Sunday, 27 March 2016

Still moving...

When you last heard from me I’d just moved in. And when I say I’d just moved in I meant me, some clothes for a few days and the food cupboard. Priorities darling.

I was also about to try the shower for the first time before pulling on my walking shoes and walking the now-one-mile-less-than-it-was-trip-to-the-office. Nominally the whole shower experience was good… Temperature? Good though old fashioned two-twirly mixing rather than thermostat controlled just set the pressure. But I can live with that. Speed of hot water? Good as the boiler is all of eight foot away. This does mean a problem with my morning routine of doing a hard skin scrub whilst I wait for the hot water to come through but I’ve adjusted to that and scrub first before starting with the water. Shower screen? Adequate. Barely. I mean seriously I now have my red bathmat from the old apartment, plus the mat that had been provided and I reckon I need, ooooooh, five or six more. Maybe a little less water pressure. Still, it did the job and I could dress feeling remarkably perky given I’d been up since stupid o’clock writing a blog post.

As you do.

You might also recall I had issues with how high the bed is. Now my legs aren’t exactly short, put it this way when doing the washing I used to work out who’s tights were who’s by measuring them against my leg. If they went to my knee they were Clare’s, if not, they were mine. But this bed, in the absence of a step ladder was a problem. It’s one thing clambering up with Monty chortling in the background, but the real problem comes the next day when I had to dress again. I did briefly consider whether I needed to dress in the living room where there are at least chairs to sit on but realised that what I really needed was my dressing chair!

Ah my chair, I’m sure it’s been written about before but I can’t find where. There is a picture somewhere of my sitting on it half way down Bow Common Lane as I unexpectedly met Clare as I carried the chair home. It’s a bit shabby, a Rococo Louis XV chair with the original plaster moulding and - I suspect - the original fabric. But I adore it. Needless to say if I did nothing else on Monday evening I would be bringing that chair to the new place to make dressing easier. And I could use it as a stepping stone for getting on the bed…

Tuesday. It started bright and sunny, I mean proper bright and sunny, the sort that had me scampering like a demented hamster to look at the sun dancing on the surface of the water in the marina. Today would be a no move day as I had my friend Stef coming over for the tiniest house warming *ever* and for me to see if I actually could manage to cook in this very different kitchen. Especially considering I had no idea where anything was nor what setting stop use on the alien hob and oven. So I marched off once more for another gentle now-5.75-mile-march to the office enjoying the fact that it was actually sunny again. One weird thing though and actually something that occurred to me in the latter days of walking from the old place, I would never again walk *through* Limehouse Basin en route to the office, this is a huge pity as it was always lovely to turn out of Limehouse Cut and see the marina opening before you. On the plus side it’s now a matter of a couple of minutes before I’m walking down the Thames so not all bad.

Anyway. Cooking wasn’t as smooth as usual, lots of little things, the layout, odd things being in places they shouldn’t be and of course not having familiar friends to hand in the shape of pans and whatnot, but this I could all deal with. As I was cooking I learned the sad and shocking news from Ash that a mutual friend - one who we had discussed over dinner in Versailles - had died. I was sad. The conversation that we’d had which left me looking forward to catching up with another old friend was built on shifting sands and - sadly - it would never come to fruition.

Still it was nice to have had my first visitor.

On the Wednesday morning I work bright and early. I’m irritating like that. My intention had been to walk to work again but I was still slightly scratchy from the previous evening’s news and this - coupled with a discovery of grease that had nothing to do with me - led directly to me cleaning the kitchen from top to bottom, wherever you are you would have heard me squealing something about “dirty people cooties” as I attacked the kitchen with whatever chemical warfare I found under the sink. I also rearranged, moved the concrete block - or granite cutting board as some call it - to one side so it wouldn’t keep BEING IN THE BLOODY WAY. After much shifting, rearranging and generally cleaning it all felt, well, better. This was good but also meant I was now epically late.

Or so I thought.

It turns out that even though the Central Line was broken owing to somebody having tripped over the power lead or something, I could still get to work in about 40 minutes without even trying hard. Well that was good. On my return that evening it was a case of quick change, jump in the Contrary Clio and back to pick up more things. I felt that clothes might be a good idea, I hadn’t really given myself a full wardrobe so the plan was simple, empty my kicker drawer, grab tops and pack all skirts. Everything else could wait.

This all takes a surprising amount of time to do, whilst you can grab whole armfuls of a drawers contents in one swoop and dump in a black bag, things on hangers have to be removed from hangers. And if you are one of those people tempted to now tell me they just put their wardrobes on to the hangers provided by the movers and they did it all then you can… 


I have my reasons for wanting to do the move my way, I couldn’t give a monkey’s what’sit about how cool your approach is, my way. My way. Okay? Got that? Jolly good.

So home by 6:15, finished at ye olde CT by maybe 8:45, in bed by midnight. But at least my skirts were ordered by length. Errrrr. I should be worried. It was now Wednesday and I’d not done anything like as much as I should have done. Work really was getting in the way.

So the very next morning…

I got up, chose luxuriously from the massively expanded range of clothing, pulled on a pair of heels and marched to the DLR, after the inevitable tea, toast and t’fruit. Sorry. It turned out that from the moment I left the apart until when I was actually sitting *on* the DLR a massive two minutes and forty-three point five one had elapsed. 2:43.51. In heels. 

It was a busy though productive day. I’ll not bore you with details but my work discovery the day before was reaping benefits and I was happily clearing things out of my job list like some manic job list clearing monster. It was good. The downside was the lack of sleep and late evenings caused by moving were catching up. When I closed the last issue in the early afternoon a headache swept in like a mistral of malcontent and made things decidedly uncomfortable. I couldn’t just leave though, I was waiting for a third party contractor to call me back to tell me what he could see at one of our remote monitoring sites and wait I did. The moment I heard from him and agreed a course of action I was, as they say, out of there.

