Category Archives: Life

Guess Who’s Back

Hi strangers.

When I started this blog – about a billion years ago – I was a teenage girl. I lived at home with my parents. I spent more time talking to my cat than to most humans. I had a boyfriend with blonde hair, dodgy knees, and a mild tabasco addiction. (That is, the addiction was mild. The tabasco most certainly wasn’t.) My favourite item of clothing was my dressing gown. My diet consisted primarily of things dipped in hummus. I was clearly nowhere near ready to be a fully fledged adult. And it made a lot of sense for me to be writing a blog revolving mostly around how I was a ridiculous human being.

Now though, I’m 24 (and a half). In the last six years I have gone from teenager, to university student, to commuter, to backpacker. Three years at uni, two years working in London, and a year travelling around Asia and New Zealand will change a girl.

img_0990

Look how much I resemble a (totally badass) adult human!

The mind almost boggles at how much closer to becoming a grown up I must be!

I mean, sure, I still live at home with my parents. Yes, I still spend a lot of time engaged in conversation with my cat. I have a different boyfriend… with blonde hair, dodgy knees, and a mild tabasco addiction. (Is this my type? If yes, what? Why? What?) My favourite item of clothing is – and always will be – my dressing gown. My diet is drastically different because now I normally spread or dollop hummus on things as opposed to dipping them in it, which I feel is progress, probably.

I think I stopped writing on here because I decided that I had outgrown it. Clearly I was wrong.

I’m in the process of looking for a new job, and keep being asked about CMS systems, so have been mentioning this blog a lot in conversations with normally go something like this:

Interviewer: What experience do you have of using CMS systems? I see you have a new blog, is that WordPress?
Me: Yes, and before my new blog (Backpacking Fairytales), I had another one for years, so I’m very familiar with WordPress.
Interviewer: Oh really? Another blog? That isn’t on your CV though, right?
Me: No, it was a personal blog, mostly about I’m a ridiculous and embarrassing excuse of a human being.
Interviewer: *Nervous laughter*

It’s fitting that talking about the platform on which I used to recount all the painfully awkward moments of my life always seems to be so painfully awkward. And I realised that if all the uncomfortable situations I get myself into never make it into written format, they don’t have the chance to become funny. Tragedy plus writing is comedy, or something like that. So in the light of my current-unemployment, back-living-with-my-parents, still-unable-to-successfully-open-doors-or-crisp-packets situation… hi again, blog world.

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Operational Updates

I’m currently sat in the pyjamas I’ve been wearing for 24 hours, smelling of sweat and blood with every pore crying out for a shower, hunched over like an old crone, with the distended belly of a woman significantly more pregnant than myself. (Not that I’m pregnant at all, don’t panic.)

Gem in hospital

I had my first foray into the world of surgery yesterday.  Nothing especially major, but tell that to my whole body now. It feels a like a very small expert in the art of escaping prisons has been inserted into my tummy just for the challenge of sawing his way back out.

I rather foolishly hadn’t been too concerned about the pain beforehand. I’d accepted it as an evil but unavoidable aspect of something which in the long run would be good for me. I was worried about being scared, worried about waking up in a pool of my own blood, and worried about ending up with unsymmetrical scars. (Most distressed about the reality of the latter – hello control freak.)

But what really concerned me was the potential to make an absolute idiot of myself at some stage during the cocktail of anaesthetic, morphine, fentanyl, paracetamol, and god knows what else they gave me. And, as I stood throwing up into a hospital sink with my bum hanging out for all to see, it occurred to me that I was wrong to be concerned. While I struggled to pull my clothes over my spectacularly speckled red, yellow, and purple body, it didn’t particularly bother me who was looking. And as I finally dragged one foot after the other out of the joint, more than twelve hours after being admitted, wearing a woolly bobble hat, giant stripy scarf, fluffy dressing gown, ill-fitting trackies and sheep slippers several sizes too big for me, I discovered that when you feel truly crappy your ability to register humiliation vanishes entirely.

