The Digital Detox

I have taken two weeks off Facebook. I deleted it in a strop. I had one of those infuriating social media sessions that left me raging, frustrated and exhausted. I’m not even sure what tipped me over, all of it and none of it in particular. The incessant sharing of banal day to day dinners, the violent images of war-torn communities, combined with unicorn quizzes and farmville  requests. With absolutely no differentiation in volume. LOOK AT MY CAT! SIGN THIS PETITION FOR GAZA! GUESS WHICH SOPRANOS CHARACTER I AM? SAVE OUR LIBRARIES! SAVE MY CANDY CRUSH! SAVE THE LIFE OF THIS 4YR OLD WITH CANCER! HOW CUTE IS THIS PANDA?  

I was unable to tune out or focus, instead I was just stuck, starring at my screen habitually refreshing for more ‘news’. Needing to inhale all of it at once. R has started to joke that he’s going to send me to rehab for internet addiction. He’s not far off. I am plugged in, incessantly. 

My simmering rage and underlying anxiety was exacerbated by the fact that news has been beyond grim. Diving into social media to switch off amongst the sneezing kittens and sunset filtered pics seems like a great way to de-stress having mistakenly picked up the insipid Metro or god-forbid the despicable fear-mongering Daily Mail on the overcrowded tube.  

But having settled into a nice safe buzzfeed quiz, its not long before a comment thread on a controversial image/quote/news story turns troll-nasty:  ‘You don’t agree with my POV on  x y or z  well FUCK YOU AND YOUR SNEEZING KITTEN‘.  

Or I’m sucked into  an argument on privacy settings:  ‘What? You didn’t read all 425 clauses? IDIOT everyone reads ALL 425! …’  Then I’m obsessively checking my old direct messages from 2008 aren’t appearing in my timeline (I only read 420 clauses at 2am on a Tuesday. Because I’m hooked). You’d think I was working for Mi5 the level of paranoia that a change in T&Cs can bring.

Or someone uses a semi-colon incorrectly and says ‘your’ instead of ‘you’re’ .WHO ARE THESE GRAMMATICAL IMBECILES?  *she says abusing adverbs, awfully and using conjunctives as the beginning of sentences –  hypocrite*

Or I post a very funny anecdote about my day. No one likes it. Refresh ad-nauseum. One like. From the random promiscuous, indiscriminate ‘liker’ who just likes EVERYTHING

Then my blood pressure goes through the roof, I’m squinting through a migraine and grinding my teeth at tight.

I have #nofilter

I felt totally hijacked by notifications and found it increasingly difficult to focus on the issues that were important. Being inundated with wave after wave of upsetting, horrifying truths, it’s tempting to stop engaging with the news at all, put our heads in the sand and pretend there is nothing going on in the Ukraine, in West Africa, in Iraq. Turn on Netflix and binge on box-sets that reflect anything but reality, without any ads or reminders that the world outside is absolutely and irrefutably just… shit. Because we have that choice. A very privileged choice. To just switch off. Deactivate. Opt out. With just the click of a button. Lucky us. Our reality has double glazing, running water, vaccines, the NHS, access to education, fluffly slippers and wifi. Not missiles, Ebola, kidnapping and militant extremists tearing us from our homes. 

I have heard this referred to as compassion fatigue. This term implies we all a certain capacity to care, and once that’s reached, tough. We just stop. Which of course has to be true to some point. We’re not capable of feeling everything all the time. We need to filter and temper and prioritise or we’d all be gibbering wrecks unable uphold society when confronted with an orphaned puppy, never-mind the searing heartbreak of  the unending conflict in the Middle East.  

But given the penetration of social media into our very privileged day to day, you know, having access to the internet and actual leisure time, we’re beginning to suffer from ‘newsroom syndrome’ (a term I stumbled upon while zoning out on Twitter, I’m not sure I am even using it correctly – standard). This is apparently what happened to news readers when TV first went mainstream – they found it very difficult to attribute the right amount of reaction, compassion or weight to any situation due to the sheer amount of information they were bombarded with.

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Not all News is Created Equal

 Here in the 21st century, we’ve all found ourselves in a similar state, unsure which story needs to take top priority, given we have the amount of time it takes to refresh a screen to change the mix of info, and therefore the ability to prioritise effectively.  And surely when we lose this ability to care, to feel compassion, to be connected, one of the main tent poles of society starts to fall down? The ability to care and then to ACT? We read this from our sofas. our desks, seats on the bus, we have a responsibility to do so. To get off our pampered asses –  we can’t just opt out. 

So here’s the conundrum. How do we care appropriately?

*cue massive social media outrage about what constitutes ‘appropriately’*

Or rather, how do we learn to filter our information sources better and quicker? Particularly when every brand and service has cottoned onto the power of Social and is literally bidding for our attention along with that of our mates, the news channels, the government. Except they they’re pushing their messages with hard cash. 

Of course this is a very simplistic take on what is a much bigger issue, and doesn’t give enough credit to our own, hopefully innate ability to know wrong from right and to weigh up the consequences and impact of consuming and distributing information responsibly. We hope. 

So how do we keep the volume of the white noise down and amplify the relevant and important stuff?

I don’t know. 

I do know that Human of New York is the one reason why I didn’t delete Instagram. That the stories Brandon shares with the world of the extra-ordinary people that he finds in the very ordinary every day restores my faith in humankind one portrait at a time. That Twitter has taught be a huge amount and raised my awareness on everything from gender politics to new music to great writers. That I’ve made new friends through this virtual world via shared interests (running, running, through a healthy dose of Nike+ running brags) And that all of this has been real and vital and life affirming. 

