Sunday, December 30, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

I have never been a fan of New Years Eve. You dress up, you go out, you kiss (or don't) at midnight, and eventually you go home with a vague feeling of disappointment. Because January 1st is just another day. It's nice to think that we can use an arbitrary date to wipe our slate clean, gather our resolve and set aside our vices. This year, we all think, this year will be the year I loose weight/get my dream job/quit smoking/become a better, more successful person. But in reality when you wake up, hungover and blurry on New Years Day, you are the same person you were 12 hours ago. There has been no great cosmic shift. All those resolutions will fall by the wayside unless you work for them, and most of the time we find more important or more interesting things to do than an after-work beginners course in Mandarin.

The most important New Years Eve of my life happened over 40-odd hours two years ago tomorrow. It was not particularly fun; in fact it was mostly spent on a succession of airplanes before ending with me going to bed in a strangers house after one glass of champagne and some awkward small talk. But when I woke up  on New Years Day, for once everything was different. I did have a clean slate. I knew nobody. I was finally living in a city that I'd had a long distance love affair with my whole life, and I could be whoever I liked.

Moving overseas was everything I hoped for, and then some. And especially this past year I've changed a lot. I'm braver and less naive; I've made bad life choices and excellent friends; traveled and seen new things and met people I love; kept secrets - both my own and others' - and occasionally, sometimes regrettably, not kept them. It's been amazing, but now, two years on, I feel like I'm standing with a fistful of loose ends and no real idea of how to tie them off before running away and starting afresh. Big, heartfelt declarations are all well and good in theory, but for those of us who don't live in a sit-com telling people what you really think days before you disappear into the big wide world is inconvenient at best, and potentially stupid and damaging.

I have no idea what's going to happen in 2013. Maybe I'll have some great, life-changing experience that eclipses everything I've ever been through. More likely I'll do some travelling and have a lot of fun before returning to Australia to begin living up to people's expectations of me. Good days and bad days, but mostly just regular days. And I'll grow and change and miss my life here and wonder what my friends are doing, and probably wonder if I should have made some big declaration. I'll probably move again, or at least make plans to move again. I'll play with the idea of coming back to London. I'll end the year with new, different loose ends. I will resolve absolutely nothing; most things will resolve themselves in time.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Final Countdown

So I booked my ticket. 1 way, London to Budapest, Tuesday 15th January 2013. And it's not really ok with me.

Probably I should have booked it months ago, when leaving London was a distant inevitability and not a looming reality. And honestly I've been trying to get here for weeks. But because I so desperately don't want to go, every time I went to check out prices (which, happily, haven't gone up at all. Hello silver lining.) I just couldn't bring myself to actually purchase the ticket. Until Monday, when I basically decided that I need to stop seeing leaving London as a bad thing, sat down with my computer and finally fucking did it, with the mentality of somebody ripping off a band-aid. Then had a bit of a mini emotional breakdown. I freaked out, I cried, I spent a full two minutes sitting in front of the mirror repeating the phrase "I can deal with this" at my reflection. And then I rang Luke and told him to meet me at the pub, where I drank an amount of alcohol not usually considered acceptable for a Monday night in a failed attempt to forget that I am now the owner of 1 ticket and 1 20kg baggage allowance and 4 short weeks left of life as I know it.

Yeah, ok. I might be overreacting slightly. But my love of hyperbole aside, leaving London might actually be the hardest thing I have ever done.

Don't get me wrong. There are a lot of things I'm looking forward to about getting back to Australia, not least seeing the friends and family I've uniformly neglected for the past 2 years (sorry guys). But I can't shake the feeling that living in Australia again will turn out to be one of those things that is less than the sum of it's parts. I mean, the actual travel bit will be amazing. Hungary, Poland, Finland; Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan. I don't really know where I'll go, or when, or how. The point is there are so many places I could go, and I want to go. And I'm bored of London, I really am. Not because I don't love it, but because I feel like I've stagnated. Also I should probably get a real job. Having fucked about since I finished my degree has left me with a lot of great stories but pretty much no job prospects. The thing that worries me is the end point. Two years isn't that long in the scheme of things, but then again a lot can happen in two years. I'm not sure what scares me more: going home to find everything has changed, or going home to find nothing has.

