breaking something simply means a broken thing. It doesn’t mean 9 electronic apologies, phone messages, meeting a fat deliveryman at the door who refuses to carry the freezer up the stairs.

I’ve lowered my expectations thusly: windows. Windows, and a freezer that resides anywhere but the foyer. And a timeshare in a farm house in France.

On having a choice

No one has ever spit on me, and told me to go home. Yanked at my clothing on a bus, informed me I did not belong. My passport is the same colour as yours, the maroon cover tells me I am British, I belong, this is home.

I was born here, but it’s not my home. Having my first home in Fulham, living in Marylebone now, having a British boyfriend: none of these things make me British to anyone but the government, the passport office, the conservatives of this country, all of whom would have me know that I am welcome, and that I can stay.

My home is New Zealand, which is what my other, blacker passport tells me, and my heart confirms. It has its flaws, but for all the failings I found, daily, for years, it’s the place my accent and all the cells in my body ties me to. The wide skies and the growing cities and the water, water everywhere, open seas around every corner.

I moved to London after years of pining for it, a yearning instilled in me by my mother and my movies and my certainty that New Zealand wasn’t quite the right fit. I wanted to be somewhere bigger and older and more full of possibilities; where everyone was a stranger, and strange. I wanted to be closer to other, and much much further than the familiar. I moved away as soon as I could, far, and then further. I settled myself. I was welcomed. It was easy.

The London I moved to was an invention of my own, but the place I found was better, much more swollen with things I never knew I needed – and then peppered, brilliantly, with the brightest sparks from home. A whole melted, mashed, marvellous pot of the unknown, laced always with the things that were hardest to leave, and ultimately refused to be left. Everything is much closer than I could ever have imagined. You can go half a world away and still be closer than ever before, and I did not know that.

The person I have become in London is much like that person who left New Zealand, but older, a lot more humble, more knowledgeable but less clever, and better for it. Blonder, and paler, and with a better palette for beer, too. I own a lot more raincoats. I’m more cautious. I’m more violent. You lose things, and you gain things.

The London I find myself, this new and changing person, in, has changed too. Suddenly, violently, like a personality switch, except that it’s not: it’s my old innocence telling me that. What bubbles up now has been there before, but I didn’t know it, or refused to acknowledge it: this white, well-employed, well-financed adventurer who after all has done nothing all that adventurous, and who has suffered nothing much worse than a round accent mocking. Don’t say “deck” to a British person, maligned fellow New Zealanders. You’ll suffer.

But you won’t suffer like other travellers, immigrants, movers, suffer. You won’t be sworn at, harassed, fired, chagrined. You won’t be sneered at, belittled, bullied.

London has changed and what I have now is a choice. In between shrinking from the racism and choking down the impossible rage, I have the choice to disappear. Waiting for me, a 35 hour plane ride away, is another land which hasn’t made this political decision, that mistake, a historical vote that might be a fuck up, could change the world, has shaken everything.

It’s easy to look at it now with longing eyes, that place where the dollar stands still, where jobs are un-compromised, and where my mother can look at me with eyes I know and tell me things will stay the same. It’ll take me back, no questions asked. It’ll have me.

There are plenty of people plotting their exit, because they can, and most of them are like me: the ones who can stay, if they want, but are choosing to go. The ones who run only because things have become worse, and harder – not because they might die if they stay. Not because running is marginally better than waiting to be chased.

The point of this is that choice is power, bound up with luck.

Alternatives and options are nothing but blessings. So I won’t talk about my choice anymore because I’ve already made it: to be here, to keep changing, to hope that London and England will do the same. Change isn’t always good, and choice isn’t always easy. I could run away, of course I could. I’m here because I ran away; that compulsion isn’t something that ever leaves you, but lies dormant, waiting for things to get difficult. I recognise it as weakness.

I came to London because I needed it. I’ll stay because maybe now it needs me – not the runaway, not the traveller, but the ally. And if I’m not that person yet, then I hope that soon I will be.