Open Heart Surgery

My heart hangs in the window for all to see. Like the one I wear on my sleeve, and the one I give away too easily. A heart should be a cherished thing, to be handled with care, not battered and bruised. But like I don’t know how to care for myself, I don’t know how to care for my heart. It doesn’t come with instructions, or maybe it did, and they faded into oblivion the first time I put it through the wash, in a bid to make it clean, and fresh, and new.

But your heart can never be clean, and fresh, and new. It will always carry the marks and scars of loves, or lovers, lost. Unless you have a heart transplant. But would your new heart revel with the love from its donor? Or ache with all its former heartbreak?

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The Joy of Middlesex

This week I’ve had my dad and his girlfriend visiting (sorry – I hate to use the word “partner”, it always sounds so formal). While discussing what sights to see, Kew Gardens, which is very close to where I live, was suggested as a place we could visit. However, the three of us all being considerably less inclined to part with the fifteen-hundred pennies required to grease their palms for entry, we decided against Kew, and since it was a nice day, made the decision instead to visit Kew’s neighbour, Richmond.

We started off from Twickenham in the morning as the sun was starting to break the clouds. We took the Thames Path along the river, where the counties of Middlesex and Greater London are joined in holy matrimony.

Along the river there are many benches and at one point we came to a widening in the path where there was a whole crescent of them. We read the inscriptions – many of them remembering loved ones past and came across one in particular which read “You’re the measure of my dreams”. On the bench was a ladybug, or ladybird, depending on which side of the Atlantic you are on. In the last few years, I’ve taken to calling them ladybugs, which is weird, since as much as I love America, I spent much of my time there arguing with my American friends about things such as the correct pronunciation of the word “pavement” (not “sidewalk”). This was the first ladybug I’ve seen all year, and so I honoured it by taking a picture.

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As we walked further along the path, we were greeted by the sight of the big red house upon the hill, which I previously posted a picture of in Jogga-Blog to the Moon. This is the former Royal Star and Garter Home, which until recently, has provided accommodation and nursing facilities for injured servicemen since the First World War.

As we reached Richmond, the sun was really warm and the cloud had dispersed. We found seats in the Tide Tables cafe, where we people-watched and relaxed in the sunshine with coffee and lemonade.

After a long spell sat by the river, we walked up to Richmond Hill and admired the vista from the top. The spot offers the only view in England to be protected by an Act of Parliament – the Richmond, Ham and Petersham Open Spaces Act passed in 1902 – which was implemented to protect the land on and below Richmond Hill and beautiful foreground views to the west and south. Then we walked back down the hill, through the Terrace Gardens. We came across a statue of Aphrodites, which caused a “furore” to the people of Richmond when it was built in 1952. Google “Bulbous Betty” and I guarantee you will see why. But she’s my kind of girl – making a spectacle of herself and not giving two hoots about it. On the placard below the statue I spotted another ladybug, this time a black one with orange spots.

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We found ourselves back down by the river, and to quench our thirsts we stopped at the Pitcher and Piano, enjoying a cold beer in their riverside beer garden.

After a while, we headed back along the river to Twickenham, stopping by Orleans House to view their World War I exhibition.

As I arrived home that evening, a third ladybug caused me to get my iPhone out for a photo. Brown with yellow spots, it greeted me on my front door as I put my key in the lock. Like my bus blog the other day, it appears you wait all summer for a ladybug and then three come along in one day.

Luther and Janet once said that the best things in life are free. Well it’s true – they are. With the exception of beer. But combine what nature has to offer, with a cold beer on a beautiful sunny September day, and there is proof right there that you don’t need to fork out excessive amounts of cash to have a good time.

As I prepared to write this blog, I reviewed the pictures I took of the ladybugs, and came across the first one on the bench. I had taken a picture of the whole bench, the one with the quote, “You are the measure of my dreams”, followed by the inscription, “Richard Ayley 1971 – 2010”. At the time, it was the quote that struck me, but today it is the young age at which he died – 39, only three years my senior. I was curious, so I Googled him. Richard, a Twickenham resident, was actually only 38 when he died of a brain tumour. He had been married just two years before.

