It’s the people

When I wake up. When I go to bed. When I’m at a loose end. When he doesn’t show. When smiling’s hard. When another person’s arms are needed. When my brain’s full. When my brain’s empty. When I don’t know where life’s going. When I know exactly where life’s going.

When the sun’s out. When the rain’s pouring. When my mind’s blown wide open. When I don’t understand. When things get clear. When I hear that tune I love. When I need someone to relate. When I need someone who can’t.

It’s the people.

It’s always about the people.

Their listening ears. Their party-dresses-at-the-ready. Their stories that say, “Me too.”

I hope you have that network. That posse that promises, through thick and thin, to fight for you and with you.

This past weekend, I had the chance to give back to one of the best.

My friend had his birthday. And I was enlisted to help keep him out of the house while his family set up the most thoughtful and deserving surprise party.

I honestly felt honoured to be involved.

This is a guy like no other. Never judges. Puts others before himself. Kinda makes me feel like I struck gold by walking into that particular dance class at that particular studio on that particular June Sunday. (And I know he’ll die reading this. Learn to take a compliment, my dear!)

This was the guy who said, “Sure, come over” and made me belly-laugh and taught me to smize (even though I still can’t really do it) and posed for silly pictures with me when tears had been pricking my cheeks and I’d been left standing alone outside Brixton tube station.

This is what I love the most about my life.

It’s not the flexibility I have to write this post in the Starbucks by London Bridge station at 10.12am on a Wednesday. It’s not the chances I have to sample street food like you’ve never tasted before. It’s not standing alone and breathless on Streatham Common at 6am after a run and soaking up the feeling of being on top of the world.

It’s the people.

Those who play Beyoncé-karaoke and extravagantly photobomb tourists’ photos atop the big pink Snog bus with me. Those who don’t get pissed off when I unknowingly whip my crazy-long hair in their face on the dancefloor for the twelfth time in a night. Those who check that I’ve got home OK, let me soak their pillows with tears and vow to bring. the boy. down.

I hope you have your people, too. I’m not sure where I’d be without mine.

Pink cheeks, be damned

To laugh is to risk appearing a fool. To weep is to risk appearing sentimental. To reach out to another is to risk involvement. To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self. To place your ideas and dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss. To love is to risk not being loved in return. To hope is to risk pain. To try is to risk failure. But risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.

– William Arthur Ward

I’ve been told that I’m very open in my writing.

I’ve been told that I’m more open than some people are with their friends.

The truth is, I don’t know how else to be.

Writing is and always has been my outlet.

As the saying goes, a person may not know what he or she thinks until it’s written down.

I am that person.

Writing through my experiences helps me to make sense of them. It reassures me that everything has been OK before and will be OK again. And hearing that other people get it? That’s the comfort of empathy. Of knowing that I’m not alone.

But the knowledge that I’m not alone can only come from sharing my writing. With other real-life, flesh-and-blood people. Making it public. And for someone whose cheeks turn a bit pink at the mention of eye contact, that’s admittedly not the smallest of asks.

But I’ve been doing it. And dealing with the curious comments that follow has been a little bit excruciating, to be honest.

When I went home this weekend, my mum was concerned. Why? Because of what she’d read on this website. Because of things that I’d written about before talking to her.

My uncle came over. “Interesting reading,” he said when he saw me. That was it. Neutral – if not positive. But I felt to avoid further probing regardless. “Mmmhmm.”

My little sister asked me, confused, “What’s that Girl, Etc. thing you’re doing?”

My dad mentioned that he’d shown one of my pieces to a work colleague. The idea of him sharing my writing in – no doubt – an act of pride makes my heart toasty-warm. But still. That’s nice, dad. Now what else shall we talk about?

Alright. So if talking about my experiences out loud makes me squirm, why do I write about them?

Because my stories make me human. Just like you. They help me make raw, bona fide, call-me-when-you’re-being-a-blubbering-buffoon kinda kinships with people who’ve been (or are going) through the same wars and get why I’m wounded.

Because I’m a firm believer that connection is the most important thing, probably, in life. Without it, my head takes me places that I don’t wanna stay in too long and convinces me that maybe I’m the only one there.

Because telling our stories makes us realise that they’re not just ours. They’re all of ours.

I like to think of life as one big new city. And the people that live it well know exactly what the streets smell like. Stories let us build our own maps.

