Terribly New York

There’s something about travel that cannot help but make even the biggest moron think of all the science involved. How does the plane stay up? Where does all our wee go when we flush; do the birds get wet? Why is this bread so hard? And so on.

There’s also something about being a visitor to new places which lends you an observational eye more inquisitive that usual. It’s like being a foreign speck placed in the Petri dish of a new culture, waiting to see if something will grow.

I felt a similar distance in some of my New York experiences. In the streets and in the theatre I felt like I was home, but in the bars I felt stilted. Though I knew some part of me wanted to ‘be’ a part of it, in the way I always want to live a place as though it is my life, perhaps because I prefer to write about it later from a perspective of inclusion, I did not feel like I belonged there. The speck rejected the Petri dish.

One night in particular I was in a bar full of post-work thirsty natives, and my gorgeous and slightly mad host Charlotte was explaining the travails and glories of their dating system to me. For the first five minutes I was enraptured by tales of liberation. I felt like I’d walked into a pop-up book of Sex & The City (my enduring passion for which I will never understand as I don’t do style, I hate Kim Cattrall, and I think the last ‘episode’ in the form of Sex & The City 2 was an insult to women and all of life everywhere. Go figure, as some yanks would say.)

We were with Charlotte’s yoga instructor Penny, a dazzling redhead in her 40s who introduced us to ‘some guys’. Somewhere in my story-head I imagined we were being introduced to New York society by a upper east side duchess who was weighing up our odds on the love market. Then a man proceeded to touch up my bum while going through the motions of small-talk, and I didn’t feel liberated or culturally curious. I wanted to punch him. Thinking he was a friend of Charlotte and Penny’s I politely kept shifting my derrière and spoke to someone nicer. I loathe myself now for not saying anything. I don’t know why I cared that it might ’cause a fuss’. (Practice run: “Hey, buddy, that’s my ass. Yours is the one behind you looking like an overfilled baloney sandwich.” How terribly New York of me that would have been. DAMMIT.)

Thus was my preconceived kaleidoscope of glamour shattered. I was not seeing women enjoying their freedom unjudged. I was seeing women who could date the same guy for a year caught in a constant round of small talk without ever getting anywhere, I was seeing women who could date four men at the same time without getting any satisfaction from it. I saw women playing cool, playing undercover detectives in their own cryptic games, playing phone tennis where the result is almost certainly never love-anything. I saw an awful lot of singles playing and it didn’t look a single bit like fun.

I’ve always wondered if I should have stayed single for longer after leaving my marriage, if I have fully explored the freedoms of the modern woman or have truly known independence for long enough, but seeing the dating scene in New York made me realise that freedom can be a sort of prison too, if you’re not exercising it in the right way.

I felt glad to come home to the fuzzy nook of my man. Where there’s no games, just truth.

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Stupid Mafia

“Remember, my dear – people suck.” said Socrates to Aristotle shortly before being dragged to his hemlocky death. Or something. Or not. Whatever.

I’m reminded of the made up quote mid-paddy as I tear around my Las Vegas hotel room at ten to five in the morning, my decadent Nevadan lie-in plopped on from a great height by the savage loudness of a construction site coming to life. It’s barely light outside and my earholes are being pneumatically raped. It would be a vile assault at any time, but before 8am it’s even worse. I have been deprived of my rights as a human. Amnesty International probably do entire conferences on this stuff. I think what’s worse is not the volume but the random rhythm of it. Just when you think it’s ebbing, it redoubles. Just when you think it’s stopped it’s back, making your water ripple like that scene in Jurassic park when the T Rex comes to play. I thought waking up in Vegas would be like having your ear gently tickled by Frank Sinatra while Dean Martin croons in the corner and Sammy Davis Jr brings you coffee and croissants. It’s not. It’s rubbish.

Getting older and wiser (or at least pretending to be wiser) has turned me more cynical than I used to be. I ponder plausible adult theories like whether the mafioso hotel bosses wake you up dead early here so you scurry out like bleary-eyed gambling rats and spend more money so they get richer. STUPID MAFIA. A few years ago I would have assumed that the workers just liked getting their work done extra early so they can go swimming in the afternoon. I would have waved at them encouragingly from my window. Now that I’m terribly mature and clever I just think they’re stupid mafia suck-ups and hope they get slapped by Joe Pesci a lot while Marlon Brando watches and Robert De Niro laughs maniacally.

Vegas is a dump by the way, for any of you who haven’t been. Don’t bother. Save your money for somewhere nice. It’s a vile abhorrence. It smells of smoke, air freshener to cover the smoke, and poo. A pit of all the worst things of humans all lit up by neon like all the worst things of humans are something to be celebrated. They aren’t.

I do the only thing I can think of to try and block out the sounds of the desert being ripped up by a giant whisk. I turn the telly on.

