Posts Tagged ‘Bristol’

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maturity.

February 24, 2013

This week has been a thought-provoking one. First of all, I attempted to get Beyoncé tickets to her show at the London O2 Arena but failed miserably at both of the pre-sale events I tried. Upon receiving my payslip on Friday, I had to make a difficult decision – due to having to catch up on tax I was owing from changing jobs in the middle of January, I didn’t get as much money as I had anticipated. Some budget readjustments on top of this showed me the unfortunate truth, that I had to give up trying for Beyoncé tickets. As much as she puts on a fantastic show, and as much as it would be a major life event to see her live (just as it was to see Jennifer Lopez for my birthday last year), money is more important. And I think the money would be better spent on clearing my overdraft, and then saving up for a holiday for Toby and myself later on in the year – something that we’d both enjoy. Although I would love for Toby to be present at the Beyoncé gig, I guess the mature decision is to put the money towards something we would both equally enjoy – Toby would have been there at least partly for my benefit.

This weekend we’ve had Claire and Ian staying with us, and the past two weekends we’ve had Karina and Hannah too. I like the feeling that people enjoy visiting us and I hope that they will have a good time and want to return. Yesterday we visited the Saatchi Gallery and its current exhibition of Soviet art really captured my interest. At times it was revolting, but it was consistently engaging and I enjoyed it a lot. This made me think that in a way, it’s a shame that studying as an adult is so much more expensive and has to be balanced with adult responsibilities, holding down a full time job, budgeting and so on. Because in my opinion, when I was an undergraduate student in my late teens, I didn’t have the maturity (not necessarily emotionally, but in terms of the fullness and sharpness of intellect) to fully appreciate everything I studied. Although I was by no means stupid, and I definitely put the effort in, I know that if I were to my degree again, I would be able to turn my 2:1 into a 1st with the brain I have now. I love my Italian class because I love studying; I loved my postgrad because not only was it a pivotal time in my personal and emotional life, but I was truly studying with freedom and with my eyes open. That time, there had been no element of following the pack to university hoping that everyone else’s instincts that it was the right thing to do were right on (as it happened, they were); I knew that doing my postgrad was me grasping my future and changing my professional direction. Study is important because it can be life changing, but I certainly also love it because I am addicted to the feeling of learning and enriching myself, in the belief that it makes me a better person.

After the Saatchi Gallery, we went to visit Pete’s new flat in Kennington:

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It’s amazing that someone our age has been able to purchase a flat in London and get on the property ladder – it’s so bloody difficult, and at the moment making ends meet while we’re just paying the monthly rent is proving challenge enough! We headed on to Clapham for a meal and drinks, and I saw Clapham with the same eyes I saw West Kensington earlier that day as we headed up to meet Christina at her flat in Fulham. I saw these places with the eyes of someone who now lives in Chiswick and has unwittingly grown accustomed to its middle-class pleasantness. All of a sudden, the assault of newsagent windows chock full of posters, cheap eateries emboldened by harsh lighting and residences with missing corners and unkempt windows was distasteful. I couldn’t reconcile my sudden, definite prejudice with the facts that I don’t come from a particularly glamorous part of Bristol, that at school I was surrounded by people who were from more affluent families than me and I was thus proud of my brain and my achievements all the more, that for my first year of living in London my flat in Earls Court was conveniently located and all that I needed, but it wasn’t particularly luxurious. How quickly I’ve learned to see things differently! I hope, while we have achieved a lot in terms of where we live and I appreciate the comfortable home Toby and I have created for ourselves, that I haven’t become a snob or lost touch with the essential things in life which are more important than symbols of rich or poor.

