It’s Friday night and my bathroom is the cleanest it’s been in the whole time we’ve lived here.
I cleaned around the taps with a toothbrush for God’s sake. This can mean only one of two things: my mother is visiting, or I’m moving out. This time, it’s the latter.
This will be my 18th move in my 27 years on this planet. I moved around a lot as a kid after my parents split up, and we were shunted from one rented place to another as rents got too high or we found somewhere better. As a kid, I thankfully saw the experience as an adventure. I still remember favourite bits from each of those places; one that came with a really cool den/ playhouse in the garden that was full of lego and loads of musty old toys. My own private solace. I felt like the coolest kid on our estate.
Another with a huge bedroom cupboard I could hide in, with floor to ceiling shelves that I wanted to fill with a tidy regiment of toys. One – not so good – in which had to share a bedroom with my mother, who snores like a Lancaster Bomber and didn’t share my fondness for listening to Spiceworld on repeat.
At 18 I moved away from home – far, far away, in fact. 300 miles from just outside Durham to Bristol. And so continued the annual ritual of packing up, giving things to charity, forcing myself to be ruthless and let go of things I could do without. Finding that loads of my stuff had been ruined by the damp that seems a creeping, silent inevitability for us renters.
I have become a world-class packer. A packing ninja, if you will. I can fit untold amounts of shit into 15 boxes, storing shit within other shit to make it as small as possible. The other day I squeezed my Vietnamese Lantern inside my foam roller to save space. Yeah, next level Tetris shit. I am also master of packing this shit into very small cars. A Sunday Van Tripper. A footwell fiend. You want shit moving? Call me, fire up the Nissan Micra, and bring me a bottle of prosecco for afters.
But if I’m honest, these are skills I would happily trade for one thing: a place to call home.
This particular move is a temporary one. We’re in the rip-roaring, poke-yourself-in-the-eyeballs-twice-a-day process of trying to buy our first flat in London, and are very lucky to have the chance to house-sit for the next few months. It means we can save up lots of money we were haemorrhaging on our overpriced, tiny rented flat, and say bye to our neighbours from hell and late night police shenanigans. We can later use this to pay the endlessly hopeless, infuriating team of mavericks who may or may not let us buy a flat at a vastly inflated price.
Don’t get me wrong, I fully appreciate just how lucky we are to be able to consider buying a flat, and indeed to have a roof over our heads at all. Working for a large children’s charity, I am acutely aware of the huge number of vulnerable individuals and families who are living on the streets, in hostels, refuges, sofa surfing and otherwise. (If you want to help, look up Shelter, Centrepoint, or St. Mungos – they’re all great).
But that doesn’t stop me pining for stability. For the chance to grow into and with our home. For the option to paint, to make cosy, to put our stamp on a place. To lovingly repair what’s broken, rather than putting up with it because our landlord won’t pay out. For a sense of belonging to a community; an area we know inside out – the best and worst streets, the hidden gems, the best late-night shop, the only pizza worth ordering. The perfect running route, the wintery walk.
Of course, one benefit of moving around so much is that I’ve built up my own, poor-man’s, version of The Knowledge. I can tell you that The Faltering Fullback in Finsbury Park has an outstanding beer garden. And that there’s a good chicken place within stumbling distance. I can tell you about the ridiculous bloody artisan pizza place in the back of our local Spar in Walthamstow village – £6 a pop and not too shabby.
Head there after The Nag’s Head via the cavernous shop / yard selling antiques between Hoe Street and the William Morris Gallery. I can also tell you never to bother with Chooks in Muswell Hill; life is too short to pay good money for crap chicken.
Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to the day when we get the keys to somewhere we (and our boxes of shit) can call home.
Providing I don’t get locked up for killing my estate agent in the meantime, of course…
This morning I found myself sobbing on my yoga mat in extended child’s pose. Quite childlike, I suppose… an extended toddler’s pose, if you will.
My brain is in the trenches of an internal war of attrition between the negative and the positive. Between the side of me that sees the glass half full, grabs life by the balls and laughs loudly, versus my tendency towards cynicism, sarcasm and anxiety.
I find myself analysing and counter-analysing my feelings constantly. Why can’t I just be happy all the time? Always take the positive stance? How come I’m not leaping out of bed and rushing out the door to go and be awesome every day? To be the best I can be?
