British Sum…meh

It’s common knowledge that when referring to summer in the UK, one should always use air quotes. ‘Summer’ in the UK is ordinary at best, so for the few days the mercury dares to venture above 25 degrees, it’s taken pretty seriously by all. The country awakens from its slumber and residents go above and beyond to savour their brief British sum…meh.

Growing up in Australia, a county known for its sunshine and outdoor lifestyle, I was instilled with a healthy respect for the great ball of fire in the sky. ‘Slip, Slop, Slap‘ was the mantra of my childhood and later on avoided the sun like an ex you spot standing across the room at a friend’s party.

Apparently people in the UK were not given these same sun sense lectures throughout their formative years. Every time temperatures rise, the locals shed their clothes (taps aff!) and every spare inch of sunlight is occupied by a lily-white Brit…sans sunscreen. You can always tell if there’s been a summer’s day in the UK by the myriad of sunburnt flesh patterns seen in the office the following day.

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For the remaining 360 days of the year when the sun doesn’t shine, the UK population appears to keep fake tanning companies in business with their desire to look sun kissed. Not a day goes by when I don’t see the tell tale signs of a botched fake tan job…an orange face here…brown elbows there…hands looking like they’ve been dipped in wood stain…everywhere. Some Brits would literally rather look like an Oompa Loompa than bear any resemblance to someone from the cast of Interview With a Vampire

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When I think about a quintessentially British summer, images of beer gardens and pints of cider on the footpath spring to mind. For most of the year, drinking is an indoor sport for those living in the UK, but when the sun is out, so is this beloved British pastime. With the daylight hours extending to 9 or 10pm during the ‘summer’ months, a walk past any pub in the evening might have you thinking there’s been a fire evacuation…

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For the upper echelons of society (or those willing to camp in a field overnight), summer in the UK is all about Wimbledon. Regardless of whether you are a tennis fan (Roger who?), the grand slam as a great opportunity to combine all of Britain’s favourite summer hobbies in one fell swoop…drinking, skiving off work and catching a ‘suntan’. With a Pimm’s in one hand and strawberries in the other, British summer doesn’t get much better.

On the rare occasion when temperatures spike above 30 degrees, the UK literally bakes. The London Underground becomes an oven of unbearable magnitude, buildings melt cars, store freezers look like something out of a post-apocalyptic movie and people actually need medical attention…

The number one question I get asked here is ‘Why on earth did you leave the sunshine in Australia to come to rainy old Blighty?!’ Err, well…predominantly because my husband lives here and I like to be near him? But aside from that, and on a purely weather related note, because I hate the heat and I’m a miserable cow for a large portion of the year in Australia. Whereas in the UK, it’s socially acceptable to moan about the heat as soon as it hits 23 degrees. And there’s snow sometimes.

In this country, I don’t have to suffer summer all year round…the season politely shares the calendar with the other three seasons, just as it should. As a resident in England, I can safely step outside the front door 97% of the time without feeling like I might self combust. But most importantly, because a summer’s day is so rare here, that when it does come about, the country comes to life…and people actually smile. To quote Lilly Allen’s thoughts on London in summer, ‘Sun is in the sky, oh why oh why, would I want to be anywhere else?’

 

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Mindfulness Over Matter

Hello. My name is Carla, and I am a perfectionist. And a control freak. And a stress head.

A few months ago, when I was (once again) mid-meltdown about my career/future/general lack of adult prospects, my husband quietly murmured ‘maybe we should look at taking meditation classes?’ I think this was his diplomatic way of saying that I needed to get a grip and calm the truck down. As the person I spend the majority of my time with (aside from the little voice in my head), he has to deal with my stress management process…otherwise known as mood swings, sleepless nights and misplaced frustration. Hubby was right (shh, don’t tell him), I’ve been long overdue for a mental spring clean.