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As Toby and I have settled into life together in Chiswick, we joke that we are becoming middle-aged – drinks out with friends are a treat, and we’re often so tired that we are grateful to stay in (as much as we enjoy socialising!). In Clapham last night, after a meal at Strada that took too long to arrive, we went to a bar that was crammed full of people 5 years younger than us shouting at one another over music that was decent but far too loud, and yet: there was no dancefloor! After a cocktail, we threw in the towel – either I want to dance, or I want to talk, but not being able to either was frustrating! Is all of this this another sign of old age, and of shifting out of the up and coming generation into the hasbeens? Or (I prefer this option) have I just grown up and now I see the world through the eyes of an adult who is fortunate, wise and no longer has to suffer (as many) fools?

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Tube update: Ravenscourt Park & Stamford Brook

February 17, 2013

Despite the fact that we’ve been living in Chiswick for 4 months now, and I go through these tube stations pretty much daily, I have never actually walked past Stamford Brook and Ravenscourt Park. Toby and I finally did this after dropping Hannah off at Hammersmith so that she could make her way back to York – I am so glad that she enjoyed her weekend with us 🙂 It’s important to me that our home is welcoming to all of our guests so that people think of us fondly and return to visit us again in the future! We had a fabulous time with her, and it was so good to have catch-up time.

Once we’d put her on the Piccadilly line train, we wandered back through the King’s Mall arcade at Hammersmith (which reminded me of the Broadwalk near my nan’s in Bristol in terms of the sadness of a lot of the shops there – although we discovered Tiger which was excellently quirky, and I even dared to go into Primark), and then along the Chiswick High Road. We stopped for a lovely coffee and toasted sandwich at Artisan café, which was a light and airy space which rejuvenated us before continuing on our way. I also got some more book ideas at Waterstone’s – as well as Wuthering Heights, I have made a start on an ebook gay fiction series by Nick Alexander (50 Reasons) which I’m enjoying so far. I’m also spending time with albums by A$AP Rocky and The Weeknd. Here’s to the week ahead, and perhaps some more musical and literary discoveries! 🙂

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antidote.

January 7, 2013

Today, I realised that my intention for 2013 is to get the poison out of my life. I know that the word “detox” normally conjures up ideas of colonics, crazy crash diets and unlikely health fads, but the real meaning of the word “detox” is to detoxify. I think the start of the year heralds many positive changes for my life, and it’s time to make those positive changes to serve as an antidote to the things that have been undermining my happiness, sometimes sneakily and sometimes less so.

I have so far been cigarette-free for nearly a week. I know it’s early days, but this is a good sign that I’ll be able to maintain this in the long term. Toby and I have been considering healthy eating alternatives, and today he made us both a lunchbox filled with couscous, sliced peppers, carrots and cucumber, and some hummus. It was healthy and filling – not particularly inspiring, but nevertheless it made a nice change from my usual lunch and it did keep me fuller for longer! So after a few weeks of getting used to a more varied lunch through the week incorporating more vegetables (I am also embracing Greek yoghurt as a snack), I’m going to attempt to reintroduce sit-ups and press-ups back into my life. I knew that quitting smoking would work best cold turkey for me; other things, like introducing healthier food and exercise, are going to be a more gradual change that I will be fairly loose with in an attempt to make these changes something I can ultimately incorporate into my life without resenting.

In two weeks’ time, I will start a new job at a university in central London! I am so thrilled to have got this new position, which is similar in nature to my current one but in an HE environment, which to me is a real step up and will open up more career opportunities. It also allows me to escape the toxic and insane atmosphere and games in my current workplace. To me, this is a perfect example of getting some of the poison out of my life – dealing with resentment, uncertainty and unnecessary stress every day in the workplace has a detrimental effect after a while, and I don’t need to be treated that way. So I’ve chosen to move on to somewhere that will hopefully respect me a lot more. Toby is also excited because I will rant less about work at the end of most days!

