A year in sensible shoes

I can’t believe it. I’ve been in London A WHOLE YEAR.

Well, aside from the month back home. And all the little travel adventures. But much like an anniversary in a relationship, you pick a date AND STICK WITH IT. And for me, it was a year ago this week that I stepped off that plane at Heathrow, my body clock in limbo and my emotions high. I had no job, no clue, and a very inappropriate selection of shoes. In fact, at that point, the only thing I was sure of was that I needed a taxi, STAT – the Spice Girls were due on stage at the Olympic Closing Ceremony – and I NEEDED to be in front of a telly.

And for a girl whose entire life-plan at that point was based around watching five girls look slightly awkward on double-decker buses, the year that’s passed doesn’t seem that surprising.

It’s taken me A YEAR just to be gainfully employed. I live in a laughably tiny cupboard-above-the-stairs. I walk an obscene distance to the tube every day. London has given me a weird rash. I spend a lot of my working day covered in mayonnaise (which you THINK might help the rash, but no). And I STILL haven’t met Mr Right.

In the books, they all live in fab apartments in Notting Hill and Stoke Newington. They have glam jobs in fashion and marketing (which, for the record, DO NOT PAY ENOUGH FOR SAID APARTMENTS). They stumble across the good-looking, aloof Darcy-type in a supermarket, or at a trendy party, or (SHOCKER!) he was there for her the whole time. They all have enviable hair. And no contact with mayonnaise of any kind.

Yep. So far, life is not quite the chick lit dream I envisioned.

BUT.

Stuff is happening.

Just this week, I got another new job. Yes! Finally, I have that job fannying about with press releases I always dreamed of. Just like those chick lit girls!

(Don’t worry, I’m keeping the hot dog job too. I would never want to deprive you of hot dog stories, and all my condiment-related gags. Prepare for more SAUCY material!)

My social diary is looking impressive. Yes, I know that in the books, when our heroine arrives in a new town, she is quickly adopted by a host of zany characters. But in real life, where people are busy, and have no money, and have to spend half an hour on the tube to get anywhere, making real, new friends takes AGES. Lame, but true.

I’ve been shopping. After a year of scrimping and saving (oh, OK – spending my money on wine), I decided, finally to treat myself. I bought The Prettiest Dress In The World. And as pathetic and stereotypically female as it may be, buying a new dress really DOES make life better. I’ve been sleeping with the shopping bag beside my bed for a fortnight.

And while a job, some friends, and a dress doesn’t seem like a whole lot of achievements for a year (in the book she would have done this by page four) – in real life, in a brand new city, it’s something to be bloody proud of. Life moves a little slower in the third dimension.

To summarise my year, á la Bridget Jones:

Weight gained considerable (mainly cake and wine), weight lost considerable (walking an obscene distance to the tube), countries visited 6 (v.g), trips to the gym 0 (but surely the walking counts?), blog entries 39 (not bad),dresses bought 1 (v.g), hangovers 15+ (ugh), haircuts 3 (too poor), jobs 3, boyfriends 0, breakdowns 2, shoes bought 3 pairs (but all very practical).

Not the dream shoes, but the ones that've got me through.

Not the dream shoes, but the ones that’ve got me through.

Seesaw summer

You guys. It’s been a ROLLER COASTER.

In the last few weeks:

I worked so many consecutive double shifts at the restaurant that I set a new world record. There were celebrations, and free cake.

I replaced ‘regular’ exercise with ‘secret pelvic floor workouts while standing in a restaurant for a record-breaking amount of time’ exercise.

…In unrelated news, I seem to have gotten fatter.

I decided it was all too much and I should move back to Perth.

I decided I was being ridiculous and decided to stay in London forever.

I applied for a job in Perth, decided I was definitely going to get it, and starting packing.

I missed out on the job, cried a lot, and decided to stay in London forever.

My family came to visit and I lived a London summer dream – Boris biking on the Thames, afternoon tea on a rooftop, a Harrods picnic in Hampstead Heath and endless Pimms in the sunshine. I fell in love with London.

…In unrelated news, I seem to have gotten fatter.

I went to Spain and lived a Spanish summer dream – jamon in a cone, swimming in the Mediterranean, paella, jamon on a plate, sangria, Gaudi genius and jamon in a roll. I fell in love with Spain.

…In unrelated news, I seem to have gotten fatter.

My family left and I descended into a tragic, fat, PMS-enhanced depression. I consoled myself by eating all my Aussie chocolate. And all the Shapes.

…In unrelated news, I seem to have gotten fatter.

I asked myself the tough questions. Why am I in London? Do I WANT to be here? Is the pollution, the public transport, the pitiful wage and the long hours worth it? Do I need to be this painfully long distance away from my family and friends?

And I decided. For now, I do.

So. I got myself together. I did some exercise. I applied for some new jobs. I organised some new adventures. I sat in the sunshine. I wrote to you guys.

London, you confusing, terrifying, wonderful city, I’m still here.

Let the chick lit life continue.

