All this could be yours

In July last year, I signed up to 30 Days Clean, a program run by a gym called Flow Athletic. The principle is simple: forgo all caffeine, alcohol, sugar and processed foods for 30 days, while simultaneously exercising five times a week, split between yoga, strength and cardio.

“But why?” asks Caroline, as we work our way through a mountain of chorizo and wine one evening. “Cider is fun. Coffee is fun. CHOCOLATE IS FUN.”

“It’s unclear,” I reply. And ten days later, on Monday 4th August, the challenge starts.

***

I won’t go into detail about the challenge itself, except to say that there were some good days, there were some bad days, and there was one Saturday night where I literally locked myself in my bedroom to prevent myself from running to the nearest pub and guzzling the first drink I could get my hands on.

***

What did I get out of it? Well, I lost weight and toned up. I had more energy during the day, and I slept like a tiny exhausted log each night. My skin was so clear I received daily compliments. I was so fit that I knocked two minutes off my 5k time without even trying. I never had a hangover; I never wasted a day.

In the longer term, my relationship with food and alcohol has improved; I know when I am eating and drinking because of stress or boredom or unhappiness, rather than because I’m hungry or thirsty. I haven’t had any caffeine in six months. I practice yoga three or four times a week, and that habit alone has made me calmer, happier, more positive. I can do a full minute of kettlebell press ups without getting tired. I get a great deal of pleasure from knowing that I am fit and strong, and that I’m fuelling my body with the foods that it needs.

“Most people have no idea how good their body is supposed to feel,” says the sign outside Flow, and, for the month of August, I felt phenomenal. Which is why, tomorrow, I start all over again.

***

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

It’s not my fault, I’m happy

It starts with the realisation that you won’t see your youngest brother for two and a half years, if all goes to plan. You are due back in the UK in June, a full year since you last visited, but Ricco will be away travelling, a final foreign fling before buckling down and finding a graduate role in London. After that, you have no plans to return until Christmas 2016 at the earliest, because you want to spend your savings and your annual leave on the places you haven’t been: Indonesia and Malaysia and New Caledonia and New Zealand and the Philippines.

How strange, you think. You were 28 when you last saw Ricco; you’ll be 31 the next time you set eyes on him. A lot of time to pass, when time is the only thing we all wish we had more of.

***

Your parents visit at the end of November. They see a play at the Opera House, wander through the Botanical Gardens, take photos of the Harbour Bridge, catch a ferry to Manly, people watch at Bondi. Together you travel to the Whitsundays, where you spend a week on boats and sun loungers, surrounded by improbably perfect scenery.

One morning, you meet them for breakfast at Bronte, your favourite beach. You sit under the shade of a palm eating bacon and egg rolls, watching families playing in the surf under a perfect blue sky. When you finish, you wander along the coastal path back to Bondi. At its highest point you stop and sit down, the vast stretch of Bondi to your left, the coves of Tama and Bronte to your right, the rolling waves of the Tasman Sea out in front. It’s blustery up here, high above the rocks; Dad holds onto his hat to prevent it blowing away. “I can see why you moved here,” he says. “The lifestyle…it’s something else.”

***

When you came to Australia last September, you had a defined plan. You would be here for one year and then you would return home; your lengthy visa documents told you so. And then came sponsorship, and with it an extension until 2018 and the possibility of permanent residency and citizenship, and suddenly you don’t have a plan anymore; you’re winging it.

***

The sense of melancholy grows as Christmas approaches, your first without your family, only your second away from your family home. Traditionally your three brothers and you return home for at least a week, tired and puffy and hungover from a month of excess. You barely get out of your pyjamas; you sit and eat and drink and laugh, and by the time you return to London a week later, in time for New Years, you are a fully functioning human again, soothed by the balm of your family.

This year, you and nine other orphans are going to Abi’s for roast pork and salads and Secret Santa and $700 worth of alcohol. “It should be fun,” you tell Matt. “I mean, I’m terrified for Boxing Day Ellen, but it should be fun.”

“You’ll have as much fun as you want to,” he replies.

“I know,” you nod. “And I will have fun. I’m just a bit sad, I guess.”

***

“What do you want to do about your flat?” asks Dad, at dinner on your final night in the Whitsundays.

“I’m not really sure,” you reply. “I hadn’t really thought about it. As long as the rent keeps covering the mortgage, I guess it’s fine for now.”

“Well, every week you hang onto it, it goes up in value, so I’d probably only suggest selling if you wanted a cash injection so you could put down a deposit over here.”

Buying somewhere in Sydney? you think. That would be quite a statement.

***

A few weeks after you move to Australia, you have a drunken Whatsapp conversation with Cressida and you tell her that you’re slightly homesick. “Just think of it as having two homes,” she says. “And you have people who love you in both, so you’ll always be at home, wherever you are. Don’t be sad, little one.”

