There was a girl

There was a girl.

She’d wear emblazoned t-shirts, stripy shorts and trainers, lucky if she’d dragged a brush through her flaming hair.

Often to be found muddying her hands as she did cartwheels on the riverbank. Or hugging her knees to her chest as she read of George and Jo’s adventures. She wished she could relate more to Anne and Meg than she could to the rough-and-ready characters with dirty knees, wide eyes and sky-high imaginations. But, inside, she knew the open palms and hearts-ripped-open of the girls who defied ‘girly’ felt more like home.

Prom night. Dolled up in a strapless dress and heels that put her a head’s height above her friends. She felt like the sore, throbbing thumb on a hand of pretty fingers with painted nails. She’d had her mum do her hair, too indifferent to learn for herself the craft of curling using merely a rounded brush and a hairdryer.

She looks back now. Smiles at the brightness of the little, freckled face beaming at her from the other side of years and photographs. Sighs at the discomfort of the beautiful, towering teenager the little face grew into, who lived vicariously through friends’ kiss-and-tell stories, assured in the perception that no boy would ever be interested in the blushing girl who moved bashfully and was only good for spelling out the difficult words for her classmates.

Oh, the adventures she could’ve foreseen. Adventures that would be had by that very same girl. Being precisely herself.

The tales of a still-cherished love, of cross-country moves, of broken hearts that she learnt to fix. Of nights drowned in cocktails, of weekends measured in food savoured, of drawn-out mornings spent with legs entangled. Of the fluttering eyelashes on her cheek of a sweet child who loved her “to the third galaxy and back.”

The stories of words written, of rhythmic voices absorbed, of opinions challenged and deliberations had.

The girl(-turned-woman) showed up to a discussion last week about “the price of beauty.” Beforehand, ironically applied eyeliner as meticulously as she could manage. During, sat silently. Listened. Thought. Attempted to figure out what she wanted her voice to represent among the buzz of opinions, forthright or otherwise, that took up space in the dimly-lit bar. Said nothing. Walked away. Thought some more. Discussed Debated with friends. Reached the conclusion that she may act like she knows what she’s talking about, but ultimately will always feel a bit like a naive child in a room full of enlightened grown-ups during any discussion.

What does she stand for?

She’s second-guessing, trying to work out how to articulate it. Other people’s opinions are always so convincing.

“Yeah, he’s got a point.”

“I can see where she’s coming from.”

“Oh. I never thought of it that way.”

But what she does know is this.

The girl with the muddy hands who laughed too loudly, spoke up too little and dreamt too much was as deserving of feeling beautiful as the girl with the clean fingernails and the dress with frills at the hemline.

The woman whose size 7s the little girl grew into is allowed to take her time as she works out who she is, where she’s going and what she believes in.

The concept of beauty is subjective. What’s deemed “aesthetically pleasing” to many is an ideal most can’t measure up to. Realising that is the first part of the battle. The next part is accepting it. And the next is flaunting who you are.

The woman with the flaming hair and the freckles she once tried to hide doesn’t need to keep quiet. Unless she wants to. She doesn’t need to dress up. Unless she wants to. She doesn’t need to let her differences and long-held insecurities hold her back from raising her hand, making eye contact or whipping her hair back and forth on the dancefloor.

There was a girl. There are many girls. With much more exciting things to think about than whether they measure up. There are adventures to be had.

I call bullshit

So. I recently went through some stuff. Am still going through said stuff. Am battling with never getting closure. With never knowing why. With still wanting to text him all the mundane details of my day, all the little things that I know will make him smile, all the songs I hear that’ll have him like whoa… but at the same time knowing that it probably wouldn’t be wise.

And I’m trying to keep it all in so as not to sound like a broken record, but my insides are still really not OK.

But d’ya know something? That’s alright.