It was 4:30pm.

I was home before 5pm.

Before 5pm.

Shall I say that again? No, I won’t, it will become tedious. From the moment I left my desk to the moment I walked in to the new apartment less than 30 minutes had elapsed. For someone living and working in Central London this is a revelation. However, I was expecting some help with the move that night and I took the opportunity to nap whilst I waited to hear when my friend would turn up. I woke some time later to see that… I had no messages. Hmm. I was beginning to suspect that this wasn’t going to happen which on the face of it given my headache was a good thing it did leave me slightly (!) irritated. If I say I will do something I do it. And this was a clear having said someone would do something.

Fortunately when I woke on Friday morning the worst of the headache had abated and I could pig out on a full breakfast and begin the big push to move… It was also the first proper breakfast I’d done in the new place and whilst I’m still trying to comprehend the hob controls I did ensure that the bacon and sausage were cooked and that the egg yolk was runny. Which has to be good, yes?
The day though. Went on and on and on. It was something like this, fill box, fill more boxes, fill anything that can be filled, when out of things to fill take to car, fill car. drive car, empty car… and then it becomes, err, interesting. For the definition of interesting look in your dictionary under pain-in-the-arse.

Actually, that’s wrong. It starts becoming interesting from the moment you leave… Keep in mind I have a heavy load on a four wheeled trolley. The door to the apartment opens inwards, struggle the trolley through, turn right, kick the next door open and push the trolley quickly to stop the door closer closing things, to the next door, this opens towards me to, lean, grab handle, pull and use knee to move the laden trolley through. Next door, inwards, I think, so pull knee and go, finally outwards, kick and push quickly trying not to catch your hand on the door. The the lift. Oh joy. You see there is a gap, it’s small and we don’t notice but small wheeled trolleys do. This means load the trolley with kinetic energy so the momentum overcomes any resistance of the gap. Press button, rearrange yourself in the lift and be ready to… Force the whole thing out again. Then stop, release the entrance to the garage which is on a closer designed to task Hercules and using one hand to keep it open use the opposite leg to force the trolley through before avoiding even lump and hollow in the car park as these act as perfect brakes for the small wheeled one.

The there is loading. A Clio. It turns out they will take three 405mm boxes across the bit where the back seat was, two crates and another two boxes on top. Alternatively you can get a 2.1m tall bookcase, stripped down, a rug, the shelving bits and another box. Or you could put in several under bed storage boxes and a large and very solid bedside cabinet.

All in a Clio.

Renault, if you are reading this, fire your marketing department and hire Contrary Towers as we will show the world what your amazing little car can actually do: span continents, keep people safe, do entire moves and still have enthusiasm to nip to Asda for a bottle of Daddies Sauce. And we wouldn’t do that whole Papa-Nicole thing. Probably.

I digress.

So at the other end it becomes a bit like the puzzle of how to get a chicken and a fox across the stream. I don’t think I have it quite right yet. I would unload the car and place everything by the exit gate. I’d then release the gate and wait forever for it to open before quickly scurrying back and forth to get all inside to the outside. Then I’d scurry the 20ft from the garage to the front door once again shuttling everything until the pile outside the garage was outside the door. Once done I’d choose something to hold the door, release the catch, jam the door and then quickly carry everything in up several steps and then a pair of steps before abandoning things by the mailboxes turning around and doing it again. Over and over and over again. Once in place I’d call the lift, jam the door, load the lift and finally press the button for my floor before quickly unloading the lift again. Finally, now bright red with the effort and feeling decidedly warm I’d either load everything on a trolley or carry it to my door and in to the apartment before finally collapsing like only an overweight middle-aged woman who’s moving house on her own can actually do.

It was *very* tiring.

But you know what was at least as bad? Getting the empty boxes back to the car. When full they behave themselves and can be stacked. But empty? Impish little bastards determined to drive me to tears as they go everywhere but where you want them.

Nobody ever talks about that.

And nobody talks about the bruises either. I am covered with them and if I ever meet whoever invented automatic door closers I will put his head in the door and repeatedly let it close. I say he because only a man could come up with such a frustrating device…

By about 6pm I’d done four trips and had quite enough. It was time for wine, dirty chicken, chocolate and ice cream. As I sat surrounded by boxes and piles of books I did wonder whether I would ever manage to finish this and whether I really was quite insane. Not that this made any difference, I still had stuff to move.

Saturday was going to be a short day, it was Stef’s birthday and I decided I needed to pick a finishing time a few hours before we were all due to go out as I needed to try and make myself slightly more presentable as by now I was in a right state. But first a few trips back and forth to help build an appetite. Productivity was low as I hit a rich seam of memories from 2011-12 but I did at least manage to round up the last of the downstairs books and dismantle/move the last major bookcase.

Before I knew it I was in to get-home-and-get-clean time. So I did. Of course things didn’t go to plan. Firstly my hair decided not to cooperate and then… remember that this place was more furnished than expected? Well there is an iron. A no leak iron. Which also avoids limescale.

Which is why my red dress is now back in the wash as the bastard iron bastard leaked and bastard left bastard limescale over the most obvious bastard places. Bastard. I was not pleased. Fortunately I had a black dress to hand and it would have to do.

I wanted to wear red!

That stunning logic aside I was amazingly ready thirty minutes before the taxi I’d booked would arrive - I wasn’t taking risks and I also wasn’t going to fanny around with the underground - so… I had a glass of wine. This was a good move as I felt better, looked vaguely presentable and was just ready to spend and evening having a giggle without stressing about THE BLOODY MOVE.

And breathe.

So in to the taxi I went, trotted off to collect the birthday girl before swinging West to Smithfield for a pre-dinner drink as the prep team were decorating the table at the restaurant. Originally were were going someone else until the brains of the bunch, we’ll call her Mazza, checked and find said pub was shut at a weekend. For those of you not used to the weirdness of the City of London this is a normal thin. Instead we went to the Old Red Cow and made free with the facilities whilst the kindly bar staff took pity on us and exchanged bits of plastic for bottles of wine.
Quite a clever system.