Everything will be fine, really. I'm just...sad. When I left Australia I felt safe that I could go back and not have lost much. London is different. Even if I come back after a year, I don't know if I'd still have anything I have now. People change and move on, and my roots here are shallow. I can spend the next month going out and getting drunk and telling the people here I love them (which I do) and that I'll come back (which I will) and that I'll see them again (which I...might). But who knows? I feel like this is it. When I  leave, I lose everything.

On Tuesday morning I emerged feeling shell-shocked and preemptively hating everyone whose Christmas presents I would have to wrap that day (I have to say, being a Christmas orphan makes working in retail in December a decidedly bittersweet experience), and ran into my landlady. She took one look at me, sat me down and reminded me that I have no responsibility for anyone but myself, that this will probably be one of the best experiences of my life, and that I really have no idea what's around the corner. Or, as she put it, "You might walk down the street in Budapest and meet a millionaire, and then you'd never have to go back to Australia."
I can only hope.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Postcards from Italy

Writing this, with winter so decidedly on it's way and my body a veritable petri dish of London's finest bacteria, seems almost like a form of cruel and unusual torture. And until now I've put it off, hoping it would help keep the feeling of total bliss in tact for as long as possible, or at the very least deny that real life had recommenced. But these past few weeks of changeable weather and late nights have led me to contract the plague (I don't get very sick very often, so when I am struck down I may have the tendency to slightly exaggerate my condition), and I'm back at work, and the usual miniature dramas of everyday life are looming large, so I have no choice to accept that the holiday is well and truly over.

For as long as I've wanted to travel I've wanted to go to Italy. The language, the food, the culture; there's nothing about the country that doesn't pull me in. And so, mid-September I took a week off work and went to Venice instead. And it was literally everything I'd hoped it would be.

I find it so hard to believe that people actually live in Venice. And not just on the outskirts, but on the main island. All the normal things - eating, sleeping, shopping, working, fighting, laughing - they do in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and probably without giving their surroundings any real thought. All I did in Venice was marvel. And despite it being billed as a city for lovers, I was quite happy to wander the streets and eat my body weight in gelato by myself. Although I did realise while I was there that you can't really gondola alone.

The other thing about travelling alone is that you're never really alone anyway, if you don't want to be. In hostels especially you meet people whether you're looking to or not. But because Venice is fucking expensive I couch-surfed. And for the first two nights I stayed in the same house as a group of three German students who were on the last leg of a month long road trip, and who turned out to be possibly the best people I've met while travelling so far. They were fun and clever and unbelievably happy for me to spend my first couple of days in Venice with them.

Before they left they suggested I go see the Biennale, an exhibition that Venice hosts every year (despite the name), and which oscillates annually between art and architecture. I love art, but I LOVE architecture. Marrying an architect is in my top 5 life goals (becoming an architect has been ruled out by my total lack of drawing skills and depth perception). I spent hours exploring the exhibit, and even managed to find the Australian pavilion, complete with fooseball tables. 

I came home sunburnt and relaxed and so happy I can't even describe it. And even though now it's three weeks later and it's getting cold, and the coffee here is terrible and I sometimes have to work in the rain, it makes me smile knowing places like Venice are so close, and I'll be going off to discover more of them so soon.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The doldrums conundrum

Samuel Johnson once famously said that "when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life", and while I am inclined to argue that when a man is tired of London he's just that, I have to admit I'm currently pretty tired of both. Partly because I've been working almost non-stop for the past few weeks, but more because I've been doing the same thing again and again and again for what feels like half a lifetime.

That sounds churlish, doesn't it? Railing against daily routine is petty at  the best of times, and even more so when, as in my case, the routine is one that affords a high degree of variety and fun. Honestly, when I'm doing the usual things - going to work, going out with friends - I'm quite content. But therein lies the problem. I didn't move overseas to be content, I moved overseas to be adventurous. So today I decided to stop complaining about how bored I am (and believe me, I have done my share of moaning), and find something new to do.

To be fair, this sudden surge of energy was not actually so sudden. For the past few weeks my camera and I have been using my (rare) days off to explore the city in the hopes of reigniting the spark I felt for the first year or so of being here. And while I am not what you would call a sports fan ("the Olympics is basically just one big, expensive sports carnival. And the tube will be a nightmare" - Shannon Cuthbert, 2012) the Olympics has done a great job of highlighting the most exciting parts of London.

I was vaguely aware that there were various activities and exhibitions going on around the place for the London 2012 festival, and there was one thing in particular I'd heard of that sounded like the best thing I could ever imagine ever in my entire life. Ever. So I went and found it.

It's a maze made of books.

A maze.

Made of books

250,000 books to be exact. More than half have been borrowed from Oxfam shops, while the remainder were donated by publishing houses. Towards the middle the walls are 2.5 meters high. But that's not even the best part. The best part is it's a working library. Visitors are encouraged to grab a book from the top of the pile and read (I found a copy of Bill Bryson's 'Down Under' and spent a lovely hour chuckling my way through his incredibly accurate portrayal of my country's inhospitable living conditions and paradoxically hospitable inhabitants). All they ask is that you replace the books when you're done.

And just when you thought life couldn't get any more idyllic, lo! A carnival! 

Ok, so I understand that dichotomy is an essential aspect of our emotions. No good without bad, no happy without sad. I've read my Suess, and I know it's impossible for things to be fun and exciting all the time. To expect as much is just asking for failure (and/or some kind of breakdown). But the truth is there are a lot of  fun and exciting things happening. I just have to be a little less jaded and a little more proactive. Because if I'm not going to look for the good, interesting things in London, or anywhere really, then it's my own fault if I miss out on them.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


A little over a week ago Britain indulged in a long weekend to celebrate the fact that HRH Lizzie has been sitting pretty at the head of the empire for 60 years. Across the country people celebrated with bunting and street parties, and in London the diamond jubilee was marked by the requisite pageantry. On Sunday 100 boats paraded down the Thames in honor of the occasion, and the Royal family was out in force (minus Prince Philip who was ill, or as I'd like to think, confined to the Palace lest he make one of his infamous gaffs) to greet the adoring public. 

My own Sunday started with the best of intentions - go to the river, see the spectacle, glimpse the Queen - and quickly deteriorated into this:

Fun fact: One of my lesser known life skills is the ability to open non-twist top bottles with a key. Who says a university education isn't worthwhile?

I did, however, manage to attend a street party. Admittedly the street was Brick Lane, and the fare less cupcakes and cucumber sandwiches and more cider and cigarettes; and by the time I got there I had already  experienced a full night of debauchery and a 3-way spoon with two people who had been strangers just hours before. But really, what's the use of having an elderly head of state if you can't spend a few hazy days on it in her name?

Weekends like this make me think that, for all my moaning and flighty ideas and lack of citizenship, there is a distinct possibility I might just stay here forever.

Friday, May 25, 2012

30 days of Shannon and Courtney

I am a firm advocate of travelling alone. It's something I'd always planned on doing, and it has manifold advantages. For example, my inability to plan anything wont irritate anyone if there's nobody there to be irritated. Also, when you're alone you have no choice but to make new friends. But most of all, I like travelling alone because it means I can do whatever I want, whenever suits me. Of course I love meeting up with friends while travelling, but there are very few people I would set out to travel with for an extended amount of time. 

Despite this predilection for going solo, today is the first time I've spent time by myself in the past month. And while I'm usually quite content in my own company, I am currently well into my allocated 24 hour self-pity period, where I do nothing more strenuous than sit in the sunshine, listen to This American Life episodes, and generally feel  sorry for myself. This is all because I have spent the past month in the constant company of Courtney, with whom I took a whirlwind tour of Europe. And during this trip - between seeing Steven Fry in Edinburgh and meeting Drake's white twin in Paris, going to an underground German hip-hop club and almost getting shot by palace guards with the drunkest man in Sweden - I realised that travelling with someone else has a whole lot of advantages of it's own. 

Things are more hilarious, more delicious, more ridiculous if you're with someone else. When I've traveled alone I've been lucky enough to find people who I could share my experiences with easily. And while I was travelling with Courtney we found plenty of other people who made our trip much more fun and memorable  than it would have been if we'd only hung around with each other. But a shared history and an established shared sense of humor makes a world of difference.

I'm not saying that I wont love travelling alone anymore, or that I'd rather travel with an entourage from now on. In fact, I'm glad the next lot of travel I do will be alone again, because the past month was so perfect that anything comparable would probably be something of a let down. But it's definitely something I'm now open to doing again. Going back to the real world is going to be a hell of a struggle. The end of this trip also marked the first time I felt properly sad to be back in London, which makes me think my time here is rapidly coming to an end. As much as I'm loathe - and surprised - to say it, I think it's almost time for me to move on.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Life on the streets

If you're reading this I can only assume you know me reasonably well. And if you don't know me even a little I suppose you'll just have too take my word for it that I am, generally speaking, a very nice and inoffensive person. I am not, for the most part, mouthy or confrontational; I have no facial piercings or tattoos that might draw undue attention; in fact, with my blonde hair, blue eyes, and unobtrusive demeanor I am pretty much the picture of white, middle class normality. In short I am not the kind of person who, when seen on the street during the course of a regular day, would attract vitriol from passers by. People don't usually feel the need to cuss me, avoid me, or say mean and hurtful things with the express intent of demoralizing me. And yet these things continue to happen to me on a regular basis thanks to my job. For the past 6 weeks I've been working as a street fundraiser, or chugger (charity-mugger for those not in the know). And the next time you come across one of us remember me, and also remember: it's really not that hard to be nice.

You know us. You've avoided us many a time on the busy streets around your place of work or living. I don't mind. Honestly I don't even mind when people are deliberately rude to me anymore. I mostly find it amusing. The incredibly BUSY and IMPORTANT business women ("I'm on my lunch break!"); the self-righteous middle aged business men ("You know what, love? I know we all have to make a living but you are a drain on society."); or those too lazy to even bother ("Oh, um, yeah...I'm in a real...rush."). Also people seem to get really nervous when I approach them. They start spurting out all kinds of words that add up to mean absolutely nothing, and walk away with vaguely confused looks on their faces while I just stand there smirking. But despite the fact that there are a lot of assholes out there, there are also an unexpected number of incredibly nice people about too. I get told I have a lovely smile at least 5 times a day, which is always a nice little ego boost. And even though I'm not a big fan of being touched by strangers, being hugged by a cancer survivor while they tell you you're doing a great job is awfully gratifying.

The thing is, I don't think I'm the kind of person you would expect to find in this kind of job. When I tell people back in Australia what I'm doing for work they seem surprised. For one thing, I'm not really the loud, charming, attention-grabbing type who would instinctively thrive in this line of work. But on the other hand I often get told by the people I speak to that I'm the nicest chugger they've ever met, so I guess that's why I'm sometimes really quite good at what I do (I'm also sometimes terrible, but we'll just overlook that for now).

The other reaction I always get is "God, how do you do that? I've always thought that would be the worst job ever."

To be honest, I pretty much agreed with that consensus for about my first two weeks. In fact the only reason I didn't quit is because both my boss and my team leader basically guilt tripped me into staying with their constant reassurances that I would one day wake up and be good at it. Which seemed unlikely, but is in fact what happened. Mostly. On my aforementioned bad days I get a bit wrapped up in a mental whirlpool of self-doubt and frustration, but you know. Apparently life goes on (I've never been good at being just ok at things. So I guess this job is teaching me valuable life lessons. Or so I'm telling myself). Naturally there is an incredibly high volume of people who quit within a week or two of starting this job. I think the number of people who stay on works out at about 1 or 2 out of every 50 people hired. But the people who do stay are... God. I'm  not even sure. Insane? Masochists? Whatever else they are, they're quality people. At the end of the day I really like this job, partially because it's fun and partially because I'm doing a good thing for the world, but mostly because of the people. Admittedly since I've started chugging I've also started partying more and sleeping considerably less, but that's what it is to be 22 and living in London. Right? Besides, I figure my morally reprehensible extra-curricular behavior is cancelled out by the fact I'm working 5 days a week for charity.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A little bit of luck

They say bad things come in threes. And I've had such a bad run of it over the last week I'm hoping this is my bad-luck quota for the year well and truly filled.

Two Mondays ago I lost my job. It was hardly something to be upset about - I was working as a door-to-door findraiser and while my colleagues were great, wandering the far-flung streets of suburban London in the cold and the dark only to have doors slammed repeatedly in my face was hardly a joy. Besides, the company was new and shakey, so when they folded it nobody was suprised. A job is a job though, and between rent and food and my travel fund I was beginning to think I'd be stretched a little thin. Luckily I'd got that original job through a recruitment agency, and they set me up right away with some new work. Unfortunately the London job market isn't exactly booming, so the only work available is the jobs no-one else wants. Like, for example, street fundraising. You know; those painfully happy people you see in the city and who, no matter how hard you try to look inconspicuous, latch onto you and guilt you into paying out for a charity you'd never even thought about until about 30 seconds ago. Yep. That's me.

Believe me, I understand how annoying street fundraisers are. I can't say no to save my life, so I am the perfect target. But no matter how many times I'm asked, no matter how little money I have, no matter how guilty I end up feeling, I am always polite. It's just a job, after all. Apparently, though, not everyone is quite so considerate. I felt like crying for two days straight after I started. Being sworn at, yelled at, ignored or shoved aside for eight hours a day is hard work. I started on Tuesday, and by the afternoon it was all I could do not to slink off down a side street and weep for self-pity. My teamleader came up to me around five and all he could say was "Shannon, why do you look SO sad?" Well no, that's not entirely true. He also told me that people are mostly all cunts. And while I don't actually believe that, it's becoming a lot harder to refute.

By Friday I have to admit I was honestly enjoying myself. The sun was out, I was getting better numbers, rude remarks had quickly become like water off a duck's back. The people I was working with were fun and great company. I was in a good mood. Exhausted, but happy.

And then I went out and got hit in the face. Again.

Never in my life did I think I would have to say that even once, let alone two weeks in a row. I left the club because I was tired, had drunk enough and needed to get some sleep before work in the morning. There is a 24 hour bus to my house from the station nearest the club, so I went there. But it wasn't coming for ages, so I figured a taxi would just make my night that much easier, and would only cost me about a tenner. That was a mistake.

I hailed a black cab and asked the driver what it would cost to get me home. He told me £15. Admittedly a bit pricey, but at 2:30 on a Saturday morning it still seemed reasonable. But when we got to my road he tried to charge me £10 extra, and when I got out of the cab having only given him the original amount he followed me, threatened me, and then hit me. Unlike last time I was alone. So I ran. I literally turned around and legged it. Not exactly a hero, me.

Anyway, I woke up the next morning with a bruised nose, and fat lip, and the strangest feeling. Even though I was hurt worse this time around, I didn't feel as scared as the first time. My friends railed, and I rallied. I just didn't think about it. I thought about my friend Laura, when she had a fat lip. I thought about how, despite my landlady's assurances that London is a mean place, this could have happened anywhere. About how I still love London. About how this bad thing had happened, but I didn't have to let it have far-reaching consequences.

Really it's just a run of bad luck. But sometimes bad things are just the forerunners of better things. I lost my job, but got a better one. I got hit in the face, but I'll be stronger for it. On Tuesday evening, right at the end of the day, my teamleader came up to me again, to tell me that he didn't really think people were mostly cunts. Maybe he just didn't want to be the one to ruin my bright and shiney outlook on life, but it's true. Sometimes people are rubbish. But in the end, people are mostly good. Or at least I will continue to resolutely believe so.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The slap

A couple of days ago a guy I went to school with posted this charming article on his facebook wall, offering it up as a how-to guide for all us poor unmarried lonely hearts. A kind of odious self-improvement manual, heavily laden with barely concealed scorn and judgement for anyone who might be so ill-informed as to think that marriage is not the single most important life goal possible for a woman. Just to be clear - I am not friends with this person, online or otherwise, but such was the outrage caused by his post in my school friends (of both sexes) that it showed up on my timeline purely on the strength of everyone else's comments. Naturally I read it. And after I stopped feeling the need to punch someones face and/or dry-retch into the nearest bucket, my first thought was this:

Oh for fucks sake.

To think there are women sitting at their computers all across the globe, sipping gingerly at their hot water and lemon and nodding sagely as they think "gosh, you know what? She's right. I am an angry, self-serving whore. I need to change drastically in order to please someone I've never met, despite the fact this article assures me marriage is mostly a lot of hard work for very little gain" just sets my mind reeling. Not because I hate marriage or because I feel articles like this are betraying the mysterious sisterhood or whatever. It's because the whole premise of this article is patently ridiculous. Oh shit, not married by 36? Well, that's it then. All those things you achieved? That job you love? Those relationships you cultivated? Your house, your savings account, your flings and holidays and life experiences? Worthless. You've got no husband and, let's be honest shall we? You're not getting any younger.

The article begins with what I can only assume is meant to be a 'knowing' comment about feminism, or the apparent lack of that wanting to be married purportedly implies. But that is NOT WHAT FEMINISM IS ABOUT. Feminism is about equality. So I can get married straight out of school and be a stay-at-home mother, or I can never get married and have a high powered job, or do anything in between and still be a feminist because it was my choice. Personally I'm not sure if I will ever get married - it's to early to tell as far as I'm concerned. But I am sure that I want to make my way across the globe with an overused Barclay card and an oversized back pack. I'm also sure that while I'm on my way I'll want to kiss strangers whose names I don't know, and have flings with people who speak another language, and wake up with hangovers and manic memories and brilliant stories to tell when I finally wash up, broke and hazy, back on Australian shores. And when I do get back to Oz I'm sure that I will want to use my brutal ambition to carve out a career for myself that I can describe as exciting and exhausting and successful. I might not have a husband, but I intend on having a hell of a time.

So I was feeling pretty smug, what with my misogynist-hating friends and confident outlook when, in an astounding feat of cosmic timing, I went out on Friday night and got hit in the face.

All the men I know have been told, fiercely and repeatedly, that you do not hit women. So, understandably, it took me completely off guard. I just had no way of dealing with it. I ended up drunk and shocked and sobbing in the middle of Soho, completely unable to deal with the simple fact that I'd been hit. It wasn't even that painful. I woke up with a slight bruise on the side of my face, but given I bruise like a peach this is hardly a reliable indication of harm done. I've experienced much worse pain. And it wasn't even that big of a deal. I've known women in my time who have been beaten, raped, repeatedly abused. Comparatively this was a walk in the park. But it floored me nevertheless, primarily because I did nothing.

I went home, and I cried, and I got up this morning and went to work and life just went on. Of course. It was a blip, an irregularity on the face of my otherwise very happy, very lucky life. If the world stopped for every minor act of violence we'd be at a perpetual standstill. I felt shaken, but in the harsh light of day I also felt foolish, and ashamed. I had done nothing to defend myself. My friend's boyfriend hit him back; I didn't. It was a tiny event that made me feel weak, and worthless, and very, very small. But the worst thing was, when I was walking home and on a very expensive phone call to Australia, I realised that what I wanted most was not my mum, or my friends, but a man. I wanted someone to stand up for me, protect me. Isn't that awful? Isn't that the most hateful thing I could possibly have thought? Just two days before I had scoffed at that dreadful 'Why You're Not Married' article, and yet there I was, falling back on those same ideals because I got a scare.

Thankfully, thankfully it didn't last, and tonight I was able to make jokes about having joined a fight club to liven up my evenings with my old host-parents pre-babysit. And I play-fought with my old kids, safe in the knowledge that Ben will never ever hit a woman. It'll be an anecdote - that time I got hit in the face in Soho. It will sit in amongst the memories of other poor life choices and awkward situations, and pretty soon I'll find it mostly funny. And if anyone ever tries to hit me again, or tells me I deserved it, at least now I'll be better prepared. Because if there's ever a next time, it sure as hell wont be me that ends up crying. Or - if what I've read is true - finding my future husband.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

This Year

Here's a fun fact: I've now lived and worked in London for over a year. And to be honest I'm not sure if it feels like forever, or no time at all.

I spent Christmas in North Wales with my parents and my brother, and forfeited my youthful right to a New Years blowout to spend the last night of the year standing in the cold and rain on the Thames with my family for 8 hours - an ordeal made considerably less harrowing by a 6 hour game of What Would You Rather (a bionic arm, or a bionic leg?), and the presence of a hilarious Indian-English family who not only offered me free accommodation in the Midlands, but who also had a constant supply of wine and liquor they were more than happy to share.

Naturally spending some quality time with my family for the first time all year was incredible, the only real downfall being their inevitable departure. Because of how long it had been since I'd seen anyone from Australia (since Laura's mid-year visit, for those of you playing at home) I'd pretty much adopted an "out of sight, out of mind" approach to my life back home. Of course I miss my friends and family, but not with the kind of visceral sadness that pervaded my first month or two. But after six weeks of being able to call my mum to ask her stupid questions and getting Gary's equally stupid replies, and three weeks of forcing Luke to sleep on the floor, not having them around suddenly felt considerably harder than it had at the end of November. Not to mention the day after my folks flew out I met up with Lisa, a friend of mine from high school. All of which was great at the time, but really brought home once again the less glamorous realities of living half a world away from the majority of the people I know.

But! On the other hand, I didn't spend the first week of this year crying and feeling sorry for myself, primarily because last year turned out to be even more than I wanted it to be. I've missed plenty back home: my cousin's wedding, my friend's wedding, births and deaths and countless birthdays and parties and dramas. But I've also found new friends, and gone to new places, and seen and done things that hitherto had been entirely impossible.

Seeing Lisa also made me realise I really don't want to go home (and I mean that in the best possible way). I had been wondering if I was going to be away too long; if when I got back my life trajectory would  be too out of sync with my friends for me to fit in anymore. Up until now my friends and I had, mostly by necessity, been on basically the same life path: school, then uni, then job. So even though I didn't live in the same place as my school friends, and hadn't come from the same place as my uni friends, we were, essentially, all in the same place life-wise. But when I opted out of the "real job" option it threw my timeline out. Happily, seeing Lisa made me realise that in two years my friends will still be pretty much the same people as they were when I left, and that if some of those friendships don't continue it wont be because of a few extra months' absence here or there.

Besides which, in the same way marking the change of year on an arbitrary calendar date has no real significance beyond what you choose to give it, a generally accepted "life plan" is only as acceptable as you want it to be. And while I know that eventually I will want to start my career, and possibly at some point in the distant future marry and/or have children, right now what I want is mostly just more. More adventure, more excitement, more new things. And I am exceedingly happy in the knowledge that at any moment I can decide I've had enough of London, or my job(s), or my flat and just up sticks, without having to consider the repercussions my decision might have for anyone else. Which is not to say the relationships I've built here - with my friends or host family or employers - are meaningless or essentially transient. It's just that they were built in the knowledge that they would have to be flexible. So while for now I'm quite happy with my new flat and new job and not-so-new city, I'm also impatient for the year to really begin. No matter what you think of fireworks and resolutions, there's no denying the promise that comes with a new year. And I have big plans for this one.