Friday, 14 September 2012

In which friends are just round the corner

I was just about to listen to The Archers the other night when the phone went. Normally, I’d follow Ma Blonde’s recommended course of action and completely ignore it until the programme had finished, but it was PolitiGal calling, and there’s no way you can ignore someone’s call when you’ve peed in one of their ramekins.

“Hello Blonde,” a distinctly lower-than-expected voice said. “It’s The Spectator here. I was wondering if you had a Phillips screwdriver?”

PolitiGal and her other half The Spectator, two of my very favouritest people, moved into a flat just around the corner from The Writer and me at the beginning of the month. And not just the same side of the river, nor a walk and a 10-minute bus ride, as one usually means when one says “just around the corner” when in London, but genuinely irritated-by-the-same-loud-dog-in-that-back-garden, takes-approximately-37-seconds-to-walk-from-our-door-to-theirs just around the corner.

I’m thrilled. We’ve hung out – spontaneously – at least once a weekend since they moved in, and I’ve seen them three times this week alone.

Having great friends so close is a wonderful thing, but all the more so in London – because it’s just so rare. London, as I discovered once I’d moved after university, is deceptively large: the only place I know in which you can live in the same city as your friends, and yet it takes over an hour to get from your flat to theirs. And, because that’s the case, social engagements need to be planned well in advance, making diary management a feat of hitherto unknown and byzantine proportions. Calendars are booked up weeks, if not months, in advance which, combined with the fact that it takes at least 35 minutes to get anywhere, means that social spontaneity is rare.

So imagine my genuine glee that there are chums less than a minute from my flat with whom I can hang out on a whim. Suddenly, the possibilities have materialised of one quick phonecall and pals with whom to fill a couple of previously unplanned hours.

So far, we’ve had an impromptu boozy Saturday lunch at Cornercopia (if you’ve not tried marmalade vodka and tonic, I suggest you head down there prontissimo); late Saturday afternoon cocktails; early Saturday night gooseberry gins (yes, there’s a theme. I know) in our flat, with second helpings of TW’s hastily rustled-up fig and blue cheese crostini; that infamous Saturday morning cup of tea; and a quick chat about the merits of fish finger sandwiches on Tuesday evening when I popped round with a couple of Phillips screwdrivers for bookcase-construction purposes.

Not since I was at university have I had such close chums in such close proximity. I had forgotten just how bloody brilliant it is, and now I’ve been reminded. Because it is. It’s fantastic. Now all I need to do is get everyone else I love to move into our little corner of the city, and I’m set. The potential to pee in my friends’ ramekins has never been greater.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

In which I get hungover

I used to think that the moaning twenty- and thirtysomethings just weren’t trying hard enough.

“Oh, I can’t do it any more,” older friends would say whilst I was at university, or in the initial months of my first job. “I just can’t drink like I used to.”

They’d go on to complain, with varying degrees of bitterness, that they could no longer put away bottle after bottle as they had in previous years; that the hangovers were longer, and plumbed new and terrible depths. Where there used to be a slightly sore head that lasted only until mid-morning coffee and was thoroughly cured by the hair of the dog, now there were horrendous headaches, with nausea and fatigue that could only be solved only by a day’s worth of cold water and plenty of carbs, and a decent night’s sleep.

“Pfffft,” Best Mate and I used to scoff, as we laughed off a night’s hard Pirates of the Caribbean 3 Top Trumps drinking games. “Lightweights. They’re just not trying hard enough. Not enough practice, maybe that’s the trouble.”

Ah, youthful hubris: how wrong we were.

“Urgh, I feel horrific,” I said on the phone to BM on Friday lunchtime as I sat outside in the sun, breathing deeply and trying to suppress the nausea that had been lingering since before I’d gone bed the previous evening.

“Uh oh,” she said, trying to suppress giggles. “What did you do?”

The sad reality was that the evening had been nothing to write home about. Out for drinks with a client and a journalist, I’d started the night with a couple of glasses of red wine. Once the journalist left, there was more wine, ordered increasingly speedily and by the time I got up to go, several hours later, I had a horrible sense of foreboding that the following day was going to be utterly, all-consumingly horrid.

Which, foresight be damned, it was. Depressingly, the evening was one that, several years earlier, wouldn’t even have given me cause for sugar in the morning-after coffee, let alone an all-day hangover that saw me chain-drinking tea, trying desperately to stave off the nausea for fear that I might throw up all over the boardroom during a conference call. The 10am email from the client admitting to feeling a bit rough was scant consolation.

A few years ago, things were completely different. Speckled Lad and I would quite happily scarf three bottles of red on a Tuesday night between us with no consideration for supper, both able to head to work on Wednesday morning via a cheese and tomato croissant from Pret, with no cause for complaint. Friday nights were full of wine in bars, followed by wine in restaurants, followed by spirits in restaurants, and then nightcaps in bars – and Saturdays up and about

But then, a few years ago, I was younger, and not – gulp – approaching my late twenties. Now, I’m not a lightweight, or not trying hard enough, or even out of practice: I’m just older.

It’s almost enough to make a girl turn to the bottle – in moderation, naturally.

