The Best Things Come in Small Packages

I have an unfortunate bedtime habit.

It takes me what feels like twelve thousand years to get to sleep, and I would rather have my skin peeled from me in strips than lie in the dark with my thoughts, so instead I have a habit of propping my phone on its side and scrolling mindlessly through r/politics or the Aliexpress app on my phone until I fall asleep, one fingertip still pressed to the screen.

(You might be able to guess where I’m going with this…)

On more than one occasion I have woken up having purchased some truly ridiculous items are not in any way necessary to my life: a stamped metal 3D puzzle of C3PO; ten identical tongue bars; a clockwork mouse; a set of enamel dinosaur pins; 30 whale-shaped bookmarks…

…And when I say ‘on more than one occasion,’ what I really mean is ‘regularly enough that I know to check my orders first thing in the morning in case I need to cancel anything.’

If you’ve ever used Aliexpress then you know that this is not the end of the world. Most items cost under $3, and truthfully the worst that can happen is that they unexpectedly arrive two months later, like badly-packaged surprise presents to myself. They arrive wrapped in what look like black bin bags that have been hurriedly repurposed, with curiously vague, Google-translated descriptions on the custom notes such as “needle beauty” (tweezers), “claws” (hair clips), and “stationery cat” (cat stickers).

The postman who delivers these questionable acquisitions to my door is an energetic man who bounds in and out of each building with superfluous energy, cheerfully swinging his crossbody satchel like a young, fit, baby-faced Santa Claus. Instead of ringing my doorbell, he often just hollers, “HELLOOOOO!” and waits for me to appear before whipping out some small lumpy package and handing it to me. It’s a loud and interesting interaction that often breaks up my day.

So, here I must rewind and explain that about two months ago I ordered a space hopper. That part is a long story so to shorten it I will just say two things:

  • This was only a half-asleep purchase; I did in fact sort of kind of maybe mean to buy a space hopper. I probably wouldn’t have bought it while wide awake but the fact remains that I made no move to cancel this order.
  • It was not for actual space hopping, it was for a craft project*.

By the time it arrived I had forgotten I had ever ordered it.

Last week, the postman bellowed his usual greeting and I popped my head out the door only to see him pull an irregularly shaped, flat, floppy package from his satchel. He handed it to me and, in an attempt to remember what it might possibly be, I flipped it over and read the description aloud:

“Toy balls.”

Except that even as I started reading it, my eyes had already jumped ahead to the next word. I could tell it was going to sound wrong. I suddenly remembered the space hopper, but I had already started reading and didn’t feel like I could really stop mid-word. My reluctance to finish the phrase slowed my speech down considerably, and so it wound up sounding more like:

“Toyyy….. baaaaaaallllllls……”

Followed by an awkward silence that stretched between us the way the Sahara desert stretches between the Red Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

I looked up and locked eyes with the postman over this limp black bin bag. He slowly nodded in amused sympathy.

“We were wondering down at the post office what that could possibly be, alright!” He said, eventually, when the awkward moment had stretched for so long that time had lost all meaning and we had simply become two blushing inanimate objects in an uncomfortable still life.

My mind flashed through a series of possibilities as to how this might play out. Should I open the package so he could see it wasn’t anything questionable? I could, but then I would have to unfold and reveal a lurid pink space hopper. And then I would have to explain the space hopper, which honestly almost makes me sound more insane than if I’d ordered something vague but kinky all the way from China. Or worse, he might think the space hopper itself was for vague but kinky purposes…

At this point we had been staring at each other for so long I was starting to feel like we had unwittingly entered into a relationship, so I just squeaked, “Thanks!” and dashed back inside with my “toy balls”.

I am now avoiding the postman, and I am also avoiding Aliexpress at night because clearly I cannot be trusted with late-night purchases or people.

Such is life.

Happy Friday, guys.

*The space hopper was too small for my craft project, and so was gifted to a small child who can actually use it for hopping.

 

Hamilton: The Experience

We took our velvet-covered, straight-backed seats and looked around the auditorium. People streamed in the doorways, ribbons of colour; no narrow demographic here. They were young, old, white, black, businessmen in suits and ties, and purple-haired teenagers in leggings and grimy converse runners.

A lady in her mid-fifties took the seat next to mine. A woman with an asymmetric pixie cut and severe black glasses sat in the row in front. I leaned back and enjoyed the slow wooden percussion of seats being pulled down, the rustle of people settling in, ready for the show. Behind us, a girl in her twenties bounced into her seat clutching a bag of merchandise, her parents behind her beaming with joy. The lights dimmed. The theatre quietened. The music kicked in.

As the opening song came to an end, I was already twitching in my seat. The girl behind us had turned into a musical echo, muttering every lyric just slightly out of time. Her words, breathed out in an awed whisper just loud enough to be heard over the music from the stage, were distracting to the point of physical discomfort. When the closing line of “ALEXANDER HAMILTON!” was parroted behind us in a hissed, urgent whisper, my shoulders snapped up into a defensive posture of displeasure.

There was a blessed millisecond of silence.

I rolled my shoulders, trying to coax them back down from my earlobes.

The auditorium erupted into ecstatic applause. The girl, unfettered by the roar of noise around her, leapt to her feet and proceeded to give a standing ovation of rapturous enthusiasm.

“WHOOOOOOOOO!” She bellowed. “WHOOOOOOO! WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

My fingernails dug into the velvet pile. I resisted the urge to grab her plastic bag of merchandise and pull it over her head.