Finally we left for the Grill on the Market which was a shame as we’d promised Stef we’d go to McDonalds. I hope she wasn’t too disappointed. The food was good. The company brilliant and the staff didn’t object to when I kicked my shoes off to climb on the chair so I could tie the balloons on to the lamp properly.
As one does.

Eventually though the evening had to grind to a screeching halt so we decamped to a pub for the last bit of the evening. Here the younger members of the party continued on the wine whilst those of
us who’ve learned to say when we stop and sod the lot of you switched to soft drinks. You can actually have too much of a good thing. Who knew?

The good news was that for the first time in four years I gave my address and the driver knew exactly where we needed to go. In fact he stopped literally six steps from the building door. I liked this very much.

I sat for a while thinking, which I know I shouldn’t do, and finally stripped before collapsing in to bed ignoring the ever growing bruise collection.

Which brings me to today.

Rather inevitably my batteries have run out but I did manage to move a couple of loads before I gave up. I’ve also managed to get the place looking reasonably homely though there is still much to do, even my bedroom is now feeling lived in and tending towards being my boudoir. Tomorrow though is another day and I have the promise of help and the knowledge that the majority have things have been moved, now I need to be motivated and having someone else there will help keep me going.

But oh what I would do for a day off…

Alive on the water...

A few months ago I was mildly worried about spending an extended amount of time on an island. Even my flatmate was perhaps a little concerned. A few weeks in Split, with a jaunt to Zabgreb, has certainly kept me in a busy state of mind. On this rather impromptu trip to Lastovo I've realised just how prepared I am for the Dalmatian way of life. Three days here and frankly I'm ready to share all I have with others, smoke for a living, live on the beach and go feral. Whilst nonetheless maintaining excellent hygiene and beauty standards, obviously. 

I started this post in the only konoba open in Ubli. I love this off-season time of year, it completely removes decision making from seaside food venues which all serve variants on meat/fish, potatoes and salad. I'm continuing to write sat on a fresh green and yellow hillside, looking out at a sapphire sea. 

It occurs to me that I must find out how to announce myself in restaurants. Saying 'I'm hungry' to a three locals watching the footie whilst smoking is truly special. I recognised a few words but 'pička' when Hungary scored was pretty clear. I'd already watched the sun go down from the side of the road, so my romantic side had already been indulged. At this point I urgently needed steak, homemade chips, ajvar, cabbage salad and multiple beers due to the 22km I'd walked and run. The waiter obliged. 

Over espresso and a sweet liqueur, he told me he was only here for the Easter and Summer holidays. Like most of the student population of Croatia, he was in Zagreb, studying economics. I've never met so many budding economists... perhaps it's the sign of a failing economy? Who knows, but he reckoned ten days here on Lastovo was quite enough for anyone! 

It's sad, apparent they have quite a few jobs going here, so my landlady explained. For instance teachers are in short supply, but dealing with the peace and quiet, and the small island life can be challenging. Another lady had returned this week to see her family home for the first time in twelve years. She only lives in Split but I guess when the car ferry takes five hours, it can make a brief visit quite inconvenient. And sadly the new seaplane is too expensive for locals. It is mindbogglingly isolated here and yet I've never felt more looked after! 

Ooo message! 

I dashed back to my place for lunch. Jelena and her family had kept me some of their Uskrs chicken, ham, and incredible homemade baked pasta, with salad on the side. There was a thick slice of sesame topped rich bread, and a selection of chocolate cakes and nutty biscuits for dessert. With wine ... Once again, the hospitality of people is beyond anything this becoming-much-less cynical Londoner could imagine. 

So far the highlights of my day have been a gift of fresh cake, a yellow freesia in my hair, saying Sretan Uskrs, the slightly chilly breeze on my skin, listening to the car ferry leave, and being mesmerised by the sun twinkling on the sea. I'm feeling utterly liberated. Maybe I should get out more, or on the other hand, maybe not. Perhaps an early trip to Šipan is in order?

Friday, 25 March 2016

Still waiting

Today has been a day of waiting. I'm still not sure what has happened but a corner has been turned. Apparently I'm no longer here. Or even there. Wherever I am, it's a happy patient place of absolutely no stress. If I didn't know better, I would say it's paradise.


On Thursday I left my little home in Split with a cheery wave, and wished my landlord a Sretan Uskrs. I'd feverishly been checking the weather since I'd woken up at 7.30; the storm in the night had scared me. Not because I'm a wimp, but because I assumed a small seaplane would have a issues with high waves. I checked my messages and thankfully there was nothing telling me that the flight had been cancelled. So off I went.

An hour earlier than was required for my earliest check in obviously as I may have been a bit excited. 

It was starting to clear and the day was promising to be a sunny one. It was however still rather windy with a choppy sea; the portacabin windsock was exuberantly erect. I headed off through the park to the nearest beach in search of a coffee but got carried away playing tag with the waves. I won and only they stayed wet. 

By 10.30 I was back at the port and was eating free chocolate biscuits and drinking the usual excellent coffee with hot milk. The capacity for sugar here never fails to astonish me - the 'large' cups require about 4 sachets if you're a local, it seems. I say large, they are marginally bigger than an espresso. Perfect sized, and nothing like the bitter nauseating stuff in London. 

At the appointed time I presented myself at the check in. Small problem. I should have been at Split main airport which is about 20 miles around the coast. The office had left messages for me but I'd never received them. 


After a frantic conversation between the two lady officers, a trainee airport person, the cafe manager, and an unknown at the end of the phone, I was told that they would attempt a landing on the sea here to pick me up. The flight's ultimate destination was Pescara, so I had visions of angry Italians being buffeted across the Adriatic just because one Brit didn't have her phone on. 

was told to go find a cafe to sit in and wait for an hour or so. The flight had already been delayed and, the trainee chap told me, I was extremely lucky that the storm had cleared. He was being trained in decision making apparently...So off I went, dodging the cafe manager who had now decided to clean the cafe decking. The rain from the south overnight had left a very dusty residue. 

