Tag Archives: Nostalgia

Twenty

Friday 10am.  I’m walking up the steps to the crowded hall where the presentation will be held and I spot him. My heart jumps.  

We’d met in the café last Tuesday.  I was with a friend, he was with three.  Our two groups talked for a bit – all of us fresh to the area and looking for new friends.  I discovered he’d be at this presentation today, but that doesn’t stop my heart pounding.   

I’m certain he spots me.  His voice becomes louder.  Is that for my benefit?

Across the pool of people he waves hello.  I wave back.

The crowd shuffles into the hall and I sit about 10 rows behind him and his friends.  The 90minute presentation is white noise.  My focus is on him.

The presentation finishes, the crowd applauds.  We exit and through the hordes he finds his way to me.

“Hello! Um, we’re going to the pub tonight – to that comedy thing they’ve got on … you should come”.

“Yeah, Anna and I were talking about that yesterday – we’re definitely going”.

10 hours later I see him in the pub.  He’s drunk too much.  Nerves?  We chat and the five of us decide to walk from the pub to the local bar.

It’s a hot night and the bar’s packed.  I sit outside.  He sits with me.  Our friends go inside the bar.  Hours pass.  We walk to the bridge and talk in the dark while looking over the still lake.  The lights from the bar reflect in the dark blue water, and the muffled music beats in the background – pulsating louder when patrons open the door.

I turn around.  He kisses me.  We spend the next three years together.

That evening took place two weeks from today in 1995.  My first year of university.  A life of hope on the horizon.

I was 17 and a virgin.  Literally and metaphorically.

I’d not been in a plane, I didn’t have an email account, a mobile phone (let alone an iPhone), a driver’s licence.  I’d not even used a fax machine.

I hadn’t met my best friend, tasted a decent glass of wine, stayed in a 5-Star hotel.  I hadn’t heard of Debenhams or Selfridges, used the tube, experienced the otherworldly bliss of an English summer evening spent drinking with friends in Hyde Park.

I hadn’t been called recalcitrant or lugubrious … and had to look up what they meant.

I didn’t know what a Burns Supper was, or Guy Fawkes night … or Eurovision or Notting Hill Carnival.  I didn’t drink coffee.  I pronounced the “z” in Ibiza.

A lot changes in twenty years.

I’m 37 and no longer a virgin.   I’ve experienced enough things to have forgotten many of them.  My labyrinthine memories are textured and colourful.  They’re my stories and I read them with pleasure, pride, sadness, embarrassment, warmth, and amusement.  I love them.

In the next twenty years more stories will be told to me.  People I know will die, and new people will come into my life.  I might lose a limb, get cancer, change careers, win the lottery.  I will experience periods of extreme grief, and moments of exhilaration.  I will hurt people and people will hurt me.  I will make some people laugh and some people will make me laugh.

I don’t know what my stories will be by 2035, but I know the time will pass quickly.  Or maybe it won’t.  A heart attack may strike me down on a warm night in 2028.  I might die tackling a terrorist in a hostage situation in 2021.

There are stories yet to come.

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The elephant in the room – Part 1

“Simone, we have two potential tenants who would like to view your flat today. Is that okay?”

It’s Tuesday 23rd July. I’m at my desk when I receive this email from the estate agent dealing with leasing my flat.  I’ve been out past midnight for four nights in a row, and will be out again tonight.  In exactly two weeks I depart permanently for Australia to start my new job and I’m exhausted. Physically and emotionally.  My farewell tour has been bittersweet, and has taken its toll.

My flat’s cluttered with twenty boxes. Ninety cubic feet of my possessions will be collected on Friday to commence a twelve week journey across the seas.  In addition to the waiting cargo, my uncharacteristically frantic social life has prevented me from maintaining my housekeeping.  It’s all I can do to be showered, dressed and turn up to work or my next leaving do.

I’ve been keeping myself clean and presentable (just), but my home’s suffering.  My neglected flat isn’t ready for unveiling, but I need tenants so I reply.