The next song started and she sat back down, leaning all the way forward until her face came to a stop unsettlingly close to Scrubs’ ear. She whispered her way through the next song, pausing at:

“I was seeking an accelerated course of study
When I got sort of out of sorts with a buddy of yours;
I may have punched him… it’s a blur, sir.
He handles the financials?”
“You punched the bursar?”
“Yes!”
It’s no exaggeration to say she almost choked with laughter.
The rest of the song alternated between whispered rapping and hysterical laughter at every mildly amusing line. At one point, unable to restrain myself any longer, I turned in my seat to stare at this Hamiloonie. Her lips were parted and her eyes were shining – shining! – with euphoria. She looked for all the world like one of those children you see in the Disneyworld ads, with the slow-motion fireworks reflected in their eyeballs as their mouths form tiny Os of wonder.
 
Giving her up as a lost cause, I turned my gaze to her parents, who were smiling adoringly at their (presumably only) child as she clutched her bag of Hamilton t-shirts and pins and phone covers and booklets and muttered along in hushed tones that were not nearly hushed enough for anybody in a five seat radius. I narrowed my eyes. I tried to glare daggers. I tried to glare daggers with inscriptions on them that read, ‘CONTROL YOUR CHILD. CONTROL YOUR ADULT CHILD BEFORE I STRANGLE HER WITH A HAMILTON LANYARD.”
 
They didn’t blink. They deflected my eyeball daggers with a strong force-field of love for their daughter, ignorance of my plight and stratospheric levels of self-absorption.
 
By ‘You’ll Be Back,’ my boiling rage had turned to a simmer. Her delirious laughter had dulled my senses and a small and uncharitable part of me had started to believe she wasn’t all there. ‘Poor thing,’ I thought, tilting my head away from the mumbling so that I looked like a King Charles Spaniel with a neck deformity. ‘This is probably her one supervised day out from the musical addiction rehab facility.
 
Her enthusiasm for each and every line of the performance was both commendable and impressive, but it was (unfortunately) definitely not infectious.
 
As somebody who had purchased tickets for this show over a year in advance, and who had listened to the soundtrack multiple times, I considered myself, you know, a fan. I think Hamilton is an extremely well-crafted musical! The lyrics are sharp, the melodies are catchy, and the characters are memorable. All of this to say, I didn’t enter the Victoria Palace Theatre with an indifferent attitude. I arrived ready to enjoy myself.
 
I was not ready, however, for the back of my head to be pummeled by the waves of exhilaration coming off this girl in the seat behind us. I was not ready to simultaneously experience Hamilton: The Musical and also Hamilton: The Breathily-Whispered Performance From a Seated Position in the Upper Balcony. I was not ready to have the amusement of every mildly funny line cut through with screaming, manic laughter, or to have every tender scene building up to a moment of sorrow hijacked by loud, hacking sobs.
 
When we reached the interval, Scrubs and I practically sprinted to the relative tranquility of the corridor – the only place we could find blissful silence – to shakily recover from the assault on our senses.
 
I started the second half of the musical in a dull, numb stage of acceptance. Clearly there was no saving this experience. I thought about asking her to be quiet, but one look at her face told me I couldn’t bring myself to be the one to pull her down from her personal Nirvana. From the looks I shared with the middle-aged lady beside me, I obviously wasn’t the only one with the same thought. During particularly enthusiastic mumbling from the back, she glanced at the girl, raised her eyebrows at me and shrugged her shoulders. ‘At least she’s enjoying herself,‘ I could hear her thinking.
 
I shrugged back, a silent gesture encompassing a multitude of emotions.
Towards the end of the play, (SPOILER ALERT) Alexander’s life comes to its inevitable end. You know it’s coming from the moment the play begins and still, it’s sad. It gets pretty emotional. When I listen to the soundtrack, I often skip over the ending because I don’t want to feel heartbroken for Eliza Hamilton.
 
On this occasion skipping the ending wasn’t really an option.
 
This time the sniffles started long before the sad notes kicked in. Our friend from the row behind was suffering well before anything tragic had taken place. As the music slowed and things started to take a dark turn, the sniffles grew to whimpers, and by the time an emotional blow had actually been dealt, the whimpers had become full, seat-clutching, body-wracking sobs. Her howls of sadness were punctured only by gasps as she desperately inhaled so as not to drown on her own tears.
 
I tried – I swear to God I tried – to stop myself, but I couldn’t help it.
 
I started to giggle.
 
And then I couldn’t stop.
 
My shoulders shook as I bit down on my lip in an attempt to stifle the laughter. I covered half my face with my hand, stealing a glance at the lovely woman beside me to see how she was faring. To my relief, she was just far enough away from the girl to have escaped this latest explosion of emotion. She was absorbed in the musical, her eyes wide and glinting with tears.
 
A keening wail erupted behind me. I snorted with laughter, then swallowed it down awkwardly in an attempt to make it sound like a choking sob. I was desperate to hide my laughter because it felt disrespectful, like giggling at a wake.
 
Unfortunately, it was a relentless assault; the girl was inconsolable.
 
If she had been Eliza Hamilton herself, she could not have been more earnestly devastated by Alexander’s death. Each sound, each distraught utterance from behind us sent me into a fresh wave of convulsions. I hunched over, hiding my face, hoping my shaking shoulders just made me look like any other member of the audience overcome with emotion, weeping into my hands.
 
Honestly I think my hysteria was partly fueled by the relief of knowing that our ordeal was almost over.
 