This is all a process, or so I hear. One that I’ll eventually see through to the end. Or not. Maybe it’s one of those extra-special lifelong processes (and something tells me that it could be). Regardless, I’ve been doing some overanalysing thinking lately and I wanna call bullshit on a couple things real quick:

It’s actually OK to have days where I’m cranky and emotional and I just want to go home.
This week in particular, all I’ve wanted has been to grab a hot tea, curl up in bed and let the world be drowned out by the music in my ears. I berated myself for feeling like the world was against me and for not being the living embodiment of the bicep-flexing emoji that all the ‘independent woman’ anthems tell me I should be. In actual fact, to bury my shitty feels and battle my tears would be to lie to myself. To deny that anyone hurt me would be to deny a whole end of a spectrum of feelings – one that’s as valid as the other end. If I’m to live life like I mean it, that involves accepting everything that comes my way. Saying, “Yo. Whassup, dude?” Welcoming it, sitting with it, then sending it on its merry way when it’s done its J-O-B. Life ain’t all heart-shaped vegan cupcakes and pictures of doe-eyed puppies on your Instagram feed. As much as we’d like to self-select only the pretty lessons life teaches us, we gotta take the rough with the smooth. That’s what they call living. Baby.

Just because a boy breaks me doesn’t mean I won’t mend.
It’s not like I’m the first girl in the world this happened to. And it’s not like I wasn’t OK before I knew the boy existed. The thing is, I’ve been stewing these past few weeks and coming close to letting this define me. I may have mentioned before that I can be consumed by this sort of thing, and while that’s OK for a while, there has to be a point where my feelings and myself remain separate. Otherwise I’m just the girl who let a boy break her in two and then wrote about it for the rest of time. And there’s more to me than that. Like my love of driving with the windows down and the music up, of coffee shops with exposed brick walls and quirky soundtracks and waiters who bring me beetroot juice with sparkling eyes and knowing smiles, of walking until my feet hurt and laughing until my belly pleads with me to stop, of street art and open water and getting the front seat at the top of a big red bus. I will not be defined by a boy who broke me. There’s more to me than that.

I call BS on the stories that see me playing the role of broken, cowering girl-under-the-covers for all of my days. A couple of weeks is fine. After that? Life, let’s be having you again.

In pursuit of thoughts that burn

“I am too hot and burned by my own thoughts. Often, it nearly takes my breath away.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

I’ve been described as “intense.” “Melodramatic.” Both by those who know me best.

Me? Intense?? The easy-breezy one who’s known for giggling at everything and nothing? It took me by surprise.

Doesn’t everyone exaggerate lonely Tuesday nights? Make-believe like there’s no-one in the world to write them poetry? Fall harder than any number of ‘chin up’ pep talks – however well-meaning and momentarily empowering – could prevent? Avoid tearjerkers and soppy songs at all costs because FEELINGS? Believe everything the Disney movies of their childhoods told them?

Oh.

Admittedly, I feel like quite the tortured cliché as I sit here with my hood up, legs crossed at angles that I’m only now realising are unsustainable, SZA breathing at me through the Spotify app.

I don’t tend to do things by halves. My heart’s selective with the things it seeks out, but the stuff it pursues? It’d better get ready to be loved SO HARD. When I’m in, I’m all in. (And, conversely, when I hurt? Ouchies.) But I kinda like it that way.

The alternative, I assume, would be to be “cool,” which I imagine to feel like an overwhelmingly frequent passivity towards life. To just be a bit ‘meh’ about most things. I don’t know about you, but that’s not what I’m here for. I’m here to cry rivers, write in rambles and fall about laughing as often as my aching belly will allow. I’m here for riding solo to midweek gigs and dancing ’til the lights come on (because to hell with being well-rested). I’m here for saying “eff yes” to chances and “let’s not” to caution.

The middle ground holds no inspiration for me.

Burning thoughts inspire. The words flow when my brain’s bursting.

My recent brush with romance duplicity masquerading as romance has left a scar in me that aches. I’m still at the stage where I feel like it always will. But deep down, I know this, too, will pass. And in the meantime? The muse is sitting pretty. That’s how I deal with stuff. I let the words bleed out of me until they make sense in my head. Until I reach catharsis. Until I wonder what all the fuss was ever about in the first place and I breathe easy once more.