There was something almost cleansing about the whole experience, like it had been a baptism of blood and fire (literally) and I emerged innocent and naked but for a paper hospital gown, and pure albeit pumped full of opiates.

So as well as having the ol’ endometriosis fixed, my visit to hospital also cured me of all vanity and ego. Three for the price of one! And I’d quite like to remember how zero vanity feels, because apart from anything else the amount of time I saved in the morning by not doing my hair, putting on makeup, and finding a nice outfit was absolutely extraordinary.

So to summarise, next time I’m being precious about the antics of my fringe (I swear it has a will of its own), just punch me in the stomach and I promise I’ll stop caring.

Christmas Snapshots

I always enjoy the idea of winter. I like cuddling up by the fire, wrapping up in woolly jumpers, stuffing my face with mince pies, and being able to work from home in my pyjamas because of icy train tracks. (Especially that last one.) But on rare days where the sun shines through the bleak midwinter, I light up like a Christmas tree suffering from seasonal affective disorder. A brief cloud burst is all it takes to make me realise that when the world is grey, I feel grey. I like sunshine, and blue skies, and warmth on my face. When that isn’t an option, I use Christmas as a nicotine patch for summer.

Gem's tree 2014
Gem's Christmas Cake 2014
Christmas with a control freak can’t be an easy affair, and after countless tinsel based tantrums the rest of my family can’t so much as spy a misplaced bauble without shooting me a panicked sidelong glance and rushing to fix it before I explode like some kind of meticulous monster. I told my extremely dubious looking little sister that I didn’t mind what colour scheme we did this year, and managed to last about two whole minutes before admitting defeat and also admitting that we would be having a “natural, rustic theme with red and gold highlights”. I am not proud of myself. But you can’t deny it looks nice. (Well, you could deny it, but you would need to be confident you could take me in a fight.)

After the decorations are hung and the cake is iced (and the bowls are licked) getting outside into the cold is my idea of heaven. Ashridge is my favourite place for autumn colours, wintery walks, and a café full of home cooked snacks. Ted enjoyed getting his paws filthy, but didn’t very much like watching me and Rhys eat mince pies and hot chocolate. I’ve missed them both a lot, so an afternoon catching up with one and letting the other lick my face (I’ll leave that to your imagination to decipher) was seriously lovely.

Ted in the woods

Ashridge mince pie

Ted and Gem

After that there’s nothing much left to report other than wintery sunsets, evenings in front of the fire, cuddles with my cat, snoozing in my Christmas bed set, and chain smoking my White Company ‘Winter’ scented most-delicious-smelling-candle-in-all-the-land.

Sunset from Gem's bedroom

Bird decoration

My Cat

White Company Candle

Boat decoration

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everyone!

 

Shining Autumn

The nights are drawing in. Darkness is gaining ground, slinking belly-down ever around the edges of the day, gnawing a little more precious light away with each blood orange sunset. The air is suddenly crisp and smells of damp earth, decay, and the imminent death of the year. Outside, conkers and pine cones are two a penny underfoot, and have crept indoors too, adorning hearths and mantels like little treasure-piece time-machines. Temperatures are sinking; step out in the morning and your breath heralds your entrance to the world in a rush of dragon smoke, and the coming bite of first frost threatens any still straggling berries. Autumn is here, a blackbird’s song on his lips, russet leaves in his hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind, eyes green as apples.

Ashridge Autumn

Winter obliterates; an icy dementia. Autumn’s memory is deep. Inside each golden frond lives still the balmy warmth of chlorophyll-fuelled summer, and the pale promise of spring. Autumn is the cinnamon and bergamot scented season of hot-buttered nostalgia, where a cup of tea can cure all.

Gem's breakfast in bed

Pine cones

Gem and Cat

At this time of year, my heart yearns for a nothing more than a dog beside me, a long road ahead of me, and an apple and blackberry crumble waiting for me when I come home. But a cuddle with my cat and a slice of two of peanut butter toast will have to suffice for now!

