Oops I Did It Again…

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I’m a great believer in Fate, and Fate’s accomplice, Signs. You know those little things that happen that you read far too much into? That guy you like’s third cousin twice removed was once butler to your great-grandfather’s uncle’s shoe-shine customer. Or more commonly, you both like Chinese food the best, you have both travelled to some random town in Cornwall, you both love 80s pop. As well as those random signs, I believe that if I wake up with a song in my head, then that song is trying to tell me something.

So today’s song…Marry Me, by Bruno Mars.

Having woken up with someone else inside my head, I now can’t get rid of that song either.

I have been told time and time again not to fall so quickly. But I can’t help it.

I think I’ve watched far too many rom-coms resulting in this desire to find Mr. Right. Like many women, we have it drilled into us by Hollywood that you can find him in a wide variety of ways. When I was growing up, I learnt you could find Mr. Right by hearing his voice on the radio (Sleepless in Seattle), having his brother fall into a coma (While You Were Sleeping), being a hooker (Pretty Woman). While When Harry Met Sally proved that you can be friends with someone for years before realising that you want to spend the rest of your life living and having sex with them, more modern examples prove that a fuckbuddy can become the love of your life (No Strings Attached, Friends with Benefits). And a few months ago I finally got round to watching John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale in Serendipity. Serendipity being (dictionary definition coming up) “fortuitous happenstance” or
“pleasant surprise” (thanks Wiki). To prove this whole signs thing, Wiki goes on to tell me how the person who coined the phrase was Horace Walpole in 1754. Walpole Park, Ealing. Where I used to walk my ex-housemate’s dog and go jogging. Weird, huh? Anyway, how on earth is a single girl *not* to anticipate that the love of her life could be around the next corner, when we are told that fireworks could happen any time, any place?

I think I spend so much time being single that I need to have somebody to focus on. When I was a teenager, my mind was occupied with a teenage crush, but aside from that many a pop star and film star played the leading man in the film in my head, where I was leading lady, writer, director. While I spent time alone, in my head I was never alone, because in your imagination, you don’t have to be shy, you can sing in front of a crowd, argue with anybody, be the most popular person in the world. While I no longer have that fantasy film playing in my mind, I usually have some guy floating around in there. And it’s always someone who doesn’t feel the same way back. I’m the Queen of Unrequited Lust, although that makes it sound more like a sex thing. I refuse to use the word Love because in my opinion if it’s unrequited, it can’t be love. So, I’m the Queen of Unrequited…well, feelings. In the rom-coms, the one who is madly in love with another always ends up with them, because, in a miraculous turn of events, their fancypiece ends up feeling the same.

I’m not stupid enough to think that just because I wake up with Bruno proposing in my head that I’m gonna end up walking down the aisle anytime soon with the guy who popped into my head simultaneously (I’m not, honest guv). But for once it would be nice to have the mirror effect: moving in perfect synch, knowing that I’m getting back what I’m putting in.

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Message in a Balloon?

You ever wonder how things happen to make you notice something that you otherwise may not have done? I am very grateful for life and its little inconveniences, especially when it provides me with good blogging material.

I’m on the way to Manchester for a long weekend, so this morning, I had my little suitcase with me. I can get a bus from the end of my road to Ealing Broadway tube station, but usually I don’t bother because at the time I normally leave for work, the bus goes flying down the road then hits all the traffic as you approach the centre. It is quicker to just walk the ten minutes. This morning I was running very late and since the traffic would have calmed, it made sense to take the bus. I checked my app, which told me there was a bus due in four minutes. Plenty of time to walk round the corner from my house to the bus stop.

I arrived at the bus stop, and waited. The four minutes had passed and no sign of the bus. I consulted the app again. It said the next bus was due in fourteen minutes.

I could not believe it. I also could not afford to wait fourteen minutes for the next bus. So, after grumbling at my app, I pulled my suitcase and started to walk. Of course, a minute later another bus went past. I grumbled a bit more but continued on my walk, on the opposite side of the road to what I normally walk on.

A little further down the road, and I spotted it.

First I walked past it. But ten seconds later I had to turn around, walk back and take a photo. I knew this blog was coming.

