Category Archives: Misfit

I hate shopping (circa. October 2017)

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I hate shopping (circa. October 2017)

“Why can’t I be more like other women?” This is a question I almost never ask myself. Flawed though I am, I’m content enough being me. Today, however, after a 3 hour shopping trip that produced just one purchase, I found myself asking this question.

For me, clothes shopping is not the fun, relaxing, stress-release that is portrayed in popular culture and experienced by my friends. For me, clothes shopping is akin to a trip to the seventh circle of Hell. I HATE it. I hate it the most when I need something specific: a dress for a friend’s wedding; work clothes; new shoes; let’s face it, new clothes in general. Part of the problem is that I am not very materialistic – I have never felt the urge to have the latest styles/shoes/phone/other goods. I don’t get a buzz from spending on things I don’t need. I don’t want things I don’t need. So I only go shopping when I need something.

So now, I seriously need some new clothes. To be honest, I need a whole new wardrobe, as I don’t wear most of what I currently own; I’ve had a lot of it for too long. I would like some new styles, a slightly different look. I am bored. But although I look in magazines and at what other people are wearing, when I get to the shops, it just doesn’t transfer. Today,  I saw lots of colours I like (dark red, dark green) and styles I love (grungey, 90s) but I just can’t put it all together.

I wander, touching things, picking up the odd thing to try on, forcing myself not to buy yet another stripey jumper or t-shirt. Sometimes I try loads of things on, and only one item looks good or fits well. It’s just such a drag. All the trying on and taking off, looking in mirrors, realising that you’re a different size in every shop you go to. Sometimes it’s easier if a friend or family member is there, but I feel guilty asking anyone to go with me. Maybe they don’t mind so much. But if shopping for myself is my idea of hell, then so is being dragged around the shops by someone else. So I usually undertake the painful exercise alone.

Before anyone suggests online shopping, that isn’t for me either. There are three fundamental problems: 1. Too much choice. Anyone who’s met me knows that ‘indecisive’ is my middle name, so the sheer volume of variety is just overwhelming. 2. I’m a tactile shopper. I like touching things, picking them up, trying them on. Not possible online. 3. I am impatient, yet lazy. I don’t want to have to wait for purchases to be delivered before trying them on, only to have to go to the trouble of returning them if they are unsuitable. Better to waste a couple of hours in one go at the mall than even more, painfully dragged out over a week or two.

So today, I managed to buy one pair of skinny jeans. Something that was on my list, but not one of the things I most needed. Maybe I should advertise on Gumtree (if it exists in Spain) for someone who loves shopping and fashion to come with me. I could be their little project! Failing that, does anyone know how I can reach Gok Wan?

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Back to the island

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Back to the island

Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I am not particularly suited to life in England. The shitty weather; the lack of light in the winter; needing to do everything early because everywhere closes at 6pm. I love living in Valencia; the lifestyle; the food; our new friends; the weather. However, having just arrived home for 3 weeks of (unpaid) Christmas holidays, the novelty of being back up north, especially in December, is reminding me of the things I really do miss about little old England and the English.

1.English manners. “Could you?” “Please,” “Thank you,” “If you don’t mind.” The direct, clear meaning issued by the over-use of the imperative in Spain certainly lets you know what’s what. But sometimes my English side craves a coating of courtesy.

2. Hot drinks I won’t say too much here; you can read my thoughts in another one of my blogs: the philosophy of hot drinks. All I need to say is: this is one thing the English really do do so much better.

3. Friendly faces. The Spanish may be a warmer, more tactile nationality, but the English smile a lot more when they are out and about. For me, a smile conveys genuine warmth. Perhaps we use facial expressions more than the Spanish because we have a greater need for personal space, which causes us to shy away from touching anyone we are not emotionally close to. Who knows?

4. Ready meals. This one is very controversial for me. As a proponent of healthy eating, home cooking and plenty of exercise, this is something of an anomaly in my list. But for that one night a week when I really can’t be bothered to think, let alone cook, I miss the wide range of delicious (some even healthy) ready meals available.