And you take her advice, and you commit to your new life in Australia; you meet people and you make friends and you move to Bondi and you take up yoga and you sleep deeply and on more mornings than not you watch the sun rise over the ocean as you run along the beach, and you’ve never been happier.

***

But slowly it becomes harder to mesh your two lives together; you spend so little time at home that you find it hard to find the time to FaceTime your friends and family, and before you know it, it’s been one week, four weeks, two months since you spoke to them for any longer than a rushed Whatsapp conversation on the way to work.

A friend tells you that they’re upset that you’re not making more of an effort, so you try harder. “I know I’ve been lame,” you say, “but I’ve got a plan. I’m going to call you on my way to work and if you can pick up, great. If you can’t, no worries – I’ll just try again the next day.”

And that plan works for a little while, until life gets in the way, and you know, deep down, that these relationships will never be the same until you return to the UK for good.

***

And where before there was only blind instinct that you were doing the right thing, now there are doubts, about your relationships and your career and life in a country where spiders as big as your hand just appear in your house and it’s up to you, as the ‘practical’ housemate, to dispose of them.

***

“I don’t know,” you say to Matt. “I just don’t know what to do. I don’t know if this is just temporary homesickness because I’m not home for Christmas, or whether it’s time to chalk this up as an amazing experience and come home.”

“Is this the same girl who once told me not to make any rash decisions, because life has a funny old way of working out for the best?”

“Possibly.”

“Then I’d take your own advice on this one.”

And for want of any other options, you do.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

No one’s going to love you

Sometimes it’s your smallest achievements that are your greatest.

***

You meet Matt at work; you warm to each other instantly but it’s only five months later, on Valentines Day and with a new job under his belt, that he emails you to ask you out for a drink.

You drive to his favourite pub, in a quiet suburb overlooking the ocean. You drink cider and share stories – your best ones, the funny ones – and listen to the sound of the surf crashing onto the rocks below you, and by the time he drops you home later that evening, you’re a couple.

***

Life with Matt is easy. You get on well, you have fun, you make an effort for each other; you organise surprises “just because” while he goes an hour out of his way to drive you home so that you don’t get wet catching public transport in the rain. You go for dinners, for drinks, to the cinema, to the beach. One night you stay at his, and find that he’s bought you a toothbrush and make up wipes. He tells you he wants to make his flat more homely, so one weekend you go to Ikea and you help him buy cushions and prints and bedside tables and rugs. You mention that you’ve never been to Melbourne and would like to go; the next day he emails you a booking confirmation for your flights. When you’re ill, he runs you a bath, with candles, your book, and a small folded towel for a pillow.

You fall into a routine; he picks you up from the station after work and drives to his; he cooks and you wash up. He makes you hot chocolate every evening before bed, and Vegemite on toast every morning, just as you get out of the shower. During the week, you wake up early and go to the gym together; at weekends, you lie in, and then wander down to the beach for breakfast. He puts aside a pair of his tracksuit bottoms and two drawers for you; there is always Diet Coke and cider in his fridge.

Two months in, you have an argument. Rather than sending increasingly hurtful or angry texts, as you’ve done in past relationships, you go round to his, you discuss the issue openly and honestly and you resolve it. “You’re the best boyfriend,” you tell him. “I feel so lucky to have you in my life.”

You go back to the UK for a fortnight; each day you see someone new, and they all want to know about Matt. “He’s great,” you say. “We’re very different – he’s a lot quieter than me but he has this amazing personality that you just warm to instantly. He’s very calm and thoughtful and measured – everything I’m not basically.” And you all agree that that’s a good thing, and they ask if you’re in love with him and you laugh and say you don’t know, and somewhere at the back of your mind you remember that every relationship you ever have will have to end except one.

The night after you get back, you go for dinner at a new restaurant down the road from his flat. The night after, still jetlagged, you watch a film on his couch before falling asleep, open-mouthed and dribbling, at 9pm. Life with Matt is so easy, peaceful, content – his flat is warmer than yours, his bed more comfortable; his television and Internet both work. You watch the news every evening and argue gently over politics; he tells you about a problem he’s having at work and you suggest possible solutions; you tell him a funny story about your day and his warm Australian laugh melts your heart. “I love you,” you think fiercely. “I love you and care about you and never want anything to happen to you that might make you sad.”

***

On Tuesday you spend the day in a change management training session. “All change involves loss,” says the facilitator. “So it’s natural to grieve when you experience change, no matter how small that change may seem or how beneficial the eventual outcome.”

***

On Friday, you have a team barbecue at Mel’s house. “I’m so pleased you and Matt are together,” your boss tells you, after a couple of glasses of wine. “I always hoped he’d meet a nice girl.”

