Thursday, 30 August 2012


Your first home. All yours. A dwelling you're responsible for – you pay the bills and the rent. You're left the nest, now living alone or sharing. It feels like you're still playing 'house', except everything is grown-up sized and you're the doll. Seven years on from leaving the family home, that first move is lodged in my memory. My first rental property: the appointment to view and confirming 'I'll take it!' Agreement signed, now the proud tenant of a part-furnished converted studio flat for £625 per calendar month, plus council tax, gas, electricity and water. Hadn't I just been robbed in broad daylight?! No, you're mistaken. 'Not in Epsom dahling' People would drawl, 'This is very reasonable.' So there it was, I'd signed on the dotted line and transferred to a plummy landlady.

How was the move? Dreadful. When I was six, moving house was an adventure. Sent to school on moving day, I pretended I was sick. I didn't want to be out of the way, I wanted to be in the thick of it. Fake sickness dropped, I sat with the removal men on bare wooden floors and ate jam doughnuts. That was by far my favourite bit! 18 years later and able to afford it, this move was different. There were no removal men and no doughnuts. Just my parents and I, completing it in stages; carloads ferried backwards and forwards. Finally in – this was home.

Three years, three months I existed there. A model tenant, rent paid on time and seldom bothering my landlady. Looking back, I think of that first flat with affection and disbelief: how had I survived that? Sharing the space with mismatched rustic furniture, peeling paint, dampness, and spiders. The problems with the waterworks, (not my own!), and the lack of insulation. Winter was positively Dickensian: no double glazing, permanently wrapped in layers, and sleeping encased in the covers like a sausage roll. Wasn't this being mature? Embracing adulthood? Morning post addressed only to me shooting through the letterbox. Closing my own front door behind me, tiredly hanging my coat up. Renting that first flat didn't put me off. This was what I'd been waiting for: this was living.

Renting, they say, is dead money. Money frittered away; wasted. Invested wisely, bricks and mortar belong to you: the proud owner. Some of us can't /don't wish to aspire to this, (delete as applicable), because renting is relatively hassle-free. No flicking through trade directories for a plumber or electrician; just one phone call, the agent will take care of it. Being an owner, as I am now, is different. With a flat in my name, I'm tied to a property and responsible for it. That fateful word forever illuminated in my head: COMMITMENT! I want to run from it... But I think if I can handle this, one day I'll progress to being a doll in a full-scale house.

Thursday, 23 August 2012


'...also, if you tie a bull, be he ever so mad, to a Fig Tree, he will quickly become tame and gentle.' As I read this quote from a recent book, I wondered if the opposite were true. If a tame and gentle bull was forever tethered to a fig tree and was suddenly untied, would he be angry? Would he quickly become feisty? Would the abrupt freedom be too much for him to handle? Should I have tied myself to my granddad's fig tree?

I seem to have spent most of my life tethered to a tree: The Faraway Tree, as described by Enid Blyton. Clambering up its sturdy trunk and stepping off a branch into a land where I could play. The tricky bit was asking myself: what land did I wish to visit today? Did I want adventure or utopia? A land full of colour or eccentric characters? I cocooned myself in lands hidden by fluffy white clouds at the top of a tree. An only child; a dreamer, I've never been accused of lacking in imagination. My head was permanently stuck in the clouds, eyes glazed, far away some place else. Amusing myself, believing in a world no-one else seemed to be able to see. Fairies are real and toys talk to me. I still believe!

Were my parents wrong to indulge me? Other parents said as much; they didn't want their kids drawn into this foolishness. It was unnecessary. Were they right? I still think no, but perhaps so... It made childhood magical; the problem is I haven't exactly grown out of it. My life is mainly lived in my imagination. The freedom I have there, I deny myself here. I'm scared. There's a line in Strictly Ballroom that says 'A life lived in fear is a life half lived.' I can hear Fran pronounce these words in her Aussie twang. There was a time when I thought I was just like Fran: a frizzy-haired, gawky, ugly duckling that would one day turn into a swan. Except even Fran was braver than me. The 'swan' bit also eluded me.

