jeudi 31 mai 2012

21 to 31

In two days’ time , I will turn 31.

The first year of my 30s, to be honest, has not been a good one.  In fact, it has probably been the worst ever, in many ways.  It has knocked the breath and the spirit out of me at times.

But it has made me grow up in some important ways.  I feel stronger, more self-sufficient and a lot older than I did this time last year; some of my relationships feel reinforced.  I have learned some things and my priorities have shifted on their axes.  That’s what it’s all about, right?

Importantly, I still feel very, very hopeful about my thirties and I would not choose to go back.

Thirty felt like a good milestone.  Thirty-one is making me think back to how far I have come, in some ways more than 30 did.  It has been a decade since my twenty-first birthday, a fact that seems incredible to me now – I’m not sure if that’s because it feels like it was just yesterday or 100 years ago.

When I turned 21, I had just finished my degree – and, in the most part, studying – for good.  My final exams happened quite early, mid-May I think, so I finished university at 20 years old.

I was living with a flatmate in a one-bedroomed flat.  I was interning at a fashion magazine.  I was embroiled in a long and ongoing on/off relationship, which I thought was complicated but actually wasn’t.  This time, I was convinced it had turned a corner and become what it had been meant to be all along.  It hadn’t.  It ended for good within, more or less, the next year.

I wrote constantly, unfinished novels or short stories that I would either throw straight in the bin or stash in a box under my bed and wait a few months before throwing in the bin.

My hair was, as was a weird fashion at the time, cut in a long graduated bob and dyed canary-yellow on the top and black underneath.  As well as all my perennial favourites, the bands I liked included The Strokes and The Raveonettes.  I was enjoying Lauren Laverne’s solo music career and listening to her ‘Take These Flowers Away’ EP a lot.

I think I was a bit lost.  I knew what I wanted but had absolutely no idea how to get it.  I was very thin but actually didn’t look it because my face was so puffy.  I cried a lot and would drink vodka alone in my bedroom; I was very self-absorbed and worried a lot about things that didn’t matter.

I veered wildly from one extreme to the next.  Either caning myself stupid or giving up drinking for months at a time and going running every day - only to quit, overcome by failure, the first time I skipped a run or had half a glass of wine.  I would often eat two or more fast food meals a day; I consumed nothing but tinned tomatoes and black tea with sweetener for an entire spring.  I regularly ate packets of Sweet n Low for my breakfast.  I was in the midst of my few years as a proper smoker - at least 10 B&H per day, including one in bed when I woke up in the morning (or afternoon).  Whether I was in a 'healthy' or 'unhealthy' phase, my continuous cans of Diet Coke were a constant.

These are all facts, but I suspect that - on paper - things sound worse than they were.  I functioned.  Except for occasional periods when I would quietly, desperately want everyone to realise that I wasn't, I was OK.  I was just 21, and a bit confused.

On my birthday, I think I wore my favourite outfit at the time: A baggy grey-and-pink striped T-shirt dress with an army shirt over the top, tights and red Converse All-Stars.  I was finding my way, sartorially speaking – within a year I would look the coolest I have ever looked, and I was getting there but not quite yet.

I travelled back to my parents’ house that morning and we drove in the car to London, for a proper birthday treat.  We went to the Ivy for a pre-theatre dinner (a surprise location that my sister accidentally let slip in the car on the way there, and then cried and got angry with me like it was my fault).  We then went to see a play that I had selected and so knew about in advance: ‘This Is Our Youth’, in its London run that had a cast comprised of Matt Damon, Casey Affleck and Summer Phoenix.

I loved it.  The others had more mixed opinions, but we all enjoyed cringing slightly at my grandmother’s reaction to the frequent and extreme bad language.

It was great, but I wouldn’t go back.

On my birthday this year, I will be hanging out by the river, eating burgers and drinking a couple of beers (without beating myself up over it in any way, shape or form), with a few friends and family.  In the morning, I will go for a short-ish, gentle run, for fun, and will probably take the rest of the weekend off exercise,.  I may even smoke a cigarette or two, but may not smoke again for months afterwards.  I am really looking forward to it.  The people I consider my best friends are the same ones I did then, and I have culled a lot of peripheral people in the meantime.

I am not perfect.  I am very hopeful.

This is me at 21.  Now can you see why I wouldn't go back?  I'll let you know what 31 looks like.

mardi 29 mai 2012

Back to life

My holiday was really, properly brilliant (thanks for asking).

So brilliant, in fact, that I am seriously struggling to function back in the real world.  I spent a week reading books, eating feta cheese and olives and yoghurt, drinking local wine out of a barrel, feeding stray cats, sleeping and sunbathing and chatting and swimming and boating.

I can see why people seem to go back to Greece repeatedly.  I am taking this one step further and having full-blown Leonard Cohen-esque fantasies of moving there, preferably  for a winter, when it is cheap and I will be unusual.

I will rent a tiny flat and learn Greek.  I will buy an old-school typewriter and a moped.  I will feed the cats and write and write on my tiny balcony.  I will walk to the market with a basket and buy fruit, waving at the old ladies in their doorways as I pass.  I will collect shells from the beach and keep them on my desk.

dimanche 27 mai 2012

What I read on holiday.

I am just back from a week in Greece, on a pleasingly remote island where I relaxed to outrageous levels and didn't look at a screen once.  I fed stray cats and explored caves.  More on all of that later, I expect.

I also read some really excellent books.  Again, more on these later, I imagine.  For now, I wholeheartedly recommend the lot and they were (in order of reading):

You by Joanna Briscoe
Paradoxical Undressing by Kristin Hersh
The Revenge of the Tide by Elizabeth Haynes
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

mardi 15 mai 2012

No Grease Before Greece

Tina Fey, perennial Mixtape favourite, has spoken about how writing and acting can be a dangerous dichotomy for one particular reason: food.  Because being slim is kind of a requirement to being on TV, and writing is so much about eating crap just to stay awake and power through.

As usual, Liz Lemon is right.

OK, so I may be dealing with this on a much smaller level, but still...

I am still on deadline - you guessed it, writing this at my dining table as a little break from 'proper' writing, wearing my Jack Wills tracksuit pants and inhaling snacks like there's no tomorrow.

Thankfully, I am (for now) nearly done.  In four days' time - lucky me - I will send my amended manuscript to my agent and jet off on a sunshine holiday.

Hence the difficulty.  In four days' time, I will be wearing a swimsuit in public, yet it is nearly impossible to get through a late night's writing (after a day in the dayjob) without a steady supply of crap food.

Ah well, I'm sure the Greeks won't mind a bit of jelly, and then I can get some moussaka in my face by way of celebration.

mercredi 9 mai 2012


Last night, after writing the below but before 2am noodles!

I need my fringe cut and am clearly going bonkers, but I kind of love this picture.  You can't beat a Peter Pan collar and a bright lip (can you, Courtney?).

I'm calling this 'Janet Street Walrus' but I do love my crazy, wonky, massive face.  Would I rather look like Vanessa Paradis?  Sure.  Would it suit me?  No.

mardi 8 mai 2012

Secretly Superstitious

Again: it's late, I'm writing, I'm looking for a semi-break.

When I was younger, I had a pair of lucky knickers.  They weren't lucky in a sex way (I was 17 and not even having sex); they were just really cool and I loved them, so I saved them for going-out nights and always had an awesome time.  Hence: lucky!  I bought them in Camden Market (of course), in that bit where they have the market in the Electric Ballroom during the day.  They were a riot of primary-coloured print that I would now liken to a particularly garish Pyrex dish; they were made in the days before Lycra, so the pants fabric was centred around elasticated seams; they came with a matching soft-cup bra with gold fastenings; they were vintage but unworn (they came in sealed plastic wrappers, so stop saying it's gross, OK?!).  I loved them.  In fact, I may still have them somewhere and would really like to wear them again.  I know they're split  down at least one side seam but that's fine - these things were built to last and I'm only a little fatter.

I salute magpies faillessly, making it look like I'm scratching my head if I'm in public.  I will never walk under a ladder.  I chant sometimes - nam myoho renge kyo - which I know is different but which I personally do for pretty much the same reasons.

Right now, I'm working on my manuscript and I am using a postcard-sized portrait of Esther Freud, painted by her dad, as a bookmark - hoping that some inspiration and good luck might rub off on me...

lundi 7 mai 2012

One Hits

It's 'One Hit Wonders' Bank Holiday Monday on Absolute 90s Radio.  I've just been listening to it in my kitchen while I make a chicken curry.  It is still playing in there as I now type next door.

It's got me thinking: a lot of my favourite songs are by classic one-hit wonders.  My record collection is interspersed with  odd singles, by someone I've never heard of before or since but that I have played into the ground.

From 4 Non-Blondes and Spin Doctors to Babylon Zoo and Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories; Bran Van 3000, Soul Asylum, Eagle Eye Cherry, Crash Test Dummies, Deep Blue Something, OMC, Skeelo, The New Radicals, Marcy Playground, Semisonic,  Shanice, um, Chesney Hawkes, Divinyls, Shawn Mullins, Sophie B. Hawkins, Joan Osborne...

Now, there are loads of bands I love who are considered one-hit wonders, but who actually have gone on to have (or already had) successful but more lo-fi careers - so apologies if your long-term favourite band is included in there.  I was once horrified to see the Breeders listed on a list of one-hit wonders, as 'Cannonball' was kind of a radio hit.  Ridiculous.

Anyway, you know what I mean by one-hit wonder - and there is something so perfect about them.  Something magnificent.  Surely it's what pop music, in its purest essence, is all about - encapsulating a moment, blowing everyone away and then disappearing.

I think the same theory can apply to life in general.  I don't love these songs any less, just because they were by one-hit wonders.  In fact, I kind of love them all the more.  Obviously it's not the same kind of love I have for an enduring, perennial favourite band - but it's no less valid for that.

Sometimes I think I feel the same about fleeting friendships and past boyfriends.  In the best possible way.

In the same way, I spend a lot of time wondering which of them actually have day jobs these days...

jeudi 3 mai 2012

Mixtape - we Are Family

I am from a family of (mostly) frustrated musicians, I think.  Here are songs that remind me of people to whom I am related - as such I love all of these songs more than I ever would otherwise, obv.  Because my family are awesome.

THE CURE: close to me
PREFAB SPROUT: cars and girls
WEEZER: i want a girl who laughs for no-one else
THE ANDREWS SISTERS: don't sit under the apple tree
VAN MORRISON: moondance
NO DOUBT: just a girl
NELLY FURTADO: turn out the lights
REM: bittersweet me
HOLE: doll parts

mercredi 2 mai 2012


It's late.  I'm writing.  I fancied a little break, while I drink some hot water with lemon (I know, I know - I'm just like Kerouac).  Man, the only time I miss being a proper smoker is when I'm on a late-night writing session.

Now, we all know that I have a rotating cast of ladies who I get obsessed with on a cyclical basis.  So, as a fun little diversion, here are the two that are inspiring me tonight:

Tina Fey.  For her brilliant writing skills, ferocious work ethic, and Mean Girls.  This is why an old 30 Rock DVD is currently playing (quietly) in the background as I type at the dining table - I like to think it makes me about 30% wittier.

Gwen Stefani.  For her honesty about working hard (whenever I read an interview with her, I love her all the more and it makes me want to bother to go running and force myself to work when I don't feel like it, too) and super double awesome style.  This is why I am wearing red lipstick while I sit here alone in an empty flat, hunched over my laptop - I like to think it makes me about 30% more efficient.

Lest you think I'm going all-out glamorous on a solitary Tuesday, I should probably disclose that with said red lipstick, I am wearing an ancient yellow batwing jumper, a grey scarf and purple "Jack Wills Rowing Club" tracksuit bottoms, hair in a glamorous still-wet-from-running-shower-earlier plait.  Still, I like to think Gwen would approve.  Liz Lemon almost certainly would (especially as I may soon go to work on my Night Cheese).

Thanks, awesome ladies!