Itchy Feet

I had the day to myself today, so was looking forward to getting some blog posts written. Instead, I have spent six hours looking at weekend breaks near London, because I am starting to lose my mind.

This is the first place I have spent more than a year consecutively since I was twenty years old. For so many years, everything kept changing – flats, jobs, courses, countries – so this is the first time I’ve settled. However, the expectation of doing something different soon hasn’t gone away, a sort of hangover from school/uni days that everything changes come September. Since I have no plans to change the big things, I need to get some variety by doing new things and visiting new places. Even with the thousands of things London has to offer, it’s not the same as going somewhere else.

It is almost a year since I went to Dublin and the hen do in Marbella, and I am absolutely desperate to get away. (Going to Bologna and Frankfurt with work absolutely do not count as getting away. If you need to ask why, you have never been to a book fair; it is quite simply working long hours in a place that is not the office.)

Work is full-on until mid-April, so I don’t want to go on a ‘proper’ holiday as I won’t enjoy it fully, or I would be swanning around abroad right this second. Instead, I thought that simply going anywhere new would calm the travel craving. My boyfriend has a weekend off next week, so I’ve been looking at places near enough to get to after work on Friday. If I have no objections by tomorrow evening, I’m booking wherever I like. Or I’ll go myself!

As for the rest of the year, I thought I could turn a trip home into a little tour around the Highlands. I could take advantage of the Eurostar and practise my French again. Or it would be incredible to go to Iceland. Although I might also be coming around to sunny, relaxing holidays, so perhaps the unbelievably beautiful Santorini? Then again, I have wanted to visit Budapest for years now, and it is also gorgeous. Or…

My Politics

This blog recently turned four, but instead of going from strength to strength, the past year was my quietest yet.

I was all set to put up a hiatus post, as blogging was becoming an unnecessary pressure: I have trouble writing, I rarely publish what I do write, and much of what I end up posting doesn’t feel particularly sparkly.

I have a list of excuses as numerous as the people who didn’t vote for Donald Trump, but I suspect that part of my writer’s block has been trying to work out the best and fairest way to express my thoughts on some of the big political events of the past year.

What I’ve realised is that, when it comes to politics, I might be wasting time worrying about writing a perfectly referenced essay; most people are so set in their ways already – and a large number of people now disregard facts altogether.

I cannot even begin to mention all the issues of the past year, from anti-intellectualism to fake news, so instead I am going to list some of the things that I still believe after all this mess. These aren’t answers to the world’s problems, and they aren’t arguments, but when social media is a cesspit of negativity, it helps to think that many people still believe in treating others kindly.

I believe that many people are braver behind a computer screen and a fake profile picture than they would ever be in real life.

I believe in tolerance. I find it bizarre that this is now considered a negative attribute by millions, but accept that people might interpret the idea differently and have a difference of opinion. Who is to say what’s right or wrong? However…

…if you’re inciting hatred through racism, sexism, homophobia or xenophobia, then I am going to strongly disagree with what you say. (And I’ll wonder if reading Harry Potter might not help you be a little kinder.)

I truly believe that the more people read – perhaps specifically, the more fiction people read – the more empathy they have. Literature can also act as a warning. I have discussed my love of dystopian fiction in the past, but it seems like recent events are leading more and more people to it: sales of 1984 have increased by over 5000%.  The reasons might not be positive, but hopefully the fact that people are turning to books is a good sign.

Everybody on this planet has problems. However, if people have to leave their entire lives behind fleeing a war, perhaps you should consider that they’re worse off than you and need any help our governments can offer. If you are feeling helpless, this article has some suggestions on how you might be able to make a difference. It is written about the war in Syria, but many of the principles apply to other situations.

I think some people forget that we had exactly zero say over where we were born. Judging someone by the country that issued their passport is illogical if nothing else. (It is something else.)

In emergency situations, I am more than happy for my taxes to pay for a non-UK resident’s health treatment. I do not believe this should ever be called ‘health tourism’.

I am a feminist. I know some people disagree with the term, but I believe that it breaks down gender stereotypes that are as damaging to men as women. Women do not do their jobs any better simply because they stick on a pair of heels. Men should knit and cry if they so desire. (Related to that last article, we have to be a society in which people feel comfortable discussing their mental health. One in four people experience a mental health problem each year, and suicide is now the biggest cause of death in men under 45.)