And although the intensity of the sadness I feel might be smarting right now? At least I gave it my all. At least, when presented with an opportunity to love and to give, I did. Things may not have turned out as I or anyone else could have anticipated. But at least I gave them the chance to. At least I showed up. At least I didn’t cower in favour of coming undone.

That’s something I can never feel sorry for.

“Never apologise for burning too brightly or collapsing into yourself every night. That is how galaxies are made.”

– Tyler Kent White

It started with a smile

It started with a smile.

(The way your eyes crinkle and your face changes like that. I hate that it knocks me out.)

You pursued me. I lapped it right up. A glimmer of what I wanted.

Roll with it, Becca. How often does someone attempt to sweep you off your feet like this? Grab it with both hands and dive in headfirst like the dreamer you are.

It was so nice to meet someone genuine and different, you said. It felt like we’d already been together for years, you said.

“Already…?” Alright then.

We’re official, you said.

My heart pounding, I sent frantic and incredulous messages to friends. Is this guy for real? He wants to be with me? He barely knows me but he wants to give this a shot? OK. Maybe that’s just how this is gonna happen.

When you left me standing alone, blinking back tears outside Brixton tube station. That’s when I should’ve said my goodbyes.

Or when you ignored me on Valentine’s Day (and countless times before, and since).

Or when you lied about where you were.

Or when you told her you love her.

Or when you assured me you’d pay me back… but never did.

Or when you said you were going away but you needed a reason to return, and that reason could be me if I wanted it to be. (Come on; which self-respecting romantic is gonna say no to that?) But then nothing changed.

But no.

I hoped. I hoped and hoped, and then hoped some more.

What he’s saying, it could all be true. There could be valid reasons for all of this weirdness. All of these absences, these bizarre excuses. Hang in there, Becca. That’s what he keeps telling you to do. Hang in there and he’ll make it right one day. One day, he’ll be on top of the world, stretching out his hand to pull you up with him. That’s what he said. Believe in that.

It took a risky move on my part – but one that became impossible not to make – to get to the bottom of it all and vow to walk away.

I don’t know if you’ve managed to convince her of your tall tales. Maybe she’ll stay with you. Maybe you’ll sort out your crap and make a life together. Maybe.

I’ll never know. It’s not my place to know anymore. You left me broken. I know you don’t care. You told me I could cry tears if I wanted. But I’m not writing this for you. I’m writing this because until I write it down, I’m never quite certain what I feel about anything. I’m writing this because I need to articulate to myself that I’m going to be OK.

I may have cracks in a couple of places right now. I may be wondering how I could’ve been quite so short-sighted. I may be worrying that my closest friends have grown exasperated with me. But I know they’ll still be there. The cracks you made in me? They’ll heal. Lessons will be learnt. Life will continue. Another smile will knock me out. A kinder one. One that doesn’t come with conditions and heartbreak. But you? You get to be the person that causes pain. You get to be the one with nothing to his name and no one to turn to. You get to know that you lost your cheerleader.

Oh, and word to the wise for next time? Don’t piss off a writer.

I walked from Angel to Elephant on Valentine’s Day and this is what I learnt

Walking works for me.

Today I walked a lot.

Today was Valentine’s Day. It started with the arrival of two cards from two lovely friends. (For real, though – ending up with crazy-sweet people like these in my life is something I thank my lucky stars for every day.)

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I have no romantic Valentine with me today (boo-stinking-hoo). So I decided to be my own. I packed up a notepad, a pen and a book to read gawp at, and I went off to play tube roulette with myself.

As my own Valentine, I had to treat myself to a Starbucks visit before anything else. Naturally. I adore how they went all lovey-dovey on me. (Consider me a marketer’s dream.)

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I took the tube from Brixton. Highbury & Islington was the stop fate my mind chose. I got off the train, ascended the escalator, exited the station and turned right. And I walked. I walked until I reached Angel, and then I walked some more. I meandered past estate agents with glossy photos of six-figure homes in their windows. I wandered past shops selling fanciful tea cups and greetings cards with whimsical messages. I drifted past bakeries flaunting their gluten-free wares and coffee shops competing with each other for the most ingenious and witty advertising boards.