Having tried and failed to find the library the previous day, I decided to try again as the main building is on this side of town. The lettering on the side is huge - one could say 'large print' - so there would have been no helping me if I'd have missed it. The library is a real learning and exhibition focal point. I need to go back and look at the lace and the art, in the meantime I managed to become a member successfully. There was mild consternation that I didn't have an ID card, and only a passport. Not quite sure what the problem was because in the UK my lack of proof of address would have been more of an issue! 

Still, he was happy to take my 150kuna and give me a card. My main reason for joining is nothing to do with the books but finding a quiet distraction-free place to work. As I wandered round two of the 5 floors, there were many hiding places in which I could sit and write. This may be the solution to my concentration issues. I had an idle flick through Time and Nation Geographic and then headed out towards the port again.  

This time there was a definite buzz of activity around the portacabin. People, police, men with ear protectors, even the cafe lady was wearing a smarter jacket. After another consultation with the office staff I obtained 3 boarding passes - no I wasn't Silvjia or Diana, nor was I going to Dubrovnik and neither was my rucksack - but at least the planes were able to land. Despite the still rather tumescent windsock. 

Thoroughly amused by the chaos and it now being after midday, I decided it was time for a beer. I heard the engines first, but when the little plane headed into the harbour, it was thoroughly spectacular. I'm not particularly fussed by methods of transport and rarely charmed by airports but this was special. Ever since reading Enid Blyton and her adventurous four stories with their mention of seaplanes, they've held a certain mystery for me. Childish but a transport which can take you quickly to remote places, need no landing strip... And be used by criminal rascals, what's not to like? 

Ahem. After that excursion into my childhood reading... The trip was even more exciting than I imagined. The taxiing out of the harbour, watching all the knobs and dials, the throb of the engines, the sexy combination of uniform, sun glasses, and headphones of the gentlemen pilots, as well as the coloured navigation screens may have made me feel a bit peculiar. I may have grinned and fidgeted and glowed the entire 20 minute flight.

Brač, Hvar, Korčula spread out, demonstrating their perfect blue and green contours; tranquil sea birds soared beneath us; and as we descended into Uble bay, it made down town Split look like Heathrow on a bad day. Five passengers clambered out and the pine scent of a freshly washed island greeted us.

My landlady had been waiting for us and we headed up towards the main town of Lastovo for supplies! The local shop has weird hours so even pasta and sauce are rare commodities. After getting some bits, we also picked up some children, and headed home. And what a home it is. The steps went up and up and then...

The view. 

I'd booked this place purely because it faced west, overlooking the sea. And after I demolished a bowl of pesto fusilli, I sipped the local Konobar's palatable red (morello cherries with a hefty punch), I sat there and waited. And waited. From about 4pm I was simply waiting for the sun to go down. And like everything that day, it didn't disappoint. 

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Talking in my sleep!

Another day, another 13 hours sleep. This is getting seriously frustrating and starting to interfere with my ability to do anything, like, oh I don't know, have a nice walk to find the local library. Or do my homework at a normal time, or even hold a lucid conversation... Mind you, some might argue that this isn't my strong point even when I'm wide awake.
I've been trying to have more conversations generally. Our language class is full of fascinating people and we've been chatting and even bonding. Yoga classes have been started by a charismatic Canadian-Russian-Croat, and as a result of our mutual interest, I'm now partnered with her for our civilisation classes assessed presentation. I'm sure I'll be talking more about that in due course, but needless to say, after 20 minutes research, and thanks to, I've a coffee date next week with a Dalmatian Klapa singing expert.
Yesterday after class a lovely Italian lady called Maria-Cristina and I were out having a tea in a local bar. She has lived all over Europe, working with teachers to improve the teaching quality of foreign languages. She has worked in many types of places and we discussed the skill of making any space into an 'office'. As I'm struggling with this she recommended I take a look at the local library. So we talked libraries, poetry, Bloomsbury and Croatia. She also recommended some groups on Facebook.
One of these groups - Expats in Split - is having a Language Exchange gathering on Easter Monday and I think I shall pop along. A discussion with a few people in the group has also raised the possibility of a writers' meet up/critique/motivation which sounds like something we all need.
Even the guys in the bar at the end of the road were chatty. Like an idiot, on Monday, I completely forgot that I had yoga in the afternoon. At lunch I'd been home and had been utterly distracted by a homemade strawberry cream cake. I'm not one to go into rhapsodies about cream cakes but this one was angel light and just as heavenly. Understandably physical action had left my mind, as I was consumed by cake. So this is why I found myself legging it down the road to pick up my forgotten yoga pants and mat. The young gentleman wanted to know why I was running, and so a witty exchange was had. Unless you're in appropriate clothing, running around like a Londoner just isn't done in this town, so they obviously thought it hysterical. Especially when a few minutes later, I dashed back with my mat.
And finally conversation with my adoptive family; there was a wifi crisis a few days ago so I popped downstairs. There was a condition attached to my internet connection. Whilst Milan sorted it out, I was left holding the baby. Actually holding a baby. She's a sweetie with an adorable baby hair quiff and really not entertained by me and a stuffed rabbit going boing. He kept laughing at my feeble attempts but at least she wasn't crying! And I've been rewarded by marvellous soup twice this week.
You know, this place is incredibly friendly, and the more people I speak with, the more you can fall in love with it. I hope that improving weather, a local library, and a continued spate of early nights will help!

Monday, 21 March 2016

Moving on, moving in

It’s 5:05.