– Phil Kaye

It ain’t easy to shout out, “This is me.” But ultimately, without waving our flags when we get lost, how are we gonna find our way back to each other? And isn’t that the point of this whole thing anyway?

With each read, each share, each comment – supportive or otherwise – my courage muscle gets that little bit bigger. Eventually I’ll get to the point where what other people think or say barely registers. Maybe. Until then, well, they do say you gotta fake it ’til you make it.

Also? As a friend reminded me, the fact that I have people who care enough to read my work in the first place is beautiful. Forever thankful.

I don’t even want a boyfriend

I don’t even want a boyfriend. I just want someone who wants to hang out all the time and thinks I’m the best person in the world and wants to have sex with only me. And it makes me feel very stupid to tell you this because it makes me sound like a girl who wants to, like, go to brunch. And I really don’t want to go to brunch*, and I don’t want you to sit on the couch while I shop or even meet my friends. – Hannah Horvath

Before my most recent encounter, I’d been single for nearly a year and a half. No biggie, I know. But this alone spell was my longest since the age of 16 (I’m 27).

When me and my long-term boyfriend parted ways in 2013, I felt jittery at the newness. This would be an adventure, I decided. “A journey of self-discovery.” And, granted, I’ve learnt a ton about myself since then. Like how much I still have to learn about the world. How to change a lightbulb (or how, if you leave the new bulb on the side for long enough because you can’t seem to screw it in, your flatmate will do it for you). How lazy I am when it comes to cooking for one. How gut-wrenchingly hard I fall (and apparently only for the most unavailable of men).

The truth is, at the end of last year, I was only just steadying myself after being knocked for six by an unrequited longing that refused to be shaken for the longest time. How ironic that I’d spent so much of my self-imposed “self-discovery time” musing in my Moleskine about how crappy it feels to want someone who doesn’t want you back.

“I don’t even want a boyfriend,” I’d protest (perhaps too much). “I want to live my own life. I’m having a blast right now. (But if we could hang out on a regular basis and you could only be spending your nights with me and you could tell me you quite like me a lot, then that’d just be swell, K?)”

Who was I kidding?

The thing is, I’m a girl who loves to love. A male friend of mine recently enlightened me as to exactly how obvious that fact is. There’s so much of that mushy L-shaped emotion positively bursting out of my chest, you can practically smell it. Or so I’m told. So when I was approached five months ago by someone who was seemingly up to the task of receiving it (on the surface, at least), I was ready. I gave and I gave – and then I obviously gave some more.

Because this is me.

Here, this is what my heart looks like. In fact, take it. I’ll even put it on a plate for you, dress it up and make it look fancy. It’s yours. Do what you will with it. Just please take good care. Now. What else do you need?

Denials aside, what can’t be ignored is my subconscious pursuit of a person to be with. To do stuff with. To go places with. To dress up for and to dress down with. To curl up to and eat out with. To text when I see silly things that remind me of them or references to that trashy TV show we both secretly love.

Despite my assurances that I’m alright by myself (honest)… I think we’re all meant to be with someone really. Of course, I’m learning that the trick is being OK without someone else. When another person would be the cherry on your chocolate cake, that’s when they’re meant to come along, all randomly and stuff, and sweep you off your feet. When you’re in your sweats and no make-up, casually scanning the Co-op shelves on a Friday night for the biggest jar of Nutella they stock. That’s when smiles get swapped and numbers get exchanged and recipes for the best Nutella-banana toasties get written on the backs of receipts. Or when you’re walking your dog in the park on a sunshiney day and you’ve got grass stains on your hands and dog poo on your shoes and you’re holding a see-through bag of actual steaming dog poo, but it doesn’t matter, because then your leads entangle and your eyes meet and fake bluebirds start chirping above your heads.

In both of those scenarios, you’re just ambling along quite nicely by yourself thankyouverymuch before some handsome devil goes and pokes his nose in. And then you’re like, “Oh, hey. I don’t need you. I’m good, thanks. But you look pretty. And you seem nice. So maybe stay a while.”