I ended up with no clue where I was. But I was OK with that. As I said in a text to a friend who suggested I use the sat nav on my phone, I didn’t need GPS. I was wandering aimlessly – on purpose.

Eventually I recognised Tinseltown. (I had an epic milkshake with a friend there once.) Farringdon, St. Paul’s, Bank and Spitalfields were my next stops (at least, I think so… I’m still getting used to the geography of these unfamiliar parts of my adopted city).

While I was taking in my grey surroundings and watching my ill-thought-out white shoes get splattered with rainwater, I was singing down the phone to my friends. In public. I was carefree and letting it show. It wasn’t until I stopped at a restaurant to eat – alone – that my mood became more contemplative.

I suddenly became conscious of the fact that I was by myself. There was one other woman in the restaurant dining alone, too. A tourist (I presume) with a foreign accent and a wide-brimmed hat that she placed on the table in front of her. She was seemingly enjoying her own company. Sipping her drink, smiling to herself and to others, not busying herself with anything other than sitting at that table and enjoying her meal. I, on the other hand, was glued to my phone. Texting friends. Snapping photos of my Berry Bellini, my burger, my ice-cream. “Check out what a great time I’m having, you guys!” Reaching in my bag for my book. Trying not to make eye contact. Attempting to occupy my hands so it wouldn’t be so obvious that I was alone and painfully self-conscious.

I’ve eaten out alone plenty of times before and I intend to do so plenty of times again. People say it’s bold, liberating. Maybe. But doing the work I do, I’m used to my own company. Sitting alone in a cafe or coffee shop isn’t an out-of-the-ordinary experience for me. But today felt different. I felt like I should have had company. I felt like beady eyes were on me. I felt like I was being judged.

My tummy did little gurgly flips throughout the whole meal. My mind got to thinking about all the things I push aside from day to day. Life. Love. What the hell I’m doing with all of it.

My phone kept me occupied. Wait. Scratch that. My friends kept me occupied. I rely on them incessantly. For laughter, for support, for assurances that I’m not actually as crazy as I seem. When I’m alone (as is the case during the majority of my working week), my phone stays by my side. My friends and I swap snippets about our days, share pictures of our food, exchange music tips, make plans and then count down to them. We tell stories, seek advice, send wacky voice notes only we’d understand, and provide the validation we’re all looking for. Without all of that, when I’m forced (out of necessity or even through choice) to be in my own company, I’m not sure I always know how to make myself feel OK.

My brain eventually wore me out. It was time to hit the road. Once I left the restaurant and my legs started moving again, I felt infinitely better. (I told you – walking works.) A chill in the air prompted me to pull my jacket tighter around myself and the fog inside my head to dissipate. I headed for my favourite bridge – its views are unparalleled. I walked as far as I felt I could manage before the pull of a bus stop became too strong. Along Waterloo Road and then London Road until I reached the familiar bustle of Elephant & Castle. I made my way through the subway. A homeless man told me he liked my hair and my smile, and he loudly wished me a happy Valentine’s Day as I let my feet keep carrying me.

Tonight, I’m heading to one of my best friends’ for a sleepover, complete with the girliest of movies, the sweetest Amaretto and the most buttery popcorn. Spending Valentine’s night alone, even if it is nothing but a commercial holiday foisted upon us by Hallmark and Interflora, would be too much.

Logically, I know that it can be all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we need someone to complete us, especially today. (Thank you, Jerry Maguire.) But knowing what I know about myself and my friends, if you can’t eat out alone and let your feet span the breadth of the capital without the faintest pang of despondency… well fricking done! You’re a human being. But if we can be, at the very least, OK by ourselves and not reach for company at the slightest hint of discomfort (and trust me; I need to work on this as much as the next girl-with-insecurities), I can’t help but feel we’ll be all the better for it.

We’re in this together. Deal?