 “The place is a complete mess, but you’re welcome to let them in while I’m at work.”

I scan my brain for anything of particular embarrassment. My dirty clothes (inclusive of knickers) are safely in the washing machine, so aside from some scattered (clean) clothes, and some dirty dishes in the sink, I’m pretty sure I’ve nothing of which to be ashamed.  Either way, I’ve given them the green-light so it’s too late to worry.

The work day finishes and I enjoy dinner on the South Bank with a friend and ex-colleague. It’s a hot summer evening and the atmosphere along the Thames is buzzing.  Nostalgia and sentimentality flood me.  I’ll miss the familiar silhouettes of St Paul’s, Big Ben and the London Eye.  I’ll miss my friend.

The tube’s crammed and alive with chatter when I complete yet another goodbye and head home at just after 11pm.

With red eyes and a tired head I unlock my front door and enter my bedroom.  I’d made my bed this morning, as I do every day (no matter how busy I am).  As I take off my heels I look at the clean white linen duvet and gasp.

Sitting right in the centre of the bed: my hot pink vibrator.

No way that wasn’t seen . . .

I laugh as I picture the estate agent and prospective tenants entering the room, locking eyes on the brazen phallus but desperately babbling about anything else “ … So plenty of wardrobe space, nice big window …” and moving rapidly to the next room.

They say you should never leave home without clean underwear. You should also never leave home without putting your sex toys back in the bedside drawer.  Lesson learned.

My special box

“Hi Simone, I hope you’re well.  I know you haven’t heard from me in a long time but I wanted to let you know that Ian’s had a heart attack. He’s okay, but I know you two were close so I thought you would want to know.  Did you know he’s divorced now? Martin”.

There was more in the Facebook message, but that’s the important paragraph.  I’ve not seen or heard from Martin in ten years.  The same time I last saw Ian.  We’d worked together but I haven’t given him much thought since leaving that workplace.  With the memory suddenly thrust in my face, I feel compelled to reflect on our most poignant time together. Belly-crawling like a snake under my bed, I pull out my “special box”.

GrasshopperThe contents of this are varied.  There are a lot of letters and cards, and more obscure items; a shoelace, a plastic grasshopper, a broken Batman key-ring, a cork.  To an outsider it looks like junk, but each of these items holds a specific memory.  Some have “romantic” associations akin to Monica Lewinksy’s blue dress (though more hygienic).  Others, like the alarm clock (a gift to mock my obsession with punctuality), are entirely innocent.  All items have a link to a person or moment I don’t want to forget – good and bad.

I find the envelope I’m looking for and take it to the living room.  There’d been a pub gathering to celebrate me leaving the place I’d worked with Ian and Martin.  At the end of the evening, when there were only a few people left, Ian drove me home.  He stopped the car outside my house.

Ian:  Well, this is it …

Me:  Yep.  The time has come.  It was a good night, though, wasn’t it?  And I’ll email you, obviously.

Ian:  Oh yeah, of course, me too … listen, before you go, I just want to give you this.  I didn’t want to give it to you in front of everyone.

Ian had handed me an envelope and told me to read it when I was inside. He said he’d be embarrassed if I read it in front of him.

For the first time in a decade I open the envelope and re-read the eight hand-written pages.  Ian says he has feelings for me.  He outlines detailed accounts of our interactions at work (we’d never seen each other socially).  He wants to see me again.  He wants to know if I feel the same way.  He makes no mention of his wife.

Mini Alarm ClockWhen I first read this dramatic and detailed declaration I was flattered, and genuinely stunned.  In the years we’d shared an office I never had any idea that he’d felt this way.  I was shocked that I’d been oblivious and tried to recall any moments that I’d missed – I drew a complete blank.  I met him the following weekend to have an awkward and emotionally charged conversation.  That discussion ended the possibility of any friendship and we haven’t spoken since.