I remember the exact year my brain broke (amongst the other useless information I do remember…like the lyrics to 90’s pop songs). It was 2003. Up until then, my supple grey matter seemed to cope with stress fairly well…or perhaps it was just that I spent my early university years killing off brain cells with alcohol, so I didn’t notice (sorry about that last bit, Mum). 2003 was my final year of uni and coincided with my long term boyfriend having a serious health scare and the subsequent demise of our relationship. Somewhere amidst hospital appointments, final design projects and his packing boxes, my brain decided it would up and leave too.

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Meditation, for me, has always held a place next to veganism and tree hugging as unnecessary hippy indulgences. Who on earth has the time to stand on their head in silence for hours on end and eat lentils all day?! But then a year ago I, well…sort of, went vegan…without growing dreadlocks or taking up a no-shoe policy. So with that stereotype shot to pieces, I thought maybe I should look into this meditation thing and see if it could help me connect the dots of my scattered mind.

Fast forward to now and hubby and I have been to exactly one meditation class…and I spent the majority of the time distracted. I’m pretty sure the path to Nirvana isn’t paved by listening to a woman cough continuously for 20 minutes and wondering how your six year old self ever tolerated sitting cross legged on the floor. It wasn’t all bad though…the people were welcoming and for our £6 donation there were snacks…which were the highlight for me.

Though I didn’t regain my mental acuity amongst the folding chairs and smiles at the Buddhist Centre, I have thankfully also stumbled on Headspace…an app/oasis where my brain can take a break…from my brain. Without having to leave the comfort of our flat…or my sweatpants, I can sit for 10-20 minutes each day and have my own mindfulness session, minus the coughing and crossed legs. Amazingly, over the last few months, I have managed to sit still for almost 60 sessions…totalling 12 whole hours of meditation (the few minutes I fell asleep for still count, right?).

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In conjunction with my Headspace time, I have also been learning about the science behind meditation. I can’t tell you how giddy this makes my scientist husband (who can barely get me to glance in the direction of his non fiction book collection). I recently finished reading A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled, by Ruby Wax; and aside from the title speaking straight to my frazzled brain, Ruby’s writing style is glorious in its comic delivery of facts. Her well educated and humorous summary on just how mindfulness can be life changing, has me convinced we should all be getting on the meditation train out of stress induced hell.

Even with only a few months of rudimentary mindfulness under my belt, I can already feel a shift in my day to day life. I am more conscious of being present in the moment and not letting my ‘monkey brain’ hijack the peace with flashbacks to embarrassing childhood memories, or making a list of what groceries I need to buy. I find myself ‘unplugging’ more…I’m spending far less time on Facebook, Pokemon Go has well and truly lost its appeal and Headspace is now my favourite app. Well, at least, it’s equal favourite…let’s not forget my unbridled addiction to Instagram).

Since I started meditating regularly, I have been gravitating back to the things I love (reading, sketching, listening to music)…which incidentally also happen to keep my mind in the present and my stress levels at bay. Hubby has also reported back that I am calmer and much better equipped to deal with stressful situations now…in other words he is no longer cowering in the corner fearing my undeserved rebuke. So at the risk of becoming a tree-hugging hippy, I think I’m going to stick with this meditation thing.

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Grinchmas

Recently, there has been speculation that I might be a (the?) Christmas Grinch. Around this time each year, I sound more like a grumpy old man than a 35 year old woman, so I can see how this might be general public opinion. I would argue that there are only so many times you can listen to Mariah screech ‘All I want for Christmas’ at the top of her lungs before anyone’s Christmas spirit breaks. For me, that threshold just happens to be 0.3 seconds into the opening chord. So you can imagine my joy now that she has been on repeat in our office for two weeks straight.

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I partially blame growing up in Australia for my lack of Christmas spirit. When you spend your youth watching Christmas movies like Home Alone, you can’t help but feel jibbed when the festive season rolls around each year. Pop culture promised me ugly woolly jumpers, sled rides in the snow and stockings hung by the fire for Christmas. Instead I’ve had years of roasting in the sweltering heat, standing in front of a fan on Christmas Day…too hot to put on pants, let alone conjure my inner festive spirit.

Don’t get me wrong, once upon a time I loved Christmas. As a kid, my Christmases were spent with my siblings and cousins…clad in swimmers, eating watermelon and hurling ourselves down the Slip ‘N Slide for hours on end. Even the inevitable yearly gift of Val’s Towels from our great aunt couldn’t deter me from the enjoyment of the festive season. A beloved yearly tradition of new board games and epic rollerblading sessions punctuated the Christmases of my childhood…but then we all grew up and rollerblading became seriously uncool.

I’ve come to the conclusion that adult Christmases a pretty ordinary, unless alcohol or inappropriate gift giving is involved. The most memorable Christmases I’ve experienced in recent history are those spent with fellow sans-family-nomadic-friends, pooling together our resources to survive the day (see previous note regarding alcohol). Nothing gets me in the Christmas spirit like a group of 20-something year olds willing to lose a limb over a Lego Yoda, gifted in the Dirty Secret Santa exchange.

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I’m not all doom and gloom when it comes to the festive season. Where my Christmas spirit rockets off the Rudolph scale is in the gift giving/wrapping and general decoration department. Unsurprising really, given my love of *coughobsessionwith* all things paper. While I’m not bothered about the receiving of gifts, I love giving to others…and nothing brings me more happiness than the words ‘Oh, but it’s too pretty to unwrap!’

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The arrival of my nephew two years ago has reinforced my theory that children are the secret ingredient to enjoying Christmas. Kids love all things Christmas with unbridled enthusiasm and the true spirit of the season…it’s enough to infect even the most severe of Grinches. I mean, how could I not laugh when my nephew excitedly chewed a hole right through the Christmas ornament he made during our last Skype chat?! He’s made my Christmas already, even from the other side of the world.

So what if I detest carols, Christmas pudding or the swarms of frenzied shoppers at this time of year? I enjoy Christmas in my own Grinch-like way. I still watch Home Alone every year (I’m told Die Hard will be added to the viewing list this year), adore gift giving and dedicating hours to the design of a Christmas tree. As this Christmas is being spent back in the northern hemisphere, I also have the promise of snow to look forward to. Who knows, maybe one Grinchmas soon I’ll even take up rollerblading again?

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Nomadic Life

I’ve just moved house for the 21st time. Yes, since leaving the comfort of my parents’ nest 18 years ago, I have moved 21 times…including five country moves. On my recent endeavour to donate blood, the nurse made the mistake of trying to write the list of countries I’ve travelled to in one small box. He caved after the first ten, when his hand started cramping, and went in search of another piece of paper. That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to my nomadic life…

As a nomad, I find myself constantly grasping for a word in conversation and claiming it from another language or culture…saying dollar instead of pound, duvet instead of doona and I still feel the urge to say itadakimasu every time I sit down to a meal. I won’t even get started on the arguments I have with hubby about vegetable names…or the great pants vs trousers debate. He practically applauded me the other day for saying flip flops instead of thongs…showing just how rarely I get the context of my vocabulary correct. These days, talking to me is like having a conversation with Google Translate on a slow internet connection.

Establishing yourself in a new place is tiring when you’re a nomad…you need to seek out a new doctor, dentist, gym and hair stylist in every location you decide to set down vague roots. The result? I cut my own hair, the Olympics come around more frequently than my dentist visits and I’m contemplating prerecording my medical history for all future doctor’s appointments.

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As a nomad, I’ve come to realise that not all clothing sizes are created equal. In Australia I am a size 10…in the UK a 10-12 (the Heathrow Injection)…and in Japan, a size 20,000. The only item of attire I managed to purchase successfully in the Land of the Rising Sun were (men’s) Converse shoes. I gave up on clothing after buying a pair of XXL stockings, only to try them on and find the crotch taking up residence somewhere around my knees.

I married a Scotsman…who I met in Japan. If that doesn’t scream nomad, then I don’t know what does. When we tied the knot, I signed up to an ongoing life of long haul flights, missed family Christmases and birthday wishes sent from afar…and a day (week?) early or late. Hubby and I have conversations about which country to raise our (distant) future children in…realising that our decisions will impact their education, their access to extended family and will even dictate their accent.

A skill my travelling life does afford me, is knowing exactly which seat to choose on a long haul flight for maximum space, minimal noise and avoidance of the ‘toilet waft’. And trust me when I say, order a special meal. It’s worth it for no other reason to see your hungry neighbour give you the evil eye while you happily munch away with all the kiddie meal recipients.

When you are a nomad, no one believes you are staying for long. Ever. I start having heart palpitations unless I have some kind of trip planned…the walls start closing in and I feel suffocated. I experience cabin fever, post holiday blues and the travel itch like other people come down with a common cold. Nomads like me are a strange breed that thrive on change and look forward to the unknown. Unless the unknown ends up being a snoring neighbour in a hostel or a missed flight home from Barcelona, that is.

As a 34 year old nomad, I don’t own a house. Or a car (the one time I briefly owned a car, it didn’t end well). Hubby and I just bought our first real piece of furniture…a bookcase to hold the mountain of books I’ve been squirrelling away in Mum and Dad’s spare room over the years (I’m starting the think a Kindle might not be such a bad idea). A while ago, I calculated that if I’d saved all the money I have spent on travel over the years, I would have had enough for a deposit on a house. That’s probably two deposits by now…

Instead of a house, I have travel journals full of concert tickets, flight itineraries and memories of adventures had. I have a collection of used passports and stashes of leftover currency from countries visited. I don’t need a house…pieces of my heart are scattered all over the globe with the people and places I love. My home is with them and I will always adore my nomadic life.

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Pokemon Go, GO, GO!

I would like to preface this post by saying I am in no way, shape or form, a ‘gamer’. I know little to nothing about computer games, I’ve never owned a console, and the last games I played with any conviction were Golden Eye, Mario Party and Micro Machines…circa Nintendo 64. So if you are expecting an insightful, technically detailed review of Pokemon Go, I suggest you stop reading now.

The truth is, until three days ago at approximately 9:30am, when my husband uttered the words, ‘So I was thinking about trying Pokemon Go’, I knew nothing about Pokemon’s past iterations, nor had any interest in the game. So it might come as a surprise to discover that I ended up spending the better part of the weekend (and 20km worth of shoe tread) on Nintendo’s new offering…

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In case you are one of the five people who don’t know what Pokemon Go is, it’s an augmented reality game app for your phone, which forces you to get off the couch and go searching for Pokemon to catch. These critters can be found all over the place, from busy city streets to parks…with fun facts about the local sites thrown in as an added bonus. Think Google Maps meets Lonely Planet Guide meets hide and seek and you’ll start to get a picture of what I’m talking about.

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I’m not going to explain the game any further that that…partly because I don’t understand the intricacies of ‘evolving’ the Pokemon and have no interest in taking over ‘gyms’. But mostly because I am more intrigued by the way this game has captured the attention of even the least likely of audiences *coughme* and the impact the game has in a greater social context.

Over the weekend we had balmy 22ish degree heat throughout the UK, which apparently meant every 25-34 year old who’d just installed the app was out to catch Pokemon. This in turn caused the servers to crash/meltdown/whatever-the-technical-term-is, which in my head looks like this scene from Silicon Valley. Players were left watching the little Pokeball spinning on their smartphone screen with despair, while they lamented the wasted kilometres on eggs that wouldn’t hatch.

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This server meltdown clearly shows that Pokemon Go has immense popularity, but why? For me, it has engaged my inner child (see, I’m not a grown up yet) and incites a sense of fun and imagination. There is a playground-like camaraderie with fellow Go-ers on the street…a knowing head nod, smile or the occasional ‘did you catch it?’ exchanged with strangers as you seek out Pokemon on your travels. And who wouldn’t have a giggle at the sight of a suited posse of businessmen out chasing fictional characters in their lunch hour?

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Car crashes and increased potential for pedestrian-vs-anything-incidents aside, I think Pokemon Go is worth the hype (when we aren’t overloading the servers with our enthusiastic play). It’s encouraging people to exercise and explore, it’s a conversation starter crossing all age groups and cultures…and it is straight up fun. In a time when the news is heavy with stories of racism, hatred and political madness…this game is an unexpected way to bring a smile (and a Jigglypuff) to your day. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Pokemon to catch…

 

Grown Up

I will be turning 35 in a just a few short months…and I got married last year (yes, things are much changed since since I wrote The L Word). I now have a husband and I go by the name Aunty Yaya too. Even Paperdoll has an updated, adult look about it these days.

Long gone are the days (years?) of drunken London night buses at 4am with a dirty kebab stop on the way home…apparently I’ve grown up. But aside from my imminent graduation into the next age tick box, how do I know I’ve grown up?

The first indication is that I haven’t dyed my hair since 2009. Prior to that I tried various shades of ‘unflattering’ to complement whatever horrid cut I was sporting at the time. Whenever the thought enters my head now, my grown up brain remembers that there’s photographic evidence of the dark-brown-post-breakup-fringe phase that left me looking like a goth member of ABBA. Even balayage, with its alluring regrowth concealment appeal, can’t tempt me these days.

The ratio of flat shoes to high heels in my wardrobe has shifted significantly as I have grown up.  The high heels I do own now, I only wear on ‘special’ occasions…AKA when I feel I would be a social leper not to. At which point I curse them almost immediately and give my younger self a mental high five and face slap, simultaneously. How did I put myself through that pain so frequently?! My grown up self despises heels so passionately that I even spoke out about it recently in the UK media.

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As a grown up, I’ve noticed that work has become less about the pay cheque and more about doing something fulfilling with my days. I want to contribute, I want to change the world…or at least have some small impact. I’m told this will change once I have children and a mortgage…but that is a whole other level of grown up that I am unwilling to face just yet.

I know I must have grown up because I now get up earlier on weekends than weekdays, to do things like Pilates, or ‘make the most of my day’. Bed times and wake up times are becoming earlier, synchronised with each other. Soon I will be my parents…falling asleep on a recliner at 8:30pm, while watching Downton Abbey.

I know I must have grown up because sometimes my lips are moving and I hear my mother’s words coming out. Occasionally I’m actually mistaken for my mother now too…and comments such as ‘Oh my, you look more like your mother every day!’ are becoming more frequent. It’s a good thing Mrs B Senior still looks like a fox as she heads towards 60…I won’t complain.

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When I was young, I couldn’t drive because I had to drink. Now I drive so I don’t have to drink. That right there is the epitome of being grown up. The only thing more grown up is not being able to drink because you are pregnant (refer to my earlier comment about that being next level grown up sh#t I’m not ready for yet).

‘I remember when you were this big!’ and ‘Oh, you’re just a baby!’ are common phrases in my vocabulary now that I am a grown up. The latter comment is usually thrown at ‘young people’ I mistook as being of similar age to me. When I discover they are in fact in their early twenties. And I realise that means there’s a decade between us. Don’t even get me started on the pop culture references I can’t use with these youngsters…that attempt always ends with me uttering the words ‘Oh, you’re too young to remember’, or, ‘Never mind, you weren’t born yet’.

A sure sign that I am a grown up is that catch ups with my friends now involve venues and menus that are child proof/friendly. I am also honoured to be ‘Aunty Carla‘ to a number of little ones who are fortunate enough not to be connected to me biologically (apologies to the one who does have my blood running through his veins). My younger self avoided children like the plague, but these days, my heart hurts to be so far away from the majority of these small people and their wealth of cuddles and imaginative games.

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For all this growing up though, some things will never change. I continue to irresponsibly open things with my teeth, tissues still find their way into my clothes washes on a regular basis and I will always subscribe to Jerry Seinfeld’s philosophy that cereal is an acceptable meal at any time of the day.

I may inevitably be headed for that 35-45 age tick box, but I think I still have plenty more growing up to do.

Brexit

Britain changed…for the worse, I fear,
Remain voters…the voices, they did not hear,
EU residents…suffering, just to be,
Xenophobia…on show, for all to see,
Ignorance of people…brought to light,
Time for compassion…not a fight.