Monday, July 31, 2006

So much to write about, so little time. TA and I were cuddling in bed last night, catching up on the day.
TA: So, what was in the paper today?
BG: You know I read it cover to cover and now I can't remember. I didn't read Sport Monthly though.
TA: I didn't know there was a Sport Monthly. There's Food Monthly, Music Monthly...
BG: And Woman Monthly. They don't call it that though. I think it's just called Woman. Woman Monthly makes it sound like a period.
TA: I think that's what they should call it.
TA: PERIOD. Have you got yours yet?
BG: [laughing uproariously] I think that's going to have to appear on the UB.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

iggly wiggles
I'm off to the Isle of Wight for a few days - sun, sea, sand, sangria and... my dad. Just the two of us hanging out while TA stays in London and my mother is off in the undergrowth somewhere communing with nature and a lot of Germans (I try not to know any more, my policy is: don't ask). I'll try to keep the pub-lunch pie count in single figures. I'll also try to keep my dad's feet on the ground. Last time mum was away he managed to catch a stomach bug, pass out and fall off a ladder, badly bruising his face and arm in the process. I tried to get down there to look after him, but couldn't get away from work. I rang my brother to see if he could stay with dad for a few days (since brother lives on the isle) but he said, "Well, there's no point me going round. I don't want to catch it." Charming.
With a fair wind I'll be back at the Sett on Sunday. TA has promised that he'll do chores in my absence and make sure that my plants don't die. Keep an eye on him, won't you?

Monday, July 24, 2006

cover to cover
I had a blog post in my head on Saturday night; was writing and thinking and now it's lost – my synapses have collapsed and all the connections I was forging have evaporated. I knew the crash was coming, but I couldn't slow down. As the precipice loomed I put my metaphorical foot down on the accelerator and sped towards it at full speed. I’ll write letters after I’ve finished my book I told myself. I’ll write down my ideas – which were going off like fireworks – once I’ve finished the book, I said firmly (admiring and promising myself that I would from now on emulate her practice of jotting down thoughts in a reading journal as I go, but for the next book – not this one). I tried to apply the breaks; at the end of each chapter I’d wander into the living room to demand cuddles and kisses from TA. What my mother calls my “little bird” routine: arms up and voice plaintive “cuddle?”
I counted the pages and knew that the book was coming to an end – a foreknowledge that only the writer, reader and eponymous subject share. I felt like a collaborator. Sixty pages left – an hour. I went and cooked dinner. Thirty pages left. I stopped reading and ate with TA, careful to talk of other things. The last pages were full of passion, thoughts – surely there must be more than fifteen pages left. Whole books still need to be written, life is still being lived greedily.
The last pages, full of words, were empty. Doors opened and closed as a chill wind passed through hollow souls. The book finished with her own words on the unknowableness of others, of selves. I felt as though I should cry, but couldn’t.
“Cuddle. Kiss.” I said to TA. “I’m bereft.”
“You’ve finished your book then,” he said.
“It’s not the end of the book that’s upset me. It’s the end of the life.”
I went into the bathroom and attempted to wash her out of my mind. Scoured my skin with sea salt, soothed it with lemon-scented cream and crawled into jaunty pink pajamas. I thought about picking up half-written letters. I thought about writing my journal. I tried to recapture the fizzing excitement that had kept me awake the night before. I knew these were lost causes. I turned out the light and waited for TA to join me.
I dreamt that my mother was standing over me with throwing axes in her hands. TA was in a single bed on the other side of the room. I tried to call out to him to save me but my voice died in my throat. My heart pounding, I finally managed to call his name and at that moment I knew. “It’s okay. Sorry. I was having a nightmare.” We held each other in the dark. “It’s a long time since I’ve had a nightmare. Scary dreams, yes; but a nightmare, no.”
Gradually the sun filled our room and getting up could be put off no longer. I dressed in pink, trying to be brave. I walked along the cobbled streets thinking she was a survivor more than anything. Don’t lose that sense of her triumph. Don’t wallow for your own vicarious needs.
I want to read it again from the beginning.