What do you do when grabbing life scares you? Baby steps. I've taken risks that haven't always worked out for the best, but I've tried it. Gone to events where I've had to mingle, attended training courses and workshops alone, and even holidayed on my own. Well? I hated every single minute of it! Ok, so that's a lie, but most if it. The maddest thing I ever did was travel to San Francisco, but yet four years down the line, I'm still left with poignant memories. Doing excursions, meeting new people, seeing the Olympic torch, and spending my last morning in the grounds of Grace Cathedral. Would I do it again? No, because it tested me. Every day I felt on edge, all experiences were heightened. That's the problem with risks – I can't relax until it's over. My mind races, my pupils dilate and my pulse shoots up. Is she on drugs? People must wonder... Untied, I probably come across as a little manic. A natural born worrier.

Was the Faraway Tree the wrong tree for me? The opening quote has filled me with curiosity. If I'd sat under my granddad's fig tree, would I have achieved enlightenment like Buddha? Would I handle life more easily? Maybe. Or would I become more bull-like? Scuffing my feet and breathing noisily. Two fingers stuck up, exclaiming “I don't care a fig!” whenever anyone waved a rag in front of me. Does freedom come with vulgarity...?

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Future Is...

The Jetsons 1985-1987
As a child, what did you think the future would be like? What did you think yours would hold? A friend confided in me: 'When I was in 1993 I thought 2012 would be robots, hover crafts and space ships etc.' Didn't we all? I thought. It's for him I write this and explore my own fantasies. I imagined the 21st century would be like 'The Jetsons', one of my favourite animations. We'd all be flying around in aerocars, a flying saucer with a transparent bubble top. We'd live in Skypads where robots would serve our every need and be considered members of the family. I believed in what was being shown to me. This was our future. But that was before teenage hormones hit and life became about 'Take That'.

Were these thoughts of the future far-fetched? As adults they now seem laughable, but as children anything was possible. Am I disappointed that this future, as I saw it, hasn't taken shape? No, because I outgrew it, but yet I'm perplexed by this future I find myself in. Never once did I think I'd be living in a techno-revolution. Where virtual is taking over reality. Where some prefer to experience life as an avatar; removing all physical trace of themselves or observing others through a camera. A disconnection from the natural world, choosing instead to connect to the worldwide web. All of us have in some form submitted to it. Emailing, googling, e-commercing, blogging and social networking. The internet has transformed our lives, but are they better because of it? Would any of us have guessed the magnitude of its web? I doubt it.

The internet may have changed the way we interact, but I don't think it's changed me. I'm not compelled to use it to live my life virtually. If I turned to you now and said: “The future is...” And paused for you to fill the space, how would you complete it? I would jest and say 'the future's bright, the future's orange.' That well-known mobile network slogan makes me want to say it. My friend thinks 4000 would be wild, but we won't be here to see it. What do I visualise for myself? I see the one thing I wanted as a child and knew I would one day get: a mobility scooter! In burgundy. I thought I could hop into any left unattended outside shops. An adult hand would pull me away as I tugged at their sleeve saying, “Why can't I? Please...” My future is: my own shining scooter, which by then will hopefully have a bit more momentum!

Thursday, 9 August 2012


When were you last really happy? This question was put to me recently and I'm still pondering... I didn't think I would have to dig deep, but let's be honest I'm shovelling. Sometimes you have to go back to go forwards, at least that's what I've read and been told. The problem is I'm always happier looking back and never venturing forwards. Forward is unknown and I have a strict comfort zone. What one person may think nothing of will tie me in anxious knots. I'm unable to relax in any unusual circumstances: places I haven't been before or where I don't know what's expected. How should I act? 'Just be yourself', I tell myself, but I'm tense and ill-at-ease. At social events, all I can think is 'God, please help me look as though I'm enjoying it!' My eyes turned up to the sky beseechingly as I'm thinking it. Poised like a cat, my body never slacks. Does anxiety lessen the effect of happiness? I think it does...