Ian must have confided in Martin for him to send me his elusive Facebook message.  I feel like I’ve been shoved back in time; I’d never expected to hear from Ian, or anyone connected to him, again.

I throw out the letter, along with many other items from the box.  Some things are best forgotten.  I don’t want my memory of Ian to be of that uncomfortable shift in our friendship.  He was a colleague who I’d laughed with each day.  I’d enjoyed our conversations, both the meaningful and the frivolous.  He was a good work friend and that’s how he’s going to stay in my head.

Present-day life is filled with things that make me feel bad.  My special box has been exorcised and is now only filled with memories that make me feel good.

Gabriel, my angel messenger

I’m back in London.  I’ve completed my first working week.  It’s Friday afternoon, 5:15pm.  I exit the building and wait for the pedestrian lights.  Peak hour traffic is everywhere; bicycles, cars, taxis, buses, vans, motorbikes.  The city noise attacks me.  Never mind – I’ll soon be in the sanctuary of my flat.  My tired eyes scan the other nine-to-fivers and slowly lock on one cyclist.  I cannot believe who I’m seeing.  Gabriel Lopez … my Spanish boyfriend from 13 years ago.  My first boyfriend in London.   I impulsively add to the volume of the metropolis.

GABRIEL!!  GABE!!!!”  I scream, with my hands cupped around my mouth.  The people standing on either side of me jump.  I want to speak to him.  I HAVE to speak to him.  I run into the bustling traffic and make it to the middle island.  He’s metres from me, but I can’t get to him.  He stares straight ahead and I see he has earphones in.  His light turns green and he cycles onward.  Damn it.

I pull my phone out of my bag.   He’s not in my “contacts” but he sent me a text last year.  Which one of the unnamed numbers is he?!  I drop my phone.  Shit!!  I pick it up and find a number that ends in 748.  That’s it!

He won’t answer, but I’ll leave a message for him.

Gabe (hesitant):  Hello?

Me (frantic):  Hello!  It’s Simone!  Are you wearing a blue shirt and beige trousers?

Gabe (still hesitant):  Yes ….

Me (still frantic):  I just saw you cycle right by me! 

Gabe (laughing loudly):  And where are you, Sorceress Simone?

I explain my location and he cycles back to meet me for a drink.  I run up and forcefully hug him.  We both say nothing and laugh.  We hug again.

Back in the nineties Gabriel and I had a very brief relationship (for want of a better word).  We were colleagues and, a year after our fling stopped, all employees were made redundant.  Seven years went by without contact until I ran into him walking in a local park.  Since then we bump into each other about every two years, in random places.  For me, he’s become an emblem of good luck: I only ever see him when I’m happy.

We first met three weeks after I initially arrived in London, full of youthful optimism and buoyancy.  Now, it’s exactly three weeks since I returned to London and I’m full of mid-thirties confidence; refreshed and ready for Round Two in the Fight of Life.

Aside from our chance encounters I receive one email or text from Gabe a year, but our spontaneous catch-ups are always warm and, due to the longevity of our friendship, comfortably familiar.

Friday is no different.  And, after more than one drink, we become nostalgic.

Me:  So who are you in contact with from our old work besides Paul?

Gabe:  No one, really. I’ve not seen Charles since our work leaving do (he pauses).  Octopus Charles.  Remember him molesting you at the work leaving do?

Gabe smiles and looks at me.  My brow furrows and I look upwards; my thinking expression.  Something’s registering in the far corner of my mind.

Me (finally speaking):  Yes.  Yes I do.  He sat next to me on the bus and kept touching me … or groped me or something … it’s vague … I remember that when we arrived at the venue he pushed me against a wall, but someone pulled him off me.

Gabe:  That was me.  You were drunk and he was being a prick.  I’d seen him on the bus and you clearly didn’t want his … um affections, so he had to fuck off.  You know he hasn’t spoken to me since? 

Me (pausing before quietly speaking):  I’m really sorry that I don’t remember.  Thank you.    

