Future Proof

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Summer solstice came and went in a blur of thunderstorms both electric and political, the heavens roared as the votes were counted and the UK declared itself OUT of the EU. General chaos ensues. BUT THIS IS NOT A POST ABOUT BREXIT (too soon, I’m still incandescent with rage and I cannot face another blog piece on it, and I’m sure neither can you)

In a week where we are all looking to the future with trepidation, on a much smaller scale it struck me that I’m now half way through my maternity leave, which has gone by in a blur of coffee, baby wipes, instagram posts and baby yoga classes. Lack of sleep definitely makes this all seem catastrophic, and with Samson having just hit the 5 month milestone  I’m desperately trying to catch up with myself. Where has the time gone?  What have I been doing all day? Why haven’t I rallied a revolution together for more tube access for push chairs, or launched a maternity clothing line?

I had unreal expectations of what I could achieve on mat leave. ‘I need a project’ I remember saying to a colleague and friend. ‘I can’t be sitting at home all day with the baby and singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Effing Star, I need something to keep my brain working’. I had done my homework,  I had grand plans to relaunch the blog, write more, learn to cook properly (I am AWFUL) and to revolutionise fitness wear for pregnant women (borne out of my frustration that nothing fit, and if it did it was extortionately expensive and DULL). Oh and yes, parent my baby. That too.

None of this has came to fruition (inbetween googling rashes and washing muslins I learned this, yes this, was in fact parenting). Instead, over the past 22 weeks I have learned to do a million things I had no idea I needed to know. From mastering every conceivable task for which you require two hands, with just THE ONE, (while the other cleans, holds, googles, feeds, catches) to negotiating public transport with my child in full meltdown mode (with THE ONE HAND) on an average of 3 hours sleep. And I still have another few million things to figure out. Like introducing solids. And figuring out how to turn my brain on again ahead of my return to work in January next year.

I’ve been spending most of my time careening from day to day in a blur of bibs and sudocream, without so much as a thought for what the grown ups were doing (erm,  sending the country up shit creek… clearly we’re all winging it).

With all the uncertainty around the UK’s future in the global arena, its hard not to start dusting off the old Plan B’s that we had filed away for a rainy day. I’m a keen planner and organiser, probably annoyingly so, it will come as no surprise to many that I have a fair few tucked away (with excel scenarios and pie-charts). I like to have my ducks in a row. This also translates into being  worrier, the rationale being if I’ve thought about the worst case scenario, then I can plan for it. This way madness lies if you are a new parent. I was almost  paralysed with anxiety as a result, and would not welcome my worst enemy into my head on days when I was running the catastrophe films on a loop in my head.

In order to actually set foot outside my house I had to let go of some of that control (or illusion of control), and so paradoxically having a baby has chilled me out just a tad. I cannot predict explosive nappies, major meltdowns or when teething will strike.Excel cannot pivot the nap schedule, I tried a few tracking apps and ended up throwing them from the proverbial window. Nothing screams madness like trying to find patterns in the beautiful unpredictability of a baby. There is no algorithm that would make it easier. Instead it’s inherited wisdom from other parents, coffee and a collection of perfect moments in the chaos that make it all tick forward.

Having a child has forced me to go with the flow, but prepare for any eventuality.

And that’s not a bad lesson to take into all areas of my new life stage. I heard a saying years ago, which resonated even with hardened atheist in me ‘Trust in God, but tether your horse’. No one is guaranteed safety, health or happiness, but equally chaos doesn’t consume us every day (other than post teething episodes, then all bets are off). Don’t think a plan will save you, but to not have one is equally foolish. Know where the exits are. Have that ‘Fuck Off Fund‘ already set up.

Or in my current life, Pack An Extra Nappy (and then check the Boy can get Irish citizenship, just in case)

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Have baby, will run (for brunch)

One invaluable lesson I have learned over the past decade or so masquerading as an adult, is that you cannot do this life shit on your own. Finding your tribe is, at different stages of your life, is imperative to staying sane. This goes for moving countries, learning a new skill, or entering motherhood. There are many many ways to skin a cat, and many many people who probably do it just the way you’d like to and can show you how.

