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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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