I believe that people should have the right to decide what happens to their own bodies. Abortion is a hugely complicated issue, but for a majority of women this would be the single most difficult decision they would ever make. I am also of the opinion that, if this situation is one you will absolutely never be faced with, then you should not be in charge of policy affecting it.

These times are leading to some excellent creativity in protest signage. (If only those who use the word ‘snowflake’, the single most boring insult with a bandwagon hitched to it, could think of equally interesting jibes if nothing else. If you must name-call, exercise your linguistic capabilities like these Scots reacting to Trump’s Brexit gaffe. Warning: swearing, plus other fantastic vocabulary.)  [NB: I do not think name-calling is the most effective way to communicate with anybody, but I’d be lying if I said that article didn’t make me laugh.]

Finally, I don’t think politics is a win-or-lose situation; this isn’t The X Factor. (Although even with reality TV I don’t think fans of a contestant consider themselves the winners if they voted for the winner. Do they?!) A candidate might win a vote, but what have you or I won? Politics is an ongoing discussion and process.

Ten good things about today

Ten Good Things, 25.01.17

When real news is getting you down (and you have to specify the type of news you mean), it might help to take note of the good little things in an ordinary day.

  1. I got home on time, despite the trains being a mess. My train might have been cancelled, but there was one that was an hour delayed that was perfect timing. (For me, at least.)
  1. Hugs.
  1. Galaxy chocolate.
  1. Wine and cheese. (It is a day for all the food I like.)
  1. The cheese was only £1.60 for a whole round! (OK, this is becoming a very food-based post.
  1. It’s Burns Night, so there is poetry in Scots going about. (And I know I should be having haggis, neeps and tatties rather than French fare, but I like both. Perhaps later in the week!)
  1. Spending time with a friend.
  1. Watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
  1. This woman who donated a kidney to save her friend.
  1. This video:

Defragment

I actually took today off work to tidy the flat.

Well, ‘tidy the flat’ is a slight understatement. My grand idea last Sunday of sorting my life out started fine, but unfortunately didn’t finish. Since I decided I absolutely had to have a clear-out all of my possessions and in so doing made a massive mess a few days before a very belated housewarming, I thought I would use one of the holidays I carried over to put everything back together.

I’m not the sort of person who processes everything as they go along. I am better for this at work, I promise, but when it comes to life admin, I’d love to hire someone else.

My personal email accounts contain 1700 unread messages; I have opened exactly seven in the past week. Not two months ago I unsubscribed from loads of marketing emails, but it hasn’t made much difference; I get fear of missing out if I unsubscribe from everything, which is funny considering I don’t read them. (These are next on the list to be organised.)

I’m the person who takes receipts in the supermarket so I don’t leave a mess at the checkout, then they sit in my handbag until I realise what a mess it is. Then I am usually in such a rush that I leave them on the floor. Sometimes after this, if I am quickly tidying, I hide them in the bottom of the wardrobe. I am aware this makes zero sense. It would take fifteen extra seconds to put them in the bin. It would be even easier if I didn’t take them in the first place. That didn’t stop me from finding five receipts in my handbag right now.

Not having enough space for my clothes since moving in – ahem, five months ago – meant I had so many things still stuffed in bags, and the exasperation of opening my wardrobe and hating everything/being faced with fancy dresses and summer wear in January eventually got too frustrating.

While on the case, I took all my books off the shelves, separated hardbacks from paperbacks, put the first in height order and attempted a sort of rainbow with the latter. (It doesn’t look particularly obvious, despite getting stuck for ages trying to decide which colours merge well into the next.) Then the kitchen was rearranged, the flat got a clean, I did my nails, and it was all very satisfying.

It’s like when a computer is running out of space and you defragment the disk to clean it up a bit. My head was getting cluttered with thoughts of everything being all over the place and the many things I needed to do ‘at some point’. ‘At some point’ usually means when you reach the end of your patience with yourself, and it turns out that was today. I would love for this to be the year that I learn to process instead of procrastinate…

Blue Monday

I’m not really feeling like one with the words today. (A complete absence of posts last week suggests that I can’t really blame Blue Monday for this.)

(Blue Monday actually sounds really pretty. Too pretty for today.)

I have so much to do this week, both at work and around the house, that this will probably be a second week that isn’t conducive to good blogging. I pulled every item of clothing out my wardrobe yesterday, deciding I would wash and organise. It was going fine until I remembered my full suitcase and the IKEA bag stuffed with clothes hidden behind the armchair in the living room, then I ran out of steam. Now the place needs far more organising than it did before, and resembles a launderette.