There have been a few pivotal periods in my life where this has come to bear, the first when I quit drinking (finding mates that are awake on a Sunday morning is a good place to start), the second when I took up running and found the inimitable Run Dem Crew and the third when I became a Mother. Thankfully there were a few awesome people in both sets of previous tribes that by the time mamadom hit, I had a pretty great collection of babes and their bubs to add to my village.

But as with all good things, you have to keep at it, your priorities and abilities change, you may find yourself in a different place, your kids get bigger, your circumstances change (for better, for worse) and as such the tribe needs to evolve to include more people, maybe a few drop by the wayside, some grow with you some grow out of you (and you them).

I find myself at one of these crossroads, with a three month old son, creaking hips and a desperate need to let off steam. As mentioned, any hitting of any bottles (even tiny ones) is a no-go, there’s only so much Netflix any one mushy brain can take, and the lethal combination of caffeine and sugar, while it got me through the first foggy months, is a sure fire cocktail to whip up my anxiety levels, screw with my sleep and my waistline. So I need something else, and Baby Yoga ain’t going to cut it.

My go-to quick fix for the past 5 years or so has been a run. A quick one, a long one, a run with mates, the solo run, the ‘I’m just taking the dog around the park’ run, the training in the rain run, the run that has random obstacles in it, the ‘why-the-fuck-am-I-doing-this’ run and the ‘thank god I went for a run’ run.

I am no speedster, my race times are not enviable, but that was never the point. I run to keep sane. I have met some of the best people through running, it’s opened doors in other areas of my life creatively – I started writing again,  took up photography – it’s taken me travelling to run in mad cities with mad people, got me fit, made me brave, and ultimately saved my ass on more occasions that I can count. It’s the thing I do on a Sunday morning when I would have been nursing a hangover in bed. It’s built my confidence and shown me the heroic in others. Putting on a pair of running shoes for me was as transformative as alchemy.

But my pregnancy and running didn’t really get on, with the aforementioned creaking hips, and a core that is still recovering from accommodating a baby, I have not run more than 3 miles in the best part of a year.

I’m basically back to being a newbie. No fitness to speak of, and a deep seated fear that I won’t bounce back, given walking a mile has me wishing I was being pushed in the pram.

Now I know that’s unfounded. I will bounce back. In what form is still yet to be seen. But in the spirit of reaching out, if I have any hope of reclaiming my nikes, and my beating my 10K PB, I’ll need help. I’ll need a new tribe. Or a patchwork venn diagram of the tribes that have gone before. Mates that run and happen to have kids. Or freelance mates who don’t run but would like to give it a bash and don’t mind a few babies tagging along

So I have downloaded my trusty Couch to 5K app from days of yore, dug out the lycra and I’ll be hitting the parks of London, building up the all important base line, with pram and changing bag to boot.

Here’s the ask, I’d love company, its motivating and makes schlepping a sleep deprived body and niggly baby around all that much easier to manage.  If you’re new to running, haven’t run for ages and you’re free on a week day morning, or just fancy a (slow) jaunt around some of the best parks in the world, drop me a line here. I don’t bite, I won’t (can’t!) run fast so please don’t be intimidated and it should be a great way of getting out and about, blowing off the cobwebs and seeing more of the brilliant city. Hopefully getting the babies to sleep too.

And nothing beats a banging brunch post run. I need brunch back in my life

 

 

 

 

 

Out of Office

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March and April went by in a blur of airport lounges, powerpoint presentations, hotel key cards and mini toiletries. I am now back in London for a good two months before the next round of travelling kicks off again and I am still waking up a little disorientated. It’s been a huge learning curve and I’m still reeling from the impact of being whisked across time zones and learning to adjust on the go.

I suspect I was a little naive about the impact the schedule would make on my day to day, Mainly as there is no ‘day to day’ so to speak.  Those that know me well, know that I am a big fan of structure and boundaries and clear routine. It makes me feel secure and confident and grounded. Nothing about the past month has been rooted in these principles. And that is both thrilling and unnerving.

I am a creature of habit. Obsessively, compulsively and to my core this character trait has both served me hugely (focus, tenacity, loyalty) and equally has nearly been my undoing. I have learned over the past 8 years or thereabouts to take this part of myself and channel it positively. Which is how every trait comes to be either positive or negative. It’s all in how its handled, what prism you put up to it.