I turned away from the lady beside me – hoping to spare her the realisation that I was in fits of giggles – only to bump shaking shoulders with Scrubs, who by now was himself silently laughing into a tightly clenched fist. I looked up at him, he looked down at me, and that was a mistake of course, like throwing petrol on a fire. It only made things that much worse. I started crying with laughter from the effort of hiding it. There we were, both of us in tears, surrounded by people crying from actual emotion.
 
I felt like a terrible person.
 
By the time the cast had taken their bows and left the stage (to a standing ovation – they really were amazing), Scrubs and I were desperate to escape. We left the building in a sort of traumatised silence, breathing the night air in with gulping breaths, afraid to say a word until we’d left the theatre far behind us.
We decompressed with some wine and late-night pizza in the only place we found open. There was less discussion about the musical itself than there was about that girl’s slow but relentless goal to drive us all the way around the bend and back again. The show was great, but it just could not compete with the drama taking place in the row behind us.
Now that some time has passed, what did I think of Hamilton the Musical?
It was an experience.

The Upside of Adulting

I walk around town aimlessly.

I do that sometimes. I don’t much like going for scenic walks by myself; I don’t like to be left alone with my thoughts. I would much rather be distracted by the eyecatching chaos of capitalism. So I head into town and I wander around running my hand over sequin scales and plush velvet and thick, cosy cashmere. I stumble up and down streets until my legs get tired, with nowhere particular in mind and earphones on to block any potential social interaction with the international sign for ‘BUSY’. I walk around town aimlessly, and sometimes I stumble on treasures.

Usually these are food-related, because I am a hungry hippo in the body of a short brunette.

On Thursday, it was a 1kg jar of Nutella.

The lid on the jar says “Start your day with Nutella!” and I have been diligently following this excellent nutritional advice. Who am I to argue with dietary guidance from a jar of chocolate spread? It may not physically be good for me, but every morning I pull out a teaspoon, dig it into the jar, shove it in my mouth and smile. I’m an adult, and one of the great things about being an adult is that I can choose to have Nutella for breakfast. 

Sometimes adulting has an upside!

 

*This is not a sponsored post. I absolutely wish. Can you imagine anything sweeter (pun intended) than a Nutella sponsorship? I would never be able to donate blood again because I would have Nutella running through my veins instead. Good for my mood, bad for my health.

 

Without You

I am not cool.

I don’t have a cool accent, I don’t wear cool clothes, I don’t know how to order cool drinks at Starbucks and I don’t listen to cool music. If I ever decide to hop onto a trend-driven bandwagon, it’s usually not until long after it’s departed, around the time that it starts to disappear over the horizon.

I love miming the high notes in The Tracks of My Tears (Smokey Robinson & The Miracles), and repeating the relentless rhymes of Best of All Possible Worlds (Kris Kristofferson). I bounce around the house to the staccato energy of Crocodile Rock (Elton John), and sway to the slow sadness of Vienna (Billy Joel). I care more about lyrics than melodies, but will unironically enjoy the hell out of Uncle John From Jamaica (Vengaboys) or If You Want It To Be Good Girl (Backstreet Boys) on the same day that I listen to Curse Me Good (The Heavy) or Julie London’s smoky version of Cry Me a River.

My musical palate is completely uncomplicated by coolness. If it suits my mood I like it, and if I like it I learn it, and it’s about as simple as that. Years and years later, hearing the opening strains of a song will still cause me to regurgitate the words like some strange form of musical muscle memory. Without knowing that I know them, the words will pour out of my mouth. Songs are so strongly tied to feelings for me that familiar tunes are like disembodied time travel.

Scrubs is not of the same musical persuasion. Scrubs likes music that I don’t understand, that barely has lyrics, that runs into the next tune with no warning. He likes music with psychedelic background graphics that remind me of early Windows screensavers. He likes the kind of music that was made for dark places with neon lights and people who don’t like to dance or sing karaoke. 

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In 2015, Scrubs and I linked up with a few of our friends to go to Vegas. We spent a week there, lying by the pool and running between air conditioned buildings in choked sprints, spending money on blackjack and laughing at superstitious craps players. Our first weekend there we had bought passes for Electric Daisy Carnival, a dance music festival that takes over the Las Vegas Speedway and turns it into an awesome, heart-bursting multi-coloured wonderland. I had stumbled on a trailer for it a year before and thought it was something both of us might enjoy; Scrubs would like the music and I would like… everything else. 

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Walking into EDC was mind-blowing. It was a sprawling, glittering fairground full of smiling, beautiful people. I left Scrubs in a tent called Neon Garden full of sombre-looking people bobbing their heads to moody tunes and went exploring. I visited the giant dandelion seeds and the colour-changing caterpillar. I cheered for two strangers getting married in the chapel. I watched a girl hula-hoop for what seemed like hours and exchanged kandi (plastic bracelets) with a bouncing girl in a turquoise tutu.

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I loved it. I loved the people who were so obviously having the time of their lives. I loved the vibe of pure happiness around the place. I loved the costumes and the crazy installations and the art cars. I loved exploring the different sections and getting lost and somehow finding people again among the multitudes.

And I even loved some of the music.

On the first night, I dragged Scrubs to Circuit Grounds to watch Fatboy Slim. I love Fatboy Slim. Something about him makes me happy deep in my bones. I’m not sure if it’s the unabashedly awful shirts he wears, or the fact that he doesn’t try to be anybody other than who he is, or the fact that he’s a bit older than the average headliner, or the fact that he just seems to enjoy what he does so damn much… My glittery rainbow hi-tops barely touched the ground for his entire set. 