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It made my heart ache. Why would a balloon with the words ‘I Love You’ printed on it be out of air? On the ground. By the side of the road. In the gutter.

The sight of a balloon floating away has always captured me. I will watch and watch for as long as I can, until it finally goes out of sight. I remember once letting go of two giant silver balloons in the shape of numbers, left over from a big birthday bash. We watched as they floated up towards the heavens, the sun catching them and making them shine in the sky. I watched for an hour until they finally disappeared from sight. There is something about a balloon floating away, to freedom. It is a romantic gesture. (And yes I have the same awe of hot air balloons).

So back to the I Love You balloon. Maybe a guy proposed to his girlfriend with the balloon and a ring, and in their excitement of her saying yes, the balloon floated away?

Objection, your honour. Exhibit A shows the balloon’s red heart-shaped weight clearly still attached.

I am reminded of my favourite (and most people’s favourite) Banksy painting, The Girl with the Red Balloon. As the wind sweeps her hair away from her face and her heart-shaped balloon away from her hand, the girl reaches out. She stares as it floats away, her arm reached out as though willing it back to her. Scribbled on the wall behind her are the words, “THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE”. The girl, aged around seven, has no idea that in the future, when her heart is swept away, it will not come back. It will be gone for good. Will there always be hope? Maybe that is the problem.

But perhaps that is me being cynical. I read another story this week, about a teenage boy who threw a message in a bottle into the ocean three years ago in Long Island, New York. The bottle washed up this week in The Bahamas. You can read the full story here: Message in a Bottle

A message in a bottle is another one of those fairy tale type stories. You occasionally hear about the fact that a bottle has been found and it does warm the cockles, because, like a princess finding her prince, the unlikely story has come true.

I will never know what happened to the I Love You balloon for it to end up on the side of the road, almost out of air, in Ealing on that cold but sunny morning. I cannot see any way of someone accidentally letting it go. Which means it was abandoned.

Had I spied the balloon floating away through the sky, I know I would have written a very different blog. It would have been a blog, I know, about THERE ALWAYS BEING HOPE.

But instead I’m left with the aftermath, the consequences. The piece of litter.

I woke up this morning with this song in my head. Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas stood aside from the microphone on this one to let lead guitarist Kyle Cook sing, and my verdict is that Kyle should do it more often. Anyway, this song is about letting go. Sometimes you can’t let go. But like the girl with the red balloon, life will force you to.

The Way – Matchbox Twenty (from the album North, 2012)

The Stylist Hobo

As I was on the way back from my business trip in Leeds last week, I missed the morning excitement of being able to pick up my free copy of Stylist magazine. After work I went to meet a friend in the West End, and on the Picadilly Line sat opposite me was a woman reading Stylist. I was most jealous. But then like all formidable genius(es…geniui? Someone call the Grammar Police for me quick) I began to formulate a cunning plan.

Many people read the freebie mags and newspapers then leave them behind, because they a) want to be kind and leave them for someone else to read, or b) and the more likely option, is that they just can’t be arsed to carry them. I was going all the way to Piccadilly Circus. If this woman would leave her Stylist behind, then I could grab it and all would be good again in the world.

I kept my eye on her as she remained engrossed in it. I willed her to abandon it, but she kept on reading. Which of course made me want it even more.

As we headed closer to the West End, the tube began to get full, and people had to move along to stand in the middle of the carriages.

As we left Green Park and headed towards Piccadilly Circus, I began to think that I would not get my copy of Stylist.

As Piccadilly Circus was announced as the next stop, and the train began to slow heading into the station, I stood to leave. As did the woman in front of me. I have to admit I got rather excited that I may get my prize after all.

As she stood, she turned and placed her Stylist on the back shelf of the carriage, behind the seats.

I prepared myself to make a lunge for it before I left the train. But it was too late.

A rather scruffy man with a hole in his tracky bottoms and his messenger back slung not across his chest but hanging halfway down his arms asked the woman for her copy of my beloved magazine. The woman, who was obviously surprised but didn’t want to deny this man his request, handed it over.

I left the carriage in a daze. I couldn’t believe the holy grail of magazines had been so close to my grasp. I felt defeated. The war was lost. But at least I had done my part for humanity. While I don’t have the best fashion or beauty sense in the world, the hobo guy did probably deserve that copy of Stylist more than me.