The first thing to go was my running. I decided not to register for the current season of Run Dem Crew knowing that I was going to be out of the country for more Tuesdays than I was in it, and didn’t want to take up a much in demand space. While I was hoping to jump on a few casual runs and the Monday West sessions, the travel just wasn’t going to allow it. Mostly I miss the people, the amazing positivity and support, which when you don’t have your weekly dose, leaves a huge gap.

To be honest, I had decided to give up racing this year, to accommodate for my schedule, but I have found myself at the other extreme and now I’ve barely run at all. I have laced up a grand total of 4 times. That’s about once a month and I’m back to 10+ minute miles at a push with walking breaks. My confidence is shot too and the additional 10 pounds I have somehow found make lycra very very unappealing.

But if there’s one thing that I have learned in this brave new world of airmiles and conference calls, is that I can and must adjust to being flexible. That I can’t rely on the structure I set myself a year ago being applicable here in 2015. That I need to be softer with my self imposed boundaries and embrace a bit more uncertainty. That I need to learn to switch up faster and get a bit creative about my time when I am out of the country. Like make peace with the Dreadmill in the hotel gym. And take advantage of being jet-lagged and work out pre-breakfast (oh god… it’s unavoidable isn’t it?). And to pack enough socks. This was my big failing my last trip. NOT ENOUGH SOCKS

Now that I am back in London, one of my first priorities (after ALL the sleep) is to get out for a run. Even if it’s 20 minutes. And slow. With a walking break. The second is to get my new bike up and running. I have the quote, she’s in my sights and I’m looking forward to taking advantage of London in the Spring while I can.

After that I just want to soak up all that London has to offer. It’s a crazy old town, but having been away for close to 6 weeks of this year already, I can tell you absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder.

In the meantime, any tips for travelling and keeping fit gratefully received!

Wheels on Fire: Riding The 2015 Argus

The year did not start well. Having Shingles and suffering a self-imposed quarantine when I was supposed to be training for 3 half marathons, two 10ks, a 100km bike race, seeing all the people in London and prepare for starting a new role was not ideal. I was furious about being ill. I thought I had really been looking after myself, obsessively it would appear, and that’s never any good.

But it was exactly what I needed. A kick up the backside to evaluate what was important – so I gleefully handed out race packs like a belated running Santa, cancelled all my social plans and decided to focus on the cycling and getting my head around a new job.

(Also can we talk about how marvellous it is just to say no? ‘No I can’t come out, because I am sitting in my pants watching Law & Order SVU and eating endless rice cakes. Basically winning’. Saving that for another post)

February saw me hitting Boom Cycle 3-4 times a week to keep up the fitness and also saw the advent of our annual work conference. By the time Feb 26th rolled around I hit Heathrow feeling exhausted and excited. A holiday, a few days catch up with the teams in SA and THE bike race. No biggy.

Now, to be honest, I was under-trained. My fitness levels were good, but I am nervous as all hell. I just hadn’t logged the long miles. But I also knew that the nerves could be a good thing, that additional hit of adrenalin that carries you through and drives you over the tough hills. I know these nerves well. I get them before every running race (even the fun ones), every time I get up on stage to present even though I have been doing it for well over 10 years, and every time I have to have those difficult, but essential conversations. Where there is risk I feel it. Every single time.

There is a school of thought that maintains the body can’t tell the difference between anxiety and excitement on a biological level (you science nerd please feel free to refute this!). Apparently, you release the same chemicals, the same heightened awareness, same surge of energy. It’s how your mind then interprets the feeling that makes it positive or negative. Hit of fear plus rush of endorphins is a pretty powerful cocktail. I have learned that pushing through the fear is essential to making life more open, interesting, full. Without it it’s small and claustrophobic and dull.

But I have also learned I need support to just go ahead and do it. On my own I’m no good. My mind is very frequently not my friend. It’s risk adverse, and lazy and prone to catastrophic thinking. I need people to point out the mad, destructive nonsense I tell myself and remind me its all good. And that if it goes wrong, that’s OK too.

