Barely Surviving Bansko, Bulgaria

bansko-banner

Well.

As I stood thigh-high in snow, looking around me for any sign of civilisation, I patted my pockets for my phone and marveled at my own stupidity.

Let me backtrack for a moment and explain that this happened in 2007, and that I want to tell this story because I wouldn’t want you to expect my travel stories to be in any way aspirational. In fact, many of my stories are of situations to be avoided, whether that’s due to the holy mortifying shame of them, or just a general lack of critical thinking skills displayed at the time. With that said, this is definitely one of the latter.

I’d arrived in Bulgaria three days earlier with a group of family and friends who had planned the New Year’s ski trip on a whim. At the time I was in a mindmelting relationship, so naturally I’d jumped at the chance for a break. An excessively enthusiastic shopping spree had made me the proud owner of a neon orange ski suit (from the children’s section) that made me look less like a professional skiier and more like an anthropomorphised traffic cone. I had also purchased gloves (from the children’s section), thermals, socks, boots, and matching goggles, so I felt very high-tech and athletic. My suit even had RECCO reflectors, which are supposed to help locate you in the unfortunate event that you get lost in the snow*. I was probably the most prepared I’ve ever been for a holiday in my entire life.

Our arrival in Bulgaria coincided with the run-up to the country officially becoming part of the European Union, and it seemed like the country was just about making ends meet with sellotape and bits of string. Our small plane landed on an icy runway outside of what looked like a large, corrugated iron shed masquerading as Plovdiv Airport**, and when we got inside we found a single luggage carousel that may or may not have served any practical use. I wouldn’t know; there were so few of us the airport staff just dumped our suitcases in the middle of the baggage hall instead of bothering with the charade of passing them through the hole in the wall. I don’t remember much about the journey from the airport to our hotel except that it was dark, it was snowing, and I was dog tired.

The next morning, I was dressed and ready to go by 7am. Feeling very prepared (and possibly overly-optimistic about my skiing abilities), I bounced excitedly from foot to foot as I waited to be picked up from the hotel lobby. A rickety minibus made the treacherous trip up the mountain every hour for four hours, picking people up at different hotels and depositing them at the top. In the evening, the minibus would meander back down the same way. Other than that, there was no way to get to or from the slopes, so I was always obnoxiously early for a seat on the bus.

My first day of skiing consisted of a lot of snowploughing – and if I’m honest it didn’t really pick up from there over the course of the week – but I had a great time. Just focusing on getting down the mountain in one piece was a nice reprieve from the drama that was eating me alive back home, and I was a huge fan of the little stops for hot chocolate every twenty minutes. My more athletically-gifted cousins quickly left me for the excitement of the red and black slopes, but I was content to slowly snowplough my day away in my kiddie ski suit, one green slope at a time. At the end of each day I would stumble back onto the rickety minibus, feeling extremely pleased with myself. Another day without breaking any bones! Another day of successfully avoiding trees! I was a star skier in my own mind. I would chatter excitedly until someone tugged on my sleeve to let me know we had reached the hotel, and then I would tumble off the bus ready for shots of tequila.

Skiing; it’s so much fun!

So three days into the trip, around dusk, I found myself on the last minibus of the day. Putting my trust in the courageous driver and the fact that this was my third round-trip on this deathtrap and we hadn’t yet plunged sideways down a cliff, I turned my attention to my friend Darcy and his younger brother Bing. They were staying at a hotel further along the route from mine, but everyone we knew staying at my hotel had left early that day so it was just the three of us. As the bus finally pulled in beside my hotel, I waved a cheerful goodbye and jumped down, alone.

The bus pulled away.

I stood, staring at the hotel.

I’d never noticed the blue window frames before. Come to think of it, I hadn’t noticed the popcorn plaster exterior either. I was almost sure my hotel had four floors… Why did it now only have three? I walked up to the building and pushed open the double doors.

The lobby looked entirely unfamiliar.

A large, surly-looking doorman appeared out of the gloom and said something to me in Bulgarian. I shook my head. He repeated himself and I smiled apologetically. “English?” I asked, with a hopeful voice. He shook his head and frowned at me. I looked around for someone – anyone – who might tell me where I now found myself, but the place was deserted.

I backed up, letting the double doors swing shut in my face. Then I turned around, and with an optimism that managed to completely blinker me from the red flags of my idiocy, decided it couldn’t possibly be too much of a walk to my hotel. In an ill-advised move that really sets the tone for the rest of this story, I set off down the road (if you’re keeping score as to how many moronic decisions I made on this day, we’re probably already up to about three).

Now keep in mind that although I used the word ‘road’ before, I was being extremely generous. What I am referring to as a road was merely a wide dirt track that looped its way back and forth down the unlit mountain. There were no cars to be seen, and I could tell that up ahead the path curved in a long arc before doubling back further down, so naturally I decided to take a short-cut through the trees (four).

Stepping off the road and hopping down into the forest, my feet plunged straight down into the snow until it reached my knees. I briefly considered turning back, but looking up at the embankment I had just jumped from I decided it would be easier to just press on (five). At first, I high-stepped like a pudgy pony doing dressage, but slowly the snow got deeper and deeper, and soon I was half-wading, half-shuffling through the snow. After fifteen minutes, night had well and truly fallen and I was only halfway through the trees to the next patch of road.