5. The sound of home. After stepping off the plane, the first time I hear a Mancunian or Lancashire accent is  like a warm welcome-home hug from England herself. The sound of the accents of my childhood; the reminder that I don’t have to enunciate and I can say “yous” or “it’s bloody Baltic” or “Alright, Our Kid!” Yeahhhh 🙂

So there you have it. An odd list, but it’s always the small things. Still, worry not, Valencia. In three weeks’ time I’ll be craving tapas, sunshine, late opening hours and the ease of daily life in a Mediterranean city. And when I arrive back in Spain, I’ll be happy to be home again, breathing in the sunshine.

Winter is coming!

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Winter is coming!

It’s cold in Valencia. No, really! Down to 3C in the morning! Never mind winter is coming; winter is here.

A year ago, I actually scoffed at my students when they told me that during the winter in Valencia,”People feel tired, they have no energy because it’s cold and dark in the evenings.”

“Dark?” I repressed the urge to yell, “Are you having a fucking laugh?”

Early December in Valencia, at 5.30pm there is a twilight hue to the sky as the sun slips away. Fiery sunsets, day after day. Back home, night has well and truly fallen by 4pm. The curtains are drawn, it is pitch black outside. THAT, my soft, southern friends, is dark. That is a northern winter. And just because the sun rises every day, there is no guarantee that we will catch a glimpse of it. Does anyone up north remember the three months of grey skies that shrouded us at the end of 2015? Yes, three months, I kid you not. I was teaching Japanese students who had been in York for a couple months without having seen the sun. One of them actually whipped out her camera on one of the few days that the sun peeped through the thick grey skies and snapped a photo. The year was nicely rounded off by the epic flooding of York on boxing day. Watching the national news in Lancashire, we thought we would have to row back home over the Pennines and through the submerged streets. Safe to say that the weather was a huge factor in our move here!

The thing is, I’m afraid to admit, I am going soft. You could say acclimatised, but my fellow northeners would correct me and say soft. When it drops to 8C here, I think it’s freezing. I can’t imagine how I’ll feel this weekend, back in northern England for Christmas. Still, as with many things in this nomadic existence, I am neither one thing, nor the other. I am not the hardy northerner I used to be, able to wear a summer dress when the mercury hits 17C. But then, neither has my blood become completely Mediterranean. Yes, 8C feels Baltic, but I am holding off wearing my heavy winter coat. We have only just put the heating on, while my students have been warming their homes for over a month.

On the other hand, I have acclimatised to temperatures that simply don’t exist back home. In Valencia we live for a couple of months averaging 34C, so a drop down to seven or eight degrees is a difference of 26C. This is more of a drop than is experienced between British summer and winter temperatures. I have come to adore the bright, humid heat of the Valencian summer, except in the early hours, when it doesn’t drop below 23C and there is 80% humidity (this I have in common with Valencians). Not many people I know back home would be cycling around town every day in a humid 33C and think nothing of it. Up north, people start complaining when the temperature rises to 23C.  This, my second summer in Valencia, I just got on with it and accepted the fact that for several months, I would always be too hot. I love the freedom that comes with a guaranteed summer; knowing that I will never have to think about what to wear because it will be hot and sunny every day. I LOVE it!

So yes, in some ways, I have gone soft. 10C in Valencia feels like 1C back home home. But in other ways I have become more resistant to heat and humidity, able to go about my daily life in the balmy summer temperatures without batting an eyelid. And so I continue, no longer a resilient notherner, yet not quite a soft, southern fairy.

This had to come out, sooner or later.

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This had to come out, sooner or later.

(DISCLAIMER. To any of my friends reading this; rest assured this blog entry is not referring to you). 

How can you tell if someone is vegan?

Don’t worry – they’ll tell you.