I've always been a people pleaser. A chameleon: changing my response to suit the situation, mood or person. An on-the-surface copycat which is a form of social etiquette; I know what behaviour is expected. It's not being false, but it's not altogether genuine either. Sometimes circumstances require a mask to hide or protect yourself, or to be accepted. Have I gotten so good that I no longer feel real happiness? Do I recognise when it belongs to me? I don't know... Perhaps it's contained somewhere, gathering dust. Maturing. Cork popped, the bubbles will froth and spill over. Is it possible for each of us to experience happiness differently?

Happiness is subjective I thought, yet we treat it as a commodity. There's a Richter-type scale to indicate where we are and how we compare to other countries. For policy making and as data research, this is interesting, but aren't we trying too hard to quantify what makes us happy? Happiness is the buzz word: how to get it and how to improve upon it. Er, isn't that missing the point? Isn't happiness somehow meant to catch you out? Creep up on you? If we constantly measure our own and strive to experience it, aren't we diluting it? Should happiness be taught? Well, we're trying. Covertly informed how we should react to life-changing events and how we should display it. A competition to find lasting happiness and doggedly hold on to it; nobody yet coming forward in their claim of it.

Why? Because happiness doesn't work like that. In being a copycat, you imitate how you think this emotion should look, but you don't really feel it.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Epsom Girl

Have you ever felt like walking out? Escaping your own life? I have, numerous times, and I've tried. Plotting to give the whole lot up - resigning from my job and relocating, or failing that losing myself in a book or daydreaming. My head screaming: “I want a different life! A different home town and profession!” I want the reverse of the Cheers theme tune - where nobody knows your name - and be unrecognisable. To not get stopped in the street or bump into new or old acquaintances. I play this game of love-hate with it. Sometimes I don't want to converse or be distracted, but other times I do, enjoying these spontaneous tĂȘte-a-tĂȘtes outside local shops or inside supermarkets. Living and working locally has meant I've formed a link to more and more people. I never forget a face, (occasionally a name), and neither does it seem I have a face that's easily forgotten.

I'm the Epsom face that never changes. People may come and go, but I'll still be here; my face and physique unaltered. I should be flattered by this recognition, so why aren't I? Because I've yet to accept this is where I'm meant to be, for eternity. But deep down I know it, and even deeper down I'm content with it. The perfectionist in me says this is a failing: 'You're missing out, you have no ties, challenge yourself, start again somewhere else – leave!' Gripped in fight or flight and depression I listen. This is the rescue I need from myself, this will help me, and so begins research...

I can list the places I've looked, believing them to be better: Wimbledon, Guildford, Woking, Bournemouth, Littlehampton, Worthing, Bognor Regis, and Chichester. Every year, the search gets further... These dreams of a new life are never brought to fruition because each time I wake up and realise what I've got. The familiar. Family 10 minutes away, the rumbles of trains and the chimes of the clock tower. London and the countryside on my doorstep. Nostalgia. If I lived anywhere else, I'd miss it. Epsom is a part of me as much as I'm part of its history.

Is the grass always greener? I realise it's not and yet occasionally I hanker after it. When the monotony of everyday life stifles me, I plan my move. I imagine standing on the top of a hill like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, skipping through a new cobbled town with nuns and children behind me. The world will feel alive and music will accompany me. I will be the pied piper. Is this just a fantasy or could I make this real? At these times, I choose to believe the latter. This will be my nirvana. Then the bubble bursts, the circuit is complete again. I'm not a mover or a shaker, I'm a stayer. Why is this seen as a weakness? Is it because under-40s have not been taught how to be satisfied? We think we have to, or at least try, to have it all.

I flew the nest, I just didn't fly very far. It's a documented fact that I've never been able to. My wings clipped to short distances, well within my comfort zone. My flight path mapped out clearly spells E.P.S.O.M. A map I continue to add to as I explore its niches, finding new streets and businesses. They say familiarity breeds contempt, but familiarity is also home.