I started giggling to myself as I assessed the situation. Patting my pockets, I pulled out my Nokia with absolutely no roaming capabilities, and shone its paltry light around me. I was lost. I didn’t know where I was. If I kept walking, I was pretty sure I would eventually reach someone, but not necessarily someone who spoke English. I didn’t speak a word of Bulgarian. I didn’t know the name of my hotel, or whether it was up or down the mountain. I apparently didn’t even know what it looked like.

I slipped my phone into the neck of my jacket and slapped the snow with my palms as I considered my predicament. Then I returned to my slow snow-shuffle, giggling every so often at my own ineptitude. Every single step was an exercise in trust; I would inch my toes forward and hope against hope that the sole of my boot would meet something solid before the snow reached my waist. I started to feel nervous that I would fall down a hole camouflaged by the snow. I  wondered how useful my ROCCO reflectors would really be if I got caught on something. I wondered how much colder it would get overnight.

As I neared the road, I saw lights approaching from the distance and threw all caution to the wind. In all likelihood, you have never had occasion to watch a small, cushioned, neon-orange starfish-shaped person waddle quickly through excessively deep snow, but if you had been there that night that is exactly what you would have seen, and I think you would have been impressed by my speed.

You know, for a starfish.

I reached the edge of the road as a car came around the bend, and put out my hand… only to realise it was stopping of its own accord. I blinked in the harsh light of the headlights as an angry silhouette stomped towards me and grabbed my arm. It was Darcy. He and his brother had reached their hotel and somehow realised I had alighted at the wrong stop. They had retraced the minibus route in a taxi searching for me and my radioactive-looking ski suit.

Without a word, he half-pushed, half-dragged me to the taxi and bundled me in, where I was glad to see his brother (whose face wore a far less intimidating expression) and even more glad to give my extremities the chance to thaw. Darcy got in beside me and slammed the door of the taxi shut with a tight-lipped expression of barely restrained fury. He didn’t speak to me for hours.

Giddy with relief at being rescued from an ignominious death in a frozen forest, I was happy to ignore the waves of anger radiating from his body the entire drive back to the hotel.

I’ll tell you something, though…

He made damn sure I got out at the right one this time.

*Foreshadowing

**Apparently Plovdiv Airport has since undergone extensive renovations, and from the sound of things it no longer resembles a shed and now looks more like an actual airport.

Sporadically Nomadic

untitled-design-2

I love to travel.

I have been traveling since I was born. My mother is Spanish and my father is Irish, so in order to meet half of my extended family I had to be put on a plane as early as possible*.

Since then, I’ve been busy trying to visit as many new places as I can.

Unfortunately, I’m not one of those golden-haired, anklet-wearing, hostel-loving free spirits who go traveling barefoot for months on end and post pictures on instagram that make you want to claw your eyes out with jealousy. I’m more of a Dora the Explorer type. Not the new stylised version with the pearl earrings who looks like she owns a Burn Book. No, I’m the OG short dumpy Dora with the bowl haircut that looks like she’d be annoyingly upbeat about everything.

dora_marquez

That’s me! I keep a Canon 60D in that backpack. Una cámara!

I love everything about the actual verb part of traveling. I have no fear of flying – I actually enjoy turbulence – and even when it’s exhausting, arriving in a place where everything is a blank slate gives me the sort of rush people usually get from drinking five double espressos back-to-back. The usual annoyances of long-distance travel (limited legroom, for example) don’t really apply, since I am like human origami; I can stiffly crease myself into an astonishingly small arrangement of limbs when necessary.

My only real travel struggle is my ongoing difficulty with packing. Despite many years of practice, every suitcase successfully checked in continues to be a Pyrrhic victory. I rarely remember everything I need and, since the first items to be flung into my suitcase are usually things like my fins or my inflatable donut, it’s difficult to find space for more practical items.

Packing for the return leg of the journey is no less onerous. After finally stuffing my suitcase to the brim with non-essential essentials, I run into real problems on the way back when I want to bring home every kind of portable food. Trust me when I say that it is a true challenge to fit five boxes of tea, a 50oz bag of peanut butter M&Ms and a bear-shaped honey container into a suitcase that is already bursting at the seams; some sock sacrifices often have to be made.

Priorities!

Anything I think is delicious that I can’t find at home goes in the bag. I collect all sorts of delicious edible items when I travel; rainbow sprinkles, pastries, fried tomato sauce, tea, aniseed tortas, rice… I also collect other things. I collect tiny pebbles that catch my eye. I collect business cards from restaurants. I collect train tickets and hotel keycards and cinema stubs and pack all of these things away in my travel box.

… And I collect experiences. I collect memories.

I watched goat brains boil in their skulls in Marrakech, Morocco, and steered a horse-drawn carriage over the cobblestoned streets of Vienna, Austria. I unwittingly joined a pilgrimage in Jaipur, India, and reluctantly visited an onsen in Yamanakako, Japan. I discovered the limitations of air conditioning in Death Valley, USA, and did a drunken good deed in Paris, France. I got lost in thigh-high snow in Bansko, Bulgaria, and galloped past the pyramids in Cairo, Egypt. I’d like to write all of these memories down somewhere, and what better place than here?

This is basically my Pensieve, after all.