On the news is stuff about money, death, and celebrities. In between the news is adverts about what to do when you have no money, how to get money to pay off the money you don’t have, how to spend the money you don’t have to delay death, and how to look like celebrities. All fired out at such a rate I think I’m going to have a super-sized anxiety attack.

Actual advert (slightly paraphrased): “Hi. I suffer from Fibromyalgia. It’s been pretty tough. But my nerves are so much better since taking ‘Generic American Sounding Drug’. Warning: MAY CAUSE HAND-SWELLING, SPLEEN-WHISTLING, AND CONSTANT SUICIDAL URGES.”

Americans are weird. I hate them a bit right now to be honest. I’m sure once I’ve had some more sleep and they’ve served me some more pancakes I’ll love them again, but for now I huff at them, reader. I huff. (But quietly. I don’t want the mafia to kill me.)

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Return to Hollywood

I’m lying on a makeshift bed on the floor with one ear trying to tune out the ladysnores of Girlfriend 1, and the other ear trying to tune in to signs of life from Girlfriend 2, who sleeps disconcertingly like she’s dead. Outside I can hear the sky being unzipped by the trails of planes; the mumblings of a metropolis stretching wake.

It’s Los Angeles, 5am, & though I should be slumbering in readiness for a day full of adventure, I am awake and prodding out my column onto my phone because if I don’t do this I’ll probably lie staring at the ceiling, pretending my plait is my moustache or something.

In the strange lonely privilege of being the only one awake I think of the city outside, a place as unreal as it is real, as legendary as Atlantis, as fictitious as Oz, as normal and real and grubby in places as anywhere.

I was last here half my life ago, a freshly-baked sixteen, brain boggling at the ludicrous fact that I was there at all.The trip was surreal; a nerdy checklist of the fantastical. Hollywood sign: check, Marilyn’s tiny handprints in concrete: check, the stars on an ever-expanding walk of fame: check. Everything came with a mental brochure of where you’d seen it before; which movie, which iconic photo, which tale from the book of American glamour lore. Moreover, I was staying with friends – seeing the real LA and the insides of its real people’s rooms. I sat and watched as real Californians prepared their food and laughed with friends and played their guitars; went about their ordinary lives and pursued their dreams.

I had such a blast that while I was having it I was already glazing it in sepia & double-dipping it in amber, prematurely casting everything into posterity.

Now I’m back here, in a Spanish-ish villa in Silverlake, staying with new friends, thinking of the sixteen years that have passed since I last dipped my toes in the pacific. I realise with a quiet belly shock that I am not a girl anymore, I’m a woman. My toes are the same toes, but they’re not the same toes. They’ve been through a lot these toes. They’ve been driven over by a car and didn’t break, they’ve been painted different colours, they’ve been in some very bad shoes but some excellent boots, they’ve been the first things to have touched down wherever I’ve gone. Toes are quite valiant on our journey through life, really. Like tiny cavalry men testing the ground. If I were to come back to Los Angeles in another sixteen years they, I, will have seen a lot more, and i will have changed a little more. Maybe a lot.

Going away is a great time to take stock of all that’s important. All the irrelevance gets sifted out and you are left with what matters. What matters to me now, a 32 year old woman who finds herself returned to a faraway place she thought was just a trip of a lifetime you took only once? I should take this time to check.

My clock is out of whack, my girlfriends are snoring/potentially dead, and I’m waiting for the day to start. I’ll lie here and think of what matters. Which, in the short term, might just be bacon and maple syrup for breakfast…

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Love Sack, Baby

I’ve always been absolutely useless at saying goodbyes. Even the easy kind. Leaving friends at the pub will often be a fifteen minute hug-fest, then I’ll be halfway out the door when something in my heart will lurch. I’ll turn around with a false memory of having left a tissue strewn on the floor and go back, and instead of picking up my imaginary discarded snotrag, I will sneak another little squeeze in as I jostle through my friends. Or a loving punch. Just a bit more contact for the journey.

Although it sounds like I was left in my cot as a baby for hours without so much as a stale rusk lobbed at my head, I am actually very blessed love-wise; regularly serviced in the soul department by an extensive faculty of wonderful people. But I suppose even people with their emotional needs being tangibly met can still be needy. After all, not even the most adored people on the planet are likely to say one bright April morn “Do you know what? I think I’ve hit my cuddle limit. I’ll be gosh-darned if I haven’t got enough love in the sack til Michaelmas. I am replete. You just stop this shoulder massage right there and give it to Derek the curtain-twitching hermit over the road.” It’s never going to happen; it’s not how humans work.

Perhaps our lives grow to fit the love that comes our way. There is always enough room for more love for or from people, and, unless we’re trying to shake off an annoying ex or a mad stalker, it is always welcome. We don’t measure it out. “I’m sorry, Pleasing Acquaintance, I can’t go for lager-beer with you in case we hit it off and five months down the line, during an impassioned conversation about which Rocky film is the best (2. No discussion.) I get jousted in the heart by a bit of excess friend love and die.” The heart grows as big as we let it.