Gabe just shrugs and smiles.  I’m touched and feel retrospectively guilty; not remembering this incident symbolises how I took him for granted.  Gabe’s the reason I owned numerous Vespas; after freezing to death on the back of his motorbike to Cardiff I was addicted (but realistic enough to know that I wouldn’t be able to master a big bike!).  He’s also the reason I learnt Latin American dance; I couldn’t bear the constant humiliation at the Spanish and Brazilian clubs we frequented.  And Gabe’s now my emblem of good luck … or good times … good something anyway!

The evening ends.  We part and don’t say we’ll contact each other or catch up again soon.  At some point in the next two years we’ll see each other … and I’ll be happy.

You choose, you lose

So last week I commented on your (slightly lechy and gratuitous) interest in my love/lust life.  This week I note that none of you have asked about my root canal.  Not so much as a single word of even fake concern for my wellbeing.  Well, I’ll lock that away in the compartment of my mind marked “bitter and resentful”.  And, never one to hold a grudge, I’ll draw a line under this little incident and get on with today’s post (you thoughtless, uncaring sods …)

“You choose, you lose”

The glowing orange sun hangs low in the sky like a big fat pumpkin.  Crickets chirp, cicadas hum and the warm breeze rustles through the eucalyptus trees; the familiar sounds of dusk.  Five hours have passed since lunch and the effects of the afternoon wine and dizzying heat have subsided.  Across the vast open stretch of parkland, a group of young men have started pre-season footy (Aussie Rules) practice.  Their dropkicks and handpasses make me smile.  How often did I watch the boys at school run through this identical routine two decades ago?     

I’m sitting cross-legged on a thick log, shaded by a tall Red Spotted Gum.  Following lunch, the day has passed in a serene daze, and I’m not drunk from alcohol, love or the sun; the book I’m reading has held me entranced like a magic spell, in the way only good books can.  A hopeless bookworm, I’m still absorbed by the characters long after I’ve put down my Kindle.  What are they doing now?  What are they going to do next?  By the time I’ve finished thinking about the make-believe people, the footy-guys have finished their robust training and the sun has been replaced by the glittering stars of the Southern Cross.  Their silver bling is beautiful against the navy sky.  The tranquility is intoxicating.

Yesterday I was in Melbourne, the only place in the world that makes my heart ache with longing.  Today I’m back in rural Victoria, one of the few places in the world that soothes me.

I’ve always found Australia to be an ugly, harsh country.  Away from the beaches and mountains, a dry haze of khakis, browns, yellows and beiges stretches on.  Unlike the striking lushness of England, Australia’s beauty has to be sought.  Australians, in their dogged patriotism, berate me when I comment on the unappealing countryside.  But finding it unattractive doesn’t remotely undermine my affection for it.

Though I’ve lived in cities for eighteen years, I was raised in the country and often yearn for it.  I wasn’t living on a farm, but was based in a farming community and there was no escaping the lifestyle and enduring impact of the environment.  I miss the paddocks, the animals, the long arid grass and the muddy river banks.  Sometimes I even miss the terrifying sound of the flapping wings of a maggie as it swoops and aims to peck the back of my head (I certainly miss the amusement of it happening to others!).  I miss the rusty barbed wire fences keeping the sheep enclosed, and I lament the skills that are now useless to me.  No one’s ever going to ask me to assist with a lame calf, or test the voltage of an electric fence with a piece of grass – both skills any girl should have, surely?

I’ve lived in West London for almost as long as I lived in rural Victoria and whilst I love it, I don’t yet miss it.  Perhaps pining doesn’t come until the absence is much longer.

I’ve chosen city life.  But for every choice, something hasn’t been chosen.  I think about this in relation to all manner of things:  Careers, relationships, places.  Choosing a certain path doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t have enjoyed, or don’t still want, the un-chosen path.  As I walk home in the bright light of the stars, I grieve for some of the things – people and places – I haven’t chosen.  Thankfully, I can still experience and sample some of them.  Others won’t ever be mine again.