On being left out (AKA FOMO, AKA the worst thing to happen to anyone short of death by defenestration)

I have a very skin thin. Filo-pastry-thin, read-through-it-thin. It doesn’t break, exactly, or tear, but it lets things through.

I get hurt by a lot of small things. I’m good with big things. I think, perhaps, if the world fell down, I would be among the last 30% to die. I’d hold it together. I’d have hoarded rice. There would be pieces of gold jewelry in my shoes, and you’d want to be part of my gang because I wouldn’t fall at the first wave. The eight or ninth, another story. But by then there are fewer people to watch.

Small things, like being left out, are the worst things. Like mosquito bites or paper cuts or tooth ache. It’s not a broken leg, or a punctured lung. It’s not being impaled by a pole when the bus you’re on crashes into a Sports Direct and sends a thousand basket balls into the air.

I don’t even like to read stories about people feeling left out, because it hurts me. I feel it through my filo-pastry skin, exactly what it’s like to see on social media the things you’d like to be doing when you are, perhaps, bath-robed-post-bath, snug in bed with wine and chocolate, watching something you love and feeling loved, until you see the other thing: people you like, doing things you like, without you, not missing you. And then the bathrobe and the chocolate lose their appeal, and feel like second choice. Second place. Because you wouldn’t be there, would you, if you had options, only you didn’t.

It gets better as you get older, I have found. At not-quite-but-very-nearly-thirty, I can’t claim to know for certain that the betterness keeps on in a tidal wave of confidence until, finally, washed up on the shore of 40 you give no shits about what anyone is doing but yourself, but: you get better at choosing, yourself.

Not choosing to leave people out, you understand, because if you’re doing that after having felt the otherness of a Saturday at home when you’ve been left there by dint of someone else’s carelessness, then you’re as bad as the rest of us are bad (and we’re all bad) but: choosing not to care.

After all. If you went to everything you felt the lack of, you’d be exhausted. You’d be in bits. You’d be pieces of skin scraped against concrete, you’d be dinner-partied and club-nighted and drinks-with-the-girls and walks and movies and doubled dated out. You’d be done.

I know that. I know it very well. I know it better than I know the Harry Potter books, or Gilmore Girls Season Any Of Them (very well indeed).

The knowing, though, happens inside my thin skin, that has already let everything in, and refuses to let any of it back out. When I say it gets better as you get older, I do mean it. I’m almost certain that I do. I have broad perspectives, now. I have an appreciation for a bedtime of 10pm that I’ve never had before. I know the delights of my own company – of lying naked in clean sheets with red wine, and watching something I’ve seen one thousand times before and yet:

It’s the choice that’s really key here. The fact that I’ve chosen my solitary Friday night path, rather than been forced onto it. And not having the choice? Sucks.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Filo pastry is delicious, nights at home are very nice, don’t leave people out of things or you’re an ass.

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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.

Imogen – Chapter 17

A work in progress, currently at 60K words. 

If Imogen was being honest, which wasn’t her preferred approach, she would have to confess that things were a bit fucked. Not as fucked as they had been, for sure, but she wasn’t handling things well. Standard. Good. As expected.

She wanted to blame Chris. She really really wanted to, all beard and big dick and sexual appetite. He could cook too, which was a bit lethal. He could make curry from scratch.

She wasn’t interested in him, really, the same way he wasn’t interested in her. What they were doing for each other was gap-filling, caulking emotional fuck-ups, making do. Which was maybe a bit unfair, since he was strong and funny and had a big sexy scar down his abdomen – she’d always wanted to have sex with someone with a big scar – but she did a lot of comparing. Andre. Chris. Taller, fatter, lasted longer in bed, paid her more compliments.

She didn’t know what his fiancee had looked like. Her name was Sophie, she worked as an accountant, she liked oranges a lot and always had bits in her teeth. The bits in the teeth thing sounded disgusting, but he said it with this smile, like it was a charming quirk. That’s how she knew he had to still be in love with her. The orange bits. There was no other explanation.

The whole being in love with other people hadn’t stopped them from falling into each other’s lives, hard. It didn’t hurt that Imogen’s life had been made up of work, gym, Shane and home. That was her routine, that was her schedule. And it meant it was easy for him to slot in.

He worked contracts so he was busy most weekends, but free in the evenings. He’d taken to meeting her outside work, standing with his back pressed against the hot concrete. At first it had freaked her out – too much, too soon, too stalkery – but she decided it was better than being alone. And it was, much better, better than getting home at 6:30 and eating toast for dinner and going to bed at 9:30.

He’d even met Nancy. She hadn’t been sure. There’s a big difference between telling your tenant that she can have people to stay and it actually happening, and Imogen could see her stiffening up like a cat, all curled and taut. He was so easy though, and then it transpired that he’d heard of her, his mother liked her books, and that calmed her down, like being patted. She backed off, smiled at him a lot.

