All Frocked Up

Recently I was invited to a black-tie awards ceremony, which at first filled me full of excitement before the realisation hit that I would need a posh dress. I haven’t worn a dress that swept past my toes since my wedding day, and I wondered how much change, if any, I would get out of £100. Of course this is party season, so there were offers and I could probably find a dress for about £60-70. Still not great when my overdraft limit is looming ever closer and we’re only just halfway through the month.

I went to Debenhams and tried a few dresses on, but none that I liked enough to part with my hard-earned cash.

The following weekend, I decided to take a trip to my local charity shops, as I remembered one of them advertising party dresses in stock. I tried four shops but none had long dresses. Then I remembered about one that was further down towards the end of the High Street, tucked away from the rest.

As I walked in and found their selection of dresses, my eyes fell on a long black dress, with a Ralph Lauren label. My heart skipped a beat as I sought out the charity shop’s label, which read “Ralph Lauren Brand NEW £30”. My eyes then looked at the size – it was a size 8. My heart sank. But I had an idea. Ralph Lauren is an American brand. I found the original Ralph Lauren label and it said $119 (around £76). Which meant it was a US Size 8, and therefore a UK size 12! I had the hanger off the rail and into the changing room before anyone else had a chance to steal my beloved find.

The fitting room was poorly lit but even so I could tell it fitted almost perfectly. I recently bought a pair of Bridget Jones’ big pants which I knew would even out any lumps and bumps.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love buying clothes in charity shops. A serious lack of money while at university meant that I relied mostly on them to fill my wardrobe. I love the excitement of finding a branded item at a bargain price. So I was particularly excited to have found my Ralph Lauren dress.

But it was not to be. The person I was supposed to go with decided against going, and didn’t even tell me. I had to hear it from somebody else. The disappointment of missing out on a glamorous night out, with the chance to wear my new frock hit me hard.

While my feelings are hurt, so is my bank balance. £30 may not seem like a lot but to me, at this time of year, it is. I can’t take the dress back (although I probably wouldn’t anyway) and I don’t know when I will get a chance to wear it. I’ve recently discovered an issue with moths in the flat which I believe have caused a few holes in my clothes, and I only hope I’ll get chance to wear it before the moths start to feed on it.

Life’s little (and big) disappointments can be hard to handle sometimes. Disappointments can be more hurtful than anything else, because you are given hope which is then often cruelly snatched away.

Talking to a friend about it, she said when disappointment strikes you just have to dust yourself off and carry on, which I think is a good mantra to have. Basically, don’t let disappointments get the better of you.

As for the dress, it hangs on the front of my wardrobe. Like me, it anxiously awaits the moment it will finally be given its chance to shine.

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Spring Forward, Fall Back

I just looked at the last post I wrote which was Friends Without Benefits, on the 15th October. Eleven days ago. I’m sure you’re all wondering what has been happening in those eleven days, so I’ll do my best to fill you in. As you’ll remember, I blocked my male friend on Facebook and What’s App, which was hard but a necessary enforced separation for me.

Spring forward.

It took him almost a week, but once he realised what I’d done and he read that last blog, he sent me a very heartfelt email. He understood the reasons why but still felt hurt that I hadn’t explained to him before cutting him out of my life completely. That is one of the downsides of this blog; while I may have posted a blog about what is happening in my life, how I feel, what has happened, sometimes I forget that not everyone reads my blogs, or just because I’ve written a blog it doesn’t mean that is the end of the conversation.

His email ended with the offer of friendship, should I really need it, and the hope that we would one day become friends again. He also said that he would respect my wish for distance, and after the email would not contact me again.

I suppose I should have expected him to react rather than just go along with it. Unfortunately for me, the arrival of his email coincided with the monthly work pub quiz. I read it during my first pint, but two pints and two large glasses of red wine later meant that I did what comes naturally to me when sober. I called him. Two drunken voicemails later, he called me back, a conversation which somehow lasted 55 minutes.