Magic Beans

I have started writing this many times over the last few weeks. Well, to be more precise, I have stared at the empty page in front of me for a few minutes before making a disparaging noise and flouncing away from my laptop with my nose in the air many times in the last few weeks. I’ve imagined the empty page floating in front of me like a poorly dressed up phantom every morning when I wake up, and every night before I fall asleep. But until about five minutes ago, I hadn’t written a single word – not even in my head.

You see, dear reader, my whole life right now is an empty page. And I mean that in the bestest, most wonderful, least terrifying way possible. Honest. (Well, maybe a bit terrifying. Just a bit. In a good way. Obviously. [Good terrifying, yeah? Like a sky dive. Or a polar bear who doesn’t get your sense of humour.] And yes, my voice is becoming more and more shrill as I type this. If you’re still reading then you should probably get a hearing test and double check that you don’t in fact have four legs and a waggly tail.)

To explain the current existential crisis, it helps to know that I graduated just over a year ago. At that point I was all loved up, had high hopes for a career in writing things, was planning to at some stage move in with the artist formerly known as Boyfriend, and dreaming about getting a dog. Fast forward to right now and I’m finding myself wandering rather aimlessly through life, constantly humming the Friends’ theme tune, and telling anyone who’ll listen that I’VE GOT MAGIC BEANS!” in a manner that is at best alarming and at worst psychotic. I am oh so very single, to the point where my mother has taken on the role of matchmaker/enthusiastic gal pal/pimp, keeps telling me I need to “put myself out there” and “have some fun”, and is one step away from going rogue and putting me on Tinder… or eBay. My job involves a lot of writing, but mostly only 140 characters of it at a time. I’m living the sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll dream in my childhood home with my parents – if by sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll you mean cuddles with my cat, peppermint tea, and over-hearing old Sting albums. And the closest thing I have to a dog is my friend Jess. (She will understand that this is the greatest compliment anyone can ever be given, by the way.)

Puppy love with my Jess, circa 2010.

Puppy love with my Jess, circa 2010.

But! (And oh, I love that but.) When faced with the many not-going-to-plan areas of my life, my main reaction is relief. Relief at not having to fight tooth and nail to keep my plan intact. Relief at not having a plan at all. (I don’t even have a “pla”.) And I should be clear – I am a self-confessed control freak. If there were meetings for my ilk I’d probably be the chairman, because I wouldn’t trust anyone else to do a good enough job at it. (Imagine those meetings, by the way. They would never start late and absolutely everyone would take impeccably written minutes.) But the last year has taught me the valuable lesson that if there is no plan then nothing can go wrong. And my life had become a monstrous game of plan-Jenga (patent pending) with bits wobbling willy nilly, everything threatening to crumble, and me racing around like a lunatic trying to hold it all together. And now that – a year on – it actually and inevitably has collapsed in a rather anti-climatic heap on the floor, all the things I thought I wanted (apart from the dog, I’m still dreaming that dream) appear at best unrealistic and at worst pretty silly. I feel like a bird released from a cage or a balloon cut from its string or Batman after he escapes from that pit prison thingy.

So it would seem that I don’t want to be a shoe any more. Maybe I’m a purse, or a hat. Maybe I’m a book, or an umbrella stand. Maybe I’m a battle ship, or a god damn dragon. Maybe I can be anything I want to be because I’m 22 and in possession of a brain. Not to mention my winning smile. And my magic beans.

Welcome to the real world, Gemma. It sucks. But I’m gonna love it.

Friends Rachel Magic Beans

P.S. On a totally unrelated note, happy belated 20th birthday, Friends.

Admission of Guilt

I did an unbelievably stupid thing the other day. I mean, unbelievably stupid. Not like dropping-your-phone-in-the-bath dumb, or metal-in-the-microwave foolish: I’m talking stick-yourself-in-a-cone-of-shame, admit-you-aren’t-equipped-for-adult-life, write-it-into-a-sitcom stupid.