The next night I made a beeline for the main stage, Kinetic Fields, to listen to Avicii.

For someone who largely doesn’t understand (or even really like) EDM, Avicii was my happy place. For once my tonally deaf ears could differentiate between songs. That set made me so happy. The wholesome lyrics that made me want to hug the stranger next to me, the crowd thousands strong calling them out at the top of their lungs, and the drops that made the mass of people move as one made me understand why people loved EDM. The voice of Etta James boomed out over the speakers, led into Levels, and I was in a blur of bouncing, kaleidoscopic colour.

He finished his set with a song that I had listened to on repeat for the year that I spent living in Germany.

I tried to carry the weight of the world, but I only have two hands.
I hope I get a chance to travel the world, but I don’t have any plans.
I wish that I could stay forever this young, not afraid to close my eyes,
Life’s a game made for everyone, and love is the prize.

So wake me up when it’s all over,
When I’m wiser and I’m older,
All this time I was finding myself
And I didn’t know I was lost.

That song and The Nights (He said “One day you’ll leave this world behind, so live a life you will remember”) are such bittersweet songs. The lyrics are enough to bring on a minor existential crisis, but the tune is so thumpingly upbeat there’s no time to wallow, so instead you’re left with a distilled reminder to focus and hold on to the important things in life. That night I got such a buzz from just being there and bouncing along to the beat. I didn’t know anything about Avicii other than the lyrics of his songs and that was enough.

Three years later, when I heard that he had died this week it really knocked me. That happens to me sometimes; I feel pummeled by seemingly random events. I blame my mood. Or what I ate that day. Or the weather.

Really it could be anything.

Regardless, it made me truly sad to think that the world is minus one talented and introverted Tim Bergling. I thought about the fact that, waving away all the touring and the music, he was just a 28 year old guy. I clicked on his instagram, where there’s a photo of him and his dad, and another of his dog, Liam. I thought about how upset his family must be. I thought about how confused his dog must be. I just felt… deeply sad.

And so despite not being a fan of dance music, or even really of Avicii, I find myself writing this blog post about a person I have never met or had any connection to outside of listening to a few of his songs on Spotify and seeing him at EDC. I find myself thinking how strange – but also how powerful – music is to link people up like this, forging gossamer-thin strands of connection between strangers at festivals who might never speak to each other, and between audiences and headliners who never see individual faces but instead just one giant, constantly moving wave of people. I think of all the people who have their own important memories associated with certain songs, and how songs create webs of thoughts and feelings and remembrances that span across the globe, and how the people who created those songs will only ever know about the smallest sliver of a fraction of them.

It’s sort of… sad?

Amazing, but sad.

I hope Tim found some peace for himself in the last two years without the constant touring. Avicii, thanks for bridging the musical gap between me and Scrubs. Thanks for bringing so many people together to bellow along with the powerful voice of Etta James. Thanks for the memories. Thanks for making EDM accessible to everyone, including those of us who don’t know a bass from a treble.

Predator and Prey

David Attenborough’s voice

On the vast plains of the Penneys homeware savanna, a small Grant’s Gazelle picks her way past the rows of bed clothes. Distracted by the sight of a particularly fluffy cushion, she pauses in her pursuit of wildly unnecessary purchases.

A small movement in her peripheral vision attracts her attention. Suspicion causes her eyes to widen and she freezes, staring blindly across the shelf of vanilla bean tea lights. She can feel something watch her through the tangle of children’s clothes. A moment of utter stillness passes, and reassured by the lack of movement, she continues on, trotting past the scented candles.

Out of the corner of her eye she spots another movement. She stops next to the tea towels. Something is following her. Now truly alarmed, she picks up the pace and makes a break for the relative safety of the ground floor. The predator behind her veers off only to come at her from the side and corner her at the foot of the stairs. Her heart flutters with panic.

“Heyyyy….” says the jackal. “How are you doiiiing?”

“Fine thank you” says the gazelle, because maybe she is overreacting? He hasn’t really done anything yet after all. Maybe he’s just an overly friendly jackal. She tries to step around him but he places a paw on her. She doesn’t like it.

“Excuse me,” she says, and sprints up the stairs before he has a chance to react. A swift run gets her to the till, where I hand a t-shirt to the woman behind the register, because I am the gazelle and this metaphor has gone on for long enough.

As the cashier slowly scanned the barcode, my mind ran down dead-ends and alleyways in a frantic effort to keep ahead of my anxiety. I thought about asking the cashier if there was, per chance, a jackal of a man lying in wait for me, but on one hand I thought that if he hadn’t followed me from downstairs then I might seem a bit hysterical, and if he had, then I might freak out the poor woman. And what if security asked him to leave? Then what? Would he wait outside for me? And he was foreign and hadn’t exactly done anything other than make me feel very uncomfortable. Would they think I was a racist?

I kept my mouth shut and paid by card. She handed me my bag and I took it as slowly as possible, stalling for time. When she started to eye me suspiciously, I realised I could put it off no longer. I turned around inch by inch and…

… And he was there. Waiting. Smiling. Staring.

I shook my head at him as if he were offering me something, and bolted for the door. Afraid to look back in case he took any eye contact as a sign of encouragement, I headed up the street and across the road. I pushed into a throng of people in an effort to disappear. I am no stranger to people following me, and I’ve learned that my gut feeling is usually correct. This time my gut feeling was that I was being hunted. I made a sharp right into a women’s clothes shop and made directly for the stairs at the back. I tripped down them two at a time before heading for the farthest corner. When I had nowhere left to go, I turned around.