So I deleted Facebook for two weeks. By the time this is posted I may well be back on it. A big part of my life is online. That is a fact. But taking a good break every now and again to re-asses what really matters. To unplug and realign our perspectives. Share responsibly, take action. Speak up. But with less migraines and jaw grinding. More writing, running and face to face. Our feet in the sand rather than our heads. 

Any other tips or advice for good digital detoxes? Anti-virtual shakes? I need some inspiration!

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Good Intentions

Many readers of this blog will know we moved house at the beginning of the summer. Twelve long weeks ago we packed up and relocated a whole three miles up the road. Three miles is not a long way. I can run three miles in under thirty minutes on a bad day. In the rain. On a clear day from the train station I can actually see our old neighbourhood. So hardly a massive move.

But you’d think we had relocated to another country when you look at the disruption its had on our day to day. We’ve sorted out the basics, but my schedule has taken a huge knock. The exercise routine is ad-hoc at best and I found myself eating cereal for dinner on more than one occasion, because I’ve not sorted out the groceries. Its not a good look. I am a fan of structure, and clearly don’t deal with change well. What started as a whirlwind love affair with NW2 and its beautifully well behaved neighbours has turned into a magnum eating, sofa loafing, social surfing lazyfest.

Willesden, we have a problem.

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Stella feeling the chilled out NW2 vibes

Back in W10 I was highly motivated to be out of the house as much as possible. take a small flat combine with despicably noisy neighbours, a hyper-active dog and being surrounded by a LOT of cafes and parks meant I was rarely home. I was out and about giving Stella her daily dose of Portobello love (she’s minor celebrity around those parts) and saving my ears from the almost constant deluge of noise from upstairs.

Here in NW2, we have our own sun trap of a patio garden, a living-room big enough to get a wii-fit game on the go (we haven’t) and neighbours so quiet I suspect they walk around in feather lite slippers all day and are perhaps mute. I can’t lie. Its freakin’ wonderful. So I am very happy to come straight home and then stay there as long as possible. Basking in the silence. On my sofa. Eating ice-cream.

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And THAT is the problem with living in the ‘just as soon as’ frame of mind. The Good Intentions Zone. You know it. It goes something like this. Just as soon as we move, Just as soon as we sort out the xyz. Just as soon as we finish abc…THEN we’ll get on top of everything. Good Intentions.

There were a number of things I was sure I would do ‘just as soon as we moved/ unpacked/ got settled’

Here are the Top Three

* Get Into Yoga

I have no flexibility. And I have all the kit so really feel like I should put it to good use. And everyone I know does Yoga so I am just succumbing to peer pressure really. If only so I can stop nodding and smiling when they talk about Pigeon Pose (I thought it was a East London Band for weeks)

* Figure out The Garden

So far I have managed to pull out weeds. Get stung. Water plants. Pull out weeds. Get Stung (by a bee this time). Get covered in mud and burrs. Plus the gardening malarkey works well with my Yoga plan. I’ll be all zen and into nature and have the core strength to really get to grips with those effing weeds.

* Learn to Cook Like a Grown Up

For god’s sake I am 33 years old and I can barely make an omelette. Its embarrassing and a little pathetic. Given how much I like to eat.  I have been relying on the gastronomical expertise of my wonderful hubby for far too long. And seeing as he’s going through a Brussel sprout phase (eww) I need my own repertoire up my sleeve.

 

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THIS

 

Any takers who’d like to join in my yoga practising, garden tending, cooking experiment? All welcome! I will try not to poison anyone. In fact maybe just join in on the yoga and gardening. I can’t guarantee your safety with my cooking. Yet

 

 

Wonder Women

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Cuba 2008 Havanna

I spent last week in New York on a work trip, and while the schedule was packed pretty much from the minute we landed at JFK, we did manage to find a few moments here and there to take in Manhattan. I am a huge fan of the Big Apple.  I am a city girl at heart and New York is by far and away the Big Momma of all mega-urban-metropolises. It’s the backdrop to almost all of my favourite films, it boasts skyscrapers that light up the sky by the hundred, coffee to die for, and food to make any gastronomical critic weep. Other than eating our way through Soho, the highlight for me was catching up with a good friend who has recently moved state-side.

Walking up the High Line on a Thursday evening in mid summer having a good old fashioned gossip I was reminded how lucky I am to have friends scattered all around this world, that arriving in a new city more often than not I can pick up the phone and meet someone. Or at least get a few recommendations from mates who know the globe pretty well. Londoners are well travelled folk and I’m very lucky to count so many of them as friends. And equally that being oceans apart means very little to the relationships I have made and the ones that I have back home in South Africa.

Back in my teens it was near impossible to go without making contact with your mates at least every hour or so. This in the days before social media and mobile phones (imagine) we saw each other in class, while writing letters to the ones that were in the other class, swapping letters at lunch, repeating the process a few times over. We then go home and spend hours hogging the landline until one of our parents picked up the extension and threatened grounding or lack of lifts at the weekend.  One day off school and the fragile alliances could change. A year was like a lifetime. And in a time when your parents didn’t understand you and your siblings were just hopeless, your friends are your family, your therapists, health advisers (all with dodgy consequences) your partners in crime. Which means they were INTENSE. Fights were life threatening, and epic. Political manoeuvring legendary;   why do you think teen movies  are so popular?  All of the drama, less the expensive adult stars, historically accurate costumes or pyrotechnics.

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Me, Sandi and Danni aged 16/ 17

 

New friends were made at university due to shared interests as opposed to post code proximity. A few school friends remain, the ones who genuinely rather like to hang around you, rather than needing a brain to help out in double maths, or being the one who knows how to roll a fag or the best way to escape school during free periods. These friends argue with you about de-constructed post modern feminist theory. And music. And help you out with part time work, tutoring, waitressing, internships.