Friday, July 21, 2006

I’ve been mulling this over for a few days and I’m still not sure that my cloudy musings have coalesced enough to share, but I’m going to try anyway. So…here’s my thinking.
I’ve established a routine and it’s good – I’m taking care of myself, of our home, of our relationship and my friendships, I’ve got (just about) enough time to think and read and nourish myself. I feel deeply invested in my routine and find it difficult to explain to others why this should be so (and why my new and precious routine should not be disturbed). In fact, perhaps I am at risk of tipping the balance too far and turning away from enriching experiences because I resent the interruption of my routine – in effect that I’ve created a regimen that cannot be altered. I’m also a little scared that a slip will make it impossible to regain my balance, but that fear is receding. And then it occurred to me. These routines have become rituals, a way of making the day a sacrament (an outward recognition of an inward happening). What if I said that my morning routine of airing the bed, straightening the sheet and making it (ensuring that it looks beautiful) was a ritual designed to nourish and respect my marriage? Would that sound ridiculous?
Whatever way I say it; these little things that I now repeat daily or weekly are giving me a sense of focus and calm.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

the VW bug
Having devoured the letters of Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf, I have now moved on to reading/inhaling Hermione Lee's biography of Woolf. As I was leaving for the office this morning TA and I were at the door talking.
TA: You look like you're about to go to school.
Me: It's the rucksack.
TA: Hmm, maybe.
Me: I miss school. I rather wish I was going to school.
TA: Yes, but that's because you've forgotton how scummy it was. I bet when you went to school you looked forward to having a job.
Me: No. When I was at school I looked forward to being a lady of independent means. I still look forward to being a lady of independent means, but I am feeling wistful about school. I'd like to get back to studying.
TA: That's not what you said when you were finishing your MA.
Me: Hmmm, I know.
As I walked in this morning I contemplated the love that dare not speak it's name: I'm beginning to perhaps consider, not for the first time, a PhD. I'm beginning to think that perhaps there's a thesis on the VWs in me. I think I may have caught the VW bug. I'm beginning to wonder if I can work on it by myself without resorting to university entrance and fees - at least to begin with. I think I want to dig out my MA essay on Mrs Dalloway and have a definite think about academia. Oh dear.

Friday, July 14, 2006

something only I hear
There’s a song by Keane that I love. I could listen to the plunging piano and soaring vocal on an endless loop. I love this song even though I sneer at Keane, Coldplay et al. The intro takes me back in time. I’m standing in a hotel suite that is kind of a self-contained bedsit. I’m watching television while getting ready for work: walking around, making breakfast, getting dressed. My days are spent in the Lake Oswego, Oregon, office of the PR agency. I’m falling in love. I stroke my belly, loving my figure. I’m dispossessed and missing home and TA. I’m eating uncontrollably and unceasingly and sleeping badly. My clothes no longer fit. Everything is mixed up. The light is streaming in through the blinds, the air is warm. And here is the song – it’s an advert for Victoria’s Secret – I only get to hear the rousing, heartstring-tugging chorus and it gets me every single time. After a couple of days I watch MTV and hear the whole song and then I begin to listen out for it every morning – sing along at the top of my voice and dance with swooping arm movements. And for a moment all I feel is joy and freedom, there is no confusion, it is perfectly natural to fall in love and to miss your husband terribly at the same time; to feel deliciously independent and dreadfully alone. Just hearing those chords is enough to fill me with overwhelming nostalgia (for a time when I was very unhappy and very happy and totally confused) mixed with relief that that time is a bitter-sweet memory now. I don’t think they meant to write the song I hear.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

flip flap
I’m in the market for some new sandals. It’s summer, I live in a city where shoe shops are plentiful, I have some money and my feet aren’t really freakish – you’d think it would be relatively straightforward. For the last two weeks, I have pounded pavements looking for a pair (or, ideally, two pairs) of sandals. Here are my – to my mind, at least, not outlandish – requirements. They must be sandals. They must be flat. Ideally, they must not be ugly. I'd prefer it if they were made out of leather.
What I do not want: heels, glitter, glass, feathers, chains. And I most emphatically do not want flip flops or any other devices of toe and arch torture. I want sandals: simple shoes with straps that firmly anchor the flat or nearly flat sole to my foot, but with enough space between the straps that my feet can breathe. Unfortunately, unbelievably, I cannot find any.