Following up from my blog lamenting the prospect of Christmas spent with my family, it was actually more comically awful than I could ever have anticipated – although my homosexuality and my relationship with Toby had nothing to do with the drama. My parents had a massive row which made me feel like it was 20 years ago screaming at them to leave each other alone and solve their problems; my mother subsequently broke her wrist; my cousin, uncle and aunt revealed a casual homophobia that I found bizarre. And due to the stellar weather (*sarcasm*), the transport getting to and from Bristol was fucked up both times. In summary, even though I had pretty much made up my mind before even going home, this winter’s experience has confirmed that next Christmas will be my first London Christmas, creating my own traditions and carving out my independence. I will still see my family for a weekend around that time, and I will see Toby’s family for a weekend around that time too – but I need at least one Christmas where I am nobody’s child and instead am free to be my own person. I am already looking forward to it.

I feel like even if a couple of the changes I am setting out here have fallen by the wayside by the end of the year, that 2013 signifies a new start, a new day and a refined (if not “new”) me. Along with this, I’ve already started writing lyrics for a new album that will reflect maturity, independence, hope, strength and importantly, vibrancy. By removing all of the poison from my day-to-day existence (physically, mentally and emotionally), I hopefully will have more freedom and energy to enjoy life and really make the most of it.

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last Christmas.

December 15, 2012

I remember when I started this blog that I would write quite lengthy, detailed posts about my personal life and about all of my feelings and experiences. This blog has been around for over 3 years and during that time my life has transformed in a lot of ways: I did a postgrad, started working in jobs I actually wanted, learned to drive and bought a car, entered a long-term relationship, moved to London and supported myself, moved in with my boyfriend… I made the decision not to talk about my relationship in too much detail because I feel that my private life is just for me and for Toby – but he informs everything I do now and is such a big part of me that every post on here, more or less, is influenced by him or concerns him to some degree.

Although I am certainly more mature and guarded about what I choose to post on the internet, sometimes I miss the honesty and openness with which I used to post. Sometimes, when I have dilemmas in my life, I find myself typing my question into Google in search of some advice. And sometimes I find some decent food for thought, whereas other times there’s just nothing sensible or nothing that quite touches the nature of what I am going through. But on those occasions where I do find something that can help me, through offering a kindred voice or shedding an alternative perspective on a situation, it’s really valuable. And so I have decided that in this post, I am going to be honest and talk about what is on my mind, in the hope that one day someone else might find my post and it might help them to know that they are not alone.

Yesterday I was speaking to my mother on the phone and apropos of nothing, she asked me that when I am in Bristol for Christmas, that I don’t voluntarily reveal the fact that I am gay and in a healthy, happy long-term relationship with my partner. The reason for this is that my uncle and aunt are coming up from Melbourne for the holiday to visit my grandmother. My cousin (my uncle and aunt’s daughter) has been living in Bristol with my grandmother for the past six months, and during this time she has demonstrated that she has grown up a lot from the irksome child and teenager that she was when I had previously met her. And yet the other day, my mother was having a conversation with her and my grandmother, and my cousin asks “how is Alan getting on with his flatmate?” Toby is my boyfriend, my lover, my partner with whom I share a flat – but he is so much more than my “flatmate” that I paused a little bit – because surely this is obvious, and my cousin (whose recent displays of emotional intelligence lead me to believe that she would have caught onto this) must know that Toby is my boyfriend. My mum then told me that my cousin has revealed in the past that my uncle (who has hitherto always been nice to me) “hates certain celebrity chefs because they are gay” apparently. And so, my mother has asked me not to volunteer any information about Toby to “keep the peace on Christmas Day” and to keep my grandmother happy, because otherwise relatives’ reactions “may cause a scene and my grandmother will get upset.”

What the fuck.