Thankfully, they were handing out copies of Stylist the following morning outside Ealing Broadway tube station. So I now have my copy. But I will always wonder what happened to The Stylist Hobo…

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Jobs with Benefits: No Strings Attached?

When I moved to London last May following the completion of my degree, I came here with the intention of getting a job related to my studies. My Bachelor’s degree was in American Studies, so, you might ask, what kind of job did I intend to get?

American Studies is one of those degrees that doesn’t really have a particular job attached to it. If you do a degree in accountancy, you know that your future is going to involve Excel spreadsheets and a calculator. In fashion, at least a pair of scissors. American Studies…America? The whole reason I went to university was because I had this epiphany a week before my 30th birthday. I had been searching my soul the previous few years, asking myself what it was that I wanted in life, where I wanted to be. The epiphany answered: living and working in America was all I had ever really wanted. As a teenager I used to wish I had been born on the other side of the pond; I hated being British, and it was really only the influence of my extremely patriotic English ex-husband who persuaded me that it was a good thing to be British. Now I am proud of my nationality, but I still see America as the place I have always wanted to be.

About nine months before my 30th birthday, prior to having this great revelation, I decided that if I wouldn’t ever the get the chance to live in America, then I should at least have a dream trip there. Having got the agreement from my then-husband that we could do it, I spent months researching the places I wanted to visit (conclusively, along the West coast) and more months investigating flights and accommodation. Painstakingly looking at the international flights to and from the States, the domestic flights from place to place, costing up hotels and car hire.

A couple of months before our trip, during my intensive research stage, my ex-husband intimated that this wasn’t really a trip he wanted to go on at all. My reply, to both our surprise, was that I was going, even if I had to do it alone. He laughed and said that I wouldn’t even go to the Co-op on my own.

He had a point. I hated going to supermarkets on my own, going clothes shopping on my own. I even hated nipping to the local shops to pick up milk. I hated going anywhere on my own; what made me think that I would be able to go travelling on my own?

I think it was then that I finally started to admit to myself that my marriage was crumbling.

It was something I had been in denial of for a long time, but the realisation that I was willing to do something as drastic as going travelling on my own, and the fact that my husband didn’t want to do something that was obviously so important to me, and more importantly it was a holiday – he loved holidays and we had two weeks in Orlando for our honeymoon – set the alarm bells ringing.

We did go on the trip, in September 2008. Six nights in Los Angeles, four in Las Vegas, and a day in drizzly Seattle. I had planned four nights in San Francisco and three in Seattle, but we had to cut our trip short, because he was due to start university. On the whole, we had a great time, and this trip cemented my love for the place I had seen on the big and small screen as a teenager, in a way that my honeymoon in Florida hadn’t.

Previous readers will know that I spent six months in the States as part of my degree. I won’t go into that now, as I want to get back to my original reason for this particular blog, other than to say that my study abroad period is where I realised that I could write, and gave me the confidence to know in my heart that writing is what I wanted to do in the future; what I wanted to be paid to do.

So fast forward to May 2013. I take the chance to move to London without a job. Having had no joy in finding a permanent job, I knew that temping would be the way to go initially. A month after moving, I was offered an administrative, data-type job, similar to what I’d been doing for twelve years before my degree. Being desperate for money, I took the job, thinking that it would give me the opportunity to pay the bills while searching for that elusive dream job of being paid to write.

After three months of being a temp, I was offered a six-month contract with the company, a luxury retailer. A further six months later brings us to last week, where I signed on the dotted line to spend another six months with them.

The great thing is that I now have a job with benefits. Never had a job with benefits before. Friends with benefits, sure, but never a job with benefits. The only perk I ever got from the National Health Service is 20% off Nandos. Which is a great perk that I still continue to receive, but sshhh, don’t tell anyone. I now get a subsidised travelcard, which will allow me to travel the whole of London for a quarter of what I currently pay to travel my short commute to work. I also get a staff discount and clothing allowance, although anyone who knows me knows that the only place I buy labels is in charity shops. I certainly can’t afford to buy clothes and accessories through my employer, staff discount or not.