Luther and Janet were right – the best things in life are free. But life is short. So enjoy the sunshine, a walk by the river or in the park. Find things that cost nothing to do and save the expensive things for another time. As winter approaches and the sun disappears, enjoy the fresh air in lieu of the sunshine. But most of all, enjoy the company.

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The Best Things in Life Are Free – Luther Vandross & Janet Jackson (1992)

Just Like Buses…

You know that old saying, you wait ages for a bus to come and then three come along at once? Well have you ever wondered what happens when there’s more than one bus? I’m not talking about the metaphorical idea, but the actual practical sense of there being more than one bus.

Today I had a doctor’s appointment, and instead of taking the train, I had to get two buses. While debating whether I had time to grab myself a free latte from Waitrose, I spotted the bus waiting at the traffic lights. It was six minutes early, which should have told me it wasn’t the 7:55 I had intended to get, but probably a late running 7:05 or something (since when did any bus ever turn up early? A bit like me).

I had to make a split-second decision then – run for this bus, or risk being late if the bus in six minutes didn’t actually show at 7:55. So I legged it.

The bus flew past me, and I ran. I ran like Forest. In fact I think I overtook him at some point. The bus pulled into the stop and I watched as the two people waiting got on. Then it waited. And I ran harder and faster.

I reached the bus just as the doors closed. Out of breath, I tapped on the door, and the bus driver opened them for me. Despite the fact I was totally out of breath, I headed upstairs, since it’s still cool to go on the top deck, no matter how old you are.

As my breath started to slow, and the bus windows started to steam up with my body heat, I looked at the traffic jam ahead. About three cars in front was another 267 bus.

The bus I was on was full of schoolgirls, which would have bothered me at one time but not now. The bus in front was also full.

After about ten minutes, the schoolgirls all got off. Which left me and three other passengers. Shortly after, they got off too, and I had the top deck to myself. As we drove along, and stopped at every bus stop the 267 in front did, the bus in front got fuller and fuller. I looked around me at the empty seats, and at the buses going past on the opposite side of the road which were standing room only.

It occurred to me that this journey was surreal in that I was on a bus, heading towards Hammersmith, in rush hour. And I was totally alone.

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Which is how it feels in life sometimes. You will take a different bus to everyone else, and it will feel like a lonely journey. You will wonder if you are doing something wrong as you watch the packed-in faces going by in the opposite direction. But having a bus to yourself, and not just a bus but the highly-desired top deck, is quite an achievement. You don’t have to go in the same direction as everybody else, you just have to have confidence that it will get you where you want to be. Eventually.

You see, the thing about being on the second bus, is that it will stop occasionally, to even out the gaps in service, as TfL so eloquently put it. Which proves that sometimes even buses can get ahead of themselves, and arrive early. So as you sit waiting all alone on the bus, watching the traffic pass you, and the other 267 disappearing on the horizon, remember that it is only a temporary wait, and that you’ll soon be on your way again.

In Brentford, I changed buses. As this was the first stop, I was the first passenger to get on. After a while, the bus filled up, except the space next to me.

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While part of me wondered why nobody wanted to sit next to me, the rest of me didn’t care, and carried on writing this blog.

I arrived at my destination, marvelling at how a single bus journey could provide such inspiration for a blog. But that is what this blog is about; being inspired by life, both its big events and its small and seemingly-insignificant things. If I can take inspiration from a red bus, then I am definitely tapping into the resource that I need to make my writing work: me.

Single, Successful AND Falling Apart? What an Achievement That Would Be…

“She’s single, successful, and falling apart” read the billboard poster back in 1998. Ally McBeal, the young, unimaginably thin lawyer who danced with babies and fantasized about having sex in a car wash represented every young woman who was trying to make her way in the world. Facing the difficulties of working with her ex-boyfriend and his new wife, trying to make it in the legal profession and fighting a biological clock in the form of a dancing baby, Ally McBeal gave us weekly entertainment and a soundtrack to cry for.

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“Well at least she’s successful” is the bitchy comment I read in one magazine at the time. Because it’s true, Ally McBeal is the rarity in this world; she has a profession that she can call a career. Most women of her age don’t have that. Which leaves them single and falling apart.