I count myself as a striver. A do-er. An achiever. You want something sorting out? Talk to me, I’m already on it.
Does that mean that when I am not striving and thriving – when I don’t want to get out of bed, or am struggling to shake off worries – I am failing? Absofuckinglutely not. So why does it feel like I am?
Because positive is The New Thing.
What if every girl in the world had access to education? What if women could walk home alone at night without fear of being attacked? What if those who hold political power reflected the demographic of the people they represent? What if 50% of leadership roles went to women? What if childcare was affordable and accessible? What if the media stopped using women’s self-image as a weapon to make us feel guilty and inadequate? What if we stopped enforcing gender stereotypes and started telling women and girls that they could be whatever they damn well like?
Can you imagine a world like that? Wouldn’t it be incredible?
It’s International Women’s Day; a day to celebrate women. To champion, empower, and advocate for equality. To raise our voices in praise of how far we’ve come, but,crucially, to look ahead and take action to create the change that needs to happen to bring true equality.
Getting fired up
I spent this afternoon surrounded by inspiring women at a workshop run by my local MP and all-round eMPowering woman, Stella Creasy. They take the name of Circular Firing Up Squads – don’t let that put you off – these are workshops designed to bring women together to get fired up, cheered on and – most importantly – to go and take action. To put ourselves forward, speak up, make ourselves heard and take opportunities. To encourage more women to step into leadership roles and create change – one woman at a time.
And here’s what I came away with.
Exercise and I have never been close bedfellows. I spent most of my P.E. lessons at school sneaking off with to loiter on benches in the woods during cross country, making fart noises from the sidelines as the other girls scissored over the high jump bar, or – on one occasion – getting sent home for sort-of-inadvertently throwing a javelin in the general direction of our Mrs. Trunchbull-esque, obese, teacher, after she failed to respond to my requests to demonstrate a suitable overarm technique.
And things didn’t really improve from there. I think it’s safe to say that sport at my school wasn’t a particular priority; we were allowed to spend our GCSE year either doing sport or getting changed into jeans (a true thrill for a 16 year old girl trying to get attention from the local acne-covered talent) and heading to the bowling alley up the road to fling the balls down as quick as we could before congregating at the local McDonalds. Ah, the heady days before Jamie Oliver lisped himself into a frenzy, when it was perfectly acceptable that our school canteen stopped selling home cooked meals and turned swiftly into a (undoubtedly horsemeat-laden) burger bar.
I find myself infuriatingly attached to my smartphone. I pay it more attention than I pay my health, spend longer looking at it every week than I probably do looking at a book (shameful I know), and enter a state of sheer panic in those few horrifying moments when I think it’s somehow escaped my line of sight or grasp long enough to be stolen – only for it to turn up moments later in the depths of my permanently overloaded handbag.
It’s been quite some time since I last posted here, and indeed, quite some time since I last baked. The past few months have been a bit of a blur; my relationship of almost six years came to an end, I moved house, and seem to have spent most of my spare time since organising my new flat and toasting to the next chapter of my life with my wonderful friends.
At times of stress or trauma, it seems natural to retreat to self-preservation mode, living day-to-day and focusing on the basics of feeding yourself, general life-admin (mainly consisting of desperate attempts to get through the bottomless pit of laundry without the aid of a tumble dryer and phonecalls to utility companies), and work.
But living like this does little to inspire creativity, happiness, or wellbeing. I’ve found myself craving a return to the more well-rounded me, and a big part of that is tied up with baking and writing; the great satisfaction of creating something from scratch. Whether a piece of prose, or a slice of cake – to create, share, and enjoy, I’ve realised, is fundamental to my happiness.
This post showcases the first of three tantalising triple-layer cakes I’ve baked recently. Why have I baked so many of them, you ask? Especially when most people are on a new year, clean-eating-boot-camping-green-tea-swigging-booze-craving de-tox.
Well, there are two reasons; one, I prefer dirty eating – particularly in January and February, generally the coldest, most depressing months of the year. Secondly, when it comes to cake, I feel there are few things more satisfying than watching a cake slice gently glide through three decadent, fluffy layers of sponge, and lifting up a resplendent, towering triangle to endless ‘ooh’s and ‘aah’s.