I know it’s 5:05 as after seeing with my ears for a while I realised I had no idea whatsoever what the time was as the level of road noise had me reaching for my phone to find out for sure. Well I might still be in E14 but I’m clearly not in the silent bit by Limehouse Cut overlooking Bartlett Park, but rather a lovely bit overlooking Limehouse Basin. And very close to the entrance of the Rotherhithe Tunnel. And Commercial Road. No matter which way you cut it road noise was going to increase.

So I’m here, alone in a metal framed bed. With knobs on. I can’t begin to tell you how pleased this makes me. I’ve always wanted a bed like this, ever since first seeing Bedknobs and Broomsticks when I was very young, something is stirred in my head as I warm and happy memories are stirred by something so ridiculously ornate. I’ll have to read the manual though as I tried fiddling with the knobs and it didn’t take me to a magical land.

You can stop sniggering now.

What I didn’t realise was just how high it was. By the time I added my memory foam mattress topper I needed a step ladder to get in. Monty of course demonstrated that bears can climb, but then he always was a little show off. Oh yes, Monty, he’s found a cave sitting on a chest of drawers. I didn’t like to tell him it’s vase. At least I think it’s a vase, it has a hole in the top where flowers could go but looks like the sort of thing that people get to make a place look elegant. This one has a bear living in it instead.

When I turned up on Saturday morning I discovered three things. Firstly: I couldn’t get in and there may have been mutterings under my breath, this later became the discovery that we *did* need a landline as the door entry would be tied to that and until it appeared there would be no oh-just-press-our-number-and-call. No, you message or call my number and I’ll traipse downstairs to open the door.

As this has been ordered and an engineer is allegedly visiting on Wednesday you can expect a saga of irritation when it, well, doesn’t happen.

Secondly: my new flatmate was already there and after laughing at me (adds daffodil stew to the menu) he came down to let me in and explain the whole phone nonsense. As soon as he said I realised I should have known this because of the time when he provided shelter after some thieving toe rag decided to make my life very difficult.

This apartment I knew was furnished, I didn’t really focus on the details as frankly there were none and after the conversation I had with the agent at the viewing, namely:
Me: Are these storage heaters  
Agent: Oh no, definitely not 
Me: Are you sure? 
Agent: Oh yes

They are by the way, where was I, oh yes, after that conversation I didn’t have a lot of faith in what would be said but he did tell me the beds came with the place and frankly that’s all I cared about. So the third thing? Just how furnished the place was. Not just the big furniture like beds and chairs, but the little from glasses in the, for want of a better name, very modern dresser to every possible thing you’d need in the kitchen. Everything. Except for a slow cooker which I was bringing.

There is even… a microwave. That or it’s a rubbish telly.

Crikey. This led me to photograph everything as otherwise there is no way I could record this much stuff. On the bright side it seemed bigger than I remember it and, more importantly, my new flatmate loved it. This was something of a massive relief as he had signed the lease on my viewing i.e. he foolishly trusted me to have picked an okay place. And not just one based on the fact that it had large metal framed beds. No sireeeee.

The upshot of the everything being present was that I re-planned my moving strategy - hahahahahahahahaha - and went for bring food, clothes, Monty and the iBastard charger. The rest can come over the coming week but it meant I would not have to make choices in the cupboards back at Contrary Towers.

Definitely a good thing that, I’m rubbish at packing.
So I loaded up two crates with the contents of the spice and baking cupboard. Added washed clothes to my cabin bag. Stripped the bed to get the mattress topper, found clean duvet covers and slung them all in the back of the Contrary Clio, by 19:11 she was full and I really wanted to get there and unpack as it would be a struggle.

I had planned things to be unloaded in a given order, namely the Lidl insulated bag that had the contents of the freezer and the bag with the fridge things, everything else could wait. 21 minutes after I took the picture of the car I took a new one to show, in the words of Paul Young, that wherever I lay my hat that’s my home. Well my bed anyway. The home will appear over the coming weeks as I mould it to my chaotic nature.

I also had a new duvet. As I had my littlest offspring visiting for the weekend the eldest came over too to watch over him whilst I did the Saturday morning check-in. After I’d shown them around the new place we scooted off to the Natural History Museum - not my choice - to have a poke around. Coming back we diverted via the Isle of Dogs Asda to do an initial food shop, buy a new duvet and get the eldest a mouse. As you do.

Why have I not got a new duvet before? This one was a revelation. Very cosy!

I took a break at whatever o’clock and scampered over to the nearest shop for bread and a bottle of something wine like and as I had much to do I was very naughty and picked up a take-away to avoid wasting time cooking. With my impromptu feast I returned home, dug out my bluetooth speaker, found the Amazon Prime instrumental jazz station and listened happily as I scoffed dirty food and drank pink wine.

Admittedly there was a chicken in the slow cooker but this wouldn’t be done until nearly midnight and that was fine as I didn’t really expect to be finished until then. This is food for the next few nights!

After dinner I continued putting away and sorting, there will be tweakage later but for now the layout will do as I have so much still to do. This was definitely something I could only do alone, anyone else would have been in the way and of course I needed to introduce myself to the new place.

I think we will get on. It’s true that I still have to work out how the heaters actually work, but that will come, but for now it already feels like home even if it lacks “touches”, they will appear as I decide what identity this new place will have. In the meantime I should get my lazy bottom out of the bed and see if I can manage to work the shower…

What can possibly go wrong?

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Time flies

So the last post saw me in Zagreb with my friend Lou, and since then there has been a sad lack of Contrary bloggage, though I have managed some arty stuff. As a friend reminded me yesterday I've already been here nearly three weeks and I'm stunned at where the time has gone and just how unproductive I've been. Today I've read What Victoria Did Next from Friday, as well as speaking with her over Skype, and both provided a fresh avalanche of feelings.

