Wet Is the New Black. Oh, And Other Slogan Worthy Personal Tragedies

Things I do these days, in between seducing teenage vampires and saving the world from zombies:

Sweating.

It’s been so hot in London these past couple of weeks, it’s almost felt like proper summer.

Of course, you know me, I’ve been moaning about the weather ever since I acknowledged the reality of several degrees of wetness, each infinitely sucky in its own way in this country. And yes, believe it or not, I’m used to 40°C summers and I’ve never been one to complain about too much sun, but have you tried making it through a 40 minute ride on the London Tube when it’s 28°C outside and what feels like at least twice that under ground?

No, of course there’s no A/C on the tube, are you kidding me? A/C would be for people who don’t enjoy being treated like cattle on their otherwise perfectly lovely 3 hours long daily commute. Suckers.

Today’s Londoners highly appreciate the impromptu sauna-with-strangers sessions. Who cares if you make it to the office in the morning drenched in what must be a gallon of other people’s sweat? Hydration’s meant to be good for the skin, right? And so what if your fellow commuters, feverish and delirious, drop like flies around you until you’re the only one left standing, and you’re too exhausted to press the emergency button (which between you and me, has probably melted into the carriage wall and won’t do sh*t anyway).

So yeah, it’s been hell. But I mean, you can’t really say you’ve lived until you’ve been sweat on by a minimum of three individuals simultaneously, so at least I’ve got that going for me which is nice.

Waiting.

Now, I’ve always thought of myself as a patient person. I’ve been known to take pride in the fact that I could amuse myself perfectly fine in any worldly situation. There’s always something interesting on my Kindle or on other people’s Facebooks to look at, and anyway, you can spend ages imagining yourself telling your fellow queuers/waiting room losers/super-duper-quality-music-on-hold what your really think of them and would never dare say out loud. So you know, it’s not so bad, this waiting thing.

Except lately, it’s all I’ve been doing. I spend my hours, 24/7, waiting and waiting and waiting and then waiting some more. I wait for my accountant, for my bank, for my doctor, for sleep, for the BBC weather app to actually get it right once, just once damn it. I wait in train stations, in coffee shops, on the phone, while I’m being sweat on, while I’m being ignored, while I’m being served steaming hot, delicious, double-portions of bulsh*t.

And you know what, all this endless waiting is apparently turning me into, guess what, a monster.

The other day I actually said YES to a nice lady solicitor who asked me whether I minded being put on hold for a couple of minutes. And it wasn’t one of those “Yes, I’m terribly sorry to be a pain. I usually luuuuurve waiting but I’m performing open heart surgery at this very moment so I’m in a bit of a rush you see”. Nope. It was more like: “I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking to waste my time, I can tell you I don’t have any. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you connect me now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.”. Did everybody get my Liam Neeson reference? Good. I wasn’t sure we were into the same memes.

Hiding.

I wouldn’t say I’ve been particularly people friendly these past couple of years, but lately it’s reached this point where most people who know me assume I must have died a tragic, sudden death (Death by tube carriage steam cooking? There’s actually a nice sound to that, go figure.)

Long story short, I think I just need to be alone for a while. Or almost alone, because I’ve still got a couple of people I more or less hang out with. (A couple as in literally, two. OK, just one. And sometimes even that one’s imaginary.) It’s not too bad, really. I’ve been reading a lot, my flat’s squeaky clean all day every day and I’ve been walking the streets like crazy, 12,000 super duper fit steps a day, ever determined to get my catwalk figure back as soon as possible.

I’ll admit it, at times I get worried.

Like when E, one of my girlfriends from Uni who recently moved to London got in touch to meet up. I came up with what must be the world record for how many excuses you can fit in one text. So a couple of messages back and forth and she pretty much broke up with me before we even had our first date. Then a few days later, my friend R passed the link to my blog to a couple of her girlfriends, and when I found out about it I almost had a panic attack that they’d end up liking it and wanting to make friends. And the cherry on the top happened a couple of days ago, when I was reading about cat breeds online. We’ve been discussing getting a cat for a while, and I found myself looking not for the most playful/intelligent/flat-friendly breeds out there, but for the most famously unfriendly/shy/quiet/could-easily-pass-for-a-stuffed-toy ones.