***

On Saturday, Matt picks you up and you spend the day doing chores; you buy groceries, you drop off his dry cleaning. That evening, you go for Thai and stop for ice cream on your way home. The next morning, you wake up early and set off for an unknown destination, your birthday surprise. Two hours later, you’re in the rainforest south of Sydney, heading to the treetop walk that you’d mentioned you wanted to do a few months previously. The day is perfect; after you finish the walk, you sit and eat fish and chips by the ocean, sharing a cider in the brisk winter sunshine. On the drive home you get stuck in traffic; you sing along to the radio and discuss whether you should get a television for the bedroom. At home, Matt cooks a roast; you watch a film; in bed, you cuddle until you fall asleep.

***

On Monday, you both wake up to the 5am alarm and decide to sack off the gym for another two hours in bed. “Happy five months,” you say sleepily, because it’s your anniversary, and marking the weeks you’ve spent together is an in-joke that won’t die out. You shower, eat breakfast, watch the World Cup final; everything is as it should be. And yet.

In the car on the way to the station, you turn to him. “I’m really sorry to do this when I’m just about to get out of the car. But I think we need to talk.”

That evening, you do the same journey in reverse; when you walk into his flat, everything is exactly where you left it that morning; the plate by the sink, the blanket hanging off the couch. You want to cry for the very ordinariness of it. And then you sit down and you open your mouth and your stomach aches with the knowledge that once you say what you’re about to say, you can never unsay it; you wonder, for a brief panicked moment, if you’re doing the right thing. Life with Matt is so easy.

“But I’d be doing myself a disservice if I stayed in a relationship that wasn’t right just because it was easy and comfortable,” you hear yourself say. “I can’t put my finger on it, but something isn’t right and I’m not happy. I’m sorry.”

You pack your things, throw out your toothbrush, put your track suit bottoms in the wash; you give him a final hug goodbye. On the bus home, you cry openly, loudly, grieving for the end of a relationship that wasn’t wrong but that wasn’t right either. You cry for the loss of your best friend; you cry for the comfort of your life together, as you head back to your cold room and lumpy bed.

“I miss him so much, I can’t do this,” you think briefly, and just as quickly you think, “Yes you can. You’ll be fine.” And somewhere underneath all the hurt is a small surge of pride that you have chosen the more painful path, but the one that was right; you have chosen self-respect over cuddles and dinners and bedtime phone calls. A small achievement; a great one.

***

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

It’s only life

“I’m sorry,” says the HR Manager from our parent company who’s been parachuted in to make precisely one quarter of us redundant. I stare at her wordlessly. I can’t believe this is happening; I love my job, I love my team, I love the world of publishing that took me six long months to claw my way into in the first place. I have rent to pay. She pushes a letter across the table to me, and finally the tears come.

“Something will turn up,” my dad says when I call him later that day. “Life has a funny old way of working itself out for the best.”

And less than a week later I’ve secured myself a job at a start-up publishing house, working for someone who turns out to be not only a truly inspirational boss, but who in time also becomes a trusted mentor and friend. I learn a terrifying amount from him in a short space of time, about book design and editing and publicity and scheduling, about 90s indie bands and cricket and world politics and what behaviour I shouldn’t put up with from my boyfriend. When I decide to leave the publishing industry altogether, eighteen months later, it’s Mark who suggests I try Communications as a career path, it’s Mark who coaches me before my interview, and it’s Mark who buys me my first celebratory glass of wine when Anthony Nolan call me to offer me a job as Communications Officer.

Six months in, our director advertises internally for a PA. Our receptionist Robin applies and we all cross our fingers; everyone loves Robin. But he doesn’t get it; our director chooses the Australian girl in our HR team, who none of us know. “I can’t believe you didn’t get the job! They’ve made such a mistake,” I tell Robin when we’re in the pub later that week. But a month later Caroline starts, and a month after that Caroline and I are completely inseparable, and two years after that, I go to stay with her in Australia for a holiday.

It turns out that I’m good at my job; I earn two promotions and three pay rises in quick succession. I start a relationship with a colleague, which drags on for the best part of three years and which ends so painfully that I feel I have no option but to leave. “I have to look at this as an opportunity or I’ll go under,” I tell Jaxx one night a few weeks later, as we drink gin after gin and I try to explain why I’ve decided to move to Australia. “Caroline’s out there, there are always Comms jobs available…and if I don’t like it, I can always come home.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I was scared of dentists, and the dark

A boy takes a girl out for a drink. In an anonymous pub in Camden, they sip their pints and stare shyly at each other, and think, “I like you.”

10,000 miles away, I wake up to a new day in Australia, three days into a three week holiday. I snooze my alarm, read a little, shower, have a leisurely breakfast. I have no idea that my life has just changed forever.