The books had moved, recently, the dust shifted around, drifted to the floor. She’d been reading again, and touching her own books. Imogen knew better than to ask.

He’d cooked them both curry, which must have been a bit weird for him. The kitchen wasn’t a mess exactly, but it wasn’t the kitchen of someone who cooked. Nancy would have sporadic cooking binges, where she made four things, a pie and homemade pasta and a cake and something else, then froze most of it and tried to make Imogen eat the rest. And Imogen ate avocado on toast, which she liked.

It had been like playing houses. He even put on an apron, which barely went over his big head, and they’d all laughed. And he’d cooked for two hours while they sat in the lounge and drank beer and watched television, like some sort of functional family with too many cats.

The food was delicious. Imogen didn’t know what Sophie could have been thinking.

Nancy went upstairs before the dishes were done, avoiding, Imogen thought, the question of whether he would stay or not. He could, she was an adult, but there was something in the decision of it that was better made just between the two of them.

He was a relationship guy, she knew. She was just a necessary half, it didn’t really matter what she was made up of, as long as she was content to exist next to him. This was the pushing away moment, this was the time at which she should have shoved. But she was too damn tired. And besides, when he was there, the little Andre voices that moved inside her skull at all times shut up a little bit. She assumed he was doing the same.

“I love you,” he said that night, turning to her in her bed and throwing a warm heavy arm over her. “I love you Imogen.”

She pretended to be asleep, holding still, keeping her breaths even. What a fucking idiot. His skin smelled of curry, and she could feel his breath on her face as he waited for an answer, waited a bit longer, then rolled over and fell asleep.

There was no excuse for that if he wasn’t drunk. She’d rather he called her Sophie when they had sex, which they did a lot, because the talking thing wasn’t as good between them as the sex thing was.

A little bit boring, that’s what it was. Maybe that’s why Sophie had done it.

She hadn’t told Shane about him, because Shane was way too sensible. “You’ll get yourself hurt,” Imogen could hear her saying, in that slightly judgmental voice. “Why don’t you just be alone for a bit?”

The thing was, she still felt alone when she was with him, because he wasn’t inside her head yet.

She was lying to her mother, too, of course. She’d rung a few times recently, just wanting to talk, for whatever reason. About the church, about the house, about her Dad. He was sick with the flu and not coping well, man flu made 1000 times worse by the fact he was always convinced he was dying when he got ill.

“How’s Andre?” she’d asked, every time, her voice warm with affection for the man she’d only met once. “Hope you’re cooking for him.”

“I’m not, Mum, but he’s good,” she’d replied, wondering, like she always did, whether someone else was cooking for him.

“You two should come back up soon. Come see your father. He’d like that.”

Her father had almost certainly forgotten that Andre existed, that they’d ever met. “Sure Mum, that sounds nice. We’re pretty busy at work at the moment, but as soon as we’ve got a few days.

“What about the end of August?” she’d pressed. “Bank holiday, you could come for a couple of nights. We could show him the sights! He doesn’t know Manchester, does he?”

“No, he doesn’t”, she’d said, wondering what excuse she could come up with.

“We’ll show him round then!”

“That sounds nice,” she’d repeated. It did sound nice. She tried to substitute Chris in instead, whether he’d manage her parents like Andre had. Probably, she thought. Everyone was good with them except for her.

He never invited her to his house, which was good, since he lived in Clapham, and she didn’t know how she’d manage it. He liked the cats, he said, he liked being away from his flatmates. He liked Nancy too, even though she was offbeat. He’d told his mother and she’d been ecstatic, like her son had met a real celebrity.

Imogen had been interested in that, and taken one of the books up to her room to read. She didn’t read much but the novel was easy-going, the tale of a man and wife raising their three children, a novel of family intimacy, and it was light and soft and good, until the mother got cancer and then the father too, and then the father died.

It was one of those stories, Imogen realised too late, which made you care and sucked you in and then spat you out. Books that made you cry. She didn’t finish it. She didn’t need to cry.

She’d told Rose about Chris, since she’d spotted him outside the building once, and asked about him. She didn’t know about Andre, so it was easier. She’d been pleased for Imogen, touchingly so. “Didn’t know you had any mates until I met that Shane. And now a man too. Doing alright, aren’t ya?”

Rose’s personal life was everywhere right now, splashed across the Daily Mail and The Sun. She’d been snapped with one of her directors, a married man with a filthy rep. At least two of the pictures appeared to show her receiving oral sex from him in a car. Imogen wished she could ask about it, wanted to go out and get drunk with her so she was brave enough to ask the question. But Rose had just signed on for a movie to play an anorexic and had dropped the booze to lose some weight for the part, though Imogen didn’t know where it would come off her. It made her sharper than usual, and ruder.