Chick Tick Four: Changing my tuna

When I first wrote The Chick List all those months ago, there was one thing I was more frightened of than anything else. And it wasn’t the speed dating. Or the crime.

It was the fish.

I am terrified, absolutely TERRIFIED, of trying new foods.

The list of foods I’ve never tried include olives (black and scary), oysters (slimy and scary), avocado (green, slimy and scary), beetroot (red, slimy and scary) and up until last week, tuna.

I don’t know where the fear originated from. I am aware of how irrational it is. But the thought of putting something in my mouth that has the potential to taste bad absolutely petrifies me.

Plus, (and I’m getting on my high horse here), it seems like a waste. Why use up valuable stomach space on things I might not like when there are brownies, bread and Bailey’s in the world?

Now up until a year ago, I was under the misguided idea that it was the things I HADN’T done that made me interesting. I’d never ridden a horse. I’d never been sunburnt. I’d never been to a music festival. I’d never eaten guacamole.

And you know what? There IS some value in not doing things. I’m stoked that I’ve never smoked a cigarette. I’m pretty pleased I’ve never worn socks with sandals. And I’m proud to say that in 29 years, I’ve never murdered anyone. Like, EVER.

But when I started this adventure, I realised that those other things – the places I hadn’t been, the experiences I hadn’t had, the foods I hadn’t tasted, didn’t make me a more interesting person. That I shouldn’t be defined but what I HADN’T done or DIDN’T try. That the only person who was missing out was me.

That said, I still wasn’t rushing out to buy tuna.

The thing about tuna is, IT STINKS. Eating canned tuna in a workplace should be declared illegal. And no matter how many people have told me that it tastes good, I’ve never been able to get over that smell. It’s utterly, utterly disgusting.

If it had been left up to me, it would have been the last thing to be ticked off the list. Or conveniently forgotten all together.

But my housemate planned a sneak attack.

She offered to cook tea. The hot plate clicked on. And when I wandered over to ask what we were having, she gave me a guilty look.

“Tuna steaks,” she said, with an air of defiance. “It’s time, Claire.”

I’m not going to lie. My stomach did a little flip. After 29 years of solid Tuna Fear, the moment of truth was mere minutes away.

I wondered if there was anyway I could refuse. Could I pretend to be sick? Hide in my room? Just flat out run away?

But I knew I had to stay. Trying tuna would make me a better person. Plus, I’d have something to blog about!

It was served up. As I lifted up my pink cutlery to take my first bite, I had a moment of sadness. I would never again be The Girl Who Hadn’t Tried Tuna. I would be just like everyone else. And I was about to taste something that could potentially be totally, totally gross.

I took my first bite.

And you know what? Tuna’s not that bad.

Kinda tastes like chicken.

Full of regret. Also, hot dogs.

Guys, I am SO SORRY.

This whole ‘job thing’ is totally getting in the way of my blog time.

It’s a strange thing. Brain-wise, the job is super simple. But standing on my feet all day, being super nice to everyone, trying to figure out how many of the cute young boys are gay – IT’S COMPLETELY EXHAUSTING.

Two nights ago, I only had the energy to half-remove my bra before falling asleep. And then wondered why all my dreams were about my arms being trapped.

Just now, I tried to use my Oyster Card to unlock the front door.

I am tired. But I have STUFF TO TELL YOU.

Stay tuned, my friends. A regular post will be with you in a couple of days.

Keen as mustard. And other relishes.

Three days in a full-time job. I am a wreck.

I write to you in my comfiest pink track pants, nursing an emergency wine and full of my last, hidden Easter egg. I plan to be asleep by nine. I am absolutely shattered.

But stoked.

Finally, this chick has a job!

And with it, our story has a new setting. A totally cool, totally trendy new restaurant. One with a charming, enthusiastic chef, a sweet, shy manager, and an army of beautiful waiters in designer sneakers.

And how do I fit in?

Firstly, I am OLD. Some of these kids were born in 1994. 1994! Guys, I remember 1994 like it was yesterday! I bought ‘The Sign’ by Ace of Base! I went and saw ‘The Lion King’ and cried about Mufasa! And some of my coworkers WEREN’T EVEN ALIVE! It’s terrifying stuff.

And, I don’t know if it’s because I’m old or what, but it turns out I am keen. SUPER keen. Embarrassingly, enthusiastically, but unstoppably keen.

It seems like this chick is always the one with her hand up to answer a question. Offering facts that no one asked for. Jumping up to lend a hand. And yes, leading the role play with an overly enthusiastic and pretty awesome Tyrannosaurus Rex impersonation, if I do say so myself.

Yep. I am a total dork.

But I’m happy.

For the foreseeable future, I’m going to be super busy. I’m going to make money for the wine fund. I’m going to flirt shamelessly with young, gorgeous boys.

And I’m going to eat a criminal amount of free hot dogs.

It’s all pretty delicious.

A new chapter

The sun is out. I repeat, THE SUN IS OUT.

I just sat outside for an hour. I’ve used the washing line for the first time in months. This morning, I put sunscreen on my shoulders. Trivial, boring things that I never realised meant so much to me.