Mostly it was me crying and him talking, I don’t even really remember everything that was said. I do know however that one conversation opened up the floodgates again.

Fall back.

The few days after that all I wanted to do was call him, to talk to him again. Not to let him go. Not to go back to that horrible separation that left me feeling so alone. I did call once but it went to his voicemail. He tried to call back but by then I had started to regret the call, so I didn’t return it.

Every so often I get a pang of longing for our friendship, especially when I get stressed, which happens a lot lately. But I know that there is no other way it can be. The distance is helping. Although today is the one day of the year that you can turn back time (at least in the UK), there is no turning back time for this relationship. The foundations are crumbling because we tried to build them using different materials; he used friendship, I used friendship mixed with hope and that hope is what brought about the deterioration of those foundations. Perhaps in the future once all the hope is gone I can bring something that will solidify those foundations for good. Until then, I will do what I can to live my life without him.

Spring forward, fall back. Hurt is a necessary cog in the clockwork of life. The hurt may push you back, but in it you find a way to move forward again. Like the clocks that go back and forth twice a year, the action of one completes the other.

All You Want to Do is Criticize

Don’t criticize my friends.

Don’t criticize my ideas.

Don’t criticize my lifestyle.

I’m fed up ‘cos all you wanna to do is criticise…

Ok, so you didn’t criticise my friends. But you did criticise Jack Bauer. And I like to count him as one of my oldest and wisest friends.

I very rarely watch television any more. Since shortly before I started university and my marriage crumbled, there has been a box-shaped hole in my life. Before that I had many American TV shows that I was a regular and avid viewer, 24 being one of them.

So when I finally get my hands on a copy of the latest, ninth season of 24, forgive me if I would like to put some time into watching it.

There are several reasons for that. One, that I want to follow the journey of one of my favourite American dramas. Two, that I’m a bit partial to Jack Bauer. And three, sometimes it’s nice to just enjoy somebody else’s bad day for once.

I don’t need to be reminded that my problems won’t disappear after an hour of watching 24. I’m not completely stupid you know.

You insinuate I am wasting my time, when all I am doing is relaxing and taking time for myself during this busy period in my life.

I am the navigator of my life. I will make my own decisions. If life turns to shit, so be it. But I want the credit for making my life great.

I’m finally realising what I want in life, and what I don’t. And it feels pretty damn good.

Criticize – Alexander O’Neal (1987)

Where There’s Smoke There’s Ire…

Well my PMT has been raging this week. There’s been lots of tears and anger. Most of all I just feel scared about what the future holds for me.

Yesterday I did something I have never done at work. I smoked a cigarette. I have to admit I do smoke the occasional one when drunk on nights out, but to go and stand outside my office building while stone cold sober is a new one on me. While it calmed me down, I hated smelling like a chimney afterwards, and I could still smell the smoke on my fingers two hours later. So thankfully I won’t be taking up smoking any time soon.

I just feel like I am losing control again. Am I ever going to be able to settle in this place, in this life? A constant nomadic life, with heartache after heartache. Last week I stayed with my brother and his fiancee, and got to spend time with my nephew. This weekend I feel the emptiness of my life. I’m 36, I should have my own family to spend time with. Not be sitting in my room, alone, desperately searching for another flatshare before I become homeless again.

I’m sorry if this sounds pitiful, but this is how I feel today.

In between bagging up books for the charity shop, the sadness comes, and the PMT rages. Luckily I don’t have any cigarettes and I won’t buy any when I go out to take my donations. I do have chocolate though. And my blog. They will get me through.

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Remember this pain.

Remember this pain.

Remember this pain.

This is the second time in my life I’ve had this conversation. That dull ache in my heart, that tells me it is time to face the truth, admit defeat. The battle is over; the war is lost.

We’ve said our goodbyes, and sadly I think it will be for good this time. I can’t bear to think of my life without you. But that’s what it is; my life. Without you. Because your life is without me.

Remember this pain. Don’t let it happen again.

My Wrecking Ball – Ryan Adams (2014)

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)

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)

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