I am now also being given the opportunity to travel on company business. I am currently on my way back to London from Leeds, the first of three overnight stays I will have in the next month.

But what about my America dream? My writing dream? I hear you ask. I ask myself that all the time. I still peruse the job emails I get through, and sometimes I make a note of the ones I want to apply for (although I usually don’t). But right now, I am happy to stay put, while I sort other areas of my life such as moving house.

While I only graduated last September, it does worry me that I seem to have lost my desire to chase the dreams that were realised over the last few years. I know in my heart I have given up on living in the States, because it’s very difficult to get a working visa. I know people with many more qualifications and connections in the US than me, and if they are struggling to get a visa, I ask myself how is a 35-year old with a degree in American Studies going to be given such an elusive opportunity.

A writing job is not so much out of the question, but the last few months has seen me question what kind of writing job I would want. Would I be happy with a copywriting job? Depends on the kind of copy. I’m not so great at flowery descriptive text. I write from the heart, from past experience, from current experience. I write about depression, having a coil fitted, sex, internet dating. I attended a crime writing panel last year, and listened to one of the published authors, with years of experience in the publishing industry, admit that this experience did not encourage her to become an author. Her revelation that authors and their books are described as “units” in the industry, and the focus being on sales, sales, sales, has stuck with me. I want to be a writer, I don’t necessarily want to work for the industry that enables other people to get published. Maybe if it were an easier industry to get into, I might pursue it, but in truth, I have shelved that idea.

So, where does that leave me? I really have no idea. All I know is that I need to keep writing, and have faith that what will be will be. I also know, from past experience, that you can’t just sit and wait for things to happen. So more effort is needed from me in order to make life happen.

The Friends with Benefits relationship has really become quite well known over the last few years. Films such as Friends with Benefits and No Strings Attached have drawn audiences of the rom-com crowd, eager to see whether the fairy tale is possible in this modern day commitment-phobic agreement. While Friends with Benefits is synonymous with the term ‘No Strings Attached’, does the same go for a Job with Benefits? If so, then perhaps this is exactly the job I need right now. A mutually beneficial relationship that is not meant to be anything long term.

Battery Life

It started off with 28%. That’s not very much considering. But that’s how much battery my iPhone had when I walked out the house into the pouring rain this evening.

28% of anyone’s life is limited. I mean, any exertion of any kind is going to kill the battery completely, so in situations like this, it’s advised to limit use to only ‘the necessary’.

Well, my mum rang me. I was glad to speak to her. Although I know she doesn’t always understand my depression, she’s knows the situation of the last few days.

Low Battery: 20% remaining! Declares the pop-up message. What would happen if I let it reach 0%? I know from past experience, it would probably get to 6%, then the phone would shut down completely. Forever. No more input. Should no-one take the decision to recharge it; nurse it back to its full health.

My pint of Stella (in a posh Stella goblet, no less) is half empty. Or should that be half full? The goblet makes me think of the last supper. I wonder how many people have sat in a pub, having a drink, before their battery has died completely? How many have chosen not to revive it, to pump life back into it? How many have just let it stay black?

The glass is still half empty and outside the sky is still dark. Out the window, on the opposite side of the road, is a kebab shop. In the flat upstairs, the sash windows are open. Inside, well, the inside is as dark as the dark, grey sky.

18%. Its lifeline is red now, well the life it has left. The rest is black, dark like the sky and inside of the flat window opposite. There is no green here, no bright green bars, nor bright green leaves. There is only grey and that dark.

But wait, there is laughter. I look up, at my half empty Stella. I glance past the glass, at the seats opposite. I was wrong; there is no laughter there. There is only silence. Silence, solitude, surrounded by a sea of chit chat. Nattering that bypasses me, because I am not laughing. I am sat alone. With my pint. With my 17, no wait, 16, per cent.

I check outside. I hear the spray from the passing cars. The rain that fell not so long ago is all but gone. But the sky remains dark, and the open window of the flat opposite, is like someone has taken a picture of the dark sky and framed it.

I take a sip of Stella. The lager sloshes around, before settling to its position of half empty. But wait, could it be half full? No, it’s still half empty.

Outside, a girl walks past with a purple umbrella. Purple, to match the dark of the sky, and the inside of the framed flat window opposite. Funny, she didn’t look sad, despite the purple umbrella.