 

Me, Danni and Sandi aged 21/22

 

Post university I left all my friends and family and followed my heart to London. Here new friends are people I meet through work, when at 23 your Tuesday night could be just a raucous as the Saturday night. I meet people out clubbing, through friends of house mates. Friendships in my twenties are defined by booze, banter and boys, while trying to carve out a career – working hard playing harder. Travelling around the world and generally behaving badly. Its a riot and I’m thankful everyday that a huge chunk of it was before the days of Facebook.

 

 

But in this decade, friends start to find their own paths that don’t necessarily join up with yours. Some get married and move outside of the M25 (and are never seen again). Others  leave London altogether  to head back to places like Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Bali, Canada, USA, Dubai and a huge chunk return back to South Africa (in a space of two years about 8 friends relocated). And here I am very grateful for Facebook.

But there are a few that have remained, who travel with you from one transition to the next with or without access to wifi.  I don’t need to see these friends every day, every week or even every year. These are the types of friends that no matter how much time has passed I can pick up a conversation where it left off as if nothing has changed. Except now we’re talking around toddlers, or at train stations, on skype or via social media. Our friendships have survived the trenches of high school, university, marriages, children and all this while thousands of miles away. Thankfully, no heart shaped origami letters in sight.

And if the last ten have been anything to go by, I can’t to see what the next 10 years brings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not in Front of the Grown Ups

Over the past few months I have found myself in a number of scenarios talking to people either finishing school, starting university or embarking on their first jobs. The excitement and nerves about exam results, waiting on job offers and the thrill of the possibilities of what comes next – it’s an infectious optimism.

It’s been 16 years since I finished high school, over ten years since I finished university but I remember the feeling well. The sheer awe of opportunity, that anything was possible, and there was so much time it almost seemed to much to take on board. Like being handed the keys to your first car and maps to every highway on offer.

Finding your feet in the adult world isn’t that dissimilar to learning to drive. You get all the qualifications but you still don’t have a clue what you’re doing. I was smug as a Persian cat having got my license on my  first attempt. I put this down to my father’s endless patience and constant presence in the passenger seat of the family Honda.  I drove in circles around the local cemetery (everyone was already dead, there was very little risk of further damage) getting my head around the clutch and starting on a hill without flooding the tank.

I passed the theory easily, moved on to take a few more formal lessons and then booked my test. Which remains, to this day, the most nerve racking two hours of my life. I nailed parallel parking, and alley docking but I stalled the car twice and nearly went through an amber light. I was distracted by my driving examiner’s spectacular mullet and the tortoise-shell comb sticking out of his knee high khaki sock. Minor whiplash aside (from sudden braking at said amber light) he handed me a brand spanking new licence. A ticket to freedom. And that was that. I was released onto the mean streets of Jo’burg without any experience of driving on the highway, in wet weather, or at night. Qualified I was, prepared I was not.

But as everyone knows, you learn to drive after you get the piece of paper  stamped and your picture taken. This goes for your career in being a tax paying individual, you learn on the job. The same advice applies for when you stall at a busy intersection during a thunderstorm as to when you go completely blank during a dream job interview: Don’t Panic. Breathe. Start again (and turn on your hazards).

Nothing can prepare you for how you will feel when you have to step up and speak at a funeral, when you have to take responsibility for a major cock up, or call emergency services. No one will tell you how to leave a relationship, how to support a grieving friend, the best way to negotiate a new salary, wedding venue, holiday discount. You learn as you go.

Twenty years ago, I was 13 and starting high school with dreams of being either a forensic psychologist or investigative journalist (I wanted to be a kick ass combination of Clarice Starling and Nancy Drew). Turns out I wasn’t all that keen on all the stats in Psych, and there didn’t appear to be any access to interviewing serial killers.

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My friend Jasna and I taking graduation very seriously

Ten years after that I ended up in media and advertising,  working with a different brand of psychopath altogether. But the fun kind. Another ten years on from that and I am working in publishing. At least now the psychos are mainly fictional.

I switched up, changed paths and tried new things. And I’m not done yet. In fact most of the most inspirational people I know and look up to have done just that. They keep learning.

Which was why I was really surprised to find that all of the younger people I have been speaking to are still focusing on becoming a ‘something’. Trying to figure out the right subjects, take the right courses, land the one job. And I remember this fear really well, desperate to choose the right mix of courses so as not to limit my career choices. The fact is that my choice of second year electives have very little bearing on what I do today other than to make very useful at certain pub quizzes that feature Greek Mythology. Few of us have a job for life. We get to make mistakes, discover new talents and pursue unforeseen opportunities.

That said, I am now 33 years old. Officially in my Jesus Year (yes apparently this is a thing now) and I am expected to get a move on and get my shit together. Or have some spiritual awakening. So I guess my choices are to have some fantastic career breakthrough or head to Cambodia to meditate.

But I still have no idea what I want to be. I am taking this as a good thing and a sign that there are still many more adventures to be had.

Any other Clarice wannabes out there? Love to hear what you lot want to be when you grow up

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The Body Beautiful

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Some of you may know I write another blog, which has taken a bit of a back seat while I got this one up and running. Over in that corner of the web I write mainly about running and fitness stuff. Its been my way of tracking my improvement over the years. I geek out about gadgets and new running kit and get overly emotional about PBs and race reports.