Scary, I know. I should probably stick to potted, low maintenance (plastic?) plants for now.

In the meantime, I’m…

Loving this city.

London Street

Saturday

PS: Thank you so much for all your lovely messages while my blog’s been down. Panic attacks and all, I read each and every one of them and felt like a million bucks/pounds/bitcoins! You’re pretty great, if I say so myself.

Oxford on a Rainy Day

When it comes to making plans together, it takes me and my friends at least a couple of days to pick a cinema or a restaurant. We start negotiating our weekend plans early on, on Tuesday or Wednesday, we fight about it for a couple of days, and by Friday night we’re back to square one, no compromise in sight and our friendship hanging by a very thin thread. I’ve always suspected adults are nothing but big boned, balding children, but this is ridiculous.

Before I go any further, I think it’s high time I introduced you to our weekend buddies. I’ll do it Amélie style, with likes and dislikes, because I’m cool like that. And lazy. (Don’t know Amélie? Go. Watch it. It’s got Paris streets and a travelling gnome.) So here it goes.

  • There’s Anda, a friend of V.’s from Uni. She likes: nature, geese, swans and complaining about how little money Dan makes. She hates: rain, cold, grass, walking and paying for anything.
  • Then there’s Dan, Anda’s husband. He likes: food, beer, TV and his living room sofa. He hates: Anda and everything Anda likes.
  • And then we’ve got Victor, a friend of mine from high school. He likes: food, beer, museums, castles and walking. He hates: girl talk and spending his weekends alone.
  • V. and I are easier to please I think, as the only thing we really hate is hanging out with couples who fight all the time.

By now you’re probably starting to get why it’s such a pain deciding on something to do together. At times I wonder why we haven’t given up already, but I guess the prospect of spending the rest of our weekends on this planet talking to ourselves in a funny voice, surrounded by ever growing packs of meowing cats, is more daunting than spending our weeks fighting about our weekends, and our weekends fighting about everything else. It’s a sad life.

Endless hours of Facebook bickering later, we finally decided long after midnight on Friday to spend Sunday together in Oxford. V. and I hadn’t been to Oxford yet, and we’d been meaning to go for a while, but the weather forecast for Sunday predicted the now customary weekend rains from hell, so I must admit I wasn’t jumping with joy at the thought.

On Sunday morning it thankfully seemed like the weather people got it wrong, so I invested a fair amount of time and effort into straightening my hair and picking my rather summerish, super duper feminine, perfectly color coded outfit. All was fine and dandy and V. and I were about to leave the flat (on time for once, go figure!), but one last look out the window and we discovered that within less than an hour the sky had turned pitch black. Dreading all the you’re-always-such-party-poopers! fighting, we didn’t dare even suggest cancelling the trip, but we did change into more rain from hell friendly outfits. Bye bye lacquered-flats-and-pretty-leather-jacket-one-must-keep-unzipped-to-show-off-the-lacey-top-underneath, hello mud-friendly-sneakers-and-unflattering-but-warm-and-fuzzy-hooded-windbreaker!

The plan was to meet the others at Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, an 18th century baroque masterpiece situated a 20 minute ride away from Oxford. It had been Victor’s suggestion, him being so much into palaces and all, and I must say I was really looking forward to it. By the time we’d parked our cars it was already cold and drizzling, so Anda was moaning about how she never wanted to come, and Dan was repeatedly telling her to shut up. Fun and games.

The Blenheim domain is absolutely beautiful. Endless green fields, beautifully maintained 18th century gardens, several lakes and ponds and a stunning waterfall, and of course the castle, one of the most imposing buildings of its kind I’ve seen in this country, intricately decorated and furnished on the inside, and absolutely stunning on the outside. We did a fair deal of strolling around, all the fighting and rain considered, and V. and I plan to go back as soon as the weather picks up and the flowers are in full bloom. (Unlike some parts of London, the daffodils in Blenheim hadn’t open yet.)