I had my purse stolen in a Portuguese ice-cream parlour

It was our third night in Porto and our third night visiting this ice-cream parlour. We worried that the guy who worked there would think we had a problem, but we went for it anyway. This time, I had a scoop of mango and raspberry sorbet. It took me a while to decide what might go with it, but I settled on a scoop of strawberry cheesecake ice-cream and a scoop of vanilla with macadamia nuts. It basically worked.

We talked about our trip. We talked about life. What should I write next on my blog? Where should she go in her career? How beautiful was this ice-cream that was finally satisfying her craving?

Something made me look down at the floor next to me, at the spot where my bag was sitting. Huh. Did I leave it open? That’s not like me. Maybe it fell open when that guy pushed his chair back and left. Maybe. I picked it up, suddenly curious to see inside.

Oh.

Cue rummaging.

“Shit.”

I never usually swear out loud around people so this was serious.

Turns out that my first foreign holiday in eleven years was the time when I would learn a lesson about making myself vulnerable and the tendency of some people to take stuff that doesn’t belong to them.

The cost of this lesson?

  • 1 credit card
  • 2 debit cards
  • 130 euros
  • 1 driving licence
  • 1 book of first class stamps
  • 1 Nando’s card
  • 1 Tesco Clubcard
  • 1 Nectar card
  • 1 funny note that my friend once put in my lunchbox
  • 1 photo of said friend
  • 1 photo of my dad
  • 1 photo of my late granny
  • 1 tiny foil loveheart that my friend took from the table of a wedding we went to years ago
  • 1 shiny little gemstone that me and my mum bought from a shop selling tacky touristy knick-knacks during a seaside trip over a decade ago (we bought a pair and she still has the other)

I’m not a frequent traveller. It never occurred to me not to carry around my everyday purse with everything in it or to leave any of my money in my hotel room while out and about. Common sense is thin on the ground when you’re me, but I also like to have faith that people aren’t gonna screw me over.

Two days on, I’m still bloody annoyed about the whole thing. But, like the ice-cream guy said (after informing me that yes, those were CCTV cameras I could see but no, they did not work), these things happen. They shouldn’t, and people should have a bit more respect for their fellow humans and their personal property, but these things do happen and the best you can do is be aware and be a bit more realistic in your purse-carrying escapades.

After relaying my sorry sob story to a friend this morning, he asked if the experience had tainted my rosy view of humanity. It’s made it a little cloudier, I’ll be honest, but generally? No. I still really like people and I still really want to see the best in all of them. I credit my friends for my continued optimism. They paid for my ice-cream. They spent an hour in a tourists’ police station with me. We group-hugged. They made me laugh. They rubbed my back reassuringly as I spoke on the phone with the Visa people and stumbled over my words. They searched in nearby bins to check that my purse hadn’t been emptied and discarded. They let me be angry. They joined in with the anger. They told stories of when similar things had happened to them. They bought me breakfast the next morning. They bought my train ticket back to the airport. They’ve spotted me some cash until I can access my own money again. They were the best people I could’ve hoped to have been with when the shit hit the fan in a way that was so relatively minor yet felt so major at the time.

And, lest I forget and let this incident be a big, grubby stain on the whole weekend, we had a pretty decent trip.

We posed on a spa balcony and on a reasonably tall bridge.

 

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We ate food that was so good, I’m scared I’ll never again eat anything that compares.

 

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We went on a cable car ride and took more pictures of ourselves/each other than we did of the view.

 

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We danced with children on escalators, marvelled at the lengths some Portuguese go to for Halloween, jumped up and down in a loud and sweaty bar, tasted (and, at least on my part, continued to dislike) lots of port, discovered the Imperial McDonald’s, listened to a Lenny Kravitz lookalike play very good acoustic cover versions in a riverside cafe, chanted in the street at 3am with a passing group of Portuguese guys, drank sangria every day, ate outside in November, walked up and down a lot of cobbled hills and questioned the safety of two hotel lifts.

I’d go again.