Then this popped up in an article I was reading enroute to Cape Town. Pussy Riot hits the nail on the head. Given this is in relation to being arrested for political activism, and my cycling is hardly revolutionary, but the sentiment is bang on.

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So its a good job I don’t listen to my head. Because a week after I find myself in South Africa, Mother Nature decides to set fire to the entire Southern Peninsula, and that is no exaggeration. My catastrophic thinking is having a field day. Headlines like, ‘Hellfire Rages in the Cape’ adorn every lamppost in Jo’burg while I’m psyching myself up for my first ever bike race. People are being evacuated, dams are near empty, rock falls are a serious risk given the plant life helps stabilise the mountain side and is now no longer existent. Thankfully the Cape fire volunteers and fire servicemen and women put on the most heroic defence and curbed the blaze in 3 days.

So the race is still on. I am now officially bricking it. However, the Argus distance is cut from 109km to 47km. It’s just not safe to release 35,000 cyclists onto the route that will then cut off all of the southern suburbs in the wake of the most devastating fires in recent memory. Of course I’m gutted, but also ever so slightly relieved, in this scenario I get to test my riding legs on shorter distance. Until I remember it’s with exactly the same amount of people. 35,000 cyclists.

And the panic sets in.

The major difference I have found between cycling and running for me is the logistics. You can’t just chuck your shoes in your bag and head out on the road wherever you are. There’s the BIKE. There’s the helmet, the shoes, the kit you need for the bike for punctures and general maintenance. For this race I rented a bike in CT. Already breaking my cardinal rule of racing – GO WITH WHAT YOU KNOW. And crucially I don’t know this bike. I also don’t know if the bike is even going to show up, as the correspondence I’ve had with the company renting it to me has been patchy. Everyone is more laid back in the Cape. They aren’t all obsessively checking emails every 3 minutes. And swearing about lack of wifi.

Thankfully I get to tell my head to pipe down as the bike does show up and discover it’s ever so slightly too big. I panic again. So much so this time that I draw a complete blank and forget how to get on the damn thing. It takes a good 10minutes for me to get over this sheer terror, but once I do the bike is fine. It’s in hand. I haven’t forgotten how to ride. But how on earth am I going to do this with 35,000 other people?

My head creates these visions on a loop for my viewing pleasure, while trying to sleep: Causing a huge crash because I can’t stop quickly enough, the brakes failing, the wind blowing me off the road and into the sea, the wind blows me into other riders, etc etc and they escalate and get more horrific the less sleep I get. You don’t worry about this stuff when you run. You just stop. You don’t crash. You very rarely get blown off your feet. This whole endeavour begins to feel like a huge mistake that I am wholly unprepared for.

Until my dad, a seasoned veteran of the race and elite cyclist, decides he’s going to give up his elite start time, seeing as the shortened distance won’t count towards his seeding. He’ll cycle with me instead. It will be fun. He says. I think he could see just how panicked I was. ‘Just stick to the left, don’t look behind you and raise your hand high if you need to pull over’ he says when explaining cycle race etiquette. ‘Hold your line, and if someone clips your back wheel just keep going, he’ll fall but you probably won’t’. This talk of wheel clipping is terrifying when you’re in your holding pen with little more than elbow room with other cyclists, all looking like they ride professionally, with jerseys from Dubai and Hong Kong and Italy. And me with my flat pedals, no clips and ashen face, a big ZERO on my race number where is shows completed tours.

We shuffle our bikes forward and hug the left, they start counting down the minutes to start and I find myself feeling a mixture of gratitude that I have made it this far, and fear that I may vomit on the French woman in front of me, ruining her 13th tour. According to the bib. But I am here, in Cape Town, riding the (mini) Argus with my Dad. Something that has been on my bucket list for years. Something I thought would probably stay firmly inked on a list and not manifest itself like this. Me, terrified on a bike that’s too big, surrounded by cyclists and my Dad, having a laugh at my expense, but also there just like he was when he took off the training wheels some 30 years ago.

Of course it we have a total blast. I manage to get on the damn thing for a start. I don’t crash into anyone, no one crashes into me. I hit the hills, test the gears and find myself over taking people. There is some power in the legs after all. We hit the downhills and I slowly relax and take my fingers off the brakes. It really is pretty close to flying. I find some speed on the flats. The wind does not blow me off, in fact it blows me home once we turn around and head back for the finish line. And just like that it’s over.