It was strange. This morning I finally beat Skype over the head and managed to both see, hear and speak over the interwebz successfully. Don't ask me what my username is, I find the system utterly incomprehensible and I don't even know my log in details. Anyway, even my tech numptery was familiar ground earlier, as we sat gassing over a cup of tea at our respective dinner tables. We've shared so many morning giggles and bizarre conversations and it wasn't much different today. I hooted out loud at Hamish Hamface sending peemails to other dogs, we discussed the new art work on the walls, and I told her that we had an invite to my lovely Split family's confirmation party in April. So usual stuff.

So much changes and yet, nothing really does.

This week has been difficult. There is no denying that I'm in the middle of a transition of sorts, and contrary to popular belief, I'm not stupid so this current challenge is something that I was already anticipating in the weeks before I left. The frenetic period of parties and saying goodbye to people has certainly thrown what is happening now in to stark relief, and again, I was prepared for difficulties around the lack of real life friends.

I was discussing this week with a wise person, the advent of modern technology is both a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing because it connects me with lovely friends and family, and I can meet people here via various sites - that's probably an entirely different post! - and when I feel really pfffft, I can get straight on the phone via messenger or whatsapp and speak to a friendly voice. But what it doesn't do, is allow me to disconnect from my previous life and focus on building something 'real' or 'physical' here. I'm not sure what the answer is but I think turning off the technology occasionally might be a good thing.

This last week or so has coincided with a request for me to do some paid work. Frankly it couldn't have come at a worse time because of this skittishness of mind. If there is a distraction around, then I'm going to be following it. For instance;

My landlord has provided a bike which I can take out any time. So I've been out and about in the local forest park and watching the sun go down through the trees, and over the islands, disappearing orangily into the sea. Not only that, but I want to be out running in the scented pines all the time though this scares me a bit because of the tendon issues I had late last year. Perhaps pushing myself too hard on hilly terrain is a bad idea!

Going to the supermarket was an exciting adventure of novelty and new cooking ideas, and my aunty has suggested that I'm becoming food obsessed. This love of cooking malarkey is nothing new but when you are living alone, you can go one of two ways. Either subsist on instant meals for one, or make it a real event - I'm choosing the latter because the ingredients here are incredible. I haven't really eaten out here, apart from when I've had friends stay. I'm really not sure why - I'm not fussed about dining out alone - but I'm happy making something for myself because it also passes the time creatively.

Tidying my lovely place is a real distraction; this was a problem when I was at home doing my MA dissertation. I couldn't settle to work when the floor was dirty, my bedding not fresh, there was washing up to do, the balcony to I am currently living in a show home. It's also encouraging when Ivana, my landlady lives downstairs! She is such a sweetheart and brought me chocolate pancakes when I was feeling low on Wednesday, and she took me to the police station on Friday.

Perhaps I should copy the ditzy-yet-organised one and give you a day by day overview, but where is the fun in that? When I came back from Zagreb I'd been reminded about the need for my registration in the country, so I checked with Ivana. Apparently I'd not been officially recorded in Split, and there was also an issue with their 6 monthly rental licence. Me being here for so long was a breach of those conditions. My lack of official status may have become a slight issue, so we went en famille to the main police station on Friday morning. After convincing the nice officer that I was a friend of the family, they don't need to redo the licence for the flat rental, and I am now officially here until 15 June 2016. After that I will need to visit them again for a renewal. All good fun.

After the official business was sorted, we went to buy me a calendar. I have no idea what is happening when...again, what is new?!

University update: classes have been challenging - oscillating between having no clue what is going on, and going over old ground. We are also dotting around subjects using quite terrible texts, lacking in any coherency. I find it really hard to learn without valid connections, so very little is sticking, which is irritating. I can't go from learning about the types of presents that I like to give and receive, to sending telegraphs and buying stamps in the same class. So that is mildly concerning. Still, some enterprising student has started up yoga classes so I'm looking forward to those.

And the rest of the time I'm either in pretty little bars testing the kava s mlijekom, or happily wandering around tiny streets that I'm sure I've never seen before, or even randomly jumping on pleasure boats. The timing of the trip today was perfect. I was planning to walk down to the bar which I visited on St Patrick's night for live Irish music, because I wanted to see the beach in daylight. As I was walking down the Riva, I noticed the times on the boat and the next tour would be in 5 mins. Completely ill-prepared for a windy boat ride, I clambered aboard and thoroughly enjoyed a quiet and cool 90 mins of seeing my favourite forest-park from the sea, as well as the beach I'd originally been aiming for.

Tonight has been full of lovely distractions. A conversation with the distant one reminded me that I needed to look up the times of Split seaplanes. Anyway, a long story short, but I am off to Lastovo on Thursday morning for a 'nature retreat' for Easter; Split is just too exhausting! The weather is still changeable so I'm taking the sunny forecast with a pinch of salt. I don't mind what it does, apparently this island is renowned for its peace and tranquillity. Already my host there is looking forward to a natter, and I can't wait to cycle around some more wonders of nature. And just watch the time set over the sea.

Friday, 18 March 2016

What Victoria did next

Reality struck.

I was a little confused on the Sunday morning. This might have been something to do with drinking too much wine - alone - and almost certainly too much leaky eye stuff. I’m truly pathetic. But the confusion was enhanced by the fact that owing to the depressed fire alarm whinging about the cold I have to keep all the doors upstairs closed so that it’s warm enough and it doesn’t squeak.

I walked out of my room, saw Clare’s door shut and thought “oh good, she got home”. I made it a few more steps before realising this was slightly unlikely. I made tea. Tea fixes most things. As does toast. But I forego the straight toast as I had promised myself baconz on the first Sunday back. But not until I’d fed the washing machine again, I still had Missy’s final bedding wash to do.

Which meant that I made tea, went back upstairs and then faffed around for at least an hour with a foot file to deal with the damage that three weeks without a pedicure does. It wasn’t pretty. I finally emerged in full on can’t-be-arsed battle dress which if you’ve not seen is a vest top and a very elderly Laura Ashley skirt that is perfect for bumbling about as it has pockets.