So I just wanted to check in with you, see how you would feel about occasionally odd, mildly mortifying stories from my pitter-pattering across continents. I even made a poll!

Thanks! Now go. Have a great weekend. Yes, you. You deserve it.

Even you with the heart of stone.

See you on Monday!

*I’m sure the rest of the poor unfortunate souls on that flight were delighted to have a two month old companion.

Life Skill Unlocked: Millinery

needle

If you’ve never heard the word before, ‘millinery’ is the word for the art of making fancy hats and fascinators*.

I actually have never worn a fancy hat or fascinator. Not because I don’t like them – they can be pretty amazing – but because anything small and girlie makes me feel self-conscious and stupid, and anything wide-brimmed makes me look like a peculiarly flamboyant portobello mushroom.

portobellomushroom
There I am on the left there

Still, as you know, I like to try my hand at new crafts, so when Emergency Sister invited me to join her for an afternoon of millinery at The Design House** on Dawson Street, I jumped at the opportunity.

I have not, in the past, had the best of luck with fabric-related crafts. As a general rule, unless there is a glue gun involved there is a chance that no two pieces will ever come together. The end result of my efforts is commonly a scrap pile of material marred with the sort of stitches you’d expect on Frankenstein’s monster, and bloody phalanges from repeatedly punching holes in my fingertips with the needle.

Essentially for this exercise I will need you to take the image you have in your mind’s eye of a Jane Austen lady quietly, delicately, elegantly sewing in the corner… and replace it with what you might expect to see after a rumpled, chaotic girl has spent hours attempting to remove her own fingerprints.

Thanks to my past experience with fabric, I went into the class with high excitement at the idea of learning a new skill and, at the same time, profoundly low expectations that I would actually leave with a finished piece. Thankfully, as soon as we arrived we were offered a glass of wine to encourage the creative process. In my opinion there is no situation wine cannot improve, and this was no exception. I definitely felt my confidence in my own abilities go up as steadily as the level of wine in my glass went down. There were five of us in the class, and after listening intently to our teacher Bebh, we all picked a colour and got to work.

Five hours, one steamed finger and countless needle-pricks later, I had a finished fascinator.

I even took a photo as proof.

img_wxnxh5
Proof.

So there you have it. Life skill unlocked! Perhaps not the most practical skill, but a skill nontheless. Now, thanks to the astonishing powers of Bebh and her excellent teaching, I can go forth and make many more fascinators in the future. Despite the fact that I probably stabbed my fingers more than I stabbed the sinamay, and it’s unlikely that I will ever wear my little creation, I had a really good time and would definitely recommend it. I didn’t use the glue gun once!

Also, as it turns out, I have the perfect (if slightly reluctant) model for my work:

2017022191983155
Don’t worry, she was paid for this modelling gig.

*If you have ever seen a woman at a wedding who you suspected had a startled bird perched precariously on the side of her head… She was probably wearing a fascinator.

*The Design House is located at 43 Dawson Street, Dublin and they teach a number of classes there. Not only that but you can also get clothes made from scratch, or buy any number of Irish crafts in their shop. Also there’s a cafe downstairs that makes delicious sandwiches (I tried them) and, apparently, heavenly cannolis (I have not yet tried them, but they’re on my list).

Travel, flying, Ireland, home

Straight Outta Ireland

150324_flights-hero-image_1330x742

There are a lot of great quotes about travel.

For example, Mark Twain once said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” and I’ve certainly found that to be true in my own life. There is something about being in a country that is utterly unlike your own; it stalls the senses and resets your brain to create a new normal built on the foundations of the old.

Today, I’d like to write about any one of the many places I’ve visited on my travels. That’s what I really feel like doing. I want to spin an amusing tale about the time my milk withdrawals led me to sneak into a shop, in which I then had to mime extensively in order to procure a clear plastic baggie of unpasteurised, unhomogenised milk from an unknown animal. It was a lot like the scene from Bridget Jones, only with milk and confused Egyptians rather than a pregnancy test and confused Austrians.

bjpreggo
Same same but different

Anyway. That’s what I’d like to write about… But that’s not what I’m going to write about, because I don’t feel that would be right. This is my first post about travel, after all.

Let’s start elsewhere.

Let’s go back for another travel quote.

Terry Pratchett once wrote, “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. […] Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

So I’m going to start there. Or rather, I’m going to start here.

I’m going to tell you a bit about Ireland.

2a670c7ba6e231e2841a22463e08df3a

I was born and raised here, on this small but surprisingly popular patch of land; the little spoon to Great Britain’s big spoon. If you’ve never been, it really is as excessively green as people say.

This is mostly due to the truly appalling weather, which by all rights should have us lolling about despondently in deep, unremmitting depression. Instead, it has spawned a peculiarly Irish sense of humour and a steadfast, grim camaraderie. The citizens of Ireland are fighting an interminable war against the weather, and all we have to get us through it is each other.

… And we love to talk about it. Rain, naturally, gets the worst of it. Naturally, considering the amount of rain we have to deal with, we’ve developed different ways of saying the same thing so we don’t get too bored.