Only to find him there. Behind me. Waiting. Smiling. Staring.

He moved to corner me again. A frightened “No, leave me alone” hissed through my teeth and I dodged him. Back through the store. Back up the stairs. Out a different door to the one I’d used coming in.

At this point, I was texting Scrubs. Partly because I didn’t know what else to do, partly in an attempt to normalise the whole situation.

“Some dude is following me” I wrote. “Wtaf”

A quick lap of the ground floor told me he wasn’t giving up.

I tried hiding in a food hall. Every time I turned in an aisle he was behind me. Waiting. Smiling. Staring.

I was lagging and my panic levels were through the roof, so I did the only thing I could think of and ran upstairs, straight into the women’s public toilets. I sank down on the red PVC seating provided with a sigh of immense relief.

I honestly could have stayed there all day if necessary. I sat there for twenty minutes. A peek around the doorway revealed he was leaning against the wall, scrolling through his phone, presumably waiting for me.

I considered calling the police. I dismissed it as hysterical.

I waited another twenty minutes.

Finally, he left. I emerged from the toilets and glued myself to the wall as I scooted around the perimeter of the shopping centre and made my way to the exit. Once out on the street I felt exposed, like he might appear out of nowhere at any moment. I hid in the Asian supermarket until my tram arrived, and made sure he wasn’t getting on before I hopped on myself.

Honestly, the stress. I know people say that all the time, but seriously THE STRESS. I got a migraine and had to spend several hours in a darkened room almost crying with frustration.

Every so often I tell myself I should get out more, go into town more often, but then something like this happens and it makes me want to become a cloistered nun. Except, you know, without the nun part. I am a perfectly average person in every way so if this is happening to me, it must be happening regularly to an awful lot of people out there. Either that or I have the invisible tag of “ABSOLUTE SUCKER” attached to me somewhere and I have yet to shake it off.

I used to enjoy bumping into strangers and striking up a conversation, but more and more I find myself immediately wary of anyone who so much as catches my eye, much less tries to talk to me. I am becoming a social hermit crab, and my earphones are my shell.

I don’t want to feel like prey. I want to feel like a (tiny) lioness, well able to stand my ground against any jackal.

Maybe it’s time to take up martial arts.

Neighbourly Concern

The new neighbour arrived without my noticing.

One day the apartment was an empty shell of freshly-applied white paint, and the next a family had moved in. Two tall, slender brunettes and their tiny child now occupied the home where Hank and Daphne had previously lived. They have no names.  If I were to see them on the street I would most likely pass them without recognising them as my neighbours.

They don’t have a dog.

What they do have is some sort of a cycling obsession. I know this, because the nieghbour man often puts his very expensive-looking bike on a stand on his balcony and cycles for hours. HOURS. Which is fine, obviously. Who am I to say whether or not it’s unusual to get dressed in your lycra onesie and hop up on your perfectly road-worthy bike only to never leave the safety of your balcony?

Unfortunately, Oscar, the once-kitten, now small-bear-cub, has taken a keen interest in all this cycling malarky. Any day with a sighting of the stationary cyclist is a good day in Oscar’s book. I know this because the first day that we saw him pedaling furiously to nowhere, Oscar made an ill-advised attempt at joining him. He was busted only as he dangled on the edge of the window – a hefty wad of fluff swaying drunkenly in the breeze – calculating how far he would have to leap to catch the cycling man.

It turns out my cats have even less spatial awareness than I do, and have yet to master the seemingly simple concept of small versus far away.

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Considering Cycling Man lives a block over and a floor down, I suppose it is – in theory – possible that Oscar has flying squirrel capabilities I am not yet aware of (who knows what lies under all that excess fluff), and was about to deploy these skills to glide gently and gracefully down to our new neighbour. Unfortunately, it is far more likely that he would have leaped optimistically off the balcony like a rotund, airborne starfish and speedily plummeted into the holly bush below our window.

Ultimately, he was snatched to safety and now I am far more aware of our neighbours’ activities than I was before, if only because I have a feline bicycle enthusiast.

If I look out the window right now, I can see Cycling Man pedaling away like he’s trying to out-cycle his demons. Oscar is watching him with obsessive interest.

The window, naturally, is closed tight.

 

 

*******************************************************************************

 

Tomorrow is Paddy’s Day so I just want to wish everyone a great Lá Fhéile Pádraig – please remember the cardinal rules relating to shamrocks (never clover) and Paddy (never Patty), and don’t drink too much green beer (know the one that’s one too many; one. One is one too many. Drink something decent instead)!

 

The Circle: Film Rant

I know movie reviews are not usually in my wheelhouse, but I just watched a movie so bad, so viciously irredeemable, that I feel it’s my duty to make sure nobody else puts themselves through the misery of watching it.

So this is your warning. If you have not yet watched ‘The Circle‘, do future-you a favour and wipe its very existence from your memory.

I knew nothing about this movie going in except that the cast included Tom Hanks (the Good Guy of modern cinema and celebrities in general), Hermione, Patton Oswalt, the Stormtrooper from The Force Awakens and that red-haired companion from Dr. Who. I mean, that is not a bad cast! I have seen both John Boyega and Karen Gillan be immensely charming. In fact, I think that is their default setting. Emma Watson can be a likeable, eloquent human being. Tom Hanks is a cult of personality all of his own, and Patton Oswalt is funny. These are all good people. They have very evident talents.

