I hope you enjoy this collection of scenes from my life over the last few months. Let me know in the comments which resonates with you most, and why.
This weekend has been the eye of the storm in a busy 2 months. A few days away, in an oh-so-very-English National Trust cottage (well, the wing of a manor house!) with good friends, no internet, no admin to deal with, nothing apart from hanging out by a toasty log fire while watching the rain through the windows. Apart from one night, where the chefs of the evening decided on fajitas, and a bottle of tequila appeared. No shot glasses to be had, so we improvised. Everyone appeared shocked when I said I’d never drunk tequila, and after my first egg-cup, I realised that I’d not been missing out. But I had another, anyway. Just to be sure.
All around me people are throwing the debris of Christmas into the huge container at the local tip. I up-end the black binliner full of my discarded administration into the skip. As the paper spills out, falling on top of a rainbow of wrapping paper and cards and huge cardboard boxes from Christmas white goods, I catch a flash of a tiny silver paper box. The box was used to hold seed pearls, given to me for my 13th birthday by a wonderful family friend who lived to 107. I still have the pearls, safe in a more robust container some 22 years later, but I have to turn away quickly to resist the urge to climb down into the skip and rescue the old box from the rubbish nonetheless.
I’ve managed to be out every time a tenant has come to view the flat so far, but just as I get home I spot an answerphone message from my agent telling me he’ll be round in 10 minutes with people for a second viewing. I’m paralysed – should I dash out or stay in and meet them? A second viewing sounds positive. I stay in, say hello, and answer questions from a couple and their friend wanting to share the flat. I can tell they like it. They ask me directly if I can do a deal on the rent, and the agent, seeing me waver, smoothly cuts in and says any deals should go through him. Later, they make an offer, and I take it immediately. I’m happy, they’re happy. It’s a good start.
Sometimes I look in the mirror, and I find it really hard to identify with the person looking back at me. Just to link the ‘me’ in my head to the physical body I see there. The image of myself in your head – feelings, sensations, emotions, thoughts, all the things that make up ‘me’ – and then what other people see. And sometimes it surprises me. What you see. And who I feel I am. The disconnect.
Walking the dog
It’s wet, so I have on my wellington boots, and he says I look like Paddington Bear as his longer stride lopes along in front of me. I’m really struggling not to fall over in the dark, rainy night on these steep slopes. The memory of falling flat on my face on a previous walk with him is vivid. It’s after 10pm – maybe I should have stayed in while he walked the dog alone. I slide down a hill as he shines his mobile phone torch in front of me, laughing, as he doesn’t need it. Usually he walks by the light of stars and moon. I make it without injury, but not without getting very wet and a lot of adrenaline pumping through my system. He makes me a cup of tea when we get back.
It’s good to be part of something. I keep meaning to volunteer more, to participate in projects where I ‘give something back’ to others. In the past I’ve done this a lot, but not in more recent years. I guess maybe I’ve been drawing on others rather than the other way round. This project has been a good one to be involved in – meeting those involved has given me a personal connection, and I feel a strong belief in their work – but it’s as hard as ever to juggle my contributions from the UK along with all the other balls in the air. But the launch has gone well, and the next steps are to help maintain the momentum.
The 8 weeks or so that I have been back in the UK have gone incredibly quickly. The plans I made for quiet walks alone in parks and the grounds of stately homes disappeared early on, as activities in the flat and arrangements with friends and family took priority. I’ve been a girl with a two-track mind during my sojourn here. In Thailand people don’t go for walks, they go ‘trekking’, which sounds hot and exhausting. But I might have to open my mind to it when I go back. I just need to bring the DEET along to combat the ping-pong ball sized mosquitos…
I’m spending the morning of my ‘moving-everything-I-own-into-storage day’ at the Thai Embassy in London, getting my passport – with its new visa – back. Mum’s overseeing the two friends (who do this sort of thing for a living) I’ve hired to do the actual moving. It’s stressful not being there. Then, later, it’s stressful being there. I’ve left too many bits of admin for my last day, so when I come back, I sit at my living room table surrounded by bits of paper – and chaos in turn around the table as my home is packed up around me. Mum and I have to leave before the move is complete, and when we’re sitting having some food in the airport, I get a text: “Everything’s in apart from the armchair. What do you want me to do with it?”
I’m sitting in a low slung red velvet chair in reception, and I have some ‘in-between time’ while I wait for my friend. He’s 20 minutes late already, but this is the Middle East, and so in those terms, he won’t actually be late for at least another 10 minutes. It’s fine by me – I have my kindle, notepad and an iPhone – practically an entire office in my handbag. I can even write this vignette. Efficiency is my middle name.
Making an impression
I run a course outside the UK, where one of the delegates really struggles with the work. She’s finding things really tough, and seems behind the others most of the time. I try different ways of explaining things, not sure I am really getting things across to her, and wishing I could do better. She eventually passes the two course tests, just. I walk away hoping we both did our best. A few days later, I get an email from her with a genuine and heartfelt thank you for the ‘wonderful life and learning experience’ I gave her. I’m humbled.
He’s a mildly melancholic drunk. I’m an effervescent one – until I fall asleep. This evening though, I’m babbling away at midnight on a school night, though I’m not entirely sure he can hear me over the loud, trendy music the DJ with the strange hair is playing. Or he can understand me, given we speak two different native languages. But I enjoy myself, and he suggests hanging out again before I leave the city, so he can’t have had too glum an evening. Maybe this socializing lark’s not as bad as it’s made out to be…
At first my head is full of how different it all is, the heat, the sounds, the people, and how tired I am from 24 hours of travelling after a long working week. I order my favourite dish from the menu (ginger veggies, cashews and tofu with brown rice), having been greeted enthusiastically by the waitresses. I try out a little Thai with them, and they make pleased noises. I sit down, and realize it’s the blessing/curse of mosquito hour – which is also sunset. I’m in one of the best places I know for the magnificent sunsets on the island, and sure enough, a few minutes later the sky begins to blush pink, purple and deep blue and turns into a painting before me. Despite my exhaustion, it’s worth getting up again and taking a photo. Which I then put on Facebook, immediately, feeling once again I made the right decision to come back.