I want to be the kind of girl to always make lists

I want to be the kind of girl to always make lists. To leave lipstick stains. To wake early on Sundays and read the supplements from cover to cover. To wear her hair in a messy top knot and spend hours at her laptop with only green smoothies and soya chai lattes for sustenance.

To own a dog. I desperately miss my dog.

To wear a watch for the beauty, not for the time. To wear ankle boots in autumn and the shortest of shorts in the summer sun. To grow her hair long(er) and let it find its own waves and kinks.

To never be without painted nails.

To send notes when she’s thinking of someone. To not be afraid to tell someone she cares. To scream louder than anyone on rollercoasters and not be self-conscious when she feels someone reading her own words over her shoulder.

To dance without a care for the camera. To run through puddles and squeal when the splashes hit. To always carry a notebook. To never buy a cheap notebook. Her hesitant words deserve a beautiful home.

To take selfies in public without pretending she’s not. To not be ashamed of the number of selfies she takes. To humble-brag her way through the good times and admit when the times start to turn.

To never be without earrings.

To drink eight glasses of water per day. To pull off a hat with aplomb. To write crappy poetry that only her eyes will see.

To watch French films about life and love and let herself well up at the beauty of it all. To give her number to stangers with whom she makes eye contact on the tube. To take the tube more often.

To graciously accept her own flaws. To not despair when she posts an Instagram picture with a filter she later decides she hates. To sing in the shower, in the car and into the mic at karaoke.

To be able to apply eyeliner with precision.

To admit to her mistakes. To apologise when she’s been an arsehole. To remember that it’s all relative but to still have at least a modicum of perspective when it seems like her whole world’s crumbling.

To call her parents every week. To call her best friends just because. To write letters to her grandad. To put pen to paper.

To read every night. To rave every morning. To never stop being intense with her emotions and to never apologise when she is.

I want to be the kind of girl to always make lists.

A love letter to London (because such things will never get old)

Dear LDN,

For twelve months, I’ve been a resident of your fair city. Twelve gloriously sweet, whirlwind months.

You felt like home after twelve minutes.

I’m sometimes asked if I’ll ever leave you. And my mum loves to badger me about when I’m moving back up north. But as things stand right now, I’m not sure I ever will. In my hometown, 11pm’s the time you think about hitting the sack, not the club. Rap concerts don’t go down on random Tuesdays. No-one knows what ackee and saltfish are. And the view ain’t nothing like this:

 

LDN

 

People tend to mourn manners once they’re south of Watford Gap. Rude, inconsiderate, always in a rush and only thinking of themselves. That’s how your people are categorised, London. Outsiders think they’re all soulless drones who can’t hold a conversation and risk spontaneous combustion if smiled at. (And maybe that’s legit what it’s like in your central parts, but I rarely like to visit them. No offence.) However, my experience is so, so different. The people I’ve met since moving to your city a year ago? They’re some of the warmest, most creatively turned-on people I’ve ever known. I know real-life human beings who like to frequent dance classes, poetry readings and hip-hop karaoke nights as much and as often as I do. 10pm ice-cream dates have become a thing and I get invited to actual outdoor picnics in the East End (which are taken very, very seriously by some). Thank you for the introductions.

I could go on. About the way my tummy smiles when I consume your messy falafel wraps and cinnamon-topped chai lattes like the foodie-hipster-cliché I’ve become. About the way I catch myself almost dropping the word ‘sick’ into complimentary sentences. About the way the tube map no longer looks like a bewildering array of multicoloured spaghetti strands that – wait – you actually expect me to master?! About the way I can’t cross the river without goosebumps forming and my head attempting to defy the odds by spinning 360° atop my neck. About the way I’ve become so accustomed to seeing it that I breeze past Buckingham Palace without a second glance, preferring to marvel at the camera-clutching tourists with grins as wide as their heads who’ve circumnavigated the globe to get a taste of this place that I actually call home.

Home.

Cheers, London, for the love affair of my life. Let’s not call the whole thing off just yet (or – dare I say it – ever), OK?

Yours,
Smitten in SW16