Anyway, since I’m struggling to write, I thought I’d share a cute clip of a song I would love to have written and which I find so uplifting, since it’s apparently the bluest of days.

30 Before 30 So Far

When I realised it was thirty months until I’m thirty, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to jump on the 30-things-I’d-like-to-do-before-I’m-30 bandwagon.

I had a look at my bucket list and tried to think what else I would like to achieve, but I can’t come up with thirty interesting things to realistically aim for in two-and-a-half years. In one way this was a good thing, though: some of the common choices – like learning a language or going to Paris – I’d already done.

So instead, I thought I would take stock of thirty brilliant things that my younger self might have wanted to do. (Or didn’t even realise she would want to do.)  It’s great to have things to strive for, but it’s also nice to look back and remember the good stuff.

Passed my driving test.

Failed at something. (Also my driving test.)

Wrote a novel (but it was awful).

Visited a volcano.

Went on a camel ride.

Stood in three countries at once – the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium.

Sailed into the mist at Niagara Falls.

Went white water rafting.

Went to university (twice).

Lived in France and Spain.

Learned a language. (Learned two, studied two more.)

Did a different job. (Well, ten, but only one testing a different career – teaching).

Moved somewhere I didn’t know anyone.

Moved abroad without a job. Moved another time without a place to live. Moved another time without a place to live or a job, and figured it out when I got there.

Lived with strangers. Lived with friends. Lived with a boyfriend.

Did a road trip across the USA and visited 16 states on the way. (Or, ‘Saved hard and spent it at once.’)

Hiked into the Grand Canyon.

Been in a helicopter (twice).

Went to a drive-in movie.

Sang karaoke on Beale Street, Memphis.

Saw the New York skyline in real life.

Went to Disneyland Paris.

Had a drink in an ice bar.

Been on the Hogwarts Express (or, visited the Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter Studio Tour).

Met some of my favourite authors. And David Hasselhoff.

Saw some of my favourite bands or singers in concert – McFly and Taylor Swift to name two.

Saw musicals in the West End and on Broadway.

Visited eleven countries (counting the UK as one, which it isn’t really).

Got a job I love.

Fell in love.

*

It’s been not too shabby so far!

Review: The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

I had seen the gorgeous cover for The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon everywhere, but I finally picked it up when Liz from Am I Thirty recommended it on my YA books post. And what a brilliant recommendation it was! (Minor spoilers in the form of some excellent quotes.)

sun-is-also-a-star-cover

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, Corgi Children’s (2016)

Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

Natasha has lived in the USA since she was eight years old, but when her dad is caught driving under the influence, the police find out her family are undocumented immigrants. Despite having few memories of Jamaica, the country of her birth, she is to be deported. On her last day in the country, she meets Daniel.

Daniel is on his way to an interview for Yale, where his parents want him to go and study medicine. With some time to pass before the meeting, he decides to go where the day takes him. He could never have predicted what happens next.

There’s a Japanese phrase that I like: koi no yokan. It doesn’t mean love at first sight. It’s closer to love at second sight. It’s the feeling when you meet someone that you’re going to fall in love with them. Maybe you don’t love them right away, but it’s inevitable that you will.

Natasha and Daniel are, on paper, polar opposites: he is a dreamer and a poet, while she believes in science and facts. He is incredibly earnest, while she is reserved. He doesn’t realise their time is short; she knows these are her last few hours in the city.

Over the course of one day they get to know each other, debating science and faith, following your dreams versus practicality, fate, coincidence, and love. We get to know them too, as the narrative switches viewpoints throughout.

I wonder if she realizes how passionate she is about not being passionate.

Natasha doesn’t say what she suspects. That meant to be doesn’t have to mean forever.

There are also chapters dotted throughout that spotlight minor characters, although, in the grand scheme of things, they aren’t quite so minor after all. These were the sections that really got to me, despite them involving characters we hardly know. That was my favourite part of this book. We can never see the ways in which all of our actions, however tiny, affect the lives of others, and this novel explores how we are all connected.

If you’re a bit cynical (like Natasha, in fact) you might not make it through this book, because it is unashamedly joyful, even in the face of a heartbreaking goodbye. Then again, perhaps it will win you over.

Personally, I adored this novel. I laughed and cried reading this, and that’s a characteristic shared by all of my favourite books. The Sun Is Also a Star is now one of them.