I came over all angst-ridden yesterday as I said a few goodbyes. I’m going on holiday for two weeks and in amongst all the excitement and faffing and packing (and staring at my passport expiry date trying to remember what year it is with that mania that the enforced bureaucracy of travel evokes), I felt a shadow edge into my heart. I would have to say some goodbyes.

Hot fudge, I suck at them.

Of course it’s probably some innate waily wah-wah stuff like fear of losing people, WAIL, or guilt, BOO, or a sense of leaving things ‘unready’ – “I’m going to crash into the Atlantic and you’re going to have to clear out my room. I have been scrap-booking everything since the age of 9 & you’re going to throw away my collection of funny German T-bags. You probably won’t even find them as hilarious as you should.” WAIL. Maybe it’s more textbook than that. Actual holiday anguish due to my cat, Monty ‘Mental’ Python, getting run over while I was getting quarter-engaged to a tonguey Turk named Erjan in 1996. WAIL. (But probably not, as I’ve only just remembered it.)

Do humans get pre-travel jitters because we know in the heart of our hearts that all this travelling is unnatural? We’re not supposed to fly over seas or traverse huge expanses of land. We’re supposed to do stuff on our feet; stop when we get out of breath and have a nap. We’re not really supposed to go beyond our patch, our cave, the plot marked out by the features that serve our basest needs; food, water, shelter, somewhere a bit private to take a dump. Man’s reach in his physical realm isn’t supposed to exceed his grasp; that is why we dream of heaven and space and the mysterious lands we’ll never get to. We might design ways of closing the gap between us and our curiosities; we’ll always try to harness the stars, push the boundaries of latitude and longitude and other dimensions. We constantly defy nature; our own design. But we are biologically designed for (driven, compelled and nourished by) love.

Maybe that’s why, despite whatever fun we have on our adventures, there’s nothing quite like a cuddle when you come home.

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Voices In Your Head

It’s oft been said that talking to yourself is the first sign of madness. It’s the kind of thing annoying people say when they find you muttering over dropped paperwork. You know the scene: you berate yourself out loud for being clumsy, then they lean in and shrug “You know what they say… First sign and all that…” then tut ominously as though they can see a full progression of derangement which ends in you eating tepid custard in a state-funded cell with a man named Malcolm who shouts at his foreskin. You then laugh politely even though you want to yell “I’D RATHER TALK TO MYSELF THAN TO YOU, YOU ANNOYING TURD, NOW GET YOUR FETID HALITOSIS AWAY FROM MY FACE.”

If talking to yourself is truly the first signpost on the freeway to Loonyville then I’d say that chuckling to yourself while pretending you’re a buck-toothed nun is quite possibly another sign, maybe even a dedicated rest-stop. A picnic bench in a layby on the B road to Little Bonkers. A nice flask of Doolally soup while journeying gently into the town-square of Full-On Madness just in time for the Poo-Licking Parade.

I found myself doing just that this week. (Chuckling as a buck-toothed nun who is secretly in love with Andy Williams and who once shot a Nazi in the face in wartime Lourdes, not licking poo). I consoled myself with the fact I was only doing it for the purposes of ‘writing a play’. A culturally permissible kind of schizophrenia. Once consoled, I treated myself to a half-hour mash-up of ‘Je Ne Regrette Rien’ and ‘Moon River’, which went quite well.

When you catch yourself saying to a friend that you can only begin writing the dialogue of a new play once you ‘hear the voices talking to each other in your head’, you’re socially required to consider that you might be a bit mad, or at least a total twonk that needs a ruddy good punch in the chops.

Brainy bearded psychologist types in shabby tweed have done a lot of probing into the relationship between madness and creativity. Of course, I have exactly zero factoids about their musings to impart here, mainly because instead of reading enlightening medical journals, I sit around voicing imaginary convents. I do wonder though if we access a benign sort of madness when we’re being ‘creative’. The word ‘creative’ innately implies that we are conjuring something from nothing, which is by its very nature a diversion from what is real. Does that mean then that madness is ‘in there’, a latent thing in all of us, and only ever a few bad circumstances, a genetic blip or a chemical shake-up away from a dramatic unveiling? Are we all naturally bonkers and it’s only years of having our madness socialised out of ourselves while adopting the lowest common denominator behaviours that denote sanity, that teaches us how to ‘act’ sane?

I, again, console myself that I only do ‘weird stuff’ while no one is watching. But that’s not strictly true. I have muttered to myself while writing in cafes, definitely. A lot. Who knows which way it will go. Perhaps in twenty years time I’ll be drinking a cappuccino with my Yukka plant husband Claude. Or perhaps I’ll be watching the opening night of a play I wrote slowly throughout months of transcribing the voices in my head.
Or perhaps I’ll be a nun. It’s quite fun you know. Ooh, I wonder if habits have hidden pockets…

*wanders off muttering to herself about pockets…*

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