I for one can identify with that. I have never had a career. At school during our final year we had a class where we went round the room saying what job we wanted to do when we left. I said I wanted to be a secretary. Six years later I was a secretary – and I hated every minute of it. Being a secretary involves being organised and thinking ahead on behalf of somebody else. I can barely do that for myself, let alone someone of Professor status. After spending four years at university, I am still no closer to that elusive career than I was at the age of 15. While I have a rough idea of what I want to do, which is getting paid to write, I still don’t know exactly how I’m going to do that. Writing blogs is a step in the right direction, but this dream definitely needs more work.

I do feel like I’m going off on a tangent, which I tend to do. So back to the point. Ally McBeal, for everything else she may be, is at least successful.

I found out a few months ago that one of my closest childhood friends is not only sucessful, but, well, she’s pretty big-time successful. On top of having a journalism career for a well-known national newspaper, she’s already published one Kindle book, and has just published a “proper” book. The subject? Her thirty-something crisis.

I have to say it took me by surprise. We lost touch around the time I got married in 2005, although I would like to say that wasn’t the reason. While I have very fond memories of my friend who I spent many a half-term holiday with after her parents moved away, I did feel the green-eyed monster lurking today. When you are trying to assess how well or not you are doing in life, the last thing you need is for someone you know that you can compare yourself to doing a million times better.

It must be a time for ghosts from the past. I found out recently that a classmate of mine died several years ago. The news didn’t really surprise me, for the last I had heard anything of this girl was reading in the newspaper about her, and it certainly wasn’t a celebration of any achievement. While she obviously had her own issues, I feel nothing for this person, because of the way I was made to feel at school. Anyone who has read this blog before knows I still have issues, even at my age, about school-related incidents.

So here we have two people from my childhood; one, a really good friend, who has made a success of her life and the other, someone I would rather forget, who no longer has the option to make anything of life.

I would place myself somewhere in the middle. I have my issues, and lately I have been mooching around rock bottom.

Since I started on my own thirty-something crisis some eight years ago, the one thing I have been able to use for encouragement is the discovery of those who are passionate about what they do, or are making progress towards achieving that. While studying in the US, I took a journalism course, and for one of my papers I chose to write an article called Follow Your Dreams: Chasing the Dream. In it, I interviewed a twenty-year old student from my college who had bagged himself a summer internship working on hit TV show, Weeds, and a former mature student who was working as a reporter for the New York Post. I remember being inspired by both of them, who through their hard work and perseverance were well on the way to their dream jobs.

Back at my home university I volunteered at a community radio station (www.sirenonline.co.uk) and I was lucky enough to be able to choose people to interview, many of which were involved in music or writing. Coming into contact with such people each week really inspired me that I could pursue my dream too.

I think since I moved to London though, despite the capital’s cultural hotspot, I haven’t been able to seek out those same people as I did before. And because I have felt my own dreams being stifled, it has been hard to feel joy towards those who are following their own dreams. I found out about my former friend who wrote the book earlier this year, ironically through a guy I met while internet dating, who had worked with her during one of her earlier jobs. At that time I was unable to accept the fact that someone I once knew had achieved exactly what I wanted, with bells and whistles. It hit me hard. She had endured the thirty-something crisis, which led her to an adventure worthy of not just a novel, but a memoir. She travelled the world in a boat while I struggled to get out of my home city. I have to admit, I still feel a little jealous. And I guess that is the reason this blog has taken such a long time to write. I had to dust it off to finish it ready for publication.

But I think I am finally ready to put that jealousy to good use. It’s time to start being inspired by people again, rather than to beat myself up by the fact that someone has achieved something that I have not. I have been searching for that job I can be passionate about, and the best way to achieve that is to find inspiration from those around me. While I may have been beaten to writing a novel, there’s room on the shelves for more than one. And the blogosphere is created such that there is room for everyone. I will take encouragement from the fact that someone I once knew has achieved the dream of having a book published, and that if I try hard enough anything is possible. Like Ally McBeal, perhaps I can at least aim to be successful, even if I am still single and falling apart.