I usually try to avoid discussions with people who are vegan, or pro-vegan. I understand the thinking behind it; I just choose not to think about it. I was pescatarian for about 14 years of my life, eating only fish and no other meat. This was my personal choice and at no point did I ever think it was wrong that nearly everyone else around me continued to eat meat. Of course, I still ate cheese, milk, eggs, butter. Giving up these staples didn’t even cross my mind. Also, living  in Madrid and Prague, ten and eight years ago, respectively, it was hard enough being pescatarian, never mind vegetarian. Vegan? Are you having a laugh?

For me, veganism is like religion: not a problem if you just get on with it and keep it to yourself. Unfortunately, like most cults, a large percentage of vegans feel the need to preach every time they stumble across us mere mortal, non-vegans.

Tonight I went to an arty event somewhere I’d never been before. I really enjoyed myself and met some new people. I even ate vegan pizza (no other option) and it was rather tasty. Unfortunately, I know what vegan food does to my stomach the morning after; so let’s just say I’m a little apprehensive about tomorrow. Anyway, tonight was the first time I have encountered a militant vegan: one who was preaching to me in a rather self-righteous manner less than five minutes into our first conversation. As someone who struggles with even the mildest conflict, I was keen to change the subject, rapidamente. However, I also wanted to make it clear that these Sunday sermon words would have no impact whatsoever on my food and lifestyle choices. This person and I connected well on other topics and I really enjoyed the other discussions we had. However, veganism lectures ignite the same angry fire inside me as religious salesfolk knocking on my door. Please, just fuck off and be happy with the choices you have made.

You see, for me, the the mindset and behaviours of veganism far too closely mirror those of anorexia. And I should know. The reading labels. The obsessing over ingredients. The over-thinking of meals and food related outings. The over-whelming guilt if you ‘slip up’ or desire something forbidden, (i.e normal). I have survived on the purity of fruit and cereals. I have analysed every crumb that has passed my lips, and every crumb that has not. I have survived on one meal a week, because ‘nobody needs that much food.’ I have felt clean and pure and perfect and healthy; frowning on others and their greedy ways.  When my body was as ‘healthy’ and free from ‘bad stuff’ as it could be, I was in fact dancing with the Reaper.

So no, I’m not going to think about what the cows suffer so I can drink milk. No, I don’t give a shit about pigs being slaughtered so I can have a bacon butty. It took me years to get where I am today: to feel that I deserve to eat meals; to enjoy eating without ritual or guilt; to be able to go out with friends for food and not starve myself for days beforehand. I still have a few issues. But they are insignificant compared to the demons that almost killed me. I worked hard slaying those, so now I am stronger.

So please, militant vegans, back off. You don’t know what someone has suffered when you start ranting about fairness and ethics. You don’t know what someone might still be battling with when you heap guilt onto them and tell them it’s not hard to give up half their diet. Please don’t add fuel to what might already be an all-consuming fire. Even if I strongly disagree with your lifestyle choices, I am making a conscious effort not to lecture you for them. It’s only fair to reciprocate. Unfortunately, food and eating are incredibly complex, pyschological minefields. So unless someone’s diet is causing them serious harm, keep your opinions to yourself.

 

Thirteen Signs you have an Irish Parent

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Thirteen Signs you have an Irish Parent

So you were born in England and grew up here, but one of your parents is Irish. You probably didn’t realise until you left home just how different all the small things are. Any of these ring a bell?

1. Every time you left the house, your mum doused you with holy water from Lourdes or Knock. She hadn’t even been watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

2. When you visit someone’s house and they haven’t offered you a cup of tea and something to eat within the first ten minutes, you start to think there is something wrong with them and question why you are visiting them in the first place. Mean bastards.

3. You had no idea what pasta was until you were at least fifteen years old.

4. More is always merrier.

5. There is no such thing as not enough room for family to stay. If there’s a floor, there’s room to sleep. (This doesn’t work so well when your other parent is English and wonders why their house has been invaded).

6. You can have an Irish passport, and nobody hates the Irish anymore.

7. You confuse the hell out of council officials when you want to get married abroad to a UK citizen. Technically, you are a foreigner in the country you were born in and have citizenship for, so different rules apply.