AND YET.

These talents – this likeability – has been utterly erased for the entire duration of this film. The entire cast fight tooth and nail against these natural tendencies. All five of their characters are joyless, wooden, unlikeable, stilted creatures that act with the sort of two-dimensional reasoning that gives us such guff as “Knowing is good. Knowing everything is better!”

In case you know nothing about this movie, let me give you a brief synopsis.

***I am going to spoiler the heck out of it, because I hope you never watch it, and so I am not really spoiling it as much as I am saving you from wasting an hour and fifty minutes of your life you will never get back.***

First, a quick word on everything we know about these characters.

Mae:  Mae is the main character. She is a lazy, unfulfilled-millennial stereotype given human form. She likes to kayak by herself. She is friends with Annie (we don’t know how or why), even though they rarely see each other. She is friends with Mercer (from childhood; thanks, conveniently placed photograph on the sideboard), even though she’s not that nice to him and they have zero chemistry. Her motivations are a mystery. She has either dismally low intelligence or a pathological lack of imagination. If the former, she is potentially the dumbest human being on the planet. If the latter, it is not explained in any way that makes me the slightest bit sympathetic.

Annie: She works for the Circle. She is Scottish. She travels a lot. She is glam and bouncy and fun, and then suddenly she is greasy-haired, dull-eyed and clad in loungewear; this is the subtle shift in characterisation to let us know that she is Not Doing Well. We don’t know exactly what she does. We don’t know what she likes to do in her spare time. We don’t really know if she has any personality outside of getting Mae the job interview. She finally leaves The Circle (why?) to live in Scotland again, far from the stress of technology! Except… there’s still technology in Scotland. Do the makers of this movie think people in Scotland live in huts with dial-up and sheep?

Mercer: Mercer likes Mae for unexplained reasons. Maybe fancies her, although it’s hard to see why anyone would. Makes hanging decorations out of antlers, which he presumably sells to Gaston*. Doesn’t actually kill the deer so I’m not sure where the antlers come from. Can fix cars if need be. Lives in a log cabin in the woods. Drives a pick-up truck. He is deeply (and rightly) suspicious of The Circle.

Ty: Ty is John Boyega stripped of any charisma whatsoever. He plays the shadowy creater of TrueYou, something that is not fully explained but is important to The Circle. He broods in a dark corner, and trusts Mae with company secrets before getting to know anything about her because he just knows, from looking at her gormless face, that she “doesn’t have a cynical bone in her body.” Apparently this makes someone deeply trustworthy.

Now that I’ve explained all there is to these characters (not much), here is the brief and relatively painless synopsis of the story:

Mae gets a job at The Circle. She buys into the company ethos of getting rid of privacy for the betterment of humanity. She goes “fully transparent,” which involves broadcasting her entire life 24/7 except for bathroom breaks of 3 minutes. She accidentally broadcasts her parents having an intimate moment. She accidentally brings a community of trolls down on Mercer’s head for being a “deer-killer.” She accidentally alienates Annie. All of these people pull away or break contact with her, because they don’t feel like being regulars on The Mae Show. So far, so Black Mirror.

Her life falling apart at the seams, Mae switches from drinking the Kool Aid to injecting it intravenously and talks about how joining The Circle should be mandatory. The enormous amount of users means it shouldn’t be hard to track anyone down, even those who are not yet signed up, or those who don’t want to be found. She helps to create a program that gets users to track down any person on the planet in under twenty minutes. She tests it on her friend Mercer – the one who cut contact because he didn’t want a part of any of this – and in so doing has him hounded off a bridge. He plummets to his death in his pick-up truck.

You would think at this point that the movie has a predictable ending. You might think that Mae disconnects herself, moves into Mercer’s log cabin and retreats into a life of celibate hermitage for the rest of her days, feeling endless guilt for having essentially murdered her friend and having learned difficult but important lessons about respecting the wishes of other people and the value of privacy.

BUT NO.

Our heroine cries in bed for three days and then connects herself up again. She’s clearly plotting something with Ty, and so you allow yourself to hope that she has some truly bombastic plan up her sleeve. Will she blow The Circle up into smithereens of painfully cool plastic furniture? Will she destroy the chamber housing all the company’s data? Will she unmask Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt as secret NSA villains selling data to evil governments for GLOBAL DESTRUCTION?

God no!

What she will do #IMOM (In Memory Of Mercer) is put all their private e-mails online (even “the ones their wives don’t know about”!) and then triumphantly talk about how privacy is now a thing of the past. Then she’ll walk out the door with a smug smile on her face, not a single lesson learned, into the drone-filled brightness of a new day.

Wait. WHAT?

Yes. You have that right. She destroys the privacy of all around her, cutting her off from her parents and the one remaining friend she has that she didn’t murder, and her takeaway is that privacy should not be a thing. She’s FINE with drones flying in her face at all times. She’s FINE with being a willing Truman. She’s fine with all of it, because the plot holes in this film go deeper than the Mariana Trench and Mae has the intelligence of a brain-damaged kakapo.

After the film was over I was so hyped up from indignation that I stormed in to the room where Scrubs was peacefully relaxing, my hands balled into fists, and said, “ASK ME WHAT HAPPENS AT THE END OF THAT CRAP MOVIE! GO ON, ASK ME!”

“No thank you,” he said, casually turning the page of his book.