I'd like to labour the point further - I work in Covent Garden - in the last two weeks I have visited: Shelly's, Aldo, Clark's, Biker Bob's, the Natural Shoe Store, Terra Plana, Swear (which no longer stocks Swear shoes, more's the pity), a mountineering shop (I'm desperate), Poste Mistress, Birkenstock's, that snobby shop on Monmouth St where I got my Radclyffe Hall shoes (although I notice now that the Radclyffe's are actually their men's shoes, which explains a lot), Office, Office Sale Shop, Bally, Camper and a few other shoe shops whose names escape me. I just want some normal, fairly robust sandals that don't look too clumpy and won't destroy my feet when I walk three miles. I see other women wearing them - tell me: where are the normal sandals hidden?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

to the two girls on the 453 on Sunday 6.30pm
First off, please go and sit somewhere else as I've been walking for hours in the countryside and a/ I think I might smell, b/ I'm worn out and would like some space. No? You're dead set on sitting next to me and diagonally opposite me are you? Well, okay just don't make too much noise and please get off at Oxford Circus.
No, no, no girl opposite me. Please don't sing - if that's what you think you're doing. What on earth is the significance of those three nah-naaaaaah-naah "notes" you keep bellowing. Ah, here at last is Oxford Circus! Why aren't you getting off?
Of course, kicking each other is the perfect way to pass the time. Yes, I quite agree with you grotty girl sitting opposite me: trainers should not be placed on lovely tracksuit bottoms. No don't start singing again - Oh thank god! - I agree with you, girl sitting next to me: the singing is doing my head in too.
Oh! Those boys are with you are they? Well, you know each other, at least. My god, you're quite ugly aren't you, girl sitting next to me. I wonder why you think telling a boy his ex-girlfriend is a lezzer because of him is a sure-fire way to get said boy to transfer his affections to you. However, I think your assertion that every girl in your class except you and the girl sitting opposite me is also a lezzer somewhat undermines your previous point. Although, come to think of it, I rather hope they are because these boys are incredibly charmless and it is my experience that the more lezzers there are in a town, the nicer that town is for everyone.
Ah! Here comes Waterloo - surely you must be getting off now? No? Oh, lord save me.
I think you may have upset the boy with that comment that he turned a girl lezzer. I also think the singer opposite me might not like you quite as much as you think, troll girl. Perhaps you are coming to the same conclusion? Why else would they be gleefully asking you if you liked - was it German? - sausage. Oh dear, waggling fingers at you and asking if you like little sausages isn't very nice is it? I wonder if I'm brave enough to say any of this out loud?
Right, surely you must be leaving me here? You look like you belong in Elephant and Castle. No, I suppose that was too much to ask for. I expect you live downstairs from the Sett and I'll be forced to bump into you regularly from now on. And while I'm at it, why on earth are you wearing that awful headband? Pulling your hair back just emphasises that terrible nose. With looks like that you really ought to concentrate on being clever and charming. Perhaps that's why you're pretty much the only non-lezzer in the school? No girl would touch you. Mind you, seemingly, the boys also don't like either of you that much. Oh, for goodness' sake! Can't you see that they're egging you on so that they can laugh about you (and tell the other girls what you said) later? No, you really think you're getting somewhere, don't you?
Well said! I truly, truly, wish you could get off the bus too! It feels like you've been on it for several lifetimes.
Ah! At last you're leaving me - and at least I know now that you live three bus stops away from the Sett. My sanctum remains inviolate. Now, young ladies, if only you could be flies on the wall. For, lo! The two quiet teenagers - a boy and a girl, are they dating? - have called over the boisterous chaps you had set your caps at. I have to report to you that I think your names are mud as far as the quiet young lady is concerned and that the boys are being reprimanded for listening and encouraging you. Sorry, can't tell you anymore - after the longest, nastiest bus ride - I'm finally at my stop.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

it’s good to talk
I call home. My father answers the phone as my mother is watching EastEnders and cannot be disturbed for the next 30 minutes.
Me: Hello!
Dad: Hello! Are you at home?
Me: Yes!
Dad: Are you sitting down?
Me: Yes!
Dad: Have you had your dinner?
Me: Yes!
Dad: Ooh, go on. What did you have?
Me: We had Isle of Wight organic tomatoes with fresh basil, sea salt and olive oil; a salad of raw green beans, chickpeas, apple, celery and smoked garlic mayonnaise; a salad of carrot and beetroot (raw) with honey, lemon and poppy seeds; and then I had a nut cutlet and TA had a lamb burger.
Dad: Did you! Wah…
Me: Yes! It was very nice.
Dad: And now you’re calling your dear old Dad!
Me: Yes! How are you?
Dad: I’m okay thank you. Did I tell you I had a letter from cousin George?
Me: Did you? I didn’t know you had a cousin George!
Dad: He lives in London
[it was a long 30 minutes. EastEnders finally comes to an end]
Me: Hello!
Mum: Hello! You’ve had a long talk with Dad – I expect you’ve heard all our news haven’t you?
Me: Well, Dad asked me what I had for dinner and about a letter from his cousin George.
Mum: Did he? I didn’t know that.
Me: Yes. It was very…interesting. He lives in London, apparently. And Dad sounded very impressed with what we had for dinner. What did you have for dinner?
Mum: Oh, we had roast chicken, mashed potatoes and some beans from the garden.
Me: That sounds nice.
[and so on for 20 minutes]