8. Wasting food is a sin.

9. There is no such thing as a natural ‘pause’ in conversation. Waiting for one so you can end your phone call will only cause you to go way over your monthly minutes allowance.

10. You have to train your parents not to have a fit if you don’t reply to their text message within four hours.

11. You cannot believe that some people have fewer than one hundred first cousins. Not only that, they have actually met all of their relatives.

12. You knew who Daniel O’ Donnell was before he was on Strictly Come Dancing.

13. You’re always up for good craic.

Forbidden Tears

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We were forbidden from moping and instructed to wear bright colours to his funeral. This is what he told his sons, my ‘brothers from another mother’ before he died, shockingly quickly, from cancer. To say we’d lost a family friend just didn’t cover it. My sister and I and our ‘brothers’ had adopted each other after spending our teenage years hanging out for hours at each others’ houses and dancing the weekends away in the indie and rock clubs in our seaside town. His prohibition on grief and dark colours seemed brave, optimistic and strong. To me now, it seems typically Irish, corresponding perfectly with attitudes from my biological family.

‘Life goes on.’

‘What can you do? We just have to get on with it.’

While this attitude ensures that you can survive the toughest times, grief and heartache, it also fails to prepare you for the future. When, months down the line, after coping incredibly well, you inexplicably feel sad and angry, crying every day for a week with no reason. You start to question yourself, wondering if you are going mad because you do not know what to do with the anger that has crept up on you and tapped you on the shoulder. If, by some miracle of self-awareness you realise the root of your tears, you feel guilty and ask yourself “Who am I to cry? He wasn’t my father. What about his widow and sons? Imagine how they feel.” And that brings on the flood.

It’s a strange, new experience for me, to feel guilt about grieving. For some reason, I feel that I do not deserve to grieve; it is not my place. ‘Getting on with life’ may get you past the worst of the initial shock, but it doesn’t get you over the loss. Somehow, we have to do that for ourselves. I have long agreed with Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam:  The sorrow grows bigger when the sorrow’s denied. I think, almost four months later, I am through the worst of it. I still indulge my tears when they leak, as long as I am not at work, and try not to feel guilty for feeling sad.

This is all I can do; that, and get on with life. We have to go on living.

The Cover of Darkness

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In the cosy, slightly gothic living room of the house by the sea, she tells me about them. Late at night, after we’ve shared some red wine, or after I’ve come home from seeing friends in the local pub. She tells me their unbelievable tales under the cover of darkness, as if their spirits will be safe in the shadows; tinged with deviance even in death.

 

I listen, captivated, to hear about my beloved oldest uncle, who served in the army before successfully forging his own birth certificate. He was head of the clannish family; a black belt in judo with whom nobody dared to mess. I remember him as a fat, jolly, laughing man. Full of love, he swore inappropriately and managed to make it to my twenty-first birthday despite his poorly heart. The night before he had a heart attack I dreamed he was talking to me from the spirit world.  Three years later, the night before he died, I dreamed of a death in the family.

 

I hear of another uncle who lived in Glasgow. He was known as ‘Mad Dog Murphy’; I did not ask my mother why.

 

These aunts and uncles, thirteen in total, who shattered hearts, spoke their minds and made their own rules, are more distant to me than ever. But they come alive in the darkness, in the sound of my mother’s voice. I hear the pleasure in her tone as she conjures their spirits through her stories, the hint of a smile on her lips as she shocks me with secrets; the roar of our laughter at their pirate-like adventures.

 

This is where I am from; this is who I am. This is why I swear loudly in the garden about the neighbour’s cat killing my peacock butterfly; my fiancé worries that they will hear, while I secretly want them to. This is why straight and narrow and conformity seize me with panic, although I have never indulged in the myriad deviances of my aunts and uncles. This is why I feel odd here, in this stagnant, pretty city; in this cold country where summer never seems to start. My heart is filled with too much energy and the restlessness of the Irish Sea flows through my veins.