I don’t ever remember being so mortified by my own brain in such a private setting. My prior list of embarrassments – of which there are too many to count let alone recount – have, largely speaking, occurred in front of an audience. The time, years ago, where a poorly calculated maths lesson daydream allowed a friend to nudge me out of my oblivion and tell me, deadpan – causing me to walk across a classroom full of baffled students to an equally baffled headteacher – that the head wanted a word with me outside. The time, more recent that I’d like to admit, that I mistook a wandering albatross for a herring gull in front of an award winning wildlife photographer. The (countless) times anyone’s ever overheard me rapping along to the Lethal Bizzle classic, Police On My Back. (Not sure why people are so amused by a tiny law-abiding home counties white girl growling, in a Brixton accent, “Useta be a criminal, top car deala”.) The time last week, ahem, I mean absolutely ages ago, where I tried and largely failed to learn how to cartwheel in my lunch hour, in front of quite a high number of serious professional type people.

Anyway, I’m sure that the question of why shame seems to occur more often in public than in private has been much philosophised upon by great thinkers who doubtless know how to do a cartwheel. Let’s get back to me being an idiot.

I’d come home last Friday, shame-free, after an evening spent imitating taxidermy* at the Natural History Museum. That’s right, you heard me: no shame felt in doing this in a public place at all.

Gem at Natural History Museum

No. Shame. Here.

~

*Quick aside to make sure we’re all clear that this particular model of a giant ice age monster bear (yes that is its scientific name) is most definitely not taxidermy. Thank god.

~

I’d left Rachael at Victoria, navigated the packed tube without wanting to scream at anyone, meditated on the train and felt like a good little hippy, driven home with the windows down and the wind in my hair, and parked perfectly on the drive. It was all going so well.

I get out of the car. I lock the car. I grab the front door keys, open the front door, and then realise the car windows are still open.

And here, folks, is where everything went horribly wrong. It is at this moment that all logic, intelligence, and spatial awareness left me.

I put my hand through the open window. I put the keys back in the ignition. I start humming R. Kelly under my breath. (“It’s the remix to ignition, hot and fresh out the kitchen…”). I turn the key. (“Sipping on coke and rum, I’m like so what I’m drunk…”). I flick the window switch upwards. (“Bounce, bounce bounce…”.)

So just to clarify… My hand is inside the window, which has started to close. The keys are in the ignition. The car itself is locked.

And some kind of logic-less animal instinct kicks in. Rather than grabbing the keys, or hitting the switch to halt the window’s upwards trajectory, I pull my hand out of the shrinking space and out of danger. I guess I (unbelievably stupidly) thought I’d have time to pull the keys out of the gap at the last second. (An oversight for which I’m tempted to blame Indiana Jones.)

So I’m left standing on my drive, gazing with horror at my car; locked, running, and with the keys inside. I genuinely pressed my nose against the window in order to feel a little closer to my poor abandoned keys. I cursed my stupidity. I cursed my inability to hot wire a car. I cursed Lethal Bizzle for not going into more detail about his top criminal car dealing business. (Some tips would have been nice, Mr Bizzle!)

In the end there was nothing for it but wait for the spare keys to come home from London (with my sister, not of their own volition) a few hours later. My opinion of myself was pretty much as flattened as the car battery.

So yes, in summary… not my finest moment!

A Day at the Zoo

Last Saturday, I had a date. And it wasn’t with my sister, my cat, or a melt-in-the-middle Marks & Spencer chocolate pudding.

Nope. It was an actual date. With an actual man.

But don’t panic; I’m not about to get all yucky and gooey eyed or put my Bridget Jones please-don’t-let-me-die-alone-and-be-eaten-by-Alsations hat on. (Although how great a hat would that be? Would probably be a bit misshapen and feature some suspicious looking stains courtesy of vodka and Ben & Jerry’s.)

I just want to write about the zoo.