  • “It’s only drizzle” = It’s raining out.
  • “It’s only spitting” = It’s raining out.
  • “It’s trying to rain” = It’s raining out.
  • “It’s just a shower” = It’s raining out.
  • “It’s lashing rain” = The rain is coming down in sheets.
  • “It’s pissing rain” = The rain is coming down in sheets.
  • “It’s pouring rain” = The rain is coming down in sheets.
  • “It’s bucketing down” = Ready the Ark.

The default conversation with a stranger here tends to at least start with a comment about the meteorological conditions. I’ve traveled extensively, and nowhere else have I experienced this chronic, obsessive need to discuss what is happening in the sky. At work, answering the phone becomes an exercise in zen-like patience, since almost every call begins with the same – apparently compulsory – conversation about the type of weather we’re having.

“[Workplace name], how can I help you?”

“Hello! How are you?”

“Well, thank you, and you?”

“Ah sure, you know yourself. Ticking along! Isn’t it a dirty day*? A dirty, dirty day…”

“It is! I’m glad to be inside.”

“Sure this is it!”

It’s a thing. You get used to it.

As Mr. Pratchett rightly pointed out in the quote above, sometimes you don’t appreciate certain facets of your home country until you’ve been elsewhere. For example, it wasn’t until I was living in Germany that I realised why the Irish reputation for being friendly was so deserved. The first time I found myself waiting at a bus stop with a German stranger, the silence lengthened and, without shame or compunction, I commented, “Es ist sehr kalt, meinst du nicht?” (“It’s very cold, don’t you think?”). This was greeted with the same reaction I feel I might have received if I had stuck my middle fingers in her face, thrust my pelvis at her and insulted her mother in lewd terms, rather than made a fairly banal remark about the weather.

The second time I attempted casual conversation with a stranger was at a bar while I was waiting for my drink. I turned to the person on the stool next to mine and told them their cocktail looked delicious. They stiffened in alarm, and without a word picked up their glass and turned their back to me.

The third time I tried it (and was again rebuffed with much the same wide-eyed panic), my shoulders slumped in cultural surrender and I finally realised my mistake.

In Ireland, if you don’t spark up small talk when you find yourself thrown together with a stranger for longer than three minutes, the situation feels tense and awkward. In Germany, if you do spark up small talk when you find yourself thrown together with a stranger for longer than three minutes, the situation feels tense and awkward.**

Superficial small talk is not encouraged, or even welcome. Keep your congenial phrases of muddled German to yourself, is my advice.

Another thing I’ve learned about Ireland from traveling elsewhere is that we have tiny toilets. Well, either that, or our toilets are regular-sized and Florida received a supersized upgrade, because the toilets there are so inexplicably and comically enormous that when I first visited Miami I had very real fear that I might fall in. Every visit to the bathroom was fraught with danger.

Not only that, but I had always thought that a high water level in a toilet was the warning sign of a blocked pipe. Not so in America, where the water level in the toilet is so high, I imagine anything that falls into the toilet is a lost cause unless you’re Trainspotting-level committed to getting it back.

giphtrainspottingy-1

So.

A cultural fascination with the weather, small talk skills and relatively tiny toilets.

That’s what I’ve introduced you to today.

Welcome to Ireland!

*Translation: It’s grey, cloudy, miserable, and probably (yes, you’ve guessed it!) raining.

**This is not to say that Germans are not friendly. They’re very friendly! You just have to get to know them first… Preferably not by accosting them unexpectedly with superficial conversation.

 

It’s Friday, I’m in Love

friday-i-love-you1

It’s Friday!

I hope you’ve got some epic plans lined up for the weekend, and by epic I mean I hope there’s a considerable amount of downtime, preferably involving some pet interaction, maybe some cake consumption, possibly a cocktail or two… It’s the weekend! There are no rules. If you want to scatter jumbo marshmallows across your carpet and then lie down and make marshmallow-angels while laughing maniacally, you can do that! You’re an adult. No-one can stop you now.

Just don’t eat them afterwards. Do you even remember how long it’s been since you cleaned your carpet?

Anyway. Recently, two very nice things happened. One was that I somehow reached over 100 lovely readers (hi!), and the second was that I received some of those blogger awards that make me feel both embarrassed and flattered at the same time.

Look at those! They’re so pretty.

I received the floral awards from Yumie at Falling for Snow – thank you! – who is a really astoundingly lovely blogger with many, many, many cats and a very well curated, cool-toned instagram account. Her blog is an oasis of calm (and cats).

The geometric award comes from the beautiful and brave Bex at BEXoxoBlog, who has been through a lot and yet still has the strength to share her story and keep her attitude, humour and sense of adventure intact.

Each of these awards come with rules to post seven facts about yourself, and then pay it forward. I am bundling these together so that I don’t have to think of twenty-one facts about myself. That just seems like it would be too many facts for any decently relaxed Friday. So here we go:

  1. I was a very cute baby, and one day as my parents pushed me around Stephen’s Green park in my pram, they were stopped by Tom Cruise and Mimi Rogers. They asked if they could hold me and paid me many baby-related compliments. So, Tom Cruise played with me once. #CloseEncountersWithScientology
    imageedit_6_2532165471
    I like to think they were wearing these exact outfits at the time.
  2. I really took the lead with a weird fact there, so let me gently drag the conversation back to relative normality; two of my toes are sideways. I don’t know why. That’s just the way they choose to live their lives.
    terribledrawingoffeet
    Here is a hideously deformed artistic representation of my rebel toes. They’re not actually this frightening.  I hope.
  3. I’m short, but not the kind of short that makes people look dainty and elfin and petite. No, I’m the kind of short that makes you wonder if I’m just standing sort of far away. It really tends to sneak up on people. Every so often, someone I’ve known for quite a while will be standing right next to me and will be suddenly surprised by the fact that I only reach up to their shoulder. So that’s the kind of short I am; ninja short. Optical-illusion short.
    cows
    If you’ve never watched Father Ted… You should.
  4. I’ve traveled quite a bit but I think I still have a lot of globe-trotting left to do. So far I’ve visited England, Wales, France, Bulgaria, Italy, Andorra, Spain, Gibraltar, Slovenia, Austria, Monaco, Germany, Morocco, the United States, Curaçao, Egypt, India, and Japan.
    imageedit_8_9390611834
    There’s still a lot of adventures to be had in those unexplored grey patches!
  5. I drink about a litre of milk a day. I’ve tried to slow down my milk intake, but so far I haven’t managed it. It’s an addiction. Oddly, it doesn’t seem to matter what type of milk it is; it can be whole milk, skimmed milk, UHT milk, lactose-free milk, almond milk… I’m not picky. Just so long as it’s not water. I need to be in desert-like conditions suffering from severe dehydration to choose water.milk
  6. I am crazy about animals. I always have been. I’m not sure there’s anything that makes me as happy as watching animals just… be. I have my favourites (dogs, sharks, binturongs and pangolins), but by and large I’m fascinated by all and any of them. Doesn’t matter if they’re cats or capybaras. I also obsessively take photos of them everywhere I go, so in typical fashion I’ll come back from a holiday and have two photos of me and fifty photos of the scorpion I found on my bedroom floor*. 

  • I didn’t drink tea or coffee until about three years ago. It took that long for the Irish tea pushers to finally wear me down. The peer pressure here is intensez  4cè3a-drinking. Irish people drink an awful lot of the stuff, and there’s only so many years of “Would you have a cup of tea? Ahhh you would. Are you sure you don’t want just a small cup? Ah, go on!” a person can realistically handle before they snap and start drinking it out of courtesy. Then, before you know it, you’ve acquired a taste for the same drink you used to think was vile, and one day you have somebody over and you are surprised to hear yourself ask, ‘Would you like a cup of tea? Are you sure, now? Ah go on, just a small cup…mrsdoyle

    So there we are. Seven Friday facts about yours truly.

    As far as paying these awards forward to other bloggers, I’ve forgotten how many I’m supposed to choose and I could go back and look, but I’m not going to because trying to think of seven facts that weren’t my favourite colour/song/holiday destination/food has tired me out. Instead I’m going to just pick five for each one.

    For The Versatile Blogger Award I’m going with great blogs I read that cover a variety of different topics with either a lot of thought, or a lot of humour, or a mix of the two:-

    SC at Selectively Curious

    Gypsie at On Gypsie Mountain

    Kristen at Commuting With Kristen

    Belle at Belle of The Library

    Jess at You’re Fine

    …And for the Blogger Recognition Award, I’m linking to blogs that have more of a theme, and are engaging and well-written:-

    Bex at Bexoxo Blog

    Lauren at This Stuff is Golden

    John at John Tesi

    Matt at Must Be This Tall To Ride

    …and a joint one for LA at Lost Astronomer and P&C at Pyjamas and Crumpets because they’re husband and wife, blogging about the same thing from both sides of the coin.

    Is that cheating?

    Possibly.

    If you’re reading this and are not one of the people above, then don’t worry, I have not forgotten you. It’s Friday. You made it through the week. Well done! You are also deserving of an award, just for being awesome.

    Using the advanced skills of a toddler with access to Pixlr, I have made you a Good Job dinosaur sticker, because nothing says well done like a tie-dye velociraptor.

    velociraptor

    See you on Monday when we’ll be back to the regular scheduled programming.

    Have a great weekend!

    *This actually happened.

    Pillow Talk

     

    imageedit_4_2772766254

    I’m bored, my brain whispers.

    Shut up, you.

    I’m bored, it repeats. Go on reddit.

    No. We’re trying this new thing where we just… drift off to sleep. Do it.

    No.

    Come on! It’s supposed to be zen. We just clear all thoughts and fall asleep.

    No. I have a better idea. Let’s dig up your most embarrassing memory.

    Definitely not. The one with the…?

    I know it’s around here somewhere…

    Jaysus. Could you not? I can’t even glance sideways at that memory, let alone drag it out into the harsh glare of reminiscence!

    Fine. What about past failures?

    Veto. There are too many to choose from, honestly. Not sure I can cope with that right now. Don’t you have anything more upbeat in there?

    Hmmm. How about… baseless terror?

    How is that more upbeat?!

    Okay, okay. Oooh, here’s a good one. Anxieties that will paralyze you with fear but then seem ridiculous in the cold light of day!

    Like being crushed by a falling tree? Or being pushed in front of a train by a total stranger? Thanks, but no thanks.

    Worst case scenarios?

    Definitely a hard pass.

    Deepest regrets?

    No.

    Intrusive thoughts?

    No.

    General feelings of worthlessness?

    No.

    Chronic insecurities?

    OH FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY!