“What’s he like in bed?” she asked, during one of their bi-weekly catch up sessions. “He looks like he’d be rough”.

He wasn’t rough, hadn’t been since the first few goes, where he’d been getting something out of his system. Now it was loving sex, girlfriend sex, the kind of sex you have when you’re knocked up and don’t want to hurt the baby.

“I’m not telling,” Imogen said. Rose didn’t like it when she didn’t open up to her.

“That means it’s bad,” she said coolly, lighting up a cigarette. She wasn’t allowed to smoke in the firm, obviously, but it didn’t stop her.

The shine had gone off her a bit in recent weeks, Imogen noticed. Maybe because she was getting to know her so well, see underneath the Hollywood face. She was knackered all the time, and catty, and unwilling to agree to small changes to her contract. Now, she was refusing to cut or dye her hair for a role. Because she could.

“Jennifer Lawrence does it,” she said.

In private, Imogen had gone to Chris (too many Chris’, in her life, now – Christopher), requesting a meeting. He sat behind her desk, tall and wide, while she told him she’d been considering quitting her job as paralegal, and trying again for her training contract.

“Why’d you stop the first time?” he asked, half interested.

“Personal reasons,” she said, fudging.

“Well,” he said, “it’s something to consider. But we wouldn’t be able to take you on at the moment, so you’d have to go elsewhere. And of course, we’d have to find someone to replace you with Rose.”

She nodded, too tired to fight. She stood to go. “Maybe in a few years?” he suggested.
At least she’d tried.

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.

A love letter to my black long-sleeved top(s)

It was first called to my attention in my first year of university, though I suspect the addiction started long before that. “You always wear that top,” the words of a man from Palmerston North, with bleached hair curling into his eyes, eating a pie sandwich. A pie sandwich, in case you were wondering, is a pie eaten between two pies, with tomato sauce for decoration. Not the kind of man, then, who one would expect to be making sartorial judgments, but this is university. A new world. He also liked to bet on grey hounds.

I did wear it a lot, this black striped long-sleeved top from Glassons, but not as much as he thought, because I owned three, identical and circulated. A bargain at two for $20 – which calls into question why I owned three, and I cannot answer – and the staples of my university wardrobe, partnered with jeans, and more jeans, and the one skirt I owned with screen-printings of Marilyn Monroe’s open mouth.

I’m not entirely sure what it is about the black long-sleeved top, except that it’s comfortable. It’s easy, and it suits me, covering the arms stippled with chicken skin and providing me with a comfortable camouflage for breasts that aren’t enormous, precisely, but big enough for me to notice when they draw focus from my hair, say, or my lipstick, or my sharp wit. Black suits my colouring, and it’s not a flattering thing so much as a familiarity thing. White makes me feel foreign and glaring, like stepping out into sun. Black is soft. Nicer, more interesting, people talk to me when I’m wearing black.

If pressed I could count them: the one from Zara that’s cropped with flared sleeves, and the other from Zara that’s a soft merino knit. The ASOS number with inside out sleeves and a V that gives things away. One from New Zealand, pilled with age, but with just the right neck, that balls to nothing in a bumbag or a front pocket. The body, with snaps at the crotch, that sits just right under a leather A-line skirt. The one with leather patches on the shoulder, another with leather sleeves. I like leather. The one emblazoned with Adele’s face (cheating, maybe, but it’s Adele, so we’ll allow it). The one I shrunk, but won’t throw out, in case it chooses to grow again, like one of those sponge dinosaurs in water.

There’s always a black top incorporated somewhere, under a romper or tied around a waist, stuffed in the bottom of a bag. And, of course, I can never find the one I want – the curse of owning at least 8 long-sleeved black tops, all of which serve a unique wardrobe purpose. My mother doesn’t understand. I don’t expect you to either.

It doesn’t stop with tops. It never does. I own at least 7 black dresses, and as many black skirts. Black singlets are mine in abundance – I think I have numerous pairs of black tights, but it’s summer and I can’t tell anymore, they’ve made love to each other and exist now in a Maniac Magee snarl. There’s no saving them, at least until October.

As I sit here in my long-sleeved black top, I wonder what will happen when I am a grown up, which is what will have happened when I don’t sleep in a garage or buy hard-boiled eggs because I don’t know how long to boil them for. Will my love affair with the black top end, brought to an abrupt cessation by a new capacity to buy blue silks and green chiffon? When I am an adult I will know what chiffon is, and how to say it. Like chignon. I will know about them too. And the UN.

The part of me that is already a grown-up (she sounds and looks like my mother; she spends a lot of time immersed in warm water with her toes controlling the taps) know that this is what will happen: I will buy just as many long sleeved black tops, but they will be softer, and lovelier, and blacker and the addiction will grow worse. In this ever-growing house of dreams, there is an entire wardrobe filled only with long-sleeved black tops, each catering to a different black top need.