I am not at all angry at my mother for wanting a peaceful Christmas – it’s perfectly understandable. My mother’s side of the family is Italian (and therefore Catholic, although I wouldn’t describe them as religious with the exception of my grandmother who goes to church twice a week – but only since my grandfather passed away 5 years ago). But I have introduced Toby to my father (who has made crass comments about gay people in the past but has never been anything but welcoming of Toby and supportive of me in my relationship – I feel that his macho posturing isn’t really indicative of his views, which annoys me somewhat – why does he even need to act a certain way therefore? But I appreciate the fact that he is accepting of me) and everything has been fine – Toby has never felt uncomfortable or unwelcome in my parents’ home. My grandmother has met Toby a few times now and they get on ok too – neither is my grandmother stupid; she knows who he is to me, even if she doesn’t say it out loud. But here lies the crux of the problem – everybody knows, but nobody wants to talk about it. Everybody is actually fine with my sexuality, but everybody seems to think that they are the only “enlightened one” and that nobody else approves. So it remains a big open secret. Which to me is partly laughable, but also quite painful because I have absolutely no shame in having found a man that I love with all my heart, and having established a strong and secure relationship with him. Shouldn’t this be something that could be appreciated, if it’s too much to ask for it to be celebrated? Why do I have to keep quiet about the most positive (out of a range of very positive things in my life) part of who I am today?

I have always been the Beyoncé of the family, if you will. (Prepare for me to toot my own horn in the next couple of sentences.) Not only because I’m musically talented, but I am the only person on my mother’s side of the family to go to university, let alone to the University of Oxford and then on to achieve a postgraduate qualification afterwards. I am the only one who has successfully moved out of Bristol. I’m the slimmest and most fashionable out of me and my cousins. I have an interesting job which pays a decent wage (but more about that in another post, as I have an announcement to make!). I am 27 years old and I have done pretty well so far (with some wobbles along the way – but hey, that’s life right?). With all of this hard work (which was for myself, but it didn’t hurt that it pleased others also), it would appear that the fact that I am gay, that I happen to be attracted to men, and that I have now built a life for myself with another man whom I love deeply, resets everything. I will never be good enough, and no matter what I did or what I achieve in the future, I never had a chance at being “good enough” because of my sexuality, which is something I cannot control. I love being gay, I love Toby, I am very happy with my life and with myself (apart from the fact that I ought to quit smoking and that next year I am going to lose weight – but there’s a forthcoming post for that too because my musical goals and my aesthetic aims are going hand in hand in 2013).  And I can’t talk about any of it, because other people may react to it, and it may upset someone else. Well, it upsets me! What about that?

Back to the phone call. So my mother asked this favour of me. I fell silent, and I said that I didn’t know if I could do that – I certainly couldn’t promise anything. I know that she understands, and I know that she didn’t like asking, and I am not angry at her. But I am angry at my family because I am never going to be good enough, and I am not able to relax and completely be myself. I told my mother that I didn’t understand why I should compromise myself. It’s not natural for one to shout their gayness or their homosexual monogamous relationship upon entering a room – this is not my intention. But I am 27 years old, and I am not afraid of them anymore – I have built my own life, and at the end of the day, I don’t live in Bristol and I don’t need the validation of my family. It’s nice if I could feel comfortable with them – but if that’s not going to be a possibility, c’est la vie. I will choose Toby over them, if it has to come to it. I am sad that it might have to come to that – but maybe we can’t have everything. I have a lot, and that’s enough. But I refuse to be intimidated by small-minded, low-aspiring people. I don’t even really know if they are small-minded – this is all just rumour and myth. But after all – I’d better not say anything, just in case.

I want everyone to have a lovely Christmas day. I want Toby to feel welcome when he comes to Bristol, and the fact that he does perplexes me even more in light of this request. I don’t want my grandmother to be upset, and I don’t want anybody to cause a scene. But it’s not my fault if they cause a scene because of their own prejudice, surely? I don’t understand why I have to conceal, compromise and sacrifice my identity in the presence of people whom I see only occasionally, and who are my frickin’ family, so as not to rock a phantom boat. Am I being unreasonable? Because perhaps it’s not such a big thing to ask, for one day. But then, to me, it’s not really about one family day – it’s about me being denied the ability to openly be myself, to celebrate all of the things I have achieved and the precious gift of Toby’s presence in my life. He is wonderful, and I don’t see why I have to downplay this. I’m not going to shout it from the rooftops (though sometimes I want to! 🙂 ) because that would be unnatural, but neither am I going to lie about it because that is no more natural either.