15%. A double decker bus drives past. Although I know its colour to be blue, its advertisement on the side panel is illuminated in purple. The only light, in a world of darkness. Even the light, is dark.

14% remaining; the thin red line pushes flat against the side of the battery, its white outline looking like the chalk outline you see on those old cop shows. 13%; here lies battery.

A second bus drives past. Also, purple. The Ritz’ pink neon lights illuminate the overhang of the front of the building. A smoking woman, with short hair, and bad teeth, draws an arch shape for her friend, who remains inside, not wishing to inhale her friend’s passive smoke.

No, I’m wrong, it’s not another woman, it’s a man in a red t-shirt. He reads the paper, ignoring the outside world completely. I try to picture them together, but I cannot. The smoking woman with bad teeth surely is no friend of the man with the red t-shirt, whose hair is neat and shorn.

The two older couples opposite me, sat in the window seats, are oohing and awwing. They say there is a rainbow; no, a DOUBLE rainbow. They observe it a few more seconds before returning to their conversation.

10%, my battery screams. Even the numbers are in red now, and a pop-up message warns me I am down to my last 10%. It doesn’t say whether I’ll get another warning, or not.

Out of the window, the sky is still dark, though it is illuminated now with a sunny haze. It doesn’t know whether to be dark or light, whether to laugh, or cry. No wait, that’s me.

In the kebab shop window opposite, two pink neon strips line the whitewashed window. A girl from the bar comes collecting glasses, as the two couples put on their coats.

“Is it still raining?”, “No, it’s not too bad now”, “No, it’s not too bad now, is it?”. The conversation continues as they all go their separate ways.

A man comes out of the big, red doorway opposite, squeezed between the kebab shop and the travel agents. I cannot see where he is going, but I feel sure he is heading to the Spar, for more cigarettes, or maybe a tin of beans.

6%. I should get some beans on my way home. Home. I look up at the sky, which is getting darker again. I check the time; 20:13. It’ll be dark soon, and the sky doesn’t have to decide if it should be dark or light. It only has to be dark, and cloudy, or clear. The windows of the upstairs flat opposite remain dark. I wonder if the man who came from the red door lives there. It seems a strange place for a red door, like something out of Alice in Wonderland.

5%. The thin red line is pushed right to the side now. It knows it cannot survive. A decision must be made. Live, or die?

The pedestrian crossing sounds, and then the traffic starts again.

I glance at my glass; Not even half-half empty now. The lager pushes against my bladder, warning like the 4%, that a choice needs to be made.

I swig half the remaining liquid. Outside, the pink neon glow continues its own rainbow on the window of the kebab shop.

“It’s not that bad,” the conversation from the couples comes back to me.

3%. I glance at the glass. I finish it, then place the glass, with the Stella Artois logo facing me. Just so.

I glance outside, then back at my battery life. Like the weather, it’s been a stormy night. But it’s not that bad, and now, like the storm, I have calmed.

2%. I leave to the darkness. Tonight is not the night.

Copyright Jodie Orton/33andLostinLife 2012

Raise Your P!nk-Tinted Glasses…

During my Study Abroad period in 2011, I discovered what it was like to live in a Small Town.  I used the capitalisation, because, you have not lived until you’ve lived in a Small Town of America.  I lived in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, which is a land far, far away from the rest of civilisation.  The highlight of socialising there for me and my friends, who had no access to transport of any kind (not even any buses or taxis in Huntingdon), was the weekly visit to Memories.

Memories is a sports bar, which hosts karaoke every Wednesday night.  I had never done karaoke before, at least not in public.  I mean, plenty of times, at home in the safety of my living room, could I be found beating PlayStation’s SingStar at its own game.  But to get up in front of strangers and sing, that is something completely different.

While I wasn’t the age of most other students at Juniata College, my time there can definitely be attributed to a coming of age.  Juniata was full of firsts for me; the place I first wrote anything that wasn’t an email or an essay (and what would eventually become this blog), the first time I ever got bollocked for drinking in public (on campus! at the age of 31! America sort your drinking laws out…) and the first time I slept with someone more than 13 years my junior…

Memories, ah….ahem, back to Memories the sports bar and Wednesday night karaoke.  While James Blunt’s 1973 became quite an anthem for me and my friends, Smooth by Santana featuring the lovely Rob Thomas became my favourite karaoke tune.  The song that will always remind me of Memories though is Raise Your Glass, by P!nk.  It’s a song for outcasts everywhere, a celebration of those who don’t fit into society’s place for them.