What I have come to realise is that its very difficult to keep that part of my life separate from my day to day, because it has finally become my day to day. A cursory glance at my instagram lately will attest to that. R commented last week that he rarely sees me in any anything other than lycra. He got a bit of a fright when I got home from work and I was wearing A DRESS. I rarely wear heels any more and I discovered while trying to find some ‘going out’ clothes that I am woefully bereft of any clubbing attire. But I am not bothered, I realised through a fog of endorphins on Sunday post Hackney half marathon, that I am happiest when I am outdoors in the sunshine, post run, wearing short-shorts, a cut-off tee and eating pizza.

Which is why there’s a running post in the non-running blog. Six races this year and counting. I can barely believe  it myself. But its all on Facebook so it must have happened. What has happened to me indeed?

I was not a sporty child. It’s true that I came stone cold last in more than one cross-country race in primary school where running was a torturous punishment. We had to wear tiny blue culottes (or skorts as they are now known) made of  hideous fabric that was highly flammable and itched like mad. I hated swimming too. The pool  had green algae on the sides  that was slippery to the touch and to combat it, bucket loads of chlorine was liberally thrown in while we were swimming so our eyes burned and our skin crawled tight for hours afterwards. Netball was worse, I was short so was usually given Centre, but lacked the fitness to do that position any real justice. Needless to say I was not picked for teams.

Tennis was marginally better, but by then my confidence was shot and I lacked the  incentive to try. I just made a fool of myself, so what was the point? Outside of school was no better. I was useless at Ballet and Modern dance, resenting anyone who found it effortless, and spending most of my time sulking and squinting because the bun was too tight.  It wasn’t worth getting sweaty for and the girls were all horrid.

The common problem was that there was  a huge disconnect between what I WANTED my body to do (Hit ball with racquet) and what it WOULD do (hit self in head with racquet).  A combination of lacking hand-eye co-ordination, and a will to get better through practice, given how bloody awful it was, meant I gave up.  I assumed I had been given brains instead, and believed on some level (incorrectly) that you couldn’t really have both. An assumption which helped justify and fuel my hatred of sport for years, as I thought it was really just for dumb jocks. Looking back on it I was given ample opportunity and was probably more than a little lazy. But at the time I felt on some basic level that my body had just let me down and I didn’t trust it.

My teenage years did very little to help me gain any confidence in my body. It was unpredictable, in the way that teenage bodies are. It was embarrassing and marvellous and frustrating. Hormones and and boys and bra shopping, the endless debates with friends about what was and wasn’t ‘normal’. The horrendous urban myths about sex  (that are out right dangerous and traumatic) made worse by the terrible sex-education that wasn’t really anything other than a biology lesson. Then finally discovering Forever by Judy Blume (GOD BLESS JUDY BLUME).

But mostly my body never  felt like my own. It was constantly misbehaving, getting bigger in places, smaller in others and wobblier. Crippling self consciousness coupled with the fact that everyone has an opinion, made me feel like an exhibit on display. Sadly, as a teenage girl this is common. You’re either precocious or a late bloomer.  Everyone wants to know what you’re up to with who and when. Not just  parents who are entitled to know, but  friends, boyfriends, extended family members, teachers, doctors. Everyone.  And they tell you too – without prompting. You’re on the cusp and you need watching. Men comment in the street, women make passive aggressive suggestions about being ‘dateable’, shop assistants raise their eyebrows, mothers of friends ban you from visiting. Skirts are too short and you’re asking for trouble, too much make-up makes you look like a hooker, walking that way is suggestible, laughing like that is questionable.  Endless rules about what Good Girls didn’t do and what Bad Girls looked like. You certainly couldn’t be somewhere in between. Or that’s certainly what it felt like. Brains or Sport. Good or Bad. I picked Bad, because frankly it was loads more fun and I could say Fuck You to all the inappropriate questions and rules and expectations because they were (and are) total bullshit. Plus the eye-liner was amazing.

Playing at being a Bad Girl in my teens meant I learned a number of very cool tricks while Being Up To No Good. I could blow perfect smoke rings, doctor broken cigs that had been crushed in blazer pockets and was very very good at playing pool. Generally keeping active was in my repertoire (unless it was scaling a wall).  Sport was not cool, it was mainstream and conformist and reminiscent of the military regime.  Most of the party tricks were pretty bad for my health all round, but that didn’t matter because, you know, fuck getting old too. We were invincible at 16, so nothing was ever going to happen to any of us, the consequences were too far away and being young offers a limited amount of bullet proof resilience.

But somewhere along the line my body stopped feeling as though it was part of myself. I practically ignored it, unless it was being  ‘fat’, and then assaulted it with fad diets and weight loss pills. I certainly didn’t feel a lot of love for it and so I stopped feeling protective of it. Instead I continued the rebel without a cause theme into my twenties and smashed it to bits with a toxic cocktail of long working weeks, weekend-long parties, 20-a-day cigs, terrible food and very little sleep.

What was actually happening was a lot more insidious, and it was only in my mid-twenties when my world was rocked by two pretty severe heath scares that I realised something had to change. With healthy kick up the arse from a few professionals, a good dose of courage and some amazing friends, I set about doing just that.

That was seven years ago now and it didn’t happen over night. I still drink far too much coffee and I have a very unhealthy relationship with sugar, but overall the doctor at my last health check was pleased as punch.

Discovering running was a huge part in rebuilding my health. But more importantly, what running gave me back was my mind and the will to get re-acquainted with what my body was capable of. This much neglected, battered up and hugely underrated vessel that recovered slowly at first and then bounced back , was  actually pretty spectacular. My legs  could go for long walks in winter and not get tired, cycle  through mountains in France, run around the streets of Berlin. They could still dance until way past stupid o’clock in Spain. This body that responded immediately to good food, that developed actual muscles, that got faster. Like magic.