***

The details don’t matter, but suffice to say there was heartbreak. There were tears and wine and pizza and more tears and blinding hangovers and long exhausting phone calls and waking up every morning not knowing how I was going to get up and face the day. And in the middle of all of that, there was a new start.

I was exhausted when I landed in Sydney, worn out from a 24 hour flight and four months of putting on a brave face. My heart ached for everything I’d lost and how much I was leaving behind. There was no plan, really.

***

Here in the sunshine, I heal. I go for long dinners by myself. I read ferociously. I remember that I have opinions of my own, and that they’re as valid as anyone else’s. I interview for a job I want, and they ring me five minutes after I leave their office to tell me it’s mine. I move in with strangers, and they become my friends. I take our dog for long rambling walks every morning before work. I sweat in the heat, and every day my skin turns a little darker. I sleep better, for longer. There are no more nightmares. There are no more tears.

***

Ask me about this year and I’ll tell you about watching my tan lines deepen, about drinking ciders in the sunshine, about driving through sun-dappled back streets in my housemate’s car. I’ll tell you about waiting for the bus in the early morning sunshine, the look on our dog’s face when you catch him upstairs, the smell of burgers cooking in our back yard.

I’ll tell you about the feel of sun-warmed sand on my feet, about beating hangovers with a swim in the ocean, about a Christmas party held in the blazing sunshine. I’ll tell you about the moment my boss tells me that they’d like to sponsor me, about making plans for next Christmas and knowing I’ll still be here.

I’ll tell you about the Sunday night Skype dates, running through Central station at rush hour, walking home with bare legs and no coat, about crossing the Harbour Bridge at 6am and seeing the sun rise over the Opera House. I’ll tell you about the road trips, the boat trips, the moment you meet someone and something clicks inside you and you can see in their eyes that they’ve felt it too.

I’ll tell you that I’ve remembered who I am, where for a long time I’d forgotten; that I know what I’m capable of, where before I wasn’t sure. And I’ll tell you how happy I am, how peaceful – but you’ll already know, because it’s there in the curve of my smile, the pitch of my laugh and the light in my dancing, sparkling eyes.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Fortune, people talking all about fortune

Facebook chat, five days ago

“Why haven’t you blogged about Australia?”

“Because I’m scared that if I write about how ridiculously happy I am, I’ll jinx it.”

“Don’t be paranoid! What’s it like?”

“Sunny when I wake up.”

“And…?”

“Warm when I walk home in the evenings.”

“Fine, don’t tell me then!”

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I can’t stop bloody smiling.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Chances, people tell you not to take chances

The house hunt starts in Bondi, where I’m temporarily living. The thought of being five minutes away from the beach appeals to me: “You could learn to surf,” I think. “Be one of those people who get up early to hit the water before work. Have long, wavy, sun-streaked hair. Say ‘gnarly’ a lot. Do other stuff that surfers do.”

The first viewing isn’t a success. “If you’re 45, that’s definitely the kind of thing you should disclose in your advert,” I hiss to Caroline as we make a hasty exit. “More importantly,” she replies, “did you see the massive pitchfork he had lying in the hall?”

The weather gets progressively worse over the next few days; grey and wet and cold. Bondi doesn’t suit the rain; the streets are deserted as plastic awnings flap wildly in the wind and the grey water crashes furiously onto the rocks. It reminds me of a bleak Southend seafront in mid-December; I can’t live here, I think.

Tuesday dawns; another grey sky and a day of job-hunting await. I have two house viewings later this evening, both in Paddington, both found by Caroline and both, conveniently, a five minute walk from her house.

“Today is not a good day,” I email Caroline a few hours later, with a rant about CVs and recruitment agents and typing on an iPad. “Fingers crossed that one of the house viewings works out, because otherwise I’m quite tempted to get on a plane home.”

In a bid to improve my mood, I leave the library and wander along Oxford Street to Paddington. I’ve still got an hour to kill so I sit in a pub on the corner, read my book, drink a glass of wine, devour a chicken salad. On the dot of half past seven, I’m standing outside XX Hopewell Street, pressing the doorbell.

“Hi, I’m Simon,” says the guy who answers. “And this is my girlfriend Hannah. Charlie, our other housemate, isn’t home at the moment, but he’s basically the same as me.” And with that he shows me around the house, a gorgeous terrace with high ceilings and a small patio that catches the sun in the mornings. The kitchen is new, the bathroom clean, the spare room small but bright.

After the tour, we lounge on the sofa and chat, and I already feel at home. “Do you want a cider?” shouts Simon from the kitchen. “Nah, I’m good,” I say. “I’ve got another viewing so I better head off. I’ll let you know later this evening if that’s okay?”

But of course there’s no contest, and half an hour later I text Simon to tell him that I’d like to move in. Two days later, I do.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments