Saturday, 24 March 2012


I bought a concealer today. My first.

Sleep deprivation is

I love old places. Old stone, worn over time with sun and wind and rain. Colonised by lichen, sheltering tiny creatures far more transient than itself in its tiny cracks and crannies. I love how it looks, and how it feels on a warm day. I love imagining who else has touched it, or passed it by.
People just like me. People from many years ago. People from decades ago. Centuries, millenia. I feel strangely thrilled in old places, around old stone. And strangely at home.

The Man and I often walk past the Roman wall that once formed the perimeter of the town. It's still standing. The colours: rusty brick, sage-green scrub of the weeds that live between the stones, the slate grey of the stone and the bleached white of the mortar (is it mortar?). The flame-coloured flowers that peep out between the bricks in the springtime.
Every tiny crumbling thing here is special, alive, aglow.
I don't know why. But it has always felt that way to me.

Twice at sunset, I've stood in what I imagine was the guard's alcove at the old wall, now open to the sun and wind and rain. I've watched the decades and the years peel away, backwards. Opposite the road there's an old brick building from the early part of the last century. And beyond that, a line of apartment blocks from towards its end. I've kissed the Man, and imagined - or wanted to imagine - that we were here before. That somehow our love was here before. Or was meant to be here now, from the day these bricks and stone were laid, to the day we leant on them. His hand rough against my cheek after it's been pressed against the crumbling wall.

I browsed, I saw, I bought.

{To call this is a 'shopper' is insulting: Zara / Coral in Gold: Rimmel / Chocolate box eyeshadow: MUA / Peacock feather earrings: Claires / Salmon ballet pumps: Topshop / Gold sequin tee-shirt: H&M / Dip-hem Dress: ASOS / The best perfume I've ever bought.}

In other words, I ravaged the most typical places of the British high street.
And now I'm beautiful.
And broke.

These are front-centre at the Kurt Geiger website.
And for so many good reasons, most of them summed up by the word fabulous.

Friday, 23 March 2012

An assumption:
If you change the thing that has defined a lot of who you are.
Or you stop letting it define you.
Your life will change for the better. It will be deeper, somehow more 'authentic'.

For me, the 'thing' that has shaped a lot of what I feel and how I do things is the fact that my Dad has been ill for close to 20 years.
This has crippled me in ways that still surprise me, and has given me some incredibly precious gifts too.
Now, holding on to those gifts, I want to let go of feeling, acting, seeing, reacting, thinking, through the lens of constant fear about what 'could' happen to my Dad, what it might 'mean' for me and the other people I love, and whether I will be able to cope with it.

I have absolutely no idea how to accomplish any of this of course, but here's to wanting to try.

Old friends

Before I came to England, my favourite tree was the Peepal.
In Italy, I discovered the Olive and the Cypress, and fell in love with both.
And in England I met the Oak.
And for now, it's my favourite tree in the world.

Outside the window of my first room in England was a huge oak tree. I could see the whole tree, from crown to beautiful gnarled roots. I stared, and stared, and stared at it for a year. When I first saw it, it was coated in thick green leaf. I watched it turn, and I watched it spread its bare arms to the winter sky. And in the spring, the most wonderful thing... My first spring north of the equator. My first glimpse of transluscent baby leaves casting a green haze over everything. The sight of the tree was the first to greet me when I woke in the morning, or entered my room in the evening. I woke in the middle of the night sometimes and sat in the dark by the windowsill, listening to the rustle of the breeze in its branches.

Under its roots lived a couple of rabbits, and once, staring out at it on a well-lit night, I saw my first fox family. It was absolutely silent outside, that hour of night when nothing and nobody appears to be awake. The moon was out, and bright, and the tree was whispering gently, and the foxes were playing in front of it, and my breath caught in my throat and I was, for a precious second, outside of time and thought, completely mesmerised by the sight.

And when I left the room for good, to move into other rooms in town, I cried. For my first little room in England, and for all the happy and sad times I'd had in it, but also, mostly, for the tree. I wished it well and said goodbye as if to a friend.

From Camelia Isabella. The most beautiful picture posts ever.

Ugly feelings

Turn around and hug yours.

Oh, thou art fairer than the evening air/ Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Life Lessons from a duck

The stairs leading from one square on campus to another are usually full of students either rushing to class, or nowhere in particular, or people sitting around smoking.
This is the last week of term, so the stairs are unusually crowd-free.

I noticed a lady mallard at the foot of the stairs. She awkwardly waddled up each one. Twenty-eight torturous, slow waddles later, she was at the top of the stairs. I know she didn't have broken wings because as I watched, amazed, she was then alarmed by a group of undergraduates running around in the upper square and took wing. Quickly and effortlessly.

I thought:
Why did you do that?!

And then I thought:
That is what someone who is looking at me from the outside might think.
Am I shuffling when I could be flying?

Or maybe, even though she knew she could fly, Ms. Mallard needs to do something slowly and tortuously? She wants to learn to walk better? She just likes climbing stairs even though she's not exactly designed to do it? Maybe she doesn't give a fig about what she's designed to do, and just wanted to see whether she could.
Am I doing that?

Questions to nobody in particular, which everyone should be able to answer

Who are you?
Why are you here?
What do you want?
Where are you going?

When I think about the essentials that I'd like to know, I think of these.
And I often wonder if I've missed a question, or even a whole way of defining what is important.

A few weeks ago someone on my Facebook said that they'd love to ask random strangers the most random questions - similar to the one's above - and especially on foreign soil.

I've had plenty of beautiful conversations with beautiful strangers but I've never initiated one by asking someone, out of the blue, what they most wanted out of life.
For no particular reason except to indulge my curiosity, I'd like to be able to do that enough to see patterns. Here's one that I think I might see: People who answer might be divided into three:
People who answer with the most truthful answer they know.
People who answer with a deflection: A giggle, a retort, another question (Who are you and why the fuck do you want to know springs to mind).
People who answer very fast, with the palm of their hand making sharp contact with your face.

I also hypothesize that the third group would be very small indeed.
People are so lonely, a random question like that might evoke a 3-hour narrative.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

For the last few weeks, with my Dad's illness (again, again, AGAIN), a difficult schedule at work, the end of the PhD, and trying to figure out what my next steps are going to be, I've been feeling a little under siege. I've consciously viewed this time as a challenge, and tried to give as much as I can to the different aspects of my life which require care and attention. To me this means: staying up to date and involved with my Dad's state of health, and trying to be present to all the emotions that get stirred by the effort. Sadness, anger, anxiety. Without getting completely swept away by their current. Staying on top of work. I did not, for instance, take any leave during my trip home, and managed to submit a 'practice' proposal during the week, and revise a book proposal. Giving attention to my Mum, giving attention to my relationship.

I've sustained this for a few weeks, but it's catching up with me steadily.
No work has exited my laptop for 3 days, for example, and I've most of these three days lolling in bed. I've snapped at the Man, and at my Mother, and felt and felt and felt incredibly sad. all. the. time.

Slowly, I've tried to climb out of this. I've been thinking a lot about some of the amazing things that have happened to me over the past few years. Random memories, old dreams, chance encounters that sparked sudden changes, blessings in disguise, 'mistakes' ... And it struck me (again) how responsive the Universe can seem. Even when - especially when - we feel stuck in a 'bad' place. Every moment, it seems, the path underneath is unfolding, and bringing us what we need in order to get to a better place. The day before yesterday, I was in the shower early in the morning. I thought I would go to the office but I just couldn't move. I thought a shower would wake me up, refresh me. As I stood there I suddenly got incredibly impatient with myself. I felt like taking my insides by the shoulders, and shaking them hard, making them get up and move. I wondered what on earth I need in order to get through this time and get through it well. Not just live past it. It crossed my mind to get back into yoga, or meditation.

Half an hour later, I went downstairs to get a cup of coffee, and noticed that our mail had arrived through the door. Underneath an electricity bill (groan), a Virgin Media envelope (shred) and a pamphlet advertising Pizza Hut home delivery (toss), was a little scrap of paper, advertising, on one side, yoga classes at the local yoga centre, for £8 an hour (hmmm) and an 8-week, free meditation course.
Thank you.

Notes from 30,000 feet

No, I'm not in the air. But since I so often am, I've often listed out things to love and hate about being in a jetplane. Most of the flights I take are longhaul. The most obvious thing to detest about this is the fact that I have the carbon footprint of a small African country. And offsetting is not the best option. Not flying is the best option. I'm obviously also subject to all the usual trials and tribulations of flying in 2012: queues, delays, no elbow-room in Economy, the sound of babies crying (jarring at the best of times, but particularly grating under conditions of sleep deprivation and mild anxiety). And oh yes, the anxiety. I love travel, but I feel it. I used to be a terrified flier as a child. This has become better with practice, but my heart still races through turbulence, and I often wonder what I'd do if someone randomly got up in the middle of a flight, brandished a gun and highjacked the plane.

But there are things to love too. And I really do love them.
Airports. Queues and whatever else notwithstanding, airports have a beautiful quality. I imagine seaports must have had a little of the same aura in the past. An aura of adventure, and purpose, and constant movement. Equal parts chance and destiny. Airports are paradise to people-watchers. There is every hue and tenor of human emotion and behaviour out in naked display. And the people! In a major hub like Heathrow or Dubai, the people just stun me. Beauties of all types, heights, colours and textures. Clichéd little national prejudice sits alongside constant surprise. There's the party of Indians travelling with a year's supply of finger-food. *insert eyeball roll here. But look there's a Middle-Eastern couple, kissing. (Yes. Like properly kissing in full view. Both in traditional dress. Wow.) Some clichés are beautiful, of course. Early morning flights to Zurich, anyone? Oh, the beauty of a room full of beautifully tailored business suits worn by beautiful Northern men. (Nevermind for a split second that they are all bankers, and most wear a gold band on their left hand.)

Random conversations.
This is possibly the best of the best of the best thing about travel, for me.
In the slipstream of mass, longhaul transit, the beauty of tiny chance encounters and conversations is amplified a thousand-fold. Some of the best conversations I've ever had have been at airports. With complete strangers whose faces and words I will never forget. You can't plan for that sort of thing. Just allow it to happen when it happens. And it will.

Once inside the airplane, what's not to love about curling up in your seat, sipping red wine and watching every single new release out there. I don't get to go to the cinema much (or at all) in my non-travel life. So I hog movies on planes. Sometimes I cry into my blanket. I have been known to forget myself once or twice and laugh out loud.

On my last flight I fell in love with Ryan Gosling, which was pretty damn special.

Eyeliner above Iran. Travelling to India, flying over Iran or Afghanistan is where I usually get up and transform myself from clean-faced (for travel) to suitably glossed over (for arrival). I love that despite being thousands of feet in the air, travelling at a ridiculous speed, in a metal tube full of strangers, tiny personal rituals will just continue unbroken.

Arrival. Tropical heat, familiar faces, a blazing sky. Crowds of different faces. The smell of Mumbai, the taxi rank at Heathrow, stepping onto the wooden floors of Copenhagen airport or seeing the absolutely unforgivably crystalline light of Italy. For the first time. For the second time. Seeing the face of someone who is about to become a friend, a lover, but for now, just another stranger at the airport.

From the moment a ticket is confirmed, to the moment you touchdown, you're inside the current of Life. Beautiful, strange, frightening, magical.