Being active for me isn’t about controlling my weight, getting lightening fast, or collecting loads of medals (although all these things are fun). It doesn’t come naturally and I didn’t always love it, but within the structure and discipline of training,  I found something else. It was a healing process. A way to reclaim my body. A way to feel comfortable in my own skin. For every single mile I run I learn a little bit more about who I am.

Learning how to use this particular brand of magic, and to pass it on, comes down to the people I run with, most of whom I’ve met through the inimitable Run Dem Crew.  They support and challenge, they coach and celebrate.   No one is left behind, and it couldn’t be further away from my days of chaffing culottes and grass allergies. Mainly we have a laugh and take on London. But on a Tuesday evening in Shoreditch, there’s enough energy to burn away all the stress, trivial drama and worry that living in a big city can bring and to galvanise a couple of hundred people for a few mythical miles.

Which leaves me happy. In my trainers. At the heart of it I am a big nerd who likes nothing better than a skinny latte and star trek repeats

But that doesn’t give a shit if you think the shorts are too short and isn’t afraid to tell you so

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Harry, Lissy, me and Azra – South Bank June 2014

 

 

 

The Wedding Question

Last Friday R and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary. Which I believe is Cotton having asked Those That Know These Things (and google). Having married a man who sees the marketing con in everything, this was met with much hilarity.

Tell you what‘ he says, ‘you get me a framed picture of Dot Cotton and we’ll call it quits‘.

And for that little quip I have sourced this little gem which I may just surprise him with after his next 3am shift.

We’ve not been terribly traditional in our approach to dating, weddings or anniversaries. We didn’t get engaged, mainly because we decided to get married spontaneously while on holiday in St Lucia, so I was only ‘engaged’ so to speak for two days. There was no diamond ring, no moonlit proposal, no fussing over table plans or choosing flowers. Just an off the cuff conversation at breakfast about what the wedding package might be at the beautiful hotel we were staying at. This resulted in a casual query at reception, to which the answer was, ‘Well, you two have been with us for over a week now, so we could arrange it for Wednesday or Thursday – would you have a preference?’. We went with Wednesday.

Having been together for over four years and co-habiting for 3 of those, it didn’t come as a surprise to our friends and family that this was on the cards. In fact, we had been talking about it seriously for about 2 years at that stage. But with the logistical challenges of having family on different sides of the planet, the huge financial consideration and the stress and planning which would be involved we couldn’t agree on a place or a time that made sense for us both. I couldn’t get my head around not doing it in South Africa. R couldn’t face not being in London. The classic tale. So we parked it. And parked it. And parked it some more.

As any therapist, coach or counsellor will tell you, compromise is key to a partnership of any kind. Even ahead of our dream holiday to St Lucia, we had both agreed we didn’t want a big white church wedding, and had we decided that if we were ever going to go ahead we’d both have to give up the family attendance element. And it was a big give, but we agreed if we both couldn’t have it all, which was impossible, we’d both go without. All or nothing.

In the end, throughout all of our discussions, our marriage was about us. Making that commitment official was a very personal and private affair. So when the opportunity to the sign those papers and make that commitment presented itself in tropical paradise, it all fell into place very quickly.

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Just the two of us – St Lucia June 13 2012

Shunning tradition can have its benefits. We got to get married the way we wanted, in the sun, having a laugh and eating cake. We did it without any pressure from family, friends or wider societal norms (although this will not stop people adding their two cents worth – there was a lot of chatter about rings, and some genuine shock that I had no ‘proper’ wedding dress or a bouquet weirdly). We avoided the needless stress and genuine drama that weddings can bring, and, although this was not the main objective, we saved a bucket load of money.

But there is a reason why certain practises have become tradition. There’s often a very good idea underlying the tried and tested conventions, and with weddings its the people. Its the community that knows you and loves you and wants to celebrate with you, to share in your joy and be part of the memory. Because these are the people you are going to need when the going gets tough, when you are raising a family, when crisis strikes. It can’t just be about you and you partner, that would be too much for any two people.  As the saying goes, It really does take a village, not just to raise a child, but to support the whole family. So we threw a few parties to mark the occasion.

As we were from two very distinct and very different ‘villages’ we threw two very different post wedding parties to celebrate. One in Jo’burg (sunshine, south african cuisine, family galore) and one in London (on the Thames, under the Millennium bridge, friends who are like family aplenty) . Essentially we upgraded our first wedding anniversary to include just about everyone, on both sides of the ocean. In a way, although we eloped on our own, in actuality it felt as though we got hitched 3 times over. So what originally felt like a compromise turned into a celebration that lasted months and spanned two continents. We just about got, the best of both worlds.

 

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My Joburg Crew: Pippa, Sekwa, Isaac and Olivia

 

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The Tate Modern presiding

Letting go of conventional expectation, trying something brave, and going with our gut instincts actually ended up being bigger and better than anything we had thought it could be. Just not in the way we had expected. Its a lesson I’m trying to take forward in other areas of our lives

Two years does not feel like a long time, and although we’re classed as newly weds (ish), we are actually approaching a far bigger milestone having been together for nearly seven. That’s longer than high school, a medical degree and the maximum term you’d serve for possession of a sawn-off shot-gun (what Omar would have got.. if he hadn’t… you know…).

That brings new challenges and the distance between London and South Africa isn’t getting any smaller. But we’ve weathered the first seven years without too many battle scars, and with a few official documents, a new place to live and exciting plans on the horizon, we’re in good shape for a few more yet.

 

 

Home Advantage

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Ladbroke Grove

Over the past week or so I have found myself increasingly frustrated by my inability to find anything in our new flat.  Coupled with the equally annoying fact that I get so  distracted by every new task that needs doing around here that I forget what my initial task was in the first place. So that means half drunk cups of tea everywhere, leaving the washing in the machine for far too long as its been forgotten and half put-away clothes abandoned in favour of reshuffling the book case or putting up a few more pictures.