Monday, 10 September 2012

In which I take a test

“Here, you’ll need this, too. It’s just easier.” Into the hand that wasn’t clutching a mug of Earl Grey as if my life depended on it, PolitiGal thrust a ramekin. “Everything’s in the bathroom, along with the instructions.”

It’s been a while (and then some) since I first had sex, and throughout those years rarely a month has passed without my offering up silent supplication to the goddess of effective contraception, and a prayer of heartfelt thanks a week or so later when everything turns out to be crampy and A-OK. Anecdotal evidence suggests I’m not alone: almost every woman I know, no matter how sensible, diligent, or frankly obsessive she’s been about her contraception, has had some post-coital flutter that, maybe, defying the holy trifecta of nature, luck and science, one of the spermy little buggers has snuck its way through.

Which was a situation I found myself in recently, because, despite all rational arguments with myself to the contrary, I’d been having niggly thoughts of the worst for just over a week. They’d started about 10 days previously, when one evening I found myself with a desperate craving for pineapple juice. As someone who rarely gets intense desires for particular foodstuffs (daily hankerings for post-work G&Ts notwithstanding), it set off the quietest of back-of-the mind alarms.

And once that vaguest of notions had taken hold, there was absolutely no shaking it. No matter how many times I told myself that I had just come back from the gym and the craving was probably the result of my being a bit low on blood sugar, I couldn’t help but wonder if it might be the worst. And once one niggle had wormed its way in, it was joined by a host of its friends.

“Your boobs have been a bit tender for days,” they whispered. “That’s not normal, is it? And you’ve been very tired the past week… that’s a symptom too, isn’t it?”

For several days, I fought valiantly in my attempts to banish the evil interlopers, telling myself in no uncertain terms that, biologically speaking, I’d have to be the unluckiest woman since Cassandra; that maybe I just needed a couple of new bras; and that a stressed-out, slightly insomniac other half who’d not slept properly on the other side of the bed for the past week probably had at least something to do with the fatigue.

And then, on Friday morning, following a particularly heavy night out with a client, guest starring more bottles of red wine than is entirely proper and food nowhere in sight, there might have been a moment during which my deeply hungover nausea got the better of me, and the vestiges of the previous evening’s excesses were, er, revisited.

At which point, my inner demons had a field day: “Ah HA! Well, you can’t ignore us now, can you? You’ve got MORNING SICKNESS!”

“Oh, shut up,” I tried to tell them. “It’s just a hangover. It’s nothing that a burrito and a Fat Coke can’t fix. Nothing more than that.”

“But you don’t know that, do you? And with everything else…? Well, you can’t be sure, can you…?”


A little later, clutching the lunchtime burrito in one hand, I texted PolitGal, whose hugely successful career in an inordinately stressful industry has made her entirely unflappable, to tell her that paranoia had well and truly set in. Without judgment or panic, there was a prompt, no-nonsense reply: shall I pop round with a test later on?

Which is how I came, on a Saturday morning in early September, to be sitting on the sofa of one of my best friends, clutching a soon-to-be peed-in ramekin and hoping to all that’s holy for the lack of a line on a little white stick.

A speedily-quaffed half mug of tea; some chat about who we fancy to win this year’s edition of the Great British Bake Off (very possibly Smug James of the Knitwear, although Danny looks dangerously competent); and some (careful) peeing into a ramekin later, I yelled at PG through her bathroom door.


“HURRAH!” She yelled back from the sitting room. “CONGRATULATIONS ON NOT BEING PREGNANT!”

Never in my entire life have I been so happy to fail a test. Or, pass with flying colours – whichever way you want to look at it.

Friday, 7 September 2012

In which it's autumn

I’ve had the feeling for a few days now. It’s the same every year. The calendar ticks over to September 1, and there’s suddenly something in the air that gives the advent of Autumn its new pencil case feeling.

Deer in Richmond Park, taken by Alex Saberi
Logically, there is absolutely no reason that I should be innately governed by the school year. I’ve not been at school for some *mumble* years, and as I’m not planning on sprogging any time in the near future, it’s desperately unlikely that I’ll be living in close proximity to anyone else who’ll be attending any time soon. And yet, for as long as I can remember, my internal clock has been dictacted to by the school calendar.

The rest of the adult world, understandably, seems to run from January to December. Each January is a virtuous new beginning, whilst December and its parties and gluts of food and family and overindulgence wrap up the year.

But for me, September feels like the beginning. I’ve nearly managed to shake off the intrinsic need I used to feel to buy new stationery and cover all my books in clear plastic, but still the turn of the season feels far more potent in its ability to deliver new and brilliant things than January ever does. And on top of a holiday in the summer, I take my time off work at Easter and Christmas, leaving my year cut into three terms (I’ve mourned the loss of half-terms and reading weeks since I graduated), hammering home the interminable school-time feeling.

I don’t know whether it’s the occasional chill in the air that I adore, and far prefer to the enveloping sticky warmth of a summer morning when I walk out of the front door of the flat to go to work. Maybe it’s the change in the landscape, making everything look more alive: instead of dry sunburnt scrub, London’s parks start to go green, and the leaves on the trees are a cacophony of brilliant colour. Maybe it’s simply that I was so conditioned in my formative years that there’s no way now I’ll be able to shake this feeling, and for me, September will always be the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness - and a brand new shiny pen or two.

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