*Emma Bamford’s memoir Casting Off: How a City Girl Found Happiness on the High Seas is published by Bloomsbury.

**I did promise in Jogga-Blog to the Moon that I had a moon-themed song, and well this one just seems to match this blog. Plus it’s from the 80s. What more could you want?

The Whole of the Moon – The Waterboys (1985)

In Dreams of You

I had a dream about you last night. I dreamt that you got offered a job in America, and that you booked your flight. I remember searching online for a job there, or perhaps a flight. Then you told me that another girl had known about it, for some time, but “obviously” before me. Her name was Judith.

I woke in another man’s bed, with that dull ache in my heart that has been there for a long time. The one that tells me you will never be mine. One day soon maybe it will fade into nothingness, or at least, I hope.

I guess a general analysis of this dream shows that I am still focussing on those things that I have been denied; my dream of getting a job in the States, and of course of us being together. The name Jodie is derived from the name Judith, which I guess indicates my fear that you will find someone who is a more “whole” version of me. I am no expert on dreams, so any expert knowledge would be welcomed.

I write this not to make you feel bad, but to be honest. I need this blog to be an honest account of how I feel about life. There are things I can’t write here, that I will never write here. But the rest, should not be kept inside.

Lessons in Life (and Nail Polish Remover)

Today I have been taught a lesson in planning and preparation. Have you ever heard of the five Ps? Prior preparation prevents piss poor performance. Well it’s true.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m always late. And usually later than the later time I rearranged to. I guess I’m lucky to have such forgiving friends and family who know me so well and are willing to forgive my tardiness. This however does give me difficulty when meeting new people, especially potential dates. New people are not so forgiving of one’s flaws, especially when it is the first impression that counts. The first impression is, of course, what leads to second chances. And second chances are what lead to all kinds of possibilities.

Today I had the luxury of having the whole flat to myself, and having a busy weekend ahead, spent the morning relaxing. I had a lie in until 10:30am, then nipped to Waitrose for a free coffee and to pick up some bits for lunch.

This afternoon I have a third date, and so while I had the whole day free, I had plenty of time to get ready. Although there were things I could have done last night, or even last weekend, such as painting my toe nails. And that’s where everything started to go wrong.
I put too much nail polish on my big toe. So I stuck a cotton bud (or Q-tip) into my bottle of nail polish remover, which I tipped so it would soak the bud. Which dripped onto my dress. I had another one of those Doc Brown mortified moments and then tried to soak it up with a wet cotton pad. This left a lovely round mark on my dress, about the size of a golf ball.

I continued to get ready, postponing the decision about whether I would have to change dresses until the circle had dried. Once my make-up was done, I dried my hair, focusing the dryer on the wet patch. And all it seemed to do was enhance it. I figured the dress was ruined at that point, the nail polish remover having stained the dress.

It was at this point I started having a conversation with God. Or whoever is up there today. Maybe not even God, but the universe. I’m not religious, but I do believe there is someone, or something dishing out life: happiness, punishments, good times, bad times. Anyway, even though I had an empty apartment, this conversation took place in my head, because it can be still be heard loud and clear up there. I started asking why I am being punished for being so disorganised. Yes, I’m aware my nails have needed painting for months, the tell-tale sign of unpainted nail growth giving me away. And I decided to leave it until the day I really needed my nails doing. Which caused me to bodge them, leading to me ruining my dress. But is it really necessary to punish me for this? I asked. I know what my weaknesses are, such as being late and disorganised. And I suffer the consequences of these on a regular basis. But just once, can you give me a break? If I don’t wear this dress, I have to wear another dress, none of which are as suitable as this one. I have issues with self-esteem, and what I wear, how my hair looks, my make-up, can all make a difference to how good (or bad) I feel about myself.

After straightening my hair, I looked down at the wet ball-shaped spot. I grabbed the hair dryer and decided to give it one more blast.

I watched in amazement as the circle started to change colour. Parts of it were going darker, the same shade as the dress. And in seconds the circle was gone, and the dress was dry and all the same colour.

I don’t know if there is anyone up there listening. But today there seemed to be.