We have been in the new house for about 6 weeks or so, and although almost everything is unpacked or at least put away in the cellar for dealing with ‘later’ I am still feeling totally out of whack with my surroundings. I cannot find the extra toothpaste I know I bought, my beloved black Jigsaw skirt is nowhere to be found and I seem to have lost at least 3 pairs of shoes. We are dealing with new sets of problems like the washing machine that unplugs itself and next door’s builders taking liberties by using our garden as a thoroughfare when we’re not around.

Then there’s the neighbourhood. I don’t know the local hairdresser or dry cleaners. I have no idea where the best place is to buy coffee or decent bread. The bus numbers are unfamiliar and last night I ended up in Hertfordshire because I got on the wrong train – which I only noticed had happened in that we started whizzing past actual countryside. The non stopping service does not mess around. We were past the north circular in about 5 seconds and I was texting R to say I may have to find a premier inn for the night. In my running gear. And not very much charge on my phone. Not a fun Tuesday.

Although none of these things are insurmountable, feeling unsettled as well as anxious about not knowing where THINGS ARE is exhausting. I am getting nostalgic for the mad hatter crack-head on Portobello road and all the bonkers dog walkers who would stop to greet Stella. My lovely hairdresser and the wonderful cakes as Coffee Plant. I am not nostalgic for our mental neighbours though. In that area, Willesden wins hands down. And we have a garden now (even if it is being invaded by a ladder or two).

Nevertheless I am surprised how out of kilter I am given the number of times I have moved in London (9 times in 11 years and counting).  Surely I should be a dab hand at this? And yes I was in Portobello Road for 6 years so some upheaval was to be expected, but living there was never permanent. In fact nothing has ever felt permanent. London has always been such a transitional city for me that its only now that I am knocking on my mid-30s that I am beginning to think about roots and home and what that means. What that might look like long term.

When I first moved to London getting my bearings was more than just what tube to get and where Tesco was. It was figuring out the cultural currency and the politics, understanding the jokes and references to childhood shows and D-list celebs.  I didn’t really understand a lot of the phrasing. Having a butchers, going for a Ruby, not being arsed,  bollocks, innit, mash up…. And my favourite ‘smashing the granny out of it‘. I picked them up and used them incorrectly leading to many a raised eyebrow and snigger, but mainly good natured piss taking. I started saying ‘yeah’ instead of ‘ya’.

After ten years I began to consider myself something of a Londoner, mainly as I finally found Only Fools  & Horses funny. I got hooked and detoxed off of East Enders. I knew who Ant & Dec were. I could wax lyrical about a heat wave that peaked at 19 degrees Celsius and genuinely bemoan the fact that it is indeed raining  again even though that is what it does. Fairly often. I know that Shoreditch is no longer cool.

But is it home? Not sure. I still refer to Jo’burg as home, even though the house I grew up in has long since been sold and my friends and family all live in houses that I do not know like the back of my hand. In my head I can re-trace every each inch of our family home in the northern suburbs and can see in my mind’s eye with perfect clarity exactly how it was before I left ‘for a year’. The wooden stairs up to the study, the framed museum posters on the walls, the sound of the children shrieking in playground of  the school across the road, the heavy garage doors that had a trick to close them. Nothing romantic. Just the day to day sounds of the house.

Now, the street names have changed, the neighbourhoods have developed. The lay of the land is not the same. The last time I drove alone in Jo’burg I panicked as I couldn’t remember the main arteries in and out of the city  and got completely turned around. My pride wouldn’t allow me to ask directions for a good half an hour while I wasted petrol and sanity. Eventually I got over myself and pulled into a petrol station and asked how to get where I was  going. Thankfully South Africans are friendly and helpful as a rule. ‘SJOE! But you are very far away from that place! You need to go straight straight straight for at least twenty minute and then quick quick left by the second robots.’ I left with an accurately drawn map and vowed to get a SatNav next time.  I drive home with tears stinging my eyes, feeling humbled and lost in my own city. It just wasn’t mine any more.

But everything has changed. What once once out of bounds and only know to the cool kids, is now mainstream.  There are new buildings changing the skyline so that my memories do not match the reality of the silhouetted sky. What I imagine home to be like is a collage of fragmented memory and second hand stories. I have no contextual hooks to hang it on. I can’t navigate the place in my head. A few visits every couple of years for a fortnight will not bridge the gap and in that respect it feels less tangible, less real, and almost unattainable. To rely on memory alone is dangerous, its fickle and flawed so what I remember I need to approach with caution. Its flecked with too much nostalgia to be trusted and I need to add more real time experience to balance it out.

So here in Willesden we are setting up camp for now. I am spending more time exploring the neighbourhood and surrounding areas. Getting my bearings. I am inviting friends over, its a quick way to make things feel grounded. I totally see the point of house warmings, you fill the place with love and it immediately feels less alien. Sharing memories and linking back in with the ones that are my foundations here.  The ones who didn’t laugh when I pronounced everything wrong and thought Alan Partridge was an actual real person. Well, no . They did laugh, a lot. But they still speak to me.

I’m not sure I can make peace with being torn between two cities and I’m sure this is going to be a recurring theme on this blog as its something I find I mull over a lot. Particularly when running and that’s usually when the Big Stuff surfaces! No easy solution, but if anyone has any wise words of wisdom I am all ears!