Whipsnade Lion

Whipsnade Zoo, to be precise. We only live a few miles away, and whenever I see the chalk lion carved into the hillside I can’t help but smile. In years gone by my mum and dad would pack me and Chlo into the car, buzzing with excitement, and take us to what was basically heaven for mini me with my love of animals and over-priced ice cream. I’d run around with sticky fingers, captivated by lemurs, lions, and llamas alike – there are so many species that you’d struggle to herd your children around them all in just one visit.

My absolute favourite thing was the sea lion show. Barclay, Liz, and Salt (with a little help from their trainers) would have kids and grown-ups alike in hysterics. Barclay in particular was everyone’s favourite: the highlight of the show was him launching himself into the air in a burst of stream-lined brawn, touching his nose to a ball hanging a few metres above the water, and belly flopping back into the pool to ensure the resulting splash soaked as many giggling children as possible.

Barclay, Liz and Salt have presumably long since taken their place in the big ocean in the sky, but the new recruits definitely lived up to their predecessors’ legacy and my childhood memory. The morning show had been cancelled after a few minutes when it became clear the sea lions didn’t really feel like doing tricks – their trainer explained that they never make the animals do anything they don’t want to, and added with a grin that it’s their breeding season at the moment so they were a little sleep deprived. (Cue some confused children and sniggering adults.) But Bailey and Lara had obviously napped before the afternoon show.

Sea lions at Whipsnade

Sea lions at Whipsnade

Sea lions at Whipsnade

They showed us their powerful front and back flippers, demonstrated by playing dead the perils of water pollution, applauded when the audience answered questions correctly, had everyone laughing at their impressions of seals, and floored us with (my favourite) their flipper-over-the-face horror at the idea they might be mistaken for one. (I do an outstanding impression of an affronted sea lion who’s been mistaken for a seal. Ask me about it after I’ve had a few drinks. You won’t be disappointed.) Despite the smaller females not being big enough to recreate the epic Barclay splash when they leapt from the water, Whipsnade had figured out another way of drenching anyone sat in the front row…

Sea lions at Whipsnade

Sea lions at Whipsnade

Hoses. So simple, so very effective. One thrilled boy of about six looked as though he’d not so much been sprayed with a hose but actually dunked in the pool. (His parents didn’t look quite so over-joyed.)

Hot, sweaty, and rather jealous of the hosed-down kids we decided an emergency ice cream stop was a must before we carried on with our sight-seeing.

Mara at Whipsnade

Brown bear at Whipsnade

Otter at Whipsnade

Red panda at Whipsnade

Asian Elephants at Whipsnade

African Penguin at Whipsnade

Wallaby at Whipsnade

Whipsnade is the biggest zoo in the UK. It’s owned by the Zoological Society of London, so works as part of the charity to raise funds for conservation. And no, they haven’t escaped controversy: a quick Google comes up with a shot chimp, penguins killed by a fox, and a chlorine problem that damaged the sea lions’ eyesight last year. So they’re not perfect. But I think Whipsnade care about their animals, and look after them to the best of their ability.

Still, you can’t help but wonder what kind of life they have.

Amur tiger at Whipsnade

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, and this one certainly sums up my problem with zoos. Out of shot is a reasonably big enclosure with lots of foliage and climbing platforms, but even with the best will in the world no zoo enclosure can emulate a territory of hundreds of square miles. My date, seeing the photo I was taking, said sadly that it looked like the tiger was in a prison. Excellent sign for the date, not such an excellent sign for the tiger.

But saving endangered species and improving quality of life for zoo animals are sadly not problems that one woman can fix, alone, in just one afternoon. So I stuck my head back in the sand and turned my attention to a problem that could be fixed: my growling tummy.

Having spent the day being big kids, we then popped out for a very civilised grown up dinner at The Greyhound in Aldbury.

The Greyhound, Albury

To Share Or Not To Share

Asparagus and hollandaise at The Greyhound

Sorbet at The Greyhound

Crème brûlée at The Greyhound

Crème brûlée at The Greyhound

A smashing end to a smashing day! (See what I did there? God I’m hilarious.)