Monday, July 10, 2006

carpe, carpe, carpe
What a fantastic weekend that was! I could write about Friday coming home to find a letter from a close friend I haven’t heard from for a while or following through on my new resolution and getting all the chores done on Friday night to ensure I had two completely free days. I could write about the joy of waking up at first light on Saturday, reading the paper and starting the day with a sense of calm, or a lovely barbeque with friends and their children in a garden (in, of all places, Croydon) or the lovely weather, or a trip to IKEA to buy a planter for the kitchen windowsill (now full of herbs – chives, basil and parsley). I could write about how the cloud of work stress and insomnia that brought Saturday to a close was burnt away by the sun over the Chiltern countryside as I walked nine miles through the fields and woods with a couple of friends. Or the satisfaction of finding on my return home that the work project had only just arrived in my inbox and that it was right not to sacrifice my day to waiting for the press release to come back from signoff. There were patches of shade, when I felt groggy and there was rain in the air; before getting to Marylebone for our picnic walk I had wanted to turn around and go back to bed. I could write about the lovely tabbouleh I made for the picnic or the wardorf-themed coleslaw with apple and celery added to the mix and a hint of smoked garlic, or the bean salad I made for the barbeque, or the way, as the only Aussie male at the barbeque, TA stood cooking for everyone. Or the possible job offer that he got while we were there. I could write about the satisfaction of turning out the light on Sunday night with that VIP press release sent to the wire, my legs heavy from so much walking, my lungs aired out, my skin just a little wind and sun tightened, my heart light, my head empty of thoughts. Bliss. I could write about this morning – dancing around the kitchen for the fun of it. Or about how TA thinks we should get another planter and fill it with mint to make tea with. I could write about my route march into the office this morning – the satisfaction of really walking full pelt through a beautiful day. Or TA’s comment “I want what you’ve got!” as he watched me wiggle to my inner soundtrack.
But really, what strikes me as amazing is the way that the light seems to eat into the shadows these days whereas before, no matter how bright the torch, the shadows would encroach and as soon as I had passed the bright spot I’d feel crushed by the monotony of the dark. Not today. Today I am already plotting little joys – lunch in the park, fabulous salads for dinner tonight, window shopping, writing letters – and big ones for when the next weekend rolls around.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