We finish in 2 hours and 12 minutes, and I feel pretty confident we could have done it in just over 2 if I’d relaxed on the down hills more. I have no idea how that tallies, but gives me a rough idea that I could probably do a sub 4:30 Argus with loads more training and a bike that I am comfortable with. So that’s the next goal (nowhere near my Dad’s best of 2:58… but there’s still time).

I have been well and truly bitten by the biking bug, and with Spring just around the corner back in London, I really have no excuse to get back on the bike there too. Out of my comfort zone. Where all the good stuff happens.

Hello & Goodbye

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A week ago today I was booking flights, manically comparing car rental prices and juggling whatsapp, email and facebook to organise the logistics of attending our beloved Granny’s funeral in Johannesburg. Her passing was not unexpected, but as with any loss, it was a huge shock. Surrounding yourself with endless admin is actually a welcome distraction.

When my Grandpa died 3 years ago, her husband of over 60 years, we thought she may be close behind, they were each other’s everything, they came as a pair. But in fact we had another few years to enjoy her company, and although the last time I saw her she was beginning to get a little confused, she could still reel off the names of all of her great-great nieces and nephews at an alarming rate.

For her tribute at the funeral, we all remembered how much our Gran loved children and luckily for her (and for us) our Granny Hazel was blessed with thirteen grandchildren (and six great-grandkids), a fantastic motley crew of sorts. We’re split over 3 continents (Africa, Europe and SE Asia) and there’s twenty years between the eldest  to the youngest so we are all at very different stages in our lives – becoming  parents, building careers, organising weddings or planning university, high school exams or world travel. But we all shared memories of a very happy childhood populated by Gran’s knitted jumpers, lots of hiking and boggle.

I remember one of the first signs of summer was Granny unveiling the annual ‘Betty’s Bay’ haircut that meant business. The silver perm was replaced with a very short almost pixie like cut. No fussing, short and sweet and ready for swimming, hiking and summer. She taught me to stop being self-conscious, to be daring and brave and just jump in feet first. That life would scuff you up, that was the point.  And insisting that it wasn’t a proper hike unless you come back a bit bloodied and bruised.

Going back to Johannesburg last week, being surrounded by family, some of whom we haven’t seen for years was like going back in time. Spring had arrived with the full force of summer, 30 degree heat and spectacular high veld sunsets amplified by the dust left behind from winter. Catching up with cousins, swapping stories, remembering forgotten jokes and going through my Gran’s endless photo albums that documented almost every year of each of our lives, my life in London felt very far away.

My accent softens, my casual South African slang creeps back in, (I’m taking a right at the robots, ya?) and I’m repeating words for impact (are you sure sure?) but it’s like pulling on a long lost favourite pair of jeans. Comfortable, easy. It feels like home, because it is. From the way the water from the taps smells like fresh earth, and not loaded with lime and chemicals to the weaver nests hanging in the tree branches to the smell of cobra polish on the wooden floors. Its driving a little too fast down wide roads with the Coca-Cola sign blinking behind you from Ponte.

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Its the landscape of my childhood. I can drive past the places where I learned to swim, ride a bike, skinned my knees, fell out of trees. Its the backdrop to my teen years, although all of the old clubs have moved or been turned into expensive housing complexes, the high schools are still there. The hole in the wall we could climb through, the shops that would sell us sweets and single B&H cigarettes and the pool halls that wouldn’t ask us for ID. University steps, lilac jacaranda trees in full bloom warning of impending exams (if the city had turned purple and you hadn’t started studying, that was cue that you had left it too late)

photo credit http://www.thejacarandas.co.za/

Ultimately though its the people. The family and friends and shared decades of experiences with the same cultural references and probably the same name. Having been away for coming up on twelve years, I can note the contrast between what has changed, but that often isn’t as astonishing as what has stayed the same. And this week, where we said goodbye to our very beloved Gran, it was amazing to see how much we’re still so connected, even as the new generations spring up and the age gaps between us all widen – it seems to bring us all closer together.

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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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Home Advantage

Ladbroke Grove

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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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