This is bringing me to the sad conclusion that, whether or not a scene occurs, I feel like this will be my last Christmas in Bristol with my family, for at least a while. I don’t want to hurt my family by not celebrating with them, but at the same time I am an adult now, with the right to live my own life. (I can’t lie – it will be nice to actually not do a big travelling jaunt for one year.) I’m old enough to make my own decisions and to choose to stand my ground and enjoy my life in my own home. I have proven my worth time and again, and I now have the flat, the job, the relationship – the evidence to show for it. It’s not my fault that my family members may be insecure or jealous, and I don’t see why I should compromise myself to appease any inadequacies they may or may not feel. It’s not my problem. If I cannot be myself on Christmas day, then maybe next year it has finally come to the point where I’ve got to start making my own traditions, and if it means being by myself then hey – I’ll do it. I would never begrudge Toby going to spend time with his family, and maybe I would be able to join them instead. I don’t know – this whole situation has thrown me into a realm of “I don’t know”. What I do know is that I won’t lie, I won’t hide, and I won’t be ashamed. I am strong enough and secure enough to stand alone – I’d rather not have to, but if that’s the way it has to be then so be it. A part of me hopes I’ll be pleasantly surprised this Christmas and all these worries and postulations will count for nothing. I really don’t know what will happen – I am confident that I feel the right way about the situation, but I hope that I will have the grace and the presence of mind to react correctly and in a dignified manner to whatever situation arises.

I’ll let you know.

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2526: track by track

November 26, 2012

As stated in my previous post, my latest album 2526 is a loose diary of the last 2 years of my life, and focuses on love, and a range of facets of that emotion. I’m now going to take you through each track and tell you a little bit more about them all.

1. My Way / Sincerity

As one might surmise, these were originally two separate songs. “My Way” was a response to the burdens of parental love and pressure from those around you who know you best and suffocate you in their desire for you to achieve the best – at the same time as you love them for wanting the best for you, you can’t help but know that ultimately you’ll end up disappointing them. Try as I might, I could write a bridge for this song, and it was unfinished for ages. “Sincerity” came from wanting to write a song called “Sincerity”, and wanting to use the classic, hard-hitting beat from the remix to “It’s All About The Benjamins”; there seemed to be a real contrast between hard and soft.  But I couldn’t write a bridge for this song either, and it went unfinished for ages as well. One day, it dawned on me to just put the two together – the subject matter of the songs went well together, and while the overall tone of the songs is one of defiance and determination, there is also love and vulnerability. And most importantly, no bitterness.

2. Distance

This is one of my two favourite songs on the album. I was heavily into the song “I Miss You” by Beyoncé (from her masterpiece 4), and the night that I received the instrumental from Citizens of the World, I had been looking forward to Toby coming down to Bristol for the weekend (this was before I had moved to London) – we hadn’t seen each other for a while and I really missed him. Except that same night, he had called me to say that he probably wouldn’t be able to make it (in the end, he did). I was feeling melancholy and yet selfish as well, and the lyrics and melody to this song subsequently came in about 15 minutes. The lyrics so vividly capture the emotions I was feeling, and the vocal delivery is something that is supposed to be downbeat and yet sincere and heartfelt. The production is perfect. I am so grateful to have recorded this song.

3. Delete U

This song was written not long after Quiet Storm was done, and the piano intro is supposed to be reminiscent of Prince / The-Dream. I remember breaking up with one of my previous dalliances and just removing all trace of him from my life. It was intriguing that rather than tangible memories, we store a lot of initial information about friends and relationships digitally and so it’s all about “pressing delete” rather than throwing things in the trash. The use of terms such as “Facebook” and “Twitter” automatically date this song (probably to its detriment, although I personally don’t think it rings as unnaturally as the lyrics about getting off the Macbook and Facebook from Brandy and Monica’s otherwise-very-good “It All Belongs To Me”), but when I’ve dated my entire album through its title, it doesn’t really matter!