    Fine.

    Let’s go on Reddit.

     

     

    Love & Sonder

    il_fullxfull-529232694_mt3z

    Yup. It’s that time again; tomorrow is Valentine’s Day!

    I know, I know.

    But don’t stress.

    Ignore the mooning couples goofily grinning at each other across restaurant tables. Ignore the harried looking men rushing by with bouquets of flowers the size of refridgerators. Ignore the overabundance of retina-scorching red and pink that follows you from store to store. I know it’s difficult. I can’t untangle the precise reason why, but the annoyance just seems to come naturally; it’s one of life’s dependable irritants… but this year maybe just block out all that extra nonsense.

    We both know that’s not what Valentine’s Day is about.

    Yes, you can gripe that it’s a Hallmark holiday that’s been commercialised, and it puts couples on a pedestal, and part of you is disappointed that (get ready for a Choose Your Own Adventure…) 1. a Jamie Dornan doppelganger isn’t about to show up at your house with a box of Norman Love Chocolates and a pair of handcuffs – that he would only ever use on you with your full-throated consent – OR that 2. Margot Robbie’s adventurous and previously undiscovered twin won’t be sitting on the edge of your bed in lacy underwear and a smile when you get home from work. Those good old Valentine’s stereotypes are alive and well, after all.

    If we take a step back though, it’s a lot less sleazy than it looks. I mean, not to get soft on you*, but first and foremost Valentine’s Day is a day about love. It’s a day for taking the time out to appreciate the people around you. Your friends and family, yes, but try to take it a step further. Take some time out to think about the strangers you interact with on a daily basis; the people who flicker through your life. That sour-faced receptionist in your office building, maybe. Or the barista who hands you your coffee every morning. The lady at the check-out till at your local shop. Or your neighbour from a few doors down who often nods hello despite the fact that you have never spoken.

    Here’s an exercise that always makes me feel some kind of way.

    Think about all the people that you come into contact with during the day, and try to think of three compliments you could give each one. It’s fair to say that with some people you might struggle to come up with three, but even one is a good start. They don’t need to be deep, meaningful compliments – after all, you barely know most of these people – they can be as inane as, ‘He always wears a matching pocket square and I appreciate that attention to detail‘ or, ‘She seems really hard-working‘ or, ‘He smiles when he hands people back their change and I think that’s lovely.’

    The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows has the following definition for the word sonder:

    sonder

    n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own, populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness. An epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

    I think Valentine’s Day is a good day for sondering.

    I also think Valentine’s Day is just a good, solid, red-and-pink-booted, kick-to-the-face reminder to appreciate the people around you. I don’t think it’s just for coupled-up lovebirds. People are always saying you shouldn’t need a day to show the people you love how much you love them. I do think that’s true, but do you know what’s also true?

    People are eejits sometimes.

    We make mistakes. We take people for granted. We’re busy and stressed out and we have a lot of stuff on our plates. We have more to do than we have time to do it in, and things can slip through the cracks. We’re all fallible. So if there’s one day a year that gives us a gentle nudge to remember the people we love, sure, what harm?

    Happy Valentine’s Day, you lovely person. I appreciate you.

    *I got soft on you. Sorry. One time thing, I promise.

    Stranger Danger

    cobblestones-1

    One day, a few years ago, I hopped on a bus that would take me back to the apartment I was living in at the time. I had just come from the shop, and I was listening to music, shouldering a backpack and carrying a fairly heavy bag full of groceries in each hand. I sat myself down on the bus with a sigh of relief, and gazed out the window at the pretty town I then called home.

    A man sat down beside me at the next stop. Out of my peripheral vision I noticed his black tracksuit bottoms with the trademark three white stripes. I saw the tattoo that ran along his forearm and wound around his wrist to his index finger. I looked straight ahead, lost in thought, and absent-mindedly watched as an elderly man sitting three rows away sniffled and dragged a dirty tissue from his sleeve. I was distantly aware of two middle-aged women chattering beside him. Every so often they would lean in towards each other, wide-eyed, as if a juicy secret had just been shared.

    I idly tapped my fingers on my knee and lost myself in my own thoughts as the bus rattled along the cobblestones.

    Twenty minutes later, as the bus reached my stop, I swung my backpack up over my arm. I scooped up my bags of groceries and stepped off the bus, my shoulders aching. I hummed along to the music coming through my earphones as I walked towards my street. I lived on the ground floor of an old house that sat, rather unassumingly, on a tiny cobbled alleyway. A single streetlight shone from the main road.

    I was almost at the streetlight when the hair on the back of my neck prickled, and I paused. I looked over my left shoulder. The street behind me was deserted. I shrugged to myself and continued on. When I reached my alleyway, I felt it again; a gentle, nagging feeling that somebody was right behind me. I looked over my right shoulder into the twilight.

    There was nobody there.

    Feeling like an idiot, I finally reached the stoop of my front door. I put down my groceries, and swung the bag off my back to look for my keys. After a few minutes of fumbling – because apparently I can never keep my keys in one place – I finally found them in an inside pocket. Pulling them out with a triumphant flourish, I hung my bags off my left arm and slid my key into the lock. I turned the key, pushed the door open, turned to yank the key out of the door…

    …And came face to face with an entirely unfamiliar man.