So. I’m getting on with the ambling. Or, as my friend put it today, “immersing myself in what makes me happy.” Writing. Reading. Incessantly voice-noting my friends (which, in case you’re wondering, involves singing, doing impressions and spending ten minutes disclosing the most intimate details of my current emotional state. Come, let’s be Whatsapp buddies). Filling my diary with gigs and tea dates. Making time to do nothing but watch Made in Chelsea and drink hot chocolate with almond milk (which – it pains me to say – will just never be the same as hot chocolate with cow’s milk). Letting my big-sister heart burst with pride. Sleeping. Walking. Yoga-ing. Running. Doing squats ’til I can’t squat no more. Finding new music. Seeing new places. Learning about cultural/historical/meaningful stuff I never knew. Becoming a person I’d quite fancy myself if I were so inclined.

Sometimes, with all this talk of self-love and independence and doing it allllllll by ourselves, it can feel like a weakness to want to be with someone. I’ve decided that it isn’t. Some people are just predisposed that way. But, as I’ve also decided, do let’s try and make it so that when that someone arrives, we don’t pour our hearts out onto plates and serve them up to be caressed and filled. Because they’ll already be brimming with so much good stuff that anything else someone might be able to squeeze into them will represent nothing more than that bouncy little cherry. Because we’ve been spending Friday nights in our sweats if we wanted and being good citizens by picking up our dogs’ crap and walking for miles and cracking our minds open and moving cross-country and doing it all because we wanted to – while leaving a little room for that someone who might want to do it all with us.

 

* Hannah may not want to go brunch but I actually would love to go to brunch, thanks.

Is my brain big enough?

I just got back from a long weekend in Berlin. (No one stole my purse on this trip, you’ll be glad to know.)

Going away always refreshes my outlook. Makes me think about my life, and other people’s lives, and what’s different, and what’s the same. What came before and what might still be to come.

I learnt a lot about what came before. People’s stories. The city’s history. Why things are the way they are and why things went down the way they did.

I went raving. Met Patrick. A young Berliner who loves English, longs to move to London and adores the girl in the grey dress who was also at the club. I saw him running after her as I left at the end of the night. I hope something happens between them.

I rode in taxis with drivers who were bemused by our hunger for their city. I was, I’m sorry to say, underwhelmed when I tried currywurst for the first time. I applauded and filmed (obviously) the moment my friends were accosted by a group of Turkish girls in the kebab shop and were persuaded to join them as they danced to a seemingly legendary song among the pommes frites and the cold yoghurt drinks.

I went for a breezy walk on Sunday morning and found myself in the most beautiful park right at the heart of the city. It has towering trees and gothic bridges that have padlocks adorning couples’ names attached to the railings. I cheered on the runners in the Big Berlin 25 as they passed me near the Siegessaule. I saw two girls sitting together on the grass in front of Berlin Cathedral, ignoring the breeze, blowing bubbles.

I saw a mother type her son’s name, Phillipp, into a typewriter at the DDR Museum as Phillipp himself looked on, awe-struck. I ate steak (labelled “the best he’d ever had” by my friend) at a Spanish restaurant on Kurfürstendamm apparently only frequented by British tourists and the over-65s. I danced to Snoop in the charmingly named What Do You Fancy, Love? as I waited for my ABC smoothie.

And? I went to museums. And memorial sites. And a gallery. And prominent landmarks.

I read. I watched. I attempted to understand all I could.

And my friend and I noted that we were both afraid of not having sufficient brain-space to fit in all the new information, as well as forgetting it immediately upon our return home.

This is a fear I have sometimes. That I’ll never read all the books I want to read, listen to all the songs I want to hear, watch all the films I want to see, visit all the places I want to go. And also? That I won’t remember them even if I do.

It’s that naive-child-at-a-grown-up-party complex again. I want to learn all that I can. I want to be the girl who discusses in depth the state of politics over a cheeky Nando’s rather than the girl who nods quietly and busies herself with the dessert menu so no-one thinks to ask her a question.

But is my brain big enough?

That’s why exploring new places gets me excited. I get to see how much my brain can really handle. I get to test its limits. Make myself feel like I know stuff. Build my collection of pub-quiz facts. Start to comprehend why ish is the way it is.

Yes, there’s so much to learn. And there’s no way I can ever know it all. Or read it all, or hear it all, or see it all. But I can at least make a start. Have a go. Do my best. Try the currywurst.

Now, excuse me while I go throw this dart at this map.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover if you don’t even read. There’s no shame in saying that you’re not up to speed.”

Oddisee

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.