I have always seen myself as an outsider, and while there was an element of me being different from everyone else, I think for the first time in my life I didn’t mind.  I knew that I was well on my journey in life, and that I would enjoy its ups and downs, with those who chose to come along with me. Many of those had chosen to take further study, or travel the world, because, like me, Life hadn’t offered them the relationship, the children, the house, the car. They sought the future, like me, through rose-tinted glasses. Always looking for that guiding light to show them the way.

University, incorporating my Study Abroad period, was where my friendship ring truly went international.  At the University of Lincoln, I ran a group called MAPS (Mature and Postgraduate Students) which is where I met many students similar to my age and older, both British and international. Working in a London hotel at the age of 19, and working in a hospital meant that I had always been surrounded by people from different cultures and backgrounds, but it was at university where I really got to know people from different nationalities. While everyone has different issues, beliefs, ways of seeing the world, at the core, we are all just on the same path, wanting to carve a way through life with the support of those around us, be they friends or lovers. I am lucky to not only have the support of my family and my British friends, but also my worldwide family.

While I will always be an outsider to the world, this is a place that I am finally happy to be in. So this post is a way of celebrating those that choose to sit on the outside with me, and watch the world go by. To you, I raise my glass, and dedicate this awesome piece of karaoke (lyrics included!).

P!nk – Raise Your Glass

It Don’t Matter If You’re Black or White…Does it?

I’m sat in the park this lunchtime, enjoying the warm sunshine that this March day has chosen to afford us. I opted for an early lunch today, and as such got a prime spot in the seating area of the park, where I had a perfect view for people watching.

There was the group of yuppies (does anyone even use that word any more? I just want to be able to put that word in my tags for this post). For anyone under the age of 25, yuppies are “young urban professionals” or “young upwardly-mobile professionals” (thank you Wikipedia), first named in the 80s. Today it was a group of dudes in suits, all looking at their phones rather than talking (I’m allowed – I’m writing a blog). As well as the yuppies, there are a lot of women on their own like me, and some mums with their kids. And these are the ones that interest me today.

Shortly after I arrived, a woman took the bench next to me. Her little boy, I guess aged around three or four, was climbing on the rocky area. His mum announced that she had better go and get his scooter and bring it closer to where they were sat, as he’d abandoned it about 20 foot away.

As the little blonde boy continued to play, his mum kept a careful watch on him, being no further than maybe 8 feet away at any one time. She didn’t even sit down.

Soon, the little blonde boy started playing with another little boy of a similar age. Same height, same build. The only difference was that this kid was dressed in a Superman suit. As the kids played together, running around all over the park, the blonde boy’s mum kept careful watch over them. At one point, the brown-haired boy’s mum came over, while they were playing on the rocks. Soon she went back to her bench, maybe 50 feet away. As her boy continued to play with the little blonde boy, she talked on her phone and a lot of the time was not even facing the direction of where her boy was. Unlike the other mum, who followed the little boys around, at a short distance. She carried with her the little boy’s scooter and his rucksack.

It seems strange to me that two boys of a similar age should be treated so differently by their mothers. The little boy dressed as Superman seemed to be having a great time, scaring pigeons as though they were the next great threat to the earth. Or possibly his supply of Kryptonite. The little blonde boy was also having fun, but under the careful eye of his mum.

I think back to my own childhood and I wonder was I treated like the little blonde boy, or like the brown-haired boy? Although you can’t really compare, because we are talking over three decades ago. But I would like to think somewhere in the middle.

Much has been discussed about whether children are too molly-coddled these days. But with instances of child abduction, such as the Madeleine McCann case, on the increase, parents these days feel like they daren’t let their kids out of their eyesight. But what effect does that have on the kids?

Both boys have left now, gone home or shopping with their mothers. You can think about what I’ve said above.

Did I mention that Superman was black?

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