    In what was literally a split second, these are the thoughts that my brain, now jostled awake by this unexpected stranger, compiled and indexed for me:

    1. Strange man in my face.
    2. Strange man in my face has his foot on my doorstep.
    3. Strange man in my face is about a foot taller than me.
    4. Strange man in my face could reach out and shove us both inside.
    5. My housemate is not home.
    6. Nobody is home.
    7. W.T.F.
    8. Strange man in my face is wearing black Adidas tracksuit bottoms.
    9. Strange man in my face has unusual forearm tattoo.
    10. STRANGE MAN IN MY FACE WAS ON THE BUS WITH ME!
    11. BUS MAN IN MY FACE!
    12. BUS MAN FOLLOWED ME FROM THE BUS TO MY FRONT DOOR!
    13. W.T.A.F!

    At that point, just as our eyes met, Bus Man looked entirely unprepared. His face registered shock, and frankly, I found that incredibly rude. After all, I wasn’t the one who had stealthily followed someone to their front door.* If anybody had the right to look shocked, it was me.

    If you were to have this moment on tape, and you chose to freeze-frame this particular second, we would probably look like mirror-images of each other. Me, one foot inside the house, staring blankly at this random human who was so close I could reach out and touch him with my tiny arms. Him, staring blankly at me with his foot on my front step and his tattooed hand on his thigh. Both of us momentarily frozen in motion.

    And then the split second passed.

    In one smooth motion fuelled by 90% absolute panic and 10% adrenaline, I pulled the key out of the lock and swivelled into the hallway, slamming the door shut with a ninja kick that ricocheted through the house.

    Then I dropped my bags to the floor, retreated all the way down the hallway to the far wall, and slumped against it. I stared at the front door for about half an hour.**

    Then I got up and dragged my plastic bags full of food to the kitchen.

     

    *To be clear, the only way I could have not seen him, having looked over both shoulders, is if he was moving purposely out of my field of vision each time. That street was very narrow.

    **He disappeared and never came back, but I hated that he knew where I lived and always wondered what was going through his head that day. Maybe his motives were friendly, but if so, let this be a lesson to anybody who thinks it’s sweet to follow a girl home: NO. NO. DON’T DO IT. WE DON’T LIKE IT. IT’S TERRIFYING. He could have struck up a conversation on the bus, or on the street, or even while I was mindlessly searching for my keys, and he did none of those things. Instead he appeared inches from my face when my front door was already open. I am just over five feet tall. Anyone looming over me unexpectedly is unwelcome. This is particularly true of strange men that I don’t know.

    Also, please believe me when I say that any situation that might make a girl feel like a cornered animal – unless it’s some form of kinky roleplay by mutual consent with safewords – is never romantic. It’s unlikely to be a story you will one day tell your grandkids as you hold hands and gaze fondly at each other across the table. It’s much more likely to be a story that ends up on a blog.

    Like this one.

     

    Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby

    cosy

    Sex is a tricky subject to blog about.

    In a way, if I choose not to write about sex at all, ever, I stay safe. I stay private. In some ways, I stay in the shallow end, with my Finding Nemo armbands on, blowing bubbles in the water. It’s fun and it’s low-risk. I also feel, however, like it strips me of a side of myself. I know that it definitely makes me feel very two-dimensional. If I avoid the topic entirely, I am Mr. Potatohead as a tortilla, is what I’m saying.

    zyppnig
    Just like this minus the moustache

    So far on this blog you’ve seen that I have nightmares, can’t dress myself and harbour a natural and healthy disdain for Donald Trump. I’m not sure how I’m coming across so far – and we’re only a month in – but if you’re thinking, ‘This girl seems like someone who is slightly unhinged, and listens to terrible, terrible music when she’s feeling down, and possibly owns a pair of rainbow holographic hi-tops from the children’s section of Walmart‘ then you’re about half the way there. I am not a complex creature.

    Having said that, that’s only part of a whole. I make things to relax. I can bake excellent chocolate chip cookies. On any given day you can find me typing next to the nearest heat source. I enjoy drawing. I love to travel. All of these things are true, and pleasant, and wholesome.

    And then sex.

    How do you throw that into the mix? It feels a little like standing up in the middle of mass and peeling your top off; there are definitely going to be some shocked faces in the congregation. Some people will wish you’d kept it on, some people will likely hiss, ‘Nobody needs to see that,‘ and still others will probably just stand up and walk out.

    Then again, I’m an adult, or at least that’s what my official documents tell me. I’m an adult who yesterday spent a not-inconsiderable amount of time on Reddit guiding a complete stranger through the world of lingerie. I advised on the pros and cons of different types, and answered questions about when and where and how to best wear it.*

    I’m an adult, and like it or not, when you’re an adult sex is part of your life. Whether or not you’re actually having any, whether or not you’re interested in it, whether or not you even know what you’re doing… it’s unavoidable. Not mentioning it doesn’t make it disappear. I don’t want to infantilise myself by pretending that it doesn’t exist. This blog is about adulting, right?

    And this is what I’ve noticed about the blogging world so far. Even though the vast majority of bloggers are adults (often in relationships or actively dating), there is a deep and apparently unbridgeable divide between bloggers who discuss sex, and bloggers who don’t. I’m not sure if this is to do with wordpress rules, cultural taboos, privacy, or general awkwardness, but whatever causes it, it’s interesting.