In the meantime at least I have a nice view

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The Doc Marten Continuum

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Opposite me on the tube this morning sat a young girl about sixteen or seventeen, who from the way she was dressed, could have been easily transported from 1997. Doc martens, purposefully scruffy jeans, black lace chocker, and finished off with a pair of marijuana leaf earrings and a tiny silver hoop nose ring.  I had almost the exact wardrobe nearly 20 years ago (with the sullen expression to match), and although I have seen the trends for 60’s and 70’s fashion come and go, never did I think I’d see my teenage doppelgänger taking herself too seriously on the Jubilee line  in 2014.

The shoes though. Those I can respect. My Doc Martens were hard-won. In 1995 they were the most coveted possession of my ‘friend’ Amy and my parents were having none of it. And they weren’t just any Docs that I wanted. ‘My Friend Amy’ had been to London and bought OX BLOOD TEN HOLES from the actual Doc Shop in Covent Garden. Amy wasn’t even that cool. She didn’t even know what she had, they were totally wasted on her and it was just NOT FAIR. Plus she had also visited London, which was somewhat taking away from my claim to fame of being one of the few of my peers who was ‘well-travelled’.

Growing up in the 80’s in South Africa, I spent a lot of time watching British films, and reading British writers. A throw back to colonial education systems, our canon is almost identical to the British, and with the Commonwealth link, a fair amount of 80s cultural iconography snuck through the notoriously tight Apartheid government’s strangle hold on radio and TV. But with the end of Apartheid rule in the 90s,  a number of bands finally started touring, sanctions were removed and TV programs were aired.  Finally we were catching up with the rest of the world. We got MacDonald’s.

As a result, my idea of London existed between a Sex Pistols 70’s punk backdrop populated by people with safety pins through their noses, and the dreaming spires of Oxford (which I thought was sort of London-ish). London was not a place, but rather a feeling that I cultivated, built up on the very limited first-hand experience and some Inspector Morse.

My first trip to the UK at 12 years of age it hadn’t occurred to me to buy Doc Martens. I was kicking myself. It was a whirlwind tour that included London, the South East, Bath, Wales and Scotland. I remembered that Wales had rabbits, you could get sunburnt playing tennis (Kent) and that Glasgow was damp but I learned to skim stones on Loch Lomond. We spent a lot of time trying to get our luggage to fit in the hire car. London itself was wax museums and trains. But I had seen a punk or two which was thrilling. No one had pink hair in Jo’burg.

But I carried that feeling of the place, a notion, which took on a life of its own in my imagination, only to meet all my expectations and more when I was lucky enough to visit again on a trip to Europe at sixteen.

At sixteen you are susceptible to falling in love. I fell hard. London was The Place. Everyone had brilliant accents and there was proper music and real super-star DJs and the possibility you could run into Damon Albarn (I chose Blur in the Brit Pop Wars). I had to mark this love affair and I was determined to get my nose pierced in Camden Town. Initially it had been Paris but I though the language barrier could equal me getting my lip severed so I passed on that. Camden still had all the kudos and ‘my friend Amy’ would never be able to beat that. I was scuppered by my mother who insisted it was a bad idea as our travel insurance wouldn’t cover an infected piercing disaster.

But that didn’t stop me getting as much of London into head as possible. By this point I had my worn in, drawn on, suitably scuffed Docs (worked and paid for by cooking dinner three times a week for about 6 months) and they stood me in great stead for marching around Soho, Camden and the West End. I ignored conventional directions and tube maps. Mainly, so I could smoke without being caught by the parents who had given me the directions, but also as I suspect I was secretly hoping to get so lost so that I wouldn’t have to go home (a wish which came true on many levels years later).

Having clubbed the Goth look to death I was now very predictably veering off into a fairly unhealthy relationship with dance music, trance first, then house (with a the beginnings of a flirtation with Garage). One afternoon I stumbled upon Cyber Dog, which blew my tiny mind and I resolved right then and there that South Africa knew NOTHING about anything worth knowing.

I was convinced London was where everything started. Jo’burg had to wait three of four years for the same trends and artists to get any air time. We were so behind. We weren’t even relevant. We didn’t have enough choice. Whereas in London there was almost too much.

My first trip to HMV on Oxford Street pretty much set up my musical taste for years to come. I bought Erykah Badu  (she would later lead me to The Roots), and The Chemical Brothers (Surrender). I picked up Prodigy and a new Tori Amos.  I spent hours listening to CDs of bands I had never heard of, anxious that I would never, ever find time to hear them all. I had a few days in London. It was not enough time.

And the book shops.

Waterstones Piccadilly left me bewildered in the best way. I couldn’t believe there were floors upon floors I could explore. They had books in stock of authors I had to order in when in SA.  I spent almost all my holiday money in days. I bought beautiful journals too and wrote more awful poetry (which thankfully I can’t find)

I did save just enough for a pair of outrageous see-through knee-high leather mesh platform boots from Rome. They were hideous and spectacular and I raved in them for a good 4 years, drag queens in Jo’burg were practically ripping them from my feet. My Docs were forgotten after those bad girls came on the scene.

I went back to Jo’burg determined to get back there when I was a grown up, and listen to everything I missed, go to all the gigs. Read all the books.

So here sits this girl on the train opposite me. Looking like me in London back in ‘97. It’s a surreal moment. What would I say to me now?  I have been to all sorts of gigs. She would be thrilled to hear I did get my nose pierced, and then removed it at 24, and weirdly I am thinking of doing it again. I happen to count an ex-manager of Cyber Dog as a good mate, a super star DJ once signed my stomach at a music festival (I had no paper). I have had actual real-life business meetings in Waterstones Piccadilly, and I’ve been involved in publishing books that get displayed in their wonderful windows.