“ASK ME! OR GUESS! GUESS WHAT HAPPENED AT THE END OF A MOVIE WHERE THE MAIN CHARACTER KILLS HER BEST FRIEND AND THERE ARE LITERALLY NO CONSEQUENCES!”

He sighed, looked at me and said, with absolutely no upward inflection, “What happened.”

“SHE FREAKING TAKES OVER THE COMPANY BASICALLY! BECAUSE THE CIRCLE ISN’T BAD, BUT TOM HANKS IS! FOR REASONS UNKNOWN! IT DOESN’T EVEN TELL YOU WHY HE’S SUCH SUPPOSEDLY BAD! SHE DOESN’T LEARN A SINGLE LESSON! THE MORAL IS THAT A LACK OF PRIVACY IS TOTALLY FINE AS LONG AS TOM HANKS ISN’T INVOLVED! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?!”

“I can,” he says dryly. “That’s why I left halfway through the movie. It was a terrible movie. Why did you expect anything at all from the ending?”

I flopped onto the bed face first with a defeated sigh.

“Tom Hanks was in it!” I groaned.

“I know.”

“And Patton Oswalt!”

“There, there.” He patted my shoulder.

“I can’t believe I spent almost two hours of my life slowly building up to incoherent rage watching that disjointed, incomprehensible, badly-acted, badly-directed, badly-cast, badly-edited, badly-written piece of crap.”

“But now you know to never watch it again.”

This is true.

And now so do you.

*”I USE ANTLERS IN ALL OF MY DEEEEEEEEEEEEECORAAAAAATING” is literally all I could think of any time those antler chandeliers came up on the screen.

 

Toast Seems to be The Hardest Word

I look at the brunch menu in my hand as if it is written in Sanskrit.

What is ‘endive’? 

Why ‘avocado bruschetta’ and not just regular bruschetta?

Why a ‘3-egg omelette’? Who needs three eggs in the morning? Isn’t that awfully inflexible? What happened to poached eggs and toast?

I flip the menu over and finally find what I was looking for; namely scrambled eggs on toast, goujons, french toast, and bacon butties. They are clustered together in a section marked disdainfully as only for ‘Under 12’s’.

Ridiculous, I think, flapping the menu in distress. Are omelettes now considered more mature than scrambled eggs? Does the way you like your eggs say something fundamental about you as a person? I have obviously missed the memo explaining that when you reach the age of 12 you have to put away childish things and scrambled eggs on toast.

I place the menu flat on the table as the waiter approaches and look up at his expressionless face.

“Hi! Could I order off the under 12’s menu please?”

He blinks slowly at me. His mouth gives the tiniest twitch, one corner of his mouth twisting ever so slightly downwards. I don’t know it yet, but this is actually the only bit of expression I will manage to elicit from him over the course of brunch.

“Yeeees.”

The tone is so flat it’s hard to know how he feels about this lapse in protocol.

“Oh great!” I beam. His face stays stony. “Can I… err… Can I get the scrambled eggs on toast then please?”

His eyes flick down to the notepad in his hand.

“Scrambled eggs,” he intones. I wondered whether he is repeating it to himself or asking me to make sure it’s correct. I decide I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference either way. This man had clearly never heard of inflections.

“Yep!” I say, just to be clear. I point at the menu item. “Scrambled eggs on toast!”

He moves on with the order, and I sit back, happy to have avoided the fate of the adult omelette. Honestly. Nobody needs three eggs in a single meal. Especially not considering my cholesterol levels.

Fifteen minutes later, my scrambled eggs appear.

…Only my scrambled eggs appear.

My (at least) three-egg serving of scrambled eggs has somehow been wrangled into a circular form in the middle of my plate. It looks like a giant flan gone horribly wrong. An inedible amount of watercress has been strewn across the plate with reckless abandon.  I say a quick prayer for any under-12 who has ever been faced with this monstrous portion of scrambled egg.

There is no sign of toast.

I silently accept the scrambled egg cake, eyeing it warily. I feel like I have suddenly been entered in an all-the-eggs-you-can-eat competition. I am unprepared. I tentatively tear into the quivering yellow creation with my fork. Three bites in, I decide I cannot continue without toast to break up the monotony of all that egg. I make my way over to the waiter, who is across the room standing next to the bar.

“Hi!” I smile. He turns towards me. He does not return the smile. He looks neither surprised nor annoyed to see me there. His face simply does not move at all.

I forge ahead.

“Can I please get some toast?”

There is a brief pause as the words float through the air, enter his ears, and swim around in his mind. He digests them, and then his lids lift just enough for his eyes to find mine.

“Bread.”

Again, question or statement? Hard to know. I hedge my bets.

“… Toast…?” I say hopefully.

He gives the smallest of nods and then walks stiffly away.

Five minutes later, as I am busy deconstructing the egg abnormality, he reemerges and approaches us with a wooden walk that might scream ‘I WOULD RATHER BE PICKING JAGGED SPLINTERS OUT FROM UNDER MY FINGERNAILS’ or else might just be his strangely inflexible natural gait. It really could be either. He bends slightly at the waist and puts down a plate containing two small circular slices of bread.

I stare at it, nonplussed.

“Thanks” I eventually mutter, more out of reflex than genuine gratitude. I am still staring at the bread. Our waiter receives my thanks without so much as a glimmer of acknowledgment, and immediately travels back to his spot beside the bar. His face – for a change – betrays nothing at all.