And in this universe I will be equipped with the ability to put things on hangers, rather than shoving them by the fistful into drawers, so that when I need them, I can find them. The tights snake-nest, though, will still be there, growing and writhing and twisting, each day getting larger, incorporating more. You can only conquer the stocking nest by ripping it into separate pieces and setting each on fire, and who’d do that when each pair was a fiver?

In the writing of this piece, I have remembered why I only had three black long-sleeved tops at university, when four would have been the sensible number: I decided, on one shopping occasion, to branch out, and get the same style top in a different colour.

Coral. Fucking coral. Grown up Scarlett would never make that mistake.

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.

 

 

73 questions I hope the Gilmore Girls reboot answers

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  1. IS THERE A MR KIM?

 

  1. When did Jackson stop being Town Selectman, and Taylor start again?

 

  1. Did Jason have to move in with the Enron boys?

 

  1. Did Luke and Lorelai have babies?

 

  1. Who owns the Twickem house?

 

  1. What did Kirk do with all his money?

 

  1. Did Madeline and Louise ever leave Spring Break?

 

  1. Did Barack ever find out about Rory’s criminal record?

 

  1. Did he…. notice that she doesn’t “have it”?

 

  1. Did her criminal record get expunged?

 

  1. Does she work for Hilary now?

 

  1. Are Steve and Qwan hot now? (sorry)

 

  1. Did Brian ever get with the Replacement Laine?

 

  1. Did Hep Alien ever make it?

 

  1. Has Laine realised she’s better than Zac?

 

  1. Does Miss Patty have another husband (apart from The Business We Call Show)?

 

  1. Is Dean still surly and hot?

 

  1. Did Lindsay remarry?

 

  1. Did Michelle get a new Chow puppy?

 

  1. Did Rory ever send her stuff to Christian Amanpour?

 

  1. Arguably the worst guest star Gilmore Girls ever had.

 

  1. Come on, you know it’s true.

 

  1. Did Jackson get a vasectomy?

 

  1. Did anything else catch on fire?

 

  1. Did anyone ever fix the bells?

 

  1. What is Al’s Pancake World serving now?

 

  1. Has he finally run out of napkins?

 

  1. Has Lorelai killed Paul Anka yet?

 

  1. How is Emily doing without Richard?

 

  1. Pauses to cry

 

  1. Pauses more

 

  1. Carries on

 

  1. Did she get a dog?

 

  1. Has she managed to keep a maid yet?

 

  1. Is she angry at him for dying, given that she demanded to go first?

 

  1. Cries more

 

  1. How is Penolin Lott?

 

  1. How on earth do you spell Penalyn Lot?

 

  1. Where are Tool living now?

 

  1. Did Roy ever go to Fez?

 

  1. Did she maybe go to Fez right after Richard’s funeral?

 

  1. Cries again

 

  1. What’s April up to these days?

 

  1. Is she studying science at Harvard?

 

  1. Does she still wear that helmet all the time?

 

  1. How many rock polishers does she currently own?

 

  1. Are we ever going to get to see her mother and Jess’ Dad’s partner in the same room?

 

  1. NO BECAUSE THEY’RE PLAYED BY THE SAME PERSON.

 

  1. What is Jess up to?

 

  1. Is he a famous author now?

 

  1. How many surly babies has he accidentally fathered?

 

  1. Did Anna Fairchild ever make it to Yale, or did she drop out and become an erotic dancer?

 

  1. Does Logan have an avocado tree?

 

  1. Does he work for Rupert Murdoch?

 

  1. Did he marry the girl with the gorilla mask?

 

  1. Or maybe Finn? #GAY

 

  1. I would marry Finn. #Australian

 

  1. Finn is probably dead.

 

  1. RIP Finn.

 

  1. Marty?

 

  1. How is Marty?

 

  1. Is he still a fucking miserable wet rag with good Snap-Crackle-Pop hair?

 

  1. LUCY AND OLIVIA?

 

  1. Maybe they could do a crossover where Olivia has scored a starring role in a Marvel Netflix spin off?

 

  1. Yes?

 

  1. Is Olivia still making things out of trash?

 

  1. Yes?

 

  1. Are Paris and Doyle still together or did she accidentally-on-purpose kill him during a Krav Magar training session?

 

  1. Has Gill cut his hair?

 

  1. How did Luke give everyone back all of their tents and raincoats after he sewed them all together? Did he unpick them all? What about the holes? Were they mad?

 

  1. Did Emily sneak out to the Dragonfly Inn and install a tennis court covered over with a bubble while Lorelai was sleeping?

 

  1. WHY ARE YOU ONLY MAKING FOUR EPISODES?

 

  1. WHAT WILL WE DO WHEN THEY’RE OVER?