Of course, twenty minutes later I left the house to find there were no trains running from Twickenham this weekend due to engineering work. Sixteen months in London and I still haven’t got used to the 9 out of 10 chance that my weekend travel plans will be interrupted by engineering works. Luckily for me I actually left early and should make it in plenty of time.

I guess life is made a lot easier when you can be more organised. When you are always on time. I’m not sure I will ever be like that. But I had this discussion with my mum once. She said that I always land on my feet, despite my superb ability to be disorganised (she is the opposite). Like today, with the dress, I guess she was right. Maybe someone up there is looking out for me. But they will still challenge me, for which I am grateful. For every challenge is an opportunity to prove myself, or to learn a lesson. Today I am grateful that I didn’t have to throw away this dress that I have only worn three times. But maybe next time I won’t leave anything that involves acetone until the last minute.

The Musical Memory Tour

I’ve posted before about how when I wake up with a song in my head, I have to listen to it. Not that I think there’s some kind of coded message in there. Ok, maybe I do.

Today’s song was Let’s Get Rocked, courtesy of the UK long-haired rockers, Def Leppard. Ey up, in fact they’re from Sheffield, South Yorkshire, an hour away from my home city of Lincoln and close to where my mum lives now.

Anyway, I listened to the song on YouTube, remembering the video with the computer-generated teenager with a cap. Not bad for the early 90s.

I then remembered another song that randomly appeared in my head this morning: Fallen, by Lauren Wood. Most people will be saying who? What? Where in fact most women at least will know the song as part of the Pretty Woman soundtrack, the scene where Edward collects Vivian for their big night out to the opera in San Francisco. I once bought the Pretty Woman soundtrack on cassette from a car boot sale. It didn’t have a case and cost me 50p. I was about 13 at the time, and it was one of the best things I ever bought.

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So I listened to Fallen on YouTube. By then, I was hungry for more 90s music, and checked out YouTube’s suggestions below, where I found Extreme’s More Than Words. From the days when all long-haired rock bands needed to do to hit the charts was to release a ballad unlike anything else they’d ever done, of course I end up at my favourite band, the one that will always have a special place in my heart. Mr. Big, To Be With You, a one-hit wonder to most people but a long story of love for me. Listening to this song reminds me of meeting their lead singer, Eric Martin, during one of his solo gigs in Italy. I’ve blogged about this before, and if you’d like to read the story, you can search my blog for it. I remember how my ex-husband, who at the time had been my ex-husband for only two months, accused me of sleeping with Eric, since we happened to be staying at the same hotel. But Eric was the perfect gentleman, with only wise words of wisdom for me, his own heart given to his wife, drummer Denise and twin boys. But I wasn’t there that night looking for a shag. I was searching for myself, that poor girl that was lost long before 33andlostinlife came along. That trip led to me being stranded in Venice after the ash cloud hit, and ensued a lengthy and expensive adventure across Europe to get home. What came with it was proof that I could travel alone, and a sign that I already had some of that independence I was searching for.

My Mr. Big story starts much like with Lauren Wood, with a cassette tape which I borrowed from my best friend at the time, only to discover to my horror that my ghetto blaster had chewed it up. Mortified much like Doc Brown when he realises the cable has come loose underneath the fallen tree and the lightening is about to strike, I bought my friend a new tape, and kept the chewed one, which played fine after that. I still have it, as a reminder that not everything that appears broken is ready for the rubbish dump.

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The 90s were a tough time for me, but I have fond memories of them, mainly due to the pop culture I associate with so well.

Yesterday a former classmate announced another reunion of the class of ’94. I won’t be going to this one. The first one, back in 2010, was more than enough for me.

So 90s, you can keep your school memories, and I’ll keep the wonderful catalogue of music that reminds me best of my youth. And when they suddenly appear in my head and take me on a magical musical tour of nostalgia, I’ll enjoy the journey, and hope you do too.

Let’s Get Rocked – Def Leppard (1992)

Fallen – Lauren Wood (Pretty Woman OST 1990)

More Than Words – Extreme (1991)

To Be With You – Mr. Big (1991)

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