As it was getting way past lunchtime, we all agreed on something for once, and took off towards Oxford to find ourselves a nice Sunday roast friendly pub. But the guys were so hungry they decided they wouldn’t survive the 20 minute drive, so we stopped what felt like a couple of minutes later on Woodstock Road, at The Turnpike. Granted, it looked like the loveliest British pub you’ll ever come across, and the parking was super crowded, so my wet blonde brain could only assume the food was splendid too.

The place was absolutely packed but minutes later we managed to get a table for five. Hungry as we were, we would have probably been OK with eating on our feet, but the table was a nice surprise. V. and I ordered the Sunday roast and shared an Ultimate Chocolate Brownie Tower for desert (yup, it tasted as good as it sounds, and this comes from a reluctant chocolate fan!). We couldn’t help bickering as we ate, which I truly hope helps digestion, or else these weekends are going to be the end of my ideally proportioned figure!

It constantly dawns on me that some of the friends I have in this country are probably not the people I’d have picked to hang out with back home (Victor is one of the few exceptions, of course; I’m a sucker for obsessive castle enthusiasts). I know it sounds bad in so many ways, and I don’t like to think about it too much. But the thing is, I like peace and quiet. I guess that makes me boring, and oddly enough, boring is something I can live with these days. What I seem to be unable to live with is spending all my free time among people who are constantly unhappy with their lives and each other. I don’t like couples who fight in public, trying to draw us spectators into taking sides. Perhaps I’m simply not used to it, as V. and I are not the fighting kind. Perhaps I’m not used to it anymore. I grew up in a family of fighters, and it’s taken me a long, long time to put it behind me.

When I mentioned it to Anda one time, that our hanging out together seems to involve more fighting than anything else, she replied that I couldn’t understand what it was all like, V. and I not being married and stuff. Maybe, I said, and we left it at that. I didn’t feel like unwillingly starting another fight.

We finally made it to Oxford early in the evening. It was really raining by now, and V. took countless photos of me in my hooded penguin outfit, urging me into acting more miserable but ending up making me burst into laughter every time. We walked for a really short while, as everything worth visiting was already closing and the married half of our gang were having another one of their heated conversations. We need to come back, I told V. as we were getting into our car.

When we’d finally made it home, I got mad at him for leaving his dripping wet hoodie on our butter colored armchair. I was preparing my mad-breakup-time voice and was going to absolutely rip his guts out for it, but I glanced at his laptop screen and guess what, he was looking for Oxford hotels online. No fighting tonight, I thought, coughing my breakup voice away.

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The Odds Are Never in My Favour

This Saturday we met a bunch of friends for a game of badminton. Since we seem to be the only Romanian expats crazy enough to actually live in Central London, it was about an hour drive to Harlow Leisurezone, the place they’d picked for the badminton adventure, which meant I had to wake up at 10 AM. A good three hours earlier than my Saturday morning pattern, so you can imagine I was less than a little bit on the grumpy side.

Now, I think it’s about time I mentioned a little something about myself.

I am not a sports person.

Yes, I grew up doing gymnastics from first grade into my early teens (very Romanian of me, I know), I regularly rode a bike and had a couple of pairs of roller blades, but as an adult, apart from the once in a blue moon snowboarding session and the occasional morning jog, I am pretty much a numb limbed, no sense of balance to speak of, couch potato.

V., on the other hand, plays tennis on Wednesdays and Saturdays, badminton on Thursdays, and works out every day during his lunch hour. In what little free time he’s got left, he’s of course trying to mold me into this exercising obsessed, super toned goddess, pushing me towards new, muscle defining activities. It’s a sad situation.

You’d think that after our last attempt at tennis, when he made me run off the court crying (Yup. Tears.), he’d have given up on his mission to sportify me, but guess what he got me for Valentine’s? Flowers? Candy? Theatre tickets? Wrong, wrong, and wrong again. My Valentine’s gift this year was a badminton racket.