So, toasted bread, egg, a couple of left over sossidges sliced and a two bits of baconz from the freezer were combined to make a perfect not-very-healthy-at-all-but-I-don’t-care breakfast. Though it was nearly lunchtime. I then proceeded to achieve precisely nothing other than arrange for my friend Stef to pop around later which made me realise that I’d best actually get some proper food in as whilst the freezer had things in the fridge as empty as my head.

So back to Nisa then.

Of course the definition of proper food is a subjective thing, I picked up some peppers, leeks and an onion - not wanting to get too much as it would only need moving later - to which I sensibly added a box of maltesers (five-a-day), ginger nuts (ditto) and a multi-pack of flakes (you know where this is going). An actual balanced diet, three healthy things, three bad things. Two pork chops were extracted from the freezer and left to defrost and I retired to the sofa with a cup of tea, iBastard Jnr, a plate of ginger nuts and a flake.

Never let it be said I don’t know how to have fun.

At 16:04 my reverie was broken by the new from Three that owing to their Feel At Home service I’d saved the equivalent of £336.55, which is impressive though I should add if I didn’t have it all the way through France and Italy I would have gone all 1980s and not sent endless messages. I still like it though. I also played a bit more with maps and this *should* be the subject of a blog on its own as it’s a bit technical but I still enjoyed actually mucking about with something pointless and avoiding the inevitable anxiety about…

Going back to work.

Fortunately this was distracted by Stef turning up so we popped open one of the two bottles of pink fizz I brought from Le Havre and proceeded to put the world to rights. And talk more about the trip to New York we’d vaguely discussed many moons ago to coincide with her fortieth birthday.
Not that we actually agree anything in any sort of detail.

Dinner was a relatively simple affair, some leeks were sliced and softened in butter then peppers, garlic and a little chilli were added before they soaked in tomatoes. Meanwhile I’d whizzed up some wholemeal bread for crumbs, grated parmesan, mixed with the breadcrumbs and some cayenne and ground pepper and after slicing off the bone and slopping them in olive oil the chops were thickly coated with the breadcrumb and parmesan medley. Finally in to the oven for 40 ish minutes at 180C. Oh and I did some pasta too which was inevitably sick all over the hob as I wasn’t really focussing.

I think it was okay.

The next morning I woke bright and early, the upside of still being mentally on continental time. Or just mental. As the weather looked good it would be a walking morning. In fact it also became and walking evening, as did the next day, I simply did not want to go on the underground.

It’s odd walking a route I’ve done so many times but not for a few weeks, you realise how much London changes and how quickly. On Queenhithe I saw that the old Queens Quay building was rapidly disappearing as demolition was progressing, though not as dramatic as later in the evening when I saw the back of All Saints on Margaret Street for the first time. As I approached Blackfriars I had cheery good mornings and waves from three orange clad blokes working on a construction platform on the Thames, I imagine not something they would normally do but then I was probably the first person in, well, three weeks that had paid them any real attention, I am genuinely fascinated by the process of creating a workspace *in* a river using piling. Still, it made my morning.
Even the walk home was lovely and it was nice to simply reacquaint myself with the rhythm of the city. I will admit though that there was an ulterior motive. I didn’t want to go home. Well I did, but I wanted to burn some of the evening so I could get in, eat and then sleep. Which is exactly what I did. Though not until I’d eaten the last of the previous night’s concoction with freshly done pork chops.

Tuesday came and went in a flash of endless tasks and a job list that grows faster than I can deal with it. On the bright side I did at least have my dinner already defrosted, one of the lasagnes I froze after the last lasagne party so I could at least look forward to that. Unfortunately other than some parmesan I had no cheese for the top so I stopped at the-worst-Tesco-on-the-planet and got some. And… some ice-cream.

I was focussing my inner Bridget Jones.

Wednesday. I never did like Wednesday’s. At least I saw my shadow! All was going well right up to the point when a database server decided then was a good time to not do as it was told. This made me cross and also meant I left way to late to attend the WI meeting. Still I arranged to meet and talk more about New York and produce something approaching a concrete plan as if nothing else flights needed to be booked and unlike in the EU we did actually need to have an address to stop the US immigration people being twitchy that we didn’t have an address. Anyway, it was also the first time in nearly a month that I’d taken the underground. Dear lord.
Thursday. This is now starting to sound like a tedious diary, hmm, “Victoria Stamps and the edge of reason”, nah, it would never work.

Stands on scale, weight lost: 0.5kg v.v.v.good. Wine consumed: err, not admitting to that. v.bad. Also chocolate. Still avoiding contact with the underground as cooties…

You get the idea, it would never work. Though in the film I want Sandra Bullock to play me. Even if I’m a lot fatter. Hollywood darling.
Get back on track Victoria. As Arthur Dent said, I never could get the hang of Thursday’s. But fortunately this one behaved. Mostly. And I managed to get much done before finally scurrying home to get keys, throw a clean pair of knickers in a bag and head to Norfolk to fetch the littlest offspring.
Which brings me to now. Friday. We came back this morning, complete with Hamish. Once we’d got settled in it was off for a slow walk down the canal before a play in Ropemaker’s Field and then a meander around Limehouse Basin so the little one could see where I was moving to. Dinner was fusion food, bad things and good things, the bad for me was some southern fried mini-fillets nestling beside some good in the form of tomato/chilli/peppers and whatever.

Later I went for a quick walk around Bartlett Park with Hamish and noticed something as I looked at the old homestead… There was somebody moving in to the flat I *should* have been moving in to. So either a) the landlord was a lying two face bastard (say it’s not so) or b) somebody had managed to buy, complete and move in within 5 weeks or c) b) plus find a new tenant. Either way, not a problem. It’s best I move on from here as the memories are too strong and I hope that the lady - I’d bumped in to her as we left the building - that is moving in is very happy though that particular apartment has had a high turnover.
Me though? I have a future to deal with.