new routine
I'm feeling different and hence all kinds of things are different or seem different. I'm up at 6am and can look the day straight in the eye. I put on my pajama top (there's no curtain in the kitchen and neighbours directly opposite) and get my yoghurt and a banana. I put the radio on for the Today programme and make coffee for both of us. I sing "happy, happy, happy, happy, happy pill" to the tune of Happy Talk and take my own advice. I take TA his coffee and pull back the duvet to let the bed air, then I join TA in the living room and sip my coffee. If I'm not taking leftovers, I make myself a packed lunch - today I had leftovers of salad and roast chicken. I select my clothes for the day and get ready for work. I make the bed. Raise the blinds and check the bedroom to make sure it's presentable. The bedroom is beautiful and I take a few moments to admire the loveliness of the crisp white paintwork, the solid wood furniture and the walls that we painted the colour of wet sand. I like it in there. I put the cups in the sink ready for TA to wash and head to the door. We kiss. Sometimes if I can arrange it we kiss goodbye in the living room, but the goodbye doesn't count if it's not at the door - that rule means that I can get two lots of kisses!
I walk to work - it's an hour of strolling along backstreets and then along the Thames path. The weather has been hot and I've been enjoying the relative cool of the early morning air. My feet are completely trashed from wearing sandals, oh well, I guess they'll heal and harden up eventually. Work is work, but I'm a little more focused, a little less desperate and slightly calmer. I think my customer service has improved - I don't get as rattled and take setbacks in my stride a little more often. I make sure that I walk around the piazza at lunch time even if it's only for 15 minutes. Yesterday it was quiet so instead of working a full day I nipped out half an hour early, caught the bus and got home at 6pm, a whole hour earlier than usual.
This week it's been too hot to cook - I roasted a chicken on Sunday and we've been feasting on it ever since with lots of different salad accompanyments: bulgar wheat with lemon and oregano, beetroot and carrot slaw, chickpeas with tahini dressing, green salad... I've been experimenting. I seem to be gradually losing a few pounds, which is great particularly as I haven't been consciously depriving myself.
After dinner I ask TA to wash dishes, which he does, while I do the rest of the clearing up. If the carpet looks as though the mouse might be able to find a sesame seed I vacuum, otherwise I just put away the table mats, polish the table, dry up and wipe down the cupboards. I feel happy. I have two hours before bedtime to fill but get ready for bed now so that I have nice clean teeth. I could sit with TA, I could write a letter, I could write my journal, I could read, I could sit on the bed and think for a while, I could play a game of balls - most evenings I do a little of all those things, trying to find a good balance or as my fancy takes me. I make time to look out the window and admire the view of the heavy, golden summer dusk hanging over the docklands in the distance. When it's dark outside it's time to sleep.

old routine
Old routine was the same, but vastly different. The house was a tip because I thought about tidying, but hoped that TA would do it if I ignored it. Piles of clean laundry would migrate from the living room to the bed to the windowsill as I avoided putting them away. Breakfast! Breakfast was difficult! I either had yoghurt and a banana and wanted (and by wanted, I mean thought about in exquisite detail and got angry about) porridge and toast or had porridge and a banana and felt guilty (and by guilty I mean intense self-loathing) or had lots of toast, peanut butter, a banana... you get the idea. I wasn't sleeping well, I was mainlining coffee at work, at home - five cups a day was not unusual. I often felt I needed sugar mid-afternoon. I felt oddly contained and bulging - like a whirlwind caught in a balloon. I'd get the urge to run away or jump. When I was at home empty hours would open up like an abyss and I'd think about ways to bridge them - with reading, writing, talking or some other activity - but inertia and a sense of creeping inadequacy/desperation would keep me shuttling betweeen a chair at the side of TA's computer and the kitchen cupboard. I felt heavy. I was heavy - my clothes had to be chosen from a very limited selection. I couldn't see a way out. I knew that I wanted to exercise and eat healthily and listen to music, dance, laugh and enjoy myself, but I simply couldn't summon the capacity to do any of those things and I hated myself for it. At night I didn't want to sleep and when I did I was having nightmares.

Everything is different because I am different - it's like the Chinese story of heaven and hell: long chopsticks with the starving people and the well-fed people - the only difference being in heaven they feed each other.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

This is going to be a bit all over the shop because I'm thinking my feelings through as I type. I'm feeling a bit widowed at the moment. TA goes through cycles and at the moment he's on a online computer game frenzy. It's been like this for a month or so and at first I tried to get involved, but in the end I felt as though my time was being wasted even though he said at one point that he liked me there with him. Recently, I've been spending my widow hours writing my journal, keeping the flat immaculate and thinking (sometimes thinking takes me a while). I have plans for spending some more widow hours visiting Tate Modern to admire the recent rehang, working on a story and writing letters to friends. I'm enjoying my widow hours, but I still wish that there were things we could do together that would be compelling enough for TA not to resent being pulled away from the computer.
We've been invited to go for a long walk and a picnic on Saturday - a ramble, if you will - but TA doesn't want to come. I'm fine going by myself, but sort of wish that he wanted to join in. (His reluctance is not necessarily due to a desire to play Neverwinter Nights, but still.) And then there's the game testing that we do every Wednesday - I value it because it's a hobby we do together and it's often fun...but it's not exactly how I would choose to spend an evening. In fact I've been enjoying my widow hours so much that I'm beginning to see the attraction of an uninterrupted widow evening.
So I guess what I'm saying is individual hobbies are all well and good but I'd like to have a joint hobby that isn't me just tagging along with TA while he does his hobby. The trouble is we're chalk and cheese: don't like the same books, films, music, sports...
Does anyone else have problems like these?