4. Important

I am well aware that this song sounds really similar to “Broken-Hearted Girl” by Beyoncé, but it’s not a bad song to use as a template and I really wanted the piano and drums to be straightforward – the vocals and lyrics are supposed to occupy centre stage in this song. I wanted to talk in an honest way about how it feels when you don’t know what is going on in a relationship, and whether your priorities and feelings really mesh with those of your partner’s. Are you on the same page? I left the song open-ended – we don’t know if the couple in the song stay together or break up, because although I personally tend towards the latter, the whole point is that life and love is not clear cut and the things we think we should do, we don’t always do.  Love is complicated.

5. Unforgettable

This song is a remix of / my spin on Drake’s “Unforgettable” from his first album Thank Me Later, and I loved the melancholy production. The chorus of my track I guess is a bit more reminiscent of the Nat King Cole classic; I wanted to have a rap song on my album, like “Armani Earrings” on Quiet Storm, but less incendiary and more vulnerable. The sample of Aaliyah just made Drake’s song so perfect. Mike has played such a big part in the last 3 years of my life that I didn’t know how to feel about it when he moved out of Bristol. Even though we worked together, it felt like we were drifting apart and I was sad about it. I wrote this song to encapsulate all of my emotions about the relationship with one of my best friends developing and evolving. Ultimately, I ended up moving a lot further away! I have grown up so much over the last 3 years, and I wanted to pay tribute to someone who had a considerable role to play in the man I am today. Friendship is love too, after all.

6. Phoenix Rising

This song evokes love as empowerment. This was the first track from Citizens of the World that I wrote to, and I had Nicole Scherzinger’s Killer Love album on repeat at the time, hence the namecheck in the first line. The production was ethereal, and I wanted a melody that really soared on the wings of the track. It was a challenging vocal to sing – particularly the end note! – but recording this track was really enjoyable because I got to do different and interesting things with my voice.

7. U Gotta Go

This song was much more fun and more upbeat – when I received the instrumental, it sounded so happy and pop! I immediately thought of “I Wanna Go” by Britney Spears – but I didn’t want to do something completely featherweight, so I flipped the song to make it a breakup anthem with some sassy lyrics about dumping a car in a lake that I cribbed from Tamia’s “Go” (aside: she is such a ridiculously talented singer!). I also wanted to make a poppy track that had some good vocal riffs in it – so I did that.

8. Sabo

This is my other favourite song on the album, because it is very personal and meaningful. Obviously, it’s addressed to Toby and it’s about him and us. I am so deeply, romantically and truly in love with him. He bought me a ring from Thomas Sabo for our 6-month anniversary, and I still wear it every day – I love it (black and silver are my favourite fashion colours, after all!) and I am so proud of it. I wanted to write a piano ballad the old fashioned way – chords and lyrics on top, no digital production – so that’s me playing the piano (the microphone isn’t great for recording the piano, so that’s why it sounds a bit honky-tonk). I was also in love with Beyonce’s “1+1” so I wanted to have some powerful vocals in the bridge, that really pulled out the soul that I wanted to express. The song turned out exactly how I wanted it to (honky-tonk aside), and I always knew it would be the end song / finale to my album.

Once again, I hope you enjoy the album!

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update. (+ Heathrow Terminals 1, 2 & 3)

September 2, 2012

Hello! So I realise that I have been incommunicado for a while – since my last blog, I spent a wonderful week in Bristol catching up with family and friends; returned to work for a week and a bit (going back to finishing at 5:30 pm tomorrow (rather than 5:00pm, as has been the case throughout the summer holidays); and then over the last half a week, moved out of my flat in Earls Court and into Toby’s flat in Fulham. Me being me, I chose to do all of my moving on the bus over a day and a half, which was physically exhausting but ended up costing me about £8, which is ridiculously bargainous. Plus, I certainly benefitted from the exercise and my body felt a good kind of ache for the subsequent two days! I am impressed that I have managed to slot my things in an around Toby’s flat relatively unobtrusively, and it’s nice to have lots of space and to not have to do a 15 minute trek every time I have laundry to do. It’s going to make commuting to work slightly more effort, as I was extremely lucky to be able to effectively roll out of bed and onto the bus/tube, but it’s hardly anything to complain about. I have spent this evening tidying Toby’s room (which is my room now too!) and reorganising things a little bit more to my liking, and I’m feeling ready for the first week of going to work from my new place.