    On one side of the sex-talk abyss we have people who blog about travel, lifestyle, beauty, fashion, food, life observations, and general musings. These people don’t seem to ever discuss sex. It just doesn’t come up. It’s like it doesn’t exist. They bake muffins and hike through forests and talk about their children – who presumably came into the world in the traditional way, and not through immaculate conception – without referring to it once. Not even obliquely. At most, if they’re female, they might drop a comment about birth control.

    Then, on the other side, are bloggers who only ever seem to write about sex. Having it, not having it, how to have it, and so on. They have their own little subcommunity, it seems. They talk about everything sex-related. Everything and anything. No, really.**

    I don’t want to pitch tent in either of these camps. I feel like I need to wander into No Man’s Land and find myself a spot somewhere in between. I don’t want to talk about the particulars of my sex life; I like my privacy and I’m comfortable treading water in the shallow end. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem right to ignore it completely. It’s a part of adulting! That and cervical smears…

    I’m open to any suggestions on how I might be able to meld the two. Or if you have a blog and you’ve posted about sex, link me down below!

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to bake butterscotch muffins.

     

    *I’m a big fan of lingerie. BIG fan.

    **The rabbit hole goes really, really deep, guys. Just… just take my word for it.

     

    It’s An Absolute Nightmare

    IMG_8318.jpg

    You would think that after so many years on this earth I would have become proficient at sleeping by now.

    I mean, it’s a fairly basic skill.

    It’s a skill I practice every night, and yet I still don’t seem to have quite mastered it. It takes me a while to power down, and then every so often – usually when I’m stressed out and not even aware of it – I have nightmares. At 5am this morning I sat bolt upright in bed gasping for air like a drowning swimmer who had finally reached the surface. Then I sat, hugging my knees, willing my heart to slow down.

    My nightmares are impressive creations. I have an active imagination at the best of times, but at night when I’m asleep it roams completely unfettered. It snakes into every crevice of my brain, unravelling fears I never knew I had and weaving them into intricate storylines of unrestricted horror. Get away out of here with your simple dreams of going to work naked, or running and not getting anywhere! I’m talking hardcore, unforgettable, rated-R for Radically-unpleasant dreams that give me an emotional hangover the next day.

    And they are so goddamn VIVID.

    I don’t seem to lose any of my senses in my nightmares. I can see, touch, taste, hear, and smell. The nightmares tell a coherent story, rather than being a jumble of images. They don’t refer to my day, or my experiences. They just pluck ideas, seemingly at random, out of my brain and project them in stereo sound. They drop me into situations I am entirely unprepared for with zero warning. Not only that, but they always start so innocuously…

    ‘Well, today we’re going to have a dream,’ my brain starts. ‘Look, we’re at the beach! Isn’t that nice? Let’s just look out the window there. What a lovely view. Check out that glorious sunshine! And look at that woman with the toddler, how cute. Aww, adorable! Now they’re going paddling. So sweet. Now she’s… Now she’s… She’s drowning the toddler. SURPRISE! It’s a nightmare. No, don’t bother even trying to get over there, there’s no way you’ll make it in time.’

    Or…

    Oh look! A desert! Are we at Burning Man? We might be at Burning Man. That would be cool. Hey remember to shield your eyes, the sand really stings when it gets in there… Ooh! A solitary ramshackle shed! Let’s go over and check it out. I mean there’s nothing else for miles, so why not? There might be something fun in there! Ignore that smell. Ignore it. It’s nothing. All deserts smell like that. It’s just the heat. Open that rickety door there. Go on, open it. I told you to ignore that smell, it’s nothing… Just kidding! It’s a rotting corpse! Look at those maggots. Look at the DETAIL! That’s impressive. Whew, I wonder how long that’s been decomposing…’

    Or…

    ‘Oooh what a lovely house. Look at that crown moulding. Bit sparse on the furniture front, but it’s obviously very grand. Oh look! A baby! We’re babysitting! Isn’t that fun? Look at him crawling around. What a sweetie. Oh! Oh a nose bleed. Do you have a tissue? Quick, get a tissue. Oh no, that can’t be good. Why is the baby bleeding from its ears? Is that normal? I don’t know where you think you’re running to with that baby – I’ve designed this place to be completely isolated! The only real room was the one you were in! The rest of the house is a burned-out shell! There’s nobody for miles! And now the baby is bleeding from its eyes! This isn’t going well for you at all!’

    Basically at the end of all of these scenarios you can imagine my scumbag brain laughing at me like a psychotic maniac and that would be fitting.

    There are a few recurring themes in my nightmares. I’m usually alone and/or somehow helpless to prevent or fix the situation I find myself in. I am usually either witnessing or somehow unwittingly creating a tragic event. They never happen in real places or with real people; everything is freshly imagined from scratch.

    Even though sometimes I know that I am dreaming, I can’t wake myself up until the panic is completely overwhelming and every nerve in my body is screaming. It’s lovely! So invigorating.

    That was sarcasm.

    If anybody has any advice for keeping nightmares at bay, let me know. I am fully on board with anything that might make me dream of, say, Adriana Lima or Jason Momoa (or both!) rather than bleeding children or traumatic deaths.

    Meanwhile…

    giphy