Of course, in the spirit of the Holiday of Love, I would have forgiven him this romantic faux pas, had he not also gone behind my back and set up an actual, official, terrifying badminton session with our friends for this weekend, assuming, of course, I’d be too embarrassed to cry my way off the court when there are other people present. I was obviously fuming when I found out, and almost dumped him a couple of times last week. Petrified as I was, I only managed to make it to Saturday in one piece by convincing myself it was at least an opportunity to show off my curves in my new, super sexy gym outfit I’d bought months before and, not surprisingly, hadn’t worn once.

So there I was on Saturday morning, sexy as hell and completely defeated, a badminton racket in my sweaty hand for the first time ever.

There were five of us and the plan was to play double matches, so every match someone got to sit out and make fun of the four of us on the court, as loudly and wickedly as possible. Of course, they never let me sit out a match, not one, claiming, sneaky expert grins on their faces, that I had to fully use the opportunity to learn the game. So for an hour and a half, I tried my best not to get hit in the eye with that feathered thing (still can’t remember what it’s called, guess I could Google it but that would be cheating) and waved my racket around randomly in what I can only assume looked like a very deranged form of amateur ballet. All they could say about it at the end was that I definitely tried, which I of course take as confirmation of my super duper, newly found badminton talents.

I must say, and thank God V. isn’t reading this blog or he’d never shut up about how he’s always right and I’m such a loser, badminton was a lot of fun. I never felt like crying once, which is something, and I’m actually considering giving it another try, that is, as soon as the muscles I didn’t know I had stop aching like I’ve just been stamped on by a herd of obese elephants.

After the infamous tournament, we went out for a late lunch at a nearby pub surrounded by patches of snowdrops and crocuses, and it finally felt like spring. There’s still talk of storms and terrible flooding, but this weekend the skies were blue, really blue for the first time in weeks, and it smelled like damp earth drying in the sun, and you just felt like walking and walking and filling your lungs with it all. Of course now it’s Monday, and everything’s grey again, it even rained a little earlier, just enough to mess up my freshly straightened hair. Oh well, at least I’m a badminton guru, if a permanently frizzy one.

Wishing you all a great week!

Top of the Pile #7: Dear Life

Yesterday, super duper V. surprised me with 3 books from my Amazon Wish List. I know, he’s pretty amazing. The timing was just right too, as I’d only just finished The Poisonwood Bible, and was reluctantly going back and forth the unread books I already had on my Kindle, unimpressed by any of them.

So this unexpected lovely gift containing The Lowland ( Jhumpa Lahiri ), The Luminaries ( Eleanor Catton ), and Dear Life ( Alice Munro ) came as a little miracle at a time when I’m surrounded by somewhat uninteresting literature and I’m too cheap to pay for interesting one.

So this week I’m reading Dear Life. I haven’t read anything of Munro’s before, and also no short stories in months, so it will be a nice change from my recent pattern.

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I really really really liked The Poisonwood Bible (4 stars!).

The different narrator styles took a while getting used to, and at 600+ pages it’s a substantial read, but my oh my is Kingsolver making her way onto my favourite authors list. It’s been a very different experience than my previous contact with her writing ( The Lacuna ), but really I’ve always preferred this kind of versatility to a more consistent writing style. Especially when it’s oh so versatile and oh so very good every time, as Kingsolver is turning out to be.

It’s taken me forever to finish The Poisonwood Bible though. I do most of my reading on my commuting route to and from work, and these days the weather’s been so cold and wet, 24 hours downpours and freezing gales, that even in the warm stuffy safety of a tube car all you can think of is to keep yourself at a safe distance from everybody’s dripping umbrellas, and hope for less of a downpour by the time you reach your stop. I rarely ever got my Kindle out of my backpack. There’s also been a lovely 48 hour tube strike this week ( and plans for another one next week, yay ) so I guess most commuters had a chance to catch up on their reading during their now 3 hours longer trips to work. Not me though, as my route was largely unaffected. So I’ve only been reading a little bit before bedtime every day, and it definitely showed.

It doesn’t look like the weather’s getting any better any time soon so these Top of the Pile posts might not come as often as I’d like them to, but I’m definitely not giving them up.