This afternoon, I also took Toby to Heathrow as he is going to spending the week in Aberdeen for this year’s British Science Festival.  It feels like I’ve spent the whole week carrying suitcases! So I am going to be left to my own devices for a week – though I have my new novel that I’ve started writing (Toby’s brother has written a novel and his effort and perseverance has inspired me to finally take the plunge), some job applications to complete, a perfume event at Les Senteurs to attend and some cooking to attempt (the last of which fills me with dread but also determination). Hopefully I will also get some blogging done! For now, I just wanted to update y’all on where I’ve been and why I’ve not been writing, and I promise a more fulfilling post in the near future! I will sign off with my latest Tube picture, for London Heathrow Terminals 1, 2 and 3 – the train was about to leave so I had to jump on and take a picture through the window!

 

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travelling.

August 14, 2012

I’m currently just over halfway through a well-earned two-week break from work, and I’m back in Bristol at the moment with my family. But over the past week I have bounced up and down the country, from London to Peterborough to Hastings then back to London via Heathrow!  During the car journey with Toby and his parents from Hastings to London, I played “the adjective game” with his mother in the back seat, which involves taking turns in saying the following rhyme:

I love my love with an A because he’s _____ (positive adjective beginning with A, e.g. “amazing”)
I hate my love with an A because he’s _____ (negative adjective beginning with A, e.g. “arrogant”)
His name is _____ (boy’s name beginning with A, e.g. “Aaron”) _____  and he comes from _____ (UK town beginning with A, e.g. Aberystwyth)

The next person does the letter B, then the letter C, and so on. It soon became apparent that while I could think of adjectives and boys’ names fairly quickly, my knowledge of British geography is woefully lacking. Apart from when my dad’s mother was alive and we would visit her for a couple of days in Filey, Yorkshire each summer, and travelling to the outskirts of London to see various members of my father’s family when I was young each Christmas, I didn’t really get to know much of England. School trips stuck mainly to the south west – occasionally Birmingham or Wales, but never any further.  In my late teens, when I was doing my university applications, I visited cities such as Oxford and Cardiff for the first time. I hadn’t even gone to central London and used the underground until I was 19 years old. I only like two cities in England – Bristol (more about that later), and London. I’m certainly not attached to anywhere else. Nevertheless, I feel that it’s important to visit cities in my home country (as well as countries throughout the world – Toby and I spent an hour last week making an exhaustive list of desired holiday destinations that will probably take us through to our seventies) to experience new places and broaden my horizons.

During my time in Peterborough, Toby’s mother suggested to us that we might like to go for a picnic at Rutland Water, which is a giant man-made lake / reservoir in the middle of the countryside.  Within that sentence, there are two words which unnerve me deeply: “picnic” and “countryside”. I don’t like picnics because they conjure up images of sitting on grass and mud, eating miserable sandwiches and constantly warding off bugs and insects. My preferred way of experiencing the countryside is through Google Earth or iPhoto – that way, you don’t have to smell it or get hot and sweaty walking through it, and you can turn it off once you get bored. I realise this sounds bratty, and I’m poking fun at myself a little bit – but I’m truly not one for gazing out over endless fields. I see it, my mind takes a picture, let’s move on – the fields do not do anything entertaining to hold my attention, and there’s no focal point. However, I tried to be up for something new, and I didn’t want to outwardly reject Toby’s offer of an outing, so we went along. The first hour of walking along a cycle path through clouds of midges, lumps of poo and flocks of sheep with the sun beating down on me and cyclists weaving all around us did not do much to endear me to Rutland Water, and I felt really bad. While my worst fears had indeed been confirmed, Toby had tried to do something nice for me and I wasn’t being very appreciative – he got a bit upset, I apologised and made more of an effort at conversation, we ate our nice sandwiches on a bench (at first he did come close to breaking his promise that we wouldn’t sit on the grass, but I firmly put the kibosh on that one), and soon it was a much more pleasant experience. We then drove round to the other side of the lake, which was far prettier and felt a lot more like a park.  For the record, I really like parks – we visited Battersea Park on Tuesday and it was lovely, plus we fell in love with nearly every dog that we saw (one of which, a bichon frisé, fell in love with me and followed me for about 5 minutes much to the chagrin of his owner). My mood had lifted a lot and I was actually enjoying myself, and Toby was too – as guilty as I felt for my initial ungratefulness, I am proud that I was mature enough to get over myself, enjoy myself and thank Toby for his thoughtfulness in the process. We skimmed stones (I discovered that I am really bad at this), looked at a very strange metal sculpture (apparently created purely to be aesthetically capitivating):