But then equally I would be sad to tell her that HMV is a shadow of its former self and that I don’t get out to see as many live gigs as I used to. She’s be surprised to hear I now find I am desperate for music from South Africa. I attended a music trade gig when Freshly Ground were first breaking the UK and I had to leave the show half way through as I thought I may actually have a minor episode, a streaky mascara mess, shades on, choking back sobs on the train. Homesickness can be a visceral experience. But then how I stood at the front of the stage at LED festival and shouted all of Die Antwoord’s lyrics back at them, smug that unlike the Hackney hipsters behind me I actually knew what they meant. And how to pronounce them. Ridiculously proud of the band of misfits on stage cussing like only the South African can.

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Die Antwoord LED Festival 2011

One thing though is consistent. I’m on the hunt for the perfect pair of Docs again. And I may even go Ox Blood this time. Or Cherry. Or both. Bet Amy would be spitting.

 

The Dog Box

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Finding a place to call your own in London is imperative to finding some sanctuary in the Big Smoke. When your commute can range from 45 minutes to two hours each way, you need to be able to walk through the door and relax, put your feet up and zone out. I have never been as tired as I was when I first moved to London. The shock of the hustle and bustle and sheer proximity of everyone and all their stuff (shopping bags, umbrellas, children, newspapers)  was exhausting. Taking in a new city, where the roads are not easily navigated, and the transport system is mind boggling, and getting into a full time working career left me frazzled.

Flat-sharing throughout my twenties was crazy. Amazing, hilarious, god-awful, spectacularly, bat-shit crazy. It introduced me to new best friends (and sometimes sworn enemies).  It was, by far and away, the best thing I did in the aftermath of  my first proper break up. The disaster you have to survive  in your 20’s,  The One you think is The One and then isn’t – that break up.

With the whiskey-fuelled adrenalin only a broken-heart can magic up, I applied myself to finding a flat, (which I couldn’t afford) to share with a work mate who made me laugh (good reasoning Jack Daniels, for once!) and who also forgave my many many transgressions of the house sharing code. It was the perfect introduction to this new world of living in London and the best way to learn about the city, independently.

I have met some of the best people I know in London through being a bit brave and moving in with ‘Randoms’. Sharing with friends was great in part but I also found it put a new strain on the friendship. Having the additional pressure of financial accountability and sharing chores to the friendship contract isn’t for everyone, and in that respect I was always more a fan of a relationship built up on the understanding of who does what, when. Clear routines like, who will take the rubbish out. An understanding that it’s NOT OK  to eat your last magnum. But that’s it really appreciated if you can happily kick out unwanted house guests at 3am. People who will have the guts to confront you when you’re not pulling your weight without playing passive aggressive post-it note games. These people will be your foundations. Having had a very rocky mid twenties I can testify to this, and having those people close to home, makes it feel like home.

Fast forward a few years and I’ve found The Guy. In the early days we can’t bear to be apart for more than 8 hours at a time, so I throw all my belongings into a few bin-liners and re-locate to West London. Having left Brixton, and the cosy catch-a-bus-everywhere South London vibe, Ladbroke Grove felt Very Grown Up.  It took a while to adjust to another London borough, but with Portobello just round the corner I was a convert to the ‘West is Best’ crew in a matter of months. I’m fickle as all hell when there’s good coffee and amazing markets involved. And Holland Park. Its has peacocks.

Even with the delights of Notting Hill around the corner, co-habiting was a shock, no matter that I’d done it before. It became obvious that  those seemingly dull, clear routines are even more important in this new set up. You start again with a new partner and its just as precarious as those early days. One of our most horrendous arguments to date centred around The Washing Up. We now have a dishwasher which I would recommend as a course of action to anyone ahead of forking out for marriage counselling.

But there’s cohabiting and then there’s co-habiting with a partner and his dog. So not only did I have to get used to sharing wardrobe space with my love, I had to learn to love The Dog. Who was demanding and hyper and jumped up on everything and ripped my tights and muddied my newly washed jeans. She was not a calm dog. Coming home from a long day to be confronted with what felt like mass hysteria, as I unlocked the door was not my idea of a relaxing evening.  However, I was determined to make it work. He loves the dog, I love him, there had to be room for all 3 of us. So I started taking Stella running in a bid to work off the extra energy she had, and the additional pounds I had acquired having got a little to used to R’s baking.

 

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So began a  love affair between me and Stella (the dog) and me and Running (which is all documented here). We settled into a great routine. Beautiful, clear boundaries as far as the eye could see plus acres of Structure and a good area for developing Discipline. All perfect conditions for creating a  happy dog and an impassioned runner. All is good with the world. Sanctuary of the home restored.

Roll on a few more years and circumstances change, as they do, and in a bid to ensure we kept the hard won sanctuary we wanted in our home we made the decision to move. We needed somewhere a bit bigger, we were tired of having to put up with noisy neighbours, we wanted a fresh start and if that also meant we could get a bit more outdoor space for Stella, fantastic.

Having taken the plunge, we found all that and more, but the impact of moving meant the routine changed  and all those firmly established boundaries and schedules were up in the air. Its taken us human bods a good 6 weeks to feel a vague sense of normality. Getting our bearing with new tube stations, new shops, what parks are around for Stella, all the basic stuff takes longer than expected. But we manage, we unpack, we ease into our new roles. We start to relax.

And then, just when we’ve unpacked the last outstanding box, the dog destroys the mac book pro.

Pandemonium ensues.

Clearly one of the 3 of us is not happy with the new set up. Garden or no.

Living with a dog, every day is anything could happen day, and so we’ve had to adjust. And while it might not feel like a sea of tranquil calm (I think our neighbour may have heard us cursing our four legged computer destroying hound of evil), provided she doesn’t find my digital camera I think we may just restore it.

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Like butter wouldn’t melt