Tomorrow morning my eldest will be - hopefully - turning up to look after his brother and his dog whilst I bimble down the canal to Limehouse Basin to do the check-in at the new place before returning and doing no moving whatsoever as I’d rather spend time with my children. Still it’s an emotional moment, whilst I can sleep here all the way until April the 7th and will at least be here tomorrow night after that I will be in the new place and slowly sorting and clearing this one as I have the luxury of time. I’m trying not to think of it and I’m just hoping that this next chapter is as interesting as the one I am leaving.

Watch this space.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

The Contrary Roadtrip: an epilogue

Every epic story deserves an epilogue.

As I sit on the balcony under the warm glow of an E14 sun, the haze gently obscuring the towers of Canary Wharf and the flowers in bloom, I can’t help but recall that first March four years ago when we sat here chatted, giggled and nearly caused an accident on Cotall street owing to outrageous flirting by the truly flirty one, I could never have imagined what a four years it would be. It’s true I keep feeling my eyes well up and I know this will pass, but the memories never will.

The road-trip was an astonishing three week journey tacked on the end of an incredible four year journey, a journey that took me from one life to another with the support of a friend who made it possible, kept me - moderately - sane and provided endless giggles. Life changing? Almost certainly, perhaps not as dramatically as the first, but in more subtle ways. It’s made me think and reflect on what truly matters to me and - importantly - where I want to go. Not the specifics you understand, let’s face it if you’ve read the last few weeks posts you’ll know that planning and details are things best left to others, but rather the overall picture of what should happen over the next few decades.

Will I do it? No idea, I couldn’t manage to stick to a simple plan to get through a single day never mind crossing a life. But for the first time it’s been clear in my head and I know I can do whatever it is I decide that I will do.

So here I am, 3340.3 miles after I left Contrary Towers back in Contrary Towers. I’ve been through five countries, used three currencies, struggled with four foreign languages, taken several ferry trips, been exasperated, tired, overjoyed, amazed and deeply perturbed. I’ve stayed in commercial hotels, insanely wonderful guesthouses, a convent, a palazzo and even woke once to the sound of the waves crashing on a pebble beach. The weather has included the sun of the Côte d’Azur, snow in the alps, rain all over and the a tremendous storm over a place that can barely be pronounced: Krk. I’ve been on snow, a pebbled shore, knee deep in mud, several rolling decks and dozed on an island jetty with just the sound of the waves quietly lapping beside me. And the sights! There have been examples of dodgy Italian engineering, massive bridges, black cathedrals, phallic potatoes, flooded pavements, vistas the camera couldn’t capture, endless tunnels, dull roads and roads that make you want to be somewhere else. In short there has been almost everything.

The range of experiences has been astonishing. Admittedly when discussed most people recoiled in horror at the thought of planning a journey across Europe where only three details were known and so much had to be made up, but that’s what made it good. That was the adventure. The thrill of having no idea whatsoever what the new day would bring. Yes there was a vague plan but that was mostly so we knew when to go so we could reach one of the three key dates. It’s true that this non-plan could only work because we both had internet access on the go, but hell, if we have it then *everyone* can have it and everyone can be contrary.

A friend of mine said earlier today that I’d been an inspiration. I think she has forgotten that she herself was an inspiration to me in how to deal with life. However I presume she meant about travelling. I’ll be honest, I’ve inspired myself, or more accurately, we’ve inspired myself as I probably wouldn’t have done this alone. But now? Well now I could.

Yes it’s better to travel with someone but I know that they have to be the right person and have that insanity that means it’s perfectly acceptable to walk around a mountain in mud and rain before eating sarnies quickly before the traffic wardens turn up. And if that person isn’t there? Well then you do it alone as otherwise you fret and worry that the other person is okay and isn’t stressed by your erratic approach to touring.

I’ve learned that maybe being nearly 49 has reduced my stamina and that I do need to stop for a break after 90 minutes or so as I cross countries but with that I also learned that by pacing myself I can cover huge distances without feeling exhausted.

The most astonishing thing I learned is that after sharing a car and room day in day out we never ran out of things to discuss to the point where on the last night in Split we had to sit talking until 2:30am and then started again at just after 7am because we still had so much to say.

I’ll admit that it’s going to leave a huge hole in my life and being back home surrounded by the sound of silence is very difficult. But I also have so much to do. I have a job list growing rapidly at work, two eager young things that I will mentor and next week not only do I have have my youngest son staying with me - and hopefully my eldest visiting - but I will also collect keys for my new home: the new Contrary Towers.

And here’s the thing, the realisation that only came in the last couple of days as I talked - endlessly - with an old friend in Versailles: Contrary Towers is not a place, it’s a state of mind. And that might be something difficult to understand. But it’s strangely comforting that however much things change they are still the same because by definition change is the norm.

It’s not surprising that Mein Herr became our de facto theme tune for the road trip. But there's another thing, as I write the campaign for Britain to exit the EU is in its full rabid frenzy. Pourquoi? As I see it this trip would not have been anything like as simple if it had not been for political union. And as for currency? Well I would rather have used a single one. Plus the only slow points were as we passed from non Schengen areas into Schengen ones. True it was an anti-climax as we entered Italy from France but then it was fab to travel through Slovenia, Italy and France coming back and only having to flash the passport in Slovenia, indeed the next time for any scrutiny was coming back in to Britain... Don't they know who I am? So yes, I support Europe and staying in it as from my PhDitzy point of view it seems to actually work, if there is a problem it's... Us.

I think that for now I should sign off so I can finish a drink that until this trip I couldn't pronounce plus I have things to think about including a selection of work, life and plans but I want to leave with one final thing, thirty years ago at University I stumbled upon a quote from T.S. Eliot’s Little Gidding that I think perfectly sums up how I feel:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time

...and back again
Be contrary, you know it makes sense...

We are contrary, hear us giggle! Lots.