and walked along a dam made of piles of stones, which was very romantic. I ended up having a lovely time and after my initial disquiet, I appreciated the fresh air and open space.  Would I go again? I probably wouldn’t be the one to suggest it as a destination, but neither would I feel anxious about going. I still majorly dislike the countryside – that’s just me, I’m afraid – but I think I can learn to get along with it.

A couple of days later, we went a long drive from Peterborough down to Hastings for Toby’s brother’s engagement party (his brother’s fiancée is from there). I would personally never choose to live in Hastings, as it’s extremely tiny (I do not cope with tiny towns) and feels underdeveloped and a bit tacky, but – walking along the waterfront at night, and then picking my way down to the shore the following lunchtime, I could see that living by the seaside does have its charms:

Walking along the waterfront with Toby’s dad and Katie’s father as the sun set was truly lovely – people were playing crazy golf, a live band was playing, and there were stalls selling confectionery and ice cream. On Sunday we had lunch at a restaurant on the shore, and we went down to the water’s edge after finishing our meal and being that close to the water did feel a little bit magical. It did help that the weather was wonderful, but the venue just possessed a holiday atmosphere which I was able to appreciate. We drove back up to London and Toby’s parents dropped us off at Heathrow airport, which did feel exciting – we joked about just getting on a plane and leaving the country (and there were certainly plenty of appealing destinations on the departures board), but Toby had to be well-behaved as he is back at work this week. We each had a lemon San Pellegrino at the Caffé Nero there, and then got the tube back to Earls Court – and I ticked another underground station off my list:

And now I am back in Bristol. I am having a lovely time seeing my family and friends, and it is good to be home… but at the same time, I really feel that London is also my home now. I’ve lived there for a year (which has flown by!), and every time I return to Bristol, I notice how small the city feels, how tiny the buildings are, and how a considerable amount of the people look a bit… idiosyncratic. Obviously, you get dodgy-looking people everywhere, but I guess that until I started to see more of the world, I didn’t notice it in my own city as much. I always knew that the public transport in Bristol was a joke, but today I paid £2.90 for half an hour’s bus journey. The bus driver was on his mobile phone at the bus stop and I had to wait for him to finish his conversation before I could buy a ticket; I then asked how much it cost (as he didn’t tell me the price of the ticket – he just assumed I would know), and upon paying the driver, he practically threw my change at me, slamming it into the little money tray. I know that Bristol is a very friendly city, and that London is notorious for its rudeness and impatience, but the London public transport is far superior not only price-wise (a bus journey is less than half the price, and even the tube is considerably cheaper), but attitude-wise too – I’ve never been sassed by a London bus driver to date. So sort it out, Bristol! It’s sad that unless something major happens, we’d never be able to afford to buy somewhere in central London, because that would be a dream – but I’m looking forward to Toby and I moving into our own place (we are renting our own flat together in the next couple of months – I’m so excited!) in the next couple of months.  My sense of exploration is blossoming.