My mind ticks over as I butter the bread. I did ask for toast, I think to myself as my knife gouges the soft white crumb. Three times! Toast! Is toast an uncommon request now? Is this an unspoken rule like the adult omelettes? Am I that out of the loop? Is there some other way to ask for toast? Did he do it on purpose? Is he over there now, laughing at my futile attempts to get a regular, normal, single portion of scrambled eggs on toast?

I surreptitiously eye him up. He is standing stock still, staring at a light fixture, his face an impressive blank. No, I decide. This man is clearly not capable of such a stretch in emotional range.

Baffled, I eat my bread discs. I leave nothing but the watercress behind, and briefly wonder if it’s possible to overdose on scrambled eggs.

Then I pay and, because I’m a sucker, I tip him the standard 10%.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello

I carried a towering pile of items to the till and placed them on the belt.

“Hi!” said the cashier.

The friendly chirpiness in her voice was probably due to the fact that it was almost closing time, but that’s just a guess. I smiled and returned the greeting, and then focused all of my limited attention on placing the heavy items at the front of the pile so I could bag them the proper way.

Little known fact, but that’s actually what adulting is all about; trying not to smoosh the brie beneath tins of tomatoes. True fact.

The cashier made a comment about the weather, and my friend smiled and agreed while I expertly separated the items in order of weight. I dropped the cartons of milk into the bottom of the bag, followed by the tins of tomatoes and the packet of pasta. I eyed the brie and broccoli as the cashier scanned it through. I was determined to absolutely nail this bagging business.

As an unrelated aside – it’s amazing the things you can trick your mind into thinking are little victories when the going gets tough.

Five minutes later, everything was carefully bagged and paid for. The cashier handed me the receipt. She smiled warmly and said, “Have a good evening now!” to which I naturally replied…

“Hello.”

Not an ‘oh hello, didn’t see you there’ type of hello.

Not a nice, friendly, ‘Hello!!’

Just a flat, short, “Hello” in the same tone you would use if you were to automatically mutter, “Thanks” to a cashier who had just handed you a receipt.

…Which is what I was aiming for when my mind panicked and “Hello” popped out instead.

Cue an awkward pause as the cashier narrowed her eyes at me, probably trying to determine if I had some form of short-term amnesia. I grabbed the bag, turned on my heel and walked right out of the shop while screaming internally.

All this to say that today is my one year blogiversary. I know this because WordPress sent me a little notification to remind me. Thanks WordPress! One year on and I am still having awkward interactions with strangers. One year on and I am still embarrassing myself so you don’t have to. One year on and I am still waiting on that damn manual.

But in the meantime, I’ve got you guys to keep me company.

Hello!

 

Questionable Decisions

The delivery man called me a few minutes after ten o’clock.

“I’m on my way to ye now!” He said, his voice bubbling with confidence. “How do I find ye?”

I spun slowly on one foot, chewing my lip as I considered my geographical ignorance.

“It’s just…. through the village?” I said, my voice lilting upward at the end because I sincerely hadn’t a clue.

Frantically I attempted to chart the course in my mind, but it was just a hodgepodge of picture-book images in there; the post office, the church, the water pump. Was the church before or after the post office? Where was the water pump in relation to either of those? I stared blindly out the window at the rain as the delivery driver rattled down the country roads towards me.

“Alright,” he yelled over the sound of the rain. “I’ll stay on the phone. Now, I’m just at a turn that has me facin’ the post office-”

“Oh!” I shouted, like a contestant on a quiz show. If I’d had a buzzer I would have slammed my hand down. I knew this one! “Turn left there!”

I heard the click-click-click of the indicator snap on.

“Okay and now I’m passin’ a school-”

An image flashed in my brain and I cut in again.

“Yep! Just… if you just keep going past the school and past all the houses…”

“I’m passin’… another school it looks like-”

“Yep, keep going, past that…”

“An’ now I’m passin’ a house with a yella door-”

“Yep, yep keep going, you’ll reach a long stretch of nothing and then there’s a gate on the right that’s sort of at the end of the hedgerow…”

“Is it a long driveway? Have ye a blue door?”

“Yes!”

“Ah I’m here now so.”

“Great! Thanks! If you drive around to the back…”

“Okay will do.”

I raced to the back porch and pulled open the door as the white delivery van swung round the corner. I lifted one foot to step outside and saw that the path down the garden was almost flooded. I glanced mournfully down at my unicorn slippers, then up at the driver, hunched over, dragging a box out of the back of the van. Not wanting to get my unicorns wet, but also not wanting the driver to get soaked to the skin waiting for me to find a pair of shoes, I kicked off the slippers and hopped down the flagstones on my tiptoes.

When I reached the man, he was watching me warily.

“Did ye just-” He paused as he handed me the scanner. “Did I just see ye kick yer shoes off to come outside? In the rain? Where it’s wet?”

I made a mangled stab at signing my name with the tip of my finger, then handed him back the device. There was a moment of silence as we both looked down at my feet, now shiny from the rain.

“Yes,” I said, since there didn’t seem any point in denying it.

“Alright so!”

He smiled at me with a slight frown. It was a gentle smile, a kindly-but-concerned smile. The sort of amiable, uncertain smile you give people when you’re not quite sure they’re right in the head. I briefly wondered if there was anything I could say to defend my questionable decision.

Probably not.

He looked down at my feet again, raised his eyebrows in an expression that seemed to say, ‘Well I’ve seen it all now!’, then got back in his van and backed out of the driveway as I skipped back over the flagstones to my warm fluffy unicorn slippers.