It’s been six months since I’ve seen the sun in London. Turns out, I missed it.

And with the sun shining, everything here seems a bit more magical. Flowers are blooming. Kids are playing on the grass outside the little brown brick house. The ice cream truck just did a lap of the street. And as I soak in as much Vitamin D as I can, I can’t help but think that I’m about to embark on a new chapter of this chick lit adventure.

The new job starts on Tuesday. I am beyond excited.

And I don’t know if it’s the sun, on the prospect of meeting new people, or just the simple fact that I’ll be earning money again, but I suddenly feel like anything’s possible. That I can make this story whatever I want it be.

On Saturday morning, I was struck by an urge to be spontaneous, adventurous. Two hours later I was on a train to Stratford-upon-Avon to celebrate William Shakespeare’s 449th birthday.

It was brilliant.

I took hundreds of photos of beautiful Tudor buildings. I got strangely emotional about marching bands and Morris dancers. I ate scones in the sunshine. I got a bit tipsy and watched the best Shakespeare I’ve ever seen on the banks of the Avon.

And, at the conclusion of ‘As You Like It’, when Rosalind, Orlando and company celebrated the changing of the season, I did too.

I’ve survived my first London winter.

It wasn’t easy. I’ve experienced cold I’d never imagined. I’ve set a world record for the number of pairs of socks worn by one person at any time. I’ve successfully navigated icy pavements without falling on my bum. And I’ve learned that hot chocolate with a sneaky shot of Bailey’s in it can be the secret to surviving any sort of outdoor event.

The winter is finally over. And from here on, things for this chick are going to be pretty different.

Bring on Part Two!

Rolling with the oldies, Stratford-style.

Rolling with the oldies, Stratford-style.

Chick Tick Three: Pulling focus

The year was 2011. My mental state was fragile. I was fresh in the throes of a break up, and while I’d never been skinnier, I was also prone to unexpected crying, incessant oversharing and occasional sleepwalking. It was rough.

There was a ball coming up. A ball I went to every year. And, in a decision which I’m sure was made just to TORTURE ME, The Ex decided he would go, too.

So.

I needed a dress. A dress that made me look HOT. That showed The Ex just what he was missing out on. A dress that took advantage of my food and sleep-deprived body. An, “eat that, bastard!” kinda dress.

In other words, probably NOT a dress I bought while drunk shopping.

I’ve told you a bit about drunk shopping before. Basically, you go out for breakfast with your best girlfriend, and have a couple of sneaky champagnes. THEN you go to your favourite store, and try on all the pretty dresses. You dance around a bit in said dresses. You might even pretend to be a fairy. And if you’re just tipsy enough, you put on a black, sparkly frock, decide you look amazing, slap down $300 on the counter, and stumble out of the store, boasting about your fashion genius, and sudden desire for hot chips.

Needless to say, I awoke the next morning in a cold sweat. Sober, and terrified. The shopping bag sat in the corner of my room, seeming to shine like a beacon. WHAT THE HELL had I bought?

I gingerly pulled the dress out.

And it was beautiful.

Well, thank God for that. “Good work, drunk Claire,” I thought to myself as I felt the tulle skirt, and admired the splash of silver and gold sequins. It was undoubtedly fun, but classy and a bit sexy at the same time. It showed off my legs and my collarbone, and my new, super skinny waist. It was truly gorgeous. I was beyond relieved. And a little bit excited. This dress was the one!

The next day I picked up a magazine. And saw this.

Bindi Irwin

Yep. Bindi Irwin. The daughter of the Crocodile Hunter. The then, 13 YEAR-OLD daughter of the late Steve Irwin. A girl named after a prickle. IN MY DRESS.

Now, if a celebrity has the same dress as you, you ideally want it to be someone classy, elegant, awesome. Someone you aspire to. Cate Blanchett perhaps. Gwyneth. Megan Gale. NOT A 13-YEAR-OLD ZOOKEEPER WHO HAS HER OWN KHAKI LINE.

I’m not going to lie. Come the night of the ball, “Claire vs Bindi, who wore it better” became a trending topic on Twitter.

So there I was.  Being compared to a C-grade celebrity teenager. Avoiding The Ex from the other side of the ballroom. Bemoaning the shortage of champagne (SERIOUSLY, IT HAPPENS EVERY YEAR). Feeling generally miserable.

When I heard my name being called from the stage.

Looking back, I think the Universe was feeling sorry for me.

I’d won the raffle. And first prize was a camera. An awesome, expensive camera with a twisty lens, lots of buttons and serious hipster credential.

And you know what? If you’re having a super crappy night in an unfortunate dress, carrying a giant, free camera home does make you feel somewhat better.

WHICH IS A HELL OF A LOT OF BACKSTORY.

Here’s the point to all of this: I’ve ticked another task off The Chick List. This week, I learned to use that very camera.

I went on a photography course in East London. I learned words like ‘aperture’ and ‘depth of field’. I took photos of bread and boats.

And books.

London books

Most importantly, I learned something I have long suspected: I do not possess an artistic bone in my body.

But I can tell a hell of a story, right?